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Almost PerfectThe True Story of the Crawford Family Murders
By Greg Fogarty
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Greg Fogarty
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAlmost Perfect
The neighborhood children never really understood the tragedy, but were inexplicably drawn to it, snatching furtive glances as they pedaled their bikes furiously past the abandoned brick house. The horrifying stories surrounding the otherwise unremarkable dwelling filled their young heads with images of dead children and a house, not so different to their own, spattered in blood.
Everyone had a different story to tell and there was a popular rumor that locked away in the ramshackle garage were three brand-new bicycles, left behind by the children who once lived there. Sometimes, the more daring kids would run up and peek through the windows of the small caravan sitting in the front yard, but few dared to venture the few extra yards to the garage. As time passed, the house remained empty and dead, even the industrious vandals who roamed Glenroy, gave it a wide berth. With its overgrown garden and decaying, neglected facade, 136 Cardinal Road slowly took on the persona of a classic haunted house.
Tucked away at the northern end of Cardinal Road is a citadel that belongs to the Salvation Army. Constructed of brick, the building spreads out over two standard suburban blocks and stands out among the more conventional red-tiled roofs and neat lawns of its immediate residential neighbors.
In 1970, the citadel was much smaller, constructed of wood, painted brilliant white, but no less imposing then than it is today. Primarily used for religious services, it also catered community activities supported by the church. Music is a big part of the Army, and every Wednesday night the Glenroy citadel hosted choir practice, or songsters. Budding Salvation Army musicians would gather at the hall to practice, 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, July 1, 1970, was no exception to the practice schedule, although there was no one out walking on that particular evening; it was midwinter, dark, and freezing cold. Malcolm Thompson arrived around 7:30 p.m. and parked his car in the citadel's front yard. Walking toward the church, he noticed that the car next door, an older model FB Holden, was parked near the front gate of the house, almost on the footpath. That was a little unusual; Thompson knew the Crawford family well and had never seen their car parked there before. A few minutes later, he had to go back out on a short errand and saw that the car had been moved. It had been reversed down the driveway so that the trunk was resting against the doors of the garage. By the time Thompson returned from his errand, 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 occasional car.
Next door, the Crawford family was settling in for the evening. With her domestic duties finished for the day, an exhausted Theresa plopped herself in her favorite chair. She turned the chair to face directly into the warmth of the briquette fireplace. Karen, her youngest child, had been sick with a toothache for two days and had kept the whole family awake the previous night. Now with dinner over and the three children tucked into bed, it was time to relax. Her husband Elmer was out working in his garage. Theresa took the opportunity to slip on a pair of comfortable vinyl jiffy brand slippers and began writing a letter to her elder sister Vonny, who lived in Queensland some one thousand miles away. Theresa had a very close relationship with her nine siblings, particularly Vonny, but with visits rare and telephone calls very expensive, their communication generally was via mail.
She'd managed only a few brief lines when she heard the backdoor open, followed shortly by Elmer's familiar footsteps padding up the hallway. She took no particular notice and 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 toward the living room door to face her husband. Elmer stood directly behind her, and before either of them said a word, he brought a thick piece of rubber hose filled with lead crashing down onto her head. Theresa groaned slightly and slumped unconscious to the floor.
Grabbing his wife by the arms, Elmer dragged her out into the hallway, then into the master bedroom across the way. Her slippers came off near the chair as he dragged her prostrate figure toward the hallway. He lifted her heavy, limp figure onto the double bed; he could see she was still breathing. Putting his master plan into action, Elmer pulled two strange-looking devices from his pocket. Each one consisted of a length of electrical cable with an alligator clip on one end and a three-pin electrical plug on the other. He attached one clip to his unconscious wife's right earlobe and the other to the fleshy area between the thumb and index finger of her right hand. Then he plugged the other end of the two leads into the wall socket and switched on the power. Theresa died almost instantly as 240 volts of electricity blasted through her body. The electrified clips left ugly burn marks on her hand and ear, and the path of the current burned yellow-brown welts into her neck and down her arm. Typically, the resistance of such a current through a human body would blow the fuses, but Elmer ensured that did not happen. Earlier, he'd replaced two fuses in the fuse box, substituting the thin fuse wire with a strand of normal electrical cable. That ensured the power would stay on while he carried out his murderous deeds. Theresa was three months pregnant, and her unborn child died with her.
Once he was certain she was dead, Elmer switched off the electricity and walked out of the master bedroom, turned right and then left into the bedroom where his two young daughters were sleeping. A nightlight in the hallway faintly illuminated the girl's room.
