David John Birnie (16 February 1951
– 7 October 2005) and Catherine Margaret Birnie (born in 1951)
were an Australian couple who were serial killers. They murdered four
women ranging in age from 15 to 35 in their home in the 1980s, 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 working class suburb of Perth,
David Birnie was the eldest of five children. In his formative years,
he lived in the semi-rural suburb of Wattle Grove, east of Perth. School
friends and parishioners from the Wattle Grove Baptist Church of the
period remember the family as particularly dysfunctional; rumours
abounded about the family's promiscuity, alcoholism and that they
engaged in incest.
In the early 1960s, his parents decided to move the family to another
Perth suburb, where he had met Catherine through mutual friends. At 15,
David left school to become an apprentice jockey for Eric Parnham at a
nearby Ascot race course. During his time there he often physically
harmed the horses and developed the tendencies of an exhibitionist. On
one particular night, David broke into an elderly lady's house naked
with stockings over his head and committed his first rape.
By the time he was an adolescent, he had been convicted of several
crimes and had spent time in and out of jail for misdemeanors and
felonies. As an adult, he was a known sex and pornography addict, and
paraphiliac. He was married to his first wife during his early 20's and
had a baby daughter.
In late 1986, David Birnie was employed at a local car wreckers. For
more than a year David and Catherine had practiced how to make their
sexual fantasies of rape and murder come true; he was weeks away from
committing his first horrific crime.
Catherine Birnie (nee Harrison) was also born in 1951. She was
2 years old when her mother, Doreen, died giving birth to her brother,
who died two days later; unable to cope with her, her father, Harold,
had sent her away to live with her maternal grandparents. At the age of
ten, there was a custody dispute where Catherine's father gained sole
custody of Catherine again.
At the age of 12, she met David Birnie, and by the age of 14 she was
in a relationship with David. Harold had begged Catherine on several
occasions to leave David due to the fact that she was getting in trouble
with the local police all the time. But the disapproval of their
relationship only strengthened their union.
Her time in prison throughout her adolescent years offered Catherine
the chance to break away from David Birnie. Encouraged by a parole
officer, Catherine began working for the McLaughlin family as a house
keeper. She married Donald McLaughlin on her 21st birthday.
She and McLaughlin had seven children; their firstborn, a son, was
struck and killed by a car in infancy.
Four weeks after the birth of her seventh child, she abandoned
McLaughlin and began cohabiting with Birnie, who had tracked her down in
hospital after she had had a hysterectomy. She had her surname legally
changed by deed poll to match his, and reportedly was emotionally
dependent on him.
On October 6, 1986, 22-year-old student Mary Neilson
turned up at the Birnie house to buy some car tires. She had approached
Birnie at his work at the spare parts yard and he had suggested that she
call by his house for a better bargain. As Neilson entered the Birnie
house, she was seized at knife point, bound and gagged and chained to
the bed. Catherine Birnie watched as her lover repeatedly raped the girl.
She asked him questions about what turned him on the most; this way she
would know that Mary Neilson would eventually have to die. They took her
to the Gleneagles National Park where David Birnie raped her again
before strangling her with a nylon cord and stabbing her through the
heart; she was then buried in a shallow grave.
The second murder on October 20 when they abducted
15-year-old Susannah Candy as she walked along the Stirling Highway in
Claremont. Within seconds of being in the car, she had a knife at her
throat and her hands were bound. She was taken back to the Birnie house,
where she was forced to send letters to her family saying that she had
run away to Queensland with her friends before being gagged, chained to
the bed and raped. After David Birnie had finished raping her, Catherine
Birnie got into the bed with them, and David Birnie tried to strangle
the girl with the nylon cord, but she became hysterical and went berserk.
The Birnies forced sleeping pills down her throat to calm her down, and
once Susannah was asleep, David put a nylon cord around her neck and
Catherine tightened the cord slowly until she stopped breathing. They
buried Susannah Candy in another shallow grave in the State Forest.
On November 1, they saw 31-year-old Noelene Patterson
standing beside her car on the Canning Highway; she had run out of
petrol while on her way home from her job as bar manager at the Nedlands
Golf Club. Once inside in the car, she had a knife held to her throat,
was tied up and told not to move. She was taken back to Moorhouse Street
where David Birnie repeatedly raped her after she was gagged and chained
to the bed. They had originally decided to murder Noelene Patterson that
same night but David Birnie kept her prisoner in the house for three
days and there were signs that he had developed emotional feelings for
Noelene Patterson. Quick to notice, a jealous Catherine made an
ultimatum, David would have to kill Noelene or she would kill her
herself. He immediately forced an overdose of sleeping pills down her
throat and strangled her while she slept. They took her body to the
forest and buried it along with the others. Catherine Birnie reportedly
got great pleasure in throwing sand in Patterson's face.
On November 5, they abducted 21-year-old Denise Brown
as she was waiting for a bus on Stirling Highway. She accepted a lift
from the Birnies; at knife point, Denise was taken to the house in
Willagee, chained to the bed and raped. The following afternoon she was
taken to the Wanneroo pine plantation. Safely in the seclusion of the
forest, David Birnie raped Denise Brown in the car while the couple
waited for darkness. As they dragged the woman from the car, David
Birnie assaulted her again and plunged a knife into Denise's neck while
he was raping her. Convinced that the girl was dead, they dug a shallow
grave and lay her body in it, but Brown sat up in the grave; David
Birnie then grabbed an axe and struck her twice at full force on the
skull with it before burying her body in the grave.
Their final victim, and the only victim to survive
their attacks, was seventeen-year-old Kate Moir. She ran naked and
weeping into a grocery store on 10 November 1986 and insisted on seeing
the police. When the police arrived, she alleged that she had been
abducted at knife point by a couple who had taken her back to their
house and chained her to a bed, and that the man had repeatedly raped
her while the woman observed. The next morning, while the man was at
work, the woman unchained her and forced her to telephone her parents to
say she had spent the night at a friend's house and was okay. The woman
then led her back to the bedroom, but left to answer the door before
securing her; the girl then escaped out the window. She told the police
the phone number and address of the couple who had abducted her.
When the girl and the police arrived at the Birnies'
residence, Catherine Birnie admitted that she recognized the girl but
refused to answer any more questions without her husband. When the
police brought David Burnie home in handcuffs, the couple claimed that
the girl had not been abducted, but had willingly come to the house to
share a bong with the Birnies, and that all sexual activity had been
The Birnies were detained by police, who tried to
trick them into confessing to the crimes by intense interrogation.
Around dusk, Detective Sergeant Vince Katich said in a joking manner to
David Birnie, "It's getting dark. Best we take the shovel and dig them
up." Birnie replied, "Okay. There are four of them." The Birnies were
reportedly very excited, even proud, to show the police the locations of
the graves of their four victims.
When sent to trial, David Birnie pleaded guilty to
four counts of murder and one count each of abduction and rape. When
asked why he pleaded guilty, he gestured toward the victims' families
and said, "It's the least I could do." He was sentenced to four
consecutive sentences of life imprisonment. After being found sane
enough to stand trial, Catherine Birnie was also sentenced to four
consecutive sentences of life imprisonment by the Supreme Court of
Initially David Birnie was held at the maximum
security Fremantle prison, but he was soon moved to solitary confinement
to keep him from coming to harm from other prisoners. The original death
row cells were converted for him and he stayed there until the prison
was closed in 1990. The cell can now be viewed on the Great Escape Tour
held daily at Fremantle prison. While incarcerated, the Birnies
exchanged more than 2,600 letters but were not allowed any other form of
David Birnie was found dead in his cell at Casuarina
Prison on 7 October 2005. He had committed suicide by hanging; he was
due to appear in court for the rape of a fellow prisoner the next day.
Catherine Birnie is imprisoned in Bandyup Women's
Prison, where she is the head librarian. Her first application for
parole in 2007 was rejected, and the then Attorney-General of Western
Australia, Jim McGinty, said that her release was unlikely while he
remained in office.
