Every country has its own history of twisted serial killers and Australia is no exception. The crimes of these following depraved serial killers sent shock waves through the country. From Western Australia to Victoria, the many names here really are the worst of Australia’s worst.
10. The School Girl Strangler – 4 Victims
In the early 1930s, The School Girl Strangler incited much fear in parents and children in Melbourne, Victoria. The killer, whose real name was Arnold Soderman, strangled to death four victims – 12-year-old Mena Griffiths, 16-year-old Hazel Wilson, 12-year-old Ethel Belshaw, and 6-year-old June Rushmer.
Following the murder of June Rushmer, witnesses stated they had seen a man riding away with her on a bicycle. Soderman was working fixing roads at the time when one of his co-workers joked they had seen him on his bike close to the scene of the crime. Soderman reacted with such anger to the claims that the workers became suspicious.
Under interrogation, Soderman gave many accurate details of the crimes that only the real killer could have known. Eventually, he confessed to all four murders and even demonstrated how he would link with his thumbs to strangle the children. He was hanged at Pentridge Prison, Melbourne, in 1936.
9. Caroline Grills – 4 victims
Balmain-born serial killer Caroline Grills was one of Australia’s most twisted poisoners. During the 1950s, Sydney had fallen victim to a rise in deaths caused by the rat poison thallium with more than ten deaths reported. Before their cruel deaths, the victims would have suffered from blindness, loss of hair, and speech.
Following an investigation, police officers tied Grills to four cases of fatal thallium poisoning and one attempted case. They believed her killing spree had begun in 1947 and the victims included her 87-year-old stepmother Christine Mickelson, her in-laws Angelina Thomas and John Lundberg, and sister in law Mary Anne Mickelson. The tea Grills would serve her family members tested positive for the rat poison.
Grills was imprisoned at State Reformatory for Women before her death in 1960. There is still no known motive for her malevolent crimes.
8. David and Catherine Birnie – 5 Victims
Depraved duo David and Catherine Birnie, both from Perth, lured young girls and women into their car before taking them home in Willagee where they were raped and murdered. The crimes that took place over four weeks in 1986 later became known as the Moorhouse Murders. The four murdered victims were 22-year-old Mary Neilson, 15-year-old Susannah Candy, 31-year-old Noelene Patterson, and 21-year-old Denise Brown.
Their final intended victim, 17-year-old Kate Moir, detailed in an interview with Murder Uncovered how she accepted a lift from the ‘harmless-looking’ couple when she was very drunk. When she tried to escape the car, Moir realized that the interior door handle had been removed. After an overnight ordeal, Moir managed to escape by jumping from a bedroom wedding and fleeing to a neighbor wearing only a pair of leggings.
The couple was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court of Western Australia and required to serve a minimum of 20 years before being eligible for parole.
7. Peter Dupas – 3-6 Victims
Sydney-born serial killer Peter Dupras targeted women by approaching their homes and asking for a screwdriver or a knife to carry out another task. When the unsuspecting victims handed over the weapon, he forced entry into their homes and brutally attacked them.
Dupras could have been stopped before his violent attacks eventually turned to murder if authorities would have kept him behind bars. Senior Detective Ian Armstrong, described, “To me the guy was just pure evil. His attacks were all carefully planned and he showed no remorse. I remember thinking, ‘This guy could go all the way.’ He is a very dangerous young person who will continue to offend where females are concerned and will possibly cause the death of one of his victims if he is not straightened out.”
Despite these concerns, Dupas was released after serving 5 years behind bars and later became the prime suspect in at least three murders in the Melbourne area during the 1980s and 1990s. His twisted serial killer signature was removing the breasts of his victims. He is currently serving a life sentence at the maximum-security protection unit of Port Phillip Correctional Centre in Laverton.
6. The Rockhampton Rapist – 3-7 Victims
Leonard ‘The Rockhampton Rapist’ Fraser was a sexual predator turned murderer. In 2000, the Queensland born killer had already served more than twenty years in prison for previous adductions and assaults before landing a life sentence. Fraser was found guilty of murdering 19-year-old Sylvia Maria Benedetti, 36-year-old Beverly Leggo, and 29-year-old Julie Dawn Turner between 1998 to 1999.
The actual victim count is unknown as one of the victims he confessed to killing was found alive and well. In a bizarre twist, 14-year-old Natasha Ryan was discovered hiding out at her boyfriend’s house – she had not been seen in four years since her family reported her missing. Fraser took credit for her ‘murder’ confessing to a fellow inmate behind bars how he had ‘graphically described’ the killing. She was found after an anonymous letter tipped off the police of her whereabouts.
