The mysterious double murder case on a running train of the GIP Railway in the early 1920s created ripples around the Bombay region. Two people were charged with the double murder of a pay-clerk and a peon working with the GIP Railway company.
These men were travelling from Bombay on the 13 Down passenger train to Jubbulpore, and were in charge of a box containing money in cash and currency notes, to be ferried to an upcountry station. It is best reproduced in an excerpt published in official records.
Two men were put up for trial on a charge of murder at the Criminal Sessions of the Bombay High Court in November 1921 before Mr Justice Marten and a special jury. One of the two accused was a Eurasian named Morris, and the other was a young Englishman named Donnison.
Morris was at one time a Baggage Inspector in the Bombay Customs. His duty was to examine and search the baggage of persons arriving by boat and disembarking at the Ballard Pier, to see if they contained any contraband goods. But that was some time ago. At the time of the murders, Morris was apparently without any job and in impecunious circumstances. Donnison, the other accused, also appeared to be a waster without any settled job, although at the time of the murder he was working in a motor garage in Bombay.
The two men were charged with having committed the double murder of a pay-clerk and a peon in the employ of the GIP Railway company.
These men were travelling from Bombay in charge of a box containing money in cash and currency notes, which was being carried by train to an upcountry station. According to the prosecution, while the train was proceeding from Igatpuri, the two accused forced an entry into the compartment in which the pay-clerk and the peon were travelling with the cash box.
It was late at night, while the train was in motion, between two stations. According to the prosecution, Morris and Donnison first smashed the head of the poor peon. Gagging him, and tying up his hands and feet, they left him in a pool of blood on the floor of the compartment. They also attacked the pay-clerk and similarly smashed his head by giving him several blows with a wooden club. A jemmy was also used.
They then forced open the money box and transferred the money from the box into a canvas bag which they had with them. The box contained Rs 36,000 and odd in currency notes and coin. The murderers took all the currency notes amounting to about Rs 32,000 and left the rest of the money, about Rs 4,000 and odd, it being in coin. They then closed the compartment and went back to their own compartment and travelled on until the train reached Manmad the next morning at about 8 or 9 o’clock.
Meanwhile, early in the morning of the 20th of July 1921, the murder was discovered at a wayside station, Pachora. The railway staff and railway police were immediately informed. They appeared on the scene and the compartment in which the murders were committed with the bodies of the victims was detached; and the train was allowed to proceed.
The two murderers alighted at Manmad with the canvas bag; and walking along the railway track, buried the canvas bag in a nullah covered with bushes at some distance from the railway station. They then returned, Morris going to Igatpuri where he was residing, and Donnison came down to Bombay.
It appeared that Morris was fairly well known to the station staff at various stations as also to guards and engine drivers on the line from Igatpuri to Deolali. The railway police made vigorous inquiries at the stations and in the railway quarters at Igatpuri. The inquiries showed that for several days preceding the murders, Morris had been observed loitering along the line, and keeping a watch on the through night trains from Bombay at Deolali, as if on the lookout for something or somebody. His movements prior to the crime had excited the curiosity if not the suspicion of the station staff at Deolali.
It appeared that on the fatal night of the 19th of July, Morris, along with another European, had purchased two first class tickets to Manmad, and boarded the train by which the pay-clerk and the peon were travelling. As a result of the investigations made at Deolali, Manmad and Igatpuri, Morris was arrested about the beginning of August, while he was watching a cricket match at Deolali. He was questioned as regards his movements on the night of 19th/20th July.
He saw that the game was up; and practically confessed his part in the transaction to the police. He was taken to Manmad, and he pointed out the spot where the money bag and the jemmy were buried. Two days later, on information given by him, Donnison was arrested at his residence at Colaba in Bombay.
Morris was sentenced to death, and he was ultimately hanged. His companion in crime, Donnison, was sentenced to penal servitude for life in view of his youth, and the fact that he had participated in the murders under the dominating influence of Morris, who had planned the whole transaction.
A very striking feature of the case is the sinister role of the notorious number 13 in this bloody business. The train by which the ill-fated clerk and peon travelled on their last journey on earth, was the 13 Down passenger train from Bombay to Jubbulpore; and the number of the carriage, which contained the compartment of death, was 3613. This was noted by Mr Justice Marten in his admirable summing up to the jury.
Apart from the last “13” in “3613”, the total of the digits (3+6+1+3) also comes to 13. It is such coincidences that keep alive ancient superstitions and give them fresh vitality; and facts, on occasions, are stranger than fiction.
Excerpted with permission from A Short History Of Indian Railways, Rajendra B Aklekar, Rupa Publications.