Human Monsters Volume 4

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William MacDonald

During the early 1960s a terrifying serial killer was loose on the streets of Sydney, Australia. The fiend lured his victims into public parks and toilets, then stabbed them to death in a series of frenzied attacks. He’d then carve up the corpse in such horrific fashion that it earned him the epithet, “The Sydney Mutilator.”

The killer who would eventually hold Sydney in a grip of terror was not the raving monster that most imagined but a deeply insecure young man named William MacDonald. MacDonald (birth name Allan Ginsberg) had been born in Liverpool, England, in 1926, the middle of three children. He grew up to be a shy, friendless boy who was prone to disappear for long walks in the middle of the night. On more than one occasion his mother had to call the local constabulary to search for him. Concerned by his behavior, she took him to a psychiatrist who diagnosed the boy as schizophrenic.

Despite this diagnosis, Ginsburg was accepted for military service in 1943, when he was 17. He was posted to the Lancashire Fusiliers and initially seemed to adapt well to military discipline. Then an incident occurred that would throw his life into turmoil. While taking cover in an air-raid shelter during a bombardment, he was raped by one of his corporals.

Ginsburg was disgusted by what had happened to him. But as he looked back on the incident, he was astonished to find that he had actually enjoyed the sexual experience. He concluded that he must be gay, but that realization left him in even greater turmoil, resulting in him being confined to an asylum after his discharge from the military.

Released after six months, Ginsberg decided that the best way to end his turmoil was to accept his homosexuality. He began openly soliciting men in bars and public toilets. That, of course, opened him up to other problems. He was beaten up on a number of occasions, suffered taunts from workmates and was dismissed from several jobs. He also found no relief from the psychiatric professionals he consulted.

Eventually, in 1949, he resolved to make a fresh start and immigrated to Canada, spending six years there before moving to Australia in 1955. Shortly after his arrival, he changed his name by deed poll to William MacDonald.

William McDonald’s new life did not get off to the best start, when he was arrested for soliciting an undercover detective in a public toilet. And his old problems continued to haunt him. He lost several jobs when he was outed as a homosexual; his workmates taunted him as a “poofter”; on at least one occasion they beaten him up. It led to him becoming increasingly paranoid. Increasingly, he also began to entertain revenge fantasies.

The rage that had been building inside William MacDonald eventually exploded in 1960, while he was living in Brisbane. MacDonald had befriended a 55-year-old man named Amos Hurst and the two had spent the day drinking in several bars before ending up back at Hurst’s apartment. They continued drinking until Hurst eventually passed out. Then, for no apparent reason, MacDonald placed his hands on Hurst’s throat and began squeezing. He didn’t let up until Hurst was dead.

Over the days that followed, MacDonald lived in terror of the police knocking on his door. He scanned the papers for news of the murder for five days, eventually finding an obituary that stated Amos Hurst had died of a heart attack.

MacDonald was stunned at the realization he’d gotten away with murder. He was also surprised that recalling the incident filled him with excitement rather than revulsion. After years of enduring taunts and beatings he’d finally struck back and it felt good. Not long after he bought himself a hunting knife and began cruising the bars and low-rent hotels of Brisbane’s underbelly, searching for another victim. However, on each occasion that he had a potential victim in his grasp, he found he couldn’t go through with it.

In January 1961, MacDonald moved to Sydney and found work with the Postal Department under the assumed name of Alan Edward Brennan. He was soon fully immersed in city’s clandestine gay scene, a regular at the parks and public toilets where Sydney’s homosexuals were known to meet. And it wasn’t long before the urge to kill again began nagging at him.

On Saturday, June 4, 1961, MacDonald was in the Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst when he struck up a conversation with a 41-year-old vagrant named Alfred Greenfield. He offered Greenfield a sip from his bottle, then lured the man to the nearby Domain Baths (a public swimming pool) with the promise of more booze. Once there he retrieved a bag containing several bottles of beer.

