Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Bonnie and Clyde, murderous and thieving lovers, were well known criminals from 1931 to 1934. Gunned down by Louisiana police, the two killers went out in what some would call “a hail of bullets.” There has been much controversy that Bonnie Parker, although involved in the crimes the pair committed, had never shot the guns that killed many people during bank hold ups and the robbing of small stores. Others believe that Bonnie was a “hell of a loader” and killed up to three police officers. Either way, the story of Bonnie and Clyde has gone down in history as the Great Depression serial killers. What might be considered a small and minute detail of the case was the fact that Bonnie and Clyde were particularly madly and passionately in love with each other. If Clyde thought killing and thieving was a thrilling and indisputable way to earn a living, Bonnie followed suit without a disparaging thought. Bonnie in turn, became fascinated with crime and devoted herself completely to Clyde’s vision of death and thievery.
Fifty-two years after the Bonnie and Clyde crimes, Australian residents David and Catherine Birnie began their own story of crime. In October of 1986, they raped and murdered four young women, burying their bodies in shallow graves with no remorse or heed. Dedicated and fanatically in love with David, Catherine participated in each crime, believing that David would love her and appreciate her more if she helped him in his quest to rape, mutilate, and ultimately kill his victims. There was nothing Catherine wouldn’t do to satisfy David. She viewed her romance with David as monumentally historical and utterly unforgettable.
David Birnie was born in 1951, the eldest of six children in suburb of Wattle Grove, east of Perth in Australia. His parents were notorious alcoholics, their children often taken away by concerned authorities. By 1961, his parents divorced when he was only ten, and he was expected to care for his five siblings. David refused to see his parents again, bitterly believing them to be the reason his life had become distorted and unbalanced. At 15, David began work at a horseracing track, trying to earn a decent living but finding his increasing adolescent sexual needs overwhelming. After exposing himself to a young woman, he was sacked from his job.
Catherine Harrison’s mother died when she was an infant, and her father took her to South Africa to begin a new life. Finding the child troublesome to take care of, he sent her back to Australia where she lived with her grandparents. Again, finding her too difficult to raise, Catherine was handed off to her uncle and aunt. After meeting his next door neighbor, a sweet and pretty 15-year-old Catherine, David was immediately taken by her. Catherine was said to be a sad and introverted girl, longing to be loved and understandably fearful that she would be taken away from the third family she knew. When she met David, who seemed to adore her completely, Catherine surrendered to her dream and fell feet first in love. Catherine quickly became pregnant with her first child and the two teenagers rejoiced in the new life they would be bringing into the world. To add a special pact and thrill to their relationship, they began committing crimes including petty theft, and burglaries.
On June 11, 1969, David and Catherine were sent to Perth Police Court for eleven counts of criminal activity including $3,000 worth of stolen goods and breaking and entering. They also admitted to trying to crack a safe at the local drive-in. Young and unable to find reason for their crimes, David and Catherine had no alibi and plead guilty. David was sent to a correctional institution for nine months, while a very pregnant Catherine was placed on probation. When it was revealed that the two teenagers had committed eight further crimes of breaking and entering, David was sent to prison for 3 years, while Catherine was given probation for 4 years. After breaking out of prison a year later, David and Catherine couldn’t seem to stop themselves and began committing more crimes. Catherine’s first child with David was then taken away by welfare workers.
After a short stint in a detention center, Catherine and David departed and married other partners and tried to begin new lives. By 21, Catherine was living with her new husband, Donald McLaughlin, deciding end her life of crime. Catherine stayed at home to unsuccessfully clean her filthy and revolting home. Without a proper mother or parental figure to teach her how to take care of a household, Catherine had no knowledge of domestic hygiene. Proving to be a terrible wife, Catherine attempted to raise her five children literally in squalor. Catherine’s first child with McLaughlin, just an infant at the time, was hit by a car and died instantly. Catherine witnessed the death and was deeply affected by it. This would later be analyzed by psychiatrists as a possible reason she felt the need to commit crimes with David. To forget the death of her child, Catherine immersed herself in violence and murder. Catherine had never forgotten her first love, David, and soon abandoned her family and her home to be with David, whom she had still been seeing for two years.
After thirteen years apart, Catherine and David quickly reunited. Though never formally married, Catherine took David’s last name and became his common law wife. The couple moved into 3 Moorhouse Street, Willagee just outside of Perth. David might have been the love of her life, but David had an unquenchable and insatiable need for sex, demanding it six times a day. When Catherine refused his advances, David simply turned to his brother, James, with whom he had some kind of incestuous relationship with. On James’ 21st birthday, David’s gift to him was sex with Catherine, who obliged to satisfy David. He sat and watched the affair occur, aroused by the idea of his wife having sex with his brother. James later admitted to police that David used a hypodermic needle filled with cocaine on the tip of his penis to enhance his orgasms.
