David John Birnie (16 February 1951 – 7 October 2005) and Catherine Margaret Birnie (born 23 May 1951) were an Australian husband and wife pair of serial killers from Perth, Australia. They murdered four women ranging in age from 15 to 31 in their home in the 1980s, and attempted to murder a fifth. These crimes were referred to in the press as the "Moorhouse Murders", after the Birnies' address at 3 Moorhouse Street in Willagee, a suburb of Perth, Western Australia.
David Birnie was the eldest of five children. In his formative years, he lived in the semi-rural suburb of Wattle Grove, east of Perth.
School friends and parishioners from the Wattle Grove Baptist Church of the period remember the family as particularly dysfunctional. Rumours abounded about the family's promiscuity, alcoholism and that they engaged in incest.
When Birnie's parents had asked the local priest to conduct their wedding ceremony, he expressed concerns about them as individuals and as a potential couple, broadly stating that he felt theirs was a union that could never lead to any good; an unusual and seemingly unsuited pairing, the father was a man of very small stature and unattractive appearance, while the mother was known for her coarse manner, language and behaviour, often exchanging sexual favours with taxi drivers as payment for fares.
David Birnie's school friends also commented on the family home, stating that it was unkempt and filthy, with the family never having regular meals together. Nor were meals prepared for the children by their parents.
One school friend stated that the door of the Birnie fridge was always left wide open, so the children and the family dog could eat at will whenever hungry.
In the early 1960s, Birnie's parents decided to move the family to another Perth suburb, where he had met Catherine through mutual friends. At 15, David left school to become an apprentice jockey for Eric Parnham at a nearby Ascot race course. During his time there he often physically harmed the horses and developed the tendencies of an exhibitionist. On one particular night, David broke into the room of an elderly lady where he was boarding, naked with stockings over his head and attempted to commit his first rape.
By the time he was an adolescent, he had been convicted of several crimes and had spent time in and out of jail for misdemeanors and felonies. As an adult, he was a known sex and pornography addict, and paraphiliac. He was married to his first wife during his early 20s and had a baby daughter.
In late 1986, David Birnie was employed at a local car wreckers. For more than a year David and Catherine had practiced how to make their sexual fantasies of rape and murder come true; he was weeks away from committing his first horrific crime.
Catherine Birnie (nee Harrison) was also born in 1951. She was 2 years old when her mother, Doreen, died giving birth to her brother, who died two days later. Unable to cope with her, her father Harold had sent her away to live with her maternal grandparents. At the age of ten, there was a custody dispute which ended in Catherine's father gaining sole custody of Catherine.
At the age of 12, she met David Birnie, and by the age of 14 she was in a relationship with David. Harold had begged Catherine on several occasions to leave David due to the fact that she was getting in trouble with the local police all the time. But the disapproval of their relationship only strengthened their union.
Her time in prison throughout her adolescent years offered Catherine the chance to break away from David Birnie. Encouraged by a parole officer, Catherine began working for the McLaughlin family as a house keeper. She married Donald McLaughlin on her 21st birthday.
She and McLaughlin had seven children; their firstborn, a son, was struck and killed by a car in infancy.
Four weeks after the birth of her seventh child, she abandoned McLaughlin and began cohabiting with Birnie, who had tracked her down in hospital after she had had a hysterectomy. She had her surname legally changed by deed poll to match his, and reportedly was emotionally dependent on him.
The "Moorhouse Murders"
David and Catherine Birnie murdered the following women:
Mary Nielson, aged 22
Susannah Candy, aged 15
Noelene Patterson, aged 31
Denise Brown, aged 21
Their final victim, Kate Moir, aged 17, survived.
On 6 October 1986, 22-year-old student Mary Neilson turned up at the Birnie house to buy some car tyres. On arrival, she was gagged, chained to the bed and raped by David while Catherine observed. Catherine asked David what turned him on the most knowing that soon enough, Mary would have to die. She was taken to Gleneagles National Park near Albany Highway and as she begged for her life, she was raped again and strangled with a nylon cord, dropping dead at David's feet. He then stabbed her through the body, knowing that that would speed up the decomposition, as he had "read that in a book somewhere". They buried her in a shallow grave. The year after, she would have received her degree for psychology from the University of Western Australia. This murder was apparently unplanned.
The second killing took place a fortnight later when they abducted pretty 15-year-old Susannah Candy as she hitchhiked along the Stirling Highway in Claremont. An out-standing student at the Hollywood High School, Susannah lived at home in Nedlands with her parents, two brothers and a sister.
Her father is one of the top ophthalmic surgeons in Western Australia. After she went missing the Birnies forced her to send letters to her family to assure them that she was all right. But the family feared for her life.
The Birnies had been cruising for hours looking for a victim when they spotted Susannah. Within seconds of being in the car she had a knife at her throat and her hands were bound. She was taken back to the Willagee house where she was gagged, chained to the bed and raped.
