"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, February 2, 2015

One of Australia's Great Mysteries: The Deaths of Gilbert Bogle and Margaret Chandler

Gilbert Bogle

Investigating unnatural deaths always centers around three basic questions: “Why would someone kill this person?” “How did someone kill this person?” And, most importantly, “Who could have killed this person?” Investigators are usually able to come up with answers to at least one of these puzzles. However, there are a few rare instances where no one has been able to definitively answer any of them. And those are the truly eerie murder mysteries. Among the most notorious examples are the deaths of of Dr. Gilbert Stanley Bogle and the most recent of his many mistresses, Mrs. Margaret Chandler.

Margaret Chandler

On New Year’s Eve 1962, Bogle and Chandler slipped away from a holiday party to enjoy a little quality time together. Their destination was a lovers’ lane along the Lane Cove River in Sydney, Australia. Their bodies were discovered there the next morning. They were only partially dressed, but covered with their own clothing, as well as debris such as carpeting and old cardboard. They clearly died no natural death.

“Cause of death” is usually the easiest thing to determine about a murder. In the Bogle/Chandler case, however, it was and still is the biggest mystery of all. The autopsies found no sign of any violence or disease. From the fact that vomit and other bodily excretions were found near the bodies, it was presumed they had somehow been poisoned. But with what? No trace of any known poison was ever found in their systems. Same with alcohol, drugs, carbon monoxide, or animal/insect bites. As a sign of how desperate authorities became to find a cause of death, tests for radiation poisoning or radioactivity were made, and also came up empty. The coroner’s verdict of “acute circulatory failure”--in other words, they were dead because they had died--was little help.

The police were also stymied when it came to finding suspects and a motive. Bogle’s well-known womanizing was the most obvious reason some jealous man might have wanted him dead. Mrs. Chandler’s husband was initially a prime suspect, but it became clear that theirs was an open marriage: Geoffrey Chandler knew all about his wife’s affair, and was too engrossed in his own philandering to give two hoots what she did. He also had an alibi for the night of the deaths--he and his children were at his girlfriend's house, and there was a disinterested witness to back up his story.

What of Bogle's wife Vivienne, who, on the night of her husband's death, was spending a quiet New Year's Eve at home with their four children? She is a curiously inconspicuous figure in this mystery. Mrs. Bogle was either willfully ignorant or incredibly obtuse about her husband's flagrant and nearly non-stop infidelities. She insisted to authorities that their home life had been a happy one, and she may even, as far as it went, have been telling the truth. In any case, even if she had a motive, she appears to have been lacking either the means or the opportunity to kill her husband and his lover.

Students of the case have also looked long and hard at Margaret Fowler, a colleague and ex-lover of Bogle's. She was a somewhat hysterical, neurotic sort, who made no secret of the fact that she was still obsessed with Bogle. There were rumors that she had followed Bogle and Mrs. Chandler to their riverside rendezvous, only to find them unconscious or dead. It has been speculated that it was she who was responsible for arranging the bodies in the odd way in which they had been found, in a half-baked attempt to give the man she loved some measure of posthumous dignity. It could be said that she had the motive--and possibly the mental instability--to kill the couple, but no actual proof of her culpability was ever found. Also, any efforts to pin the deaths on her runs into the same problem one has in making a case against Mrs. Bogle or Mr. Chandler--if one of these people did kill the couple, how in the world did they do it?

Bogle, a research scientist for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, had been working on various controversial experiments, including ones that involved LSD and what was breathlessly described as a “death ray.” There were various conspiracy theories proposing that his death--murder?-- was somehow connected to his work, but again, there was no actual proof. Years later, it was even proposed that Bogle had been an espionage agent who was killed by the CIA and/or M15. (The odd fact that Bogle's FBI file is still classified gives a certain measure of credence to these exotic speculations.)

