Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia's first serial murderer

Rate this book

From the acclaimed author of The Suitcase Baby and The Suicide Bride, the story of a series of horrific murders that began in 1930s Sydney - and a killer who remained at large for over two decades.

In December 1932, as the Depression tightened its grip, the body of a woman was found in Queens Park, Sydney. It was a popular park. There were houses in plain view. Yet this woman had been violently murdered without anyone noticing. Other equally brutal and shocking murders of women in public places were to follow. Australia's first serial killer was at large.

Police failed to notice the similarities between the victims until the death of one young woman - an aspiring Olympic swimmer - made the whole city take notice. On scant evidence, the unassuming Eric Craig was arrested. But the killings didn't stop...

This compelling story of a city crippled by fear and a failing economy, of a killer at large as panic abounds, is also the story of what happens when victims aren't perfect and neither are suspects, and when a rush to judgement replaces the call of reason.

352 pages, Kindle Edition

First published February 25, 2020

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Tanya Bretherton

12 books12 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
18 (23%)
4 stars
30 (38%)
3 stars
25 (32%)
2 stars
4 (5%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews
Profile Image for Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews.
1,915 reviews273 followers
April 22, 2020

Tanya Bretherton’s previous novel, The Suicide Bride, was shortlisted for the Danger Prize. This acclaimed author returns with another riveting and well told true crime based story. The Killing Streets closely examines a number of horrific murder cases of women that occurred across Sydney in the early 1930s.

Bretherton’s third historical based true crime novel looks at a series of brutal murders that took place in the heart of depression era Sydney. These murders begin their journey in Queens Park, Sydney. The body of a woman is uncovered in a well populated and frequented area. Despite the brutal nature of the murder, there are no witnesses and little clues. The Queens Park murder also signals the unfortunate beginning of a number of murders with similarities to this case. After a number of murders occur in public places, like the Queens Park case, the police deduce that a serial killer must be on the prowl. This reaches breaking point when an aspiring female Olympic swimmer becomes this deranged killer’s latest victim. There is increased pressure to find and arrest a suspect. However, in their haste, a suspect is arrested but the police are issued with huge problem when the murders continue. The Killing Streets charts a time when Sydneysiders were gripped with fear and uncertainty.

It was a more than welcome experience to be able to read and review the third true crime offering from respected author Tanya Bretherton. With a PhD in sociology and her work in narrative life history, along with social history, this senior research fellow has produced a series of books that are carefully researched. I admire Bretherton’s unique blend of bringing to life lost fragments of Australia’s criminal past, which is deftly combined with her critical interrogation of the historical conditions of Australia’s past. In The Killing Streets, Bretherton turns her attention specifically to 1930s Sydney and the case of Australia’s first serial murderer. It makes for a fascinating reading file.

As with her previous text, The Killing Streets sees Bretherton devote some time to highlighting the context in which the crime cases occurred. Bretherton draws our attention to the tough economic conditions of Australian society during the 1930s. The author also casts a critical eye over the treatment of women at this time. We see how this gaze directly impacted the way in which the police approached many of the murder cases. Class issues also come into play, as the lower class victims of this crazed killer did not receive the same police treatment as the aspiring Olympic swimmer. The unfair nature of the whole debacle of the murders is laid bare. From the bungled police work, to the lack of evidence, the absence of reliable forensics and the lack of witnesses. In the rush to convict a killer to appease the anxious public, we learn that a wrongful charge occurred, as the killings continued after the accused was jailed. The mind truly boggles as to how this was allowed to occur!

I was thoroughly impressed by Tanya Bretherton’s commitment to the research base of her book. Bretherton has ensured that The Killings Streets is supported by a range of sources. In her Author’s Note, Bretherton mentions the use of a range of primary sources such as inquest papers, court transcripts, files, gaol records, correspondence and newspaper articles. All this evidence helps to form a clear picture of the cases. However, there are some gaps in these sources, which Bretherton admits has impacted on the production of this book.

