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A police sergeant briefs the coroner and a court inspection party on the Sydney riverside, where the lovers’ bodies were found. Photo/Getty

A death by the river: The Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler mystery

The Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler mystery.

It has swinging, scientists and the 60s. It is one of Australia’s most enduring unsolved tabloid scandals and, as with so many things, Australians tend to underplay the New Zealand connection to the case.

It all began with the discovery beside Sydney’s Lane Cove River on New Year’s Day 1963 of the bodies of Margaret Chandler and government physicist Dr Gilbert Bogle, who had clearly recently been in flagrante delicto. Rhodes scholar Bogle was born in Whanganui in 1924. The pair were married to other people and had been at a party earlier in the evening. Bogle and Margaret Chandler’s husband, Geoffrey, were both scientists and what used to be called notorious philanderers. The Chandlers had an open marriage. Who went home with whom from the party had been a matter of mutual consent among the spouses.

The coroner was unable to determine the cause of death, although some sort of poisoning seemed likely. Theories blossomed. Geoffrey Chandler was an early suspect, until he finally convinced the police he couldn’t have given a wombat’s arse about being cuckolded, what with having gone to visit his own girlfriend as well that night. Margaret Fowler, a former lover of Bogle, came briefly under suspicion. Former MI5 spy and blabbermouth Peter Wright believed Bogle had been killed because he was a Russian agent. 

After that, it gets complicated. One newspaper suggested a “poison death pact”. A couple of years prior, another New Zealand scientist in Australia, Clifford Dalton – inventor of the fast breeder reactor, brother of All Black Ray and uncle of All Black Andy – had died of cancer. His widow, Catherine, wrote a book called Without Hardware, in which she claimed her husband had been murdered, and that Bogle and Chandler had met the same fate because Bogle was planning to investigate Dalton’s death.

Dr Gilbert Bogle, Margaret Chandler and her husband, Geoffrey Chandler.

It was some 60 years after the event that a psychologist told journalist Peter Butt, who had been on the case for years, that a woman told him she and a friend had chanced upon the couple and witnessed the – ahem – whole thing. The sight had left them too traumatised to tell anyone at the time.

Butt quotes the psychologist’s recollection of the young woman’s eyewitness account. According to the report in his book Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler: The Confession: “At some point, the woman [Chandler] said loudly, ‘Why have you stopped?’ He said nothing and she asked him to ‘Keep on going’. Then suddenly the woman grabbed her throat and made a strangling noise and got up and staggered off.”

The young woman’s account supports an earlier theory of Butt’s, which is now accepted as the likeliest explanation. In his TV documentary Who Killed Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler?, he speculated that industrial waste in the river led to their deaths from hydrogen sulphide poisoning.

The young woman’s testimony also supports an account provided by a one-armed peeping tom – it does seem to have got quite crowded on the banks of the Lane Cove River that morning – who reported seeing a man with long blond hair in the bushes at the time. The young woman’s friend had long blond hair and had been dressed as a man.

The psychologist swore to keep the young woman’s identity a secret, so, unless one of the pair – who could well still be alive – comes forward, the final answer to the Bogle-Chandler mystery is likely to remain frustratingly just out of reach.

This article was first published in the October 2019 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more great stories.