1920 September 30, 2006

Hell hath no fury ...

Martin Williamson on a promising career cut short by the gun of a jilted lover

The official police photograph of the crime scene © Justice & Police Museum

Cricket's history contains a number of players who have been cut down in their prime. Perhaps the greatest of them all, Archie Jackson was only 23 when he died of tuberculosis in 1933. He emerged at the same time as Don Bradman and some considered him to be the brighter prospect. A little over a decade earlier another emerging star died, but the circumstances surrounding his death were far from ordinary.

Born in 1890 and brought up in Sydney, Claude Tozer had begun to make his name as a batsman before World War One, and in 1910-11 he was the leading runscorer in grade cricket for Sydney University, an achievement he repeated in 1913-14. As a medical student, he had little spare time and so appearances for New South Wales, which would require time off even for home games, were out of the question even though he was invited several times. In between his studies, he found time to make four first-class outings in non-Shield games.

Tozer qualified as a doctor just as the war broke out, and he immediately enlisted in the Royal Australian Medical Corps, seeing action at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, being injured several times and winning the DSO. After the war, he resumed where he had left off, and with more time available, his availability for major matches improved.

He made a sensational start to the 1920-21 season, scoring 452 runs in three grade innings, and that was enough for him to be invited to open the batting for an Australian XI against the touring MCC team at Brisbane at the beginning of December. Tozer rose to the occasion, scoring a pair of fifties, the second in fierce heat as his side earned a draw after conceding a sizeable first-innings deficit.

He returned to Sydney to find an invitation from the NSW selectors asking him to captain the side in a non-Shield match against Queensland starting on New Year's Day. The presence of Herbie Collins and Warren Bardsley, Australia's openers, in the full-strength NSW side limited his opportunities, but the captaincy was a sure sign that he was pressing for a place in a very powerful state XI. It also seemed to underline newspaper speculation that he was being thought about by the national selectors.

Although he was not likely to break into the national side in the short term, his form in grade cricket and a post-war first-class average over 50 meant he was considered to have a good chance of being picked for the Ashes tour to England in 1921. In the event, Tozer was dead before he had a chance to play again.

Back in Sydney , Tozer had arranged to spend Christmas relaxing and visiting a few patients of his North Shore practice. It was while calling on a patient - Dorothy Mort, who he had been treating for depression and suicidal tendencies - that he was murdered.

Ten minutes after Tozer arrived at Mort's house, Florence Fizzelle, her housekeeper, heard shots coming from the drawing-room. Fizzelle knocked at the door and Mort reassured her everything was fine. After another ten minutes more shots were heard and Mort emerged, locked the door and headed to her bedroom. About two hours later, a deeply suspicious Fizzelle broke down the bedroom door to find Mort semi-conscious after taking a dose of laudanum and with a gunshot wound to her breast. Heading back to the drawing-room, she found Tozer slumped on the sofa with three bullet wounds, to his chest, temple and back of the head.

When the news broke on December 23, the public were shocked and flags at the SCG were lowered to half-mast. The NSW team wore black armbands when their match against Victoria started on Christmas Eve at Adelaide.

Very quickly, rumours began to circulate that there was more to this murder than met the eye. The relationship between Tozer, who was engaged, and Mort, who was married with two young children, was said to be more than that of doctor-patient. Even the Sydney Morning Herald hinted as much, reporting that Tozer's visit to Mort was "allegedly professional". In the couched language of the time, that was sensational stuff.

The trial of Mort in March 1921 attracted considerable newspaper coverage and the reporters filled column inches with lurid details of correspondence between the murderer and victim, although it became clear that while there was passion, Tozer had seemed unwilling to enter into a sexual relationship.

It emerged that Tozer had visited on Mort to call it a day. He did not know that she had already told a friend that were that to happen, she would consider suicide. A policeman told the court that shortly after her arrest, Mort had said: "If I cannot have him, then no other woman shall."

Mort was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity, and was committed for life to an asylum, where she died two decades later. By the time the jury delivered its verdict, Tozer had been buried in Waverley. Most of Sydney's cricket fraternity were in attendance.

While Tozer's first-class career was not long enough to gauge his career fully, there is enough there to suggest that he could have gone on to play for Australia, even though at 30, his age was slightly against him.

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The Sydney Observer Martin Slattery (December 2005)
Cricket-Online Steve Thompson (2006)
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1922