Over nineteen thrilling and informative chapters, Tanya Bretherton passionately transports the reader back to a dark time in Sydney’s tragic past. The Killing Streets opens up a deep wound, exposing an era filled with violence, economic strife, fear and anxiety, which sits alongside themes of injustice.

*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

The Killing Streets is book #47 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge
Profile Image for Jennifer (JC-S).
2,877 reviews197 followers
August 31, 2020
It was early morning on Saturday, 10 December 1932 when a forest-green dress was spotted, hooked in a spiky thicket of lantana in Queens Park.’

In her third true crime book, Ms Bretherton writes about a series of horrific murders that began in Sydney during the 1930s. The first body was found in Queens Park on 10 December 1932. A woman violently murdered in a popular park, and no-one noticed anything. Other women were found murdered: their bodies left in public places. But it was not until the body of a young aspiring Olympic swimmer was found that an arrest was made.

Eric Craig was arrested, and eventually charged over the deaths of two women. He was gaoled. But similar murders occurred. Was Eric Craig guilty? And why were some of the murders apparently considered worse than others?

‘Bad police work, inconsistent witness statements and gendered assumptions plagued all of these investigations.’

Sydney in 1932 was in the grip of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and, for some women, sex work was one of the few ways in which they could make money to feed, clothe and house their families. Some of the murdered women were sex workers. Assumptions were made, judgements followed.

I wonder how many deaths could have been prevented if the initial murder had been investigated more thoroughly? Granted, much of the forensic science we now take for granted was not available. I still feel that more could have been done.

I was unaware of these murders before reading this book. I appreciate the effort Ms Bretherton has gone to in providing the socio-economic background for these murders in eastern Sydney during the Great Depression. If you have an interest in true crime, then I recommend this book. Was this killer Australia’s first serial killer (as stated on the cover of the book)? I wonder.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Profile Image for Alice-Elizabeth (Prolific Reader Alice).
1,151 reviews155 followers
April 12, 2020
I got this on Audible with a free trial credit!

The Killing Streets is historical true-crime from the suburbs of Sydney, Australia way back in the 1920s when a serial killer was on the loose. When a man gets arrested and charged for the murders, he ends up behind bars yet the killing continues. Was the wrong man jailed or are there two different killers out there? This was a long, however, interesting listen. I liked the narrator and how much research was conducted into this real and deadly cases that rocked Australia.
Profile Image for Kimbofo.
784 reviews159 followers
July 12, 2020
Tanya Bretherton has made a name for herself in Australia as a writer of historical true crime. I have previously read The Suitcase Baby and have The Suicide Bride in my TBR. The Killing Streets is her latest.

It examines, in painstaking detail, a series of violent murders against women in Sydney in the early 1930s. It took a while for the police to cotton on, but eventually, the cases, in which the women’s bodies were found dumped in public places, were linked together and suddenly the hunt was on for Australia’s first serial killer.

Unfortunately, in their rush to convict someone, the police made many mistakes and got the wrong man: the killings continued regardless.

As well as being a fascinating account of (unreliable) police investigative techniques at the time, this book is also an eye-opening portrait of a misogynistic society in which women were merely the playthings of men and if they went missing or were killed it was their fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, wearing the “wrong” kinds of clothing, pursuing the “wrong” kind of career or simply belonging to the “wrong” class. This is very much a story of a society in which victim-blaming was king, where the police were quick to rush to judgement and where media coverage and hearsay had an entire city gripped by fear.

The Killing Streets is a thoroughly researched and highly readable example of narrative non-fiction that puts a series of Depression-era crimes into a social, historical and economic context. It gets a bit bogged down by detail in places and sometimes the creative elements of the narrative felt overdone, taking away from the reportage of the story, but on the whole this is a good one for true crime fans.
Profile Image for Kay.
151 reviews
May 2, 2023
With the proliferation of forensic-based, criminal investigations on TV - both fictional and factual - we have all become armchair ‘experts' in that most abhorrently fascinating criminal, the serial killer. Author Tanya Bretherton is well qualified (PhD in Sociology) in criminal research and has written a thoroughly informative book on what was likely the first serial killer in Australia.

