Monday, May 18, 2015

The scourge of domestic violence.

The media in Australia is currently highlighting the significant amount of domestic violence within our society.  Domestic violence has always been present, but a number of high profile cases have brought attention to something which has always been a “behind closed doors” issue.

It wasn’t that many years ago that it was treated as a private issue.  Husbands beat their wives and children, it was just part of life.  Technically under the law, they were his property and he could treat them as he saw fit.  Fortunately that attitude has mostly gone, but as with many issues, the courts and government policy makers are lagging behind the community.

Here are a few stories, going back up to a decade, which have brought this issue to the forefront of the community’s consciousness.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Maribyrnong River Body Identified.

After releasing pictures of a distinctive devil tattoo, and the discovery of more body parts, police have been able to establish the identity of the victim.  The victim is believed to be a male in his 30s.

Further details have not been released yet.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Gruesome find in the Maribyrnong River

Yesterday afternoon a passer-by found an arm floating in Melbourne's Maribyrnong River.  Police later found another limb and a bag of what appears to be flesh.  Police have deemed this find suspicious.   Really?!? 

I'll update when more information is released.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Henry Keogh's ongoing nightmare.

Henry Keogh at his arraignment yesterday.

Henry Keogh has just been charged with murder.  Again.  He was first charged in 1994 after the death of his fiancĂ©e Anna-Jane Cheney.  Henry was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years in prison in 1995.  The conviction was overturned on December 19th 2014.

The overturning of the conviction was hard fought.  Henry’s legal team first lodged a petition in 2002, with the primary issue revolving around the autopsy.  Henry’s legal team presented material that the chief forensic pathologist, Colin Manock, had misinterpreted the autopsy, and thus presented incorrect evidence at the trial.  A 2007 appeal was dismissed, but a fourth appeal to the Governor of South Australia finally produce a result.

Anna-Jane Cheney

Henry’s case was picked up by Channel 9, with a story on Sixty Minutes in 2011.
Anna-Jane died in the bath, and thus the case became known as the “Body in the Bath” case in the media.

The crucial evidence presented during the trial was four bruises found by Colin Manock on Anna-Jane’s calf.  Manock testified at the time that the bruises happened peri-mortem, that is during death. The prosecution insisted that these were proof that the accused held Anna-Jane under the water: “If those four bruises on her lower left leg were inflicted at the same time, and that time was just before she died in the bath, there is no other explanation for them, other than a grip. If it was a grip, it must have been the grip of the accused. If it was the grip of the accused, it must have been part of the act of murder.”

Manock also proprosed a method of drowning which would have been impossible – the bath was against a wall, preventing his theory from being possible.  The attacker would have been standing in a wall.  Other experts testified that they believed the method of death to be accidental.

However, the prosecution also had evidence of a motive.  Henry had taken out five life insurance policies on Anna-Jane.  Henry, however, had an explanation for this: he had begun working as an insurance agent because he feared he was about to be laid off from his job at the State Bank.  To keep his licence current with the agencies, he took out policies in Anna-Jane’s name.  The problem was he got her to sign two of them, but he signed the others in her name.

Further issues with Henry’s character were discovered when it was revealed that he had been cheating on Anna-Jane.  With two other women.

However dodgy financial practices and philandering do not make you a murderer.  Many legal experts have voiced opinions in Henry’s favour.

Henry has been arraigned yet again to stand trial for the murder of Anna-Jane.  I’ll keep you posted.

Gable Tostee: Playboy murderer?

Gable Tostee, aka Eric Thomas

Named after Clark Gable, Gable Tostee has now moved away from his distinctive name, changing his name by deed poll to the more mundane Eric Thomas.

This is probably for the best, because the “sleazy”, “odd” and “creepy” Tostee doesn’t seem to possess the charm and grace of his old namesake.

Gable Tostee came to national attention when a woman he met via the dating app Tinder, Warriena “Rrie” Wright, died after plunging from his 14th story balcony.  Twenty six year old Rrie was on holiday in Australia from her native New Zealand when she died on August 7th 2014.  Tostee claims he was not on the balcony with her, however neighbours heard arguing, and then heard Rrie scream “No, no, no… Just let me go home”.  One witness described the fear in the scream as sickening.