Her case was to be reviewed again in 2010;
however, on March 14, 2009, new Western Australian Attorney-General
Christian Porter revoked Catherine Birnie's non-parole period, making
her the second Australian woman to have her papers marked "never to be
Birnies: Australia's House of Horrors
house at number 3 Moorhouse Street, Willagee, on the outskirts of Perth,
Western Australia, was an unkempt white brick, two bedroom bungalow.
It’s garden was overrun with weeds and dead flowers and it was in bad
need of a coat of paint.
It was by far the worst
house in the street and the only good thing that could be said about it
was that it made the other houses around it look like palaces.
Yet this unglamorous
dwelling would become the most notorious house in Australia. In the
ensuing years people would slow down and point and whisper as they drove
past it. It would become as infamous to Australians as the chamber of
horrors at 213 Oxford Apartments, Milwaukee, became to Americans or
London’s 10 Rillington Place and 25 Cromwell Street became to the
It was at 213 Oxford
Apartments between 1988 to 1991, that Jeffrey Dahmer, a 28-year-old
chocolate factory worker, slaughtered 17 young men, raped and mutilated
their corpses and ate their body parts.
It was at 10 Rillington
Place in the early 50s that mild-mannered office clerk and necrophiliac
serial killer John Christie murdered his victims, had sex with their
corpses and buried their bodies in the backyard, under the floorboards
and in the wall cavities.
It was at 25 Cromwell
Street through the 70s and 80s that labourer Fred West and his wife Rose
raped, tortured and murdered their victims and buried nine of their
bodies in the backyard.
The house at number 3
Moorhouse Street was Australia’s very own House of Horrors. It was the
love-nest, torture chamber and killing field of Catherine and David
Birnie, who, like the Wests, were a husband and wife serial killer team,
the rarest form of serial killers in the world. It was here that they
committed atrocities to their young female victims.
The Birnies weren’t
particularly fussy about who they murdered. As long as they were female.
Their victim’s ages ranged from 15 to 31. Whenever the Birnies felt like
killing someone they would drive along the highways of Perth and pick up
hitchhikers or other young women in need of a lift.
Their victims never
suspected the friendly couple until it was too late. At knifepoint they
were taken back to Moorhouse street and tied up and abused as the
Birnies carried out their sexual fantasies. Then they were murdered. The
lucky ones were put to sleep with an overdose of sleeping pills and then
strangled. The less fortunate victims were either stabbed or bludgeoned
to death with a knife or an axe as they sat in their shallow graves in a
secluded pine forest a short drive out of Perth.
On November 5, 1986,
Detective Sergeant Paul Ferguson was convinced that there was a serial
killer on the loose when 21-one-year-old Denise Karen Brown was reported
missing. Denise’s disappearance was the fourth young woman in 27 days.
That type of thing just didn’t happen in Perth. In other large
Australian capital cities such as Sydney or Melbourne, yes. But not in
All of the missing
women came from good homes and it was extremely unlikely that any one of
them would simply disappear for no good reason, let alone all of them.
Ferguson had eliminated all of the possibilities of links between the
missing women and investigated the possibilities of secret boyfriends,
married lovers or hidden drug problems that might cause any of them to
disappear. He turned up nothing.
drawn from years of experience, told him that there was a serial killer
on the loose. A serial killer who had the power to abduct young women
and make them disappear. What puzzled detective Ferguson most was that
two of the women hadn’t completely disappeared in that friends and
relatives had received letters and telephone calls from them after they
had been reported missing.
Susannah Candy had posted two letters to her parents, one from Perth and
the other from the nearby port of Fremantle, in the first two weeks
after she had disappeared. Both letters said that she was well and that
she would return home soon. And Denise Brown had phoned a girlfriend the
day after she had disappeared to tell her that everything was fine.
After that no one had heard a word. It just didn’t add up. Ferguson’s
gut feeling told him to expect the worst.
He consulted former CIB
chief, Bill Neilson, who agreed with his serial killer theory. And if
anyone was entitled to an opinion it would be the veteran multiple
homicide investigator, a police officer among the most respected in the
Bill Neilson was the officer in charge of the hunt for Perth serial
killer Eric Edgar Cooke, the mild mannered truck driver who had
ruthlessly murdered six people, and possibly two others, in the early
1960s to become the most notorious multiple murderer in Western
Australia’s history. Neilson had brought him to justice and saw Cooke
swing at the end of a rope in Fremantle Prison in 1964.
November 10, five days after the disappearance of Denise Brown,
detective Ferguson and Detective Sergeant Vince Katich were following up
leads on Denise’s disappearance when they got the breakthrough they were
so desperately waiting for. They were told on the two-way radio that a
half-naked young woman had just staggered into a small Willagee shopping
complex and had been taken to the Palmyra police station.
Thinking that the
missing Denise Brown had turned up, Ferguson and Katich sped to the
police station. Instead, it was a 16-year-old girl who told them the
most amazing story. The terrified teenager said that she had been
abducted at knifepoint the previous evening by a man and a woman who
asked her directions as she walked along the street near her home in
She was taken to a
house in Willagee where the couple ripped off all of her clothing before
chaining her to a bed by her hands and feet. The girl said the man
repeatedly raped her as the woman watched. The couple spoke of injecting
cocaine into the head of the man’s penis.
The following morning
after the man had gone to work the woman unchained the girl and forced
her to telephone her parents and tell them that she was staying with
friends and that she was okay. While she was using the phone she was
astute enough to note the number.
When the woman left the
bedroom to answer the door, presumably to let in a cocaine dealer, the
girl found an open window and escaped. She was able to give police a
full description of her attackers, along with their telephone number and
When the girl had told
detectives Ferguson and Katich of the phone call she was forced to make
to her parents, they immediately became suspicious that the couple may
be the kidnappers of the two young women who had disappeared and had
rung their families under suspicious circumstances.
Also, there was little
doubt in their minds that the fact that the girl was allowed to see the
couple’s faces and where they lived, could mean that she was marked for
death once they had finished with her. If this were the case then it was
highly likely that the couple had already killed, perhaps many times,
and another death wouldn’t matter.
The girl led the team
of armed detectives to the dishevelled white-brick house in Moorhouse
Street. There was no-one at home. Two detectives hid in a panel van
parked in the driveway and apprehended a very tense and nervous
Catherine Margaret Birnie when she arrived home. She told them where to
look for the man. Minutes later, other detectives picked up David John
Birnie where he worked as a labourer in a spare parts car yard.
The Birnies vigorously
denied the girl’s allegations. Instead, they claimed that she had been a
willing party and had gone with them to share a bong of marijuana.
Birnie admitted to having sex with the girl but maintained that he had
not raped her. A search of the house found the girl’s bag and a packet
of cigarettes that the girl had the common sense to conceal in the
ceiling as proof positive that she had actually been there, but there
was little else to prove the allegation of rape or connect the Birnies
with any of the other missing women.
Knowing that they
needed a confession to confirm their suspicions, Ferguson and Katich
hoped that under intense questioning one of the Birnies would crack and
at least admit to the rape of the young girl. It was her word against
theirs. Ferguson and Katich grilled the Birnies separately. It was David
Birnie who eventually cracked.
Just after 7 pm that
evening, Detective Sergeant Katich said to David Birnie, half jokingly,
in reference to the missing women: “It’s getting dark. Best we take the
shovel and dig them up.”
To his astonishment, Birnie replied: “Okay. There’s four of them.” The
detective couldn’t believe his ears.
Revealing the Bodies
told of her lover’s confession, Catherine Birnie also broke. They agreed
to take police to the bodies that were buried not far from the city. It
was as though it was a load off David Birnie's mind. He spoke freely
with the detectives as he directed the convoy of vehicles out of the
metropolitan area and towards the State Forest, north of the city.
