8. Eric Edgar Cooke (1931-1964), convicted serial murderer
Eric Edgar Cooke achieved notoriety as the last person to be executed in Western Australia. He was a random killer who ended Perth’s relaxed mode of living exemplified by unlocked doors and outdoor sleeping arrangements.
At 14 Cooke left the fifth school he had attended and took on a variety of jobs. Later he joined the regular army where he was noted for his skill with a rifle. He was discharged after it was discovered that he had a string of previous convictions for house break-ins.
Meanwhile Cooke married Sally Lavin, a 19-year-old waitress, and they produced seven children. During this time, Cooke was arrested several times as a “Peeping Tom”, for stealing a car, and for other minor offences.
Early on 27 January 1963 Cooke killed three people and wounded another two. In August that year he shot dead a student on a babysitting assignment. Police still had no suspect for the murders as Perth went into a state of deep hysteria. Locksmiths and dealers in large dogs prospered.
Surveillance police arrested Cooke as he returned to reclaim a rifle he’d hidden earlier. The sigh of relief around the city was almost tangible. After his arrest, Cooke confessed to numerous crimes including eight murders, 14 attempted murders and many burglaries. It was generally agreed that Cooke had committed at least another two earlier and unsolved murders. The story which came out at his trial was one of parental abuse and brain damage.
Cooke was convicted. He went to the gallows – the last person to be hanged in WA – claiming he had committed the murders for which John Button and Darryl Beamish had been convicted. John Button’s conviction was quashed in 2002, and Darryl Beamish was exonerated in 2005.