Eric Edgar Cooke

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11Eric Edgar Cooke

Eric Edgar Cooke


Eric Edgar Cooke was a notorious serial killer in Australia who was nicknamed “The Night Caller”. His manner of executing his victims baffled detectives since there was no connection of an incident to the other. He went on a killing spree and committing violent robberies besides engaging in petty crimes without being caught. His childhood reveals a foundation that turned him into a violent criminal that he was. Police at times sympathized with him. His brief stint in prison graduated him into a hardened criminal who was no longer only an arsonist or petty offender but a ruthless murderer. This an account of Eric Edgar Cooke profiling him as a criminal and using theories of criminology to try and explain what made him turn out to be a unforgiving serial killer. Several theories including rational choice theory, social disorganization theory, strain theory, social learning theory, and social control theory have been used to profile the criminal life of Eric Cooke and how he fell to that level.


There are several theories that offer an explanation on how a law-abiding citizen is transformed to a petty offender or a hardened serial killer. The environment within which a person is born determines how he will grow up to be. The childhood life of Eric Edgar Cooke nicknamed ‘The night Caller’ influenced him into indulging in crime at an early age and transforming into hardened violent criminal (Siegel, 2011).
He baffled detectives for some years for his uncharacteristic unrelated ways of executing his crimes before he was caught. Two people were wrongly convicted for two murders executed by Cooke. He terrorized Perth in the state of Western Australia before being apprehended. Psychological issues may have contributed to Eric Cooke engaging in crime and becoming unforgiving killer that he was. An unpleasant childhood accentuated by a cruel father created an ample environment for a world-be criminal to grow up into a serial killer (Cole &
Pullen, 2010). It was a difficult childhood that Cooke encountered during his early years on this earth. This essay explored the criminal background of Eric Edgar Cooke while discussing the possible theories that led him to graduate into a ruthless criminal who committed countless violent robberies, burglaries, hit and runs, and murders.

The case of Eric Edgar Cooke (‘The Night Caller’)

Eric Edgar Cooke was born in Victoria Park in Perth’s suburb on 25th February 1931 and was the first born in a family of three children. Eric Edgar Cooke nicknamed ‘the Night Caller’ was the Australia’s worst of all serial killers in the 1960s trials. Cooke was brought up in a violent, unhappy family; his parents only married for the sole reason that his mother was pregnant with him. During his childhood Cooke’s father never showed passion towards him being the eldest and only son. He was often a victim of alcoholic addition of his father that resulted in thorough beatings for no particular reason (Blackburn, 2005).  He was beaten for trying to protect his mother from the drunken rages of his father. His mother, Christine Cooke, would often sleep at her workplace in the office in the Como Hotel in order to avoid being beaten at home. Eric Cook was not spared and he would roam streets in the neighbourhood in order to avoid falling victim of his father’s violence. Consequently, Cooke was placed in foster homes or orphanages on a number of occasions. Moreover, Cooke was a victim of bullying at school for the impediments of a cleft palate and a hare lip. The aftermath of the operations resulted into a slight facial deformity and he mumbled as he spoke. Cooke was often hospitalized for head related injuries and was suspected to have brain damage owing to accident-proneness. He experienced persistent headaches and was at one time admitted to an asylum. The blackouts ceased when he underwent an operation in 1949.

This background points out how Eric Cooke ended up a criminal that he was. Rational choice theory states that individuals pursue their own-interest and make decisions to indulge in crime after looking at the risks verses the rewards that they would reap from the act (Arrigo &
Williams, 2006). This theory may have provided Cooke with motivation in identifying his victims and deciding where to strike understanding what he will benefit after committing the crime. By burning down the church after being turned down in a choir audition, Cooke wanted to take revenge because he was bitter with people he considered out to make his life miserable. He was mistreated by his father before and he considered this rejection as an extension of mistreatment (Cawthorne, 2010). The environment shaped Cooke to become unrelenting and ruthless criminal. Strain theory holds that people possess similar aspirations but do not have the same opportunities, as well as abilities. When a person fails to attain expectations of the society using approve means like delayed gratification and hard work they may resort to crime as a short-cut to achieving success in life. Cooke had a troubled upbringing. His father’s beatings were unrelenting and sometimes had to wonder through the streets of Perth with nowhere else to go. On several occasions he was placed in foster homes or orphanages; deep inside him, Cooke felt that the odds were against him and he could not enjoy life amidst the care of loving parents like other children (Blackhous, 2014). Moreover, his father only married his mother because she was pregnant with him. Therefore, the marriage started with no foundation of love but a solution to circumstances that were beyond Cooke’s parents.