Elmer's shadowy figure approached his eldest daughter's bed. Twelve-year-old Katherine was sound asleep, lying on her left side. Raising a hammer high into the air behind his head, he brought it down with as much force as he could muster onto the right side of her head. She thrashed on the bed, the blood that gushed from her gaping wound spraying both the walls and her father. Elmer brought the hammer down again, this time striking her in the center of her forehead, shattering her skull a second time and driving piercing bone fragments deep into her brain. So vicious and deep was her wound that Elmer had to wrench the hammer from his daughter's skull. After the second blow, the only movement was the blood that ran from Katherine's head, soaking her sheets, blankets, and, pillows she'd been sleeping on moments earlier.
For some reason, Elmer wasn't so sure that Katherine was dead, despite her massive head wounds. He attached another of his crude, homemade electrocution devices to her hand and earlobe and plugged it in. But unlike her mother, Katherine was certainly already dead as the electricity burned through her body.
Just before 8:00 p.m. 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 Soldier Leslie Atherton's attention was drawn to some strange sounds coming from next door. The house was only a few feet away from the citadel, and sounds carried quite well. They decided it sounded like a pick or shovel striking concrete, and Atherton thought it was very strange as the Crawford household was usually quiet. He said to Thompson, "It sounds like there's a bit of a fuss going on next door." They strained to hear better but couldn't make sense of what the noises were.
Inside the house, Elmer walked to the other side of the room, where his youngest daughter, six-year-old Karen, was sleeping. Surprisingly, she hadn't woken when he had killed Katherine, perhaps because she'd been kept awake the previous two nights by a toothache and was exhausted. He struck little Karen with a single, powerful hammer blow to the right side of her forehead, shattering her skull and killing her instantly. She didn't move. Karen was spared any electrocution; Elmer could see her brain beneath the gaping wound on her forehead and was certain she was dead.
In the third bedroom, something disturbed eight-year-old James, and he stumbled out of his room, half-asleep. Likely frightened by the noises he'd heard, he headed toward his parents' room. He walked past his sisters' room, neither realizing the horror that had just visited both of them nor seeing the lurking figure of his father wiping blood from his hands on Katherine's sheets.
Elmer had begun to wrap the girls' bodies in some bedding when he caught a glimpse of James walking past the doorway. Picking up the hammer, he hurried out into the hallway just as the boy turned into the master bedroom. Before James had time to realize that something was 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 parents' bed, his blood spattering the sheets as he fell. Elmer ripped the leads from his dead wife, attached them to James's ear and hand, and then proceeded to make sure his only son was well and truly dead.
Sweating, he paused for a few moments to smoke a cigarette, stubbing it out on the bedroom floor when he finished. He ran back into the girls' room and finished wrapping their battered and blood-soaked bodies in sheets and blankets. Their room was a bloody mess. The beds, bedding, and walls were splattered with blood, as was Elmer himself. He returned to the master bedroom and wrapped Theresa and James's bodies in bedding as well.
Leaving a trail of blood, he dragged each crudely wrapped body, one at a time, along the hallway, through the kitchen and laundry, then finally outside across the concrete paving and into the garage. The Crawford house had fallen quiet, but at the citadel, Thompson and Atherton were still curious about the noises they had heard earlier. Just as practice was preparing to resume, the two men heard more sounds, this time from outside the house. Both agreed that the noise sounded like something heavy was being dragged along the ground.
Elmer opened the back door to his car and placed each body inside where the back seat normally would have been. He'd removed the seat earlier, leaving it leaning against a wall of the garage. He covered all four bodies with more bedding and finally a canvas tarpaulin. He then loaded several plastic containers filled with gasoline on top of their bodies. He had already placed his small motor scooter in the trunk of the car.
The first part of his master plan complete; the next step was to dispose of the car and bodies where they would never be found.
Disposing of the Evidence
Loch Ard Gorge is part of the Port Campbell National Park, and Elmer knew it well. He'd spent a lot of time there, exploring the cliffs and camping out in some of the more remote areas. It was the ideal setting for the final stage of his plan, where he would dispose of the grisly evidence. The national park would conceal the horror of his crimes forever.
