Eric Edgar Cooke

Last updated

Eric Edgar Cooke
Born(1931-02-25)25 February 1931
Died26 October 1964(1964-10-26) (aged 33)
Cause of death Execution by hanging
Other names
  • The Night Caller
  • The Nedlands Monster
Criminal status Executed
SpouseSarah Lavin (m. 1953)
Conviction(s) Wilful murder
Criminal penalty Death
Span of crimes
Country Australia
State(s) Western Australia
Date apprehended
1 September 1963

Eric Edgar Cooke (25 February 1931 – 26 October 1964), nicknamed the Night Caller and later the Nedlands Monster, was an Australian serial killer who terrorised the city of Perth, Western Australia, from September 1958 to August 1963. Cooke committed at least 22 violent crimes, eight of which resulted in deaths. [1]


Early life

Eric Edgar Cooke was born on 25 February 1931 in Victoria Park, a suburb of Perth, Western Australia, and was the eldest of three children. [2] He was born into an unhappy, violent family; his parents married solely because his mother, Christine Edgar, was pregnant with him. His alcoholic father, Vivian Cooke, beat the boy frequently, especially when the boy tried to protect his mother. Christine would sleep in the staff room at her job in the Como Hotel to avoid going home and being beaten by Vivian.

Cooke was born with a cleft lip and palate, for which he had one surgical operation when he was three months old and another when he was 3+12. The operations were not totally successful and left him with a slight facial deformity, and he spoke in a mumble; these disabilities made him the target of bullying at school. [3] The constant mistreatment caused Cooke to feel ashamed and shy, and he subsequently became emotionally unstable.

Though very good at subjects that required retentive memory and manual dexterity, Cooke was expelled from Subiaco State School for stealing money from a teacher's purse at the age of six. Once he was transferred to Newcastle Street Infants' School, he was again the target of bullying. He continued to be bullied at every school he attended, including Highgate Primary School, Forrest Street Primary School, and Newcastle Street Junior Technical School.

Cooke was also placed in orphanages or foster homes on occasion. Much like his mother, he would hide underneath the house or roam neighbouring streets just to escape a night of his father's violence. He was frequently hospitalised for head injuries and had suspected brain damage because of his accident-proneness. Later it was questioned whether these 'accidents' were due to repressed suicidal tendencies. Cooke also had recurrent headaches and was once admitted to an asylum. His reported blackouts later stopped after an operation in 1949. [2]

Cooke left school at age 14 to work as a delivery boy for Central Provision Stores in order to support the family. He would give his weekly wages to his mother, who could not fully support the family with the money she earned from cooking and cleaning. Many of Cooke's jobs put him in hospital due to his accident-proneness. At a job in the factory of Harris, Scarfe and Sandover, he was hospitalised after being struck on the nose by a winch. At the age of 16, he worked as a hammer boy in the blacksmith section of the workshop at Midland Junction, where he always signed his lunch bag "Al Capone". At the same job he suffered second-degree burns to his face from steam, jarred his right hand and injured his left thumb. [4]

Early crimes

Starting at age 17, Cooke spent his nights involved in petty crimes, vandalism and arson; he would later serve eighteen months in jail for burning down a church after he was rejected in a choir audition. During his later teenage years, Cooke would sneak into houses and steal whatever he found valuable. These crimes escalated to damaging clothing and furniture in acts of vengeance. He would cut out newspaper accounts of his crimes to impress his acquaintances in an attempt to gain friends.

On 12 March 1949, police finally caught up with Cooke and found evidence at his grandmother's house, where he was living. Cooke's fingerprints were matched to those found in other open cases. On 24 May 1949, Cooke was sentenced to three years in prison after being arrested for arson and vandalism; he was convicted on two charges of stealing, seven of breaking and entering and four of arson. He left many fingerprints and easy clues for detectives which would teach him to be more careful in his future crimes.


