Strange goings on at the Clarendon

02:39, Feb 17 2010

Frank Brasier's grave at Waikumete Cemetery seems unremarkable at first glance.

But a single line of lead lettering suggests there is more to its occupant’s story than meets the eye.

The epitaph, presumably approved by a grieving and bewildered widow, reads: "Some day we’ll understand."

Brasier was licensee of the Clarendon Hotel in Auckland and a much- loved 37-year-old father of three girls.

And so it was a shock to everyone when he was fatally assaulted in the early hours of December 16, 1919.

Two men, Harold Stapleton, 21, and Alexander Coppell, 20, were initially charged with murder and remanded at large to appear in the Supreme Court in February, 1920.


Each man pleaded not guilty when called to the dock – even when the charge against them was changed to manslaughter.

Jurors heard they’d both emerged from the hotel in a distressed state at around 1am on the morning of Brasier’s death.

Coppell had flagged down a passing constable, telling him he’d knocked a man out.

The officer went upstairs to investigate and found Brasier unconscious on the floor, smelling of alcohol and bleeding heavily from a head wound.

The injured hotelier, clad only in his shirt, singlet and socks, was rushed to hospital where he died around two hours later.

Stapleton claimed Brasier broke into the room where he was staying and tried to indecently assault him.

Stapleton tried to escape with no luck after finding the door handle had been removed.

Blows were exchanged before Coppell, who was sleeping in a room nearby, heard the commotion and broke in.

Brasier, described as a "powerfully built" and strong individual, pushed Stapleton aside and rushed at Coppell – striking him twice.

Coppell retaliated with a strong blow to Brasier’s chin and the older man dropped senseless to the floor.

Evidence given by others who’d rushed to the scene corroborated the version of events given by both defendants.

A policeman confirmed that Braiser’s trousers and slippers were found on the floor in Stapleton’s room and the judge concluded that something untoward had indeed occurred.

The question, he asked, was whether Stapleton and Coppell’s actions were justifiable.

A jury thought they were and returned a not guilty verdict.

The two accused, both veterans of World War One, walked away as free men after just one day in court.

Western Leader