He and Greenfield found a secluded spot and began drinking, MacDonald ensuring that his drinking partner consumed most of the booze. Then, after Greenfield passed out, MacDonald rummaged in his bag and produced a plastic raincoat, which he slipped on. He then sat astride Greenfield and withdrew a knife from his sheath, bringing it swiftly down into the man’s throat, then burying the blade again and again in Greenfield’s head and neck. The ferocity of the attack was such that Greenfield never even regained consciousness.

But MacDonald wasn’t done yet. He pulled down Greenfield’s trousers and sliced off his genitals, carrying them away from the scene. Later he’d dispose of them in Sydney harbor.

MacDonald was covered in blood after the brutal attack, but the raincoat had done its job. He simply slipped it off, stuffed it in his bag and walked home.

The Sydney press carried blanket coverage of the murder in the papers the following day, although some of the more gruesome details were withheld. Already the papers had coined a name for the killer. They called him, “The Mutilator.”

Six months passed and despite the brutality of the Greenfieldd murder “The Mutilator” had been all but forgotten by the public. Then, on Saturday, November 21, 1961, he offered a rude reminder of his existence.

That evening, MacDonald was walking along South Dowling Street, East Sydney when he encountered 41-year-old Ernest William Cobbin. Cobbin appeared drunk but Macdonald struck up a conversation with him and lured him to the public toilets at Moore Park where they sat for a while drinking beer. Cobbin made no comment when his new friend pulled a raincoat from his bag and put it on. Then, as Cobbin sat on the toilet seat, MacDonald brought up his knife in an uppercut motion, severing his victim’s jugular vein. With blood spurting from his throat, Cobbin tried to get up but MacDonald kept hacking at him, carrying on the attack even after Cobbin lay motionless on the floor. He then carried out his signature mutilation, severing the man’s penis and scrotum and carrying them away with him.

The following day the Sydney newspapers carried the blaring headline: MUTILATOR STRIKES AGAIN.

Although the targets of the two attacks had been vagrants, the sheer brutality of the murders caused panic in the city. People stayed off the streets at night, barricading themselves in their homes. The police meanwhile staked out parks and public toilets, many of them disguised as tramps in the hope of luring the killer into the open. It didn’t work.

As the months passed the police had to concede that they had no leads. All they could do was wait and hope. Wait for a break and hope that it came before The Mutilator killed again. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

On the drizzly night of Saturday, March 31, 1962, MacDonald was drinking at the Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst. Not just drinking though, another patron had caught his eye, and when Frank McLean staggered from the bar at around 10 p.m., MacDonald followed.

He caught up with McLean on Bourke Street, struck up a conversation and suggested they go for a drink. McLean readily agreed, but as they rounded the corner into darkness, MacDonald attacked, thrusting a knife into McLean’s throat.

McLean was much bigger than MacDonald and he tried to fight back. But in his inebriated state he was no match for the frenzied Mutilator. Blow after blow rained down, eventually dropping McLean to the ground. Then MacDonald was on him, slashing and stabbing. With McLean subdued, he dragged him further into the shadows, pulled down his pants and severed his genitals.

Frank McLean was still alive when he was found minutes later, but succumbed soon after. By then, the Mutilator was long gone.

The latest murder threw the city into a virtual sense of siege and placed the police department under immense pressure. They worked every avenue, setting up a dedicated Mutilator task force, exploring the possibility that the killer might be a deranged surgeon, raiding homeless shelters, even consulting with clairvoyants and a self-proclaimed witch. It got them nowhere.

In the meanwhile, William MacDonald was dealing with a raft of personal problems. First, he had an argument with his landlord and was told to vacate his apartment. Then, just days later, he was fired from his postal job.

He solved both problems by buying a small business (a combined sandwich shop and general dealer) in the suburb of Burwood, and moving into the apartment above the store.

The new arrangement suited MacDonald down to the ground, giving him privacy and independence. However, it wasn’t long before the urge to kill returned.

On Saturday June 6, 1962, MacDonald was at a bar called the Wine Palace when he met 42-year-old James Hackett. Hackett was a petty criminal, recently released from prison and down on his luck, so he was happy to accept MacDonald’s offer of free drinks and a bed for the night.