In 2007, Fraser died behind bars at Wolston Correctional Centre following a heart attack at the age of 55. Former Rockhampton CIB chief Geoff Barton, who investigated the murders, said, “I don’t think anyone would mourn Fraser. I believe he was pure evil and guilty of more murders than those he was convicted of.”
5. The Granny Killer – 6-13 Victims
In 1989 and 1990, John Wayne Glover was dubbed ‘The Granny Killer’ after he murdered six women and assaulted many others. His victims were all elderly who he would take by surprise, render them defenseless with a hammer and strangle them to death with their own clothing. 82-year-old Gwendoline Mitchelhill, 84-year-old Lady Winifreda Ashton, 85-year-old Margaret Pahud, 81-year-old Olive Cleveland, 92-year-old Muriel Falconer, and 60-year-old Joan Sinclair were all victims who lost their lives to the twisted Syndey-born killer.
Glover left very little evidence behind at the crime scenes. Former Detective Inspector Mike Hagan recalled, “Each of the victims had been shopping and returned home. He’d obviously been following them as they walked along the footpath as they walked home. When they got to the vicinity of their home or near the front door they were attacked behind with a hammer.?
Detectives were finally able to capture Glover when he attacked an elderly lady in a nursing home and he was identified as the main suspect. After a full confession, he was sentenced to life behind bars.
4. Ivan Milat – 7 Victims
Ivan Millat’s crimes were so twisted they inspired the 2005 horror film ‘Wolf Creek. For four years between 1989 and 1993, Millat killed seven victims aged 19 to 22 in New South Wales – five victims were backpackers from Europe. The bodies were discovered partially buried in the Belanglo Forest. In 1994, Millat was arrested after police believed he was the main suspect in the abduction and attempted murder case but the victim had managed to escape with his life. Millat was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
The real victim count could be much higher as more than 50 victims – all backpackers in their early twenties – have gone missing in the surrounding area of the murders. The backpackers had been missing since 1971, the same year that Millat was released from prison following a conviction for theft. Even his own brother Richard Milat speculated there were “heaps more bodies” yet to be discovered. He revealed, “Ivan is easily upset. Ivan’s been doing something bad, years ago.”
3. Christopher Robin Worrell and James William Miller – 7 Victims
Christopher Worrell and James Miller were a double team responsible for The Truro Murders that claimed the lives of seven victims in 1978 and 1979. The bodies of the victims – all females aged between 15 to 26-years-old – were found strangled with a nylon cord and dumped in the town of Truro in South Australia.
Worrell and Miller met in prison; Miller serving time for burglary and Worrell for rape. After their release, they began a submissive/dominant relationship together and eventually introduced female victims into their sadistic sex life. Worrell was killed in a car crash in 1977 and never brought to justice but his former girlfriend turned in Miller to the police and collected her $30,000 reward.
Miller was convicted and sentenced to life yet he mostly blamed Worrell. In chilling detail, Miller wrote in his book ‘Don’t Call Me Killer’: “It was as if perhaps, when the satanic moods took him over, he did not know what he was doing, or he could not stop what he was doing, or he was being driven by forces he did not understand but afterwards he would have to remember but he didn’t want to remember.”
2. Eric Edgar Cooke – 8 Victims
Between 1959 and 1963, eight people were killed in cold blood at the hands of Eric Edgar Cooke. The serial killer confessed to eight murders, 14 attempted murders and breaking into more than 250 homes. His modus operandi ranged from shooting, strangling and even running his victims down with on the road with his car. Detectives were so determined to catch the killer on the loose they placed two innocent men behind bars for the crimes.
With the supposed killers behind bars and the hit-and-runs still continuing, detectives turned to fingerprint evidence to catch the killer. Eventually, Cooke’s killing spree had come to an end and he confessed to all the crimes. In court, Cooke testified, “(This) power came over me. It wasn’t an impulse; it was stronger than an impulse. It was, it was as though I was God and it was like a mantle or like a cloud came over me, and I must, I must use that.”
In 1964, Cooke was the last person to be hanged in the state of Western Australia.
1. John and Sarah Makin – Suspected 13 Victims
Baby farmers John and Sarah Makin convinced desperate mothers who were not able to look after their own children to hand them over into their care at a price of 10 shillings-a-week. Once the deal had been made, they killed the innocent newborns.
In 1892, an overpowering stench from a drain found at a property they had moved from uncovered the decomposing bodies of two victims. The couple had moved house more than fifteen times in two decades and the bodies of eleven more babies were found at their previous properties.
Their two daughters testified against them as they had noticed that the babies in their care were missing. Justice Stephen J at the Supreme Court of New South Wales a told the couple, “Three yards of houses in which you lived testify, with that ghastly evidence of these bodies, that you were carrying on this nefarious, this hellish business, of destroying the lives of these infants for the sake of gain.”