MARTYRS, MURDERERS & MAYHEM
Episode One — Sister Annie, Sydney And The Spanish Flu
A century ago, a world already at war faced its worst-ever natural disaster: Spanish Flu. But in late 1918, this plague, which would claim as many as 100 million lives, was yet to infect Australia, with Sydney’s North Head Quarantine Station becoming the frontline in the battle against the deadly invader. Young nurse Annie Egan was among those brave souls who risked their lives to help the infected. Her fate sparked a furore — and foreshadowed what awaited many Australians in 1919.
Episode Two – When Melbourne Went Mad
Most cops are on strike. The few loyalist police left on duty risk life and limb because tens of thousands of citizens are crowding the streets and the mood is turning darker as fists and bottles fly. When the last cops defect or retreat just after dark, rioters become looters and the city becomes a war zone. With blood flowing in the streets, politicians summon a militia and order the military to protect the city. But this isn’t Berlin or Moscow. It’s Melbourne, November 1923, and Australia’s sophisticated southern metropolis is descending into anarchy.
Episode Three – The Botanic Gardens Massacre
While the random mass shooting that inspires a further murder spree seems a very modern and very American phenomenon, the first such outrage happened nearly a century ago in Australia. Melbourne’s 1924 Botanic Gardens Massacre saw the public turn paranoid and police and alienists mystified as the man the newspapers called a maniac evaded a huge manhunt. Then came the copycat killer.
Episode Four – The Mystery Of Marjorie Norval
It was the Teacher’s Pet-style mystery that gripped Australia 80 years ago. Brisbane socialite Marjorie Norval disappeared in November 1938 under bizarre circumstances, sparking the biggest search in Queensland’s history. In the days and months to come, four heroic rescuers would die, one of her rumoured lovers would commit suicide, and a light would be shone on the city’s shady characters, from illegal abortionists to peeping Toms.
Episode Five – The Comic Book Killer
From 1946 Sydney’s Leonard Lawson was a hero to kids for creating the comic book The Lone Avenger. But in reality the young artist was a psychopathic villain responsible for crimes far more terrible than anything in his stories. For five decades Lawson would outrage Australia by destroying innocent lives and make a mockery of the law’s ability to control violent offenders.
Albert Nichols was born in 1864 on remote Lord Howe Island. After a public scandal that saw him pitted against his parents, Albert fled to Sydney before working his way to London as a seaman. There he established a successful career with the White Star Line, working as a boatswain first on the company’s luxury liner Adriatic and then on the even-bigger Olympic. In April 1912 he transferred to Titanic, the greatest ship ever built and was aboard for the liner’s sea trials, for the trip from Belfast to Southampton and for the maiden voyage. His life story is told for the first time in this two-part episode — and, despite this being a true Titanic tale, you simply won’t believe the ending.
Episode Seven – The Parramatta River Murders
In March 1872 Australians were shocked by one of the most cold-blooded murders the colonies had ever seen. The nightmare began with the discovery of a badly decomposed body that had been weighed down with a heavy stone in the Parramatta River. Even more chillingly, it soon emerged that this victim, John Bridger, had been lured to his brutal death via an employment advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald. Then it became clear that this murdered man wasn’t the only victim…
Episode Eight – The Tantanoola Tiger
Australians are no strangers to big cat stories, but only one mystery resulted in the capture of not one but two monsters. In the early 1890s, witnesses claimed to have seen a tiger in the Tantanoola region of South Australia and graziers often found their sheep mutilated and partly devoured. Search parties failed to capture the beast until an expert marksman joined the hunt. Yet even after the creature was slain, sheep kept disappearing, falling prey to an even more terrifying predator.