Ipswich’s serial killer

An alleged killer was shot dead, another convicted, but doubt surrounded this series of horrific vampire killings seventy years ago. I told a version of this story live at an Outside Broadcast on West Bremer Radio.

In July 1949, a killer struck in South Ipswich, west of Brisbane the capital city of Queensland, that left eighteen dead. In January 1951, the killer was responsible for a further six deaths in East Ipswich. In March, the killer struck again with more dead at the Ipswich suburb of Newtown.  In July there were fourteen killed in North Ipswich.

An alleged killer was then gunned down in the streets, but the killing continued.

In May 1952, the killer struck again with another fourteen dead in East Ipswich. That same month, an Ipswich champion was found dead in Brisbane, and at last an arrest was made.

In almost every case, the head had been ripped off and the blood sucked from the bodies. Strangely, there was no other mutilation.

The fact that the victims had all been ducks and chickens made no difference to the brutality of this insane killing spree that was taking place all over Ipswich. Every one of the sick outrages was reported by the media.

Before the arrest, theories spread about who – or what – may be the culprit.

Arthur Corlett was a train collector living in Jackes Street off Salisbury Road in South Ipswich. His son flew model planes. Corlett suffered fifteen dead fowls and three dead ducks, and he thought that the killer was either a fox or a dog.

18 dead at the home of Arthur Corlett

John Lobley had been wounded three times in the First World War and was secretary of the Booval Stars soccer club. He lost eight chickens and believed that a wild cat was responsible

John Lobley

Others said that the murderer was a lone dog. Credence was given to this theory when a resident of Frederick Street in East Ipswich described the killer as about the size of a fox terrier with a bushy tail.

But no one could be sure. The only thing that was certain was that blood had been sucked from the bodies as if by a vampire-style maniac.

There were fourteen fowls killed in one night at the back of two houses on Musgrave Street in North Ipswich. Ten of the chickens belonged to Joseph Weir and he himself was dead within twelve months.

10 dead at the home of Joseph Weir

His neighbour was William Bryce. He previously had his milkman charged with arson when the milkman set fire to his house after delivering the milk. On this occasion, Bryce owned four of the dead birds.

It was reported the next morning that Bryce’s son Ian Bryce had shot the killer dead to end the rampages. He’d shot a fox and afterwards it was skinned and the pelt stretched out to dry.

But even after that, the Ipswich killings continued.

A widow Mrs Anna Lee of Tongue Street in East Ipswich was the next victim. She had one duck and thirteen chooks killed, and a further four reported missing.

Mrs Anna Lee

Then the body of a brown leghorn cockerel, which had just won first prize at the Ipswich Show, was found secreted under a fence at the Roma Street railway station in Brisbane. Criminal Investigation Branch detectives were dispatched. A nineteen-year-old soldier Maurice Hennessy was arrested as he waited for the train back to the Wacol army camp by Ipswich. He had blood on his shoes, and when questioned, he admitted to the killing. Hennessy was fined £5 and ordered to pay £5/5/- restitution.

But despite this conviction, and the earlier shooting and skinning of another alleged killer, the real Ipswich mass murderer was never truly identified.

That is until Mrs Una Elliott from Laidley spoke up. She said that without doubt it was a native cat, which is a Spotted-tailed Quoll. A Quoll is a medium-sized carnivorous marsupial. Today Quolls are endangered in Queensland, and extinct is some parts including Ipswich.

Spotted-tail Quoll

Mrs Elliott explained that a fox takes the fowl away to eat, but the Quoll just sucks the blood and leaves the body behind. She described Quolls as lean animals with a brush tail.

Mrs Elliott had it right because, although the killer was nev3r caught, her description fitted perfectly the evidence gathered throughout Ipswich’s mass killing spree of seventy years ago.


Photo credits:
Christopher Lee as Count Dracula – Trackdelphi, Wikimedia Commons.
18 dead at the home of Arthur Corlett, 3 Jackes Street, South Ipswich – Google Maps 2022.
John Arthur Lobley, 1910 – Ancestry, uploaded by Bill O’Sullivan 2011.
10 dead at the home of Joseph Weir, 25 Musgrave Street, North Ipswich – Google Maps 2022.
Mrs Anna Lee – Ancestry, uploaded by rhondab25 in 2019.
Spotted-tail Quoll – ABC 2009, Darren Skelton DSE.

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