Social disorganization theory states that an individual’s social and physical environments are fundamentally responsible for the behavioral choices that the person indulges in. a neighborhood that has depilated social structures is highly likely to have rates of crimes. Such a neighbourhood may have vacant and vandalized buildings, poor schools, high level of unemployment, and a mix of residential and commercial property (Hayward & Young, 2004). Social disorganization theory may have provided a platform for Cooke to indulge in crime considering his social and physical environment. Criminal profilers define Eric Edgar Cooke as a perfect candidate for a serial killer type. He was often emotionally and physically abused as a child in a family that was dysfunctional. He escaped his misery through fantasy and disassociation that he sought for the purpose of boosting his low self-esteem through self-aggrandizement. He was bitter with the society that has ostracized him and he was out to revenge and get power and control. He started with act of arson on a church and transformed into power over life and death. Cooke was born with a facial deformity that made his father loathe him at first sight. Eric Cooke felt unwanted and tasted sheer resentment at a very tender age. Cooke was a victim of mockery and bullying by other pupils due to his facial look and the mumble after the operation (Hayward &Young, 2004). Eric Cooke was made fun of by other children and bitter resentment precipitated within his heart making him act in revenge. The dismissal from the army accentuated the feeling of resentment towards the society and social structures. He had enjoyed the regimentation and army’s fellowship. Training in weaponry offered to him by Lance Corporal provided with a sense of satisfaction to dominate.

At the age of 17, Cooke began setting fire to flats and houses that he broke into, after stealing money and food and slashing bedding and clothing. Ever cunning, he broke a window to appear like a break-in when in the real sense friendly owner had offered him the key to take care of the house while on holiday. When apprehended for arson and break-ins, police offers were sympathetic after examining his background and referred to him as ‘one of life’s unfortunates’. At the age of eighteen he was paroled from prison after three months of a hitherto three year jail term. This spell in prison provided a chance to Cooke to come into conduct with hardened criminals who made him to seek deeper into the life of crime. This is where the social learning theory applies. Social learning theory states that individuals develop motivation to indulge in crime and acquire skills to commit crime through people they come in contact with. Hardened criminals that he met in prison motivated Cooke to take his crime level to the next level for the purpose of gaining control and power (Cole &
Pullen, 2010). An attempt by the Methodist Church to rehabilitate him after his parole failed and it was the Methodist friends and Rev Jenkins who accompanied him to his execution for his crimes of murder. Furthermore, Cooke may have carried genes of his further of being cruel and unloving. Genetics and social environment might have shaped Cooke into a seasoned criminal.

Cooke later served an eighteen month jail term for burning a church for the reason of being turned down in a choir audition. At 21, Cooke was admitted to the Permanent Military Forces but was later to be discharged three months later after the authorities learnt that before admission he had been involved in a series of convictions for breaking in, arson, and theft. After a year, aged 22, Cooke married Sally Lavin, 19-year-old waitress and the wedding was conducted at the Methodist Church in Cannington. They went ahead and got seven children. There was no remedy or therapy that delivered Cooke from the impact of his troubled childhood and his stint in prison. He was a troubled soul with a feeling of failure and eager to gain power and control. He wanted revenge and to have a feel of success like other people his age. Social control theory can also be used to explain Eric Cooke’s crime life. Social control theory observes that many people would engage in crime if controls offered by the society using institutions like schools, churches, families and workplaces were not present (Blackhous, 2014). On his part, Cooke was expelled in a couple of schools and he did not pursue his education further to make him occupied and useful. The idle time that he had at his disposal was used to commit crime. Had he gone to university and gotten a good job, maybe he would not turned up into a criminal after all.

Cooke’s queer killing spree entailed a series of apparently unrelated hit and runs, shootings and strangling which made Perth and its neighbourhood completely terrorized. This was a common serial killer whose methods of execution seemed random including his choice of victims. His behavior was utterly bizarre and inconsistent. Various shootings have been committed using several different rifles. Victims of Cooke’s murders had been stabbed with scissors and knives, and hit with an axe. Some were killed for only waking up when Cooke was in the act of robbing their homes; one was executed with a shot for answering a knock on the door; and two were shot dead in their sleep while their homes were left intact (Young, 2003). After killing one victim with a knife, Cooke took lemonade from the refrigerator and sat drinking it on the veranda. One of his victims was strangled using a cord from the bedside lamp; he raped the corpse, later dragged it to the lawn of a neighbor where he sexually penetrated it using an empty bottle of whisky.