Cooke was described as "a short, slight man with dark, wavy hair and a twisted mouth". [5] 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 criminal record. During his training, he was quickly promoted to lance corporal and was taught to handle firearms. [2]

On 14 November 1953, Cooke, then aged 22, married Sarah (Sall) Lavin, a 19-year-old waitress, [6] at the Cannington Methodist Church (demolished 1995). [2] They ultimately had a large family of seven children, four boys and three girls. [7]

During the 1950s and early 1960s, people in Australia frequently left cars unlocked and often with the keys in the ignition. Cooke found it easy to steal cars at night and sometimes returned stolen vehicles without the owners becoming aware of the theft. In September 1955, after having crashed a car and requiring hospitalisation, Cooke was sentenced to two years hard labour on a charge of unlawful use of a motor vehicle; he was ultimately released from Fremantle Prison just prior to Christmas, 1956. After his release, he took to wearing gloves while committing crimes, in order to avoid leaving fingerprints, which had been his undoing in relation to his prior breaking and entering convictions.

Murder spree

Cooke's four-year killing spree involved a series of seemingly unrelated hit-and-runs, stabbings, strangulations, and shootings. Victims were shot with different rifles, stabbed with knives and scissors, hit with cars, and beaten with an axe. Several were killed after waking up as Cooke was robbing their homes, two were shot while sleeping without their homes being disturbed, and one was shot dead after answering to a ringing doorbell. 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, disrobed and dragged it to a neighbour's lawn, then sexually penetrated it with an empty whisky bottle, which he then left cradled in the victim's arms.

Cooke's murder victims were Pnena (Penny) Berkman, Jillian McPherson Brewer, John Lindsay Sturkey, George Ormond Walmsley, Rosemary Anderson, Constance Lucy Madrill, and Shirley Martha McLeod. Another victim, Brian Vincent Weir, ultimately died as a result of permanent injury three years after having been shot by Cooke. [8] As the crimes were opportunistic and used varying methods, and Cooke's victims shared no obvious common traits, it was not understood that all these crimes were being perpetrated by one individual killer. In fact, two of the murders—the deaths of Jillian Brewer and Rosemary Anderson—were attributed to other men, who were wrongfully convicted of those crimes.


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. [9] After a rifle was found hidden in a Geraldton wax bush on Rookwood Street, Mount Pleasant, in August 1963, ballistic tests proved the gun had been used in the McLeod murder. 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 noted loitering in a car in the area several times, and was apprehended when he tried to collect the weapon just after midnight on 1 September. [7]

After initial denials regarding the McLeod murder, Cooke cracked after one of detectives, Max Baker, snapped at him. "Cookie, you're gonna hang, you know – there's no doubt about it. You got a wife and kids, think of them, and then think about whether you're gonna be dragged to the gallows like a mongrel dog or you gonna go there like a man." [10]

Cooke began confessing to his many crimes, including eight murders and fourteen attempted murders. [4] He was convicted on a charge of murdering Sturkey, one of Cooke's five Australia Day shooting victims. [5] [ page needed ] 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. The book Presumed Guilty by Bret Christian includes details of Cooke's confession, made over two days in September 1963 at Fremantle Prison to his Legal Aid lawyer Desmond Heenan. "I have a great respect for the law, although my actions don't show this," Cooke said.

Conviction and execution

Cooke's grave in plot 409, Fremantle Cemetery Eric Cooke, Martha Rendell, Fremantle Cemetery.jpg
Cooke's grave in plot 409, Fremantle Cemetery

Cooke pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity. [8] At the trial, Cooke's lawyers claimed that he had 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. [2] Cooke was convicted of wilful murder after a three-day trial by jury in the Supreme Court of Western Australia before Justice Virtue. [7] 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.

After 13 months in New Division, Cooke was hanged at 8 am on 26 October 1964 in Fremantle Prison. Ten minutes before the sentence was carried out, Cooke swore on the Bible that he had killed Brewer and Anderson, claims which had been previously rejected because other people had already been convicted of those murders. Cooke was the last person to be hanged in the state of Western Australia. [8] He was buried in Fremantle Cemetery, above the remains of child killer Martha Rendell, who was hanged in Fremantle Prison in 1909.