Beginning in Sydney in 1932 The Killing Fields opens with the murder of a woman whose naked body was found by a teenage boy in Queens Park in an area of brambles and weeds. Her skull had been bashed in and she'd been left in a sexually explicit manner. Bretherton applies her research skills to create a plausible, authentic narrative around everyone involved regardless of their socioeconomic status. There were no witnesses and the police investigation was seriously lacking by today’s standards. Assumptions were made, evidence was not followed up and as more similar murders occurred there were many gaps in communication and investigative procedures. An arrest was made but the killings continued.

This was a time of ignorance, illiteracy, social injustice and poverty that led many women to become sex workers just to feed their families and there was almost an indifference to the plight of those who ended up being brutally murdered- as if they somehow deserved it. Obviously scientific and forensic methods were in their infancy but Bretherton details how botched evidence, supposed confessions and narrow minded presumptions allowed a serial killer to keep going. Compelling and highly recommended reading.
Profile Image for Travis Berketa.
Author 4 books23 followers
October 18, 2020
When my four stars show that I really liked it, I mean I like the shedding of light into some of Australia's dark history, back in 1932. As far as what happened and how it was handled - it was atrocious!

Tanya Bretherton researched and shared a little known story (or many little known stories) about the gruesome rape and murders of several women that lived in Sydney suburbs back in 1932. It was a real eye-opener as to the way police investigations worked (or didn't work) at that time. Filled with many holes in murder cases (and I would gather most other criminal cases), Bretherton reveals the sexist, racist and bigoted views that society held and police upheld back in those times. The fact that two women, who were prostituting themselves for money during the depression, were violently killed and the police kind of brushed them aside because of their profession, says a lot about people back then. The fact that they only started to really investigate the case when the daughter of a high profile sportsman was brutalised, also says a lot about society's values - considering that many were "god-fearing people".

Although very disturbing, I found the historical content interesting and flew through the book, just to learn more.
Profile Image for Jay Raams.
382 reviews
January 17, 2021
Trigger warning this book goses into detail about sexual assaults and murder of woman and children.

Well resurched and I like it when it is a balanced retelling not pushing guilt or condemning people. This book examines how the culture and the condemnation of woman can muddy the waters. Whether you see Craig as a killer or a man miss treated by the police you will find this an interesting look at Australia and the crimes that shaped its culture police force.
Profile Image for Madeline James.
18 reviews
March 12, 2022
It's amazing to think that any crimes were successfully and accurately solved back in the 1930's and 1940's after reading this book. The level of police investigation, the interferences in witness testimonials, the level of judgment toward women and their role in society, and arguments put forth in court are absolutely astounding! A great read and look into Australian crime from the past.
24 reviews
April 24, 2023
Little told story of a murders in Sydney during the depression. It is well researched and a lot of information regarding the law, the people and so much more. I have to say I still not sure after reading this if the police had the right man or not. He fits the profile but ....................
Profile Image for Lara Anderson.
47 reviews
April 4, 2020
Fascinating...and depressing. How often tropes of women enabled men to dismiss victims
Profile Image for Chloe.
3 reviews
May 9, 2020
A good insight in the early days of criminal investigation of serial killings in Australia.
Profile Image for Andrew.
104 reviews
May 14, 2020
Great insight into Australia (Sydney's) social / crime history
Profile Image for Annie Milham.
37 reviews1 follower
May 16, 2020
I found this book a very interesting page turner into Sydney's murderous 1930's era .....
Loved it
5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
756 reviews
January 18, 2021
Interesting read. Despite the blatant sexism and victim blaming, sadly, it doesn't seem like there has been substantial change since then.
14 reviews
April 9, 2022
Done it again

Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Certainly gives an insight into Australian ways in the 20’s and 30’s. Looking forward to my next Tanya Bretherton book
1 review
March 2, 2020
If you are looking for something a little different in the true crime realm, I strongly recommend Bretherton's books. She has a unique take on historical true crime, and its not like anything I have ever read. There isn't always a solution, and because it is real life - things aren't always neatly tied up in a bow where the criminal goes to prison and everyone applauds the police, but there is always a deeply personal and compelling story.
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.