The neighbourhood children never really understood the tragedy that made them snatch furtive glances as they pedalled their bikes furiously past the abandoned brick house. The horrifying stories about this unremarkable dwelling filled their young heads with images of dead children and of a house, not unlike their own, spattered in blood.
Everyone had a different story to tell, and a popular rumour circulated that three brand-new bicycles were locked away in the ramshackle garage attached to the house, left behind by the children who once lived there. Sometimes, the more daring would run up and peek through the windows of the small caravan sitting in the front yard, but few dared to venture further. Even the industrious vandals who roamed Glenroy, gave it a wide berth. With its overgrown garden and decaying, neglected facade, the house in Cardinal Road slowly took on the persona of a classic haunted house.
Tucked away in the Melbourne suburb of Glenroy is a citadel belonging to the Salvation Army. constructed of brick, the building is built on two standard suburban blocks and stands out amongst the more conventional red tiled roofs and neat lawns of its immediate residential neigbours.
In 1970, the citadel was much smaller, and made of wood. Painted brilliant white, it was no lessing imposing than it is today. Primarily used for religious services, it also catered for community activities supported by the church. A big part of the Army is their music and every Wednesday night the Glenroy citadel hosted choir practice, or "songsters". Budding Salvo musicians would gather at the hall to practise their singing and music, and it wasn't uncommon on a balmy summer's evening to see people out for a walk stop and enjoy the music for a while. Wednesday 1 July 1970, was no exception to the practice schedule, although there was no one out walking on this particular evening - it was midwinter, dark and freezing cold.
Malcolm Thompson arrived for music practice about 7.30pm and parked his car in the front yard of the citadel. Walking towards the church, he noticed that the next-door-neighbours' car, an older model FE Holden, was parked near the front gate of their home, almost on the footpath. He considered this a little unusual; he knew the Crawford family well and had never seen their car parked there before. A few minutes after arriving he had to go out on a quick errand and saw that the car had been moved to the end of the driveway, up against the garage doors.
By the time Thompson returned, the citadel was full and practice was well under way. Outside, vague echoes of music and song could be heard in the wintry night air, interrupted only by the passing of an occassional car.
Next door, the Crawford family were settling in the for the evening. With her domestic duties finished for the day Theresa Crawford reclined in her favourite chair. Exhausted, she turned the chair to face directly into the radiating warmth of the briquette fireplace. Karen, the youngest child, had been sick with a toothache for two days and had kept the whole family awake the previous night. But now with the three children tucked up in bed and her husband, Elmer, out working in his garage, it was time to relax. She slipped on a pair of comfortable vinyl Jiffy slippers and began writing a letter to her sister, Vonny, who lived in Queensland. She had managed only a few lines when she heard the back door open, followed shortly by Elmer's familiar footsteps padding up the hallway. Taking no notice, she continued to write.
Sensing his presence in the living room a few moments later, Theresa put down her pen and paper and turned her head towards the living room door. Elmer stood directly behind her and, before she had a chance to speak, he bought a thick piece of lead-filled rubber hose crashing down on her head. Theresa groaned slightly and slumped unconsious to the floor.
Grabbing her by the arms, Crawford dragged his wife across the lounge room floor. Her slippers came off near the chair. Once in the master bedroom, he lifted her heavy, limp figure onto the double bed. She was still breathing. Putting his well-laid plans into action, Crawford picked up two of the strange looking devices he had made. Each consisted of a length of cable with an alligator clip on one end and a three-pin electrical plug on the other. He attached one clip to his wife's right earlobe, and the other to the fleshy area between the thumb and index finger of her right hand. What Crawford did next simply defies belief - he plugged the other end of the two leads into the wall socket and switched the power on. Theresa Crawford died almost instantly as 240 volts of electricity blasted through her body. The electrified clips left ugly burn marks on her hand and ear. The path of the current burnt yellow-brown welts into her neck. Normally, the resistance of such a current through a human body would blow the fuses - but Elmer Crawford saw that this would not happen. He had replaced two fuses in the meter box, swapping the thin fuse wire with a strand of normal electrical cable. This ensured the power stayed on while he carried out his deeds. Theresa Crawford's unborn child died with her.