Rrie Wright

Queensland police charged Tostee with murder the next day after he turned himself in.  Police have audio recordings which supposedly contain evidence of a drunken argument between the suspect and the victim.

Tostee has boasted online about more than 150 sexual encounters, including sex on his balcony.  He would go out four or five times a week, and often drink water while trying to pick up intoxicated girls.  Of course this does not make him guilty of murder. 
Other women Tostee contacted through Tinder reported he sent a message which read: Roses are Red, Violets are Blue.  I have a gun, get in my van.  While this may be in poor taste, this also does not make him a murderer.

Whilst on bail for the murder charge, Tostee has been jailed for 10 months for an unrelated drunken high speed cross-border police pursuit in his father’s car.  The chase occurred two weeks before the death of Rrie.

A recently posted picture of Tostee and an alpaca.  The alpaca could not be reached for comment.

Tostee has changed lawyers several times since August.  His next court appearance is scheduled for March 13th.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Twenty Nine Years ago today: The horrific murder of Anita Cobby.

The murder of Anita Cobby has haunted Australia for 29 years.  Anita was a registered nurse, and a former beauty pageant winner.  She was a strikingly beautiful girl, who could have been anyone’s sister, neighbour, friend.  But a pack of inhuman animals killed her on February 2nd 1986.  Five men, including three brothers, took her life in the most brutal way imaginable.

Twenty-six year old Anita worked in Sydney and commuted to her home in the suburb of Blacktown.  On the day of her death she had finished her shift at the hospital at 3pm, and then met friends for dinner in Redfern, another suburb of Sydney.  Usually she caught the train to Blacktown station, then called her dad to come pick her up.  That night the public phone was out of order, and there were no taxis around, so Anita decided to walk home.

Around 10pm, as Anita walked along Newton Road Blacktown, a car with five men in it pulled alongside her.  Two men jumped out and dragged Anita, kicking and screaming, into the car.  Two kids in a house nearby heard the screaming and witnessed Anita being forced into the car.  The eldest, a thirteen year old boy, tried to run to her rescue, but he was too late.  He ran home and phoned the police.  When his older brother came home, he explained what he had witnessed, and the older brother went searching for the car.  He found it, but it was empty, and he believed he was looking for a different model car.  The killers later admitted they were hiding in the long grass nearby.

After nearly being caught with their victim, one of the killers slit her throat so deeply he nearly decapitated her.  She was conscious for at least 3 minutes as she bled to death.  Her body was found two days later and extensive bruising was evident, on top of the fatal injuries.  She had been repeatedly raped, beaten and had her fingers broken.  Anita had truly suffered before she had died.

Police offered a $50,000 reward for information, and staged a re-enactment of Anita’s movements using a police officer dressed in similar clothing.   They received a tip which led to the arrest of John Travers, Michael Murdoch, and Les, Michael and Gary Murphy.  They all had a history of violence, and Travers had a history of carrying a knife. 

While in custody Travers requested a friend be called so that she could bring him in some cigarettes.  Police spoke to the friend first, and she agreed to help with the investigation.  She wore a recording device while talking to Travers and obtained a confession.  All five were charged with murder. 

The five accused had over fifty prior convictions between them.  While most offences are committed by someone known to the victim, this was different.  This was a pack of five strangers who showed their victim no mercy.  Blacktown was reeling.  Australia was reeling.  Many people called for the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Travers pleaded guilty before the trial commenced in 1987.  The trial of the remaining 4 lasted 54 days, with their defence relying on convincing the jury that they only had minimal involvement.  They were all found guilty.  Justice Alan Maxwell put it beautifully when he said “One of the most horrifying physical and sexual assaults. This was a calculated killing done in cold blood. The Executive should grant the same degree of mercy they bestowed on their victim.”

Anita’s parents were incredibly strong in the face of such awful circumstances.  They founded the Victims of Homicide Support Group.  Her sister Kathryn continues to advocate for an end to violence against women.

Today, is the 29th anniversary of Anita's death. Her sister Kathryn, along with the investigating police officer, is holding a public memorial to honour Anita.  While we can’t all attend the memorial, much of Australia is there in spirit. 

Ivan Milat: The Backpacker Murderer.

