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Easey Street Remembered

Marg Hutton
12 February 2002

There has been a lot of media coverage commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Granville train disaster, but I have not seen or heard any mention of the murders of two young women that occurred in Easey Street, Collingwood around the same time.

The brutal, frenzied, bloody attacks that claimed the lives of Suzanne Armstrong and Susan Bartlett in their white brick rented cottage at the eastern end of Easey Street Collingwood in January 1977 profoundly affected me and the circles I moved in. For those of us living in the feminist ghetto, the Easey Street murders were far too close to home - not just because Easey street was right in the heart of our neighbourhood, but Armstrong and Bartlett were about the same age as we were and like us they were living without men. We identified with them - they were our sisters. It was far less than 'six degrees of separation' - many of us knew someone who knew one of them. I had a friend who lived at the other end of Easey Street and taught at Collingwood Education Centre with Bartlett.

The media sensationalised the murders. Even then we knew we were witnessing something extraordinary - the name of the street, combined with the details of the case lifted it into the realm of nightmare and legend. For more than a week newspaper headlines, television and radio all screamed the details of the murders. We read about how the women had been viciously raped and repeatedly stabbed - each body had more than twenty knife wounds. One of the women had been desperately trying to flee from her attacker and had nearly made it to safety - her body lay in a pool of congealed blood in the hall just a few feet from the front door. The murderer had cleaned up in their bathroom before disappearing into the night. It took two days before the bodies were found - several friends and relatives dropped into the house and left notes on the kitchen table for the women who were dead on the floor just metres away; and all the while Armstrong's two year old son lay sleeping in his cot...

We were all aware that most sexual assaults against women are perpetrated by someone close - a husband, boyfriend or other close male relative the most likely offenders. But the Easey Street murders didn't seem to fit that pattern. The police seemed to have no idea who committed these horrific crimes and portrayed the perpetrator as a crazed madman who would strike again.

Some of us refused to give in to the panic and fear that the police and media were generating and fought back. The walls and billboards of inner suburbs of Melbourne were spray painted with slogans protesting about rape and the media exploitation of the case. A demonstration against rape in Collingwood was attended by hundreds.

For me it was all too much. It tipped me over the edge. Five of us went camping one weekend not long after the murders. On our second day away we pitched our tent in a deserted spot in the scrub above an ocean beach - no houses or shops nearby and no amenities - just us, our station wagon and tent. Sometime in the late afternoon another car arrived. Two men. We ignored them, hoping they would leave and went down to the beach to swim in singlets and knickers refusing to be intimidated by their presence. They watched and leered from overhead. Around dusk as we lit a fire and prepared dinner they got something out of the boot - two rifles. Great. Here we were, five women out in the middle of nowhere and two young blokes with rifles our only companions. They cracked open the beer and sat in their car cleaning their guns...

Even now I'm unsure about the validity of my response. All I can remember is the overwhelming sense of terror and dread. I was certain that these two drunks with their rifles would attack us during the night - why else were they here - they hadn't set up a tent and they were obviously very interested in everything we were doing. The group consensus was that I was paranoid - the men were here for the rabbiting and that's why they had rifles. And anyhow, there were five of us and only two of them so they were not a threat. I was not convinced, remembering Richard Speck and the eight nurses, and the horror of the Easey Street murders still fresh in my mind. I talked about leaving but lacked the courage to hitch home alone. So I stayed and lay awake all night, watching the men's shadows on the tent walls as they moved around outside, listening to their voices as they continued to drink and carouse into the early morning.

Nothing happened of course, except I returned to Melbourne feeling incredibly diminished. I understand now that there is a fine line between anger and fear. For the others, anger was predominant, but for me fear had won the battle. There is no doubt I over reacted - but I am sure that my reactions were fuelled by the graphic media coverage of Easey Street.

As far as I am aware the Easey Street murders remain an unsolved crime.

 
See also
Gerry Carman, Sex Killer Bathed in House, Age, 17 January 1977

Michael Gordon, Three sought in sex killings, Age, 17 January, 1977

Surrender Plea to sex killer, Age, 19 January 1977

Michael Gordon, Knife Murder Clue, Age, 21 January 1977

Women stabbed 84 times, inquest told, Age, 13 July 1977

Barbara Romeril, Communities Marching Together Against Violence 35 Years Apart, 2 October 2012