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Eric Edgar COOKE






A.K.A.: "The Night Caller"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Unusual serial killer whose methods seemed as random as his choice of victims. His behaviour was inconsistent and bizarre
Number of victims: 8
Date of murders: 1959 / 1963
Date of arrest: September 1, 1963
Date of birth: February 25, 1931
Victims profile: Jillian Macpherson Brewer / Brian Weir, 29 / John Sturkey, 19 / George Walmsley, 54 / Shirley Martha McLeod, 18 / Constance Lucy Madrill, 24 / Patricia Vinico Berkman, 33 / Rosemay Anderson
Method of murder: Shooting - Sttabing with knife - Strangulation
Location: Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Status: Executed by hanging at Fremantle Prison on October 26, 1964
photo gallery

Eric Edgar Cooke nicknamed The Night Caller (25 February 1931 – 26 October 1964) was an Australian serial killer. From 1958 to 1963, he terrorised the city of Perth, Western Australia by committing 22 violent crimes, eight of which resulted in deaths.

Early life

Eric Edgar Cooke was born on the 25 February 1931 in Victoria Park, a suburb of Perth and was the eldest of three children.

As a child Cooke's father showed no passion towards his oldest child and only son, and would often become a victim of his fathers' alcoholic addiction resulting in beatings for no apparent reason. Cooke was beaten by his father when he tried to protect his mother from his father's violent outbursts of rage.

Cooke had been bullied at school for the impediments of a hare lip and a cleft palate, although whether this contributed to his later crimes is unknown. The operations left him with a slight facial deformity and he spoke in a mumble.

Cooke would later serve 18 months in jail for burning down a church after he was rejected in a choir audition.

At age 21 Cooke joined the Permanent Military Forces but was discharged three months later after it was discovered that before enlistment he had a series of convictions for theft, breaking and entering, and arson.

A year later on the 14th of October 1953, Cooke aged 22 married Sarah (Sally) Lavin, a 19-year-old waitress, at the Methodist Church in Cannington. They were to have seven children.


Cooke's strange killing spree involved a series of seemingly unrelated hit and runs, stabbings, stranglings and shootings which had Perth completely terrorised. This was an unusual serial killer whose methods seemed as random as his choice of victims. His behaviour was inconsistent and bizarre.

The various shootings had been carried out with several different rifles. Victims had been stabbed with knives and scissors, and hit with an axe. One victim was shot dead after answering a knock on the door, several were killed after waking while Cooke was robbing their homes; two were shot while sleeping without their homes being disturbed; after stabbing one victim, he got lemonade from the refrigerator and sat on the verandah drinking it; another victim was strangled with the cord from her bedside lamp, her dead body raped, then dragged to a neighbor's lawn, where she was violated with an empty whisky bottle which was left cradled in her arms.

In the 1960s, people often left the keys in their cars' ignition overnight, and Cooke would steal a car almost every night, returning it before the owner awoke. It was later discovered that the cars involved in several hit and runs had been returned without the owners realising they had been stolen. Cooke was to later claim he just wanted to hurt people.

During the police investigation, more than 30,000 males over the age of 12 were fingerprinted and more than 60,000 .22 rifles were located and test fired.

Cooke was finally caught after a rifle was found hidden in a bush in August 1963. Ballistic tests proved the gun had been used to murder Shirley McLeod. Police returned to the location and tied a similar inoperable rifle to the bush with fishing line, constructing a hide in which police waited for the owner to collect it, which Cooke did 17 days later. When captured, Cooke confessed to numerous crimes, including 22 violent crimes - 8 murders, and 14 attempted murders. He was convicted on the specimen charge of murdering John Lindsay Sturkey, one of Cooke's five Australia Day (1963) shooting victims.

In his confessions, Cooke demonstrated an exceptionally good memory for the details of his crimes irrespective of how long ago he had committed the offences. For example, he confessed to more than 250 burglaries and was able to detail exactly what he took, including the number and denominations of the coins he had stolen from each location.

Conviction and execution

The other murder confessions included those of Jillian Brewer and Rosemary Anderson for which Darryl Beamish and John Button had already been convicted and imprisoned. Cooke's confessions were referred to in appeals by Beamish and Button but, in Button's case which was heard first, although Cooke had given details withheld by police that only the killer would have known, little credence was given to Cooke's testimony as the vehicle Cooke claimed he had used had an external steel sunvisor, the appeal judges did not believe a body could be thrown "over the roof" as Cooke claimed without ripping the visor off.

Beamish's appeal was dismissed after the judges cross-referenced Cooke’s evidence with that of the Button appeal. West Australia Chief Justice Sir Albert Wolff called him a "villainous unscrupulous liar" and the prosecution claimed that both confessions were an attempt to prolong his own trial.