Ivan Milat

Belangalo State Forest is like many forests around Australia – large and dense with long walking tracks used for mountain biking, orienteering and bushwalking.  However Belangalo is now infamous as the dumping ground of Australia’s worst known serial killer.

The first bodies were found towards the end of 1992 by some bushwalkers.  The discovery launched the biggest murder investigation Australia has ever seen.  By the end of the search, seven bodies had been located at Belangalo; all of them backpackers from around the world (England, Germany and Australia) who had been hitch hiking along a popular freeway.

I remember at the time hearing of the missing British backpackers Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters.  Their disappearance was highly publicised and it was fairly obvious they had met with foul play.  When the first two bodies were found at Belangalo, the media immediately speculated about their identity, and were sadly proven to be right.  What no one could have known was the violence which had been inflicted on two young women, who up until then had been enjoying the holiday of a lifetime.

It wasn’t long before more bodies were found.  James Gibson and Deborah Everist were found next.  They had last been seen hitchhiking near the forest in 1989.  Then the body of Simone Schmidl, a hitchhiker who disappeared in 1991, was discovered.  Under Simone’s  body were a pair of jeans identified as belonging to yet another missing person.  The search was not over yet.  The body of Anja Habschied, the owner of the jeans, and her boyfriend Gabor Neugebauer were found nearby.  They had been missing since December 1991.

All of the victims were last seen hitchhiking on the highway near the forest.  This was not the only similarity – they were all young, fit travellers.  Most of the victims were visiting Australia, backpacking around the country as so many young people do.  James and Deborah, the only Australians, were travelling from Melbourne to Sydney.

There were, however, some differences in the method of death:  Joanne Walters had been gagged and stabbed in the chest area; Caroline Clarke had been stabbed and shot in the head several times; James Gibson had been repeatedly stabbed; Deborah Everist had been slashed in the face in addition to her stab wounds; Simone Schmidl had also been stabbed; Anja Habschied was decapitated; and Gabor Neugebauer had been shot in the head five times with the same weapon that killed Walters.  All of the victims had fought hard for their lives. 

There were campsites near the bodies indicating that the killer had spent considerable time with the victims, both during and after the murders.  All of the deaths were extremely violent.  The terror these young people experienced in their final moments was horrendous.

The known victims.

The discovery of the seven bodies led to a two-year manhunt for the person responsible for what was now known in the media as “The Backpacker Murders”.  Media campaigns with photos of the victims brought forward many stories from people who had seen them hitchhiking.  The first witness to come forward who had seemingly seen the killer was a very lucky man called Paul Onions.

Hitchhiking near the Belangalo forest in January 1990, on a holiday from his native England, Paul had been picked up by a man called “Bill” in a silver Nissan 4WD.  After travelling for a short time “Bill” had pulled over, pulled a gun from the glove box and told Paul that he was being robbed.  Rather than follow the driver’s instructions, Paul got out and ran through the bush, bullets flying past him.  He managed to get back to the road and flag down another motorist, who took him to safety.  He filed a report at the time, but it was not until he contacted the police in NSW (for a second time) from his home in England that the significance of this event was finally realised.  He was able to assist police prepare a sketch of the suspect, including a distinctive handlebar mustache.

Police showed Paul a line-up of photos of suspects matching his description.  He picked out a man named Ivan Milat.

Milat had a violent criminal history dating back to the 1970s, mostly sexual assault.  In 1971 he had been charged with the abduction and rape of two women.   He came from a large family and Ivan and his brothers were known to have a love of guns and hunting.  Milat had been known to use the alias “Bill”.  He had also sold his silver Nissan 4WD shortly after the discovery of the first bodies.

Police raided 7 properties in May 1994 belong to various Milat brothers.  They found guns and other weapons, including a .22 calibre rifle which matched the murder weapon.  They also found clothes and other items identified as belonging to the victims.  They arrested three people, one of which was Ivan Milat.  He was charged with armed robbery and discharging a firearm over the incident with Paul Onions.  He was eventually also charged with seven counts of murder.

After a fifteen week trial, Milat was found guilty on all counts.  His defence had argued that there was no proof that Ivan was the perpetrator, and instead implicated one of his brothers.  Milat was sentenced to seven life sentences, plus six years each for the attempted murder, false imprisonment and robbery of Paul Onions.  His sentences are to run consecutively.