Wrongful convictions

Two of Cooke's murders resulted in other men being falsely convicted of them:

Beamish case

Darryl Beamish, a deaf-mute, was convicted in December 1961 of murdering Jillian Macpherson Brewer, a Melbourne heiress who was struck with a hatchet and stabbed with scissors, in 1959. Beamish was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment, and a later investigation, supported by Post Newspapers owner Bret Christian led to his conviction being overturned. Beamish's initial appeal was dismissed because the court did not believe Cooke's evidence. The prosecution claimed that Cooke's confessions were an attempt to prolong his own trial, and the then-Chief Justice of Western Australia, Sir Albert Wolff, called Cooke a "villainous unscrupulous liar". [2] The police case against Beamish is detailed in Christian's book Presumed Guilty.

Button case

John Button was wrongly convicted for the death of his girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson, who died in Royal Perth Hospital (RPH) at 2:30am in the early morning of 10 February 1963. Anderson had spent the previous day with Button in celebration of his nineteenth birthday; they had a minor argument at his home that night which culminated in her deciding to leave the Button house and walk home. [7] Button followed her in his car at different stages, attempting to have her accept a lift home. At one stage Button parked his car to smoke a cigarette; upon resuming driving he turned into Stubbs Terrace, in Shenton Park, and discovered her lying on the ground beside the road. John Button took his injured girlfriend to a local doctor and she was subsequently transferred to RPH by ambulance. The police became involved and interviewed Button who, after intense questioning and upon receiving notice of Anderson's death, broke down and confessed to being responsible for her hit & run death. After conviction for manslaughter, the courts dismissed Button's initial appeal, even though Cooke had by this time confessed to the crime and 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 a Holden EK sedan without damaging its external windscreen sun visor, as Cooke had claimed.

Over subsequent decades, Button and his supporters including Christian and Blackburn continued to press for a retrial, a campaign that included a well-publicised 1998 simulated reenactment 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 three Simca Aronde sedans like the car owned by Button, which were driven toward 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 cracking the paint. An expert from the United States was brought to Australia to prove Cooke's car, not Button's, hit Anderson. [11] [ page needed ]


Despite Cooke's 1963 confession, Beamish served 15 years, while Button was sentenced to 10 years and ended up serving five. In 2002, the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed Button's conviction. [12] Button's success opened the way for an appeal by Beamish, who was acquitted in 2005. In both cases, the appeal judges found that the murders had most likely been committed by Cooke. [13] On 2 June 2011, Beamish was granted a A$425,000 ex gratia payment by the Western Australian government. [13]


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. [5] New information on Cooke and fresh evidence published in the book led to the exonerations of Button and Beamish. Another book was Presumed Guilty by Bret Christian. [11]

In Randolph Stow's final novel, The Suburbs of Hell (1984), he acknowledged that there was a delayed response to the horror of Cooke's murders, which he transposed for fictional purposes from his WA origins to a town resembling the English town he then inhabited, Harwich. Suzanne Falkiner's biography of Stow revealed that it piqued his sense of humour that Perth denizens at the time of the murders would knock on doors and say 'It's the Nedlands Monster'.

A 2000 memoir by Robert Drewe, The Shark Net [14] – later made into a three-part television series – provided one author's impressions of the effect the murders had on the Perth of that era. According to Drewe, more people bought dogs for security, and locked back doors and garages that had never been secured before.

Cooke, as "The Nedlands Monster", features in Tim Winton's 1991 novel Cloudstreet and the subsequent 2011 television adaptation. Cooke is also referenced in Craig Silvey's 2009 novel Jasper Jones .