The convoy moved along
Wanneroo Road and through the pine forests. Birnie was so relaxed and
chatting so much that they were almost at Yanchep before he realised
that they had gone too far and instructed them to turn around and go
back. Squinting into the darkness, David Birnie recognised a track that
led off the highway and into the darkness of the Gnangara pine
About 400 yards into
the forest, Birnie instructed them to stop. He pointed to a mound of
sand. “Dig there,” he said. Within minutes, police had uncovered the
corpse of Denise Karen Brown who had been reported missing only five
With a guard placed
around the shallow grave, Birnie directed the convoy south to the Glen
Eagle Picnic Area on the Albany Highway near Armadale. After travelling
for half an hour, Birnie guided police into the forest and along a
narrow track. Up an incline about 40 yards from the track, police
uncovered the decomposing body of 22-year-old Mary Frances Neilson, who
had gone missing on 6 October.
A further kilometre
down the track, David Birnie pointed out the burial site of 15 year-old
Susannah Candy who hadn’t been seen since 19 October. Detective Sergeant
Katich was amazed that neither of the Birnies showed any emotion or
embarrassment while the bodies were being uncovered. If anything, they
appeared to enjoy being the centre of attention as they pointed the
graves out to police.
Then Catherine Birnie
said that it was her turn. She would like to indicate the position of
the next grave. She pointed out that it was where they had buried
31-year-old Noelene Patterson who they had kidnapped and murdered on 30
Catherine Birnie went
to great lengths to explain to police that she disliked Noelene from the
moment that she and David had abducted her. She was glad that she was
dead. As she pointed out the grave to police, she spat on it. She showed
a great deal of pride in being able to find the grave unassisted. It was
as if she didn’t want David Birnie to get all of the credit.
As they left the burial
grounds, David Birnie commented to Katich: “What a pointless loss of
There was absolutely no
doubt in the detective’s mind that if the young girl hadn’t escaped
earlier in the day, the killings would have gone on. Psychiatrists
attached to the case agreed that Catherine Birnie could not have killed
on her own. She just wasn’t the type. But the quiet mother of six
children was totally obsessed with David Birnie and would do anything
for him, including murder.
She was even prepared
to take her own life for him. When he got too fond of one of their
victims, Catherine turned the knife on herself and said that she would
rather die by her own hand than see him fall in love with anyone else.
David Birnie was a completely different story. The product of a
desperately poor family, he had been in and out of institutions and
prison all of his life and was always going to end up in gaol for a long
time. But no-one could possibly have forecast the magnitude of his
Bonnie & Clyde
John Birnie was the eldest of six children. Margaret and John Birnie did
their best for their kids but times were tough. For all of their young
lives, the authorities periodically took the children away from their
parents and placed them in government institutions. David Birnie’s
parents had a long history of chronic alcoholism.
At the time of
the murders David Birnie’s mother was living in destitute squalor. Her
tiny apartment was overflowing with food scraps, dirty dishes, full
ashtrays and broken furniture. The place was covered in dust and grime.
She had given up hope years ago and could not recall seeing her eldest
son in years. David Birnie’s father died in 1986 after a long illness.
David first met as youngsters when their families lived next door to
each other. Catherine’s life was also one of doom and despair. Her
mother died when she was ten months old and the infant was sent to live
in South Africa with her father. She was bundled back to Australia after
two years and was fostered by her grandparents. A sad little girl who
rarely smiled, she had no friends. Other children weren’t allowed to
play with her and even before she reached high school her mind was
scarred by loneliness. She desperately wanted to be loved. She would
find that love in David Birnie later on in her sad life. But it would
drive her to a loneliness and despair that she never knew was possible.
David Birnie was
reunited with Catherine when they were both in their late teens. David
already had an extensive record for juvenile offences. The only time
that he showed that he might make something of himself was in the early
1960s when he trained as an apprentice jockey.
But like most
things in David Birnie’s life, that didn’t last long. Trainer Eric
Parnham recalled Birnie as a pale, sickly looking boy who he took on
just to give him a job. Birnie was recommended as an apprentice prospect
and Parnham went to pick the boy up at his home. The house was a
derelict slum surrounded by a pack of dogs. Birnie stayed in the stables
for almost a year and showed enough ability to become a good jockey.
eventually sacked him when he was alleged to I have bashed and robbed
the elderly owner of a boarding house. Catherine found a friend in
Birnie. She would do anything he desired and together they went on a
crime rampage that would land them both in jail.
On 11 June 1969,
David and Catherine pleaded guilty in the Perth Police Court, to eleven
charges of breaking, entering and stealing goods worth nearly $3000. The
court was told that Catherine was pregnant to another man. They admitted
to stealing oxyacetylene equipment and using it to try to crack a safe
at the Waverley drive-in theatre. Catherine was placed on probation and
Birnie was sent to gaol for nine months.
On 9 July 1969
they were committed for trial in the Supreme Court on eight further
charges of breaking, entering and stealing. They pleaded guilty and
Birnie had three years imprisonment added to his sentence. Catherine was
put on probation for a further four years.
On 21 June 1970,
Birnie broke out of Karnet prison and teamed up with Catherine again.
When they were apprehended on 10 July they were charged on 53 counts of
stealing, receiving, breaking and entering, being unlawfully on
premises, unlawfully driving motor vehicles and unlawfully using
vehicles. In their possession police found clothing, wigs, bedding,
radios, food, books, 100 sticks of gelignite, 120 detonators and three
fuses. Catherine admitted that she knew that she had done wrong but said
that she loved Birnie so much that there was nothing that she wouldn’t
do for him. She would get her chance to prove this in the years to come.
sentenced to two and a half years in prison and Catherine received six
months. Her newborn baby was taken from her by welfare workers and held
until her release. Out of prison a few months later and away from the
evil influence of David Birnie, Catherine went to work as a live-in
domestic for a family in Fremantle.
For the first
time in her life, the scrawny young woman seemed to have found some
happiness. Donald McLaughlan, the son of the family she worked for, fell
in love with her and they married on 31 May, 1972. It was also
Catherine’s 21st birthday. Shortly after she gave birth to the first of
their six children. They named the baby boy ‘Little Donny’ after his
father. Seven months later Donny was killed when he was crushed to death
by a car in front of his mother. Psychiatrists would later ponder the
significance of this tragedy in the horrors of the future.
In the meantime,
the marriage was not a happy one. Catherine pined for David Birnie.
surprised when she bailed out of the marriage. The family had been
living in a State Housing Commission home in the working class suburb of
Victoria Park. Catherine had to look after her unemployed husband, their
six children and her father and uncle. The place was like a pigsty. She
took no pride in the kids or the house. There was never any money for
food. One day she rang her husband and said that she wasn’t coming back.
She had been seeing David Birnie for the previous two years and was
going back to him.
After thirteen years apart, she moved back with David
Birnie. Although they never married, Catherine changed her name to
Birnie by deed poll and became his common law wife.
But the Birnie household was far from normal. David Birnie’s sexual
appetite was seemingly insatiable. James Birnie, David’s younger
brother, stayed with the couple for a short time when he was released
from prison after serving five months for indecently interfering with
his six-year-old niece. He told a reporter: ‘(The six-year-old) led me
on. You don’t know what they can be like. When I left prison, I had
nowhere to go. I couldn’t go back to my mother's place because I had
assaulted her and there was a restraining order out against me. I had a
couple of fights with mum and the police chased me off. Mum has alcohol
problems. So David and Catherine let me move in. They weren’t real happy
about it and David kept saying that he was going to kill me to keep me
James added that
David Birnie had few friends, was heavily into kinky sex and had a big
pornographic video collection. “He has to have sex four or five times a
day,” James said of his brother. “I saw him use a hypodermic of that
stuff you have when they’re going to put stitches in your leg. It makes
you numb. He put the needle in his penis. Then he had sex. David has had
many women. He always has someone.”
started in 1986. David and Catherine Birnie had tried everything
sexually together and they wanted new kicks. They discussed abduction
and rape. Birnie turned his accomplice on by telling her that she would
achieve incredible orgasms by watching him penetrate another woman who
was bound and gagged. Catherine believed him.
opportunity came on 6 October 1986 when 22-year-old student, Mary
Neilson, turned up at the Birnie house to buy some car tyres. She had
approached Birnie at his work at the spare parts yard and he had
suggested that she call by his house for a better bargain.
studying psychology at the University of Western Australia and worked
part time at a suburban delicatessen. She was hoping to take a job as a
counsellor with the Community Welfare Department. Her parents were both
TAFE lecturers and were in the UK on holiday when their daughter
Mary was last
seen leaving the shop on Monday 6 October to attend a University
lecture. But she never made it. Her Galant sedan was found six days
later left in a riverside car park opposite police headquarters. David
Birnie had driven it there. It was as if he was leaving a clue.