I suspect many facts have never come to light about Ivan Milat and the Backpacker murders.  One of his brothers suggested that Ivan had killed up to 28 people, and there are certainly other missing people who were last seen in a similar area, who went missing in similar circumstances.  However, I can’t imagine Ivan ever being honest about the crimes he hasn’t been charged with.  Milat has consistently denied any knowledge of these other cases, as well as protesting his innocence in the crimes he has been charged with.  I can only hope police are able to one day find enough evidence in these other cases, for the sake of the victims’ families.  Like many criminals, Milat is under the delusion that he might be released someday, and admissions of guilt or knowledge of other crimes would hinder that.  Of course, in reality, Ivan Milat will die in prison.  And even that fate is too good for him.

The other unanswered question is whether he acted alone.  The way so many of the victims were so thoroughly over powered, and tortured for lengths of time, suggests that more than one perpetrator was involved.  I firmly suspect that another Milat family member may have been involved in some or all of the murders.  Of course unless someone decides to confess, we will probably never know for sure.


Milat has hardly been a model prison.  He attempted to escape from prison almost one year into his sentence and on Australia Day 2009 he cut off his little finger with a plastic knife, with the attention of mailing it to the High Court.  I’m sure the High Court would have been touched by the gesture.  Doctors were unable to reattach it.  He has also swallowed razor blades, staples and other metal objects.

As a post script to the story of Ivan Milat, his nephew Matthew Milat was sentenced in June 2012 to 43 years in prison for murdering one of his childhood friends.  According to court documents, Milat boasted to a friend the day after the murder: "You know me, you know my family ... I did what they do."  In a chilling epitaph, nine months after the killing Matthew Milat wrote this:

hear that,
stopping in the, middle of the track,
Are you Getting Nervous in the back,
Should be C your getting wAcked,
talk s here, talk s there,
No-one'z really gunna care,
but talk s with every breath,
You just signed away your health,
I can see you start to sweat,
Wanderin what your gunna get,
hopin 4-1 in the head,
C ILL Put it in Your Leg,
tell me, ARE YA HAVIN FUN,
get up C, And start to run,
how fAr are ya gunna get,
Your Match C you have just Met,
stumblin all OVA the place,
Hear the crunch of leaves and feet,
feel your heart, skip a beat,
Are ya gunna get away,
No hope kid this is your day,
The day that you wont be found,
Six feet under Neath the ground."


Crime Library

Saturday, January 31, 2015

John List: Time to start a new life.

This crime has the distinction of being the first crime to give me nightmares.

There were two things which disturbed me about this crime - the crime scene as the cops found it must have been horrific; and that he managed to spend 19 years on the run after he killed his whole family. But let's start at the beginning.

John List was a respectable married man with three teenage children. He lived in a huge old three storey Victorian mansion, called "Breeze Knoll", with his family and his elderly mother, who had lent him the money to buy the house.

Things were not as they seem however - John List had lost his job and was almost bankrupt.

Using very fucked up logic, John List says he decided that the Bible said that poverty was a sin, so therefore he needed to kill his family before they became poor, and thus sinners. Using a gun, he killed his mother and his wife during the day, and waited for his children to come home from school, killing them as soon as they walked into the house. John, the middle child, had soccer practice, so List went and picked him up, brought him home and executed him.

As he killed each member of his family, he laid the bodies next to each other in the ballroom in a row, except for his mother who was too heavy to carry downstairs. He then wrote some letters to the school and his pastor, turned on all the lights, turned down the thermostat, tuned the radio to his favourite station, and left.

He was not seen again for almost two decades.

The neighbours called police after about a month. Imagine yourself as one of those New Jersey cops walking into that scene: Three story Victorian mansion; lights have been burning for weeks, and now the only light left on is on the second floor, casting a dim light over the rest of the house; the huge empty rooms filled with John List's favourite solemn classical music; the discovery of the row of bodies in the ballroom, and one upstairs; the smell.

John List changed his name, remarried and started a new life, with hardly a thought to the lives he had taken.  His new life was undone thanks to the Television Show "America's most wanted" doing a story on the case.  Someone recognised him, and the jig was up.

