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.
Our tale begins at the Fremantle Town Hall as it opened on the 22nd June, 1887, to coincide with the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. A grand opening ceremony was held, followed by a day of sport and a grand ball in the evening. On the following evening there was a children’s fancy dress ball, which was marred by the murder of Councillor Snook by William Conroy, landlord of the Victoria Hotel.
William Conroy (1857 – 18 November 1887) was the last person executed at the Perth Gaol. Conroy was convicted of murdering Fremantle Town Councillor John Snook.
Conroy had immigrated from Ireland about ten years earlier, and before going to Fremantle was the licensee of the Victoria Hotel, located at the corner of James Street and Melbourne Road in Perth. On 6 September 1886 Conroy became the first publican of the new National Hotel on High Street in Fremantle
On 23 June 1887 Conroy went to the Fremantle Town Hall where there was a children’s ball in progress. He demanded entrance, as he was a licensee of the National Hotel, but was told by Snook that only ladies and children were to be admitted. He persisted in his demands and finally the door was slammed on him. Conroy later gained admittance to the Town Hall. When Snook left the supper room, Conroy followed him, drew a revolver from his pocket, shot Snook and put the gun back in his pocket. Conroy was arrested immediately. Snook died three months later. The trial took place at Perth and he was sentenced to death on 7 October 1887. After he was sentenced a petition was raised and signed by approximately 1500 people, including all members of the jury who had at the time of passing the verdict asked the judge to be lenient. This was then given to Governor Broome. A further call to the governor for clemency occurred during a public meeting attend by 1,000 people at the Perth Town Hall. Governor Broome then reviewed the case with two judges and medical people who had previously been part of Conroy’s trial, but the governor decided to let the law take it course. Conroy was hanged at Perth Gaol at 8 a.m. on 18 November 1887. The execution however was not swift as when Conroy was hanged the initial fall failed to break his neck and it took approximately 15 minutes for him to die of strangulation. Conroy was buried at Fremantle Cemetery.
Conroy was the last person to be hanged at Perth Gaol.
Thanks go to Debbie Miles for the name William Conroy which I followed up on, Mrs D Croft and Edward James Rigg for the images.
Thank you to all who have helped us get half way to our goal.
If you like surprises, then I have plenty of them to present to you with your help?
Since this campaign began we have pending for you to view Donald Campbell’s famous 1964 world water speed record on Lake Dumbleyung and testing at Crawley Bay, The opening of The Narrows Bridge and a Volkswagen travelling across the Swan River in the water, The Alkimos as she once was on the beach north of Perth plus as seen here the last tram to run on the streets of our City and a steam train travelling through the Swan View Tunnel in Perth’s hills.
74 tins of 16mm film were found on a verge in Nedlands by a passer by. I purchased these films to share with Lost Perth followers but it is expensive to convert them to digital format. I have spoken to relatives of the gentleman who recorded these films and they will accept a digital copy and I will do the same for the State Library of WA.
The films , in colour and black and white, range from 1948 to 1961 including Kings Park, Perth, Fremantle Bunbury, Wagin and Albany.
Museums and libraries do not have the funds to convert their own collection so it is up to us if we wish to watch these films ourselves. This also gives us the ability to ALL view the films.
On top of this rare footage , we have 3 more collections to be converted including that of WW2 hero Jack Sue. (and three more families have emailed me over night with more film)
When we have enough film I will get a movie edited on to a DVD with highlights of the footage to be provided to each and every person who put up the cash to help us get this project happening as a thank you.
The film I will take from town to town for charities to hold film nights where we will find more great photos and memories for Lost Perth and libraries.
The fun is just beginning as you never know who you are going to spot of so much film, maybe even Mum & Dad?
Please help me to show you our history on film.
Settlers occupied Western Australia and changed the
land introducing religion, laws and new diseases. Their actions disrupted Indigenous people’s lives. In the 1890s, Perth’s
railway station was built on a swamp like 15 other wetlands reclaimed by the white fella per the attached diagram where Fanny Balbuk had gathered eggs and caught turtles and fresh water crayfish as had her people for 1000s of years.
Fanny Balbuk (1840-1907) was a prominent Noongar woman, born during the early years of British settlement on Matagarup (Heirisson Island) along the Derbal Yaragan (Swan River) in Perth, Western Australia.
Balbuk provided information about Noongar culture and history to anthropologist Daisy Bates which can be appreciated today painting a picture of the black fellas way of life.
Fanny’s father was Coondebung, and her mother was Joojeebal/Doodyeep. They were well-known in the white community. For example, on an excursion north of Perth, the farmer George Fletcher Moore came across Balbuk’s parents and travelled with them for a few days. Moore published an account of this in the Perth Gazette on 14 May 1836. Doodyeep’s cheeky sense of humour and Coondebung’s skill at travelling and hunting on his own country are vividly described in Moore’s account.