As Mary Neilson
entered the Birnie house she was seized at knife point, bound and gagged
and chained to the bed. Catherine Birnie watched as her lover repeatedly
raped the girl. She asked him questions about what turned him on the
most. This way she would know what to do to excite him.
that Mary Neilson would eventually have to die. But it was something
that she and Birnie hadn’t yet discussed. That night they took the girl
to the Gleneagles National Park where Birnie raped her again then
wrapped a nylon cord around her neck and slowly tightened it with a tree
Mary Neilson choked to death at his feet. Birnie then
stabbed her through the body and buried her in a shallow grave. He told
Catherine that the stab wound would allow any gases to escape as the
body decomposed. He had read it somewhere in a book.
The second killing took place a fortnight later when they abducted
pretty 15-year-old Susannah Candy as she hitchhiked along the Stirling
Highway in Claremont. An out-standing student at the Hollywood High
School, Susannah lived at home in Nedlands with her parents, two
brothers and a sister.
Her father is
one of the top ophthalmic surgeons in Western Australia. After she went
missing the Birnies forced her to send letters to her family to assure
them that she was all right. But the family feared for her life.
The Birnies had
been cruising for hours looking for a victim when they spotted Susannah.
Within seconds of being in the car she had a knife at her throat and her
hands were bound. She was taken back to the Willagee house where she was
gagged, chained to the bed and raped.
After Birnie had
finished raping the girl, Catherine Birnie got into the bed with them.
She now knew that this turned her lover on. When they had satiated their
lust, Birnie tried to strangle the girl with the nylon cord, but she
became hysterical and went berserk. The Birnies forced sleeping pills
down her throat to calm her down. Once Susannah was asleep, David put
the cord around her neck and told Catherine to prove her undying love
for him by murdering the girl.
obliged willingly. She tightened the cord slowly around the young girl’s
neck until she stopped breathing. David Birnie stood beside the bed
watching. Asked later why she had done it, Catherine Birnie said:
“Because I wanted to see how strong I was within my inner self. I didn’t
feel a thing. It was like I expected. I was prepared to follow him to
the end of the earth and do anything to see that his desires were
satisfied. She was a female. Females hurt and destroy males.”
Susannah Candy near the grave of Mary Neilson in the State Forest.
On 1 November
they saw 31-year-old Noelene Patterson standing beside her car on the
Canning Highway, East Fremantle. She had run out of petrol while on her
way home from her job as bar manager at the Nedlands Golf Club. Noelene
lived with her mother in the leafy suburb of Bicton on the shores of the
She was an
extremely popular lady and club members described her as charming and
polite. She had been an airhostess with Ansett airlines for nine years
and had worked for corporate tycoon Alan Bond as hostess on his private
jet for two years. Noelene had been working at the golf club for about a
year when she accepted the Birnies’ offer of a lift.
hesitate to get in the car with the friendly couple. Once inside, she
had a knife held to her throat, was tied up and told not to move or she
would be stabbed to death. She was taken back to Moorhouse Street where
Birnie repeatedly raped her after she was gagged and chained to the bed.
hated Noelene Patterson from the minute she set eyes on her. A
beautiful, elegant lady Noelene was everything that Catherine wanted to
be. What is more, Birnie was entranced by her. They had originally
decided to murder Noelene Patterson that same night but when David
Birnie kept putting it off, Catherine became infuriated. She could see
that she was losing her man. At one stage she held a knife to her own
heart and threatened to kill herself unless he chose between them.
Noelene prisoner in the house for three days before Catherine insisted
that he kill her. He forced an overdose of sleeping pills down her
throat and strangled her, under the watchful eye of Catherine, while she
slept. They took her body to the forest and buried it along with the
others. Catherine Birnie got great pleasure in throwing sand in the dead
On 5 November
they abducted 21-year-old Denise Brown as she was waiting for a bus on
Stirling Highway. Denise was a funloving girl who worked as a part-time
computer operator in Perth and spent a lot of her spare time at dances
and nightclubs. She shared a flat in Nedlands with her boyfriend and
another couple. Denise spent her last night at the Coolbellup Hotel with
a girlfriend. She accepted a lift from the Birnies outside the Stoned
Crow Wine House in Fremantle. A close friend said later: “She was
someone who would do anything to help anyone. She trusted too many
people. Perhaps that is why she didn’t think twice about taking a lift.”
At knife point
Denise was taken to the house in Willagee, chained to the bed and raped.
The following afternoon she was taken to the Wanneroo pine plantation.
Along the way they nearly picked up another victim. After the Birnies’
capture, a 19-year-old student told police how she was offered a lift by
two people who she later recognised as Catherine and David Birnie from
photos in the newspapers.
university for the day, she was walking along Pinjar Road, Wanneroo,
when a car pulled up beside her. There were two people in the front and
another slumped in the back seat. Later she realised that the person in
the back was probably Denise Brown.
She went on: “I
felt uneasy. I didn’t recognise the car. There was a man driving and a
woman in the front seat of the car. The man kept looking down, not
looking at me and the woman was drinking a can of UDL rum and coke. I
thought the fact that she was drinking at that time of day was strange.
He didn’t look at me the whole time. It was the woman who did all the
talking. She asked me if I wanted a lift anywhere. I said, “No, I only
live up the road”.
to sit there and I looked into the back seat where I saw a small person
with short brown hair lying across the seat. I thought it must have been
their son or daughter asleep in the back. The person was in a sleeping
position and from the haircut, looked like a boy but for some reason I
got the feeling it was a girl. I told them again I didn’t want a lift
because walking was good exercise. The man looked up for the first time
and gazed at me before looking away again. By this time more cars had
appeared and I started to walk away but they continued to sit in the
car. Finally the car started and they did another U-turn and drove up
Pinjar Road towards the pine plantation. It wasn’t until I saw a really
good photo of Catherine Birnie that I realised who they were. Somebody
must have been looking after me that day. I don’t know what would have
happened to me if I had got into that car.”
Safely in the
seclusion of the forest, David Birnie raped Denise Brown in the car
while the couple waited for darkness. They then dragged the woman from
the car and Birnie assaulted her again. In the light of Catherine’s
torch, Birnie plunged a knife into Denise’s neck while he was raping
die straight away. Catherine Birnie, still holding the torch, found a
bigger knife and urged her lover to stab her again. He didn’t need much
prompting. He wielded the knife until Denise lay silent at his feet.
Convinced that the girl was dead, they dug a shallow grave and lay her
body in it.
As they were covering Denise Brown with sand, she sat up
in the grave. Birnie grabbed an axe and struck her full force on the
skull with it. When the girl sat up again, he turned the axe head around
and cracked the girl’s skull open. They then finished covering her with
Has Had Enough
The brutal murder of Denise Brown had a bad effect on Catherine Birnie.
She liked the sex they had with their victims. And she didn’t mind the
women being strangled and stabbed to death. But after the last murder
she decided that she couldn’t go through it again. That is possibly why
she left their next victim untied and alone in the bedroom.
She told police
later: “I think I must have come to a decision that sooner or later
there had to be an end to the rampage. I had reached the stage when I
didn’t know what to do. I suppose I came to a decision that I was
prepared to give her a chance.
