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Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Familicide - Police have never been able to establish a motive for the murders
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: July 1, 1970
Date of birth: 1930
Victims profile: His pregnant wife Theresa, 35, and their children Katherine, 12, James, 8, and Karen, 6
Method of murder: Electrocution - Hitting with a hammer
Location: Glenroy, Victoria, Australia
Status: Never arrested. On the run since 1970
photo gallery

The Crawford family murder was the 1970 killing of pregnant mother Therese Crawford and her three children: Kathryn, 13, James, 8, and Karen, 6. The family car was located at the bottom of a cliff at Loch Ard Gorge in Port Campbell, Victoria, Australia on 2 July 1970. The bodies of Therese and her children were still inside.


A July 1971 coroner's inquest found that Elmer Crawford murdered his wife and three children in their Glenroy home. Crawford had constructed an electrocution device, using a 15 metre length of electrical lead and alligator clips. He attached the alligator clips to his wife's ears while she slept and electrocuted her. He then beat his children to death, presumably using a hammer, then loaded their bodies into the family's FE Holden vehicle. He then drove them 200 km to Port Campbell where he pushed the car containing the bodies over the cliff edge in an effort to make the crime look like murder-suicide.

Two weeks before the murders, Elmer and his wife drafted new wills that would leave a considerable fortune to Elmer Crawford in the event of his family's death. Crawford has been missing since the murders. A reward of A$100,000 was offered in 2008 for information leading to his arrest.

In July 2010 Victorian Police announced that they were, in conjunction with the FBI, attempting to identify a man who died in 2005 in San Angelo, Texas (USA) that they believed to be Elmer Kyle Crawford. It was announced on 27 August 2010 that comparison of DNA from a Crawford blood relative ruled out any connection to the body in Texas

Cultural references

An episode of Sensing Murder titled Almost Perfect which aired on 30 May 2006 featured the crime.

Greg Fogarty lived in the same street as the Crawfords. In 1996 he wrote the book Almost Perfect, which detailed his life long obsession with finding out the truth about the case.


Elmer Crawford electrocuted family, bashed daughter

By Keith Moore -

February 11, 2008

IT takes a truly monstrous man to attach alligator clips to the ears of his sleeping wife and children then zap them with electricity.

The sort of cruel coward who would also use a hammer to belt his six-year-old daughter in the head.

Elmer Kyle Crawford is just such a man, a coroner found.

He acted not in a fit of rage, but after weeks of planning the ghastly murders of his pregnant wife and three children.

Crawford electrocuted and bashed his family to death at their home in Cardinal Rd, Glenroy, on July 1, 1970.

And he got away with it - so far.

Running through what is known of the killings, it is easy to see why Victorians were appalled.

Although not qualified as an electrician, Crawford worked in that capacity for the Victoria Racing Club at Flemington racecourse for 14 years.

Workmates told police there was no indication he was capable of such an atrocity. No trouble at home that they knew of.

But something troubled Crawford enough to painstakingly plan what he hoped would be the perfect crime -- one that would leave him looking like the deserted husband whose wife ran away with the kids.

The evidence points to Crawford planning to report his wife and children had gone missing.

The new wills he and his wife drafted two weeks earlier would have left him very comfortably off.

He was forced to rapidly change plans and disappear after a quirk of fate meant the bodies didn't sink in the ocean without trace as planned.

Crawford was busy cleaning up the blood in the family home when he found out the car he had earlier pushed off a cliff hadn't disappeared into the Blowhole at Loch Ard Gorge near Port Campbell.

Indeed it had been found teetering on a ledge just above the churning sea.

He abandoned plans to destroy all incriminating evidence and simply disappeared.

Police have been unable to establish why Crawford murdered his wife Therese, 35, and children Kathryn, 13, James, 8 and Karen, 6.

One possibility is the couple argued over whether or not to terminate Therese's fourth pregnancy.

That theory is based on an unfinished letter from Mrs Crawford to her family in which she indicated she wasn't happy about being pregnant again.

I have been so upset, but what's the use, I am two and a half months now," she wrote.

"So looks like I have had it this time.

"We were going to come up home this Christmas but won't be able to now as I'll be due the end of January."

Police found the letter along with a newspaper article about abortion written by prominent Right to Life campaigner Margaret Tighe.

They also discovered items Crawford had stolen from the VRC and evidence he had been selling stolen goods for years.

That led to another theory, that Mrs Crawford may have found out her husband was a thief and threatened to expose him.

Evidence left by Crawford paints a chilling picture of how he killed his family.

He made a bizarre electrocution device consisting of a 15m length of electrical cord with a plug at one end and an extension cord socket on the other.

Running from the main cord were five smaller leads, each with alligator clips on the end. Crawford waited until his wife and children were asleep before murdering them.

He used his electrocution device on his wife, eldest daughter Kathryn and James. Crawford also bashed Kathryn and James in the head, almost certainly with a hammer, fracturing their skulls.

Little Karen was spared electrocution, but she was beaten to death with the hammer.

Crawford had earlier removed the back seat of his 1956 Holden sedan so he could stack the four pyjama-clad bodies inside.

He wrapped each body in a blanket and then put a tarpaulin over them.

He then drove hundreds of kilometres to Loch Ard Gorge.

But a drainage ditch just before the edge of the cliff stopped him from pushing the car over the edge.

Undeterred, he spent an estimated two hours building a bridge of rocks so he could roll the car down the slight slope, across his makeshift bridge and over the cliff.

His intention was that it would plunge into the Blowhole and never be seen again.

As an extra precaution, in case the car and the bodies were later found, he attached a hose to the exhaust and jammed it through the driver's side window to make it look as though Mrs Crawford had committed suicide after beating her children to death.

