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FROM the VAULT – The Narella Street Tragedy

At about 7:30 am on 18 February 1957, Constable First Class John Christopher “Jack” Strickfuss was dressed for work and finishing his breakfast. A big man, Jack had joined the Queensland Police Force in late 1946 after growing up on a dairy farm near Warwick and then reaching the rank of Corporal in the Australian Military Provost Corps. Stationed in Home Hill for seven years, he had returned to Brisbane in late 1955, married and had two young daughters and was already sporting the luxuriant moustache he would be identified with for the rest of his life. Friendly with his neighbours in the dirt track which was Narella Street, Cannon Hill, he had helped the Majkas, a Polish immigrant family, move their house backwards on their allotment during Christmas week in 1956.

Sergeant 2/c John Strickfuss attending a Sergeants Course in 1972. He was a Constable 1/c at the time of this crime.

Sergeant 2/c John Strickfuss attending a Sergeants Course in 1972. He was a Constable 1/c at the time of this crime.

After hearing shots and a dog’s yelp from down the street, Jack noticed smoke coming from the Majka house and ran to assist. He shouldered open the front door but the heat and smoke prevented him from entering. Grabbing his garden hose, he then noticed that smoke was also issuing from the rear of the Irvine house across the road. Strickfuss and other neighbours, Jim Ainsworth and Fred Ganter ran with hoses towards the Irvine house. About 7 metres away from the front steps, Jack heard and felt five shots pass him in quick succession. Dropping the hose he charged up the stairs onto the front landing and tried to break down the locked door. Ainsworth and Ganter dived for cover and ran to get their own rifles and Jack’s service revolver. Sighting a man in the sitting room with a rifle, Jack ducked down under the window as more shots were fired at him. Further shots were fired through the front bedroom window. After another shot and the sound of a heavy bump on the floor inside, Jack decided to try the back of the house.

Front of the Irvine family house, Cannon Hill.

Front of the Irvine family house, Cannon Hill.

By now, Ainsworth had returned with Jack’s service revolver and gave it to him as Jack ran to the rear door. Flinging the door open, he saw a man’s body on the floor of the front bedroom with a rifle underneath. Hearing a baby’s cries, he went to the kitchen where he found four more bodies, three of which were on fire. Hurriedly putting out the flames, Jack found the baby who was suffering a gunshot wound to the foot and severe burns. Wrapped in a blanket, she was rushed by taxi to South Brisbane Hospital.

The burnt remains of the Majka family home, Narella Street, Cannon Hill on 18th February 1957

The burnt remains of the Majka family home, Narella Street, Cannon Hill on 18th February 1957

It was only then and also when the flames had been extinguished across the road that the full horror was revealed. Marian Majka had killed his wife Gisella and their five year old daughter Shirley with a knife and hammer. He then waited until Neil Irvine had gone to work, set fire to his own house and took a .30 calibre semi-automatic rifle across the road and shot and killed 12 year old Annie Irvine, 9 year old Belinda Maureen Irvine and Mrs Belinda Irvine. Elaine Irvine, only 6 months old, was wounded by a bullet passing through her mother. Ten year old Lynette Karger, who regularly stopped in at the Irvine house to walk to the nearby Cannon Hill Primary school with the Irvine children was also killed; her lunch money still clutched in a handkerchief in her hand. He then set the bodies on fire, shot their dog and began firing through the windows at the people attempting to fight the fire at his house. He even struck a passing car, barely missing another child. When Jack Strickfuss interceded, it seems that Majka shot himself in the head with the rifle. When he killed himself, he still had a great deal of ammunition and the Cannon Hill Primary School lay at the back of the Irvine’s yard.

Marian Majka's Immigration Certificate, c1950

Marian Majka’s Immigration Certificate, c1950

The Coroner could find no reason for Majka’s actions. He came to Australia under the Displaced Person’s program after a number of years in Nazi labour camps. Jack Strickfuss was awarded the George Medal for his courage on the day and James Ainsworth and Frederick Ganter were awarded Queen’s Commendations for Bravery.

Neil Irvine moved to Adelaide with Elaine who eventually recovered from her injuries. Lynette Karger’s mother Beryl died less than two years later of a broken heart. Jack Strickfuss retired as a Sergeant First Class in 1981 and passed away in 2012.

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This information has been supplied by Historian and Volunteer Jason Leiper.

The Police Museum is open 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 3pm on the last Sunday of the month (Feb-Nov) and is located on the Ground Floor of Police Headquarters at 200 Roma Street, Brisbane. Contact: E: [email protected]

“FROM THE VAULT – The Narella Street Tragedy”  by the Queensland Police Service is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (BY) 2.5 Australia Licence. Permissions may be available beyond the scope of this licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/au/legalcode

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