The drive would be approximately three hours, and Elmer needed to regain his composure before he left Melbourne. It was essential for him to remain in control; he could not afford to attract any attention to himself. On the off chance that he might be interrupted, he had loaded and hidden his .22-caliber rifle under a coat on the front seat of the car. Other evidence linked to his crime was packed into the car; he filled a cardboard box with his electrocution devices, the hammer, old bankbooks, and family photographs. He packed numerous personal papers that he wanted to dispose of and cookies, chocolate bars, some fruit, and soft drinks to consume along the way. Elmer also put several containers of gasoline into the car, approximately 15 gallons, which meant he would not have to stop for fuel. Once everything he needed was in the car, he returned to the house, grabbed some blankets, and turned off the lights. He left through the back door, locked it, put the keys in the mailbox, and slammed the car trunk lid shut. Next door at the citadel, Atherton threw a puzzled look at Thompson when he heard the trunk slam shut. Elmer pulled the car out of the driveway.
By 9:00 p.m. he was well on his way down Geelong Road, heading west of Melbourne, toward Loch Ard Gorge. Besides suburban Melbourne, the only other major town he'd have to pass through was Geelong, some fifty or so miles to the southwest. Geelong is the second-largest city in Victoria, though it is considerably smaller than Melbourne. He didn't anticipate any delays or interruptions once he was clear of Geelong. And as it turned out, the traffic was light, and he had a swift, uneventful journey to this wild and remote part of Victoria.
When he arrived at Port Campbell, Elmer turned off the highway into the Port Campbell National Park and drove toward the Blowhole, a natural geyser-like feature at Loch Ard and a popular tourist attraction. Situated far below the top of the cliff, it is inaccessible to the average visitor, and Crawford knew it would be the ideal place to dispose of the evidence of his crimes and everything connected to his former life. He drove away from the main parking lot, which was ringed by a small log fence, designed to prevent cars from getting too close to the cliff edge. Visitors would park there and then walk a short distance to an area where the Blowhole could be viewed in relative safety. This part of Victoria's coastline faces unobstructed toward the Southern Ocean, and when Elmer opened his car door, he was blasted by the icy wind blowing straight off the water. Freezing rain and salt spray hit him in the face, soaking him through in moments.
He parked his car on the shoulder of the access road, directly in line with the cliffs above the Blowhole. He had forgotten all about a deep gutter that ran along the road. The car would undoubtedly get stuck if he attempted to drive across it. In addition, it had been raining heavily and the ground was very soft, meaning that driving across the deep ditch was out of the question. Annoyed at his oversight, he knew he needed to do something quickly. Filling in the culvert seemed the quickest and easiest solution. A short distance from where he stood the gutter was divided by a pile of dirt, big enough for one wheel of the car—that would do for one ramp. He'd have to build the other. Frantically, in the freezing wind and rain, Elmer started picking up small pieces of limestone from the side of the road and piling them into the gutter. He made the pile about two car tires wide and parallel to the existing pile of dirt that crossed the gutter. Water dripped in his eyes and although his grazed, bleeding, and cut hands were numb with cold, he was sweating due to the exertion and panic. Every moment wasted could mean possible discovery.
A few miles away, Elaine Blair was getting ready for bed. Her house faced Loch Ard Gorge. As she went to her window to close the curtains, she noticed headlights coming from the Blowhole car park. The lights were very bright and shining directly at her house. She thought it unusual for someone to be there at that time of night, especially in the middle of winter, but took no further notice and went to bed.
Once he'd finished filling in the gutter, Elmer opened the trunk and removed his motor scooter. He hopped back into the car and started the engine. Inside and protected from the wind, he shivered involuntarily from the wet and cold, the adrenalin surging through his body. Behind him, the bloodied and battered bodies of his pregnant wife and three children lay crudely wrapped and hidden under the tarpaulin, like discarded trash among the containers of gasoline, car batteries, and other assorted garbage in the car. Carefully, he backed the car into the center of the road, then headed directly for the stone bridge he'd built over the gutter. It felt solid enough, and he drove cautiously across the makeshift ramp. Suddenly, however, the earthen wall collapsed, causing the front wheels to slide into the culvert. Elmer cursed angrily and started to panic. If the car became stuck, there was no way he could get it out by himself. The rear wheels were still on the shoulder of the road. He threw the car into reverse gear and successfully backed out of the ditch. Relieved, he maneuvered the car more to the right, so the right wheel would be closer to the center of the bridge. This time, the car went across without a hitch.
Elmer could see only darkness ahead of him. The car's headlights illuminated the grass covering the cliff edge, but it was difficult to make out any depth of view. The grassy area on the other side of the gutter sloped upward. Carefully, he drove the car forward up the slight incline, the wheels slipping slightly on the wet ground. He reached a point about forty feet from the road, where the incline stopped and the ground began to slope toward the cliff edge and the roaring darkness beyond.
Excerpted from Almost Perfect by Greg Fogarty Copyright © 2011 by Greg Fogarty. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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