A.K.A.: "The Sydney Mutilator"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: "Ripper" of gay males - Genital mutilation - Allegedly sought revenge for homosexual rape in his teens
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: 1961 - 1962
Date of arrest: May 1963
Date of birth: 1926
Victims profile: Amos Hurst, 55 / Alfred Reginald Greenfield, 41 / Ernest William Cobbin, 41 / Frank Gladstone McLean / Patrick James Hackett, 42
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Status: Sentenced to prison for life with the strong recommendation that he never be released in 1963
Location (of Kills): Sydney and Darlinghurst and Moore Park, Australia
Gender of Victims: Men
Sexual Contact: Sodomy
Types of Murder: Stabbing, Mutilation
In June of 1961, the naked body of a young man was found. The body had been stabbed upwards of thirty times. The genitals had also been hacked off. The location of the body was a public bath house. It was a popular homosexual hangout.
Soon after two more bodies were found. Each had more than thirty stab wounds as well as having their genitals cut off. The bodies were also found in public bath houses.
Later the police received a call about a terrible smell coming from a small shop. The police could not find the owner of the shop, a young man named William MacDonald...
The police broke into the shop determined to find the root of the stench. At first they were unsuccessful, until they pulled up the floor boards. Underneath the police found the body of a half naked man. This man had been stabbed numerous times. Like the others, his testicles and penis were severed.
The police discovered that the body was not that of William MacDonald. The police began circulating pictures of MacDonald, hoping that someone would see and recognize him. At a train station in Melbourne, Australia two porters recognized MacDonald.
MacDonald was picked up by the police. MacDonald admitted to the four murders. He received a life sentence.
William MacDonald (the Mutilator) was classed as Australia's first true serial murderer. MacDonald was born in Liverpool, England, in 1924. Between June 1961 and April 1963, MacDonald terrorized Sydney with a string of gruesome murders.
MacDonald's modus operandi was to select his victims at random (mostly derelicts), lure them into dark places, violently stabbing them dozens of times about the head and neck with a long bladed knife, before severing the victims' testicles and penis.
Years before his killing rampage, MacDonald was enlisted in the army and transferred to the Lancashire Fusiliers. One night MacDonald was raped in an air-raid shelter by one of his corporals. At first he felt bad about what had happened. But soon after he realized that he actually enjoyed the experience. It was then he realized that homosexuality was an option. He eventually became an active homosexual, soliciting men in public toilets and pubs.
MacDonald emigrated from England to Canada in 1949 and then to Australia in 1955. Shortly after his arrival he was arrested and charged for touching a detective's penis in a public toilet. For this he was placed on a two year good behavior bond. In 1961 MacDonald moved to Sydney. He found accommodation in East Sydney and it was here that he became well known around the parks and public toilets that were meeting places for homosexuals.
Amos Hurst (Victim 1)
The murders began in Brisbane in 1961. MacDonald befriended a fifty-five-year-old man named Amos Hurst outside the Roma Street Transit Center. After a long drinking session at one of the local pubs, they went back to Hurst's apartment where they consumed more alcohol. When Hurst became intoxicated William began to strangle him. Hurst was so intoxicated that he did not realize what was happening and eventually began to hemorrhage. Blood poured from his mouth and onto MacDonald's hands. MacDonald then punched Hurst in the face killing him.
Five days later he found Hurst's name in the obituary column. It said Amos Hurst had died accidentally. MacDonald had been in terror of the police arresting him for murder, even though he was certain that no one had seen him leave Hurst's room.
Alfred Reginald Greenfield (Victim 2)
On June 4, 1961, police were summoned to the Sydney Domain Baths. A man's nude corpse was found, savagely stabbed over 30 times with his genitalia completely severed from his body. Alfred Greenfield became the second victim claimed by the killer soon to be dubbed the "Sydney Mutilator".
Alfred Reginald Greenfield was sitting on a park bench in Green Park, just across the road from St Vincent's Hospital in Darlinghurst. MacDonald offered Greenfield a drink and lured him to the nearby Domain Baths on the pretext of more alcohol. Once at the Domain the need to kill had become overwhelming. MacDonald waited until Greenfield had fallen asleep. Once asleep he removed his knife from its sheath and stabbed Greenfield approximately thirty times. The ferocity of the first blow severed the arteries in Greenfield's neck. MacDonald then pulled down the victim's pants and underwear, he then lifted the victims testicles and his penis severing them from the scrotum before throwing them (his genitals) into Sydney Harbour.
William Cobbin (Victim 3)
Thereafter, a third victim, William Cobbin, was claimed. Similar to the second victim, Cobbin was stabbed repeatedly and mutilated in a like fashion as Greenfield. His body was found in a public toilet at Moore Park.
On this night MacDonald was walking down South Dowling Street where he met 55 year old William Cobbin. MacDonald lured his victim to Moore Park and drank beer with him in a public toilet. Just before the attack MacDonald put on his plastic raincoat. Cobbin was sitting on the toilet seat when MacDonald, using an uppercut motion, struck Cobbin in the neck with a knife severing his jugular vein. Blood splattered all over MacDonald's arms, face and his plastic raincoat. Cobbin tried to defend himself by raising his arms. Even after his victim had died, MacDonald continued to stab his victim multiple times. By this time the toilet cubical was covered in blood. Once the victim had finally died, MacDonald began to pull down his victim's pants, lifted the victims penis and testicles and then began to sever them off, he then put the victims genitals into a plastic bag along with his knife and departed the scene. On the way home he washed the blood off his hands and face.
Frank Gladstone McLean (Victim 4)
On March 31, 1962, in suburban Darlinghurst, Frank McLean was found mortally wounded by an unfinished assault from MacDonald by a man walking with his wife and child. The man found McLean still breathing but bleeding heavily and went to get police.
On this day MacDonald bought a knife from the Mick Simmons sports store in Sydney. That night MacDonald left the Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst and followed McLean down Bourke Street past the local police station. MacDonald initiated conversation with McLean and suggested they have a drinking session around the corner in Bourke Lane. As they entered Bourke Lane MacDonald plunged his knife into McLean's throat. McLean tried to fight off the attack but he was too intoxicated to do so. He then stabbed him once again in the face and then punched him, forcing him off balance. When McLean fell to the ground, MacDonald was on top of him, stabbing him about the head, neck, throat, face, chest, belly and abdomen until he was interrupted by the young family approaching. MacDonald had hidden himself once he heard the voices and the sound of a baby's cry. Once the man and his family had left to get police, MacDonald returned to the barely alive McLean and pulled him further into the lane and continued to stab him until he was dead. He then pulled down McLean's trousers and sliced off his genitals. He put them into a plastic bag and took them home, disposing of them the next day.
The police at one stage thought that the killer could have been a deranged surgeon. The manner in which McLean's genitals were removed seemed to be done by someone with years of surgical experience. Doctors at one stage found themselves under investigation.
His residence in Burwood, New South Wales
After getting the sack from his job at the local post office, MacDonald went into business for himself. He purchased a mixed business store in Burwood. Here, MacDonald made sandwiches and sold various small goods. MacDonald lived in a residence above the store. When the urge to kill came about him, he could bring his victims home and not risk being seen by members of the public.
Patrick James Hackett (Victim 5)
On Saturday night, 6 June 1962, MacDonald went to a wine saloon in Pitt Street Sydney. Whilst at the bar he met forty-two-year-old James Hackett, a thief and derelict who had just recently been released from prison. They went back to MacDonald's new residence where they continued to drink alcohol. After a short period, Hackett fell asleep on the floor. MacDonald then got out a boning knife that he used in his delicatessen. He then stabbed Hackett in the neck, the blow went straight through. After the first blow Hackett woke up and tried to shield the next blow. This pushed the knife back into MacDonald's other hand, cutting it severely. MacDonald then unleashed a renewed homicidal rage on Hackett. He eventually brought the knife down into Hackett's heart, killing him instantly. MacDonald continued to stab his victim until he had to stop for breath. Hackett's blood was splattered all over the walls whilst MacDonald sat in a pool of blood next to his victim's body.
