A Prosecution that Petered Out


Specious Spruiking About Spiritualism and Spooks.

Alleged Cures of Cancer and Hydatids – Magistrate says Crown Witnesses are Unreliable – As They Told Tarradiddles to Trap the Old Tart.


During the past month, considerable interest has been aroused in a case in Sydney wherein an elderly woman named Emily Turner, was charged with having, on March 15, pretended to tell a fortune by the use of subtle craft, and thereby deceived and imposed upon one Gilbert Edward Leary.

In several respects, the case was similar to those which attracted such attention in Melbourne some time ago, when a couple of intelligent young women trapped a number of fortune-tellers, who, for all their perspicacity, could not see that there were having their legs pulled.  In the Sydney case, however, the magistrate adopted the extra ordinary attitude that as the Crown witnesses had told the old tart tarradiddles, they were therefore unreliable witnesses, and dismissed the case after adjournments had dragged out for several weeks.

Leary, a young constable, told how he and Florence Miller, a police agent, as she would be called in Melbourne, had in fulfilment of an appointment called at a hall in a Sydney suburb, where they found Mrs Turner on a platform.  She said to him, “You look worried,” and asked if a girl was the cause of it.  He saying yes, she went on to say, “I’ll see what the guide says for you,” and after taking his hand, she dropped it and went off into an apparent trance, took a few deep breaths, and spoke:  “Believe me, dear brother, I can see a girl.  She’s between the colors, and is not quite as tall as your sister there.  I can see that people have been writing to you and telling you what is false.  She is true to you, and I can see that in the near future she will come to you, and you will not go to her.  Then she will explain all to you, as you have allowed yourself to weaken through worrying.”  This done, she mentioned different herbs, and while still under the influence said, “Are you satisfied?”  He said he was, and asked the [pr]ice, and answer she said she made no social charge, but always left it to the patients to give what they considered to be fair.  She advised him that he also suffered from a weak back, and accepted a half-crown.

Florence Miller, it appeared, had previously called on Mrs Turner who gave her a “reading.”  She had also got 5s 3d worth of herbs, and made an appointment for Mrs Turner to see a young man, who was supposed to be her brother.

Mrs Turner herself was the first of quite a host of witnesses for the defence.  She said she remembered Miss Miller bringing her supposed brother to the hall and stepping to the platform.  This platform was always occupied by her for giving only medical readings, and at no time had she given worldly readings.  She had a vast number of patients, and charged no fee, it’s been quite sufficient for her to know that they all grew better after consulting her.  When Leary stepped forward he was all of a tremble, shaking like an aspen, and saying, “It’s all nerves with me.”  She enquired if he suffered from pain in his right side, and he said he did.  “Well.  I’ll give you some herbs as a tonic,” she told him, and did so.  She declared that she possessed clairvoyant power which enabled her, despite the fact that she had no medical knowledge, to diagnose illnesses and prescribe herbal remedies for them, and had been in the business for 15 years.

Then the witness box was occupied by a succession of the most wondrous “cures” imaginable.

A man who had gone so nearly blind that he was in the Blind Institution, and who was reduced to peddling from door-to-door, said the doctors had told him he had atrophy of the optic nerve, and that they could do nothing for him, but his sight gradually improved after he began taking Mrs Turner’s herbs.  He admitted, however, that while he was undergoing the woman’s treatment he was under a doctor.  This doctor was subsequently called as a witness, and he said the man’s condition had been due to a certain disease, and as that latter was cured, an improvement in his sight was due.

Then there was the old Italian woman who reckoned she had been suffering from cancer and [a] stone in the liver, and had been cured by Mrs Turner after doctors had given her up.  An infusion of violets had done the cancer much good.

Another woman told a tale of woe regarding her deceased sister-in-law, who had had cancer, but who had been so far gone that Mrs Turner had only been able to relieve her.  It wasn’t the cancer that killed her, however, as she died of bronchitis three weeks after interviewing Mrs Turner.

A carter who had eight years ago been bumped by a tram to the extent of £175 compensation, said that the doctors had never been able to get him right again, but Mrs Turner had done so.  He and his missus had gone along to one of Mrs Turner’s meetings, and in the course of the evening, Mrs Turner said there was a young man in the audience in great pain, and she would like him to step up onto the platform.  He joined her, and, without touching him, she told him he was suffering a deal of pain through an accident.  She also diagnosed his wife’s complaint and therein then prescribed herbs for the pair of them.  These they duly prepared, and were better in less than no time.

Cross-examined, the carter said the Mrs Turner was in a trance we first saw her.  He believes that a medium could communicate the unseen world, and that they could bring messages from departed spirits.

Then there was a rather dramatically inclined sort of chap, who said he had been treated for years by doctors without knowing what was the matter with him, and finally he went to Mrs Turner and simply said, “I have been sick for some time.”  She then went into a trance, and while in that state told him he was suffering from high dictates, and that his liver was one mass of cysts.  Prescribed for by Mrs Turner, he continued her treatment for some months, and eventually got rid of a number of cysts, which he proudly produced in a bottle.

Dr A A Palmer, Government Medical Officer, called by the Crown, said that no drug had any creative effect on the diseases which several of the witnesses had declared they had been cured of.  The only cure for cancer was the knife, while hydatids very often came way of their own accord.  It was practically impossible to tell whether a personal suffering without an operation that enabled the surgeon to have a look at the growth.

Another doctor who had been consulted by the chap with the bottled hydatids, said that such complaint was sometimes cured spontaneously, and hundreds of cysts might come away.  Any drug strong enough to kill the hydatids would kill the man as well.

The last witness was William Daniel Morrell, who runs a church known as the Stanmore Spiritualist Temple.  He declared that it be possible for a genuine medium to be imposed upon by a person with a strong mind.

Cross-examined, he said he believed that persons in a trance could commune with the unseen world, bring messages from departed beings, and also give messages to them.  A medium in a trance, however, was liable to confuse messages from the spirits with other things emanating from the mind of the investigator, much, it would appear, after the style of the missing of wireless messages that we hear about nowadays.  A strong-minded skeptic of an investigator would therefore be able to mentally bung in and spoil messages from the departed the same as a German warship would bamboozle the British ship’s wireless.

After taking a week to think over the matter, Mr Payten SM said the only question we had to decide was which evidence he would rely on.  The witnesses for the prosecution had, in their interviews with the defendant, told falsehoods in a most deliberate manner, and acted most deceitfully.  It was admitted that the defendant was a person of unblemished character, while the witnesses for the prosecution were self-confessed liars.  He therefore dismissed the case, but he said that he gave no opinion as to whether Mrs Turner in not asking for any [pr]ice but in leaving it to the generosity of patients was guilty of imposition.

The Truth news article of 1916 regarding Emily Cross-Turner; presumed medium at the Stanmore Spiritualist Temple