‘It was as though I was God’: A serial killer’s voice from the grave
Eric Edgar Cooke brutally murdered at least eight people in Perth between 1959 and 1963. In original sound recordings unearthed from his trial, he reveals the dark power inside his head that pushed him to unspeakable acts.
It was a straightforward news report that gave no indication of the scale of the revelations that were to come.
"In Perth today, a youth was arrested and charged with wilfully murdering a young girl by running her down with a car in Shenton Park last night," the ABC newsreader told viewers on February 10, 1963.
Rosemary Anderson's death was one of a series of horrific killings whose dots were yet to be joined to serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke.
It was also one in a series of devastating miscarriages of justice.
The subsequent conviction of Ms Anderson's boyfriend, John Button, for her manslaughter would become a significant chapter in a saga of wrongful convictions in Western Australia which is explored in the new ABC podcast series 'Wrongful', produced by broadcaster Susan Maushart.
Wake-up call for sleepy city
It was a big year for news in 1963.
US President John F Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech, the audacious Great Train Robbery was carried in the UK, and Beatlemania began in earnest.
Perth, however, seemed a world away from such momentous events and was largely viewed from afar as a sleepy backwater.
But the remote city was about to get a wake-up call.
On Australia Day in 1963 Eric Edgar Cooke terrorised the city in a murderous rampage, randomly shooting five people and killing three.
The residents of Perth were paralysed with fear as police implored them to lock their doors and cars.
What was not known at that time was that Cooke was a multiple murderer responsible for numerous attacks.
The city's first known serial killer, Cooke eventually became the last man hanged in WA.
It was not until September 1963 that he was charged with murder — that of university student Shirley McLeod, who was shot dead at a house in Dalkeith in August.
The error in the ABC TV news report on the day, which named him as Derek Edgar Cooke, belies the monstrous notoriety he would soon acquire.
Killer's voice from beyond the grave
Maushart's research into the crimes and punishment of Cooke led her to the Supreme Court in Perth, where she unearthed the original sound recordings of his trial, including testimony from Cooke himself, which had laid undisturbed for decades.
The badly degraded tapes were stretched and deteriorating, and required many hours of expert restoration to make them audible — but they provide a chilling insight into a series of crimes about which Cooke is remarkably candid.
Testifying in court about his Australia Day murder spree in 1963, Cooke — who was born with a cleft lip and palate — speaks in a soft voice that is at times difficult to understand, telling of how he'd spent the morning helping around the house and playing with his children.
"And what happened then?" a detective asks.
"It was then that this power came over me. It wasn't an impulse, it was stronger than an impulse," Cooke says.
"It was, it was as though I was God and … it was like a mantle or like a cloud came over me, and I must, I must use that."
A massive, random crime spree
Cooke was known to authorities as a petty criminal, primarily a prowler and a thief, so police were incredulous when he confessed to eight murders, 14 attempted murders and the break-and-enter of more than 250 homes.
His murderous spree was mostly random and he killed in many ways, including shooting, strangling and running his victims down with a car.
It was, in part, the seemingly random selection of victims and varied methods of assault that kept police from making the connection between his many victims.
They were also reluctant to believe some of Cooke's confessions. Not only was he known to them as a consummate liar, but other men had also been tried and convicted of some of his crimes.
This monumental failure of the police to connect Cooke to his catalogue of crimes meant two innocent men spent decades in prison, wrongfully convicted of crimes Cooke had committed.
On February 9, 1963, John Button was celebrating his 19th birthday with his 17-year-old girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson.
The couple argued and Ms Anderson left to walk home. Mr Button followed her to pick her up in his car, but she refused to get in.
After pausing to smoke a cigarette, he drove off to again try to see her safely home — only to find her lying injured and unconscious by the side of the road, having been run down by Cooke.
She died from her injuries later that night and Mr Button was subsequently charged with her wilful murder.
Although he was to be convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter — thereby saving him from the gallows — Mr Button served five years in Fremantle Prison for a crime he was later found not to have committed.
Wife told to give alibi
Darryl Beamish, a profoundly deaf teenager, was convicted another of Cooke's murders, the brutal 1959 killing of heiress Jillian Brewer in her Cottesloe apartment, and was also later exonerated.
Cooke had confessed to killing both Ms Brewer and Ms Anderson on his arrest, but recanted his confession two days later.
However, he later re-asserted his guilt and was able to give chillingly accurate details of the crime scenes and timelines. Despite this, police continued to refuse to accept his confessions.
These stories are told in detail in Wrongful.
Also included is an interview with Cooke's widow and mother of their seven children, Sally Cooke, who recalls how her husband wanted an alibi.
Sally: "I remember it was about 10 o'clock in the morning and he'd been reading the paper in bed and he called me in and he said, 'Look at this,' and I said, 'Oh, how dreadful, another murder,' and he said, 'Yes'."
"He said, 'Now you know with the record I've got?' And I said, 'Yes?'
He said, 'Well if anyone comes checking up, would you please tell them that I was home early and that we spent the night with relatives?
"'Because with my record they won't be fussy and they'll pin it on me.'"
Journalist: "And, in fact, did you later tell this to the police?"
Sally: "Yes, I did."
Cooke went to trial for the wilful murder of John Sturkey, one of the Australia Day shooting victims, and pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity.
The jury took only an hour-and-a-half to find him guilty of wilful murder — the singular conviction all that was needed to send him to the gallows.
He was never tried for any of the other murders.
Just 15 minutes before he was executed, Cooke reportedly swore on a bible that he had killed Ms Anderson and Ms Brewer.
Wrongful explores the convictions of Mr Button and Mr Beamish and how, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, it took them 39 and 44 years respectively to have their sentences quashed.
Other episodes of the five-part podcast explore the wrongful conviction of Andrew Mallard for the murder of jeweller Pamela Lawrence in Mosman Park, as well as that of the Mickelberg brothers for the 1982 Perth Mint swindle and Gene Gibson for the 2010 murder in Broome of Josh Warneke.