“I knew that it
was a foregone conclusion that David would kill her, and probably do it
that night. I was just fed up with the killings. I thought if something
did not happen soon it would simply go on and on and never end.
“Deep and dark
in the back of my mind was yet another fear. I had great fear that I
would have to look at another killing like that of Denise Brown, the
girl he murdered with the axe.
“I wanted to
avoid that at all costs. In the back of my mind I had come to the
position where I really did not care if the girl escaped or not. When I
found out that the girl had escaped, I felt a twinge of terror run down
my spine. I thought to myself,: “David will be furious. What shall I
On 12 November
1986. David John Birnie and Catherine Margaret Birnie appeared in
Fremantle Magistrates' Court charged with four counts of wilful murder.
The public were outraged by the allegations against the pair and a crowd
had gathered outside the court. Police checked the bags of everyone
entering the court. The holding cell leading to the courtroom was
heavily guarded by police.
David Birnie was
led into court handcuffed to a policeman and wearing a faded pair of
blue overalls with joggers and socks. The barefoot Catherine Birnie was
handcuffed to a policeman and wore a pair of blue denim jeans with a
light brown checked shirt.
emotionless as the charges against them were read out. Neither had legal
representation. No plea was entered, bail was officially refused and the
Birnies were remanded in custody.
When asked if
she wanted to be remanded for eight or thirty days before her next court
appearance, Catherine Birnie looked at her lover and said: “I’ll go when
On 10 February 1987 a huge crowd gathered outside the
Perth Supreme Court. As the Birnies arrived in a prison truck they
called for the reintroduction of the death penalty. “Hang the bastards,”
they called. “String them up.” Under a huge police guard, the couple
were led into the holding cells.
Bill Power, the police rounds reporter who covered the Birnie’s crimes
and trial for the Perth Daily News recalls the Birnie’s
appearance in the Perth Supreme Court as one of the most chilling
experiences of his career and remembers it as if it were yesterday.
nothing distinctive about David and Catherine Birnie when they first
appeared in court to face multiple murder charges in the serial killings
which brought to an end the mystery of young women going missing off
Perth streets,” Bill recalled.
“They were a
rather nondescript, ordinary looking couple you might find running a
petrol station in a country town. David was a weedy little man and
Catherine his drab, slightly buxom wife with a very sour face. Both were
accompanied by male police officers.
appeared first at the top of the stairs from the holding cell beneath
the court and looked totally out of place in the majestic Perth Supreme
Court. He was already in the dock glancing around at the massed police,
court staff and huge media contingent as Catherine made her way up the
stairs to the courtroom.
little serial killer was mesmerising enough but nothing could have
prepared me for the moment that Catherine Birnie appeared at the top of
the jarrah staircase leading up to the dock where the charges were to be
read out to them.
“If you have
ever witnessed a wild cat go off, then try and imagine that same hellcat
in the confined spaces of a narrow staircase. Catherine Birnie fought
against the guarding police officers and refused to allow any of them to
touch her as she screamed and spat her words at them until she reached
the dock and spotted her beloved David. Only then did she calm down.
of her appearance continued when David Birnie stood before the court to
hear the murder charges read against him and Catherine Birnie was
allowed to sit on a small wooden bench immediately behind him. As the
judge leveled the horrible case against him, Birnie stood motionless
with his hands clasped behind his back.
witnessed next I will take to the grave with me,” Bill Power recalled.
“As the heinous charges of abduction, rape, torture and murder were
being read out against him, Catherine Birnie bent forward, stretched out
her right hand and gently stroked the ball of David Birnie’s thumb
behind his back.
probably never before been such a declaration of undying love in the
Western Australian Supreme Court dock.”
pleaded guilty to four counts of murder and one count of abduction and
rape, thereby sparing the families of his victims the agony of a long
trial. “That’s the least I could do,” he told a detective. Catherine
Birnie had not been required to plead as her barrister was waiting on a
psychiatric report to determine her sanity. She was remanded to appear
later that month.
“It was all over
within a few minutes,” recalled Bill Power. “And the erstwhile angelic
Catherine, who moments before had acted out such a show of dedication,
was dragged kicking and screaming and spitting down the wooden staircase
to a prison van waiting beside the court.
never wanted another man besides David to touch her.”
Wallace sentenced David Birnie to the maximum sentence of life
imprisonment with strict security. He added: “The law is not strong
enough to express the community’s horror at this sadistic killer who
tortured, raped and murdered four women. In my opinion, David John
Birnie is such a danger to society that he should never be released from
stood trembling in the dock as the sentence was passed. His bravado
returned as he was led to the prison van under tight security. With the
angry mob calling for his blood, David Birnie put his hand to his lips
and blew them a kiss.
enough to plead, Catherine Margaret Birnie admitted her part in the
murders and was sentenced on 3 March 1987 in the Perth Supreme Court.
She stood in the dock, holding hands with David Birnie, the man who had
led her down the path of torture, rape and murder. Through the day’s
hearing they chatted quietly and smiled at each other as the court was
told of their 35 day reign of horror.
On occasions she
would stroke and pat his arm. A psychiatrist to the court said that
Catherine was totally dependent on Birnie and almost totally vulnerable
to his evil influence. He said: “It is the worst case of personality
dependence I have seen in my career”.
Wallace had no hesitation in handing down the same sentence as that
imposed on David Birnie. He said: “In my opinion you should never be
released to be with David Birnie. You should never be allowed to see him
As she was taken from the court, the scrawny mother of
six took one last look at the man who had influenced her life so
strongly and so disastrously.
In prison David Birnie was repeatedly beaten up and attempted suicide
later in 1987 and was eventually moved to Fremantle Prison’s old death
cells for his own protection.
In the years to
come, the Birnies would rarely be out of the headlines. In their first
four years apart they exchanged 2600 letters but they were denied the
right to marry, have personal phone calls to each other or have contact
In 1990 David
Birnie claimed that the denial of these rights imposed ‘a punishment
over and above that decreed by the law’. He said he and Catherine were
suffering physical and mental torture and that denying them contact with
each other was an attempt to drive them into mental breakdown and
In 1992 major
crime squad detectives gave David Birnie the rare privilege of a look at
the outside world when they drove him around Perth and the suburbs for
five hours in the hope that he may confess to other murders that he
could have possibly committed. Nothing ever came of it.
In 1993 David
Birnie’s personal computer was confiscated from his cell in the
protection unit at Casuarina Prison when it was found to contain
On January 22,
2000, Catherine Birnie’s first husband and the father of her six
children, Donald McLaughlan, passed away suddenly in the Western
Australian country town of Busselton. He was aged 59. Catherine Birnie
made an application to attend her former husband’s funeral. It was
the Ministry of Justice’ decision to refuse attendance to the funeral,
the Western Australian Premier, Mr Richard Court, said: “As far as I am
concerned the Birnies have forfeited any rights for those types of
Western Australian law David and Catherine Birnie will be eligible to
apply for parole in 20 years after they committed their atrocities. But
it seems that there is little likelihood that any parole board would go
against Mr Justice Wallace’s recommendation that they die behind bars.
In January 2000, the acting Western Australian Attorney
General, Mr Kevin Prince, said that while the Birnies can be considered
for parole in 2007, he thought they would never be released unless they
became too frail or senile.
Information for the Birnie’s story came from the following sources:
Never To Be
Released, Kidd, Paul B. Pan Macmillan,
Serial Killers; The Definitive History of Serial Multicide in Australia,
Kidd, Paul B. Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2000
News 1986 -1987
Observations and reporting by Perth Daily News
crime reporter Bill Powers
David BIRNIE and his wife Catherine
BIRNIE abducted, drugged, raped, photographed and murdered three women
and a teenage girl. Denise BROWN, Mary NEILSON, Susannah CANDY and
Noelene PATTERSON were murdered during October and November 1986 after
being held captive at the BIRNIE's Perth home for days. A fifth victim
managed to escape and raised the alarm. After a lengthy interview David
BIRNIE led police to the graves of the four women. They are also
suspected of murdering four other missing Perth women. They were also
friends with Queenslander Barrie WATTS, who was convicted of the 1987
murder of 12 year old schoolgirl, Sian KING. Both defendants were
sentenced to life imprisonment.