Pleading not guilty on the grounds of insanity, at trial Cooke's defence lawyers claimed that Cooke suffered from schizophrenia but this claim was dismissed after the director of the state mental health services testified that he was sane. The state would not allow independent psychiatric specialists to examine Cooke.

Cooke was convicted of willful murder on 28 November 1963 after a three-day trial by jury in the Supreme Court of Western Australia before Justice Virtue. He was sentenced to death and despite having grounds to appeal ordered his lawyers not to apply claiming that he had killed and deserved to pay for what he had done. Ten minutes before the sentence was carried out Cooke swore on the Bible renewing his rejected claim that he had been the killer of Jillian Brewer and Rosemary Anderson. Cooke was the last person to be hanged in the state of Western Australia, on 26 October 1964.

Cooke is buried in Fremantle Cemetery, above the remains of the child-killer, Martha Rendell, who was hanged in Fremantle Prison in 1909 and was the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia.

The wrong men

Two other Australians were convicted of crimes later attributed to Cooke:

  • Darryl Beamish, a deaf mute convicted in 1961 for the 1959 murder of Jillian Macpherson Brewer, a wealthy woman originally from Melbourne. He served 15 years despite Cooke's 1963 confession to the crime. His conviction was quashed in 2005 after evidence pointed to Cooke being the killer.

  • John Button, who was jailed for five years for manslaughter in the death of his girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson, a conviction that was quashed in 2002 after evidence proved Cooke was the killer.


A memoir, The Shark Net by Robert Drewe – later made into a movie – provides one author's impressions the effect the murders had on the Perth of that era. According to the book, more people bought dogs for security and locked back doors and garages that had never been secured before.

"The Nedlands Monster" also features in Tim Winton's 1991 novel Cloudstreet.

The Walkley Award-winning journalist, Estelle Blackburn, spent six years writing the biographical story Broken Lives, about Cooke's life and criminal career, focussing particularly on the devastation left on his victims and their families


Edgar Eric Cooke

Cooke, Edgar Eric (1931-1964), murderer, was born on 25 February 1931 at Victoria Park, Perth, eldest of three children of Vivian Thomas Cooke, a native-born shop-assistant, and his wife Christian, née Edgar, from Scotland. Educated at five different schools, including Perth Junior Technical and Forrest High, from the age of 14 Eric took a succession of semi-skilled jobs.

Having served in the Citizen Military Forces, he joined the Permanent Military Forces on 27 May 1952, but was discharged on 28 August when it was discovered that—before enlistment—he had a series of convictions for theft, breaking and entering, and arson. On 14 October 1953 at the Methodist Church, Cannington, he married Sarah (Sally) Lavin, a 19-year-old waitress; they were to have seven children.

In the early hours of 27 January 1963 a series of random shootings with a .22 inch (.55 cm) rifle occurred in the suburbs of Perth. The victims were a couple who were wounded in a parked car at Cottesloe, a male accountant, fatally wounded by a single shot to the head while asleep in a flat nearby, an 18-year-old student (John Sturkey), killed by a single bullet to the head while sleeping on the verandah of a boarding house at Nedlands, and a retired grocer who was similarly murdered when answering the bell of his front door in the next street. Public anxiety was exacerbated by two murders a fortnight later, for which Brian William Robinson was charged with both, tried for one and hanged.

January's pattern and fears returned in August when an 18-year-old female student was killed by a single shot to the head while babysitting at Dalkeith. It was for this murder that Cooke was captured by police on 1 September when he attempted to retrieve the hidden weapon. In addition to the four who died by Cooke's marksmanship, he was acknowledged by the state to be responsible for the murders of a South Perth beautician, stabbed on 30 January 1959, and of a female social worker, strangled in West Perth on 16 February 1963.

Brought to trial on 25 November 1963 for the murder of Sturkey, through his counsel Cooke sought a verdict of not guilty on the grounds of insanity. Evidence revealed that this short, dark-haired man with a quick temper and a retentive memory had been brutalized by a father for whom he had never formed affection; he had further been tormented at school for the impediments of a cleft palate and hare lip, hospitalized frequently for head injuries, suspected brain damage and recurrent headaches, and admitted to an asylum. Life's blows extended to the next generation: the eldest of his children was mentally retarded, while another was born with a deformed arm. Dr A. S. Ellis, director of mental health services, rejected the defence's claim that Cooke suffered from schizophrenia. The state permitted no other psychiatric specialist to examine him. The death sentence was pronounced on 27 November.

