Eric Edgar Cooke
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|Eric Edgar Cooke|
|Birth name||Eric Edgar Cooke|
|Also known as||The Night Caller|
25 February 1931|
Perth, Western Australia, Australia
|Died||26 October 1964(aged 33)|
|Cause of death||Hanging|
|Number of victims||8 murders and 14 attempted murders|
|Date apprehended||1 September 1963|
Eric Edgar Cooke nicknamed The Night Caller (25 February 1931 – 26 October 1964) was an Australian serial killer. From 1959 to 1963, he terrorised the city of Perth, Western Australia, by committing 22 violent crimes, eight of which resulted in deaths.
Cooke was born into an unhappy, violent family; his parents married solely because his mother was pregnant with him, and his alcoholic father beat him frequently, especially when the boy tried to protect his mother from the elder Cooke's drunken rages. Cooke was frequently hospitalised for head injuries and had suspected brain damage. He also suffered from recurrent headaches and was once admitted to an asylum.
Cooke was born with a hare lip and a cleft palate, for which he had one operation when he was three months old and another when he was 3½. Surgical operations to repair the deformities were not totally successful, and left him with a slight facial deformity, and he spoke in a mumble; these handicaps made him the target of bullying at school. He left school at 14 to work in order to support the family. As a teenager, Cooke spent his nights involved in petty crimes and vandalism; he would later serve 18 months in jail for burning down a church after he was rejected in a choir audition. At the age of 18, Cooke was sentenced to three years in prison after being arrested for arson and vandalism.
At the age of 21, Cooke joined the regular Australian Army, but was discharged three months later after it was discovered that, before enlistment, he had had a juvenile record for theft, breaking and entering, and arson.
Cooke was arrested several times as a "peeping tom" and for other minor offences. In 1955 he was arrested for stealing a car and sentenced to two years hard labour. After his release, he took to wearing woman's gloves while committing crimes to avoid leaving fingerprints.
Cooke's killing spree involved a series of seemingly unrelated hit and runs, stabbings, stranglings and shootings. Victims were shot with several different rifles, stabbed with knives and scissors, and hit with an axe. Several were killed after waking as Cooke was robbing their homes; two were shot while sleeping without their homes being disturbed; and one was shot dead after answering a knock on the door. After stabbing one victim, Cooke got lemonade from the refrigerator and sat on the verandah drinking it. One victim was strangled to death with the cord from a bedside lamp, after which Cooke raped the corpse, dragged it to a neighbour’s lawn and sexually penetrated it with an empty whiskey bottle, which he left cradled in her arms.
During the 1960s, people in Australia frequently left cars unlocked and/or with the keys in the ignition, which enabled Cooke to steal a car almost every night. He sometimes returned stolen vehicles without the owners becoming aware of the theft, including several cars involved in hit and runs.
The police investigation included fingerprinting more than 30,000 males over the age of 12, as well as locating and test-firing more than 60,000 .22 rifles. After a rifle was found hidden in a Geraldton Wax bush in Rookwood Avenue, Mount Pleasant in August 1963, Ballistic tests proved the gun to have been used in the murder of Shirley McLeod. Police returned to the location and tied a similar rifle, rendered inoperable, to the bush with fishing line and constructing a hide in which they waited in case someone returned for it; Cooke was apprehended when he returned to collect the weapon 17 days later.
Cooke confessed to several crimes, including eight murders and 14 attempted murders. He was convicted on a charge of murdering John Lindsay Sturkey, one of Cooke's five Australia Day (1963) shooting victims. In his confessions, Cooke demonstrated an exceptionally good memory for the details of his crimes irrespective of how long ago he had committed the offences. For example, he confessed to more than 250 burglaries and was able to detail exactly what he took, including the number and denominations of the coins he had stolen from each location.