In March 2009, the second season of Crime Investigation Australia featured an episode about Eric Edgar Cooke. [15] In September 2016, Felon True Crime Podcast also reviewed Cooke's crime spree in detail. [7]

In November 2020, Stan released an original four-part docuseries After the Night, covering the story of Cooke's murders. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

A thrill kill is premeditated or random murder that is motivated by the sheer excitement of the act. While there have been attempts to categorize multiple murders, such as identifying "thrill killing" as a type of "hedonistic mass killing", actual details of events frequently overlap category definitions making attempts at such distinctions problematic.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Claremont serial killings</span> 1990s serial murders in Western Australia

The Claremont serial killings is the name given by the media to a case involving the disappearance of an Australian woman, aged 18, and the killings of two others, aged 23 and 27, in 1996–1997. After attending night spots in Claremont, a wealthy western suburb of Perth, Western Australia, all three women disappeared in similar circumstances leading police to suspect that an unidentified serial killer was the offender. The case was described as the state's biggest, longest running, and most expensive investigation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peter Dupas</span> Australian serial killer and rapist

Peter Norris Dupas is an Australian convicted serial killer, currently serving three life sentences without parole for murder and primarily for being a serious habitual offender. He has a very significant criminal history involving serious sexual and violent offences, with his violent criminal history spanning more than three decades, and with every release from prison has been known to commit further crimes against women with increasing levels of violence. His criminal signature is to remove the breasts of his female victims.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Martha Rendell</span> Last woman executed in Western Australia

Martha Rendell was the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia, for the murder of her de facto husband's son, Arthur Morris, in 1908. She was also suspected of killing his two daughters, Annie and Olive, by swabbing their throats with hydrochloric acid. Although the children died slow and agonizing deaths, they had been treated by a number of doctors during their illness, only one of whom expressed any doubts about their deaths.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dante Arthurs</span> Australian murderer

Dante Wyndham Arthurs is an Australian murderer, convicted of the murder of eight-year-old Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia Shu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mark Goudeau</span> American serial killer and rapist on death row

Mark Goudeau is an American serial killer, kidnapper, thief and rapist. Goudeau terrorized victims in the Phoenix metro area between August 2005 and June 2006; coincidentally, Goudeau was active at the same time as two other Phoenix serial killers, jointly known as the "Serial Shooter.”

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Button (campaigner)</span>

John Button is a Western Australian man who was the victim of a significant miscarriage of justice. Button was wrongfully convicted of the manslaughter, by vehicle impact, of his girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson, in 1963. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and released in 1968. The conviction was quashed in 2002.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Darryl Beamish</span>

Darryl Beamish is a Western Australian man who was wrongfully convicted of wilful murder in 1961 and sentenced to death by hanging. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was paroled in 1977. After six appeals, his conviction was finally overturned in 2005.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Capital punishment in Australia</span> History of the death penalty in Australia

Capital punishment in Australia was a form of punishment in Australia that has been abolished in all jurisdictions. Queensland abolished the death penalty in 1922. Tasmania did the same in 1968. The Commonwealth abolished the death penalty in 1973, with application also in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Victoria did so in 1975, South Australia in 1976, and Western Australia in 1984. New South Wales abolished the death penalty for murder in 1955, and for all crimes in 1985. In 2010, the Commonwealth Parliament passed legislation prohibiting the re-establishment of capital punishment by any state or territory. Australian law prohibits the extradition or deportation of a prisoner to another jurisdiction if they could be sentenced to death for any crime.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David and Catherine Birnie</span> Australian couple convicted of four murders

David John Birnie and Catherine Margaret Birnie were an Australian couple from Perth, Western Australia, who murdered four women at their home in 1986, and attempted to murder a fifth. These crimes were referred to in the press as the Moorhouse murders, after the Birnies' address at 3 Moorhouse Street in Willagee, a suburb of Perth.

It is possible to convict someone of murder without the purported victim's body in evidence. However, cases of this type have historically been hard to prove, often forcing the prosecution to rely on circumstantial evidence, and in England there was for centuries a mistaken view that in the absence of a body a killer could not be tried for murder. Developments in forensic science in recent decades have made it more likely that a murder conviction can be obtained even if a body has not been found.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estelle Blackburn</span> Australian journalist

Estelle Blackburn is an Australian journalist who played a crucial role in the review of several controversial criminal cases in Western Australia.

