How A Fishing Line Caught One Of Australia's Deadliest Serial Killers

Until the 1950s, Perth was considered a safe place to live in Australia — but after Eric Edgar Cooke's random killing sprees, residents began to live in fear of "The Night Caller," per Perth Now. The serial killer committed 250 robberies and killed at least eight people, according to Nine News. After years of violent crime, it took a fishing line and some outside-of-the-box thinking to catch one of Perth's most notorious killers.

Per "The World Encyclopedia of Serial Killers: Volume Three," Eric Edgar Cooke was born in 1931. His family was frequently abusive toward him, and since he was born with a cleft lip facial deformity, he was constantly picked on by other kids. He got into lots of trouble as a youngster, racking up juvenile charges of stealing, vandalism, and even arson — he burnt down a local church after he was told he couldn't join the choir. 

Cooke joined the Australian military in adulthood but was later forced out when his commanding officers found out about his extensive rap sheet. Cooke then got married and had seven kids, but that didn't stop his record of petty crime: He began taking nightly strolls around the neighborhood to peer into people's windows.

Police catch the wrong person

Eric Edgar Cooke's crimes began to escalate around 1959, per the Australian Dictionary of Biography. That January, Cooke stabbed a beautician in South Perth. In the middle of February, Cooke changed his attack pattern and strangled a social worker in West Perth. Per the Herald Sun, Cooke then brutally killed a 22-year-old woman inside her own apartment in Cottesloe. For this attack, he used a tomahawk and a pair of scissors. Not only did Cooke avoid getting caught, but a different man, Darryl Beamish, was accused and sentenced for the Cottesloe attack.

In 1963, Cooke killed a 17-year-old girl in a hit-and-run murder, and once again, police accused the wrong man, leaving Cooke to walk free. So Cooke continued to commit hit-and-run attacks. At a time when people casually left their cars unlocked and the keys in the ignition, Cooke could easily hop into a car at night and roam around to commit crimes (per "The World Encyclopedia of Serial Killers: Volume Three"). He would then return the car before dawn, and the owner would be none the wiser. 

Killing at random in the middle of the night

In the middle of the night on January 27, 1963, Eric Edgar Cooke shot five people in Perth, Australia, seemingly at random, per the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Amed with a .22 caliber gun, Cooke first spotted a couple sleeping in a car and shot at them, wounding them. He continued on to his next victim, a 29-year-old accountant, who he killed while the man was sleeping inside his apartment, reports the Herald Sun. The accountant lived through the horrific incident, but he was permanently disabled after the attack. Next, Cooke walked up to a house, rang the doorbell, and shot the homeowner, a retiree, at point-blank when he answered the door. Cooke then shot a 19-year-old — the young man was asleep outside on the veranda of his boarding school – killing the student in his sleep. 

It was a massacre, with victims seemingly chosen at random and at their most vulnerable. Even though Cooke had been committing crimes for years, this sudden escalation left residents of Perth petrified and searching for answers (per Nine News). People started locking their car doors and sleeping inside their locked homes instead of on their verandas on hot nights. 

Cooke's many murder weapons

Less than a month later, Eric Edgar Cooke targeted another two people, killing both (via the Australian Dictionary of Biography). Police accused a different man, ​​Brian William Robinson, of the murders, and he was actually found guilty and hanged. Meanwhile, Cooke was still roaming free. Then, about six months went by before Cooke chose his next victim in August 1963, fatally shooting an 18-year-old babysitter (via the Herald Sun). Per the Australian Dictionary of Biography, this was when Cooke made a big mistake – - he left his .22 caliber gun behind. 

"The World Encyclopedia of Serial Killers: Volume Three" reports that part of the reason the police had so much trouble catching the criminal was that he changed his methods and weapons between crimes. Cooke committed hit-and-runs with stolen vehicles to kill some people. He shot people, strangled some victims, and used knives, axes, or scissors to hurt others. He targeted many of his victims while they were asleep, but others were subjected to brutal methods, like being strangled with an electrical cord and then sexually assaulted.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Fishing for a killer

The Western Australia Police reports that Eric Edgar Cooke had caused such terror that police were absolutely desperate to find the killer. They knew that Cooke's most-repeated weapon was a .22 caliber gun, so they scoured the area for anyone with a gun of that model. The Western Australia Police ended up finding and testing 60,000 weapons. They also fingerprinted 30,000 local men in hopes of finding a proper fingerprint match to the crime scenes. Per Perth Now, Cooke became known as "The Night Caller." 

Per the Western Australia Police, officials finally had a breakthrough around August 1963. A couple who had stopped to smell the flowers found a gun stashed inside a bush in Mount Pleasant and contacted authorities. Testing determined it was one of the weapons used in the Perth murder spree, and police crafted a plan to lure the murderer into the light of day. Officers began to survey the area night and day, waiting for the criminal to return to the scene of the crime. 

Cooke finally confesses

According to "The World Encyclopedia of Serial Killers: Volume Three," police planned to fish Eric Edgar Cooke out by replacing the real .22 with a replica that wasn't capable of firing ammo. Using a fishing line, they tied the gun to the bush. Now, they just had to wait for the killer to come back and collect the gun, giving them enough evidence to make an arrest. The Western Australia Police reports that two weeks passed without any sign of the killer. In total, it took 17 days before Cooke tried to collect the weapon, and he was immediately arrested.

Per Perth Now, after he was caught, Cooke told police his reasoning for the murders was the overwhelming sense of power he felt after buying a gun, combined with an irresistible urge to kill. He confessed to all of his crimes — eight murders and another 14 murder attempts — and was charged with "willful murder" in 1963 (via "The World Encyclopedia of Serial Killers: Volume 3"). Just under a year later, in October 1964, the man who terrorized Perth was put to death by hanging.