On the night of May 31st 1889, Thomas Hawkings was murdered in Kaiwharawhara, near Wellington. In addition to being shot twice, Hawkings had been stabbed 'no fewer than 21 times' with a stiletto (a double-edged knife) in his neck and shoulders. A small amount of money, his pocketbook and some papers were  stolen off his body.

The suspicion quickly fell on Louis Chemis, who worked as a roadman in the Hutt. The wife of the deceased, Mary Hawkings, claimed that Chemis had threatened her late husband over a legal dispute. Chemis protested his innocence when he was arrested a few days later, although many people in the community doubted the guilt of the reportedly industrious, well-liked man.

The prosecution's main evidence against Chemis were several fragments of the Wellington Evening Post, found in the gunshot wounds on Thomas Hawking's body. The fragments bore the date 'May 23rd', and a copy of the Evening Post from that date was also found at Chemis' house. Witnesses claimed that the torn pieces found in the wound exactly fitted the torn portion found at the accused's house, although newspaper reports from the time dispute this fact. A stiletto and a recently-fired gun were indeed found in Chemis' possession, although no blood was found on his clothing nor the possessions of the deceased. Witnesses at the trial attested to the fact that Chemis and Hawkins did not get along, and had been involved in a bitter legal dispute over leased property. The prosecution also argued that the papers stolen off the body of the deceased would have been beneficial to the accused.

Many were surprised when the jury returned a guilty verdict, and Chemis was sentenced to death. Questions were raised regarding the quality\of the investigation into the evidence, which was commonly regarded as insufficient and largely unsatisfactory. One detective was even tried for perjury regarding the case. Chemis' sentence was reduced to life in prison, and he was released with clemency in 1897.

Always proclaiming his innocence, Chemis was despondent over the suspicion surrounding him even after being released from jail. Unable to find steady work, he grew increasingly depressed. Sadly, on 22 October 1898, Chemis went to a remote area outside Kilbirnie, placed a dynamite cartridge in his mouth and lit the fuse, blowing off his head with the explosive.











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