Eric Edgar Cooke nicknamed The Night Caller
(25 February 1931 – 26 October 1964) was an Australian serial killer.
From 1958 to 1963, he terrorised the city of Perth, Western Australia by
committing 22 violent crimes, eight of which resulted in deaths.
Eric Edgar Cooke was born on the 25 February 1931 in
Victoria Park, a suburb of Perth and was the eldest of three children.
As a child Cooke's father showed no passion towards
his oldest child and only son, and would often become a victim of his
fathers' alcoholic addiction resulting in beatings for no apparent
reason. Cooke was beaten by his father when he tried to protect his
mother from his father's violent outbursts of rage.
Cooke had been bullied at school for the impediments
of a hare lip and a cleft palate, although whether this contributed to
his later crimes is unknown. The operations left him with a slight
facial deformity and he spoke in a mumble.
Cooke would later serve 18 months in jail for burning down a church
after he was rejected in a choir audition.
At age 21 Cooke joined the Permanent Military Forces
but was discharged three months later after it was discovered that
before enlistment he had a series of convictions for theft, breaking and
entering, and arson.
A year later on the 14th of October 1953, Cooke aged
22 married Sarah (Sally) Lavin, a 19-year-old waitress, at the Methodist
Church in Cannington. They were to have seven children.
Cooke's strange killing spree involved a series
of seemingly unrelated hit and runs, stabbings, stranglings and
shootings which had Perth completely terrorised. This was an unusual
serial killer whose methods seemed as random as his choice of
victims. His behaviour was inconsistent and bizarre.
The various shootings had been carried out with
several different rifles. Victims had been stabbed with knives and
scissors, and hit with an axe. One victim was shot dead after
answering a knock on the door, several were killed after waking
while Cooke was robbing their homes; two were shot while sleeping
without their homes being disturbed; after stabbing one victim, he
got lemonade from the refrigerator and sat on the verandah drinking
it; another victim was strangled with the cord from her bedside lamp,
her dead body raped, then dragged to a neighbor's lawn, where she
was violated with an empty whisky bottle which was left cradled in
In the 1960s, people often left the keys in their
cars' ignition overnight, and Cooke would steal a car almost every
night, returning it before the owner awoke. It was later discovered
that the cars involved in several hit and runs had been returned
without the owners realising they had been stolen. Cooke was to
later claim he just wanted to hurt people.
During the police investigation, more than 30,000
males over the age of 12 were fingerprinted and more than 60,000 .22
rifles were located and test fired.
Cooke was finally caught after a rifle was found
hidden in a bush in August 1963. Ballistic tests proved the gun had
been used to murder Shirley McLeod. Police returned to the location
and tied a similar inoperable rifle to the bush with fishing line,
constructing a hide in which police waited for the owner to collect
it, which Cooke did 17 days later. When captured, Cooke confessed to
numerous crimes, including 22 violent crimes - 8 murders, and 14
attempted murders. He was convicted on the specimen 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 and execution
The other murder confessions included those of
Jillian Brewer and Rosemary Anderson for which Darryl Beamish and
John Button had already been convicted and imprisoned. Cooke's
confessions were referred to in appeals by Beamish and Button but,
in Button's case which was heard first, although Cooke had given
details withheld by police that only the killer would have known,
little credence was given to Cooke's testimony as the vehicle Cooke
claimed he had used had an external steel sunvisor, the appeal
judges did not believe a body could be thrown "over the roof" as
Cooke claimed without ripping the visor off.
Beamish's appeal was dismissed after the judges
cross-referenced Cooke’s evidence with that of the Button appeal.
West Australia Chief Justice Sir Albert Wolff called him a "villainous
unscrupulous liar" and the prosecution claimed that both confessions
were an attempt to prolong his own trial.
Pleading not guilty on the grounds of insanity,
at trial Cooke's defence lawyers claimed that Cooke 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 and despite having grounds to appeal ordered his lawyers not
to apply claiming that he had killed and deserved to pay for what he
had done. Ten minutes before the sentence was carried out Cooke
swore on the Bible renewing his rejected claim that he had been the
killer of Jillian Brewer and Rosemary Anderson. Cooke was the last
person to be hanged in the state of Western Australia, on 26 October
Cooke is buried in Fremantle Cemetery, above the
remains of the child-killer, Martha Rendell, who was hanged in
Fremantle Prison in 1909 and was the last woman to be hanged in
The wrong men
Two other Australians were convicted of crimes later
attributed to Cooke:
Darryl Beamish, a deaf mute convicted in 1961 for
the 1959 murder of Jillian Macpherson Brewer, a wealthy woman
originally from Melbourne. He served 15 years despite Cooke's 1963
confession to the crime. His conviction was quashed in 2005 after
evidence pointed to Cooke being the killer.
