True Crime in a Mountains Town
At 2:15am on Sunday June 2, 1918, Ruby Loosley was woken from her sleep by two revolver shots bursting through the quiet night. Terrified, she ran to her sister’s bedroom where she had heard the sound. When she knocked on Linda’s door, she heard a soft moan of pain. Unable to force the door open, Ruby ran to her neighbour’s house and rang for the police.
When Constable Coleman arrived, he kicked down the locked door to reveal a grizzly scene. Linda Loosely and her boyfriend James Collins were bleeding profusely in a shared bed, both shot in the head at close range. Linda was dead with a gaping wound in her forehead, and James was barely alive.
A revolver was found by Linda’s right hand, suggesting that she was the perpetrator of the crime. She had left a letter for Ruby in plain sight, declaring that five more epistles could be found in a locked box. These would eventually reveal the truth as to why she had ended her life so violently and attempted to take James with her.
In the year 2020, Blackheath Cemetery is an unassuming place. Linda Loosley’s grave caught my attention for simple reasons. The white wooden cross has her striking name written in cursive script. Someone has pasted on her name and dates. It looks loving and sincere, albeit a very new addition amidst the sandstone and marble markers beside it.
With her death date of 1918, I had expected to find Linda on the list of those deceased from the Spanish Flu. Perhaps I could discover something about one pandemic while living through another a century later.
But, when nearly 100 newspaper pieces carrying her distinct name appeared in my search results, I knew something different was unfolding.
“Mountain Tragedy”, “Blackheath Sensation”, “Degrading and Disgraceful”, “Single Girl and Married Man!”
Linda did not die from the flu.
The June 1918 papers announced: “GIRL DEAD — MAN DYING”.
It was not something the Blackheath community had expected.
The Loosely family were described as pioneers of Blackheath and the Blue Mountains. William and his wife Elizabeth, Linda’s parents, were greatly respected for their contributions to parish life and the local public school. When Elizabeth died from pneumonia in June of 1914, “a long course of residents” joined the cortège to bid her farewell.
Linda was a popular and successful young woman, described as possessing a “particularly strong physique and personality”. Before the events of June 2, her biggest media presence was in a recount of a school presentation night where she performed in a tableaux of the Boer War, and received a prize for academic achievement.
As an adult, she carried on her late mother’s community work and was recognised as a strong wartime citizen. She volunteered at fairs, helped with patriotism movements, encouraged men to enlist as soldiers, and raised funds for cultural projects.
Linda and James were not a public couple. She was 30 years old, unmarried, and known as a smart and moral citizen. James was her 54-year-old, married, paramour. He lived with his wife Matilda and three children, and worked as a bootmaker in town. He was also known for his connection with the Labor movement, working as a secretary for the Labor League.
James’s wife was unhappy with his connection to Linda, and had requested she not visit his shop. She had even threatened to leave due to the attention James was paying to Linda. Although Matilda seems to have been suspicious about his connection to the Loosley house, other community members thought James’s marriage was solid and were taken aback by the revelation of his affair.
Linda and James’s relationship seemed to have been an open secret in the Loosley family. Ruby was the most suspicious, stating that the two were involved in “illicit conversations” for some time. Linda was sometimes remonstrated for her “habit of flirting” with James. For his part, James was a frequent visitor to the Loosley house, called ‘Athol’, where he would often join Linda in her bedroom alone. It was noted after her death that his family home was some distance from hers, suggesting he was going out of his way to ‘casually visit’ someone with whom he had no official social connection.
On her final night, Linda had asked James to come by and see her in her bedroom. Upon arrival at 11:30pm, he said he could only stay a short time. She advised against this, stating that it would be the last time he would ever see her because she was off on a trip. When he asked where, she replied that she may well be on her way to Hell.
Despite this strange conversation, James still took the glass of whisky she offered him. His last memory was asking her if there was anything stronger than alcohol in it. She said, “no”.
James remembered nothing else of the evening. He was never able to recall being shot or the context in which it happened.
Linda’s death was a quick one. The bullet travelled directly from her forehead to her brain.
James was shot from a sideways angle, making it impossible that he had done the damage himself. The bullet entered his ear, then moved downwards past his brain. It was not a lethal shot.
When the police arrived, James was still conscious — but unable to speak. He tottered over the edge of the bed, swaying half-nude, wearing only a shirt. He collapsed shortly afterwards and was taken swiftly to the hospital in Lithgow by train, a voyage of 30km.