MacDonald then began to remove his victim's genitals. The knife was now blunt due to the blade passing through Hackett's bones so many times. MacDonald hacked around the penis and testicles a few times and then gave up. MacDonald was too tired to go downstairs to get another knife, so he sat head to toe covered in blood and fell asleep where he sat.
When MacDonald woke the following morning he found himself lying next to the victim's body covered in sticky, drying blood. The pools of blood had soaked through the floorboards and almost onto the counter in his shop downstairs.
After cleaning himself of all the blood, he went to the hospital and had the wound in his hand stitched by a doctor. He told the doctor that he had cut himself in his shop. After cleaning up all the pools of blood, MacDonald dragged the dead Hackett underneath his shop. Later on, when MacDonald had time to think about what he had just done, he became paranoid. He thought the police would come looking for his victim. He thought that if the police did come to his store to question him, they would see the blood stained floorboards and walls which he had trouble cleaning. MacDonald became so paranoid that he fled to Brisbane.
Three weeks later, local residents complained about a putrefying smell that was coming from a shop owned by MacDonald, which he purchased under an assumed name (Alan Edward Brennan). The smell was so overwhelming that neighbors called the health department, who in turn called the police. When the police arrived they kicked the front door in. The smell inside the shop led the police to the rotting corpse. Further investigation uncovered a nude body, so badly decomposed that it could not be identified. The body was so putrid that a doctor had to carry out the autopsy in a shed, out the back of the hospital. The only thing that could be determined, was that the body belonged to someone in their forties, the same age as the missing Brennan. The body was eventually buried on hospital grounds. Police at this stage thought that the rotting corpse belonged to MacDonald. MacDonald was presumed dead.
The case of the walking corpse
Shortly after the rotting corpse was mistakenly identified as MacDonald (Alan Brennan), a notice was put forth in the obituary column. This was read by his old work mates at the local post office, who attended a small memorial service that was conducted by a local funeral director. Around this time MacDonald was living in Brisbane and then moved to New Zealand, as he thought that the police would still be looking for him. The urge to kill was getting stronger, day by day. He felt the need to kill again, but for some reason he had to return to Sydney to do it.
Shortly after returning to Sydney MacDonald bumped into one of his old work mates, John McCarthy, who had attended his funeral service. McCarthy was in shock to see that his old work mate was still alive, especially after attending his funeral. MacDonald at this stage was unaware of the mistake the police had made in identifying the body. His old work mate explained what had happened and how they attended his funeral. The two men went and had a drink together. McCarthy asked him if it wasn't his body under the shop, then whose body was it? After this MacDonald became paranoid and ran from the hotel. Shortly after he fled to Melbourne.
McCarthy went straight to the police. At first they did not believe him. They accused him of having had too much to drink and he was told to go home and sleep it off. They even said that he was crazy. He even went back the next day and tried to explain what had happened but they still didn't believe him. This persuaded John to go to the Daily Mirror. He spoke to a reporter by the name of Joe Morris. McCarthy explained how he bumped into the "supposed to be dead" MacDonald, aka Alan Brennan. The reporter thought that the witness account was credible and decided to run the story under the headline 'Case of the walking corpse'. After the article was circulated, the police were forced to exhume the corpse. After running a check on the corpse's fingerprints, they identified the body as belonging to one James Hackett and not William MacDonald. Closer examination found that the body had several stab wounds and mutilation of the penis and testicles. Police now knew that they were on to MacDonald.
Capture, trial and sentencing
Shortly after the police were supplied with an identikit picture of MacDonald. The image was circulated in every newspaper in the nation. MacDonald had taken a job on the Melbourne railways and even though he tried to disguise himself by dying his hair and growing a mustache, he was instantly recognized by his workmates. When William was about to collect his pay for that week, the police arrived and took him into custody.
Under questioning MacDonald readily admitted to the killings, blaming them on an irresistible urge to kill. MacDonald claimed he was the victim of a teenage homosexual rape, and was inflicting his revenge on victims chosen at what appears to be random. Shortly after confessing to the crimes he was charged with four counts of murder.
The trial began in September 1963 and was one of the most sensational cases the nation had ever seen. The public hung on to every word that came from MacDonald's mouth. During the trial MacDonald spoke in great detail of the gruesome murders. He told the court of how blood had sprayed all over his raincoat as he castrated his victims, put their private parts into plastic bags and took them home. He even told the court what he did with the genitals once he got home. Some jurors fainted and had to be taken from the court. MacDonald pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity.
Before passing sentence, Mr Justice McLennan said that this was the most barbaric case of murder and total disregard for human life that had come before him in his many years on the bench. MacDonald showed no signs of remorse and made it quite clear that, if he were free, he would go on killing as often as the urges came about.
MacDonald was sentenced to prison for life with the strong recommendation that he never be released, and is currently held in Sydney's Long Bay Correctional Centre. In prison MacDonald is simply known as Bill. He has been in prison for so long now that he is Institutionalized, and has the title of being the longest current serving inmate in the New South Wales prison system. So much has changed since his imprisonment that he would not survive for very long on the outside. Staff at the Long Bay prison say that MacDonald's papers are marked: Likely to offend again.
As of 2007, MacDonald is imprisoned at Long Bay Hospital, a division of Long Bay Correctional Centre.
On June 4, 1961, Australian detectives were summoned to the Sydney Domain Baths, where a man's nude, mutilated body had been found beneath the dressing sheds.
The victim, Alfred Greenfield, had been stabbed a minimum of 30 times, his genitals hacked off, and homicide investigators pegged the crime as a homosexual assault.
Their suspicions were confirmed when the killer left his second victim, William Cobbin, stabbed repeatedly and mutilated in a public restroom at Moore Park. Investigators were scouring homosexual hangouts, searching for possible witnesses, when a third victim was savaged in suburban Darlinghurst, on March 31, 1962. Frank Mclean was still alive when found, but he died from his wounds a short time later, without providing a description of his killer.
In mid-November, merchants in suburban Concord filed complaints of rancid odors emanating from a shop purchased by William MacDonald two weeks earlier. The new tenant had not been seen since November 4, and searchers were convinced that he had fallen victim to the "Sydney Mutilator" when they found a naked, butchered corpse concealed beneath the shop.
The latest victim had been stabbed 41 times, his genitals slashed, but a new twist was added to the case when police examined clothing found beside the body, tracing a laundry mark back to its source. In time, the victim was identified as an Irishman, Patrick Hackett, and the search for William MacDonald resumed.
On April 22, 1963, a former co-worker sighted MacDonald on a Sydney street. A month later, he was traced to his new job, in a Melbourne railway station, where he had been hired as "David Allan."
Under questioning, MacDonald confessed his identity along with the series of murders, blaming the crimes on an irresistible compulsion. Traumatized by a homosexual rape in his teens, the slayer was driven to seek revenge against gays selected at random.
Sentenced to life on conviction of murder, MacDonald was later transferred to the Morriset Home for the Criminally Insane.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Alias William McDonald and Allan Ginsberg - "Sydney Mutilator", sometimes referred to as "The Case of the Walking Corpse" - He stabbed and mutilated four male vagrants in 1961-62 in Sydney. The murders were characterised by extreme violence and accompanied by extensive mutilation of the genitals. He was caught when one of the bodies was identified as Alan Brennan, (his alias) which came as a big surprise to those who saw him walking along George Street, Sydney, sometime later. It transpired that his real name was Allan Ginsberg. The jury ignored his defence of insanity and found him guilty. While serving a life sentence in Long Bay Penitentiary, he attacked and almost killed a prisoner, following this he was confined to a mental hospital.