When he was certain she was dead, Crawford switched off the electricity and left his dead wife lying on the bed. Picking up a hammer he had placed under the double bed, he walked out into the hallway and then into the bedroom where his two young daughters slept. The glow of a night-light in the hallway faintly illuminated their bedroom. He walked over the Katherine's bed. She was asleep, lying on her right side. Raising the hammer above his head, Crawford brought it down with as much force as he could muster onto the left-hand side of Katherine's head. She thrashed on the bed, spraying the walls and her father with blood that gushed from her gaping wound. Crawford brought the hammer down again, this time striking her in the centre of her forehead, shattering her skull a second time. He had to wrench the hammer from his twelve-year-old daughter's skull. After the second blow she didn't move again.
It was just before 8.00pm when the choirmaster in the citadel called for a short break. The singers took the opportunity to rest their voices and have a cup of tea. As he stood chatting with Malcolm Thompson, Salvation Army soldier Leslie Atherton's attention was drawn to some strange sounds coming from the Crawford house. The wall of the house was only a few metres away from the citadel and sound carried well. He heard what sounded like a pick or shovel striking concrete and he thought it very strange. The Crawfords were normally very quiet. Thompson was also listening to the strange sounds and Atherton said to him, 'It sounds like there's a bit of a fuss going on next door'. Both men listened and were puzzled. The wonder what was going on next door.
Elmer Crawford struck his six-year-old daughter to the right side of her forehead. She didn't move. Karen was spared electrocution- - Crawford could see her brain beneath the gash on her forehead and was convinced she was dead. He wasn't so sure about Katherine. Despite her massive head wounds, Crawford attached his crude, homemade, electrical devices to her hand and earlobe and plugged it in. Unlike her mother, Katherine was probably already dead as the electricity took its burning path through her body. In the third bedroom, something had disturbed eight-year-old James and he stumbled out of his room half asleep. He was a little frightened by the noises he'd heard, and started heading towards his parents' room. He walked past the room where his sisters lay dead. Crawford had started to wrap the girls' bodies in some bedding when he caught a glimpse of the little boy wandering past the doorway. He hurried out into the hallway, just as James turned into the master bedroom. Before James had time to realise there was something wrong with his mother, he was struck down by a vicious hammer blow to the side of his head. Mortally wounded, James crumpled to the floor at the side of his parent's bed. His blood spattered the sheets as he fell. Crawford ripped the leads from his dead wife and then proceeded to make sure his son was well and truly dead.
Elmer Crawford was sweating and paused for a few moments to smoke a cigarette, stubbing it out on the bedroom floor when he had finished. He moved back into the girls' room and finished wrapping their battered and bleeding bodies in sheets and blankets. Their room was a bloody mess. he then returned to the master bedroom and did the same with Theresa and James. Leaving a trail of blood, he dragged each curedly wrapped body, one at a time, out and along the hallway, through the kitchen and laundry, and then finally outside across the concrete paving and into the garage.
From the citadel, the Crawford house had fallen quiet, but Malcolm Thompson and Leslie Atherton were still curious about the noises they had heard. Just as they were preparing to resume practice, they heard more sounds, this time clearly from outside the house. Both men agreed that the laboured footsteps they could hear sounded like someone was dragging something heavy along the ground.
Crawford opened the back door of his car and placed each body inside the space where the back seat normally was. He'd removed it earlier and left it leaning against a wall of the garage. He covered his dead family with a tarpaulin and then loaded several plastic filled with petrol on top of their covered bodies. His small motor scooter was already in the boot. To ensure he wouldn't be interrupted while he disposed of the bodies, he placed a loaded .22 rifle, barrel down, near the clutch and covered its butt with a coat.
