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Edward Joseph LEONSKI






A.K.A.: "The Brown-out Strangler"
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Rape - U.S. Army private
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: May 3-18, 1942
Date of arrest: May 22, 1942
Date of birth: December 12, 1918
Victims profile: Ivy Violet McLeod, 40 / Pauline Thompson, 31 / Gladys Lilian Hosking, 41
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Status: Executed by hanging at Pentridge Prison on November 9, 1942

photo gallery


Leonski, Edward Joseph (age: 24 / White) US Military - Pentridge Gaol

Murder – victims:   

Mrs. Ivy Violet McLeod – committed on or about 3 May 1942

Mrs. Pauline Thompson – committed on or about 9 May 1942

Miss Gladys Lilian Hosking – committed on 18 or 19 May 1942

Sentenced on 17 July 1942

Private Edward Joseph Leonski of the United States Army, a heavy drinker, raped and strangled to death with his own hands three women in Melbourne: about 3 May 1942, he killed 40-year-old Mrs. Ivy Violet McLeod, about 9 May 31-year-old Mrs. Pauline Thompson, and on about 18 May 41-year-old Miss Gladys Lilian Hosking. He was arrested on 22 May, was tried by an American Court Martial and sentenced to death for triple murder on 17 July 1942. It was the first and only time that the citizen of another country was tried and sentenced to death in Australia under the law of his own country. Leonski expressed himself to be lucky with his death sentence. In spite of this, he was declared sane, and was hanged at Pentridge Gaol on 9 November 1942.


Edward Joseph Leonski

A self-described "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Leonski was a U.S. Army private stationed in Australia during World War II, convicted and sentenced to die for strangling three women in Melbourne. 

The first victim was Ivy McLeod, found dead on the night of May 2, 1942, after leaving a tavern for home. A week later, Pauline Thompson was murdered in similar fashion, with Gladys Hosking joining the list on May 28. A fourth woman was also accosted, but the killer unaccountably left her alone when she threatened to call the police.

Suspicion focused on American servicemen after an Australian sentry reported sighting a GI in blood-stained clothing on May 28. Troops in Melbourne were assembled on parade, for an inspection, and the sentry picked Leonski from the lineup. Under questioning, the stocky Texan made a full confession, telling his interrogators of a twisted fascination with the female voice. "That's why I choked those ladies," he explained. "It was to get their voices." Pauline Thompson had sung for Leonski on their last date, and he recalled that "Her voice was sweet and soft, and I could feel myself going mad about it."

Dubbed the "Singing Strangler" in the press, Leonski filed a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. 

Convicted at his court martial and sentenced to die for his crimes, the defendant was hanged on November 9, 1942.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers


Edward Joseph Leonski (12 December 1918 - 9 November 1942) was a serial killer who committed his crimes in Australia, although Leonski himself was American.

Leonski is known as the "Brownout Strangler", given Melbourne's wartime status of keeping low lighting (not as stringent as a wartime blackout).

Early life

Born in New York, Leonski grew up in an abusive, alcoholic family, and one of his brothers was committed to a mental institution. He was called up for the US Army in February 1941 and arrived in Melbourne on February 2, 1942.


On May 3, 1942, Ivy Violet McLeod, 40, was found dead in Albert Park, Melbourne. She had been beaten and strangled, and because she was found to be in possession of her purse it was evident that robbery was not the motive.

Just six days later, 31-year-old Pauline Thompson was strangled to death after a night out. She was last seen in the company of a young man who was described as having an American accent. Gladys Hosking, 40, was the next victim, murdered on May 18 while walking late at night near Melbourne University.

A witness said that, on the night of the killing, a disheveled American man had approached him asking for directions, seemingly out of breath and covered with mud. This description matched the individual Pauline Thompson was seen with on the night of her murder, as well as the descriptions given by several women who had survived recent attacks.

These survivors and other witnesses were able to pick 23-year-old Edward Leonski out of a line-up of American servicemen who were stationed in the city during World War 2. A Private in the 52nd Signal Battallion, Leonski was arrested and charged with three murders.

