Friday, December 2, 2011

A murderer in the family

There's a report in today's Wellington daily paper the Dominion Post on the subject of mental illness among New Zealand cricketers:

Apparently psychiatric problems among the cricket community are unfortunately too prevalent, although I don't see any evidence in the article that any particular malady occurs at a higher rate than in the general population. I suppose they looked into the relative stats before rushing into print? The author of the article certainly doesn't seem to have enquired as to whether there is a corresponding incidence of emotional imbalance among New Zealand cricket writers and commentators, which is surprising given the recent high profile suicide of a prominent cricket writer.

There is no comparison with the mental health of tiddlywinks players or of any particular vocation such as accounting or journalism, publishing, or teaching English. We do not enquire whether the overall suicide rate for New Zealand men is particularly high compared to other countries.

But let's follow the logic of the story we are told. What is so disturbing about cricket, one wonders? And what has this to do with Janet Frame? Well if you read the article you will see that in looking to provide a convincingly long list of New Zealand cricketers who have committed suicide, the journalist consulted a book written in 2001 that listed historical 'cricket' suicides as far back as 1950, including a tragic event in Christchurch in 1965 when a former first class Otago cricketer Bill Frame  committed multiple murder - he shot dead his ex-girlfriend and her parents, and then turned the gun on himself.

The article notes that Bill Frame happened to be the first cousin of the famous novelist Janet Frame, and that she was distraught at this turn of events as her biographer Michael King noted in his biography Wrestling with the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame. Of course she was grief-stricken. She had attended her paternal cousin Bill's wedding, and now she also attended his funeral, and being a poet, she wrote a poem about it called 'Big Bill' (collected in her first book of poetry The Pocket Mirror):

Big Bill, Big Bill, High School Boy, Accountant,
Cricket star, hero of Plunket Shield play,
thirteen years ago I went to your wedding
at St Kilda on a cold dark winter’s day.

What happened between then and now, Big Bill,
to bring madness, murder, suicide your way,
riding with us in triple nightmare to your funeral
at St Kilda on this cold dark winter’s day?

There's also a heartrending transformation of the terrible story into fiction in her novel Intensive Care, in which Frame clearly attempts to understand what can have happened inside the mind of someone so disordered.

Now that the Dominion Post has made this connection publicly, I'm given an opportunity to make a point I was tempted to make earlier this year when a nephew of Bill Frame was featured in a New Zealand magazine article. We didn't read about his uncle Bill Frame the psychotically jealous murderer (understandably it's a sensitive and sad issue for the whole family), we heard about a more distant relation: his mother's cousin Janet Frame, whose "psychiatric diagnosis" he incorrectly claimed had never been established (when it is a fact that Frame's doctors asserted that Frame had never suffered from a psychiatric illness). The article made a link between the man's son's diagnosis of autism and the spurious pseudo-diagnosis of Frame as autistic, as if the suggestion that a young child's grandmother's cousin might have been on the autism spectrum - and there is no authoritative evidence that she was, and a mountain of counter evidence - somehow indicated a 'family' tendency to autism.

Oh spurious selectivity! We don't hear about the grandmother's brother whose lack of empathy is a matter for police record.

It's a dangerous game, name-dropping a famous relation when there might be skeletons in the cupboard that are even closer to home.


Mary-Anne said...

I want to thank you Pamela - our family has been searching for the details of this incident and your blog has finally given us the link. The ex-girlfriend that William Frame murdered was my Grandmother's sister and it has been most frustrating for us to not be able to put the story together. As most of the family has passed away we were relying on recollections of living relatives. Now hopefully we can find fact from fiction in this horrendous episode in our family history. If you do have any more information it would be most helpful. The lady, Marlene has a twin sister still living. The story has not been easy to research as there was no mention of the family murdered via the internet.

Pamela Gordon said...

Dear Mary-Anne, Michael King's biography of Janet Frame (Chapter 18) references the Otago Daily Times of 13 February 1965 for a report of the murder/suicide. As well as newspapers, you could also try looking up the coroner's reports.
Good luck!

Pamela Gordon said...

According to this Cricket website, William David Frame died on the 12th February at Papanui, Christchurch:

I am sure a librarian would advise you on how to go about searching public records. Sorry I can't be of more help concerning this terrible tragedy.

WOLFMAN said...

Hi Mary Anne

I found your blog to Pamela by accident just last weekend!

Here we go...I am William David (Bill) Frame's biological son (originally W. Graham W. Frame). I have all the details you need re the appalling incident, as I was hugely and nearly fatally involved.

In recent years, I finally made contact with Janet after Michael King published her biography, that Pamela has already mentioned to you. I told them both all the details, and verbally corrected a few minor errors in Michael's book.

Secondly, Marlene and I were incredibly close... she raved about her twin sister (your Grandma), who was over in Australia on a work permit at the time. I'm thrilled to hear from your blog, that Marlene's twin is indeed alive.

My father (BIll) tried to shoot me in the forehead the night before, after smashing his way into the Frame home at 4 Churchill Road, Green Island. The rifle:- a No 4 MK I misfired... the primer dented but did not puncture. I took the misfired bullet to school the next day, and was confronted by the Police. That bullet is in the National Police College Museum, where during a Public Visit, I was told about the incident (precious little detail), and I retaliated with a number of very strong corrections and details. Seeing the CAC 150g .303 bullet that so nearly killed me, after several decades, was quite an eye opener!! I understand that similar misfired rounds were found littered at 37 Richards Avenue, Papanui where the final atrocity took place ~ 2:30am on Feb 12th, 1965.

My e-contact is, and I reside at Lower Hutt.

Finally, Marlene NEVER was a "scarlet woman" as widely speculated. She and Bill only dated for barely 6 months. She was clearly manipulated and lied to by Bill, who was her bank officer workmate at the time. Bill also fathered several children in Australia, again:- whilst never having divorced, and lying about it to anyone who enquired.

Marlene Parker continues to be personally treasured on a daily basis, and her metaphysical presence is often felt, alongside. I've never ceased fondly thinking over her, and deeply regretting her appalling demise. I still wish to this day, that I could swap places with her.

My best wishes and regards.My colossal apologies for what happened so long ago. Janet also wanted to send her condolences to the Parkers, but didn't make it past January 2004.


P.S. I have all the answers to all your questions. I've already spent half a century sorting through this ugly mess, so that no-one else will ever have to.

Pamela Gordon said...

Dear Graham, Many thanks for generously sharing this information about that tragic event. Mary-Ann never provided any contact details so I can only hope that she will check back here and find your message.
Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Hi, Marleen is my cousin and her twin sister never had a child called Mary-Anne.....please, can this confusion be rectified! And, Marleen's twin sister is still well and alive and would be mortified that someone was posing as her daughter. The story is discussed and all the details are known to all those who are part of our small and close family.

Pamela Gordon said...

Dear Anonymous, thanks for this comment, but you do seem to be mistaken about the comment posted by 'Mary-Anne' and I suggest you go back and read it more carefully.

Mary-Anne does not claim to be the daughter of Marleen's twin sister: Mary-Anne says she is the grand-daughter of ANOTHER sister of the twins, who we infer has now passed away. That makes Mary-Anne the grand-daughter of another cousin of yours.

Possibly after two generations, Mary-Anne does have a sketchy version of the story but she doesn't seem to be making any deliberately fraudulent claims.