Review: The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

Title: The Schoolgirl Strangler

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: 3rd January 2020, Bonnier Echo

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy BFredriksPR


My Thoughts:

When the body of a young girl, lured from the park by a stranger during the summer of 1930, is found bound, gagged and strangled in an abandoned house, Melbourne is stunned. The police quickly focus in on a suspect, but as they move ahead with the prosecution, another young girl is found bound, gagged and strangled in a vacant block. Twelve year old Mena Griffiths, and sixteen year old Hazel Wilson were the first two of four victims of a serial killer, given the media moniker of ‘The Schoolgirl Strangler’ that eluded the police for five years.

Drawing on newspaper reports, police records and court documents, author Katherine Kovacic lays out the particulars of each murder and the investigation into each crime in chronological order. I liked the structure Kovacic chose for this narrative though this is really only possible because of the unique path the investigation took, primarily as a result of several serious errors by the police. In the crimes against Mena Griffiths, Hazel Wilson, and twelve year old Ethel Belshaw, a different suspect was identified each time, leading to an arrest, and in one case even a false conviction. I found myself intrigued by the way in which the cases unfolded, which Kovacic reveals in detail. In the absence of modern crime scene techniques, and understanding (the term ‘serial killer’ would not be coined for decades), the charges were based on little else than flimsy circumstantial evidence and eventually fell apart, with the real killer having escaped notice. It wasn’t until the discovery of the tiny body of six year old June Rushmer in December 1935, who was also bound, gagged and strangled, that the man responsible for all four crimes was captured. With his prompt confession under questioning, the links between each case became clear.

The identity of the murderer finally revealed, Kovacic then leads us through his trial. What I found most interesting with regards to the prosecution of the perpetrator was the debate about his sanity. The killer blamed his actions on drink, claiming he lost his senses when under the influence and didn’t remember the actual commission of his crimes so could not therefore be held accountable. The defence ran with this, pleading insanity, combining it with the general assumption that a person who would strangle young girls for no discernible reason must suffer from a mental disease.

Kovacic presents a meticulous and astute account of a fascinating historical crime in The Schoolgirl Strangler, and I think readers of both the true crime, and crime fiction genres will find the narrative approach accessible and interesting.


Available from Echo Publishing Australia and Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

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