What bothers me is his psycho-pathology. How could you kill you entire family, including your three children, walk away and carry on like nothing happened for almost twenty years. No guilt. No remorse. No feelings.

Now that's just scary.

Crime Library

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The murderous Captain Bathtub.

You know that evil stranger that your mum always warned you about?  The one who comes to your house in response to a “flatmate wanted” ad and kills you.  The balaclava clad man, holding a sawn-off shotgun, who starts leading to you to a darker, more secluded location.  Ashley Mervyn Coulston is that evil being.  And in 1992 he terrorised Melbourne.

Ashley Coulston

 However, Coulston’s criminal career began long before 1992.  On April 29th 1971 he abducted two young school teachers, forcing them to drive to New South Wales, heading for Sydney.  He had stalked them for two weeks before the abduction.  Coulston’s choice of weapon was a .22 rifle.  When they stopped at a Gundagai roadhouse for food, the screams of the women attracted the attention of a truck driver and they were rescued.  He was 14 years old.  Coulston was sentenced to three months in juvenile detention.

Publicity photo from G'Day 88

Coulston moved around, living in New South Wales and Queensland.  He developed an interest in sailing and in 1988, during Australia’s bicentennial he came to national attention when he tried to sail the smallest boat from Australia to New Zealand.  He spent almost a year designing and building the G’Day 88 which was about the size of a spa bath.  His first attempt was thwarted by a cyclone, but he was successful on his second attempt.  He was featured in many media stories and dubbed “Captain Bathtub”.
Sailing also introduced him to his partner Jan McLeod, a woman more than 15 years older than him.  He lived with Jan on her boat docked at Hastings, on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula.

On July 29th 1992, three young people were brutally executed at a house in Burwood, a quiet middle-class suburb of Melbourne.  Someone had hog tied Kerryn Henstridge (22), Anne Smerdon (22) and Peter Dempsey (27, Anne’s brother-in-law) with cable ties and shot them all in the head.  Kerryn’s mother discovered the horrifying scene the following morning when she went to the house.  Kerryn had been moving out that day and had failed to meet her mother as planned.

Anne Smerden

Kerryn was moving home to Hamilton, a town west of Melbourne.  The other tenants had advertised for a new flatmate, and had been interviewing prospective tenants on the night of the 29th.  One man attended the house at 8pm sharp, and left about 8:10.  He was the last person to see the trio alive.  There was another man scheduled to visit that night, a 40 year old man named Duncan.  It is now believed that Duncan was Ashley Coulston.

Kerryn Henstridge

Police appeals for information did not turn up any leads. 

Peter Dempsey
Five weeks after the execution of three young people rocked the Melbourne suburbs, Richard and Anne Shalagin were returning to their car near the National Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Road when they were approached by a man in a balaclava, who silently pointed a gun at them.  Thinking he was there to rob them, they threw a few $50 notes at him, which he took, but he kept menacing them.  He motioned for them to go to a darker area, under a tree.  St Kilda Road is a very busy road near the Melbourne CBD.  He told Anne to lie facedown, kicking her even though she complied with his demands.  The man took out some cable ties to bind Anne, and while doing so, put his rifle down.  Richard took this opportunity to grab the man in a bear hug, and after a brief struggle, both the Shalagins managed to run away.  Richard’s actions almost certainly saved their lives.

The shouts of the Shalagins drew the attention of two security guards who radioed for police.  The approached the man, who shot one of the security guards in the hip.  Despite this, they managed to grab him and hold him until the police arrived.

Coulston's gun with a homemade silencer, made from an oil can.

Police took the man back to the police station.  He was Ashley Mervyn Coulson and he had a murder kit on him that night – sawn-off shotgun with a homemade silencer, knife, balaclava, high velocity .22 cartridges, handcuffs, thumb cuffs and cable ties.
When the police did ballistic tests on the shotgun they found a match to two of the bullets used in the Burwood murders.  The third bullet was too badly damaged to be compared.  The homemade silencer had high velocity bloodstains matching the Burwood crime scene.  Police also found a map book with Coulston’s fingerprint on the page for Burwood. They had their man.