Sadly Coondebung died in November 1840 after being imprisoned on Rottnest Island for taking flour. It is unclear what happened to Doodyeep.
Balbuk is renowned for protesting about the occupation of her traditional land around Perth. Daisy Bates recalled that:one of her favourite annoyances was to stand at the gates of Government House, reviling all who dwelt within, in that the stone gates guarded by a sentry enclosed her grandmother’s burial ground. (Daisy Bates, 1938)
Fanny Balbuk witnessed the devastation of her traditional lands by the early Swan River Colony. She would walk through the area of the city of Perth, naming every feature and tradition of the land and recall the part played by her mother and grandmother in the kangaroo hunt at King’s Park.
She gathered zamia fruit on St Georges Terrace. In the 1890s, Perth’s railway station was built on the swamp where she gathered eggs and caught turtles and crayﬁsh.
However, Fanny Balbuk was adamant to stick to her traditional rights of way. On finding that white men had built houses, and laid fences, on her traditional land, she would break down the fence with her digging stick, or walk right through any house and yard that had been built in the way.
Daisy Bates wrote of Fanny Balbuk at the time;
“To the end of her life she raged and stormed at the usurping (take (a position of power or importance) illegally or by force.
“Richard usurped the throne” Synonyms: seize, take over, expropriate, take possession of, take, appropriate, steal, wrest, arrogate, commandeer, annex, assume) of her beloved home ground. ….. Through fences and over them, Balbuk took the straight track to the end. When a house was built in the way, she broke its fence-palings and charged up the steps and through the rooms.”
Balbuk’s grandmother, Moojorngul, is buried in the grounds possibly under Government House, or Kooraree. Balbuk never let the settlers forget whose land they had taken. She would stand at the gates of Government House – where her grandmother’s burial ground lay – cursing those who lived inside.
In 1907, Fanny Balbuk attended a luncheon at the Karrakatta Club, an exclusive club for women in Perth. Daisy Bates introduced Balbuk to all present as their landlady, since she was the original owner of the land on which the club stood.
Thanks go to The Nyoongar Tent Embassy for Fanny’s story.
Being an impatient driver for many years, I’ve often thought ‘silly ol’ fool’ whilst driving when some old codger fumbles his way through traffic in a vehicle akin to an aircraft carrier until I met a man. A real man I had no idea who might be behind the wheel of the next hindrance to my pole position at the next red light.
The man I speak of comes from South Australia and through a desire to participate in the call to arms he is now one of us living in a leafy part of Perth. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in October 1942 at the age of 20, having already served twelve months in the Australian Army.
His desire was to be a pilot in The RAAF and through the list of bases and towns you see from page 100 of 101 in his detailed flying log book he flew Gypsy Moths , Avro Ansons, Wellington Mk 3’s and the almighty Lancaster S for Sugar to deliver the message to Germany to end the madness.
He did his duty with his mates 35 times in a ship of the air that would glide as he put it once you made 20000 feet like a feather in the wind. Powering back at altitude, there were no flames or sparks coming from the magnificent Merlins and they never fired a single round in anger. They would have fired should an opponent threaten their well being save giving away their position to the night fighters with a powerful flash of the machine guns.
With a force of ONE THOUSAND aircraft at times, they were aerial dodgem cars making their way to the targets from 100 airfields forming up in the dark with no lights, radar, communications and primitive navigation techniques. The pilots could only sense their way over as the wing of an allie could come within feet of your ear, where would you go save bang into your mate under you not aware you were just above.
The passive way this gentleman tells the story of he and his friends and the unfortunate tale of he and his crew being stood down for a mission due to a touch of the flu. The crew that took their place sadly did not return as was the case for 1000’s of teenagers as they pressed home the orders from Bomber Command.
They did their duty , an adventure unimagined in the sleepy towns of Australia several years before when these boys were still in primary school and the world changed forever for many.
Douglas Ross Arrowsmith, DFC, OAM returned to the arms of his sweetheart Helen in Perth and he took up a position with a bank rising to manager after doing the obligatory run around the country branches saving the hide of many a farmer during tough times because the bank manager used to know his customers unlike the bottom line approach today.
Doug runs the local RSL, organises his local ANZAC service , speaks regularly at primary schools and is inundated by the media for his fabulous tales flying over The English Channel and shares the most delicious banana bread and home made biscuits with all and sundry that enters his home.
Doug is doing a Donald Bradman approaching the century mark at an energetic 97 and lives on with his two children, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren plus me.
Doug and his daughters have just returned from Canberra after another 460 Squadron dinner to celebrate those fallen friends and to remember their past.
The next time you consider a joust with a gentleman or lady on the roads, consider your actions as they might just be your hero.