William MacDonald is an Australian serial murderer.
Between June 1961 and April 1963, William MacDonald terrorized Sydney, Australia with a string of gruesome slayings. On June 4, 1961, police were summoned to the Sydney Domain Baths. A man's nude corpse was found, savagely stabbed over 30 times with his genitalia completely severed from his body. Alfred Greenfield became the first victim claimed by the killer soon to be dubbed the "Sydney Mutilator".
Thereafter, a second victim, William Cobbin, was claimed. Similar to the first victim, Cobbin was stabbed repeatedly and mutilated in a like fashion as Greenfield. His body was found in a public toilet at Moore Park.
On March 31, 1962, in suburban Darlinghurst, Frank McLean was found alive, though mortally wounded by an assault from the Mutilator. Shortly thereafter, McLean died from his injuries without being able to provide any information about his attacker.
In November 1962, suburban Concord residents complained about a rank odour of putrefaction coming from a shop purchased by one William MacDonald only a fortnight earlier. Further investigation uncovered a nude body, brutally gouged 41 times, with the familiar "signature" mutilation of the genitals. Irishman Patrick Hackett became the Mutilator's fourth victim. The search began to apprehend William MacDonald.
Finally, in May 1963, MacDonald was traced to Melbourne, Australia where he had taken a job under the name of "David Allen". Under questioning MacDonald readily admitted to the killings, blaming them on an irresistible urge to kill. MacDonald claimed he was the victim of a teenage homosexual rape, and was inflicting his revenge on victims chosen at what appears to be random.
MacDonald was sentenced to life in prison for the slayings. He currently resides in the Cessnock Correctional Centre in New South Wales.
William 'the Mutilator' MacDonald
by Paul B. Kidd
Australia's Most Feared Serial Killer
Sydney, the early 1960s. Australia’s largest city was under siege. A serial killer was on the loose. A homicidal maniac was luring his victims into dark places, violently stabbing them dozens of times about the head and neck with a long bladed knife and then mutilating their bodies in the most unimaginable manner.
Investigating police had no trouble in linking the murders to the same unknown psychopath, now dubbed “the Mutilator”. The warped killer’s crimes were easily recognised. His victims were always derelicts. All had been violently stabbed to death in a public place.
And in classic serial killer fashion their assassin had left his gruesome calling card… all of his victims had had their genitals removed.
But catching the Mutilator would prove to be no easy task. The fiend was as elusive as he was barbaric and when police finally got their man it was only a freak incident which became known world-wide as ‘The Case of the Walking Corpse’ that brought him to justice.
And instead of apprehending a monster with bloodlust in his eyes and the disposition of a caged beast, police were astonished to find that the most barbaric serial killer in Australia’s history was not remotely what they, or the general public, had imagined.
The Making of a Monster
The serial killer who would become known as the Mutilator was born Allan Ginsberg, the middle of three children, in Liverpool, England, in 1924. He proved to be an unusual child prone to taking long walks at night by himself and on many occasions his mother had to call the police to go and search for him. He never sought company and remained friendless all of his life. Psychiatrists diagnosed the young Ginsberg as being schizophrenic.
In 1943, at the age of 19 he joined the army and was transferred to the Lancashire Fusiliers where he was raped in an air-raid shelter by a corporal who threatened him with death if he told anyone.
At first young private Ginsberg felt bad about what had happened, but as time went by he realised he had enjoyed the physical experience and believed this was the start of his life as a homosexual, a life that would bring him nothing but misery and humiliation.
Being raped by the despised corporal would be constantly on Allan Ginsberg’s mind throughout his life and would play an important part in creating the horrific events ahead of him.
When he came out of the army in 1947 psychiatrists again diagnosed him as schizophrenic and his brother had him committed to a mental asylum in Scotland that was straight out of the dark ages. The cells were crammed full of raving lunatics and it was freezing cold. He received shock treatment every day. After six months his mother got him out and took him home.
As he grew older, Ginsberg became an active homosexual, openly soliciting men in public toilets and bars. His obvious homosexuality made life difficult in those conservative times and he moved from job to job as the taunts and ridicule became too much for him to cope with. He was also starting to worry about his sanity.
Allan Ginsberg consulted a psychiatrist in 1947 about his mental condition, complaining that the persecution was causing illusions and strange noises in his head. At the psychiatrist’s recommendation he spent the next three months in a mental institution, but it changed nothing.
Disillusioned and convinced that his surroundings were to blame for his unstable mental condition, Ginsberg emigrated to Canada in 1949 and then to Australia in 1955 where he decided to start a new life completely and changed his name to William MacDonald.
But, new name or not, old habits die hard and shortly after his arrival, he was charged with indecent assault when he touched a detective on the penis in a public toilet in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, MacDonald was placed on a two year good behaviour bond.
He moved to Ballarat in the neighbouring state of Victoria but his life always seemed to be dogged with trouble. While he was working on a construction site, his workmates gave him a hiding for being a ‘poofter’. He retaliated by buying a very sharp knife and slashing the tyres of their bicycles.
MacDonald held jobs only until the taunts became so strong that he had to move on from state to state and all of the time the urge to kill his tormentors was building up inside him. Fact or paranoia, it seemed that no matter where he went, people would talk about him and make fun of him behind his back. And the corporal who raped him and made him the source of their amusement was never far from his mind.
Introduction to Murder
William McDonald’s career as a murderer (but not yet as the Mutilator) started in Brisbane, the capital of the northern Australian state of Queensland, in 1960 when he befriended 55-year-old Amos Hurst outside the Roma Street Railway Station. They had a long drinking session together in a nearby hotel and went back to Hurst's hotel room where they sat on the bed and drank beer.
The aging alcoholic was so drunk that he probably had no idea that MacDonald was strangling him until it was too late. Later MacDonald would claim that he had no intentions of murdering Hurst when they went back to his room. But the urge to kill him came on suddenly and he squeezed his hands tightly around Hurst’s neck.
As he was being strangled, Amos Hurst hemorrhaged and blood spurted from his mouth all over MacDonald’s hands. MacDonald punched him in the face and Hurst fell to the floor dead. MacDonald then undressed Hurst and put him into bed. He washed the blood from his arms, quietly left the building and returned to his lodgings in South Brisbane.
Terrified that any minute there would be a knock on his door from the police, William MacDonald looked in the papers every day for the story of the murder of Amos Hurst. But no story appeared. Five days later when he found Hurst’s name in the obituary column he couldn't believe his eyes. It said the man had died suddenly of a heart attack.
What the papers didn’t say was that while Amos Hurst’s post-mortem showed that he had died of a heart attack, it also revealed that from the severe bruising on his neck that there was a possibility of death by strangulation but under the circumstances it could have been bruising from a fight or some other drunken misadventure and the case was closed.
Unaware of his close scrape with retribution, MacDonald went about his new found career as a murderer with added enthusiasm and bought a sheath-knife and went looking around the wine bars and sleazy hotels of Brisbane for another easy victim to kill.
In a wine saloon full of down-and-outs, MacDonald met a man named Bill and the more they drank, the more Bill looked like the corporal who had raped him all those years before.
At closing time the pair took a couple of bottles of sherry to the nearby park for a drink. MacDonald’s urge to kill was strong but he waited until his drinking partner passed out drunk on the grass. Then, taking the knife from its sheath, he was just about to plunge the blade into Bill’s neck when the urge left him. He sat on the man’s chest with the knife raised, but the desire to commit murder had gone. He put the knife back in its sheath and went home, leaving the world’s luckiest derelict to sleep it off.
