If the rise of true crime podcasts and TV over the past few years is any indication, we seem to have a macabre fascination with serial killers. There’s something deeply unnerving but intriguing about the evil inside other human beings – like staring at a black mirror that reflects a different, disturbed version of ourselves. Australia has been home to some gruesome acts of violence over the past 50 years, but there are some things we can learn from these cases.
Here are five of Australia’s worst murderers and some ideas we can learn from their MO’s and arrests.
The Backpacker Murders, Ivan Milat: Hitchhiking Is Dangerous
There are few Australian serial killers as infamous as Ivan Milat.
Between 1989 and 1993, Milat killed seven people and buried their bodies in Belanglo State Forest, NSW. Five of his victims were international backpackers, thus resulting in the sequence of killings being labelled ‘the Backpacker Murders’.
In the early ’90s it was still common to get into cars with strangers and hitchhike from city to city (in 2017 we still do it, but now it’s called Uber and we can rate the experience.) By picking up hitchhikers, Milat was able to abduct and kill at least seven people.
Two of his victims, Deborah Everist and James Gibson, were visiting from Melbourne, staying at a backpackers hostel in Sydney on their way to Albury. To make the 550km trip, they planned to hitchhike. Once they left, they weren’t seen again.
Similarly, Gabor Beugebaur and Anja Habschied were visiting Australia from Germany and wanted to get from Sydney’s Kings Cross all the way to Adelaide. They also had decided on hitchhiking. After departing their hostel on Boxing Day 1991, they disappeared and their bodies were found two years later.
There are inherent risks to hitchhiking but the brutality with which Milat dispatched the unfortunate souls he took advantage of should give you pause when you think about whether or not you’ll get into a random car on a cross-country journey.
The Granny Killer, John Glover: Check On The Elderly
John Glover, the Monster of Mosman, worked as a sales representative of the Four ’n’ Twenty pie company in NSW. In 1989 and 1990, he killed at least 6 elderly female victims in Sydney’s North Shore by bashing them in the back of the head with a hammer, strangling them with their panties or smashing their head against concrete.
His MO was to sneak up on his victims and hit them before they even knew what was coming and he would often take their handbags and small sums of money. Reportedly, he’d then use this money on the pokies at the local RSL.
After indecently assaulting an elderly woman at a nursing home, police were made aware of Glover and began questioning him in relation to the spate of murders that had taken place in the months beforehand. Eventually, while surveilling Glover, they saw him enter the house of Joan Sinclair but noticed that when night fell no lights had come on. They burst into the house to find Sinclair murdered and Glover unconscious in the bath, having attempted suicide.
A suicide note he had left had the words “no more Grannies” written on it.
The unfortunate fact of life is we get older, we get weaker and we’re more prone to injury. The elderly, especially those who live alone or independently, may be in danger in their own homes without the ability to let anyone know. While no foresight or check-in can stop the deranged killing of a remorseless monster like Glover, checking on your elders or elderly neighbours is important step to ensuring their wellbeing.
In 2005 he took his own life, in his cell at Lithgow prison.
The Moorhouse Murders, David and Catherine Birnie: Stranger Danger
David and Catherine Birnie lived in a dilapidated old house on Moorhouse Street in Willagee, Perth. Over five weeks in October and November 1986, they raped and murdered four women and had attempted to do the same to another, who fortunately escaped from the hell house and reported them to police.
The pair had spent weeks planning the perfect murder, according to Catherine Birnie, but these crimes were also a means to satisfy the Birnies’ sexual fantasies – the torturing of women was arousing to them and they believed that they could get away with it. The Birnie victims were all young women, as young as 15, and in one way or another the Birnies convinced them to come into their home or car, at which point they’d hold them at knifepoint before taking them into their bedroom and chaining them to the bed.
The Moorhouse Murders highlight the message that you’ve likely heard at one point growing up – Stranger Danger. Though the idea has been criticised (often harm or abductions are carried out by people the children know), the message is an important one not just for children, but adults too. Don’t place blind faith or trust in people that you hardly know.
The Frankston Killer, Paul Denyer: Taking Notes Is Good For Your Memory
The cozy town of Frankston, south of Melbourne, played home to a series of murders carried out by The Frankston Killer, Paul Denyer. Between June 11 and July 30, Denyer stalked and killed three women, ambushing them, covering their mouth and viciously slashing their throats. A fourth victim, Rosza Toth, was able to break free after being attacked and immediately notified police but no solid leads came from this.
However, it was the note-taking of a fresh young police officer that lead to the most solid lead and eventually resulted in Denyer being brought in for questioning.
First, a postwoman finishing up her daily round noticed a suspicious vehicle without any registration plates. There was a man in the car, but he did not want to be seen, slouching down under the steering wheel as she stared. The postie ended up calling the police and two constables were dispatched to take a look at the car.
They came and took as much information as they possibly could – getting all the details about the vehicle from an interim registration label. Importantly, science backs up the idea that note taking can improve memory, but only if you do it by hand.
It was these notes that the officers brought to the attention of the task force trying to catch the Frankston Killer that ultimately allowed the police to identify Paul Denyer and bring him in for questioning and his subsequent confession.
The Nedlands Monster, Eric Edgar Cooke: Patience Is A Virtue
Eric Edgar Cooke was the last man hanged in Western Australia, on October 26, 1964. For years he had terrorised Perth, eventually confessing to eight murders and 14 attempted murders before his conviction and death.
Cooke was bullied for his appearance growing up and by the age of 17 had already started setting fire to houses that he broke into, after stealing money and food. He’d study the wedding notices in the paper to find out when couples wouldn’t be there and then break in. Eventually, he began hurting people and on Australia Day in 1963 went on a spree, murdering five people. Another victim he strangled and then sexually assaulted the corpse.
In 1964, a rifle was found hidden in a wax bush in the Western Australian town of Geraldton. In a coordinated effort between the media and the police force, the local papers suppressed information of the find, which was tied to the murder of university student Shirley McLeod but was reported to have no connection with the Nedlands Monster.
This allowed the police to set a trap, replacing the rifle with a dummy stock and attaching it to the bush with fishing wire, waiting for the monster to come calling.
The force, in shifts, waited 17 days for Cooke to return to the site where he had dumped the rifle.
The police were confident they’d found their man, but had their patience wavered over the journey, Cooke may not have been caught that day – in fact, he may have even killed again that night.