John Button, who was jailed for five years for
manslaughter in the death of his girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson, a
conviction that was quashed in 2002 after evidence proved Cooke was
A memoir, The Shark Net by Robert Drewe –
later made into a movie – 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.
"The Nedlands Monster" also features in Tim Winton's
1991 novel Cloudstreet.
The Walkley Award-winning journalist, Estelle
Blackburn, spent six years writing the biographical story Broken
Lives, about Cooke's life and criminal career, focussing
particularly on the devastation left on his victims and their families
Edgar Eric Cooke
Cooke, Edgar Eric (1931-1964), murderer, was born on
25 February 1931 at Victoria Park, Perth, eldest of three children of
Vivian Thomas Cooke, a native-born shop-assistant, and his wife
Christian, née Edgar, from Scotland. Educated at five different schools,
including Perth Junior Technical and Forrest High, from the age of 14
Eric took a succession of semi-skilled jobs.
Having served in the
Citizen Military Forces, he joined the Permanent Military Forces on 27
May 1952, but was discharged on 28 August when it was discovered that—before
enlistment—he had a series of convictions for theft, breaking and
entering, and arson. On 14 October 1953 at the Methodist Church,
Cannington, he married Sarah (Sally) Lavin, a 19-year-old waitress; they
were to have seven children.
In the early hours of 27 January 1963 a series of
random shootings with a .22 inch (.55 cm) rifle occurred in the suburbs
of Perth. The victims were a couple who were wounded in a parked car at
Cottesloe, a male accountant, fatally wounded by a single shot to the
head while asleep in a flat nearby, an 18-year-old student (John Sturkey),
killed by a single bullet to the head while sleeping on the verandah of
a boarding house at Nedlands, and a retired grocer who was similarly
murdered when answering the bell of his front door in the next street.
Public anxiety was exacerbated by two murders a fortnight later, for
which Brian William Robinson was charged with both, tried for one and
January's pattern and fears returned in August when
an 18-year-old female student was killed by a single shot to the head
while babysitting at Dalkeith. It was for this murder that Cooke was
captured by police on 1 September when he attempted to retrieve the
hidden weapon. In addition to the four who died by Cooke's marksmanship,
he was acknowledged by the state to be responsible for the murders of a
South Perth beautician, stabbed on 30 January 1959, and of a female
social worker, strangled in West Perth on 16 February 1963.
Brought to trial on 25 November 1963 for the murder
of Sturkey, through his counsel Cooke sought a verdict of not guilty on
the grounds of insanity. Evidence revealed that this short, dark-haired
man with a quick temper and a retentive memory had been brutalized by a
father for whom he had never formed affection; he had further been
tormented at school for the impediments of a cleft palate and hare lip,
hospitalized frequently for head injuries, suspected brain damage and
recurrent headaches, and admitted to an asylum. Life's blows extended to
the next generation: the eldest of his children was mentally retarded,
while another was born with a deformed arm. Dr A. S. Ellis, director of
mental health services, rejected the defence's claim that Cooke suffered
from schizophrenia. The state permitted no other psychiatric specialist
to examine him. The death sentence was pronounced on 27 November.
With six convictions for minor crimes at the time of
his arrest for murder, Cooke later claimed to have committed more than
two hundred thefts, five hit-and-run offences against young women, and
the two murders for each of which Darryl Raymond Beamish and John Button
were already imprisoned. These confessions led to unsuccessful appeals.
Little credence was placed in Cooke's testimony by the court: the chief
justice Sir Albert Wolff called him a 'villainous unscrupulous liar'.
There were inconsistencies in Cooke's testimony, but in confessions to
his chaplain and in sworn statements he reaffirmed his guilt in each
case. The circumstances in which confessions were originally obtained
from Beamish and Button, together with arguable flaws in judicial
procedure and judicial reasoning in their appeals, leave open the
possibility that each suffered a miscarriage of justice which Cooke
sought to overturn.