Cooke’s random killings using various methods of violence made him one of the most baffling and notorious serial killers in Australia during his time. Perth was gripped by a maelstrom of hysteria and fear. Cooke’s victims included Brian Weir, 29; Jillian Macpherson, 22; George Walmsley, 54; John Sturkey, 19; Rosemary Anderson, 17; Patricia Vinico, 33; Constance Lucy Madrill, 24; and Shirley Martha McLeod, 18. Since his crimes were merely opportunistic and executed using different methods, besides his victims did not share no apparent common traits; hence predicting his next target and apprehending him was very challenging. Two murders committed by Cooke resulted in false convictions of innocent people. John Button was falsely convicted for the murder of Rosemary Anderson when Cooke was the real murderer (Odell & Gregg, 2011). Darryl Beamish was falsely convicted for the killing of Jillian Macpherson Brewer; a heiress in Melbourne was stabbed using a hatchet and scissors.

In the 1960s people in Australia often left their cars unlocked and perhaps with the key in the ignition, this made it easy for Cooke to steal a car almost every night. He would sometimes return the stolen vehicles before the owners waking up. Some of the cars had been involved in hit and run incidents (Siegel, 2011). His first hit-and-run was on Nel Schneider, 29, a mother of four children who had settled in Australia from Amsterdam. Schneider was left with a permanent brain damage and fractured skull after being thrown off her bike. In the course of police investigation, more than thirty thousand males above the age of twelve had their fingerprints checked and more than sixty thousand .22 rifles were found and test-fired. Cooke was later caught after a rifle he had hidden in a bush was discovered by a couple on their walk in August 1963. Ballistic tests done on the gun revealed that it has been used to kill Shirley McLeod. The police went back to the scene and tied a dummy rifle to a bush using a fishing line, they constructed a hideout and waited for the owner to come and collected it (Cawthorne, 2010). Cooke came to collect the rifle seventeen days later.

When cornered, Coke confessed to various bloody crimes that included eight murders, twenty-two violent crimes, and fourteen attempted murders. He was send to jail on the specimen charge of killing John Lindsay Sturkey, of the victims of Cooke’s five Australia Day shooting (1963). During the confessions, Cooke proved to have an excellent good memory for details of crimes regardless of how long ago they had been committed by him (Deflem, 2006).  For instance, he confessed to committing more than two hundred and fifty burglaries and was able to remember what he took in each act including the denominations and number of coins he had stolen.

Cooke pleaded not guilty to charges leveled against him of the grounds of being insane. His lawyers argued that he was a victim of schizophrenia. This insanity claim was thrown out after the state director of mental health services testified that Cooke was very sane. Independent psychiatric specialists were not allowed during Cooke’s trial. On 28th September 1963, Cooke was convicted of murder after a 3-day trial before Justice Virtue. He was subsequently sentenced to death through hanging, and in spite of having a chance to appeal, he directed his lawyers not to appeal on the grounds that he had to be punished for what he had done. Eric Edgar Cooke was hanged at 8 o’clock close to Swan River Settlement in Perth (Hayward, 2004). Before he was hanged, Cooke vehemently swore using the bible that he had killed Rosemary Anderson and Jillian Brewer, claims that had been disregarded since there were other people already convicted for the murders. Cooke was the last person hanged in the state of Western Australia.


Theories of criminology provide several reasons why people end up indulging in crime. Rational choice theory, social disorganization theory, strain theory, social learning theory, and social control theory have tried to explain Eric Edgar Cooke criminal background and he transformed into a baffling serial killer. There many reasons besides genetics that can make somebody graduate from a petty offender like Cooke to a hardened, ruthless criminal. Cooke started as a petty offender, transformed into an arsonist and graduated into a violent robber and murderer commonly referred to as ‘The Night Caller’. His criminal acts were unrelated in pattern and execution hence leaving detectives baffled and he went unnoticed for some years. He terrorized his neighborhood and people were afraid of the nightfall. But police laid a trap after his rifle was discovered by a couple while walking in the park. He was caught, tried and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on 28th February 1963. For many years later his family had to apologize for victims of Cooke’s criminal acts.


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