Coulston refused to say anything to police during questioning.  His partner Jan gave him an alibi, stating he was visiting her in Frankston Hospital that night, but this was not able to be verified.  He claimed he had lent his gun to a friend.  The person he named stated he did not know Coulston, and was out of the country at the time of the murder.

Coulston was charged with the Burwood murders and 11 other offenses.  He remained mute throughout his trial.  He was found guilty, but successfully appealed that verdict.  He was found guilty again at his second trial, and his appeal was denied.  He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. 

Because of Coulston’s refusal to speak, the motive for the execution of three innocent young people remains unknown.  It is speculated it was just a thrill killing.  Three lives full of potential were ended just for kicks.

In a troubling incident, Coulston was able to access the names of 51 nurses working at Frankston Hospital the night of the murders in Burwood through a Freedom of Information (FOI) application.  This led to changes in the FOI laws in Victoria preventing names of public servants being released.  He was also able to access records about a notorious Melbourne child killer call Mr Cruel.

It is highly unlikely that Coulston did not commit any crimes between 1971 and 1992.  He is suspected of being the “Balaclava Killer” who terrorised the Gold Coast and Tweed Heads, on the border between New South Wales and Queensland between 1979 and 1980.  Coulston lived in the area at the time.  He is also a prime suspect for being the “Sutherland Rapist” who attacked women in Sydney between 1981 and 1984.  The rapist wore a balaclava and carried a sawn-off shotgun.  Coulston was living in Sydney at the time.  He was investigated in related to the disappearance of Sarah McDiarmid from Kananook railway station in Melbourne in1990.  No evidence was found to link him to her death, and her body has never been found.  Coulston was even considered a possible suspect for the “Mr Cruel” crimes.  (I’ll discuss Mr Cruel in a later post).

Considering that Coulston refuses to talk about the crimes he is known to have committed, he is unlikely to ever confess to any further crimes.  He remains in prison alongside some of the most dangerous men to have terrorised the city of Melbourne.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Katherine Knight: Australia's most gruesome female killer?

Not many Australians have heard of Katherine Knight.  Yet Knight is one of the most gruesome murderers in Australian history.  So why haven’t we heard about her?  Because the media, the same media that revels in all stories of murder and mayhem, voluntarily decided that this story was just too horrific.

Katherine Knight is the first Australian woman to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the murder of her defacto husband John Price, known to his mates as Pricey.

Katherine grew up in an extremely violent and dysfunctional house, where her father would use intimidation and violence to rape her mother up to ten times a day. Her mother in turn would tell her children how much she hated men and sex.  But her mother’s advice to young Katherine, when she mentioned her boyfriend wanted to her to do a sex act she didn’t want to do, was “put up with it and stop complaining”.

Katherine was described as a pleasant young girl, but she was also prone to murderous rages in response to minor incidents.  She was a school bully, assaulting pupils and teachers alike.  By contrast, when she was not in a rage, she won awards for her good behaviour.

Katherine’s first husband, David Kellett, remembers the advice he received from Katherine’s mother on their wedding day in 1974 “You better watch this one or she'll fucking kill you. Stir her up the wrong way or do the wrong thing and you're fucked, don't ever think of playing up on her, she'll fuckin' kill you.”  It seems her mother knew her well.  Katherine fractured David’s skull with a frying pan one night after he returned late from a darts tournament.  He was late because he made the finals. 

David Kellett and Katherine on their wedding day.
David left Katherine shortly after the birth of their daughter Melissa, heading to Queensland with a new girlfriend.  Katherine suffered post natal depression and was hospitalised in Tamworth for several weeks.  Upon release from hospital she placed two month old Melissa on the train tracks, and took an axe into town, threatening to kill several people.  An old forager found Melissa before the train came along, and Katherine was readmitted to hospital.  She checked herself out the next day.

A few days after this, Katherine slashed the face of a woman, and demanded she drive her to Queensland to find David.  The woman escaped at a service station, but Katherine took a little boy hostage, and had a standoff with police.  They finally disarmed her with a broom, and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.   Katherine had targeted the service station because the mechanic there had fixed David’s car, allowing him to go to Queensland.  She planned on finding David, and killing him and his mother.  Upon hearing of the incident, David left his girlfriend, and he and his mother decided to head back to New South Wales and support Katherine.

