Katherine Kovacic – The Schoolgirl Strangler

Echo Publishing, Australia, 2021

I am not usually a reader of true crime, but as a rusted-on fan of Katherine Kovacic and her Alex Clayton art sleuth mysteries (and especially Alex’s beautiful Irish wolf hound Hogarth), I was confident that this book would be superbly written and of substance. And I was not disappointed.

Barbie speaks with Katherine Kovacic about The Schoolgirl Strangler

The murders of four young girls which are the subject of this history took place in the 1930s in Victoria. The author takes us through the police investigation into each crime, the missteps and injustices, the anguish of the families and the fear of the communities.

At the time, there was no such concept as a serial killer and so the police were at a disadvantage in the early stages of their investigative process. It was simply inconceivable that a stranger or relative stranger would kill these children. Thus it was that the first two men suspected of the crimes were wrongfully accused – and tragically not supported to regain their lives in the wake of this.

What we experience, along with the factual accounts of newspaper reports, interviews with witnesses, court reports and, as the story progresses, the reports of professional medical experts, is the process of slow and painstaking enquiry into a set of crimes so heinous and seemingly without motive that the police were floundering in an enormous body of ‘evidence’.

One of the murders took place at a huge public event and resulted in thousands of people being questioned. When we consider the lack at the time of communications devices and forensic science to which we have become so accustomed in police work, it is a wonder that more children were not taken by this perpetrator.

The importance of taking every witness statement seriously and of following up on every sighting is driven home, along with the doggedness of the team who finally made the arrest after the fourth murder.

Throughout all of this, Katherine Kovacic ensures that our focus is squarely on the victims and their families. It is this which motivated her in the telling of this true crime story. Indeed, the aftermath of these crimes was not limited to the families themselves at the time. It flowed through generations and across the whole community.

This is a tough read in many ways but a story that needed to be told. In doing so Katherine Kovacic has honoured the four young victims of crime and their families. Her writing is fluent, elegant and empathetic, her capacity to engage the reader’s interest and sympathy consummate. This is a justice long in the waiting.

Thank you to Echo Publishing for the review copy.