Crime

Famous Serial Killers From The Land Down Under

Get to know the darker side of Australia.
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The most frightening thing about serial killers is that they often appear completely normal. Serial killers are able to get away with murder more than once, and it can take police years to catch them! They can be anyone: the quiet neighbour, generous aunt, or even a grieving mother. 

We’ve put together a list of famous and notoriously evil Australian serial killers – both men and women who mercilessly slaughtered for their own twisted reasons.

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What Is A Serial Killer?

There are actually different names and specifications for people who commit multiple murders: mass murderers, spree killers, and of course, serial killers.

According to the FBI, a mass murderer is someone who kills four or more people with no cooling-off periods or breaks in between, contained to a single location. Mass murderers may be individuals or organisations: terrorist bombers and school shooters would fall under this category.

A serial killer with a chainsaw
(Credit: Getty)

Spree killers will also have no cooling-off periods between their murders, but kill in more than one location. The usual example of a spree killer is Andrew Cunanan.

A serial killer, like mass murderers and spree killers, will also take more than one life, but with one difference: the cooling-off period. Their killings are separate events, spread out over time and perhaps also location.

Australia’s Worst Serial Killers

David And Catherine Birnie

Number of victims: 4, plus one attempted murder

Location: Perth

Years active: 1986

This couple is responsible for what became known as the Moorhouse murders, named after the street where the killings took place. While they were never formally married to each other, David John Birnie and Catherine Margaret Birnie certainly had a twisted sort of connection.

The killer couple would bind their victims and rape them, sometimes keep them for a few days, before finally murdering them. Their final victim was Kate Moir, who thankfully managed to escape by breaking a window and running to nearby houses for help.

Both were sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment. David Birnie committed suicide while in prison in 2005, while Catherine Birnie is still serving her sentence in Bandyup Women’s Prison today.

Eric Edgar Cooke

Number of victims: 8+

Location: Perth

Years active: 1959-1963

Known as “The Night Caller”, Eric Edgar Cooke started his criminal career as a vandal and escalated to arson, theft, and eventually, murder. The various ways that Eric Edgar Cooke killed his victims (hit-and-runs, strangulations, stabbings, shootings) made it difficult for police to realise that his crimes were related. In fact, two innocent people were initially convicted for some of his killings! Eventually, when he was caught, he gave detailed accounts of his crimes and put the picture together for the police.

Eric Edgar Cooke pled not guilty by reason of insanity, but the court wasn’t having it. He was sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out on October 26, 1964, making him the last person to be hanged in Western Australia.

Kathleen Folbigg

Number of victims: 4

Location: New South Wales

Years active: 1989-1999

What’s chilling about Kathleen Folbigg isn’t just the fact that she committed child murders – the children she killed were all her own! At first, all four babies were thought to have died of sudden infant death syndrome, but it was proven otherwise when Kathleen’s diary was discovered by her ex-husband. 

Kathleen Megan Folbigg grew up in foster care. She had become a ward of the state when her father, Thomas John Britton, stabbed her mother Kathleen Donovan 24 times, killing her. The morbid murder had been done in public, but Kathleen didn’t even know about this event until she was older.

In 2003, Kathleen was found guilty of killing four children through suffocation. She was initially sentenced to 40 years imprisonment, but it was reduced to 30 years in 2005. Kathleen is still serving her sentence today.

Police tape across a crime scene
(Credit: Getty)

Leonard Fraser

Number of victims: 4+

Location: Queensland

Years active: 1998-1999

Leonard Fraser AKA the infamous Rockhampton Rapist was a serial killer and rapist who made headlines all over the country in the year 2000. What is most chilling about Fraser was that he was less than 2 years out of prison when he committed his most heinous crimes!

Fraser was jailed in the late 70s for the crime of rape. He then spent 20 years serving a prison sentence. Once he got out he almost immediately went back to his old ways and committed a slew of utterly disgusting crimes. He was officially jailed for the rape and murder of nine-year-old Keyra Steinhardt in 1999. And he was later found to have raped his terminally ill roommate, and murdered three other women between 1997 and 1999.

Fraser died in prison in 2007 of a heart attack.

Caroline Grills

Number of victims: 4, plus 3 attempted murders

Location: New South Wales

Years active: 1947-1953

Also known as “Aunt Carrie”, or “Aunt Thally”, Caroline Grills was serial killer who used thallium to poison four members of her family! With her thick rimmed glasses and general grandmotherly appearance she certainly doesn’t fit the profile of a vicious killer. But make no mistake, Grills is as guilty as anyone on this list! 

Thallium is normally used as rat poison, but instead of using it on rats, Caroline Grills mixed it in tea and used it on her relatives. She never gave a clear reason for killing her family: she just killed them in cold blood.

In 1958, Caroline was sentenced to death. However, this was later commuted to life imprisonment. She’d only live for two more years before dying of a ruptured ulcer.

William MacDonald

Number of victims: 5

Location: New South Wales

Years active: 1961-1962

William MacDonald went by many names throughout his life, but it was his moniker that’s the most unforgettable: the Mutilator. This is just a hint as to what William actually did with his victims – the details were so gruesome that some of the jurors fainted after hearing them!

When he was a teenager serving in the army, William was raped by one of his corporals. He claims that his killings were done in revenge for this rape – he was hearing voices in his head that the men he was killing were that corporal. Despite his insanity plea, William was found guilty of the most barbaric case of murder and total disregard for human life as described by the presiding Judge McLennan.

William would live out the rest of his days institutionalised.

Honourable Mentions: Other Australian Serial Killers

Thomas Jeffries: He was so unnecessarily violent that he was kicked out of a gang for being a de-humanised monster”. Thomas was one of the colonial era’s most infamous criminals – he didn’t just commit vicious murder, but cannibalism as well.

Ivan Milat: Known as the “Backpacker murderer”, Ivan Milat struck fear into the hearts of hitchhikers. He was convicted of 13 murders, but he’s suspected of murdering many more – he’s usually known as Australia’s most prolific serial killer.

John Bunting: He was the ringleader of a group of men who perpetrated the Snowtown murders, also more gruesomely known as the “bodies in barrels murders”. John enjoyed torturing his victims, who he claimed were pedophiles, homosexuals, or simply “weak” even though there was no evidence of this.

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