Back at McDonald’s apartment, the two continued drinking until Hackett passed out on the floor. The Mutilator then fetched a knife and plunged it into the sleeping man’s throat. However, the blow did not kill Hackett, he fought back, deflecting the next strike, causing the knife to slice through McDonald’s free hand. Enraged, the Mutilator unleashed the full fury of his homicidal rage on Hackett. The next blow plunged through Hackett’s heart, killing him instantly.

Yet even with his victim dead, MacDonald continued his frenzied attack, until eventually he fell exhausted to the floor. He then attempted to slice off Hackett’s genitals but lacked the strength to do so. Incredibly, he fell asleep next to the corpse, with the pool of blood welling around him.

MacDonald awoke the next morning in a state of panic. He’d never had to deal with the disposal of a corpse before and didn’t know what to do. Forcing himself to calm down, he washed and then went to a local hospital to have his hand attended to. He claimed that he’d cut it in an accident at his store.

When he returned to his apartment later, he cleaned up the blood. However, he was unable to get some of the stains off. Some of the blood had even seeped through the floorboards and spattered to the shop floor. And he still had to deal with the body. Eventually, he decided to hide Hackett in the basement, concealed in a darkened alcove.

The cleaning up took MacDonald the best part of the day. When it was done, he began panicking again. He was sure that the police would come looking for Hackett. They’d taken a taxi from the bar to his shop. Would the cabbie have remembered them? He wasn’t about to wait around to find out. That same night he shut up shop and boarded a train for Brisbane.

MacDonald laid low in Brisbane over the next weeks. Back in Sydney, meanwhile, his neighbors began to notice a putrefying stench coming from his shop and reported it to the Health Department. They in turn called the police, who broke into the store and found the badly decomposed corpse.

Hackett had been of about the same age and build as MacDonald, and it was therefore assumed that the unidentifiable corpse was that of the shop owner. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, the death was ruled an accident and the corpse was buried under the name Alan Edward Brennan. Some of “Brennan’s” former workmates at the Post Office even clubbed together for a wreath and a few of them attended the funeral.

MacDonald, meanwhile, had moved from Brisbane to New Zealand. He was unaware of the events in Sydney and of the lifeline that had been thrown to him. Had he known, he’d have been able to keep his head down and would have gotten away with five brutal murders.

But MacDonald didn’t keep his head down. While in New Zealand his homicidal urges again began to stir. However, for some reason, he felt that he had to be back in Sydney to kill again and he therefore made the fateful decision to return.

A short while after his arrival back in Australia, he was walking along George Street in central Sydney when he bumped into John McCarthy, one of his former workmates. McCarthy was stunned.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” he told MacDonald.

“What do you mean?” a perplexed MacDonald asked.

“They found your body under the shop in Burwood,” McCarthy replied. “I was at your funeral.”

In that moment, it dawned on MacDonald what had happened. Before McCarthy could say another word, he turned and ran down the street. A few hours later, he was on the train to Melbourne.

John McCarthy, meanwhile, had gone to the police to report the strange encounter. He was sent away with a warning not to waste police time. When he returned to following day the police again refused to believe him. Frustrated, McCarthy took the story to a reporter at the Daily Mirror, who ran it the next day under the headline, “THE CASE OF THE WALKING CORPSE.”

The publicity created by the newspaper article was immense, placing pressure on the Sydney police to re-open the case. The body of “Alan Edward Brennan” was exhumed and this time correctly identified as Patrick Joseph Hackett. Now the hunt was on for his killer.

MacDonald was eventually traced to Melbourne, where he’d dyed his hair, grown a moustache and was working under an assumed name as a railway porter. Yet the police still didn’t know who they’d captured until he confessed to being the “Sydney Mutilator,” providing graphic details of his horrendous crimes.

William MacDonald went on trial in September 1963. Charged with four counts of murder, he pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity. The jury disagreed, finding him sane and guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to life in prison.

At time of writing, William MacDonald, now in his late 80’s is still an inmate at the Long Bay Correctional Centre. He is one of Australia’s longest serving prisoners, but insists that he has no desire to be released.

Human Monsters Volume Four features another 29 shocking serial killer cases from around the world.