Old Frank: One Year On

12 March 2008

On the evening of March 12, 2007, a few days before I left Newcastle, some friends and I were driving to a quiet farewell dinner when we passed Frank's Ham and Beef, on Union Street. It was a completely unexpected scene - several squad cars and paddy wagons parked outside, the area sealed off with crime scene tape, a couple of reporters. We speculated on what may have happened - surely a robbery wouldn't merit all that fuss? Well, a simple robbery wouldn't, but an armed robbery might. But why would anyone attempt an armed hold up of that small "corner" store? We didn't know, and confess didn't think any more of it, until the next day when we heard the news.

Frank Newbery had run his small grocery store in Cooks Hill since 1949, after serving in World War II. At the time he set up shop, there were around fifty such stores in the local area; by 2007, his was the only one left. Even at the age of 87, he would deliver groceries to elderly residents himself, as well as preparing his own homemade soups and rissoles to sell in the store. His wife passed away, after Frank nursed her through a battle with multiple sclerosis, in 1989, and the couple had no children, but he was much-loved in the local area, rising at 5am to open the store. He was especially grateful for the custom of the headquarters of the Newcastle Permanent Building Society next door, opening especially on Saturdays to serve them, and they repaid his loyalty and loved him for it.

I myself never lived in the local area, but would pop into the shop occasionally for water or a snack on my way to the art gallery, and over the years progressed from Frank calling me "miss" to "ma'am". I wish I'd taken the time to talk to him properly sometime.

Old Frank lived a long life of decency and service...and it ended, that Monday evening a year ago today, when he was beaten to death in his own store. When I read about it in the paper the next day, as I looked at his photo, I couldn't help sobbing. That poor sweet old man...what did he do to deserve to die like that, left alone with head injuries in the shop he'd owned for forty seven years.

Newcastle was suffering a spate of violence at the time (still is, for all I know), but when old Frank was murdered, something in people's minds seemed to snap, even as their hearts were broken. Drunken brawls at 3am were one thing, this was another. People were upset and angry - and they wanted answers. But there still are none. For a year on, no one has been arrested in connection with his murder. It's hard to understand - it's not like this could be the work of a master criminal syndicate. Someone in Newcastle knows, and they're not talking. When I go back there to visit now, it makes it hard to look at the place the same way. It's impossible to feel the same way about a society when its fabric has been outraged so greivously.

We may never see anyone brought to justice for this. But people haven't forgotten. I never will.

Vale, Frank.


  1. I love this post Nico, it's great.
    It was sad to read though, we all still feel sadness from this...
    I was there yesterday and there were a lot of flowers outside the shop, it's lovely that people haven't forgotten...
    No justice though, one year on and no one has been charged with murder... It makes me ill that someone would do such a horrible thing...
    And the thing thats even worse is they didn't have to bash him to rob the store, it was known he would help people and give them what they wanted...
    And yes Newcastle is still like that, the st. I lived in there was 3 murders in the year...
    Thank GOD I have moved...

  2. That they didn't have to do this - he was a frail old man - that's what really upsets me too.

    Writing this post brought back so many memories, I'd forgotten a lot of how Newcastle is. How can a place be so beautiful and so ugly at the same time?

  3. Hi from occasional reader in Dublin, Ireland!
    I really appreciated your memories of Old Frank - it struck a chord as there was a similar murder here in recent years of a lovely decent old gentleman, for which no one has yet been arrested.
    It's the utter sadness of life now that there are few Ordinary Decent Criminals: the current bunch of criminals do not think about their victims at all. They have either no lights on, or only very dim bulbs, and will try to get the cash by whatever means. It has to be drugs, if patterns here are anything to go by.
    The added violence is a worry - it appears that they are so coked up that any normal innate moral codes are suppressed. Young guys in town in Dublin at night are at risk of being set upon and kicked to death! For nothing! There have been murders with screwdrivers in the brain, simply over a small dispute - or a wrong glance.
    What to do? A) decriminalise all drugs - remove the financial imperatives, or B) Get the dealers - stop the supply at source. The Irish CAB - Criminal Assets Bureau - has been succesful in getting hold of the illegal cash or property gains of criminals.
    I used to be a liberal regarding drug use, but in my innocence was thinking of mild dope or E. It has got out of hand! Urge families to report their members suspicious behaviour - or shame them into it (has "shame" been eliminated now? it appears so). Someone somewhere knows who did this murderous robbery.

  4. Hello there :)

    Yes it was a very sad event. There's a huge ice problem in Newcastle (doubt it's been earadicated) and it's like nothing law enforcement has seen before. It's hearbreaking no one's been charged with this crime.


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