After Birnie had finished raping the girl, Catherine Birnie got into the bed with them. She now knew that this turned her lover on. When they had satiated their lust, Birnie tried to strangle the girl with the nylon cord, but she became hysterical and went berserk. The Birnies forced sleeping pills down her throat to calm her down. Once Susannah was asleep, David put the cord around her neck and told Catherine to prove her undying love for him by murdering the girl.
Catherine obliged willingly. She tightened the cord slowly around the young girl's neck until she stopped breathing. David Birnie stood beside the bed watching. Asked later why she had done it, Catherine Birnie said: "Because I wanted to see how strong I was within my inner self. I didn't feel a thing. It was like I expected. I was prepared to follow him to the end of the earth and do anything to see that his desires were satisfied. She was a female. Females hurt and destroy males."
They buried Susannah Candy near the grave of Mary Neilson in the State Forest.
On 1 November, they saw 31-year-old Noelene Patterson standing beside her car on the Canning Highway; she had run out of petrol while on her way home from her job as bar manager at the Nedlands Golf Club. Once inside the car, she had a knife held to her throat, was tied up and told not to move. She was taken back to Moorhouse Street where David Birnie repeatedly raped her after she was gagged and chained to the bed. They had originally decided to murder her that same night but David Birnie kept her prisoner in the house for three days and there were signs that he had developed emotional feelings for Patterson. Quick to notice, a jealous Catherine made an ultimatum: David would have to kill Patterson or she would kill her herself. He immediately forced an overdose of sleeping pills down her throat and strangled her while she slept. They took her body to the forest and buried it along with the others. Catherine Birnie reportedly got great pleasure in throwing sand in Patterson's face.
On 5 November, they abducted 21-year-old Denise Brown as she was waiting for a bus on Stirling Highway. She accepted a lift from the Birnies; at knife point, Denise was taken to the house in Willagee, chained to the bed and raped. The following afternoon she was taken to the Wanneroo pine plantation. Safely in the seclusion of the forest, David Birnie raped Denise Brown in the car while the couple waited for darkness. As they dragged the woman from the car, David Birnie assaulted her again and plunged a knife into Denise's neck while he was raping her. Convinced that the girl was dead, they dug a shallow grave and lay her body in it, but Brown sat up in the grave; David Birnie then grabbed an axe and struck her twice at full force on the skull with it before burying her body in the grave.
Their final victim, and the only victim to survive their attacks, was seventeen-year-old Kate Moir. She ran naked and weeping into a grocery store on 10 November 1986 and insisted on seeing the police. When the police arrived, she alleged that she had been abducted at knife point by a couple who had taken her back to their house and chained her to a bed, and that the man had repeatedly raped her while the woman observed. The next morning, while the man was at work, the woman unchained her and forced her to telephone her parents to say she had spent the night at a friend's house and was okay. The woman then led her back to the bedroom, but left to answer the door before securing her; the girl then escaped out the window. She told the police the phone number and address of the couple who had abducted her.
When the girl and the police arrived at the Birnies' residence, Catherine Birnie admitted that she recognized the girl but refused to answer any more questions without her husband. When the police brought David Birnie home in handcuffs, the couple claimed that the girl had not been abducted, but had willingly come to the house to share a bong with the Birnies, and that all sexual activity had been consensual.
The Birnies were detained by police, who tried to trick them into confessing to the crimes by intense interrogation. Around dusk, Detective Sergeant Vince Katich said in a joking manner to David Birnie, "It's getting dark. Best we take the shovel and dig them up." Birnie replied, "Okay. There are four of them." The Birnies were reportedly very excited, even proud, to show the police the locations of the graves of their four victims.
When sent to trial, David Birnie pleaded guilty to four counts of murder and one count each of abduction and rape. When asked why he pleaded guilty, he gestured toward the victims' families and said, "It's the least I could do." He was sentenced to four consecutive sentences of life imprisonment. After being found sane enough to stand trial, Catherine Birnie was also sentenced to four consecutive sentences of life imprisonment by the Supreme Court of Western Australia; under law at the time, both were required to serve 20 years before being eligible for parole.
Initially David Birnie was held at the maximum security Fremantle Prison, but he was soon moved to solitary confinement to keep him from coming to harm from other prisoners. The original death row cells were converted for him and he stayed there until the prison was closed in 1990. The cell can now be viewed on the Great Escape Tour held daily at Fremantle Prison. While incarcerated, the Birnies exchanged more than 2,600 letters but were not allowed any other form of contact.
David Birnie was found dead in his cell at Casuarina Prison on 7 October 2005. He had committed suicide by hanging; he was due to appear in court for the rape of a fellow prisoner the next day.
Catherine Birnie is imprisoned in Bandyup Women's Prison, where she was formerly the head librarian. She was barred from attending David's funeral; an application for parole in 2007 was rejected, and the then Attorney-General of Western Australia, Jim McGinty, said that her release was unlikely while he remained in office.
Her case was to be reviewed again in January 2010; however, on 14 March 2009, new Western Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter revoked Catherine Birnie's non-parole period, making her the third Australian woman (after Katherine Knight and Patricia Byers) to have her papers marked "never to be released" . Her appeal of this decision was turned down in March 2010 by Porter.