The Mutilator Emerges
Moving to Sydney in January 1961, William MacDonald found accommodation in East Sydney and took a job as a letter sorter with the Postal Department under the assumed name of Alan Edward Brennan. Before long he was well known around the parks and public toilets that were the meeting places of Sydney’s homosexuals.
It wasn’t long before the voices in MacDonald’s head were back, urging him to kill and on the night of Saturday, June 4, 1961, his career as the Mutilator began when he struck up a conversation with 41-year-old vagrant Alfred Reginald Greenfield as he sat on a bench in Green Park, opposite St Vincent’s Hospital in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst.
MacDonald offered Greenfield, a homeless, unemployed blacksmith, a drink from his bottle and lured him to the nearby Domain Baths on the pretext that he had more bottles in his bag. But there was more than beer in the bag. MacDonald had bought a brand new, long bladed, razor sharp knife especially for the occasion.
By day, the Domain Baths was a popular public swimming spot situated on Sydney Harbour. By night the Domain’s environs were the haunt of derelicts. There were many alcoves to conceal the drinkers from the winter chill.
MacDonald and Greenfield chatted away as they shared another bottle of beer on the half hour walk to the Domain, where they settled into a secluded corner. The need to kill Alfred Greenfield had by now become overwhelming but MacDonald controlled his urge until the man had drunk all of the beer and had fallen asleep on the grass.
William MacDonald removed the knife from its sheath as he knelt over the sleeping derelict. He brought it down swiftly and buried the blade deep into his victim's neck. He lifted and plunged the knife again and again until Alfred Greenfield lay still. The ferocity of the attack had severed the arteries in Greenfield’s neck. Blood was everywhere but his killer had come prepared. He had brought a light plastic raincoat in his bag and had put it on before he attacked the unsuspecting Greenfield.
The Mutilator removed his victim’s trousers and underpants, lifted the testicles and penis and sliced them off at the scrotum with his knife. The Mutilator then threw Alfred Greenfield’s genitals into the harbour, wrapped his knife in his raincoat, put it in his bag and walked home.
The Mutilator stopped along the way and washed his hands and face under a tap. Nobody seemed to have noticed him as he walked home on that showery, dark night. If they did, they didn't remember him.
A Jealous Lover?
There was no way that William MacDonald wouldn’t read about this murder in the paper. The following day it was all over the front pages of the evening press. They called it the work of a maniac. They dubbed the maniac ‘the Mutilator’.
The press weren’t allowed to print the full extent of Alfred Greenfield’s injuries, but the rumours spread like wildfire. The press did say that he had been violently stabbed at least thirty times and certain parts of his anatomy were found in the harbour by police divers who were searching for the murder weapon.
However, the police were at a loss to come up with the slightest motive why anyone would want to murder a harmless vagrant, let alone cut off his genitals and throw them in the harbour.
Initially police believed that they would have the case solved in no time. The mutilation suggested that it could be a murder of passion, perhaps inspired by jealousy, and it seemed likely that if any man could do that to another man in a fit of jealous rage, then it would only be a matter of time before the woman involved came forward in fear of her own life.
But no such woman came forward and although police conducted an extensive investigation, they found nothing. The New South Wales Government offered a reward of £1,000 ($2000) for information leading to the arrest of the elusive killer.
And, as is the Australian way, it didn’t take long for the sick jokes about the mysterious Mutilator to emerge; “They caught the Mutilator at the airport yesterday. He was looking for Ansett’s (a local airline) hangars (hangers)”, and “To find that bloke’s body parts in the harbour they had to send down four (fore) skin divers” were just a couple of the many that kept Sydney amused.
The Mutilator Strikes Again
A couple of months later and Sydney had all but forgotten about the Mutilator. Police wound down their investigations and the savage murder of Alfred Greenfield became yet another unsolved crime.
But when another derelict turned up dead six months later and the similarities between the murders were unmistakable, police knew there was a serial killer on the loose. On the morning of Saturday, November 21, 1961, William MacDonald had purchased a knife with a six-inch blade from Mick Simmons Sports store in Sydney’s Haymarket district. He told the man behind the counter that he was going fishing. But he really wanted it to commit murder. The urges to kill were back, and they were stronger than ever.
That night MacDonald was walking down South Dowling Street in East Sydney when he saw 41-year-old Ernest William Cobbin staggering towards him. MacDonald lured Cobbin to nearby Moore Park where they sat in the public toilets and drank beer. Cobbin made no comment when his new friend put on a raincoat from his bag. Ernest Cobbin was sitting on the toilet seat when the first blow from the knife struck him in the throat, severing his jugular vein.
The Mutilator had brought the knife up in a sweeping motion, the same way that a fighter delivers an uppercut, and it had the desired effect. Ernest Cobbin’s blood sprayed everywhere, all over the Mutilator’s arms, face and raincoat.
Severely wounded and most likely in shock, Cobbin instinctively lifted his arm to defend himself as the Mutilator kept stabbing, repeatedly wounding him on the arms, neck, face and chest. Even when Ernest Cobbin fell stone dead from the toilet seat, the Mutilator kept up the frenzied attack until blood was splattered all over the toilet cubicle.
The Mutilator pulled Ernest Cobbin’s pants and underpants down to his knees, lifted his penis and testicles, sliced them off with his knife and put them in a plastic bag he had brought with him. When he had finished, the Mutilator calmly took off his raincoat, wrapped his knife and the plastic bag in it, put them in his bag and walked out of the toilet. He stopped along the way to wash his hands under a tap.
Back at his lodgings the Mutilator washed the bloody contents of the plastic bag in warm water, put them in a clean plastic bag and took them to bed with him.
The following day the Mutilator wrapped the plastic bag and its grisly contents, the knife and a brick in newspaper, tied them with string and threw them from the Sydney Harbour Bridge into the deepest part of the harbour. This time there would be no evidence left lying around for the police to find.
Vanishes Without a Clue
On the Monday morning MacDonald went back to his job of sorting letters under his alias of Alan Brennan as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile, the headlines in the newspapers blazed MUTILATOR STRIKES AGAIN. The police had received a phone call at 5.30 am and a hoarse man’s voice had said, “There’s a murdered man in the toilet in Moore Park opposite the Bat and Ball Hotel”, and hung up, never to be identified.
The horror that the police confronted was unimaginable. Ernest Cobbin had been stabbed about fifty times. His private parts were missing. They had been sliced off as if by a surgeon. The toilet was awash with blood. In the minds of Sydney’s toughest detectives there was no doubt that if anyone had walked in on the Mutilator as he went about his business, they too would have been stabbed to death. A madman was on the loose. No one was safe.
Again, the police couldn’t find a clue. There were no fingerprints, not even on the beer bottle. The Mutilator had wiped it clean. No one had seen a thing. The victim was married with two children and had been living in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern but was living apart from his family at the time of the killing and had apparently taken to the bottle. Outside of his mysterious assailant, Ernie Cobbin didn’t have an enemy in the world.
Police staked out public toilets and known derelict haunts. Undercover police disguised as vagrants mixed with the down-and-outs of the many wine bars and hotels that catered for that type of clientele. It all proved fruitless.
Police issued this warning in the hope that it may flush out the mysterious Mutilator: “We believe police pressure is forcing this murderer into the open and he could now strike anywhere at any time. We feel that any man who is alone in a lonely street or park for more than ten minutes could be murdered and mutilated by this maniac. We believe he is a psychopathic homosexual who is killing to satisfy some twisted urge.”
