I spoke with Police historian Peter Skehan yesterday whilst repairing his fence and although we have spoken in the past of Eric Edgar Cooke, I didn’t raise the topic this time although it crossed my mind. Today I see a photo of Rookwood Street Mt Pleasant shared by Denice Weaver from the 1950s where the police finally captured him after laying in wait after discovering his firearm previously.
The first person executed in Western Australia was 15-year-old John Gavin. Gavin confessed to the murder of a Pinjarra lad George Pollard and was held in the Round House until he was hanged on 6 April 1844. His body was buried south of the Round House. It is now thought Pollard’s mother may have been the murderer.
Since then,there have been many murderers, none however, managed to change a city through their acts… not like Cooke did.
Perth, situated in Western Australia was known in the 1960’s as a quiet place. People rarely locked their doors, or their cars and everyone was willing to give everyone else a hand where need be. That was until the “Reign Of Terror” hit Perth and with it came Eric Edgar Cooke, the serial killer that killed anywhere, anytime and anyone.
Born in 1931, Cooke was born different facially. His father automatically took no passion towards his son and that was made worse when Cooke was the oldest of two sisters. He was operated on as a small child that left his speech not quite right but his parents were assured that he could do other things and was not mentally disabled, despite his trouble in sounding out particular words. His parents blamed him all his life for being different. Rather than encouraging her boy that was already getting picked on in school, the parents beat him, and beat him hard.
His father was a man of tradition, he did as his father did. Went to work, worked hard and for long hours then came home drunk and took it out on his family. Cooke got used to this way of life, he knew no other way. Eric was beaten with his fathers fists and belt, his sisters and mother were beaten too but not to the extent of the boys beatings.
Cooke grew up a shy child, quiet with little friends. His mother was beaten for taking care of him and his father continued to beat him for years to come. He seemed likable to those who did give him the chance and for a small while there, he looked like he would turn out alright. But the anger in him grew, resentment grew, and he felt that society, his parents, God, everyone had let him down and he grew violent and bitter at the thought of them all. He explained his killings later on as “I just wanted to hurt somebody” and with the childhood he had, it seemed almost inevitable that he felt that way.
Cooke started working at 14, but found he gave his money to his mother to feed and clothe herself and his sisters. His father wasted a lot of his money on alcohol and left little for the family. Cooke started stealing after a little while, his constant lack of cash left him little choice to survive. Cooke spent less and less time at home, to keep from his fathers fists. He would break into homes, steal, watch through windows and peep at women doing their night time rituals or even sleeping with their husbands.
He got more confident as things were so easy in a city where everyone trusted one another, they left their doors open while watching tv so he would sneak in and steal money from their purses while they were home. He was also tiny and could hide well, this got him out of a lot of surprises as people came home or heard a noise from the other room.
By 18 he was getting bored, if he found nothing to steal he would vandalize the house or set fires in it. He was caught in 1949 and finger prints linked him to so many more. He only got 3 years in jail as Cooke gave the judge his story about stealing for family and for survival.
When out of jail Cooke found a home in religion where people accepted him and warmed to him. But he was soon found stealing from the church and was let off with a warning.
By 1953 he was married and started working as a truck driver. He later had 7 children and lived with them in a home with his wife. While playing happy husbands, he was still stealing on weekends. This allowed him to dress well and feed his family well. His wife was loving and honest, she never questioned his time on his own, she knew he was different and knew of his father and his past.
AT 1955 he was caught for stealing a car and was sentenced to two years hard labour. As soon as he was out, he bought gloves so they cant fingerprint him anymore and he started his full blown career into robbing houses and peeping into others at night.
1959 was when the rampage began. Sneaking into a divorcee’s house in the middle of the night, he searched for valuables but found none. Then he went to her room but she wasn’t asleep. She fought with him for some time and he eventually stabbed her to death with a small knife he carried with him for ’emergencies’
By 1960 he was in jail again for other offences and known for stealing underwear from clothes lines and pleasuring himself with them. He was still very likable to police and they still considered him harmless. Perth gradually grew worse in robberies, women being abused, women being attacked and underwear going missing. Police thought it was a group of peeping toms when all along it was just one man. One harmless looking man.
1963 he moved up in his crime wave to multiple murder. He fired a gun at a parked car and shot all the occupants. He then shot at another car but they managed to get away and finally he entered an open door to a flat nearby. He was unsatisfied with his last attempts and was wanting to really hurt someone. He ended up shooting at 29 year old man, who was left paralyzed for life after the ordeal.
After he shot the 29 year old, he fled to another town and did some robberies there. Then he got the taste again and wanted to hurt someone else. He found a 19 year old boy sleeping in bed, he shot him in the head and killed him instantly. He then knocked on the door over the street and killed a 54 year old man that answered. By 3am he was ready to go home.
All police knew was that the bullets came from the same gun. Descriptions from witnesses were poor.
3 weeks later… Cooke was at it again. He broke into another apartment and strangled a 24 year old Social worker. She was then abused while she was dead. Police thought the crimes were so different and didn’t even relate them to the previous shootings.
Cooke didn’t strike again for 6 months. An 18 year old student was shot in a home she was babysitting in with a different gun that he shot the others with. But Police were sure it was the same guy. But clues were needed to catch the guy, that was obvious.
A lot of pressure was put onto police then and they began the long process of going over all the clues with a fine tooth comb. They fingerprinted the whole area and were determined to compare it to every man in Perth if they had to.
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 on Rookwood Street, 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 constructed a hide in which they waited in case someone returned for it. Cooke was apprehended when he returned to collect the weapon seventeen days later.
They handcuffed him immediately and he was in for some serious questioning. His very honest wife confirmed that he wasn’t home on the nights that the policed asked and eventually Cooke confessed, with little choice at that.
He confessed to over 250 break ins and had valuables for all. He remembered the tiniest details even from robberies so long ago and he admitted to more car thefts and also knew tiny details that linked him to each. He admitted to abusing women while in their beds and even to one where the young girl thought she fell out of bed and hit her head when it was really him, hitting her with something, and then scared off because of the noise. He also confessed to many hit and runs, aiming for them and then speeding off without a trace.
In 1964 Cooke was hung for his crimes. Although the death penalty is not a method of punishment now in Australia, it was back then. Cooke was actually the LAST MAN to be hung in Perth, the laws changed after his death…someone had to be the unlucky last didn’t they?
Nowadays mothers warn their children to lock the door at night and close their windows in case “Cookie comes” its an expression that is used a lot and is the left overs of what one single man managed to do to a city.