The Alice Springs Poisonings, Northern Territory, Australia, 1981

An overhead shot of the church and grounds. The river is to the east.

A bottle of sweet wine ( sherry) was left at the bottom of a pepper tree in Alice Springs. It is believed it was a tree in the grounds of Flynn Memorial (Uniting) Church not far from The Todd River. An Aboriginal man picked it up and went to find a group of friends to share it with. He passed it on and it was again passed on. In the morning of 29th March 1981 it was opened and a gathering of 16 people sampled it. Two died and many more were ferried to hospital.

Northern Territory of Australia. Alice Springs is just above the Australia text.

Sherry was a particular favourite of Aboriginal people and so it being left, sealed and in great condition, would have been tempting to them. Also their culture is to share. The bottle had been tampered with. The equivalent of a level spoon full of strychnine had been mixed into the alcohol. It would have been enough to kill a hundred plus people.

The two who died were Nabbutta Abbott Narabula and Charlie David ( also named as David Charlie Jagamara). They were aged about 50 and 30 respectively. Luckily many had spat out the liquid as it didn’t taste right. The brand ‘ Yalumba Barossa Cream Sherry’ was a reputable one and that particular bottle had been filled in 1978. The label etc was in good condition. Someone had stored it intact for those years.

Broader Historical Issue

Worshipers of different origins went to that church so it could have been any group that was targeted. It could be except the mass poisoning of Aboriginal people has an established pattern. Way back in the 19th Century low life would lace flour with poison and give it to indigenous people. At times it was done out of spite, at other times as a deliberate attempt to clear them from farmland.

The eight detectives who were tasked with finding the killer were pretty sure the murderer was after Aboriginal folk.

I have linked a Guardian article below that goes over the history in detail.

Loose Ends And Loose Thoughts

The investigation traced the bottle back to an Alice Springs store but given the passage of time it was not possible to figure out who had bought it. They determined it had not been emptied at any stage and used to store poison. There was no known way this could have been an accident.

An overhead shot of the church and grounds. The river is to the east.

Enter the dog poisoner. Apparently in 1951 through to 1956 there had been a spate of poisoned food being left in parks and open spaces. The poisoner had even left bait near shops. Sometimes they had put ground glass in the food to add misery. The poison used had been strychnine and those attacks had recently started again in Alice Springs.

A waste of breath called Albury killed an indigenous woman in 1983. It was a brutal attack and he had no reason to do it other than hate. He confessed to the poisonings but got a lot of details wrong. He was never charged.

The police asked for anyone to come forward who could help identify the bottle yet no-one did.

So it ends there. Not that it ever ends as we and others will mention this on occasions. 1981 is a long time ago, but somewhere there might be some aging low life sitting comfortably. Meanwhile someone who can put them in the frame is contacting the police. They should never rest, a quick look around should tell them old cases are being solved all the time.

A big nod to They have a very detailed article you might like. It goes into more detail on this murder and the effects of strychnine as well. I have linked it below.

Take Care


Please see another awful northern Australian tale we have covered: Click here 

The Horrific Unsolved Case of the 1981 Alice Springs Poisonings