As the months passed police had to concede that they were no closer to catching the Mutilator than they were when Alfred Greenfield’s body was discovered near the Domain Baths. But where and when would he strike again? They could only wait and see.
After he murdered Ernest Cobbin, William MacDonald’s rage had subsided and he went about his life as usual. He read every newspaper story about his exploits but had great difficulty in understanding that he was reading about himself. It was as if another person was doing these dreadful things and MacDonald was merely an onlooker. It frightened him.
He joined in with his work mates in discussions about the mysterious Mutilator and listened to their theories of what type of person he may be. MacDonald would secretly get upset when they referred to the mystery murderer as a queer and a sexual deviate. He knew differently.
For a time, MacDonald thought his workmates suspected him of being the Mutilator, but it was only his own paranoia. The thought of giving himself up to police also crossed his mind, but he had to admit to himself that he enjoyed the killing too much to do anything as silly as that.
The Mutilator Must Kill Again
As the months went by, the urge to kill again became overwhelming. On the morning of Saturday, March 31, 1962, William MacDonald purchased another long-bladed, razor-sharp sheath knife from Mick Simmons sports store. He packed it in his bag with his raincoat and a plastic bag.
It was raining slightly that night and William MacDonald was wearing his raincoat. At 10 p.m. he left the Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst and followed Frank Gladstone McLean down Bourke Street and past the Darlinghurst Police Station. MacDonald struck up a conversation with the drunken McLean and suggested that they turn into Bourke Lane and have a drink.
As they rounded the unlit corner, the Mutilator plunged the knife into McLean’s throat. Frank McLean was a tall, thin man, well over six feet tall, and could have made mincemeat of the much smaller MacDonald had he not been so drunk. McLean felt the knife sink deep into this throat and started to resist.
The Mutilator stabbed him again in the face and as McLean fell about trying to protect himself the Mutilator punched him in the face forcing him off balance. As McLean fell to the ground, the Mutilator was on him. He stabbed McLean about the head, neck, throat, face and chest until he was dead.
Saturated in Frank McLean’s blood, the Mutilator dragged the body a few metres further into the lane, lowered his victim’s trousers and, slicing the knife from the bottom in an upward stroke, sliced off Frank McLean’s genitals.
For the first time the Mutilator was frightened that he would be caught in the act. He had committed the murder only a few yards from busy Bourke Street. As he put the genitals in his plastic bag, he feared that someone may see him. He had heard voices and a baby crying as people walked past the entrance to the laneway. In his paranoia he expected a police car to pull up any minute. But his luck held.
The Mutilator peeked around the laneway and, satisfied that no-one was coming, wrapped his knife and the plastic bag in the raincoat, put it in his bag and strolled down Bourke Street. He also took the bottle of sweet sherry that he and McLean had been drinking, as it was covered in fingerprints. He passed several people along Bourke Street, but they paid him no attention.
For the third or fourth time now the Mutilator had escaped as if he was invisible. Back at his room, the Mutilator washed the contents of' the plastic bag in the sink and put them in a clean plastic bag. In the morning he threw the incriminating evidence off the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
A City Under Siege
Frank McLean’s murder took place as Sydney was still in the grip of Mutilator mania from the previous murder just a few months earlier. And this one had happened within metres of a main thoroughfare. McLean, a war pensioner, had left a Surry Hills hotel earlier in the evening carrying a bottle of wine to walk to his room in Albion Street not far away.
He was seen turning into Little Bourke Street at about 10.35 pm by three trainee nurses of nearby St Margaret’s Hospital. At 10.50 pm he was found lying dying in the gutter by a Mr and Mrs Cornish who believed that the crying of their baby in a pram may have warned the murderer of their approach and in turn may have saved theirs and their baby’s lives.
The police were so organised in their hunt for the Mutilator at the time of Frank McLean’s death that within minutes there were 30 detectives at the murder scene but again the Mutilator had fled without a trace.
The murders were unprecedented in Australian history. Police could not recall more violent or sickening crimes. One theory was that the murderer was a deranged surgeon. The removal of Frank McLean’s genitals had been done with a scalpel by someone with years of surgical experience, the experts said. Doctors found themselves under investigation.
Police even listened to clairvoyants. The most notorious witch of the time, Kings Cross identity Rosaleen Norton, claimed to be in touch with the Mutilator when she had her daily chats with the Devil. Police investigated, just in case.
A special police task force was set up to track down the killer who was causing them so much embarrassment. Teams of detectives worked around the clock checking out every possible lead. And there were plenty of possible leads. Police phones ran hot. Houses were raided on the slightest suspicion that the Mutilator might be hiding there. Night shelters and hostels were checked and rechecked. Nothing. Still the Mutilator eluded police.
By now the police dossier on the Mutilator was inches thick and they were prepared to try anything which included sending the details to Interpol in the hope that the killer may be identified by similar crimes overseas. This led to them investigating the whereabouts of an American soldier who had been charged with the murder of a 13-year-old boy in Germany in almost identical fashion to the Mutilator murders and the detaining in Melbourne of a 23-year-old German immigrant on the liner Patris who was questioned at Russell St Police Headquarters in an unrelated incident.
Both Interpol leads proved fruitless. The reward for information leading to the arrest of the Mutilator was increased to £5000 ($10,000), a staggering amount of money for the early 1960s.
On April 14, a young airman, Patrick Royan, informed police that he had been attacked by the Mutilator in Goulburn Street not far from where Frank McLean was murdered. Royan said that his attacker scaled a high fence and lunged at him with a long bladed knife but missed, nicking him only slightly.
He said that the mysterious assailant was hissing as he attacked. He was described as being tall and solid, of foreign appearance, between 30 and 40 years old and wearing a light coloured suit.
Unfortunately nothing came of this as it was discovered that Royan was an alcoholic undergoing psychiatric treatment and had cut himself and made the story up to get a bit of attention. An unsympathetic judge gave him 18 months in prison.
The Beginning of the End
In the meantime things were not going quite so well for William MacDonald in his private life. In totally unrelated incidents, he had a severe falling out with his landlord and in the same week he got the sack from his mail-sorting job at the Postal Department. MacDonald had saved a lot of money over the years and he decided to go into business for himself.
Still using the assumed name of Alan Edward Brennan, he paid £560 ($1120) for a mixed business in Burwood, an inner Western suburb of Sydney. In his little shop, he made sandwiches and sold a variety of smallgoods. The shop was also an agency for a dry cleaning company.
McDonald loved it. He had no landlord standing over him and he didn't have to answer to anyone at work. He lived in the residence above the business and for the first time in his life he was left alone. So when the urge to kill came on him again, the Mutilator didn’t have to worry about the risk of being caught doing his thing in a public place. He could bring his victims home and have his way with them.
The urges to murder and mutilate came again stronger than ever before and one night early in November 1962, William MacDonald went to a wine saloon called the Wine Palace opposite the People’s Palace in Pitt Street in the heart of downtown Sydney looking for a victim. Here he met 42-year-old James Hackett, a petty thief and derelict who had only been out of goal for a couple of weeks.
MacDonald took Hackett back to his new residence and continued drinking until Hackett passed out on the floor. The Mutilator used a knife from his delicatessen to stab the sleeping Hackett. On the first plunge, the long knife went straight through Hackett’s neck but, incredibly, Hackett woke up and shielded the next blow with his arm thus diverting the knife into the Mutilator’s other hand, cutting it badly.
With blood pouring from the wound in his hand, the Mutilator unleashed renewed homicidal rage on Hackett. He brought the knife down with both hands and plunged it through Hackett’s heart, killing him instantly. The floor was awash with blood. But still the Mutilator attacked Hackett’s body with the knife until he had to stop for breath.
