A Nightmare on Crown Street

01.09.1998

tags: Homicide, Murder, Surry Hills, NSW Police Force,

discussion: 0 comments

A Nightmare on Crown Street
By Senior Constable Dave Gardner, NSW Police Force
APJ Issue - March 1998: pp.24 - 27.

The suburb of Surry Hills is a bustling inner city suburb of Sydney, a landlocked area full of double storey terraces with little parking. Its population has eclectic origins; a large gay community in addition to wealthy young home buyers who aspire to own an inner city terrace  house. A large number of boarding houses also dot the area. Many are merely converted terraces, with two or three transients in each bedroom –  Crown Street was such a place. It was an undistinguished double storey terrace along a busy traffic thoroughfare. However, the events that unfolded on Christmas Day 1988 set it apart from its identical neighbours.

 Police outside the Crown Street Property

Pre-Christmas Drinks

Mark Williams had been staying at the Crown Street address for about three months. On Christmas Eve he was talking to another male boarder, a large Maori named Taitea ‘Tiny’ Tewhaiti. Tiny was concerned about Williams and often told him to get his life back in order. Williams went upstairs ad invited a young couple, Carey Kirby and his girlfriend Karen Rothwell, to come with them to the neighbouring suburb of Kings Cross for a few Christmas drinks. They declined to Tewhaiti and Williams walked up to Kings Cross and entered the Hampton Hotel.

The mood was convivial. Tiny even bought drinks for people he didn’t know. They played pool and Williams won every game. Tiny was annoyed by this but still refused to allow Williams to shout a round of drinks.

After a while they returned to Crown Street; and Kirby and Rothwell were again invited for a drink (in Tiny’s room) which they accepted. During the conversation that followed Rothwell asked Tiny about a wooden table leg he kept under the mattress (apparently for protection). Also behind the door of Tiny’s room was a 30cm long Bowie knife that he used as a door stop. Rothwell then asked Tiny questions about this and about his background in New Zealand, which further annoyed him. Later, due to his attitudinal change, both Rothwell and Kirby returned to their own bedroom.

It was now about 2am on Christmas morning and all the revellers apparently went to sleep, except Tiny, who wanted more to drink and went out again.

The Nightmare Begins

About 6am Tiny returned and awoke Mark Williams. Tiny appeared normal and relaxed and Williams soon went back to sleep. However, for some unknown reason Tiny went upstairs to his bedroom and armed himself with the table leg and Bowie knife.

He then entered the bedroom where Kirby and Rothwell were sleeping and began to beat Kirby about the head with the table leg. Kirby attempted to protect himself but the barrage continued and his skull was fractured in numerous places. Rothwell began screaming and yelling at him to stop the assault by Tiny continued hitting Kirby. Such was the force of the assault that the table leg ultimately smashed as it struck Kirby’s head.

The other occupants of the house were awoken by the commotion but dismissed the noise thinking Kirby and Rothwell were merely having a domestic. In any case, no one chose to investigate the situation.

Next, Tiny picked up the Bowie knife and grabbed Karen Rothwell. Despite his injuries, Kirby crawled from his bed in a vain attempt to protect his girlfriend. But Tiny took hold of Rothwell’s head and repeatedly slashed her throat with the knife, almost decapitating her. In addition, he stabbed her several times in the chest and abdomen. Death was virtually instantaneous. Tiny then returned to Kirby who had collapsed on the carpet and stabbed him six times; one of the knife tracks penetrated 28 centimetres! Kirby, disembowelled and bleeding heavily was left naked on the carpet alongside his now deceased girlfriend.

 Ms Rothwell's neck injuries

Merry Christmas Mr Williams

About this time, Williams walked upstairs to go to the toilet and saw the splintered and bloodstained table leg on the hallway carpet. As he returned to the stairs, the bedroom door suddenly opened, and Tiny walked out and saw him. Williams descended the stairs and went to the lower front room, where he dressed.

Shortly afterwards Tiny walked downstairs and entered Williams’ bedroom. In one hand he held the bloodstained table leg, in the other was the knife. Tiny told williams that he had just killed Kirby and Rothwell and calmly stated that he intended to kill him next. Tiny advanced menacingly upon Williams who edged back towards the front window. Suddenly Tiny lunged at the young man’s throat; fortunately Williams ducked at the last moment and the blade missed its mark but Tiny still drew blood as the blade almost severed Williams’ left ear. This big man advanced again but Williams felt the open window behind him and threw himself through it, landing on the verandah. He then fled into Crown Street.

Tiny calmly walked outside and shouted to Williams to call the police. He then stuck the Bowie knife in the letter box and sat on the front step, waiting.

A Quiet Shift

I’ve always found the Christmas morning shift to be particularly quiet.

Generally people like to stay at home with their families; or are nursing hangovers from Christmas Eve parties. I was working with my partner and we were patrolling Surrey Hills when the ‘000’ call came in. We responded immediately  and on attending were confronted with Tiny sitting on the front step adjacent to a box. My partner had a conversation with Tiny who promptly said “I did it”.

When backup arrived, me and another officer entered the house. I went upstairs while my off-sider remained downstairs.

The horror of that upstairs room was initially hidden from view by the door; it would only open slightly, as Rothwell’s feet were jamming it. Words cannot describe the sensation that ran through me as I squeezed through the narrow opening, the only view being blood splattered walls and a pair of feet. Was the offender still inside? What other horrors might one find behind door two?

On entering, the view that confronted me was surreal. A decapitated female, blood everywhere, and, in the centre of the room, a naked disembowelled male whose eyes were looking directly at me. Unbelievably he was still alive! I recall lots of shouting, messages being relayed downstairs and out onto the street below. The automatic ‘everything’s going to be all right’ expression; the nervous wait for the ambulance, and that dogmatic chant – preserve the crime scene, preserve the crime scene!

Kirby was conveyed from the scene by ambulance but he died shortly after being admitted to the emergency section of St. Vincent’s Hospital.

 Mr Kirby's slash wounds

Aftermath

Taitea ‘Tiny’ Tewhaiti pleaded guilty to two counts of murder, wound with intent to murder, and malicious wounding. What caused this ‘gentle giant’ to snap in such a violent way is not known.

Williams, who soon had his ear reattached; no doubt purchased many lottery tickets after such a lucky escape. Several days later, some wag placed a sign on the front verandah of this innocuous looking terrace house – it read ‘A Nightmare on Crown Street’.

A personal footnote

It’s been nine years since my grisly find. Perhaps writing about the tragedy is my catharsis – I don’t know! I do know however, that on a recent journey to Sydney to attend court, I felt strangely drawn to the house. Curiously, I almost missed it as the change was so dramatic. A three metre high sandstone wall had replaced the original metal fence, and what appeared to be an electric wire adorned the top of it. There was a wooden door, incredibly thick with one of those massive brass locks countersunk into the wood; you know the ones that have rotating metal fingers that go into an equally impressive cage. Anyway, from the look of the security, I was almost certain that whoever the owner was, he was hardly likely to open his door to a strange man wanting to reminisce about a double murder that had taken place almost a decade earlier.

As I departed I couldn’t help but wonder whether the wall had been built to keep criminals out or merely to prevent the nightmare of Christmas Day 1988, from escaping.

Note

At the time of publication (1998), it was reported that Tiny was due for parole sometime in 2000.

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