Eric Edgar Cooke was born on the 25 February 1931 in Victoria Park, a suburb of Perth and was the eldest of three children.
As a child Cooke's father, who had been forced into marriage, showed no affection towards his oldest child and only son, and he would often become a victim of his fathers' alcoholic addiction resulting in beatings for no apparent reason. Cooke was beaten by his father when he tried to protect his mother from his father's violent outbursts of rage.
Cooke had been bullied at school for the impediments of a hare lip and a cleft palate. Surgical operations to repair the deformities were not totally successful and left him with a slight facial deformity and he spoke in a mumble. As a teenager Cooke, rejected by his peers due to his disability, had no social life and spent his nights involved in petty crimes and vandalism.
Cooke would later serve 18 months in jail for burning down a church after he was rejected in a choir audition.
At age 21 Cooke joined the Permanent Military Forces but was discharged three months later after it was discovered that before enlistment he had a series of convictions for theft, breaking and entering, and arson.
A year later on the 14th of October 1953, Cooke aged 22 married Sarah (Sally) Lavin, a 19-year-old waitress, at the Methodist Church in Cannington. They were to have seven children. Although now happily married with children Cooke continued to roam the streets every night and was arrested several times for "peeping tom" and other minor offenses.
Cooke's strange killing spree involved a series of seemingly unrelated hit and runs, stabbings, stranglings and shootings which had Perth completely terrorised. This was an unusual serial killer whose methods seem as random as his choice of victims. His behaviour was inconsistent and bizarre. The various shootings had been carried out with several different rifles. Victims had been stabbed with knives, scissors and hit with an axe. One victim was shot dead after answering a knock on the door, several were killed after waking while Cooke was robbing their homes. Two were shot while sleeping without their homes being disturbed. After stabbing one victim he got lemonade from the refrigerator and sat on the porch drinking it. Another was removed from her home after she had been killed and left on a neighbors lawn holding an empty whisky bottle as if she had fallen asleep while drunk. In the 1960s people often left the keys in their cars ignition. Cooke would steal a car almost every night, returning it before the owner awoke and it was later discovered that the cars involved in several hit and runs had been returned without the owners realising they had been stolen. Cooke was to later claim he just wanted to hurt people.
Cooke was caught when a rifle was found hidden in a bush and ballistic tests proved the gun was used to murder Shirley McLeod. Police returned to the location and tied the now unloaded rifle to the bush with fishing line, constructing a hide in which police waited for the owner to collect it which Cooke did two weeks later. When captured, Cooke confessed to numerous crimes, including 22 violent crimes - 8 murders, and 14 attempted murders. He was convicted on the specimen charge of murdering John Lindsay Sturkey, one of Cooke's five Australia Day (1963) shooting victims. In his confessions, Cooke demonstrated an exceptionally good memory for the details of his crimes irrespective of how long ago he had committed the offence. For example, he confessed to more than 250 burglaries and was able to detail what he took including the number of coins and their denominations of the small change he had stolen.
The other murder confessions included those of Jillian Brewer and Rosemary Anderson for which Darryl Beamish and John Button had already been convicted and imprisoned. Cooke's confessions were referred to in appeals by Beamish and Button but, although Cooke had given details withheld by police that only the killer would have known, little credence was given to Cooke's testimony; West Australia Chief Justice Sir Albert Wolff called him a "villainous unscrupulous liar" and the prosecution claimed that both confessions were an attempt to prolong his own trial.
Cooke was convicted of wilful murder on 28 November 1963 after a three-day trial by jury in the Supreme Court of Western Australia before Justice Virtue. He was sentenced to death and despite having grounds to appeal ordered his lawyers not to apply claiming that he had killed and deserved to pay for what he had done. Ten minutes before the sentence was carried out Cooke swore on the Bible renewing his rejected claim that he had been the killer of Jillian Brewer and Rosemary Anderson. Cooke was the last person to be hanged at Fremantle Prison, on 26 October 1964.
Cooke is buried in Fremantle Cemetery, above the remains of the child-killer, Martha Rendell, who was hanged in Fremantle Prison in 1909 and was the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia.
Two other Australians were convicted of crimes later attributed to Cooke:
Darryl Beamish, a deaf mute convicted in 1961 for the 1959 murder of Jillian Macpherson Brewer, a wealthy woman originally from Melbourne. He served 15 years despite Cooke's 1963 confession to the crime. His conviction was quashed in 2005 after evidence pointed to Cooke being the killer.
John Button, who was jailed for ten years (served five years) for manslaughter in the death of his girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson, a conviction that was quashed in 2002 after evidence proved Cooke was the killer.
A memoir, The Shark Net by Robert Drewe – later made into a three-part TV series – provides one author's impressions the effect the murders had on the Perth of that era. According to the book, more people bought dogs for security and locked back doors and garages that had never been secured before.
"The Nedlands Monster" also features in Tim Winton's 1991 novel Cloudstreet.
The Walkley Award-winning journalist, Estelle Blackburn, spent six years writing the biographical story Broken Lives, about Cooke's life and criminal career, focussing particularly on the devastation left on his victims and their families.
In March 2009, the second season of Crime Investigation Australia featured an episode about Eric Edgar Cooke.