• The Brisbane Tragedy really happened....

    28 September at 10:45 from atlas

    31 October 2017

    On 1 December 1955 tragic events took place in Wickham Terrace , Brisbane. For non-locals, this is the Brisbane street historically associated with the Medical Specialist fraternity- a 'Harley Street', if I may be so bold! I have written about this tragedy before .

    Mr Siegfred Karl Kast , a German immigrant shot dead two doctors and detonated bombs before committing suicide.He had jumped ship to escape Germany from Hamburg and was interned as an  enemy alien in Gaythorne in suburban Brisbane then Tatura camp in Victoria, from where he repeatedly escaped with others by tunnelling.He claimed "100% " loyalty to Australia and rallied sugar mill workers in Queensland to sign a petition calling for his freedom.In 1944 he was released from internment to join the Civilian Alien Corps and was assigned to a wartime construction unit in the northern Territory that implemented defence projects..

    He refused to work on health grounds and the Allied Works Council were of the view that his intentions were against the Commonwealth.He travelled as a salesman in Brisbane, Cairns and Victoria and eventually became a mine worker and farmer.He was self-taught about explosives as he cleared a block of virgin scrub on the shores of Bessie's Inlet. 

    He claimed severe back pain after stating that he fell into a trench onto a hard steel pipe in cairns and accused the local doctors of discrimination after they failed to substantiate his injury complaints.He refused to work claiming that he could not raise his arms past his waist and all of his toes on his right foot turned black and green, and he demanded a life-long pension.

    Dr Arthur Meehan was a well-known , respected and sympathetic Orthopaedic Surgeon in Ballow Chambers on  Brisbane's  Medical Specialist precinct: Wickham Terrace.He concluded that the pain he claimed was 'all in his mind'.Kast protested .Dr Michael Gallagher, another respected orthopaedic Surgeon also was unwilling to support Mr Kast's symptoms and claimed incapacity. He also saw Drs John Lahz and Andrew Murray, also eminent Orthopaedic Specialists ,who could not support Kast's claims of incapacity.He threatened to kill all of the doctors who challenged his story.

    From his residence in Wolloongabba Mr Kast returned to Wickham Terrace on 1 December 1955 , bearing a 0.38 calibre revolver and a satchel containing 12 pipe bombs and entered Dr Gallagher's 2nd floor rooms in Wickham House and in front of a young girl shot 3 rounds into Dr Gallagher and reloaded and let off a pipe bomb. Kast then carried a suitcase of bombs some 90 metres down Wickham Terrace to Ballow Chambers and placed them in Dr John Lahz's waiting room and went downstairs and shot both Dr Meehan and Dr Murray. He went back upstirs to Dr Lahz who was held at gunpoint and Dr Lahz's courageous staff helped barricade Kast who then detonated the pipe bombs wrecking much of Ballow Chambers before then shooting himself in the head fatally.

    Drs Arthur Meehan and Andrew Murray died immediately. Dr Michael Gallagher made a remarkable recovery witha median nerve lesion to his right hand. Dr John Lahz a few hours later suffered a MI and his health declined and he died on christmas morning 1959.

    Mr Karl Kast had complained of inability to work due to constant lower backache and all 4 Orthopaedic Specialists considered that he was exaggerating and said so in their reports.X-rays found nothing, and he engaged in 'doctor shopping'. At the Coroner's request a post-mortem was conducted and found no abnormality in his spine. He was buried at Toowong Cemetry.

    I was treated as a child by Dr Fergus Yeates ,Ophthalmolgist 55 years ago in  historic and heritage listed Ballow Chambers and the building is 50 metres from mine. I occasionally wander through the hallowed corridors when I have a cancellation and I read the names on the plaques in Ballow Chambers.If one looks carefully one can see the repaired brick work in the wall of Heritage listed Ballow Chambers.

    The tragic events had a significant impact on Orthopaedic Specialists, particularly in Queensland. Many specialists were advised by the authorities not to be 'frank' in their opinions where a patient was seeking litigation.

    Today we have an adversarial system in work injury assessment and litigation. The threats exist to an IME from many avenues but integral to being an IME is stating the truth and not to succumb to threats,intimidation etc.

    Drs Arthur Amels & Nathan Zasler (The Independent Medical Examination: Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 13(2002)259-286) in describing the requirements of an independent medico-legal assessment advise that the expert after H&E must : 'address all questions asked, without regard to either party'.But what about the doctor? He/she is not going to be able to please one party because of the adversarial nature of the system e.g.. specific "yes/no'"questions regarding ability to RTW, effects of injury ceased etc .If the doctor is reluctant to answer, or evasive , he /she may receive  a strong demand from a more senior authority.often a request to' clarify' and /or 'answer' the question is received and a higher authority may call asking why the doctor is not answering.If a dissenting specialist is critical of a doctor's  opinion or if a patient feels aggrieved , the doctor may feel , and indeed is vulnerable.The attack can come from the most unexpected sources and cause a doctor attempting to follow the objective principles expected of an IME.

    If an IME is threatened by any party ( with detriment or no further referrals etc) then the IME should seek  immediate advice on how to respond from a senior colleague, indemnity insurer or the medical regulator.

    The authorities of the day in 1955  advised doctors not to be frank (I have a copy of the original advice).Today, older senior, and younger , specialists,  may consider the grizzly events of 1955 on Wickham Terrace  nearly 62 years ago when dealing with daily incapacity/PI etc  decisions. 

    The threats are multiple, and often unexpected and unjust for being frank-but integrity & objectivity cannot be undervalued. 

    There are no doubt more Mr Karl Kasts in various forms ...and other threats to  IME doctors trying to do their job  with impartiality -as did the good  Drs Meehan, Murray, Gallagher and Lahz.....the Brisbane Tragedy did happen.

    Mr  Jack Sims ( 'the man in black') ,a Brisbane Crime historian speaks of this and has published on it widely...it did happen.

    Patients and IMEs are advised to follow the advice of their treating medical practitioner / indemnity insurer /regulator at all times.The opinions stated herein are  solely those of the author.

    Dr Michael Coroneos is a senior Brisbane neurosurgeon with six surgical Fellowships and was honoured to be elevated to Master CIME status by the American Board of Independent Medical Examiners (by  3 examinations and training 2012 to 2017) in May 2017.

    Qualifications and Memberships : MCIME  FRACS  FACS(USA)  FRCS(Glasg) FRCS(IRE)  FRCS(ENG) FRCS(EDIN)SN MB BS(1st Cl Honours, 1980, UQ) MNSA MNSQ MAPS MASE 

    Senior Clinical RACS  OSCE Examiner/ Mortality Assessor RACS (QASM)/ Honorary  Clinical Adjunct Assistant Professor and Examiner / Senior Neurosurgeon/ Master CIME/ Member RACS Academy Surgical Educators.