Catherine and David BIRNIE
Who would have suspected the couple as multiple
murderers? Catherine and David Birnie, an average looking couple were
responsible for the murders of four women. The victims, most hitch-hikers
were women between the age of fifteen to thirty-one. Most were abducted
by the couple as they hiked along Perth's highways.
Catherine and David had known each other since
childhood. Their families had lived next door to each other at one time.
Catherine never knew her mother who died when
Catherine was only 20 months old. Her father quickly moved her to South
Africa with him, but then shipped her back to be fostered by her
grandparents. She grew up a lonely child who rarely smiled and was not
allowed to play with the other children. This loneliness haunted
Catherine throughout her years as she desired love and affection.
David grew up as a sickly-looking boy, his only
attempts at success was when he was an apprentice jockey. However after
a theft he was dismissed. By the time Catherine and David were reunited,
David had quite an extensive juvenile criminal record.
Catherine and David became close friends. She would do
anything for him, even commit crime.
On June 11, 1969, David and Catherine faced Perth
Police Court, charged with 11 counts of break, enter and steal of good
worth $3000. They both pleaded guilty to the charges. David was
sentenced to prison for nine motnhs and Catherine, who was pregnant with
another man's baby was put on probation.
A month went by and on July 9 they were back in court
on trial again for a further eight counts of break, enter and steal.
David's sentence in prison was increased by three years and Catherine
had four years added to her probation.
On June 21, 1970, David broke out of jail and teamed
up again with Catherine. They were apprehended on July 10 after a crime
spree which netted another 53 counts of break enter and steal, and motor
vehicle offences. In their possession police also found various items
for disguises and several sticks of gelignite. Catherine told police
regardless of what they had done, she would do anything for David Birnie.
This unconditional love she was to prove again.
David received another 2 and a half year prison term
and Catherine was sent to jail for six months, her baby was taken from
her by welfare authorities, until she left prison.
When Catherine was released she moved in with a nice
family as a live-in nanny. Donald, the son in the family fell for
Catherine and the two were married on Catherine's 21st birthday, May 31,
1972. Six months later she gave birth to "little" Donny. But
his life was short-lived, at seven months he was crushed by a car,
Catherine witnessed the accident. Some think it may have had an
irreversible affect on the young woman. The marriage soon was not a
happy one as she began to pine for her lover David Birnie.
Her life was going downhill, she lived in a government
housing department house with her unemployed husband, their six children,
her father and uncle. Soon she was unable to cope anymore, she rang
Donald one day and said she had been seeing David and she was not
She changed her name by deedpoll to Birnie, though the
couple were never to marry. They lived together as lovers, David's
sexual appetite never satiated. His younger brother, James, also lived
with them after his release from prison. He had been sentenced after
indecently assaulting his six-year old niece. His defence was that she
had led him on! David, according to James, was heavily into kinky sex
and had quite a huge pornographic collection. He wanted sex about 6
times a day, and would inject anaesthetic into his penis so he could
last longer. The murders Sex for the couple became boring. Soon they
began talking about abduction and rape for kicks. David convinced
Catherine she would love watching him penetrate another woman who was
gagged and tied up. Catherine would turn David on by telling him how she
wanted to lick his penis as it went in and out of another woman. The
talk didn't last long before action took over.
On October 6, 1986, a young woman, twenty-two year old
Mary Neilson, came to the Birnie's front door. She had spoken to David
earlier at the spare parts place he worked about some tyres. He told her
to come around to his place after work. Here she was.
As she entered the house she was grabbed by David
Birnie who was holding a knife to the young woman's throat. She was
dragged to the bed, chained up and gagged. Catherine watched as David
repeatedly raped the terrified young girl. Catherine knew to avoid
detection the girl would have to die, but the couple hadn't actually
discussed the issue.
Later in the evening the Birnies drove Mary to
Gleneagles National Park, David raped her again and then garrotted her
with a rope and tree branch until she died. He then stabbed her to allow
the body's gases to speed up decomposition. 'He had read that somewhere'.
The pleasure of the murder kept the couple satiated
for two weeks only, before they were out on the hunt again. Susannah
Candy, a young girl of only fifteen was hitch-hiking alond the highway
when she was picked up by the Birnies. Susannah thought that with a
woman in teh car she would be safe. She was wrong.
As soon as she was in the car she was bound and gagged
and taken back to the couple's house at knifepoint. To stop her parents
from worrying Susannah was forced to write reassuring letters to her
parents. Like Mary, Susannah was chained to the bed and raped by David.
Catherine joined them in bed, she knew this would turn David on. When
David tried to strangle Susannah she fought back as much as she could.
So they drugged her with sleeping pills. When she had fallen alseep,
David put a rope around the young girl's neck and told Catherine to
prove her love for him and kill the girl.
She willingly pulled the rope tight until Susannah had
stopped breathing. They took the body out to Gleneagles Forst again and
buried her near the gravesite of Mary.
On November 1, thirty-one year old Noelene Patterson
became the Birnie's third victim. She had run out of petrol and gladly
offered the lift from the friendly couple. But her relief of a lift soon
turned to horror when a knife was held to her throat. The Birnies again
took their sex slave home, chain her to the bed, gagged her and raped
her repeatedly. Catherine was a bit concerned this time however. She
thought the woman was beautiful and that David may take a fancy to her.
Especially seeing that David didn't want to murder her straight away. He
kept putting it off. Noelene was kept prisoner for three days by the
Birnies before Catherine made David force sleeping pills down the
woman's throat. Catherine had held a knife to her own throat and said
that David had to chose between the two of them. David strangled the
unconscious woman, as Catherine watched. Then the body was taken to the
forest to join the others. Catherine enjoyed throwing the dirt into the
dead woman's face.
On November 5, Denise Brown was abducted by the killer
couple as she was hitch-hiking along the Stirling Highway. According to
friends she was a happy-go-lucky girl who trusted everyone, maybe it is
the reason she happily took the offer from the Birnies rather than wait
for the bus which had been her original plan.
A knife was thrust to her throat as she got
comfortable in the car, she was their slave now. Denise, like the others
was taken to the couple's house at Willagee, chained to the bed and
Catherine this time did not want to keep the woman for
too long, so Denise was bundled back into the car and take to Wanneroo
The couple stopped once to offer another young girl a
lift who politely refused. The young woman only realised after the
Birnie's capture how lucky she had been.
The couple drove into the plantation and while waiting
for darkness, David raped Denise again.
With light from a torch David plunged a knife into
Denise's neck while he raped her again, but she didn't die, she just lay
there making gurgling sounds, so with a bigger knife found by Catherine,
he plunged into the woman's chest again. She stopped moving. So the
couple hastily dug a shallow grave and put Denise into it, while the
killer couple were replacing the sand, Denise began to move again and
attempted to sit up in her grave. David grabbed an axe and swung it at
the grils skull, but agin she sat up, so he turned the axe around and
opened the woman's skull with it, She was dead this time, so the Birnies
continued to cover the grave over.
This time the murder and preceeding sex did nothing to
satiate Catherine, she didn't think she could go through with something
like what had just happened.
She felt sick after the murder of Denise.
The next abduction that David convinced Catherine to
help him with was not to end in murder, but the incarceration of the two
of them. Catherine had decided to allow the abducted woman to escape.
She led police to the Birnie's home.
On the afternoon of November 10 after some intense
questioning Detective Seargent Katich said to David, it is getting late,
why don't you just show me where the bodies are so we can dig them up.
David sighed then added "ok, there is four of them".