Trial and execution

Leonski confessed to the crimes and was convicted and sentenced to death at a United States Army general court-martial on July 17, 1942. General Douglas MacArthur confirmed the sentence on October 14, 1942 and a Board of Review upheld the findings and sentence on October 28, 1942. General Court-Martial Order 1 promulgated Leonski's death sentence on November 1, 1942.

In a departure from normal procedure, on November 4, 1942, MacArthur personally signed the order of execution (in future executions, this administrative task would be entrusted to his Chief of Staff, Richard Sutherland). Leonski was hanged at Pentridge Prison on November 9, 1942, only the second American serviceman to be executed during World War II.

Leonski's counsel, Ira C. Rothgerber, attempted to win an external review, even from the U.S. Supreme Court, but was unable to do so. Rothgerber kept the issue alive after the war, and Leonski's case contributed to the development of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Leonski was temporarily interred at several cemeteries in Australia. His remains were eventually permanently interred in Section 9, Row B, Site 8 at Schofield Barracks Post Cemetery, in a portion of the facility reserved for general prisoners who had died in military custody.

Fictional portrayals

The 1986 film Death of a Soldier is based on Leonski.


Leonski, Edward Joseph (1917 - 1942)

By Peter Pierce

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Leonski, Edward Joseph (1917-1942), soldier and murderer, was born on 12 December 1917 at Kenvil, New Jersey, United States of America, sixth child of Russian-born parents John Leonski, labourer, and his wife Amelia, née Harkavitz. The family moved to East 77th Street, New York, during Edward's infancy. Leaving junior high school in 1933, he took a secretarial course and finished in the top 10 per cent of his class. He held several clerical jobs before working for Gristede Bros Inc. Superior Food Markets. When called up for military service on 17 February 1941, he left behind an unhappy family: a mother mentally unstable, two brothers with prison records and a third in a psychiatric hospital.

While stationed with the 52nd Signal Battalion at San Antonio, Texas, Leonski began to drink heavily, preferring such concoctions as whisky laced with hot peppers; he displayed his strength by vaulting on to bar counters and walking along them on his hands. About this time he tried to strangle a woman. The American authorities failed to comprehend the problem that they shipped to Australia in January 1942.

Arriving in Melbourne in February, Leonski was quartered at Camp Pell, Royal Park. He resumed his ferocious drinking and allegedly attempted to rape a woman in her St Kilda flat. Drunkenness led to thirty days in the stockade, but release was followed by another binge. On 3 May Mrs Ivy McLeod was found murdered in the doorway of a shop next to the Bleak House Hotel, Albert Park. Melbourne newspapers immediately dubbed it a 'Brownout Crime'. The unpopular wartime reduction of street lighting helped Leonski to commit two more murders undisturbed: of Mrs Pauline Thompson outside a city boarding house on 9 May and of Mrs Gladys Hosking in Royal Park on the 18th. All three were throttled; all were older than the killer; and, though their genitals were exposed, none was sexually assaulted.

Efficient detective work and the evidence of a soldier in whom Leonski had confided led to his arrest on 22 May. Sensitive to relations with its American ally, the Curtin government decided—after consultation with Britain and in the face of some strenuous opposition—that Leonski could be tried by a United States court martial. Following some dispute, he was declared sane, and was tried and found guilty on 17 July. Fair haired and of middle height, Leonski was powerfully built, boyish in appearance and cheerful in demeanour. He gave no explanation for his crimes, other than to say of one of his victims, 'I wanted that voice. I choked her'.

Held in the city watchhouse, he corresponded with a woman at Eltham, learned Oscar Wilde's 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' and became a communicant of the Catholic Church. Leonski was hanged at Pentridge prison on 9 November 1942. His remains were finally buried in a military cemetery in Honolulu. Albert Tucker's painting, 'Memory of Leonski' (in his 'Image of Evil' series, 1943), is privately owned; Leonski was also the subject of a novel by Andrew Mallon (1979) and of a feature film, Death of a Soldier (1986).


SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC-nonspecific

MO: Alcoholic American soldier, killed women "for their voices".



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