Through his own drunken haze, 41 year old Donald Fraser felt rather at unease that night, or so he mentioned in passing. He staggered through the bar of the Riccarton Hotel (built 1883), which was operating beyond the law as alcohol was not to be sold after 6pm but yet again, it was almost 11pm and drunken party-goers were leaving to make their way home. Infamous publican and licensees as he was, he had gotten away with this for years, unaccountable as always.
His daughter Joyce came into view and he made his way over, placing a heavy arm around her shoulders. Unbeknown to him, Joyce had spent a large part of that summer evening with two stable lads outside in the surrounding darkness. The 16 year old felt beyond her years and as she smoked the cigarettes stolen from her mother, she saw nothing wrong with her flirtations with the boys that hung around the hotel. Being shrugged off by Joyce, Donald moved on, finally collapsing on the staircase in his attempt to get up to bed. Within moments, he was helped upstairs.
By 11.45pm, Elizabeth Fraser had joined her husband in their bedroom. Donald watched as she fluffed about in the semi darkness, removing the fur wrap from around her shoulders and the lipstick from her lips. They had been married for 18 years now and she had been by his side for all his adventures – he had after all run many hotels all over New Zealand. The pair took over the Riccarton Hotel in 1929 and it had really felt like the end of the world. Their new home and income sat alone surrounded by tussock filled paddocks and murky ponds with a rattling old tram stopping at the door once in a while, if the driver had decided to run the service that day. Of course she was by his side, she loved the lifestyle he provided, she had the best clothes, perfume, money…the woman knew how to live…so did he.
Donald felt his mind melt into his approaching hang-over as Elizabeth began to chatter away about some unimportant matter. He became aware of her voice trailing off at the sound of a car pulling up outside. She turned to look at him as the doorbell sounded.
Throwing back the covers, Donald opened the balcony doors onto the verandah. Upon his calling out, only stillness replied. Moving back inside, Donald crossed the bedroom and headed downstairs.
“Must be an out-of-towner”, Elizabeth thought to herself, no one would dare disturb Donald at this hour, hotel or not. Donald sometimes got a bad rap but he really was a good man; he just responded passionately about things, especially about Riccarton Hotel. Yes, he liked to use his fists and yes, he liked to pick a fight…but it was wrong to lean a bicycle up against the hotel wall or use the hotel as a urinal…some people just had it coming.
“What about that case of William George Thomas?”, Elizabeth smiled to herself as she slipped into bed; Donald was a great help to the police concerning that fraudster. They wouldn’t have got him without Donald and what was the thanks that he got for his trouble? A death threat. If that bothered him, he never let it show. As if this was the first so-and-so big timer that had put the hard word on him. A lot of that kind had passed the hotel’s way since Donald began sidelining as a bookie…with the Great Depression; a person had to do what they can to make ends meet.
As Elizabeth drifted off to sleep, she felt troubled as her last thoughts were of all the money hidden around the place. Was there trouble coming? Elizabeth got her answer as an explosion ripped her from her sleep.
“DON!!!” she screamed into the darkness.
The Verandah door is open, there are running footsteps, Donald is huddled on the floor and there is blood in the bed.
Elizabeth bolted for the hallway and screamed again as she crumbled to the floor.
Donald Fraser was killed by two shots at close range to his chest by a double-barreled shotgun on the evening of the 17th November 1933 while asleep in his bed. No clues were left and although there were a heap of suspects, it remains one of Christchurch’s most baffling unsolved murders.
Donald was born in Australia in 1892. He made the move to New Zealand in 1909 where he worked as a locomotive fireman. He lost his job over a physical quarrel with a workmate and also faced charges over an assault on a female – the latter which was dropped. He married Elizabeth Walton in 1915 and moved into the hotel trade in 1927 where being his own boss suited him – and his temper. But he was well known to bully and pick fights with customers. Running parallel with this career choice came the life of secrets, infidelities, fast-living, gambling, criminality and with large sums of money hidden all over the place, you can imagine the suspects weren’t hard to come by; but no one was found guilty.
The police did find out one thing – the bullets used had been purchased on the West Coast.
Today, the Raceway Hotel Motor Lodge is known as a famous haunted site. Many say Donald haunts the second story level, opening and slamming doors and turning on taps. This floor of the old hotel is no longer used as units were added a few decades ago. Current owners say that many staff refuse to go upstairs as they get bad vibes and get spooked. They say Donald storms around up there, looking for his murderer.
*image courtesy of http://www.racecoursehotel.co.nz*