Despite a poor initial prognosis, investigation from surgeons found James’s bullet-wound was more shallow than expected. It did not enter into his brain. James soon recovered from his injury and was able to face the coroner over the death of his lover.
It was clear that Linda was unwell.
For ten days prior to her death, her behaviour had been highly erratic. The night before her suicide, Linda had shot her pet dog and cat with the same revolver she later turned on herself and James. She had also been to the bank and transferred her savings of £50 to Ruby. Since Christmas, Linda had been threatening to shoot herself or take poison. Her family considered her “ill”, which was a notable change from her lifetime of good health before this point.
There is a clear reason for her anguish.
In December, Linda had realised she was pregnant with James’ baby. He was aware of this fact, but admitted that he did nothing to help or support his partner. Instead, he simply continued to visit her and carry on the affair. Linda never mentioned her pregnancy again, and James did not ask what her plans were for the baby.
Linda dealt with the pregnancy so privately that few suspected it. Ruby was suspicious, but her sister had never spoken to her about the topic. At the time of her death, she was refusing to leave the house, meaning no one saw her changing figure.
Her state was only confirmed (to anyone other than James) when the doctor investigating her death examined her torso. He declared that the lump in her abdomen was a foetus of somewhere between five and six months gestation. The baby, of course, died with Linda.
During the inquest into her death, the letters Linda had left in a locked box were opened.
Dated July 1, all spoke of Linda’s tiredness with life. Described as being of a “sentimental character”, all five letters revealed Linda’s deep anguish and a desire to leave the world. Her main concern seemed to be ensuring that her father would be taken care of to her high standards.
To Ruby she explained, “I know it is a cowardly way, but I am broken hearted and sick, and life is a burden to me”.
Linda planned her funeral in the letters. She wanted a quiet ceremony with no flowers, a plain coffin, and a specific clergyman who she felt best for the task of laying her to rest. Worried that she might be placed in the plot next to her mother, presumably reserved for her father, she specified that she was “unworthy” of this position.
On the afternoon of Monday June 3, some of Linda’s last wishes came to pass. She was laid to rest in the Baptist section of Blackheath Cemetery by Reverend McDougall of this faith. This gave her some separation from the St Aidan’s Church of England community she had been raised in. It also separated her from the plot next to her mother, which remains empty to this day.
The funeral was not, however, a quiet one. “A large concourse of sympathisers assembled” to farewell Linda, suggesting that she would be greatly missed by the community she had given so much to in happier times.
On June 15, the case went before the Katoomba district coroner.
There is a temptation to see the early 20th Century as a time where women were always at blame — especially in cases of affairs and slighted love. This was not the case with Linda. Rather than condemning her for seducing a married man, it was James who was harshly judged for disregarding his marriage vows and leading on someone much younger than himself.
On June 20, Linda’s death was formally ruled as a suicide. Nevertheless, she was still referred to in the press as “the victim of the Blackheath tragedy”.
It was James who was the most severely rebuked for his shameful behaviour that “wrecked two homes”. The coroner noted that Linda had taken her life in order to “escape the ignominy put on her by a man old enough to be her father”. He declared James’s actions to be “degrading and disgraceful” and called him out for taking advantage of someone in a “peculiar state of mind”.
At the peak of anti-German sentiment, the coroner noted that his “cowardly conduct” was “too reprehensible even for a Hun”. He hoped that James would leave Blackheath, as he was no longer admired or respected by anyone there.
Not long after, Matilda auctioned off her entire home and its contents. This seems to be the last that the Collins family were heard of in the Blue Mountains. The remaining Loosleys also departed the town, unwilling to stay long in Athol after the sad events.
So why does Linda have such a modern grave marker? Is it from a relative? Her father died in July 1920 and her mother had predeceased her. Even Ruby died soon after, passing away at age 38 on Christmas Eve of 1922. Only her elder brother had children.
The marker is actually a recent gift from a local historian. Pauline Conolly, an author and Blackheath resident, came across the story of Linda while researching events in the area. Touched by the sad story, which she recounts on her website, Pauline sought out Linda’s grave using council records.
She found only a plain plot with no marker, raised earth, or decoration. Although this may have been in keeping with Linda’s specific burial requests, Pauline was rightly saddened by the unmarked plot and decided to create a headstone for Linda at long last.
On June 2, 2018, Pauline held a ceremony for the 100th year anniversary of Linda’s passing. Perhaps for the first time, flowers were placed on Linda’s grave under her new marker.
Without this kind gesture, I certainly would not have come across Linda Loosley and her sad tale. But now it will be very hard to forget.