The Personal Side Of A Serial Killer
In 1964 Western Australia's last hanging took place. Eric Edgar Cooke was convicted of the wilful murder of 8 people and although having grounds to appeal, instructed his lawyers not to as he said he deserved to pay for what he had done.
Only 1 year beforehand he had stood at the foot of the bed of my grandmother and decided not to kill her or her sister in the room next door. His decisions concerning who and how he killed were so random and without motive that police found it hard to work out who they were looking for. That night in our family home he decided on killing a student who was a boarder and sleeping on the veranda outside. He balanced his rifle on a water tap and shot an unsuspecting John Sturkey in the head. John, the student, never knew what hit him.
That tap was what we filled our water guns up with in those days. The backyard was the scene of Sunday afternoon family get-togethers, cousins playing chasey and Easter egg hunts.
That night he walked across the backyard and through the gate in the back fence. That gate was our escape when playing hide and seek.
He went to the house next-door, knocked and waited until it was answered. As the door was answered Cooke levelled the gun at the owner. Murder number two for the night.
He then went home and back to his life of being a husband and father. He was solely responsible for sending Perth and Western Australia into a panic from 1959 to 1963.
At the time my father had moved out from my grandmother's house and was living with his new wife, my mother, and me. Even as a pacifist and practising Catholic, he slept with a rifle under the bed until Cooke was captured.
A decade later we moved to a distant suburb north of Perth. Our house was the third house built in the street. Next door lived an elderly couple who introduced themselves shortly after moving in. My father realised that Eric Edgar Cooke had left a trail of grief that touched many Perth families. Our new neighbours’ daughter had been killed by Cooke and they had moved north to escape the memory. It was only luck that we moved in next door.
30 years later I did a tour of the prison and stood on the gallows. Two steps in front of me was the last spot Cooke took his last breath before the hangman's noose delivered the ultimate retribution.
My grandmother has long since passed. My father and I still talk of the impact this horror had on our lives and how close it was to where we lived and where we moved to. The Cooke killings are well documented in a variety of books, and he is mentioned alongside Australian serial killers like John Wayne Glover (The Granny Killer) and Ivan Milat. Unfortunately, when something is listed, each individual item loses its impact. It becomes one of many.
As a self defence mechanism we have developed an ability to avoid looking at trauma and concentrate on the story behind it. Proof is that from The Boston Strangler to Silence of the Lambs we tend to focus on the incredible acting ability of the star rather than the fact that the crime exists.