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Murder by Murrell in Melbourne
by Christopher Doty

sidney murrell"God bless my old friend, Slim."

Shortly after eleven o'clock on the morning of April 11, 1921, four men walked into the Home Bank in the village of Melbourne, Ontario - a few miles to the south west of London.

They were brothers Sidney and William Murrell, Henry "Slim" Williams and Pat Norton. They were there to make a withdrawal - a big one.

While one of the bandits yelled out, "Hands up!" another pistol-whipped the bank manager. Sidney began emptying out the contents of the cash drawer while Slim guarded the front door - badly. A bank employee managed to slip past him and sound the alarm out in the street. Within minutes a makeshift posse was making its way towards the robbery scene. Local resident Russell Campbell scurried down the alley next to the bank so he could guard the side exit. The rest of the troop stormed through the front doors.

All hell broke lose inside the bank. Sidney heard shots being fired and grabbed his .45 calibre revolver off the floor and began shooting into the ceiling. Slim took advantage of the diversion and rushed out the side entrance into the alley. Sidney followed. As he bolted through the doorway he noticed a man lying on the ground with blood running out of his nose. It was Russell Campbell. He had been shot through the chest, just below the heart.

william murrellNeither man made it very far. It seemed everyone in Melbourne was aware of the heist. Sidney was tripped and tackled to the ground while Slim was shot in the hand during a brief gun battle. Both men were tied to a telephone pole. William Murrell was routed out of his hiding place in a nearby barn by a member of the local Muncey Reserve. Rather than escorting Murrell down the stairs, the Oneida native merely pitched his captive out of the second floor window. A crowd pounced on Murrell and trussed him to a post.

Pat Norton managed to make a clean get away in a high jacked Ford. The car was later found abandoned but no one ever saw Norton again.

The three remaining men were taken into custody and charged for murder. They were confined in the London jail until trial could be arranged. However, escape would come almost as easily as their capture.

On the evening of September 2nd, both Murrell brothers managed to break out of their cell by cutting through the iron bars with a small hacksaw someone had smuggled into the jail. They then used a ladder left in the exercise yard by careless workmen to make their escape. One of the brothers allegedly wrote a letter to the local newspaper, chiding the police as "poor boobs" who ought to "wake up."

Melbourne citizens were furious. Many of them had risked their lives to bring in the bandits, only to see them slip through the fingers of London authorities.

"We will have irate citizens - and justly irate, too - taking it upon themselves to perform the offices of the law," predicted one angry Melbourne resident. "We will have a system of lynching similar to that of the olden days."

It took almost two years before American authorities discovered the brothers had been living in California under assumed names. Both were extradited back to London to stand trial.

William would serve a 20 year sentence for armed robbery while Slim Williams would be sentenced to life imprisonment. Sidney, however, would go on trial for the murder of Russell Campbell - despite his assertion that Campbell was dead before he entered the alley.

According to Murrell, Pat Norton had asked Sidney to loan him his .45 revolver minutes before they entered the bank. One witness testified there had been two distinct volleys of shots during the robbery, adding credibility to the claim that Campbell was shot while Sidney was still inside the bank. Under oath, Murrell claimed he used up on three bullets - leaving two unaccounted. The police had also been unable to produce the fatal bullet for examination.

But Sidney could not provide a satisfactory explanation how anyone other than himself had the opportunity to shoot Campbell. By the testimony of several witnesses at the robbery scene, Sidney had even taken responsibility for discharging all five bullets in the revolver - one of which had almost certainly ended Campbell's life. Norton, the only man who could confirm or deny Murrell's alibi, was unavailable for questioning. Moreover, it seemed absurd that Sidney would hand over his gun and walk into a bank robbery unarmed.

Sidney Murrell was found guilty and hanged on April 10, 1924 - one day before the third anniversary of the robbery. He shared the gallows with another convicted murderer, Clarence Topping. His last words were "God bless my old friend, Slim."

It was a remarkably forgiving guesture towards a man whose incompetence as a look out had led Murrell to such a sad ending.

William Murrell was eventually released from prison and settled quietly in London. On the evening of February 10, 1958 a police officer discovered him slumped over the wheel of his car on Wortley Road. He had suffered a fatal heart attack while loading groceries.