Katherine eventually left David in 1984, by which time they had a second daughter, Natasha.  Katherine had begun working in an abattoir, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

Katherine began a relationship with 38 year old David Saunders in 1986.  David moved in with Katherine, but kept his apartment in a neighbouring town.  During the volatile relationship, David would often leave Katherine and return to his apartment.  Katherine would inevitably follow and beg him to come back to her.

In 1987 Katherine cut the throat of David’s two month old dingo pup in front of him to show him what would happen if he ever cheated on her.

1988 saw the birth of Katherine’s third daughter, Sarah.  During an argument with David, Katherine hit him in the face with an iron and stabbed him in the stomach.  David left, and upon his return he discovered that Katherine had cut up all his clothes.  At this point, he took long service leave from work and went into hiding.  After several months he returned to see his daughter, only to find that Katherine had gone to the police and obtained an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) against him.  She told the police that she was afraid of him.

Katherine gave birth to her fourth child in 1990, a boy named Eric.  Eric’s father, John Chillingworth, lasted three years with Katherine before she left him for a man she had been having an affair with – John “Pricey” Price.

Katherine and Pricey.

Pricey was a typical Aussie country bloke.  Easy going, and liked by all who knew him.  Divorced, his two eldest children lived with him.  He knew of Katherine’s violent reputation, but allowed her to move in with him anyway.  His children liked her, and although there were violent arguments, the relationship was generally happy.

Katherine wanted to marry Pricey, but he was reluctant.  His reluctance cost him the job he had held for 17 years.  In retaliation for refusing to marry her, Katherine told Pricey’s boss that he had stolen equipment from him, and Pricey was fired.  The fact that it was out of date first aid kits, taken from the company rubbish tip, was apparently irrelevant.
They separated for a while, but then Pricey took her back.  This time he refused to let her move back in with him, and the fighting was more frequent than ever.  Pricey’s friends now started avoiding him, because they didn’t want anything to do with Katherine.

The fights increased in violence, until one night in February 2000 when Katherine stabbed Pricey in the chest.  That was the last straw and he finally kicked her out of his house. 
He got an AVO against her on February 29th 2000.  That afternoon at work he told his colleagues that if he didn’t come into work the next day, Katherine had killed him.  They begged him not to go home, but he felt he needed to protect his children.
During the day Katherine had bought new black lingerie and videoed her children in what appeared to be an informal Will of sorts.

On arriving at his home Pricey found that Katherine was not there, but that she had sent his kids for a sleep-over at a friend’s house for the night.  Pricey had dinner with his neighbours, went home and went to bed.  Katherine arrived later, letting herself in.  She watched TV for a while, had a shower and woke Pricey.  They had sex and he went back to sleep.

The next morning Pricey’s neighbour noticed that his car was still in the driveway, long after he should have left for work.  When he didn’t show at work, a colleague went to his house to check on him.  There was no answer at the door or bedroom window.  Police were called after the colleague noticed blood on the front door.

When the police broke down the door, they found Pricey’s body, as well as Katherine unconscious from an overdose.  Katherine had stabbed Pricey with a butcher’s knife while he slept.  He woke and tried to escape, making to the front door before she dragged him back in.  She eventually stabbed him 37 times.  Katherine then left with his ATM card and withdrew $1000 from his account.

Now here is the gruesome bit – stop reading now if you don’t want to know what she did.

Katherine was an experienced abattoir worker, specialising in skinning the animals.  Several hours after he died, Katherine skinned Pricey and hung his skin from a meat hook in the kitchen.  She then decapitated him, and cooked parts of his body.  She served the cooked flesh on plates with vegetables, with name tags for each of Pricey’s children.  There was a third meal thrown on the back lawn.  Police speculated that she had tried to eat the meal, but couldn’t do it.

An almost illiterate note left on a bench implied that Pricey had raped Katherine’s daughter.  This accusation was found to be completely groundless.