Conviction & execution
Cooke pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity. At trial, Cooke's lawyers claimed that he suffered from schizophrenia, but this claim was dismissed after the director of the state mental health services testified that he was sane. The state would not allow independent psychiatric specialists to examine Cooke. Cooke was convicted of willful murder on 28 November 1963 after a three-day trial by jury in the Supreme Court of Western Australia before Justice Virtue. He was sentenced to death by hanging and, despite having grounds to appeal, he ordered his lawyers not to apply, claiming that he deserved to pay for what he had done. Ten minutes before the sentence was carried out, on 26 October 1964, Cooke swore on the Bible that he had killed Jillian Brewer and Rosemary Anderson, claims which had been previously rejected as others had already been convicted of those murders.
Cooke was the last person to be hanged in the state of Western Australia.
People wrongly convicted of Cooke's crimes
Cooke's confessions appeared to exculpate two men who had already been tried separately, convicted and imprisoned for the killing of Jillian Macpherson Brewer (1959) and Rosemary Anderson (1963) respectively:
Despite Cooke's 1963 confession, Beamish served 15 years, while Button was sentenced to ten years and served five.
The appeal court dismissed Button's initial appeal, even though Cooke had provided details that only the culprit could have known; in particular, the judges did not believe Cooke’s claim that Anderson’s body was thrown “over the roof” of an EJ Holden without damaging its sun visor, as Cooke had claimed. Over subsequent decades, Button and his supporters – including journalist Estelle Blackburn – continued to press for a re-trial, a campaign that included a well-publicised 1998 simulated re-enactment of Anderson’s death, conducted by crash test experts, with both a Holden matching one believed to have been used by Cooke on the night in question, and a 1963 Simca Aronde like the car owned by Button, which were both driven at a crash test dummy. The dummy was thrown over the roof of the Holden, as Cooke had claimed and the damage sustained matched the records of a panelbeating business that had, in 1963, repaired the vehicle driven by Cooke. The experts found that the sun visor flexed when hit by a body and returned to its original shape, without even cracking the paint.
Beamish's initial appeal was also dismissed because the court did not believe Cooke’s evidence. The prosecution claimed that his confessions were an attempt to prolong his own trial and the Chief Justice of Western Australia, Sir Albert Wolff (presiding) called Cooke a “villainous unscrupulous liar”.
In 2002, the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed Button's conviction. Button's success opened the way for an appeal by Darryl Beamish, who was acquitted in 2005. In both cases, the appeal judges found that the murders had probably been committed by Cooke.
A 2000 memoir by Robert Drewe, The Shark Net – later made into a three-part TV series – provides one author's impressions the effect the murders had on the Perth of that era. According to the book, more people bought dogs for security and locked back doors and garages that had never been secured before.
Walkley Award-winning journalist Estelle Blackburn spent six years writing the biographical story Broken Lives, about Cooke's life and criminal career, focusing particularly on the devastation left on his victims and their families.
- Christian, Brett. "Police decoy used in killer hunt sting". Post Newspapers. Retrieved 2006-09-21.[dead link]
- "Cooke, Edgar Eric (1931 - 1964". abd. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
- "Eric Edgar Cooke - The Night Caller". 2003. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
- Broken Lives p.18. (Blackburn writes that Cooke had an operation on his lip at 3 months as a baby and for his cleft palate at 3½ years of age)
- "Eric Edgar Cooke - The Night Caller". Retrieved 2008-12-12.
- Episodes in Western Australia’s Policing History (1963 Serial killer Cooke) Western Australia Police
- Blackburn, Estelle (2005). Broken lives. Hardie Grant. ISBN 1-74064-073-X.
- "Button -v- The Queen  WASCA 35". Supreme Court of Western Australia. 2002.
- "Ex gratia payment for wrongly jailed man". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- "Channel Nine Episodes, Crime Investigation Australia". Retrieved 2009-03-02.
- Cooke's hanging & its legal significance
- Serial killers (has one paragraph on Cooke)
- The lasting effect Cooke's crimes have had on Perth
- ABC-TV, Australian Story: "Murder He Wrote" (transcript of the 2002 Australian Story feature on the Cooke case, first broadcast 29 July 2002)