He sat in the pools of blood beside the body, puffing and panting. There was blood everywhere. It was splattered all over the walls and the ceiling and it had collected in big puddles on the floor.
The Mutilator bandaged his hand with a dirty dishcloth and set about removing Hackett’s genitals. But the knife was now blunt and bent from the ferocity of the attack. Too exhausted to go down to the shop to get another one the Mutilator sat covered from head to foot in blood, hacking away at Hackett’s scrotum with the blunt and bent blade. He stabbed the penis a few times and made some cuts around the testicles before finally giving up and falling asleep where he sat.
In the morning the Mutilator woke to find himself covered in sticky, drying blood. He was lying next to the victim Hackett. The pools of blood had soaked through the floorboards and threatened to drip onto the counters of his shop.
The Mutilator had a bath, cleaned himself up and went to the hospital where he had some stitches put in his hand. He told the doctor that he had cut himself in his shop. It took MacDonald the best part of the day to clean up the mess. The huge pools of blood on the linoleum couldn’t be scrubbed out and he had to tear it up, break it into bits and throw it out. He also removed all of Hackett’s bloodied clothing leaving only the socks.
MacDonald dragged the dead and naked Hackett underneath his shop and left him there. Every few hours he went back to the body and dragged it a little further into the foundations of the building until it was jammed into a remote corner of the brickwork, out of view and almost impossible to see. MacDonald left all of Hackett’s bloodied clothing with the corpse.
MacDonald panicked when he finally sat down and thought about what he had done. He thought that the police would come looking for Hackett. Only a few of the bloodstains had come off the walls and there was blood all over the floorboards.
If the police even came to ask him questions, he would be caught. And then there was the cab driver who had driven them to the shop on the night of the murder. He would remember them.
Paranoid and terrified, William MacDonald packed his bags and caught a train to Brisbane, where he moved into a boarding house, dyed his greying hair black, grew a moustache and assumed the name of Allan MacDonald. Every day he bought the Sydney newspapers expecting to read of the murder of Hackett and how police were looking for a man named Brennan in connection with the Mutilator murders.
The Mutilator is Dead and Buried
But as the days turned into weeks and months, there was no mention of any body or any search for the missing Brennan. MacDonald was beside himself with worry. Had police found the body and set a trap for him? Would they knock on his door at any minute? The mystery of it all was driving him crazy. However, although he didn't know it, William McDonald didn't have a worry in the world. He had been declared dead, and no-one was looking for a dead man.
A few days after MacDonald left for Brisbane, customers wanting to pick up their dry cleaning had become concerned that no-one was at the shop. Neighbours assumed that the nice Mr. Brennan had left without telling anyone. After three weeks, a putrefying smell was coming from the vicinity of the empty shop.
After a month the smell was so overwhelming that neighbours called the Health Department, who in turn called the police to break the door in. The smell in the shop was hideous. It led police to the rotting body of Hackett. The corpse was so badly decomposed and mauled by rats that it was impossible to identify.
The police bundled it into an ambulance and sent it off to the morgue at nearby Rydalmere Hospital where the body was found to be so putrid that the mortician carried out the autopsy in a shed in the hospital grounds. The only thing they could determine was that it was a male aged about forty, the same age as the missing Brennan.
At this stage police assumed it was the body of the missing shop proprietor, Alan Brennan, who had crawled under his shop for reasons known only to himself and electrocuted himself. Police had no reason to suspect foul play. Everything was normal. It looked like an accidental death. The body was buried in a pauper’s grave at the Field of Mars Cemetery, Ryde, under the name of Alan Edward Brennan.
The only person who wasn’t completely satisfied with the police investigations into the death was the Coroner, Mr F.E.Cox, who quizzed the police thoroughly before he handed down his decision. Mr Cox listened as police told him that the body was naked except for a pair of socks and that there was no reason why they should suspect foul play.
Police told Mr Cox that fingerprints had been taken and they failed to match up with anyone on record. The Government Medical Officer testified that there were no broken bones and that death had occurred at least a fortnight before he examined it.
What Mr Cox wasn’t told was that police didn’t find it unusual that the singlet found alongside the body had dozens of knife cuts in it and that there were large bloodstains on the floor and on a mattress in the apartment above the shop.
Even without the knowledge of these incredible police oversights Mr Cox wasn’t convinced and returned an open verdict and said: “It seems extraordinary that the body of Mr Brennan should have been found in the position and in the condition in which it was found.
According to the evidence, the deceased had neither his trousers on, nor his boots, or shoes, or singlet. He was clad only in his socks, with his coat and trousers alongside him. Nothing was found to indicate to any degree of certainty that the deceased had taken his own life, even if it were his intention to do so.
It seems to me an extraordinary thing that the deceased should have gone under the house to commit an act that would result in his death. It could have been that the deceased was the victim of foul play, although the police report said there was nothing to indicate foul play. But I cannot altogether exclude that possibility.”
When his workmates at the PMG read of the unfortunate demise of their old workmate in the death notices they collected for a wreath and attended the small memorial service conducted by a local funeral director.
In arguably the most extraordinary circumstances in Australian criminal history, William MacDonald, the man who had committed five atrocious murders, was a free man if only he had known it. And if he had never gone back to Sydney he may well have been a free man to this day.
The Case of the Walking Corpse
Unaware that he was supposedly dead and buried, MacDonald stayed a short time in Brisbane before going to New Zealand, still in the belief that the police would be looking for him. But the urge to kill was still with him and it was getting stronger everyday. He had to kill again and for reasons known only to himself he had to return to Sydney to do so.
Mr Cox’s suspicions of a sloppy police investigation became a reality about six months after the ‘death’ of Alan Brennan when one of MacDonald’s old workmates, John McCarthy, bumped head-on into the ‘dead’ Brennan as he was walking down crowded George Street in the heart of Sydney.
McCarthy nearly died of shock. As he had no idea that the murdered Hackett had been buried as the missing Brennan, MacDonald was surprised when his old work friend was so stunned to see him.
“You're supposed to be dead” McCarthy told MacDonald.
“What do you mean?”, the puzzled MacDonald asked.
“They found your body underneath your shop at Burwood. We went to your funeral service,” McCarthy replied. “But if you're alive, who was the body under your shop? And why did you run away?”
As it dawned on MacDonald what had happened, he ran away down the street.
That night he was on a train to Melbourne. John McCarthy went to the police but they didn't believe him when he told them that he had just had a drink with a dead man. The desk sergeant told him to go home and sleep it off.
And the desk sergeant didn't believe him the following day when he went back and told them the same story. They said he was crazy and in desperation John McCarthy rang the Daily Mirror and spoke to renowned crime reporter Joe Morris.
“I listened to the story before interviewing him. He didn't sound crazy to me,” recalled Morris. The Mirror ran the story and the legendary headline CASE OF THE WALKING CORPSE came about.
As a direct result of John McCarthy’s sighting of the dead man and the intense media interest in the bizarre case, police were forced to re-open the investigation. Closer scrutiny of the clothes found beside the dead man revealed that the number 1262 written in indelible ink on the inside of the coat sleeve was that of a garment supplied to a Patrick Joseph Hackett on his release from Long Bay Jail on October 27, 1962 after serving a ten day term for indecent language.
An embarrassed police commissioner was forced to exhume the corpse and closer examination revealed the stab wounds and the mutilation to Hackett's penis and testicles. From a much closer examination of what was left of the fingerprints, they discovered that the body was that of the petty thief Hackett and not the mild mannered shopkeeper Allan Brennan.
After the ‘Walking Corpse’ headline appeared in papers across the nation other witnesses came forward which included a man whose business was next door to Brennan’s shop who said that he was certain that he had seen Brennan and another man in the shop on the evening before Brennan disappeared.