Katherine offered to plead guilty to manslaughter, but this was rejected, and she was charged with murder.  During the jury selection Justice Barry O’Keefe allowed potential jurors to be excused if they would not be able to cope with the details of the crime.  Before the trial was able to commence, Katherine changed her plea to guilty.  Despite this plea, Katherine still refused to take responsibility for her actions, and appealed her sentence.  She was sentenced to life, without the possibility of parole.  Her file has been marked “Never to be released”, the harshest sentence imposed on a woman in Australia’s history.

I first heard of Katherine when I read the book “Beyond Bad: The Life and Crimes of Katherine Knight” by Sandra Lee.  If you get a chance, and you have the stomach for it, I recommend it.  I found it to be extremely well written, painting the picture of Katherine and Pricey and their lives in rural New South Wales so well that I felt like I was there with them.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The murder of Rachel Barber.

Rachel Barber

Rachel Barber was a beautiful 15 year old girl.  A talented dancer, she had the whole world in front of her.  Unfortunately for Rachel this made her the target of a deranged woman who wanted to take all that away from her.

Caroline Reed Robertson was only 19 herself.  Their families were friends; Caroline had babysat Rachel and her younger sisters.  Caroline was chubby, and suffered from teenage acne, which led to a very negative self-image. As a teenager Caroline was a prolific writer, documenting her inner torment.

In Rachel, Caroline saw everything she was not, and an obsession began.  In Caroline’s twisted thoughts, the fact that Rachel was beautiful automatically meant that she would be happy, something she desired so badly for herself.  The obsession with Rachel festered and grew for several years.  As early as 1997, two years before the murder, Caroline would take photos of Rachel, supposedly for school projects.  It seems that for Caroline, coveting what Rachel had was not enough.  She had to take it from her, and somehow transfer it to herself.

In the months leading up to the murder, Caroline decided that she needed a new identity. She spoke to Rachel’s younger sister and asked her for Rachel’s date of birth.  The police believe she used this to get a copy of Rachel’s birth certificate.  Still a prolific writer, hand written notes later found at Caroline’s flat showed that Caroline planned to kill and disfigure Rachel, and then create a new identity for herself as “Jem Southall” a wild 16 year old, a “total revhead”.   She wrote detailed plans of how she was going to kill Rachel, and create a new life for herself as “Jem”.

Eventually Caroline’s plans were put into action.  She lured Rachel to her flat in the trendy Melbourne suburb of Prahran under the guise of getting her assistance in a psychology assignment.  It was a secret study, so Rachel had to not tell anyone what she was doing.  Rachel was last seen on the afternoon of February 28th 1999 on a tram with a woman resembling Caroline. 

Sometime that night Caroline strangled Rachel with a telephone cord and, according to her later statement, she kept her body in her flat for a couple of days before taking it in a taxi to be disposed of.  She buried her body on a property at Kilmore, just outside Melbourne, which was owned by her father. 

Caroline’s attendance at work over the next two weeks was sporadic.  On one of her sick days she applied for a car loan.  She didn’t drive, so it is suspected she wanted the money to fund her new life.  The loan was declined.  She pressured a colleague to return a small amount of money that she had lent her.  For all of her careful planning for the murder itself, she left a lot of the details of the next stage of her plan to chance.  The police now wanted to talk to her.  The net was closing in. 

After several unsuccessful attempts on March 12th to talk to Caroline, police gained entry to her flat and found her apparently unconscious, next to an empty bottle of Tegretol (which she took for her epilepsy). Upon searching her flat, police found clothes that would not have fit Caroline, but would have fit Rachel.  After being treated at hospital, Caroline was questioned by the police.  She confessed everything.  The police retrieved Rachel’s body from her shallow grave the next day.

The questions which occur to me are: why not just create a new persona?  Why did a beautiful girl have to die for this to happen?  I’m sure Rachel’s friends and family have asked those questions repeatedly for the past 16 years.  She specifically mentioned wanting to disfigure Rachel after she killed her.  To hate someone so much, for a physical attribute that they have no control over, blows my mind just a little. 

This week Caroline Reed Robertson was released from prison, much to the horror and anxiety of the Barber family as well as Rachel’s boyfriend Manni Carella.  While the Barber family don’t want Caroline to contact them, they don’t wish her harm.  However, they are very concerned that Caroline will reoffend, and put another family through the same torture that they have had to endure over the past sixteen years.  Time will tell if their fears are justified.