Night Terrors: The True Story of the Kingsgrove Slasher
$20 + $6 postage
Last Day of School
When the serial prowler the Kingsgrove Slasher was finally caught, the police asked him to take a guess at how many homes and backyards he’d been in.
“It would be terribly hard to say,” he told them.
“Would it be hundreds or would it be thousands?” the police asked.
“Many, many hundreds. Perhaps thousands.”
Between 1956 and 1959, suburban Sydney was terrorised by a phantom known as the Kingsgrove Slasher. He started out as a peeping Tom who would slink around people’s backyards in the dead of night. In time he graduated to breaking into houses to watch people sleep before later deciding to slash women and girls with a razor while they lay in their beds.
Today the Slasher is barely a footnote in Australian criminal history, with many downplaying the extent of his crimes. But they were in some cases quite violent. Early in his spree, he punched a 21-year-old woman into unconsciousness, breaking her teeth and cutting her mouth and hit a teenage girl in the face with a piece of wood. Later he would slash a deep wound across the stomach of a 64-year-old female. The Slasher also groped teens in their beds, and one of his 18 victims was just seven years old.
Night Terrors is the first detailed account of the years the Kingsgrove Slasher was on loose. It draws on hundreds of newspaper articles written at the time – which give an indication of the level of fear in the community – as well as the transcripts from the court hearings, which had been sealed since 1959. The result is a true-crime book that might make it hard for you to go to sleep at night.
Read an excerpt
It started one warm Thursday night in March. It was the last in a streak of warm days. Despite being the middle of the week, thousands of people flocked to Sydney’s beaches as the summer heat hung around into early spring. The day before, 6000 people turned up to cool down in the waters of Bondi, at least until two sharks were spotted close to the shoreline and the life-savers sounded the alarm.
By the time it was 10am on that Thursday – March 8, 1956 – the temperature had hit 30 degrees in what the papers were calling the steamiest day in three months. Much to the dismay of beachgoers, some relief came around 3pm when a thunderstorm dumped 24 millimetres of rain in two hours and dropped the mercury by 10 degrees.
It was humid and still at 9.30pm, when Margaret Campbell and a “male friend” (as the court testimony delicately put it) drove from her Hurstville home to scrubland near Beverly Hills train station, just a suburb to the north. These days the area around the station is densely developed but in the 1950s there were still quiet, empty spaces where two people could steal away for some private moments.
Though the 20-year-old Campbell and her male suitor didn’t know it, they weren’t alone. A dark-haired man in his late 20s had come across the couple’s secluded location. He’d spent some months before walking the streets, first throwing water bombs and rocks at passersby before deciding to scale people’s back fences and look through windows, and then entering their houses late at night and watching the residents sleep. This warm March night, he was about to take another step up – with the help of the razor in his pocket.
Margaret and her “male escort” (another way the court described the unnamed man) were sitting in the front seat of the car. Because of the warm night both front doors had been opened to allow whatever breeze there was to flow over their bodies. It also allowed the man the chance to watch them unobstructed, which he did for a short while before deciding to put the Gillette Blue razor in his pocket to use.
He crept up to the car in darkness – the couple had switched off the interior light so as not to be seen. Reaching in through the open door, he managed to slash Campbell across the chest around 12 times without being seen. He went back to watch the couple’s reaction, before leaving the scene amused they hadn’t noticed what he’d done.
Surprisingly for a woman who had been slashed a dozen times, Campbell said she hadn’t felt the cuts at first (which perhaps speaks of her male friend’s abilities to distract her). Soon she felt a stinging sensation across her chest; Campbell looked down and saw her yellow frock had been cut, and the cuts went through her slip, brasserie and into her skin. There was also blood soaking through her clothes.
The male friend rushed Campbell to Hurstville police station, where an officer took her to see a female doctor in the casualty department at St George Hospital. Dr Claire Burke took a look at Campbell’s cuts, of which she estimated there were 12 – most on the breasts while one was in the armpit. While most were superficial, two cuts required stitches – Campbell and Dr Burke would later differ as to how many, she would say there were six while the doctor only remembered three stitches.
There was no doubt some salacious aspects of the Campbell attack. She was in a car with a man in a relatively secluded location, she was slashed by an attacker and she was so distracted by what she and the man were doing that she didn’t even notice a stranger creeping up on them and cutting her with a blade.
Night Terrors is available in paperback at Amazon and other online retailers.
Australian readers can buy a signed copy direct from me via the below PayPal link.
It’s also available on Kindle here.