Perth, Australia, is the capital of Western Australia. According to their tourism site, Perth is an urban oasis among the vast nature of Western Australia – and that’s why the locals love it. But even in Paradise, there can be trouble.
In 1986, two predators were working together to satisfy their macabre appetites. For five weeks, David and Catherine Birnie were hunting victims, they did kill four of them, but the fifth got away.
David Birnie was born in Wattle Grove, Western Australia in 1951. People who knew the family said they were dysfunctional, and rumors spread about the family being promiscuous, alcoholics, and that they engaged in incest. It was also stated that the family home was filthy, the family didn’t have regular meals together, and that the parents didn’t cook for the kids.
In the 1960’s David met Catherine Harrison. It was also at this time, that he had left school and attempted to commit his first rape. David had been convicted several times for misdemeanors and felonies, and was in and out of prison. He had married his first wife in his 20’s and they had a daughter, Tanya. She has never married and her surname is unknown, as she didn’t want to continue the legacy of David Birnie.
Catherine Harrison was born in 1951. She was living with her maternal grandparents but when she was 10 her father got full custody of her. At the age of 12, Catherine met David and two years later she was in a relationship with him. As she was getting into trouble her father begged her to leave David. His disapproval only strengthened their union.
During her relationship with David, Catherine had been arrested. Her time in prison, helped her break away from David and when she was 21 she married Donald McLaughlin. Together they would have seven children, one would die in infancy. In 1985, Catherine left Donald and her children and went to live with David. They never legally married but she changed her name to Birnie by deed poll.
In 1986, Catherine and David had been making plans and practicing their sexual fantasies of rape and murder. They planned to make those real. October 6, 1986, Mary Neilson was 22 years old and one year away from graduating from University with a degree in psychology. David had met her and offered to sell her cheap tires. When she arrived at his home, she found herself gagged, chained to the bed and raped by David. Catherine watched. They then took her to a park where she was raped again, and then strangled. Mary was buried in a shallow grave.
Two weeks later, Susannah Candy who was 15 years old, was hitchhiking when she was picked up by the Birnie’s who had been looking for a new victim for hours. When Susannah entered their car she was held at knifepoint. Back at the house she was gagged, chained to the bed and raped. This time Catherine got on the bed after David raped Susannah, knowing that David liked this and they both assaulted her again. They forced sleeping pills down her throat and when she was asleep Catherine proved her love for David by strangling the girl. She was buried near Mary in the park.
Noelene Patterson, aged 31, had ran out of gas on her way home from work on November 1, 1986. David and Catherine had come upon her and once she was in their car, she had a knife to her throat and was told not to move. As per their modus operandi David had gagged her, chained to the bed, and raped repeatedly. They originally had planned to kill her that night; but kept her alive for three days. Catherine had noticed signs that David had developed an attachment to her. Giving David an ultimatum, David would either kill Noelene, or she would. David didn’t hesitate he forced sleeping pills down her throat, and then strangled her. Burying her in the same park, but away from the other two victims, Catherine took pleasure in throwing sand on her face.
On November 5, 1986, Denise Brown, aged 21, was waiting for a bus when she accepted a ride from David and Catherine. She was held at knifepoint and was then taken to their house. Denise was chained to the bed and raped. The next day they took Denise to the forest, raped her in the car, while waiting for darkness. After leaving the car, David raped her for a third time, and stabbed her in the neck. Believing her to be dead, the dug a grave and placed her in it. But Denise sat up, David then grabbed an axe, struck her twice in the head and then buried her.
November 9, 1986, 17 year old Kate Moir accepted a ride, and was abducted at knifepoint. She asked if she would be raped or murdered, and the Birnie’s replied that “we’ll only rape you if you’re good.” She was forced to sleep with the couple and handcuffed to David. Kate was also forced to call her mother and say that she had too much to drink and was staying with a friend. The next day, Kate escaped. Catherine was home with her and failed to chain her back up with doing a drug deal, and Kate took her chance to leave through a window. She managed to make it to a shop, and the police were called.
When the police arrived, she explained what had happened to her, the police at first were skeptical, except for one. Constable Laura Handcock believed her due to the amount of detail she had provided. She even had the address and the telephone number. Kate had read David’s name on a medicine bottle, she also stated the watched the movie Rocky and described a drawing she had concealed in the house as proof she was there. The police found the drawing and the copy of the movie.
David and Catherine were arrested and gave conflicting information during interrogation. Catherine denied meeting Kate, while David said she came to the house willingly for consensual sex. After police urged David to confess, he did. He also revealed where the bodies were buried.
David Birnie was sentenced to 4 life terms, plus one count each of abduction and rape. Catherine Birnie was sentenced to 4 life terms. Under Australia law at that time, they are both required to serve 20 years before being eligible for parole.
David Birnie committed suicide in prison and was found dead by hanging on October 7, 2005. Catherine was not allowed to attend his funeral. The couple had exchanged over 2600 letters while incarcerated.
Catherine remains in prison and has applied for parole every three years as allowed by Western Australia law. However the Attorney-General, has stated she would stay in jail for life.
Be strong, make good choices, stay safe