Police felt sure that at last, if not belatedly, they were onto the Mutilator.
John McCarthy supplied an extremely lifelike identikit of the missing Brennan and it was circulated on the front page of every paper across the nation. Meanwhile William MacDonald had taken a job on the railways in Melbourne and even though he had dyed his hair and had a light moustache there was no mistaking that he was the missing Brennan.
Brennan’s new work-mates were onto him in a flash and as he asked the stationmaster for his pay for the three days that he had worked, the police swooped on the meek and mild-mannered little man who had brought Australia’s biggest city to its knees and took him to Russell Street for questioning.
Trial and retribution
William MacDonald didn’t oppose his extradition to Sydney to face murder charges and a crowd was at Sydney airport to greet the two detectives and get the first glimpses of Australia’s most grotesque and notorious serial killer.
They were to be disappointed. The thin, short, shy MacDonald was nothing like the beast that they imagined was capable of such unimaginable crimes.
William MacDonald confessed to everything. Charged with four counts of murder, he pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity. His trial, held in September 1963 was one of the most sensational the country had ever seen and the public hung onto every word of horror that fell from the Mutilator’s mouth.
When he testified how he stabbed one of his victims in the neck 30 times and then removed the man’s testicles and penis with the same knife, a woman in the jury fainted. Justice McLennan stopped the proceedings and excused the juror from the rest of the grisly evidence. He then ordered MacDonald to continue.
The gallery listened in awe as the Mutilator told of the killings in great detail. He explained how the blood had sprayed all over his raincoat as he castrated his victims, put their private parts in a plastic bag and took them home. The jury was repulsed when he explained what he did with the genitals when he arrived back at his lodgings.
The jury didn’t take long to find William MacDonald guilty of four counts of murder. As everyone thought that the Mutilator was crazy there was yet another sensation when the jury chose not to go with public opinion and found him to have been sane at the time of the murders.
Before passing sentence, Mr Justice McLennan said that it was the most barbaric case of murder and total disregard for human life that had come before him in his many years on the bench. William MacDonald had shown no signs of remorse and had made it quite clear that, if he were free, he would go on killing as often as the urges came upon him.
William MacDonald was sentenced to prison for life and his papers were marked: “likely to offend again”. Shortly after his incarceration he bashed another prisoner almost to death with a slops bucket in Long Bay Jail and as a result was declared insane by a panel of doctors. MacDonald spent the next 16 years at the Morisset Psychiatric Centre for the criminally insane on the New South Wales central coast.
In 1980 William McDonald was found sane enough to be released back into mainstream prison society and has since been in the protective custody section of Cessnock prison about a two hour drive north west from Sydney. He requested to live in this section of the jail because it was quieter and he would not be disturbed by the prison louts. Here he lives a reclusive existence reading and listening to classical music and is known as ‘old Bill’.
The Mutilator is the second longest serving prisoner in Australia (child killer Leonard Keith Lawson has been in prison since November 1961) and has spent so much time locked up that he is convinced that freedom would kill him. In December 2000 he declined to attend a court hearing set down to grant him a date when he would be eligible for parole.
“I am institutionalised now,” he said recently. “I have no desire to go and live on the outside. I wouldn’t last five minutes. I am too old and besides, I have everything I could ever want where I am.”
But while he has no desire to live outside of prison, MacDonald doesn’t mind the occasional day-trip out of Cessnock Prison to the nearby city of Newcastle. But what he sees he doesn’t particularly like.
In a May, 2000 interview with author Paul B. Kidd, William ‘the Mutilator’ McDonald, the most feared serial killer in Australia’s history who held the nation’s largest city under siege, said without the slightest hint of irony:
“It’s terrible out there. People aren’t even safe in their own homes.”
An Interview with the Mutilator
The information in the preceding story about the serial killer William ‘the Mutilator’ McDonald and the Case of the Walking Corpse, comes mainly from a secret interview with McDonald conducted in his cell at Long Bay Jail by legendary Daily Mirror newspaper police rounds reporter Joe Morris shortly after McDonald had been found sane and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1963.
Against all prison regulations, Joe recorded every word of the interview on a hidden tape recorder. Before he died in 1991, Joe gave the interview to me and made me promise that one day I would reveal the whole horrible truth of the Mutilator murders as told from the mouth of their perpetrator.
And it wasn’t hard to carry out that promise. In the interview the Mutilator didn’t hold back and I have recorded every grisly detail in the story exactly as it was told to Joe.
But what of William McDonald the man? Was the jury right in finding him to be sane at the time of the murders? And if he was, then what could possibly have driven him to stab four complete strangers dozens of times and then souvenir their genitalia?
Was it really because the men he killed reminded him of the dreaded corporal who raped him and destined him to a life of homosexuality, an existence that he despised because it brought him nothing but ridicule and shame? Or was that simply an excuse put up by McDonald’s defence to justify his crimes.
Or did the jury get it wrong? Was William McDonald really as insane as his crimes would indicate? Joe Morris described him at the time of their interview as being ‘off his rocker’, and it appeared that he wasn’t the only one with that opinion.
Curious to know more about William McDonald and the motives behind his murders, I applied to interview him numerous times over the years only to be rejected each time, mainly on the grounds that he didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone, especially me because of the chapter I wrote about him in my 1993 book Never To Be Released.
But I didn’t give up and eventually in March, 2000 I received a letter back from him not only granting me a full interview if Corrective Services approved but also permission to take pictures of him as well.
I was elated. At last I had the opportunity to put the face to the name of the man who I had come to know so well yet had never met, and for that matter, doubted that I ever would meet.
The approvals for the interview from the various government departments took another two months and eventually on Friday May 5, 2000, my photographer son Ben and myself met up with New South Wales Corrective Services Media Liaison Officer Bob Stapleton at the entrance to Long Bay Jail for our 10am interview with the Mutilator.
So many thoughts raced through my head as we were cleared by the maximum security guards and ushered into a small un-barred meeting room that contained a laminated table and four kitchen chairs and was situated just off the foyer at the entrance to the prison wing.
What would the Mutilator look like after almost 40 years behind bars? The picture of the rather good looking young man with the receding hairline that MacDonald was when he was arrested and the pictures in the identikit composition were stencilled in my memory as they were the only pictures that I had ever seen of him.
What of his disposition? Would he vent his rage upon me for writing the story about him in Never To Be Released? Was accepting my visit just a ploy to get near to me so he could unleash a verbal or physical assault upon me before they overpowered him and took him away?
Would he allow me to ask him the blunt questions from the list that I had painstakingly taken days to prepare for myself? I knew that I couldn’t ask him any of the intricate details of the actual murders because that was a Corrective Services condition of the interview. But I didn’t want to talk about that anyway. The gory details have been adequately described in the preceding story anyway.
No, I wanted to find out what sort of a man he was and what made him commit such atrocities. There were a few main questions I wanted the answers to so that I could put the final pieces of the Mutilator Murders jigsaw together. And only the Mutilator himself had the answers.
But would he tell me? I was about to find out.
I Meet the Mutilator
When the guard ushered William MacDonald into the room and I took my first look at him, a feeling that I have never felt before and doubt that I shall ever experience again came over me. It could be best described as a combination of relief that we were finally about to meet, and the sadness of an old man’s predicament. But most of all it was as if I was being re-united with a long-lost friend or a relative I hadn’t seen for many years. It was incredible and the memory of our first meeting shall live with me forever.
He extended his hand and I shook it and his handshake was firm, warm and friendly. But it was a handshake that hadn’t shaken another human being’s hand in many years.
“Hello Bill,” I said as I introduced myself. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for a long time”.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he replied graciously as he sat down to face me. “I believe you have some questions you would like to ask me”.