Crawford planned to drive to Port Campbell, hundreds of kilometres away in the west of the state, where he'd dispose of the car and bodies. It was at least a three-hour drive, and he needed to regain his composure before he left. It was essential that he was in control. He could not afford to attract any attention to himself. Inside the car was a cardboard box that Crawford had filled with old bank books, family photographs and an assortment of personal papers that he wished to dispose of. He added the electrical leads and the hammer that he had just murdered his family with to the contents of the box. He also stocked the car with biscuits, chocolate bars, some fruit and soft drink for sustenance along the way. He returned to the house, grabbed some blankets and turned off the lights. Leaving through the back door, he locked it and put the keys into the letterbox. He returned to the car and slammed the boot lid shut
Atherton threw a puzzled look at Thompson when they heard the boot slam shut and the car pull out of the driveway. By 9.00pm Crawford was on his way down Geelong Road, heading towards Loch Ard Gorge. The traffic was light and he had a swift, uneventful journey to this wild and remote part of the state. On his arrival at Port Campbell, Crawford hopened his car door and was blasted by the icy wind blowing straight off the Souther Ocean. He parked his car on the shoulder of the road, directly in line with the cliffs above the blowhole. The gutter which ran along side the road was too deep to drive the car across and there was the real possibility it would get bogged in the ground which was soft from the winter rains. Annoyed at his oversight, Elmer Crawford needed to do something to fill the culvert in so he could get the car over it. A little way from where he stood he could see the gutter was divided by a pile of dirt - big enough for one wheel of the car. It would do for one ramp. The shoulder of the road was lined with hundreds of small pieces of sandstone. Frantically, in the freezing wind and rain, Crawford started pulling up the white rocks and piling them into the gutter. The sharp-edged stones tore at his knuckles. He made a pile about two car tyres wide parallel to the existing pile of dirt which crossed the gutter. The water dripped in his eyes and despite his bleeding hands being numb with cold he was sweating from the exertion and the panic. Even though he knew it was a remote chance, every moment wasted could mean possible discovery.
Some kilmetres away, Elaine Blaire was getting ready for bed. Her house faced directly towards Loch Ard Gorge. As she went to her window to close the curtains, she noticed headlights coming from Loch Ard Gorge, near the blowhole car park. The lights were very bright and shing directly towards her house. Even though Elaine thought it unusual for someone to be there at that time of night, especially in the middle of winter, she took little further notice.
Once he'd finished filling in the gutter, Crawford opened the car boot and removed his motor scotter. With his gruesome task nearly complete, he hopped back into the car, wiped his bloodied hands on the seat and started the engine. Inside, protected from the wind, he shivered involuntarily from the wet and cold, but with adrenalin surging through his body he felt nothing. Behind him lay the dead bodies of his wife and three children. Carefully he backed the car into the centre of the road, then headed directly for the sandstone bridge he had made. It felt solid enough and he drove slowly across the gutter. Suddenly, the earthen wall partially collapsed and the front wheels slid into the culvert. Crawford cursed angrily and started to panic. If the car got stuck there would be no way he could get it out by himself and his plans would be in shambles. The rear wheels of the car were still on the shoulder of the road. He threw it into reverse gear and successfully backed out of the ditch. Relieved, he manoeuvred the car more to the right, so the right wheel would be closer to the centre of the earth crossing. This time the car went over without a hitch.
He still had a few things to do. In the boot there was some rop, a length of rubber hose and a large car battery with long wire leads attached to it. Crawford had stripped the leads of their insulation, leaving the wire bare. He threw the leads into the passenger area of the car. Crawford was determined to ensure the car and the evidence of what he'd done were totally destroyed. The petrol containers would burst on impact, and their highly flammable contents would be ignited by the live leads. The car would explode like a bomb before falling into the sea.
As a contingency, he'd intended to make it look like a murder-suicide by attaching the length of house to the exhaust pipe. He ran the hose diagonally across the roof of the car, tying it in several places on the roof-rack, before pushing through the driver's side window. Crawford then wound the window up, jamming the hose and holding it securely in place. He even went so far as to stuff the gaps around the window with some rags. Crawford was taking no chances. If the car was ever found then it would like look Theresa had suicided and murdered her children. With his morbit work almost complete, there was just one small thing to do. He needed to secure the car's steering wheel so it would run in a straight line without a driver. He tied a length of rop to the steering wheel and ran it through the car, pulling it taught and securing it by slamming the boot lid down on the other end.
Taking a final look at the tarpaulin that covered his family, Crawford turned off the car's engine and headlights, removed the keys and closed the door. There was no noise except for the wind and crashing of waves as he pused the car towards the cliff edge, about sixteen metres from where he was standing. Crawford set the car in motion and it gained momentum as it headed down the gradual slope. He stopped pushing well before the edge and watched as the car and the reamins of his family disappeard into the blackness of the night. He'd expected to see flash of light as the car exploeded, but was not overly concerned when he didn't - it was only an extra precaution and the car would be on the bottom of the ocean, anyway.
Pleased and somewhat calmer now that the eveidence of his crime was gone, Elmer Crawford walked back to the small motor scooter on the road. He dared not go to the edge of the cliff and check. It was too dark and the ground wet and slippery. Gunning the motor of the small scooter, Crawford left Loch Ard Gorge and headed back towards Melbourne.