With six convictions for minor crimes at the time of his arrest for murder, Cooke later claimed to have committed more than two hundred thefts, five hit-and-run offences against young women, and the two murders for each of which Darryl Raymond Beamish and John Button were already imprisoned. These confessions led to unsuccessful appeals. Little credence was placed in Cooke's testimony by the court: the chief justice Sir Albert Wolff called him a 'villainous unscrupulous liar'. There were inconsistencies in Cooke's testimony, but in confessions to his chaplain and in sworn statements he reaffirmed his guilt in each case. The circumstances in which confessions were originally obtained from Beamish and Button, together with arguable flaws in judicial procedure and judicial reasoning in their appeals, leave open the possibility that each suffered a miscarriage of justice which Cooke sought to overturn.

Although opponents of capital punishment had organized protest in several previous cases, there was little public dissent from the sentence imposed on Cooke. Only one woman kept vigil outside Fremantle Prison on the morning of his execution, 26 October 1964. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Fremantle cemetery; his wife, three daughters and three of his four sons survived him. Cooke was the last person to be hanged in Western Australia for wilful murder before the State abolished capital punishment in 1984.

In the period when his crimes had remained unsolved there was a discernible change in Perth's attitude towards personal and household security. Police and politicians were widely criticized; gunsmiths, locksmiths and the dogs' refuge did a brisk trade; and the breezy habits of an informal town in a hot climate were no longer innocently enjoyed. The social impact of Cooke's crimes and the atmosphere in which he was tried are imaginatively but faithfully reflected in Tim Winton's novel, Cloudstreet (Melbourne, 1991).

Select Bibliography

P. Brett, The Beamish Case (Melb, 1966); M. Hervey, Violent Australian Crimes (Melb, 1978); J. Coulter, With Malice Aforethought (Perth, 1982); West Australian, Jan, Feb, Aug, Sept, 26-28 Nov 1963, 16, 17 Jan, 27 Oct 1964; Daily News (Perth), Jan, Aug, Sept, Nov 1963, Oct 1964; Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Oct 1964; Living Today (Perth), June 1977; N. Mattingley, The Abolition of Capital Punishment in Western Australia, 1960-1984 (B.A. Hons thesis, Murdoch University, 1990); Supreme Court of Western Australia, R v Cooke, no 280, 25-27 Nov 1963 (unpublished transcript); Department of Corrective Services (formerly Prisons Department) files (State Records Office of Western Australia).

Author: Hugh Collins

Print Publication Details: Hugh Collins, 'Cooke, Edgar Eric (1931 - 1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, Melbourne University Press, 1993, pp 490-491.


Eric Edgar Cooke

The Aftermath

The complete story of the ordeal of John Button, the young man found guilty of the manslaughter of his girlfriend Rosemary Anderson and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, who couldn’t get his case reviewed even though Eric Cooke confessed in intricate detail to committing the crime, can be found in Estelle Blackburn’s superbly researched, award winning Broken Lives.

After years of protesting his innocence and seeking an appeal against his conviction and in light of the case put forward on his behalf in Broken Lives, on August 17, 1999, John Button was granted the right to appeal his 1963 conviction of the manslaughter of  Rosemary Anderson. The hearing in front of the Western Australian Court of Criminal Appeal is set down for May 28, 2001.

In February, 2000, United States pedestrian crash expert and university of Texas lecturer, Rusty Haight, was flown to Western Australia to conduct tests to see if it was possible that John Button’s 1962 Simca could have been the car that killed his girlfriend. The tests proved negative.

“John Button’s Simca did not hit and kill Rosemary Anderson’, Mr Haight told The West Australian newspaper. ‘I could see nothing, not even the tiniest indication, that the Simca was the crash vehicle.’

On the other hand, Mr Haight’s tests supported Eric Cooke’s version of the crash, including his use of a stolen FB Holden to carry out the killing, made during his repeated confessions to the crime.

In June 2000, as a direct result of the story in Broken Lives and author Estelle Blackburn’s efforts on his behalf, Daryl Raymond Beamish, the deaf mute who was convicted of the 1959 murder of Melbourne heiress Jillian Brewer at the Perth suburb of Cottesloe and served 15 years of a life sentence in prison despite Eric Edgar Cooke’s meticulously detailed confession to the killing, was granted the right to appeal his conviction.


John Button's manslaughter conviction of 4th May 1963 was quashed by the Western Australian Court of Criminal Appeal on 25th February 2002, which, ironically, would have been Eric Edgar Cooke's 70th birthday.

The Chief Justice of Western Australia, David Malcolm, Justice Henry Wallwork and Justice Neville Owen presided. The Chief Justice described it as a miscarriage of justice and said a re-trial was unnecessary.

The appeal hearing was initially held in May 2001, based on fresh evidence from Estelle Blackburn's book Broken Lives, which was published in November 1998 after six years of research.



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