James Stack, the Otahuhu murderer was accused of the
murder of four members of the Finnigan family. They were found missing
and their bodies, with the exception of a son, were discovered buried on
the property boundary where they lived. The missing body was discovered
several years later.
connection to the family was by marriage to Mary (victim), one of
Finnigan's daughters who had died at the time of the crime. He was a
friend of the family, which he demonstrated by helping with the upkeep
of the Finnegan's home and his friendship with the sons. They were
James, Benjamin and John.
All four had
been smashed in the head with a hammer and James had two blows to his
head. Benjamin's throat had been cut. Stack had borrowed a hammer from a
next door neighbour. When the neighbour asked for it's return, Stack
paid two shillings to him, to get a new one. Letters given in evidence
proved to be damning. Stack's letter to Mary Finnegan had read until
death do us part.
his innocence until he was hanged at the Mt Eden Gaol on 7 April, 1866.
James Stack, an old soldier of the British
65th Regiment, which had once been based in Otahuhu, had married the
daughter of Mrs. Mary Finnegan. When Stack's new wife died suddenly, he
took up residence with Mary Finnegan, herself a widow of one of the
early Fencible settlers and her three sons in their cottage on Lot 7 of
Section 8, in what was then called Chapel Road, Otahuhu. Mary's sons
were James 18, Benjamin 14 and John 10. A fourth son Alexander was away
serving with the Militia in Tauranga.
Like typical Fencible cottages at the time, it was divided into two
separate homes, with the Finnegan's on one side and the widow Mrs.
Weaver on the other.
Towards the end of September 1865, Mrs. Weaver expressed concern that
the entire Finnegan family seemed to have suddenly disappeared
overnight. She had spoken to Mary Finnegan only the previous day and
shehad expressed concern over Stack's intentions toward her and the
boys. On the night they disappeared, she had heard only the normal
noises of people moving around next door.
The following morning Mrs. Weaver had gone next door and asked
for the return of a hammer she had loaned him a few days earlier. He
claimed he could not find it and instead, gave her two shillings in
payment for it.
She did not see James Stack
again that day, but over the next few days she observed
digging furiously in the garden, until he too disappeared. After an
initial reluctance, Constable Negus was finally convinced to investigate
the matter, but he made only cursory inquiries as each time visited the
Finnegan cottage he found it locked and failed to proceed further.
Later, he was to receive considerable criticism from many quarters for
his inaction at this time.
Negus eventually managed to track
down late December, but the man produced a plausible story about the
Finnegan's traveling to the Hokitika gold fields and even supplied a
letter, supposedly written by Mary Finnegan, to
support his story. This letter was later proven to have been a forgery
written by a friend of James
Stack. Meanwhile, Negus once
more lapsed into inaction until just prior to
Christmas, when news reached him that Stack had fled the district
because of concerns over the Constables questioning.
Finally, the cottage and its gardens became the subject of a full
search. Whilst the cottage itself revealed no evidence at all, searchers
soon discovered the body of James Finnegan buried in the garden.
Benjamin's body was found nearby and Mary was located buried beneath a
bed of carrots. Ten year old John's body was not discovered until
several years later. All were found to have died from severe blows to
the head from a blunt instrument possibly the hammer James Stack
had borrowed from Mrs. Weaver. She was immediately arrested as a
suspect, but then released without charge.
Police Commissioner James Naughton arrived from Auckland to take charge
of the investigation and started by offering a reward of twenty pounds
for the arrest of James
Stack. Messages were sent out
to all districts across the country on the new telegraph system and, on
27 December 1865, Stack was apprehended at Kaipara north of Auckland,
when he was recognized by a sergeant from his former Regiment. He had
grown a moustache to change his appearance and was using a false name.
Stack was returned to Auckland
under armed escort and on arrival, was marched through a large crowd and
into the City Gaol in Queen Street. He was subsequently convicted of the
Finnegan murders by a trial jury and sentenced to death by hanging.
Early on the morning of 7 April 1866, Mary Finnegan's surviving son
Alexander went to the gaol and pleaded with Stack to say where the body
of 10 year old John could be found, but Stack pretended to deny all
knowledge of the deaths. Stack was then taken to the gallows at 7.00 am
and was executed, his body remaining on the rope until 8.00 am.