Former Ipswich doctor Donald Carter.
Former Ipswich doctor Donald Carter. Contributed

Doctor cleared of Shanks murder

DOUG Carter was only eight years old in Grade 3 at Ipswich Central Boys School when he was told his beloved and loving dad had died.

He was 19 when he learned the terrible truth that his father had committed suicide.

Dr Donald Carter died just after midnight on September 22, 1952 in the family home on the corner of Thorn and Brisbane streets in Ipswich.

It was the day before his mother's birthday and two days before his daughter's birthday. His funeral was the day after, following an autopsy.

A well-known doctor with a practice in the Ipswich CBD, his death was front-page news, but it was the story it shared the page with that made his name linger.

Three days earlier, 22-year-old Betty Shanks was found murdered on a footpath in the Brisbane suburb of Wilston.

Inexplicably, the clerk was savagely attacked while she was walking home to Montpelier St from the Grange Terminus tram stop on the Friday night.

The outrage and fear Betty's unsolved death generated led to widespread publicity.

Ipswich people spread the story that Dr Carter and Betty Shanks were linked and it was taken up by a policeman was boasted he was first on the Shanks murder scene.

Theories about who killed Betty Shanks abound, but the link to Dr Carter, coupled with his own mysterious death, was to cause his sons a lifetime of anguish.

"Obviously his death impacted on me quite dramatically. But only as the death of a parent would impact on any eight-year-old," said Doug Carter, now 68 and a retired school teacher.

"I did not find out that my father had suicided until I was about 19 years old. In those days, people didn't talk too much about suicide.

"I think my sister found out that our father had suicided and, as I recall, she told me.

"I made a few inquiries and went up to the Queensland Times and read the story on their microfiche."

He spoke to a close friend of his father, Reverend George Johnson at St Stephen's Church, and he said Dr Carter was grossly overworked, had lost a patient he thought he could have saved and had financial problems.

But the financial problems, which were identified in the Coroner's report as the reason why Dr Carter committed suicide, don't wash with Doug Carter.

"He was friendly with the bank manager and could have got a loan if he wanted to, but I think in those days a lot of people like dad were cash people and not mortgage people," he said.

"So dad saw himself out of pocket to the tune of a fifth of a really nice house - 1000 pounds at the time - and that supposedly caused him concern.

"But he had expanded the practice and was looking to expand it further, he had bought a block of land out near the showgrounds, mum and dad had bought a house down at Southport. So he was asset-rich.

"Grandfather owned a grocery business on Ipswich Rd at Woolloongabba near the PA Hospital, so clearly the money situation should have been covered.

"But I don't know. Why he suicided I don't know; he didn't leave a note.

"There is a niggle there for me that just maybe he didn't (kill himself). Whichever way you want to fly, you'd love to know why."

His mum died in 1989 at the age of 81 after never speaking to her children about her husband's death.

To make matter worse, as he was growing up, Doug Carter felt an ominous feeling that his dad, Betty Shanks, a murder and suicide were somehow connected.

"I suppose really that was only because they happened at the same time and the murder and the suicide were reported in at least one newspaper together on the front page," he said.

"I suppose a number of people in Brisbane and in Ipswich read the front page, saw the articles, put two and two together and came up with five.

"For the past seven or eight years I've done everything I can to find a connection between dad and Betty Shanks and as far as I can ascertain, there's absolutely no connection.

"Betty Shanks was 22, dad was just over 41; the age difference put them in different social circles for starters.

"I've spoken to and interviewed heaps and heaps of people, be they friends, acquaintances, patients, I've gone through various records around the ridges, I've written letters to various people, but no one's ever been able to put them together.

"But there's that innuendo," he said.

A few years ago Doug and his brother Noel gave mouth swabs to the police and it did not match DNA the police found on Betty Shanks's clothing.

But that's far from the end of the story for either brother.

Noel Carter, himself a doctor, accepts the notion his father has been eliminated as a suspect in the Betty Shanks murder.

"However," he added, "the deaths were related.

"It was a double murder and I believe the same person was responsible. Where is the evidence our father committed suicide?

"The Queensland police wanted his death to be a suicide as a second murder within 48 hours was beyond their investigative powers."

Author Ken Blanch has lived with the Betty Shanks murder mystery since he was a crime reporter with The Telegraph newspaper in Brisbane.

Mr Blanch, now 84, attended the crime scene and has vivid memories of Brisbane's oldest crime still under active investigation by police.

"Realistically this is probably the last opportunity for people to assist police to find her killer.

"This crime is one of the oldest cold cases under investigation in Australia," Mr Blanch said.

To mark the 60th anniversary of the crime, he has revised his 2006 book, Who Killed Betty Shanks?

In this revised edition launched at the State Library on Thursday night, Mr Blanch posed the question: 'Is the Wilston Monster Still Alive?' - and reveals two suspects.

"Despite the passage of six decades, the murderer of Betty Shanks may still be caught; new evidence in the form of DNA offers hope that the perpetrator of this heinous crime will finally be brought to justice," he said.

"Had Betty lived, she would now be 82 years old; most likely Betty would have found love, had a family and now be enjoying her twilight years if her life had not been taken. Betty was a lovely young woman, devoted to her family and, unusually for the time, intent on pursuing an academic career."

Ken Blanch sympathises with Dr Carter's family for the link to Betty Shanks and is glad his name has been cleared.

"I think what the police said in relation to the DNA evidence was that the DNA they've got was the killer's DNA and it's a certainty he (Dr Carter) didn't kill Betty Shanks," he said.

"The police have told the Carters their father is not the person who bled on Betty Shanks. So as far as I'm concerned they cleared him.

"There was a copper who after he retired wrote a book and in it he suggested Dr Carter was a suspect.

"He said he had received information that Carter had killed her, but he didn't say where he got his information.

"Somebody from Ipswich must have told him because people there were spreading that rumour.

"I've spent 60 years trying to find a connection and I can't find one."

Ken Blanch doesn't want to give too much away, but he reveals in his revised version of Who Killed Betty Shanks? his belief that a soldier killed Betty Shanks.

Ken Blanch will be appearing at two book stores in Ipswich to sign his revised book and - almost inevitably - listen to people's theories on who killed Betty Shanks.

He will be at these stores at these times:

  • Today from 11am - 2.30pm at Angus & Robertson in Riverlink.
  • Thursday from 11am - 1pm at A Lot of Books in the Ipswich Mall.

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