The fragility of memory
© T.M. Fletcher
This laneway on Elizabeth Street in the centre of Brisbane is a relic of the city’s past. Today it is a grimy driveway, a refuge for dwindling smokers and occasionally a location for street art. In 1944 it was the laneway beside McLeod’s Bookshop.
Doris May Roberts was brutally murdered here on the evening of 19 June 1944. Her badly beaten body was found after 8pm by two young apprentices returning to pick up a bicycle.
Within five hours local detectives, assisted by US military police, had located her killer at a military hospital—one of the tens of thousands of soldiers who passed through Brisbane as war raged in the Pacific. The paratrooper was lying on a bed asleep in his uniform and his boots, which still bore blood stains, and his hand lacerations. He confessed so soon they suspected he may still have been drunk from the long hours of drinking the day before.
He was convicted of murder by a court martial and later flown to New Guinea by the US Army, where he was hanged in November that year.
The laneway looks like a crime scene, in the popular imagination at least, but the city seems to have forgotten.
The accounts of her death record more about Doris May Roberts’ killer than they do about her.