Although opponents of capital punishment had
organized protest in several previous cases, there was little public
dissent from the sentence imposed on Cooke. Only one woman kept vigil
outside Fremantle Prison on the morning of his execution, 26 October
1964. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Fremantle cemetery; his wife,
three daughters and three of his four sons survived him. Cooke was the
last person to be hanged in Western Australia for wilful murder before
the State abolished capital punishment in 1984.
In the period when his crimes had remained unsolved
there was a discernible change in Perth's attitude towards personal and
household security. Police and politicians were widely criticized;
gunsmiths, locksmiths and the dogs' refuge did a brisk trade; and the
breezy habits of an informal town in a hot climate were no longer
innocently enjoyed. The social impact of Cooke's crimes and the
atmosphere in which he was tried are imaginatively but faithfully
reflected in Tim Winton's novel, Cloudstreet (Melbourne, 1991).
P. Brett, The Beamish Case (Melb,
1966); M. Hervey, Violent Australian Crimes (Melb, 1978); J.
Coulter, With Malice Aforethought (Perth, 1982); West
Australian, Jan, Feb, Aug, Sept, 26-28 Nov 1963, 16, 17 Jan, 27 Oct
1964; Daily News (Perth), Jan, Aug, Sept, Nov 1963, Oct 1964;
Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Oct 1964; Living Today (Perth),
June 1977; N. Mattingley, The Abolition of Capital Punishment in Western
Australia, 1960-1984 (B.A. Hons thesis, Murdoch University, 1990);
Supreme Court of Western Australia, R v Cooke, no 280, 25-27 Nov
1963 (unpublished transcript); Department of Corrective Services (formerly
Prisons Department) files (State Records Office of Western Australia).
Author: Hugh Collins
Print Publication Details: Hugh
Collins, 'Cooke, Edgar Eric (1931 - 1964)', Australian Dictionary of
Biography, Volume 13, Melbourne University Press, 1993, pp 490-491.
Eric Edgar Cooke
The complete story of the ordeal of John Button, the
young man found guilty of the manslaughter of his girlfriend Rosemary
Anderson and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, who couldn’t get his
case reviewed even though Eric Cooke confessed in intricate detail to
committing the crime, can be found in Estelle Blackburn’s superbly
researched, award winning Broken Lives.
After years of protesting his innocence and seeking an
appeal against his conviction and in light of the case put forward on
his behalf in Broken Lives, on August 17, 1999, John Button was
granted the right to appeal his 1963 conviction of the manslaughter of
Rosemary Anderson. The hearing in front of the Western Australian Court
of Criminal Appeal is set down for May 28, 2001.
In February, 2000, United States pedestrian crash
expert and university of Texas lecturer, Rusty Haight, was flown to
Western Australia to conduct tests to see if it was possible that John
Button’s 1962 Simca could have been the car that killed his girlfriend.
The tests proved negative.
“John Button’s Simca did not hit and kill Rosemary
Anderson’, Mr Haight told The West Australian newspaper. ‘I
could see nothing, not even the tiniest indication, that the Simca was
the crash vehicle.’
On the other hand, Mr Haight’s tests supported Eric
Cooke’s version of the crash, including his use of a stolen FB Holden
to carry out the killing, made during his repeated confessions to the
In June 2000, as a direct result of the story in Broken
Lives and author Estelle Blackburn’s efforts on his behalf, Daryl
Raymond Beamish, the deaf mute who was convicted of the 1959 murder of
Melbourne heiress Jillian Brewer at the Perth suburb of Cottesloe and
served 15 years of a life sentence in prison despite Eric Edgar Cooke’s
meticulously detailed confession to the killing, was granted the right
to appeal his conviction.
John Button's manslaughter conviction of 4th May 1963
was quashed by the Western Australian Court of Criminal Appeal on 25th
February 2002, which, ironically, would have been Eric Edgar Cooke's
The Chief Justice of Western Australia, David Malcolm, Justice Henry
Wallwork and Justice Neville Owen presided. The Chief Justice described
it as a miscarriage of justice and said a re-trial was unnecessary.
The appeal hearing was initially held in May 2001, based on fresh
evidence from Estelle Blackburn's book Broken Lives, which was
published in November 1998 after six years of research.