Catherine also broke down after hearing that David had
confessed. The convoy of police cars then converged in the pine
David and Catherine
David and Catherine Birnie were a
husband and wife serial murder team from Perth, Western Australia. Their
motives were all sexually based, with all victims used as sex toys,
raped and sexually mutilated.
October 6 1986: The first victim was a young girl, Mary Nielson, who
responded to an ad in the paper for the selling of some tyres by the
Birnies. The ad was real and not a lure. While Mary was at the house,
that was when David had an uncontrollable urge for sex and confronted
her with a knife. Inside, he proceeded to repeatedly rape Mary while
Catherine watched the whole thing. After David had finished they took
Mary out to Glen Eagle National Park and David raped her once again.
Being too risky to let her go, the couple strangled her to death,
stabbed her multiple times witha knife and then continued her torture by
sexually mutilating the body. She was then buried in a shallow grave.
Their next victim was to be their youngest, a fifteen year old girl
named Susannah Candy. The Birnies picked her up while she was
hitchhiking on the Stirling Highway. As soon as she entered the car she
was tied up and gagged and taken back the house. David wanted to keep
her for a while, so forced Susannah to write two letters to her parents
telling them she was ok and even made a phone call to them as well. She
was tied to the bed, raped and sodomised repeatedly by David and
Catherine joined in occasionally too. When he had grown sick of the
teenager, he attempted to strangle Susannah, but she fought hard for her
life and so David drugged her with sleeping pills and then asked
Catherine to prove her love for him...by strangling the teen. She of
course did it and they buried the body close to Mary's grave.
November 1 1986: The third victim was a friend of the Birnies, an air
hostess called Noelene Patterson. The three were quite close, the
Birnies had helped her renovate her house a few weeks before she became
their victim. Noelene had run out of petrol and was standing beside her
car when the Birnies pulled over. Noelene was glad to see them. But no
sooner had she jumped in the car when a knife was held to her throat and
she was taken back to Moorhouse Road. Like the previous victims, she was
tied to the bed and raped repeatedly. David kept her for three days and
did not want to let her go. Catherine became jealous of this and
threatened to take her own life if he did not kill Noelene. So David
promptly drugged Noelene and strangled her. Her body was buried with the
November 4 1986: The second last rape victim, but last murder victim,
was a girl named Denise Brown. She was picked up again on the Stirling
Highway while waiting for a bus. For two days she was raped by the
couple in their house. She also made a call to her parents to say she
was okay. Catherine was the one who decided it was time for Denise to go
and they drove her out to a different forest this time..Gnangara Pine
Plantation where she was raped yet again by David. Catherine held up a
torch while David plunged a knife into Denises neck while he still raped
her. She survived the cut so Catherine got a bigger knife from the car
and David again stabbed her but in the chest. Thinking she was dead,
they began to cover her body in the grave but Denise suddenly sat bolt
upright, gasping for air. David smashed her in the head with the shovel
he was using but Denise still tried to sit up. He gave her a final smash
in the head with an axe and she finally died. She was buried without any
November 9 1986: The final event in the Birnies rampage was the
abduction of a 17 year old girl again picked up on the Stirling Highway.
She only spent a day of being raped and tortured, when the Birnies left
her alone in the bedroom while they made a drug deal in the front of the
house. She purposely left her bag and cigarettes under the Birnies bed
as proof for the police that she had been there. She escaped out of the
window and ran to a nearby shopping centre where the police were called
in. She told them her amazing story and they immediately acted upon it.
Both the Birnies were arrested when the girls' items were found in the
After a day of silence from both couples, David finally confessed to the
four murders and they both took the police to the graves.
On November 12th 1986, the birnies
were chrged with four counts of murder and one count of abduction and
rape. At the hearing on February 10th, 1987 David and Catherine pleaded
guilty to all charges. On that same day, David was sentenced to life
imprisonment, never to be released.
A month later Catherine was
sentenced to life but with a minimum sentence...she is eligible for
parole in 2007.
On the afternoon of Monday 10th November 1986, customers in a
supermarket in Fremantle, Western Australia, were startled when a half-naked
seventeen year old girl burst in, sobbing that she had been raped.
Taken to the police station, she described being held captive since the
previous evening, when a man and a woman had dragged her into a car as
she was walking in the affluent Perth suburb of Nedlands.
She had been taken to a small bungalow, chained to a bed, then raped
twice by the man. The following morning, the man had gone off to work,
leaving the woman to guard their victim. It was when the woman left her
unchained, and went into another room, that the girl escaped through an
Within minutes of raising the alarm, she was being questioned by police.
One officer was later to say that he had been deeply impressed by the 'very
alert, intelligent and brave female'. The girl had kept her wits about
her and seized the opportunity to escape as soon as it became possible,
When the girl was recounting her story, police were already on their way
to a white-brick house in Moorhouse Street in nearby Willagee. The door
was answered by Catherine Birnie, a small, hard faced woman with high
cheekbones and a tight mouth. Within a short time, she and her common
law husband, David, were being questioned.
David Birnie was an unlikely looking rapist; slightly built, dark hair,
with a gaunt face and prominent nose. He looked too weak to subdue a
desperate, struggling woman.
Taken to the police station, it was obvious that neither had much fight
left in them, Within a short time, they had confessed to four rape-murders,
committed over a period of four weeks.
Before evening, the Birnies were taking members of Perth's Major Crimes
Squad to the graves of their victims. Three girls had been buried in
remote Glen Eagle State Forest, almost 50km (31 miles) southeast of
Perth; another in a pine plantation near Wanneroo, some 30km (19 miles)
north of central Perth. The three Glen Eagle victims had been strangled
to death. The fourth girl had been stabbed and struck with an axe.
It soon became apparent that Catherine Birnie had played an active part
in the murders. She had even taken photographs of her husband in the act
of raping the victims. As the two described their brief career of
homicide, police found themselves listening to a narrative that was
beyond their experience - the story of a woman who had apparently
enjoyed helping her husband to violate other women.
David and Catherine Birnie had, apparently, known each other since
childhood. They were both 35 years old, and had become lovers in their
teens, when they had also teamed up on a spree of burglaries. They then
went their separate ways.
David Birnie married and Catherine became a domestic help. She
eventually married the son of the house and bore him five children.
Meanwhile, Birnie's marriage had foundered. When he and Catherine met
again, they resumed their affair. Catherine left her husband and
children to live with Birnie.
In spite of his small stature and mild appearance, Birnie was sexually
insatiable. He wanted intercourse six times a day. Interviewed by the
press, his twenty one year old brother James, who had himself been in
prison for sexual offences, told how, when David and Catherine Birnie
had temporarily broken up in 1984, his brother had insisted on having
sexual relations with him, climbing into his bed after he was asleep.
On his 21st Birthday, James had been allowed to go to bed with Catherine
Birnie as a birthday present.
In 1985, David and Catherine Birnie had discussed the idea of abducting
and raping girls. But their first murder, that of a twenty two year old
student named Mary Neilson, was apparently unplanned.
She came to their house on 6th October 1986 to buy tyres, which Birnie
obtained through his work in a car-wreckers yard. Unable to resist the
temptation, he had forced her into the bedroom at knifepoint. Catherine
Birnie had watched while he raped her.
The girl was then taken to the Glen Eagle State Forest, where she was
raped again. She was begging for her life as Birnie strangled her with a
nylon cord. He and Catherine mutilated the body and buried it in a
The detectives listening to the confessions began to understand that
Catherine Birnie, this hard-faced, defiant woman, had had nothing to
gain from the murders except by playing her part in fulfilling David
Birnie's deranged lust.
The simplicity with which the Birnies had abducted and murdered Mary
Neilson encouraged them to lure more victims to their home, but this
time using a more devious method. They inserted an advertisement in a
local newspaper that read: 'URGENT. Looking for a lonely young person.
Prefer female 18 to 24 years, share single room flat.
