CONVERSATION WITH THE EASEY STREET KILLER?
by contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence
THE INFAMOUS Easey Street murders in Collingood remain as cold a case as the two corpses discovered by a next door neighbour more than forty years ago.
Maggots were already feeding on the spoils of death and violence towards women in that little, cosy terrace house.They never go hungry, such is the proliferation of murder most foul. Maggots of another kind have been eating into me for decades about these murders. I’m not the only one.
I don’t know of any other murder in the past fifty years in Australia, where there has a proliferation of forensic and other evidence and more than 100 suspects — and yet Victoria Police has failed to identify the murderer(s) if dead, and bring him to justice if he – or any accomplices – are alive.
The mystery of who killed these vivacious, well-travelled and adventurous women who brought so much fun and friendship into their community, and into so many lives continues to be an open wound in Victoria. Like the Hoddle St massacre, its knife has cut deep into the flesh of the State’s collective psyche.
The family, the community, the State – and most of all, our sisters Suzanne and Susan deserve justice – and answers. Activists and investigators must continue to fight for justice for these women — and for the sake of all of us.
Why were Police "pulled off" the case? One "reason" is the women were regarded as being free in their sexual habits. By any measure this sickening attitude smacks of “she’s asking for it” and slut-shaming. Let’s put a name to it. Here’s another one #MeToo.
Suzanne Armstrong (left) and Susan Bartlett (Images via abc.net.au)
Many of us are still traumatised by the Easey St murders — not the least, it is understood, the families and friends of the women. The hurt continues in the wider community.
On the 17th of January 2017, Independent Australia published an article about the murders that unleashed not only a number of theories about the murderer, but also important from our readers and the wider community that continues to this day.
Two days before our article was published Victoria police upped the reward to $1 million for any information that would lead to the killer. The reward remains uncollected, gathering fingerprint dust on a cold case that Victoria Police seems determined never to solve.
What is more, the reward seems to be nothing more than a gagging device. A number of journalist colleagues and "citizen" investigators have told me that when they approach VicPol for access to information and updates about this frozen- in-time case apparently designated "never to be solved", they are fobbed off with asinine excuses, variations on the theme of "the case has been reopened and so we can’t comment while an investigation is on foot, or give you access to files’".
Who killed housemates and schoolmates Suzanne Armstrong and Susan Bartlett in a savage, frenzied bloody murder in January 1977?
Was it the invisible man who phoned me, he said, from Victoria Army Barracks, chastising and mocking me for being unobservant when I visited the horrendous crime scene at Number 147 Easey St., ridiculing me for failing to mention the name of the record on the turntable when the bodies were found?
Thanks to research by journalist and author of a new book on the murders, MURDER on EASEY STREET – MELBOURNE’S MOST NOTORIOUS COLD CASE, Helen Thomas, I now have a photocopy of the original article published on January 21, 1977 about the Easey Street murders that I wrote for the now defunct Melbourne Herald.
It was this article that prompted a strange and frightening phone call from the possible murderer.
In that phone call, he chastised and mocked me for my lack of observation, saying I failed to mention what record was on the record player’s turntable.
I had thought, in the passing of time, that I must have mentioned the record player in the article.
After Thomas sent me the copy, I broke out in a cold sweat whilst reading it. As you will see from the full text we now republish, nowhere in the article do I mention the fact that the women even had a record player.
Please read on...
A brother, a father amid broken dreams
Outside 147 Easey St.*, Collingwood, old papers and sales catalogues strew the doorway…
The garden of the brown and white terrace house looks freshly weeded…
But the eager hands that weeded it are now still — like the summer breeze that follows the sun up to the front door, only to turn away.
No breeze and no sun in this house.
Only a brother and a father. Come to collect a roomful of broken dreams from a sister and daughter.
But broken dreams slip easily through the fingers that collect them. There are moments when the brother and father have to be still. Especially when the pieces start to fit.
Hanging shrubs are suspended from the veranda like unwatered hope, dying now from lack of attention.
Past them walk Martin Bartlett, 28-year-old Susan Bartlett’s brother and ...year old Suzanne Armstrong’s father, Bill. They are here at Easey St., to collect the dead girls’ belonging’s – a ritual that should never have taken place – but they bear it with strength.
They walk in and out of the house, sorting clothes and belongings, trying hard not to hear the silent screams of the dying, trying hard not to taste the fear, or hear footsteps running, running, running.
I am an intruder in Suzanne Armstrong’s bedroom. The walls here, as in the hall, are smothered with a murderer’s taste in décor — bloodstains and fingerprint dust.
Macabre wallpaper stencilled in blood (Source: theage.com.au)
Her dressing table is lazy, like mine. A bottle of Oil of Ulan, Nivea cream, Prue Acton make-up, a shopping list that will never be bought and a child endowment claim that will never be collected by Gregory’s mother.
In social security decorum, the claim refers to Suzanne as Mrs Armstrong. She was not married and she was strong-willed. Friends say she objected to the “Mrs”.
Her double-bed is at the foot of a tartan wall-papered wall. Over the fireplace filled with dried flowers is a Balinese drawing.