At almost 77, Bill MacDonald looked extremely fit for his age. He wasn’t handcuffed or manacled in any way and apart from a noticeable stoop and a slight shuffle in his walk, he appeared to be in good physical health and his lean five foot six inch frame could have been the envy of men many years his junior.
He explained that the dark glasses that he wore throughout the interview were to protect his eyes as he suffered from glaucoma and the fluorescent lights could be damaging. His strict vegetarian diet saw to it that his skin was taught and filled with colour but there was no escaping the fact that he was getting on. What little hair he did have left had turned to curly grey candy floss and the white Van Dyke whiskers did little to cover the missing row of front teeth that a younger man’s vanity would have almost certainly replaced, in prison or not.
As the guard left us I realised instantly that I wasn’t in any threat of danger and that the little serial killer sitting before me was an articulate, perfectly lucid, candid, well-read and gentle old man. And his candidness overtook the room. He managed a faint smile from time to time as he told us that he loved to read the classics and biographies of famous people of our times and listen to classical music, his favourites being the tenors Mario Lanza and Luciano Pavarotti, and Mozart, Chopin and Liszt, and the musicals of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Bill MacDonald would have looked more at home playing a violin or conducting a symphony orchestra than sitting before us in prison greens and telling us of his unfortunate life.
The Walkman radio he carries everywhere is tuned into a classical FM station. He doesn’t have a TV in his cell because he cannot watch colour TV because of his eyes and the jail hospital does not have a black and white set and he cannot afford to buy one.
The $10 a week he gets from the government is spent on a can of Milo and other small grocery luxuries. He never reads a newspaper from one year to the next because he can’t afford to buy them. He recalls that some years back the guards gave him the papers to read as a Xmas present.
“I spend almost every waking hour in my cell listening to classical music,” he says. “I don’t associate with anyone else within the prison system. I never have. I have never had a friend in my life. I keep very much to myself. I prefer it that way.”
He went on to tell us that in his 37 years behind bars ours was the third visit he had ever had. The other two were from journalists; Joe Morris in 1963 and Sydney Morning Herald writer Greg Bearup in 1995. He had heard from one of his brothers many years ago but tore the letter up and never heard from him again.
Bill MacDonald is a homosexual who has never had sex with a woman or anyone for that matter for at least 37 years, has never used a telephone in his life, has never driven a car, has never learned how to play cards or chess and never smoked.
“Why did you murder those men?” I asked, hopeful that I had assessed correctly that he would like to talk about the circumstances surrounding his crimes. “Is it true as they said in your defence at your trial that as you were killing them that you saw the face of the fusilier who raped you when you were a teenager and turned you into a homosexual and gave you a life of misery?”
Incredibly, he answered. “I didn’t murder those men,” he said matter-of-factly. “Physically I did, there’s no doubt of that. But it is the other person who lives inside me that actually killed them. As a young boy I was diagnosed as schizophrenic and I still am today. Schizophrenia means split personality and it was my other personality that killed those men as an act of revenge on the soldier who raped me. I then mutilated each one in a manner so that he couldn’t rape anyone ever again.
“When I read about the murders in the paper the following day it was as if it was all a dream. I knew that it was me that had done it but it was as if I hadn’t done it, if you can follow what I mean. Then I would resume my life as normal until the urge to kill the soldier came over me again and then I’d go on the hunt again.”
“So you were only insane at the time of the murders?” I asked. “These days we call it diminished responsibility which is roughly the same as temporary insanity.”
“There is no doubt that I was insane at the time of the murders,” he says. “As you say, temporarily insane. Or in my case the other personality had taken over. And even though they found me to be sane at my trial I knew that I wasn’t and these urges to kill kept coming over me. After my trial they took another look at me and realised that I was insane and needed help. That’s why I was in Morisset psychiatric centre for 16 years.”
“Why do you think you chose derelicts to kill? Do you think it was because they were the easiest targets or was it the decent side of you saying that if you had to kill and couldn’t stop it then at least you were only killing people who would be the least likely to be missed?”
“That’s very difficult to answer. The other part of me that committed the murders could possibly answer that but I can’t. I think the second of the answers makes sense though because I’m not really a bad person.”
“Are you by nature a violent man?”
“No. Anything but. I had never committed any violent crime before in my life. I like the passive things in life. But the other person that committed those murders was very violent. But he’s gone now.”
“Are you sane now? Would you kill anyone now if you had the opportunity?”
“Yes, I am perfectly sane now. And the thought of killing another human being now would never cross my mind. I don’t get the urge to kill any more. I may still be a schizophrenic but murder is out of the question. It is not even the slightest consideration.”
“Were you glad when you were eventually caught and it was all over?”
“Yes. Very glad. I hadn’t eaten for three days because I had no money to buy food. I think I was glad for a couple of reasons in that all of the anxiety of wondering when I would be caught was over and also that I wouldn’t kill any more innocent people. When I bumped into John McCarthy in Pitt Street and fled to Melbourne I knew that they were on to me and that it was only a matter of time. Yes, I was very pleased that it was all over.”
“Do you feel sorry for what you did?”
“Yes, very much so. I feel terribly ashamed. Even though I had no control over it ”
“Apart from the murders, what is the deepest regret in your life?”
“That I couldn’t have had a normal life. A wife, children, a family home. If I had my life over that is what I would wish for.”
“Have you accepted the fact that you will die in prison?”
“Yes. It doesn’t worry me at all. I don’t want to get out, I’d never survive on the outside. I’ve been in prison too long. Besides, if I was on the outside I would live exactly the same existence as I do now, like a hermit. I like my own company and I’m happy with my music and reading. I would love to be able to get the papers everyday and some day I might be able to afford a black and white TV and a CD player and some discs. But outside of that, there’s nothing that I want for on the outside that I don’t get in here.”
“Would you like to get out for a day and be driven around and shown the sights of Sydney?”
“Yes. I’d love to see the Opera House. It was just being built when I went to prison. I believe that Joan Sutherland was one of the first to sing there. And I’d love to see how much Sydney has changed. Maybe I will one day.”
He agreed to come outside of the meeting room and have a few pictures taken with me and after they were done we shook hands firmly and said goodbye.
Making a Wish Come True
Our interview and chat had lasted almost two hours and space doesn’t allow to write every word of it here. But during the interview I told Bill in front of my son and Bob Stapleton that I felt an enormous compassion for him and that I admired his forthrightness and honesty.
I decided then that I would be his friend until he died and I told him so. In his curious and matter-of-fact manner he nodded his head and said that he would like that and that it would be something new as he had never had a friend before.
I have been to visit Bill as a friend since the interview and I have seen to it that he has a TV in his cell and gets the papers every day. He enjoys our visits and warms up more every time we see each other. I like Bill a lot and although I cannot ever condone his crimes, I can’t help but feel that life hasn’t dealt him a fair hand.
On Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, I picked up Bill in company with the Cessnock Prison chaplain, Rod Moore, and drove him to Sydney for his first look in almost 40 years. We drove around the Opera House and through the city that had changed so much since he wreaked havoc in its inner suburbs all those years ago, but the highlight of his trip was to sit in the car and eat fish and chips as we overlooked beautiful Bondi Beach.
“You know Paul,” he said as he watched the topless beauties in wonderment, “I often wonder if I had the choice to live my life over again exactly as it has been or have been dead, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
“I know what I did is horrible and I have spent almost four decades behind bars paying for it, but you are a long time dead and every second on earth, no matter how bad it may seem, is far better than being dead.”
· Never To Be Released, Kidd, Paul B. Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 1993.
· Australia’s Serial Killers; The Definitive History of Serial Multicide in Australia, Kidd, Paul B. Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2000