Eric Edgar Cooke

Eric Edgar Cooke
EricEdgarCooke.jpg
Born
Eric Edgar Cooke

(1931-02-25)25 February 1931
Died26 October 1964(1964-10-26) (aged 33)
Cause of deathHanging
Other namesThe Night Caller
Criminal penaltyDeath
Details
Victims8 murders and 14 attempted murders
Span of crimes
1959–1963
CountryAustralia
State(s)Western Australia
Date apprehended
1 September 1963

Eric Edgar Cooke (25 February 1931 – 26 October 1964), nicknamed the "Night Caller", was an Australian serial killer. From 1959 to 1963, he terrorised the city of Perth, Western Australia, by committing 22 violent crimes, eight of which resulted in deaths.[1]

Early life

Childhood

Eric Cooke was born on 25 February 1931 in Victoria Park, a suburb of Perth, and was the eldest of three children.[2]

Cooke was born into an unhappy, violent family; his parents married solely because his mother, Christine, was pregnant with him, and his alcoholic father, Vivian, beat him frequently, especially when the boy tried to protect his mother from the elder Cooke's drunken rages. Christine Cooke would sleep in the staff room at her job in the Como Hotel to avoid beatings. Much like his mother, Cooke would hide underneath the house or roam neighbouring streets just to escape a night of his father's violence. Cooke was also placed in orphanages or foster homes on occasion.

Cooke was frequently hospitalised for head injuries and had suspected brain damage because of his accident-proneness. Later it was questioned whether this was due to repressed suicidal tendencies. He also suffered from recurrent headaches and was once admitted to an asylum. His reported blackouts later stopped after an operation in 1949.[2]

Cooke was born with a hare lip and a cleft palate, for which he had one operation when he was three months old and another when he was 3½. Surgical operations to repair the deformities were not totally successful, and left him with a slight facial deformity, and he spoke in a mumble; these handicaps made him the target of bullying at school.[3] In her book, Broken Lives, journalist Estelle Blackburn's telling of the murders, he is described as "a short, slight man with dark, wavy hair and a twisted mouth..." Cooke's disfigurements made him ashamed, shy, and emotionally unstable at a young age due to the beatings and bullying that came with it.

Though very good at subjects that required retentive memory and manual dexterity, Cooke was expelled from Subiaco State School for stealing money from a teacher's purse at the age of six. Once he was transferred to Newcastle Street Infants' School, Cooke was again the butt of many jokes with his mumble and scar. He continued to be made fun of at every school he attended, including Highgate Primary School, Forrest Street Primary School, and Newcastle Street Junior Technical School. He left school at 14 to work as a delivery boy for Central Provision Stores in order to support the family. He would give his weekly wages to his mother who could not fully support the family with the money she earned from cooking and cleaning. Many of Cooke's jobs put him in the hospital due to his accident-proneness. At a job in the factory of Harris, Scarfe and Sandover, Cooke landed in the hospital due to effects of being struck on the nose by a winch. At the age of 16, he worked as a hammer boy in the blacksmith section of the workshop at Midland Junction, where he always signed his lunch bag "Al Capone," and ended up burning his face with steam and suffering second-degree burns. At the same job he jarred his right hand and also injured the thumb of his other hand.[4]

As a teenager, starting at 17, Cooke spent his nights involved in petty crimes and vandalism; he would later serve 18 months in jail for burning down a church after he was rejected in a choir audition. During his later teenage years, Cooke would sneak into houses and steal whatever he found valuable. These crimes escalated to damaging clothing and furniture in acts of vengeance. He would cut out newspaper accounts of his crimes to impress his acquaintances in an attempt to gain friends.

Adulthood

At Cooke's grandmother's house on 12 March 1949, police finally caught up with the young vandal, finding evidence at his house. His fingerprints were then matched to those found in other open cases. At the age of 18, on 24 May 1949, Cooke was sentenced to three years in prison after being arrested for arson and vandalism by a Detective Burrows who considered the boy one of "life's unfortunates." He was convicted on two charges of stealing, seven of breaking and entering and four of arson. He left many fingerprints and easy clues for detectives which would teach him to be more careful in his future crimes.

At the age of 21, Cooke joined the regular Australian Army, but was discharged three months later after it was discovered that before enlistment he had had a juvenile record for theft, breaking and entering, and arson. During his training, he was quickly promoted to lance corporal and was taught to handle firearms.[2]

On 14 October 1953, Cooke, then aged 22, married Sarah (Sally) Lavin, a 19-year-old waitress,[5] at the Methodist Church in Cannington.[2] They ultimately had a large family of seven children, four boys and three girls.

After marriage, Cooke was arrested several times as a "peeping tom" and for other minor offences. In 1955 he was arrested for stealing a car and sentenced to two years hard labour. After his release, he took to wearing women's gloves while committing crimes in order to avoid leaving fingerprints.

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