David needed sexual gratification all the time, and had no fears asserting himself on someone who was willing or unwilling to have him. Catherine and David decided that raping young girls was the answer to their problems. David assured Catherine that she would achieve amazing and unprecedented orgasms by watching David rape a bound and gagged woman. She believed him.
To find their first victim, David advertised cheap tires in the local paper, and soon enough, a young woman answered the advertisement. On October 6, 1986, Mary Neilson, aged 22, knocked on the door of 3 Moorhouse Street. The tiny home was overgrown with weeds and dead flowers and was badly in need of repainting. This home was later seen as famous, much like John Christie’s 10 Rillington Street in London and Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment 213, in Milwaukee. David chained Mary to the bed and raped her while Catherine watched. Unsatisfied, David found that he needed more to feel fulfilled. He wanted blood on his hands. David and Catherine drove Mary to Glen Eagle State Forest where she was raped again. David strangled her with a nylon stocking while she tried to beg for mercy. David stabbed Mary and mutilated her body, burying her in a shallow grave near Armadale.
Approximately 2 weeks later, David and Catherine picked up 15-year-old hitchhiker Susannah Candy, an excellent student at Hollywood High School and a smart pleasant young woman. She was kept in their home as a prisoner for several days while being raped by David. Catherine joined in on the sexual relations this time, David enjoying the ménage à trois. Ordering her to write two letters to her parents assuring she was safe and well and would be returning home soon, Susannah realized that David and Catherine would be disposing of her soon. The two killers could not have Susannah identify them. Catherine, in a jealous rage, strangled Susannah because she thought David was giving her too much attention. Her body was later buried next to Mary Neilson.
The next victim of the Birnie’s was a friend, 31-year-old air hostess Noelene Patterson. The Birnie’s had helped her decorate her home, and she felt quite safe when they picked her up after she ran out of gas on the road. Noelene was regarded by friends and family as outgoing and popular, charming and polite. Over a period of 3 days, Noelene was chained to the bed and violently sexually assaulted by David in their home. Catherine was again jealous of the woman David seemed to be affectionate with and demanded that he kill her. Noelene was attractive and entranced David completely. Catherine thought of Noelene as the woman she could never be and was not about to let David have her. Because David could not murder someone he knew, he mercifully gave her a large dose of sleeping pills and waited until she passed out before strangling her. When burying her next to the other slain women, Catherine threw dirt in her face as a final goodbye to the woman she felt had been trying to steal her husband.
The fourth and final victim was 21-year-old Denise Brown, a computer operator. She was abducted by the Birnie’s on November 4, 1986 after being picked up at a bus stop on Stirling Highway. Denise was raped repeatedly in the Birnie home. They made her call a friend to let her know she was well and safe and no one need look for her. After being taken to a pine plantation, Denise was raped yet again. Denise had extreme injury David’s dull knife, which had not worked as well as he had expected. Catherine gave him a larger knife, and Denise was stabbed while David raped her again and again. Attempting to bury her in a shallow grave, Denise sat up in the grave, her knife wounds non fatal. David struck her in the skull with an axe. When she sat up once more, David took the head of the axe and cracked her skull with it. Denise was buried on the edge of Gnangara pine plantation. This was the last killing to take place in a 27 day period.
On November 10, 1987, a 17-year-old girl was found running naked and sobbing to a supermarket in Fremantle. She told police she had been abducted and forced into a car while walking through the wealthy area of Nedlands, a suburb of Perth. The man and woman that had taken her had brought her to their home where she was chained to a bed and forced sexual relations. Catherine watched the whole time. The only reason the young girl had escaped was when David went to work and Catherine freed her from her chains. The girl escaped the home from a window in the bedroom. Although deeply disturbed, the girl was able to identify the home, phone number, and the faces of her assailants. David was said to have an abnormally long hooked nose and Catherine was described as a mid thirties short woman with a permanent frown and high cheekbones.
The women missing had come from good backgrounds, and it became obvious that they had all been abducted, none of them having a reason to leave their homes and never return. Detective Sergeant Paul Ferguson was the prime investigator on the case, and quickly realized that he was dealing with a serial killer. After the description given by the 17-year-old, Ferguson understood that the girl had positively seen the faces of the killers, suggesting there might have been a motive for letting her go. The Birnie’s knew they had been caught after the young girl was found and were taken from their home and interrogated by police. David first claimed that the young girl had willingly gone to the house to smoke marijuana and had also willingly had sex with David. To prove that she had actually been in the home, the girl smartly left her bag and cigarettes in the ceiling of the home. David confessed first and gave specific details of where each body were buried, and was quite chatty and cheerful when leading police to the bodies. Catherine confessed soon after.
