• The Brisbane Tragedy really happened....

    28 September at 20:35 from atlas

    On 1 December 1955 tragic events took place in Wickham Terrace , Brisbane. For non-locals, this is the Brisbane street historically associated with the Medical Specialist fraternity- a 'Harley Street', if I may be so bold!I have written about this tragedy before .

    Mr Siegfred Karl Kast , a German immigrant shot dead two doctors and detonated bombs before committing suicide.He had jumped ship to escape Germany from Hamburg and was interned as an  enemy alien in Gaythorne in suburban Brisbane then Tatura camp in Victoria, from where he repeatedly escaped with others by tunnelling.He claimed '100% " loyalty to Australia and rallied sugar mill workers in Queensland to sign a petition calling for his freedom.In 1944 he was released from internment to join the Civilian Alien Corps and was assigned to a wartime construction unit in the northern Territory that implemented defence projects..

    He refused to work on health grounds and the Allied Works Council were of the view that his intentions were against the Commonwealth.He travelled as a salesman in Brisbane, Cairns and Victoria and eventually became a mine worker and farmer.He was self-taught about explosives as he cleared a block of virgin scrub on the shores of Bessie's Inlet. 

    He claimed severe back pain after stating that he fell into a trench onto a hard steel pipe in cairns and accused the local doctors of discrimination after they failed to substantiate his injury complaints.He refused to work claiming that he could not raise his arms past his waist and all of his toes on his right foot turned black and green, and he demanded a life-long pension.

    Dr Arthur Meehan was a well-known , respected and sympathetic Orthopaedic Surgeon in ballot Chambers on wickham Terrace.He concluded that the pain he claimed was 'all in his mind'.Kast protested .Dr Michael gallagher, another respected orthopaedic Surgeon also was unwilling to support Kast's symptoms and claimed incapacity. He also saw Drs John Lahz and Andrew Murray, also eminent Orthopaedic Specialists ,who could not support Kast's claims of incapacity.He threatened to kill all of the doctors who challenged his story.

    From his residence in Wolloongabba Kast returned to Wickham Terrace on 1 December 1955 , bearing a 0.38 calibre revolver and a satchel containing 12 pipe bombs and entered Dr Gallagher's 2nd floor rooms in Wickham House and in front of a young girl shot 3 rounds into Dr Gallagher and reloaded and let off a pipe bomb. Kast then carried a suitcase of bombs some 90 metres down Wickham Terrace to ballot Chambers and placed them in Dr john Lahz's waiting room and went downstairs and shot both dr Meehan and Dr Murray. He went back upstirs to dr lahz who was held at gunpoint and Dr Lahz's courageous staff helped barricade Kast who then detonated the pip[e bombs wrecking much of ballot Chambers before then shooting himself in the head fatally.

    Drs Arthur Meehan and Andrew Murray died immediately. Dr Michael gallagher made a remarkable recovery witha median nerve lesion to his right hand. Dr John lahz a few hours later suffered a MI and his health declined and he died on christmas morning 1959.

    Karl Kast had complained of inability to work due to constant lower backache and all 4 Orthopaedic Specialists considered that he was exaggerating and said so in their reports.X-rays found nothing, and he engaged in 'doctor shopping'. At the Coroner's request a post-mortem was conducted and found no abnormality in his spine. He was buried at Toowong Cemetry.

    I was treated as a child by Dr Fergus Yeates ,Ophthalmolgist 50 years ago in ballot Chambers and the building is 50 metres from mine. I occasionally wander through the hallowed corridors when I have a cancellation and I read the names on the plaques in ballow Chambers.If one looks carefully one can see the repaired brick work in the wall of heritage listed ballow Chambers.

    The tragic events had a significant impact on Orthopaedic Specialists, particularly in Queensland. Many specialists were advised by the authorities not to be 'frank' in their opinions where a patient was seeking litigation.Today we have an adversarial system in work injury assessment and litigation. Arthur Amels & Nathan Zasler (The Independent Medical Examination: Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 13(2002)259-286) in describing the requirements of an independent medico-legal assessment advise that the expert after H&E must : 'address all questions asked, without regard to either party'.But what about the doctor? He is not going to be able to please one party because of the adversarial nature of the system and the specific "yes/no'"questions regarding ability to RTW .If the doctor is reluctant to answer, he /she may receive  a strong demand from a more senior authority.If a dissenting specialist is critical of a doctor's  opinion or if a patient feels aggrieved , the doctor feels , and indeed is vulnerable.The attack can come from the most unexpected sources and cause a doctor attempting to follow the objective principles described by Amels and Zasler, American Board of Independent Examiners that certifies and trains doctors as CIMEs along with the requirement to tell the truth by way of oath under UCPR GREAT pain and suffering, even for bringing this tragedy to modern print 58 years later.The authorities of the day in 1955  advised doctors not to be frank(I have a copy of the original advice).Today, older senior specialist, and now younger specialists consider the grizzly events of 1955 on Wickham Terrace 58 years ago when dealing with daily incapacity decisions. The threats are multiple, and often unexpected for being frank-but integrity & objectivity cannot be undervalued. There are no doubt more Karl Kasts...and other threats to doctors trying to do their job  with impartiality -as did Drs Meehan, Murray, Gallagher and Lahz.....the Brisbane tragedy did happen.Mr  Jack Sims( 'the man in black') ,a Brisbane Crime historian speaks and has published on it widely...

    ASSISTANT PROFESSOR MICHAEL CORONEOS CIME MASE

    SENIOR BRISBANE NEUROSUGEON

    NATIONAL RACS EXAMINER

    FAIM,FRACS, FRCSI, FACS, FRCS(EDIN)SN, MB BS((1st CLASS HONOURS)