The Schoolgirl Strangler, Katherine Kovacic

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

THE SCHOOLGIRL STRANGER is a true crime book written by author Katherine Kovacic, as a result of something she encountered while researching Australian history for one of her earlier fictional novels (all of which are well worth reading if you've not had the luck to encounter them already).

This book is about the murder of four young girls in 1930s Victoria, Australia. Keeping the stories of the girls themselves foremost in the narrative, Kovacic uncovers the police struggle to identify potential suspects, especially in the time before quick communications, easily accessible records, and forensic techniques. It's also the story of what false accusations can do to somebody, and the terrifying prospect of a perfectly normal seeming person, living and working amongst us all, who is capable of the most awful crimes, and what's more sobering, seemingly willing and able to almost justify or qualify them in his own mind.

The story of what happened to Mena Griffiths (aged 12), Hazel Wilson (16), Ethel Belshaw (12) and June Rushmer (6) wasn't known to me at all before this book, and you can't help but pause to think why it is that a serial killer who struck in Melbourne, and then Gippsland isn't more widely in our awareness. This book certainly gives you a lot of insight into the devastation that the murders caused to the families and communities. The time it took to identify potential suspects gave much pause for thought, the dithering of the police and lack of connections drawn between the killings disconcerting, and the lucky happenstance of one man suddenly wondering about a workmate's movements sobering because it was that alone that lead to the solving of June Rushmer's killing, and to the connections finally being drawn to the other murders.

The portion of the book devoted to describing the murderer's trial, his defence of insanity, and the way that the trial played out is particularly interesting. Analysis from current day perspective of the mental health background and claims of the killer, the way that the defence structured their argument over psychopathy and the influence of alcohol, and the blinders missed by the prosecution were illuminating to say the least.

Structured slightly as a thriller in the early stages, THE SCHOOLGIRL STRANGLER strikes an excellent balance between readability, analysis and consideration of the killer's motivations and actions, whilst never allowing the reader to forget that because of his actions, there were four young girls whose lives were ended cruelly, prematurely and most violently. Their stories really do deserve to be told and remembered.


Book Source Declaration
I received a copy of this book from the publisher or author.
Year of Publication

The shocking true story of a serial killer in 1930s Melbourne.

November, 1930. One sunny Saturday afternoon, 12-year-old Mena Griffiths was playing in the park when she was lured away by an unknown man. Hours later, her strangled body was found, mouth gagged and hands crossed over her chest, in an abandoned house. Only months later, another girl was murdered; the similarities between the cases undeniable. Crime in Melbourne had taken a shocking new turn: this was the work of a serial killer, a homicidal maniac.

Despite their best efforts, police had no experience dealing with this kind of criminal. What followed was years of bungled investigations, falsely accused men - and the tragic deaths of two more girls - before the murderer was finally caught and brought to justice.

With all the pace of a thriller, Katherine Kovacic recounts this extraordinary, chilling true story - of failed police enquiries, a killer with a Jekyll and Hyde personality, and the families shattered when four innocent lives were cruelly taken.

Review The Schoolgirl Strangler, Katherine Kovacic
Karen Chisholm
Monday, February 8, 2021

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.