After apprehended, Catherine took police to the site of Susannah’s body. Catherine, seeming to have lost all morality and tact, said of Susannah, “She was a female. Females hurt and destroy males.” Furthermore, with Catherine now freely talking, the police had time to question her and find some kind of reason she had involved herself in murder. Catherine’s only admission was that she had been so smitten with David, she was unable to say no to him. Catherine showed the police where Noelene was buried, seeming to have a particular disgust with the deceased woman. Spitting on the make-shift grave in front of police, Catherine admitted that she had hated the woman for captivating her husband.
A nineteen-year-old woman student came forward after the murders hit the news. She claimed she was walking home from the university when a couple tried to pick her up. She felt uneasy about getting in the car when she saw what she assumed was a young boy or girl laying in the backseat. The body was that of Denise Brown, drugged by sleeping pills and passed out. The student declined a ride and the car soon drove away. Her description of the driver and the woman in the passenger seat matched perfectly with Catherine and David Birnie.
Upon searching the Birnie home, police found an advertisement in a newspaper circled in red ink. It read, “URGENT. Looking for a lonely person. Prefer female 18 to 24 years, share single room flat.” Catherine confessed right away that she had been a willing accomplice in the crimes, even photographing David raping the young women. It was also claimed that although she was jealous of these women, she took great pleasure in helping David have sex with his victims. Psychiatrists and detectives were bothered by Catherine’s absolute obsession with David. Her entire life was devoted to this man, and she would help him find, abduct, rape, and finally kill each woman they found together. Catherine signed a detailed statement admitting her part in the murders. In Catherine’s confession, she claimed that she had freed the last 17-year-old girl because she felt that the murders would go on forever if they didn’t stop now. She admitted that she enjoyed murdering and raping the women, but wanted it to end.
David admitted to the rape and murder of four women and pled guilty for each of the murders. He believed that showing a great deal of remorse would help his case. He tried to show himself as a sorrowful sex addict that had no choice but to murder his victims so they could not identify him. While awaiting his trial, inmates in the jail attacked him and he ended up needing medical attention. Catherine fell to her knees when hearing that David had been hurt in jail.
On November 12, 1986, Catherine and David stood trial at Fremantle Magistrates' Court charged with four counts of murder and rape. Dressed casually, with Catherine barefoot, neither had legal representation. When given the option of 8 or 30 days before going back to court, Catherine looked at David and declared that she would go when he went. The Birnie’s went to court on February 10, 1987. Catherine fought viciously with the guards, demanding that they not touch her. When she saw David in the courtroom, she calmed down immediately.
Sitting directly behind him, Catherine held David’s hand as the sentence was read. Catherine and David were to serve four consecutive life sentences in prison, eligible for parole in 20 years. Mr. Justice Wallace told the court that David Birnie “should not be let out of prison- ever.” Catherine Birnie was sent to Bandyup Prison in northern Perth, while David was to serve his time at Fremantle Prison. Neither Birnie’s appealed their sentence. When the trial was over, Catherine showed a desperation that had previously not been viewed. She was dragged screaming and kicking and spitting when led to the van that would take her to the prison. After leaving the courtroom, the public screamed and threw garbage at David. Hollering for David’s death, he smiled and blew them a kiss.
David continued his violent temperament in prison and was often in the middle of fights, beaten up, and spent much time in the prison infirmary. For four years, the Birnies exchanged a total of 2,600 letters, though they were denied any direct contact or visits. In 1990, David claimed that being apart from Catherine was sending him into a complete physical and mental breakdown that would eventually cause him to commit suicide. The judge refused a reunion between David and Catherine despite his frantic plea.
Although devoted to Catherine, in 1993, David’s personal computer was confiscated by prison officials, where they found evidence of an enormous amount of pornography. Apparently, David Birnie was suffering from a severe sex addiction, even in prison. The eventual possibility that the Birnie’s would ever be released was found unlikely by the Australian Attorney General, which he made very public. At 4:30 a.m. on October 2, 2005, 55-year-old David Birnie was found hanged in his maximum security cell at Perth's Casuarina prison. Catherine was not allowed to attend his funeral. She was denied parole in 2007, and again in 2010, her paperwork stating “never to be released.” Only two other women promised parole had ever been given that particular punishment.