In Murderer fingered by Fisher’s Ghost, an encounter with the ghost of Frederick Fisher sitting on a railing and pointing to a spot up the creek where his body would soon be found led to the conviction and execution of his murderer, George Worrell back in 1826.
In 1850, at Maitland, in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, a similar encounter with the supernatural would lead to the discovery of the body of another murder victim, and the conviction and execution of another murderer who may have otherwise gone free.
A murderer goes to the gallows
On 26 April 1851, The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser reported on the final chapter of a vicious crime with the execution of William Hayes.
“Yesterday morning, at nine o’clock, the wretched man William Hayes, convicted at the Maitland Circuit Court, in March, of the murder of Benjamin Cott on the 13th November last, was executed, at the new drop, erected over the gates of the Maitland gaol.”
On 22 March 1851, a month before Hayes met his Maker at the gallows of the Maitland gaol, The Sydney Morning Herald, reported on the murder of Benjamin Cott, and the astonishing circumstances that led to the trial and conviction of the man who had killed him in cold blood.
The report began with the conviction and sentencing of William Hayes for the murder of Benjamin Cott.
“William Hayes was last week tried, convicted, and sentenced for execution, for the committal of the atrocious murder of Benjamin Cott, at Dagworth, the discovery of which murder had its origin in a dream.”
Cott goes missing
According to the report, Cott was last seen at Hayes’ house on Wednesday, the 13th of November 1850.
Within a day or two after Cott had gone missing, Hayes was seen by Constable Kedwell, of the Maitland Police, filling in and levelling part of a drain on his property, which he had cut two years earlier to drain a lagoon, and which varied in depth from five to six feet in parts. But as digging in a drain was not out of the ordinary, and at this stage Cott had simply gone missing, the constable paid little attention to Hayes’ activity.
But, according to the report, perhaps the constable’s suspicions should’ve been raised when Hayes was questioned about Cott’s disappearance.
“Hayes, when questioned about Cott, gave different accounts of him; at one time he stated that he had left his house on the Wednesday night, to go to Maitland; at another, that he was sometimes absent from his house for four or five days together; on a third occasion, that he had gone to his brother’s.
Bloody vision of murder
From the time he had gone missing on the 13th of November until 10 December, no clues of Cott’s whereabouts had come to light. “Search was made for Cott in Maitland, in the River, and in Wallis’ Creek, but without obtaining the slightest trace of him.”
Not until that is, James Anthony, who knew both Cott and Hayes, told another man of a strange dream.
“James Anthony communicated to Thomas Evans, and the latter to Constable Kedwell, the particulars of a dream which he had had on the Sunday after Cott was last seen alive; and the substance of Anthony’s statement was this:
“He knew both Hayes and Cott, he had never been at Dagworth where they both resided, but on the Sunday night Anthony dreamt that he saw Hayes hit Cott on the head with a heavy weapon, and saw the blood run down Cott’s face, and that Hayes made use of the words ‘now you old [expletive] I’ll have your ground to feed my cattle on’”.
“Anthony was alarmed at his dream, got up, walked about, returned to bed, fell asleep, and dreamt ‘just exact the same a second time’”.
Body found buried in a drain
The newspaper report continued: “It was not till the next or the second day after the dream, that Anthony heard that Cott was missing. Though Anthony dreamt this extraordinary dream on the 17th of November, he never mentioned it till the 10th of December, and then Kedwell having been informed of it by Evans he recollected that he had seen Hayes filling up the drain; he conferred with the Chief Constable, and the latter, with three or four men, immediately proceeded to Dagworth, commenced at sun-down opening the drain, and at midnight came upon the murdered body of Cott.”
Cott’s body was found lying in the drain, in the same clothes that he wore on the night he was last seen alive at Hayes’ home. His skull was smashed in, just as Anthony had seen in his night-time vision of the murder.
“There he was, with his skull dreadfully fractured, lying in the drain, in the very identical clothes that he wore on the night that he was last seen alive; and if further identification of Cott were necessary, a key was found in the fob of his trousers which belonged to his box, and which, when applied to the lock, opened it easily.
“Hayes has been tried, convicted, and sentenced to be executed; and though, as we have been informed, he has not admitted that he struck the fatal blow, he has confessed to his knowledge of and we believe consent to the murder.”
The report concluded that Anthony’s vision had played a vital role in solving Cott’s murder.
“Anthony’s dream was certainly the means by which the body was found on Hayes’ ground; the dream created an impression on the mind of Kedwell that the body of Cott must be in the drain which he had seen Hayes filling in and levelling so soon after Cott was missing.
“Had it not been for Anthony’s dream the murderer might still have been at large, and from the careful manner in which the body was concealed in all probability it would never have been discovered.”
Another murder, another dream … another conviction
When Edward Hawkins, manager of Tieryboo Station in Queensland, was found dead in his bed, shot through the head, a worker on the property, Thomas Clayton, was taken into custody and charged with his murder.
A woman, who knew neither man, would later testify that she had had a dream in which she “distinctly saw the faces of the actors in the tragedy”.