One slightly less exotic theory was proposed by Dr. Pang Teng Cheung, the Director of Forensic Medicine for the Hong Kong Police. He had uncovered two deaths that showed the same puzzling features as Bogle and Chandler. These people had died after taking an illegal Asian aphrodisiac called yohimbine. There were rumors that Dr. Bogle was suffering from sexual difficulties--a disastrous development for someone of his proclivities. Might he and his new lover have tried this exotic drug, with fatal results? Or could they have--either through accident or murder--died from an overdose of LSD, a drug which would at the time have been untraceable?

The case remained at a standstill until 2006, when a documentary about the case written by Peter Butt suggested what may be the most startling solution to the mystery: that Bogle and Chandler had not been murdered at all. According to this theory, the couple died of acute hydrogen sulphide poisoning emitted by fumes from the Lane Cove River. For many years, a local factory had been pumping the smelly, highly toxic hydrogen sulphide into the waterway, and the pollution had generated a great deal of complaint among local residents. Butt suggested that while Bogle and Chandler were making love near the river bank, they were left disoriented by the fumes. Unable to escape, they were accidentally gassed to death. (Significantly, the autopsies discovered a particular discoloration of their blood that is characteristic of hydrogen sulphide poisoning.)

However, if the river was that toxic, it is odd that Bogle and Chandler would be the only fatalities. (It would certainly make theirs one of history’s most unlucky trysts.) And if their deaths were completely accidental, it does not explain the strange way their semi-nude bodies were covered. While this scenario has the charm of simplicity, it still seems somewhat feeble.

It was Margaret Fowler who supplied the most intriguing comment on the mystery. Shortly before her death in 1977, she read "Without Hardware," a book written by Catherine Dalton, the widow of leading atomic scientist Clifford Dalton. Dr. Dalton--who had been a friend of Gilbert Bogle's--had died in mysterious circumstances in 1961, leading to persistent rumors that he had been killed by intelligence agents. Mrs. Dalton's book suggested that Bogle had learned of major security leaks at the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and some nefarious activities of American espionage agents. When Bogle threatened to reveal these details, he was killed by spraying him with nerve gas. Mrs. Chandler was simply a case of wrong place, wrong time.

Fowler talked about the book with a friend, commenting that "I've been puzzled [about Bogle's death] for years, but this book has finally supplied the answer."

Was this a vital clue? Or simply yet another red herring?


  1. Very interesting. I think Dr Pang's solution is very plausible. Given Bogle's reputation, he may have wanted to enhance his fading prowess, and persuaded his girlfriend to imbibe as well. On the other hand, the Russians were turning their eyes on Australia and its intelligence services at that time. Considering the way some of the KGB's enemies have died, that group's involvement may be theorized, as well.

    But what is really puzzling, judging by his photograph, is how Bogle became a lothario at all.

    1. "But what is really puzzling, judging by his photograph, is how Bogle became a lothario at all."

      That was my first thought when I saw his picture! You never can tell, I suppose...

  2. An excerpt from the Butt book:

    "Below Dr Bogle’s body, on the exposed riverbed, scientific
    detective, George Lindsay, photographed a pair of ladies
    panties, a man’s belt, and a pair of brown women’s shoes. The
    items of apparel were spread out in a distinct line parallel to the

    If Bogle and Chandler were in the throes of passion, what would the odds be that their discarded clothing would be in a parallel line along the riverbank?

    An ex-work colleague of mine had started her career as a radiographer in the early 1960's, and she said in passing that there were many rumours for the what happened to the couple.

    1. "Below Dr Bogle’s body, on the exposed riverbed, scientific
      detective, George Lindsay, photographed a pair of ladies
      panties, a man’s belt, and a pair of brown women’s shoes. The
      items of apparel were spread out in a distinct line parallel to the
      riverbank." That is easy to explain - The sloppy cop work. he laid them out himself to photograph them in one image...

  3. I had an amusing "interrogation" by a fellow at an anti nuclear rally in the 70s. He had overheard my talking about "Without Hardware" and really grilled me after he followed me to the Gent's at Sydney Opera House. I dismissed him as an oddball until the friend I had discussed the book with reported a similar incident when he visited the toilet later - same interviewer, same questions!


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