“The case of the walking corpse”
Short (1.67 m/5 ft 6 in), thin and shy, William MacDonald was born in Liverpool, England, in 1924 as Allan Ginsberg. During the Second World War he served with the Lancashire Fusiliers where a corporal raped him in an air-raid shelter in 1943. The incident laid bare his latent homosexuality and he began a lifetime of “cottaging”. In 1949 he emigrated to Canada and then six years later relocated to East Sydney, Australia, where he changed his name to William MacDonald.
He was soon arrested for chatting up a policeman in a public convenience and received a conditional discharge for two years. In 1960, outside the Roma Street Transit Centre in Brisbane, he met Amos Hurst, 55. The two men went drinking in a local pub before retiring to Hurst’s home where MacDonald strangled him. His death was reported as accidental. In January 1961 MacDonald moved to Sydney where he became well known in the homosexual milieu.
On 4 June 1961 police were called to Sydney Domain Baths where the naked corpse of Alfred Reginald Greenfield, 41, was found. He had been stabbed 30 times and his genitals had been cut off and thrown into Sydney Harbour. The press dubbed the killer the “Sydney Mutilator”. MacDonald struck again, stabbing 55-year-old William Cobbin and removing his genitals. His remains were found in a public toilet at Moore Park. At 10.50pm on 31 March 1962 Frank Gladstone McLean was murdered in Bourke Lane. Darlinghurst and, he too, had his genitals sliced off. MacDonald put them in a plastic bag and took them with him.
MacDonald, using the name Alan Edward Brennan, was sacked from his post office job and fell out with his landlord. He bought a small shop in Burwood, New South Wales that came with accommodation. In November 1962 MacDonald met ex-con James Hackett, a thief and tramp, 42, in a wine bar in Pitt Street, Sydney. They returned to MacDonald’s home where he stabbed Hackett in a homicidal frenzy but the knife was too blunt to remove the genitals. He put the corpse in the basement and concerned he would get caught, fled to Brisbane.
The smell led to the police being called and a badly decomposed body was found. Everyone assumed it was Alan Brennan (MacDonald’s alias). A memorial service was held and attended by several of his workmates. MacDonald was a free man but his urge to kill made him return to Sydney. On 22 April 1963 he bumped into an old friend, John McCarthy, on Pitt Street who told him what had happened and MacDonald fled to Melbourne.
McCarthy went to the police who did not believe him so he went to the Daily Mirror who ran the story under the headline “The case of the walking corpse”. MacDonald was arrested and went on trial in September 1963. He was found guilty but the jury rejected his claim of insanity and he was jailed for life.
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In 2000 MacDonald refused to apply for parole. “I am institutionalized now. I have no desire to go and live on the outside. I wouldn’t last five minutes. I am too old and besides, I have everything I could ever want where I am.” That same year he gave an interview to a journalist and opined, “It’s terrible out there. People aren’t even safe in their own homes.”