That's probably why she was the only one electrocuted and not bashed.

As he pushed the car over the cliff, Crawford would not have seen the rocky ledge 16m below.

Thinking his grisly task complete, Crawford made his way back home.

Police don't know how he returned to Glenroy, but it is possible he hitchhiked or rode a small motor scooter he carried to Port Campbell in the boot with the bodies.

They believe he murdered his family and tried to dispose of the bodies sometime between sunset on July 1 and the early hours of July 2.

Sightseers first noticed the car perched precariously on the ledge at the Blowhole at 1.30pm on July 2.

Crawford was seen in the driveway of his home at 5.50pm that day.

Broadmeadows police officer John McCarty was sent to the Crawford home at 6.20pm after a registration number check revealed the car was owned by Crawford.

It had not yet been possible to search the car because it was a dangerous process requiring cliff rescue experts.

Evidence suggests Crawford was inside the house cleaning up blood when Constable McCarty knocked on the door.

The knock went unanswered and, because it was just a routine inquiry at that stage, Constable McCarty went back to the station.

Police presume it was at this point Crawford abandoned his plan to pretend his wife and children had left him and fled himself.

Constable McCarty went back to the house at 10pm after receiving information from Port Campbell there was a rifle in the car and blood on the seats.

He and another officer broke in when no-one answered the door. They discovered blood-stained sheets and mattresses.

The homicide squad was called in and arrangements made to search the car at first light the next day.

Cliff rescue volunteers George Cumming and Cecil Burgin were lowered down, secured the car to prevent it slipping into the sea then started to search it. "We lifted the tarpaulin and Cec Burgin said 'I can see some feet' and as the tarpaulin was lifted further I saw three sets of feet," Mr Cumming said.

"When the tarpaulin was moved a bedspread was folded back and I saw four bodies wrapped in bed sheets."

Homicide squad detective Adrian Donehue, who went on to become head of the major crime squad, was at the top of the cliff that day.

"I made an examination of each of the bodies as they were brought up," he said.

He was the first to realise the savagery of a crime that has haunted several generations of Victorian police.


Where is Elmer Crawford?

By Carolynn Webb -

July 1, 2005

Thirty-Five years ago today, Brenda Connor's best friend Katherine Crawford was slain by her own father, Elmer Crawford.

Each morning that winter, she pretended Katherine still walked beside her to school. To this day Ms Connor thinks of Katherine when she drives past the triple-fronted brick Glenroy house where her friend, her siblings and their mother were killed.

"I often wonder what she'd be doing now, how her life would have been, had she lived," she says, speaking about the case for the first time since the July 1971 inquest.

"She never got to experience dating or getting married or going to dances. All the things that we've done through life."

Police believe that Elmer Crawford got away with murder - of Katherine, 12, his pregnant wife Theresa and their younger children James, 8, and Karen, 6.

At some time on Wednesday, July 1, 1970, Crawford bashed then electrocuted each of them.

He piled the bodies into the family's white FE Holden and drove three hours to Loch Ard Gorge, on Victoria's south-west coast. In the dark, he pushed the little car over the cliff.

Former homicide detective Adrian Donehue, who worked on the case, believes that Crawford planned to make it look like Theresa Crawford had murdered her three children.

The car fell 15 metres and hit a ledge, where it teetered. The next day tourists reported it to police, who, along with search and rescue volunteers, abseiled down and examined the car, and made the gruesome discovery. Meanwhile, back at Cardinal Road, Glenroy, three people saw Elmer Crawford walk to his front gate and look around.

Donehue said the sighting supports his theory that Mr Crawford was inside the house when a Broadmeadows policeman knocked on the door at 6.10pm.

Detectives who broke into the house later that night found a still-foaming carpet cleaning detergent bottle on a table, and liquid over blood trails in the hallway. Mr Donehue says Crawford's initial plan was probably to report his wife and children missing, but that when he saw that police were already on the case, he decided to flee.

He imagines Crawford then travelling to an outback mining town and living as yet another shady exile from the big city.

Greg Fogarty, who grew up in Cardinal Road, and whose book on the case, Almost Perfect, was reprinted this year, says there are clues to Crawford's motive. Found in the lounge room was Theresa's unfinished letter to a sister expressing disappointment at falling pregnant. On a table were two letters to the editor from a 1969 copy of The Age, which gave opposing views of the abortion debate. Theresa had suffered severe postnatal depression after her third child.

Mr Fogarty says Theresa, a Catholic, may have refused her husband's demand to have an abortion.

For years, Crawford had been stealing money and goods from his employer, the Victoria Racing Club. "And I believe she's threatened to expose him to the police." Crawford had $3000 in the bank, owned the Glenroy house and blocks of land in Queensland. He had a lot to lose from a divorce.

"If the car had gone into the water, I believe he would have said, 'my wife had a breakdown, she's run off with the kids'," Mr Fogarty says. Were the car found, goes the theory, it would look like murder-suicide. "Theresa didn't actually have a fractured skull. He hit her with an iron bar wrapped with a garden hose. So later if they found skeletal remains, the only ones with physical injuries would be the children."

Brenda Connor was the last person to speak to Elmer Crawford before he disappeared. At 8.15am on the day of the killings, she walked the hundred metres from her Cardinal Road house to fetch Katherine for their walk to school.

Ms Connor says Mr Crawford answered the door, which was odd, because he was usually at work at this time. She could see just his face and hand around the door.

"I said, 'I'm just here for Katherine,' and he said, 'She's not going to school today, she's got the flu.' I said, 'oh, OK.' So I left, didn't think anything of it."

Detective Mark Colbert of the homicide squad cold case unit said police had no information suggesting Elmer Crawford - who would be 75 now - is dead. Police believe he should be brought to justice.


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