Judith Maryanne Moran is the matriarch of the Moran criminal family of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, involved in the Melbourne gangland killings.

<i>Broken Lives</i> Book by Estelle Blackburn

Broken Lives was written by Estelle Blackburn between 1992 and 1998. The book is about the false imprisonment of two people, John Button and Darryl Beamish who were both convicted for murders that were later proved to be committed by Eric Cooke the last man hanged in Western Australia in the Fremantle Gaol.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Terry Blair (serial killer)</span> American serial killer

Terry Anthony Blair is an American serial killer who was convicted of killing seven women of various ages in Kansas City, Missouri, though investigators believe he may have additional unidentified victims.

Internet homicide refers to killing in which victim and perpetrator met online, in some cases having known each other previously only through the Internet. Also Internet killer is an appellation found in media reports for a person who broadcasts the crime of murder online or who murders a victim met through the Internet. Depending on the venue used, other terms used in the media are Internet chat room killer, Craigslist killer, Facebook serial killer. Internet homicide can also be part of an Internet suicide pact or consensual homicide. Some commentators believe that reports on these homicides have overemphasized their connection to the Internet.

Sidney Charles Cooke is an English convicted child molester and suspected serial killer serving two life sentences. He was the leader of a paedophile ring suspected of murdering up to twenty young boys in the 1970s and 1980s. Cooke and other members of the ring were convicted of three killings in total, although he was only convicted of one himself.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Murder of James Craig Anderson</span> Murder case

James Craig Anderson was a 47-year-old African American man who was murdered in a hate crime in Jackson, Mississippi on June 26, 2011, by 18-year-old Deryl Dedmon of Brandon. At the time of his death, Anderson was working on the assembly line at the Nissan plant in Canton, and raising an adopted son with his partner.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mikhail Popkov</span> Russian serial killer and rapist (born 1964)

Mikhail Viktorovich Popkov is a Russian serial killer, rapist, and necrophile who committed the sexual assault and murder of seventy-eight girls and women between 1992 and 2010 in Angarsk, Irkutsk, in Siberia, and Vladivostok in Far East, although he has confessed to and is suspected of at least eighty-three in total. He is known as "The Werewolf" and the "Angarsk Maniac" for the particularly brutal nature of his crimes; he would extensively mutilate the bodies of his victims and perform sexual acts on them.


  1. Christian, Bret (1 February 2003). "Police decoy used in killer hunt sting". Post Newspapers . Archived from the original on 2 February 2003. Retrieved 21 September 2006.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Collins, Hugh. Cooke, Eric Edgar (1931–1964). Australian Dictionary of Biography . National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 12 December 2008.
  3. Broken Lives (2005), 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.)
  4. 1 2 "Eric Edgar Cooke - The Night Caller". Truly Unusual. 7 March 2006. Archived from the original on 7 March 2009. Retrieved 12 December 2008.
  5. 1 2 3 Broken Lives (2005)
  6. Condon, Judy; Cooke, Sarah (1 June 2006). "Interview with Sarah Cooke". Trove . Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 "Felon True Crime: Felon - S1E8 - The Night Caller". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
  8. 1 2 3 "The Night Caller stalked the suburbs". 22 October 2012. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  9. "Episodes in Western Australia's Policing History: 1963 Serial killer Cooke". Western Australia Police. 2006. p. 15. Archived from the original on 8 June 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  10. "Transcript: 47. The Night Caller (Eric Edgar Cooke) | Australia". Retrieved 30 March 2022.
  11. 1 2 Presumed Guilty (2013)
  12. "Button v. The Queen [2002] WASCA 35". JADE. 2002. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  13. 1 2 "Ex-gratia payment for wrongly jailed man". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  14. Drewe, Robert (2003). The Shark Net. Penguin Books. ISBN   978-0-14300-215-4 . Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  15. "Episodes: Crime Investigation Australia". Channel Nine. Archived from the original on 7 March 2009. Retrieved 2 March 2009.
  16. "After the Night | Coming Soon | A Stan Original Series". Stan. Retrieved 11 November 2020.