The advert was found in the house after their arrest, although it is not
known if it brought any applicants. But two weeks after abducting Mary
Neilson, the Birnies picked up a fifteen year old hitch hiker named
Susannah Candy. She was held prisoner for several days and repeatedly
raped. During this time, Birnie made her write two letters to her
parents, to allay any worries they might have about her whereabouts. In
the letters, she was to explain that she was safe and well, and wanted
time to sort out her problems.
Catherine Birnie may have grown jealous of her husband's enthusiasm for
Susannah Candy. She strangled her, and the body was buried close to that
of Mary Neilson.
The third victim, a thirty one year old airline hostess named Noelene
Patterson, was already acquainted with the Birnies, according to one of
his workmates. The couple had helped her to wallpaper her home. When the
Birnies saw her having problems with her car - it had run out of petrol
- they helped her push it to a service station. Noelene was then forced
into their car at knifepoint and taken back to their Willagee home.
For three days, she endured rape. Birnie showed so much interest in her
that Catherine became increasingly jealous, demanding that she be killed.
Birnie finally agreed. He gave Noelene a large dose of sleeping tablets,
then strangled her while she was unconscious. When Catherine led the
police to Noelene's grave, she spat on it.
Denise Brown, a twenty one year old computer operator, was abducted by
the killers at knifepoint on 4th November 1986, taken to the house in
Willagee, and made to suffer rape by Birnie for two days.
She was taken to a pine plantation near Wanneroo, where Birnie raped her
again, stabbing her twice while doing so. But he failed to kill her, and
Catherine Birnie handed him a bigger knife, with which he stabbed Denise
in the neck.
Only three days later, they abducted their final victim, the seventeen
year old girl whose escape brought their month long murder rampage to an
After his arrest, Birnie claimed to be contrite, saying that he deeply
regretted the suffering he had caused. Whether this was genuine, or a
bid for leniency, is unclear. His crimes certainly inspired horror
throughout Australia, and he was so violently attacked by other inmates
while he was in prison that he had to be treated in hospital.
The Birnies decided to plead guilty to the charges. David Birnie claimed
that his motive for admitting the charges was to spare his victims'
families the ordeal of having their fates described at length in court.
The case came to trial on 3rd March 1987 in the Supreme Court of Western
Australia in Perth, and lasted just thirty minutes. Catherine Birnie's
lawyer, Brian Singleton, QC, said that she had signed a detailed
statement, admitting direct involvement in all four murders.
Clearly, he said, she had nothing to gain from them. She had taken part
because of her 'total dedication to Birnie', feeling a desperate need to
satisfy his sexual desires.
The chief prosecutor, Graeme Scott, said that, in Mary Neilson's case,
it seemed that Catherine Birnie 'was interested in find out out if the
girl was able to make the male prisoner excited.'
Birnie's counsel, Terry Walso, said his client understood that what he
was doing was wrong, and would present no claims of insanity to the
court. The belated expression of regret cut little ice with anyone,
however, and did nothing to help David Birnie's case.
The Birnies were each sentenced to life imprisonment. This meant a
minimum of twenty years in prison before they were eligible for parole.
But after the crimes had been read to the courtroom, the trial judge, Mr
Justice Wallace, said that 'Each of these horrible crimes were
premeditated, planned and carried out cruelly and relentlessly over a
comparatively short period', and that David Birnie ' should not be let
out of prison - ever'.
The Birnies did not appeal. Catherine Birnie was confined in Bandyup
prison, Northern Perth, while her husband David has been involved in
violent incidents inside Fremantle prison. Neither is eligible for a
parole hearing until the year 2007.
Inquiry on prison rape claim
By Tim Clarke
27 july 2004
A FORMER remand prisoner's claim he was raped by notorious serial killer
David Birnie at a maximum security jail in Western Australia is under
WA's Department of Justice and prison authorities are holding inquiries
into allegations by the 23-year-old man, known only as Peter, who said
Birnie and convicted pedophile Adrian Barrett sexually assaulted him in
The young man was last week awarded more than $70,000 in government
compensation for the attack.
He claims that while on remand for arson charges of which he was later
acquitted, he was placed in protective custody in unit six of Casuarina
Prison, 30km south of Perth, where he was attacked almost immediately
after his arrival.
He said Birnie was afforded special privileges because of the time he
had served and his notoriety.
"Birnie was introduced to me as peer support, and Barrett was peer
support at the time too," Peter told Perth radio 6PR.
Peter said he was so traumatised after the assault that he was "like a
"I picked David Birnie out in a photo (line-up) three days later," he
"They said I was unfit to make a proper statement at that stage, and
they did not come back and see me.
"The Ministry of Justice has pushed it under the carpet.
"People are getting raped up there all the time, and sex offences are
Although police investigated the rape claims at the time, no one was
Prison authorities today said they were investigating the claims, but
said the young man had only now mentioned Birnie's name in connection
with the sex assault.
Terry Simpson, executive director of prisons for the Department of
Justice, also denied Birnie had ever been used for mentoring at the
"The young man at the time identified two prisoners as having been
responsible for the assault and neither of those was David Birnie – in
fact in five years this is the first time it has been suggested that
Birnie had any involvement," Mr Simpson told 6PR.
"We will certainly, as far as we can five years later, investigate what
has happened there and how the whole situation was managed at the time."
Mr Simpson said any new criminal allegations would have to be
investigated by the police.
Birnie is serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of four young
women during a five-week killing spree in 1986.
Birnie rape 'victim' payment to be appealed
August 11, 2004
THE award of more than $70,000 in compensation to a man who claimed he
was raped in prison by serial killer David Birnie is being appealed by
WA's Department of Justice.
The man, a 23-year-old known only as Peter, was last month awarded
$72,960 in criminal injuries compensation after claiming Birnie and
convicted paedophile Adrian Barrett sexually assaulted him hours after
he arrived at Casuarina Prison in 1999.
But after doubts were raised about the claims made by Peter, the
Department of Justice has now announced it would challenge the payout.
"Following legal advice, Director General Alan Piper has directed that
an appeal be lodged with the District Court," a justice department
The payment will be withheld until the appeal is decided.
Peter claimed that just two hours after having been placed in protective
custody in unit six of Casuarina Prison, 30km south of Perth, he was
attacked. Although he named both Birnie and Barrett in his successful
compensation claim, neither man was charged.
After the case was publicised, doubts emerged about Peter's claims amid
revelations he had pleaded guilty to and was awaiting sentence on eight
counts of fraud and four counts of obtaining a benefit by deception.
It was also revealed police had decided against charging anyone at the
time of the assault because Peter's claims could not be corroborated,
and there was no forensic or DNA evidence to identify an offenders.
Birnie was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of
murdering, raping and torturing four young women in a month in 1986 with
his partner Catherine.
given secret pauper's funeral
November 29, 2005
Notorious serial killer David Birnie has been given a
secret pauper's cremation in Perth, at taxpayers' expense.
Birnie was found hanging in his prison cell in
October and no-one claimed his body.
At the time of his death he had been serving a life
sentence in Perth's Casuarina prison for the abduction, rape, torture
and murder of four women in 1986.
The Department of Community Development organised an
indigent's funeral for Birnie after his body lay unclaimed in the state
mortuary for more than a month.
The service, which regulations say must be "basic but
dignified", was carried out at Pinnaroo cemetery north of Perth on
November 21, a government spokesman said.
Birnie and his partner Catherine achieved infamy
after they embarked on a five-week killing spree in October and November
They either lured their victims to their house in
suburban Willagee, or abducted them, before raping them and stabbing,
strangling and clubbing them to death.
The spree ended when a fifth rape victim managed to
escape and alert police.
Catherine Birnie is serving her life sentence at
Bandyup women's prison, in Perth's north-east.
When first jailed, the pair wrote to each other every
But in recent years, Catherine, now 52, refused to
reply to her former lover's letters.
She was said to have been upset by his death.
But authorities said any application to attend his
funeral would be turned down due to an incident in which she once spat
on one of her victim's graves.