Books lean drunkenly on a shelf. All the titles tell a story about Suzanne Armstrong: Dog Day Afternoon, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, The Lord of the Rings, and Childbirth Without Fear.
I know that Suzanne Armstrong did not die without fear. Not because of circumstance but because these walls leak a horror that drips through the air.
Bill Armstrong sighs and shakes his head in bewilderment, as he has a thousand times already. Disbelief is still anaesthetising his grief.
“I know two wrongs don’t make a right,” he says with apology. “But please, he must be found, the man who did it must be found…"
“She was a wonderful girl. Oh, wonderful and independent. Did everything by herself. Always did."
Strong-minded. A strong will.
“I remember when we first brought her home. Her first day, you know, she just sat up and had a bit of a look at the world; as if to say, so this is it, eh? This is where you’ve brought me?” He breaks the conversation for a few seconds and then…
“She’s always done well — could have got a job anywhere. Well, she travelled the world twice. She mixes in anywhere.”
Bill gets his tenses mixed up talking about Suzanne. You can’t bury the dead in a matter of days. It takes years for their presence to lay still; for the past to catch up with the future.
“But I have to do it,” says Bill. “Please, if anyone knows anything, I beg you to come forward. He’s got to be found... I still can’t get it into my head that she’s...”
The word never comes. He goes on packing. None of Suzanne’s clothes will be wasted. What isn’t kept will be sent to some organisations to clothe someone else.
Just down the hall, I walk over and alongside the murderer’s invisible footsteps. Where is he or they? He must get up in the morning, wash and dress, buy milk, eat, drink, sleep. He is in our midst. You or I; one of us knows him.
How well did he know Susan Bartlett? Does he know that Susan has just started another tapestry, wall-hanging on the mammoth loom in her room?
Did he notice the Michelangelo prints on the wall? One of them is a portrait. I don’t know whether it’s Christ or not. And the other is the Madonna and Child.
Martin Bartlett and some of his closer friends are packing his sister’s belongings into carton boxes. They look at each other in silent acknowledgment when they find a bottle of claret in the bottom of the wardrobe they’d brought ages ago to celebrate Mrs Bartlett’s birthday.
They pack away the miniature spinning wheel that one of Susan’s pupils gave her as a present when she was sick last year.
In the kitchen, Martin finds the soda siphon he gave his sister for Christmas.
“If only people would realise what it means to us,” says Martin “to find whoever did it”.
“Not only for our peace of mind but also theirs. It would help the community and we could all rest a lot easier — especially women.”
“He’s out there, living an existence. If someone suspects anything or anyone, will they please go to the police. It doesn’t matter how insignificant they think it is."
“I’m still so stunned...”
When the brother and the father were leaving that house today, with their broken dreams packed in cardboard and glued with tears of grief, whose name did the walls whisper?
* There was a typo error in this edition of the paper in this original article and we have put in the correct address.
Thomas’ book, published by energetic Black Inc.,under their Nero imprint, eclipses anything that has thus far been written about the murders. It’s a must read. Especially for Victoria Police. They might learn something.
Her incisive mind and pen, exposes the shallowness and incompetence of many involved in VicPol and ancillary agencies. At the time of the murders. And since. But it is also heartbreaking to anyone remotely interested in justice for these women and anyone interested in identifying the murderer.
You will read for yourselves of the lost opportunities, by the police, incompetence and possibly cover-up. The latter is a sensible possibility, given the failure by police to interview and take statements from key family members and other salient witnesses — or to follow up distinct leads.
It’s clear that VicPol have little serious intent on solving these murders and there is a great and hopeful possibility that the general public can and will eventually solve them for us.
Somebody knows something. Managing editor of ABC News Radio, Thomas writes with experience and insight. She has sieved and pored her way through the fact and fiction of this awful tragedy. It is deeply compelling OnThursday evening, Thomas will be speaking at a special gathering at the Collingwood Library, in the eclectic boho-leaning suburb where the murders took place.
I am mindful of the fact that whenever we journalists refer to community trauma, it can be ghastly for families and friends. I am mindful too, that such violence does not happen in isolation to neighbours and the close and wider communities. Community grief over these murders is still palpable.
It can never be completely assuaged, but it could be lessened if the murderer is identified and/or caught.
It is to be hoped that locals will be among the audience and contribute to the discussion — maybe even someone who knows who the murderer is. Maybe the mysterious person who called me about the record will be there.
Independent Australia readers will receive a 10% discount on the Easey Street book by Helen Thomas by using the code Easey10 when they purchase the book from the Black Inc website.
DO YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION ABOUT THE EASEY STREET MURDERS? ANY TIPS? IF YOU DO, CAN YOU LET US KNOW IF YOU CONTACTED THE POLICE ABOUT IT? DID THEY FOLLOW UP? WE’D LOVE TO KNOW. IF THE POLICE DON’T CARE, WE DO! PLEASE CONTACT US HERE: firstname.lastname@example.org
We understand that the above article may cause trigger reactions in you or someone you know. If so, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or contact them online lifeline.org.au
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.