William MacDonald (serial killer)

William MacDonald (serial killer)

William MacDonald
Background information
Birth name: William MacDonald
Also known as: The Mutilator
Born: 1924 (age 84–85)
Liverpool, England, United Kingdom
Number of victims: 5
Span of killings: 1961–1963
Country: Australia
State(s): New South Wales
Date apprehended: May 1963

William MacDonald (the Mutilator) was classed as Australia’s first true serial murderer. MacDonald was born in Liverpool, England, in 1924. Between June 1961 and April 1963, MacDonald terrorised Sydney with a string of gruesome murders.

MacDonald’s modus operandi was to select his victims at random (mostly derelicts), lure them into dark places, violently stabbing them dozens of times about the head and neck with a long bladed knife, before severing the victims’ testicles and penis.


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Years before his killing rampage, MacDonald was enlisted in the army and transferred to the Lancashire Fusiliers. One night MacDonald was raped in an air-raid shelter by one of his corporals. At first he felt bad about what had happened. But soon after he realised that he actually enjoyed the experience. It was then he realised that homosexuality was an option. He eventually became an active homosexual, soliciting men in public toilets and pubs. MacDonald emigrated from England to Canada in 1949 and then to Australia in 1955. Shortly after his arrival he was arrested and charged for touching a detective’s penis in a public toilet. For this he was placed on a two year good behaviour bond. In 1961 MacDonald moved to Sydney. He found accommodation in East Sydney and it was here that he became well known around the parks and public toilets that were meeting places for homosexuals.[1]


Amos Hurst (Victim 1)

The murders began in Brisbane in 1961. MacDonald befriended a fifty-five-year-old man named Amos Hurst outside the Roma Street Transit Centre. After a long drinking session at one of the local pubs, they went back to Hurst’s apartment where they consumed more alcohol. When Hurst became intoxicated William began to strangle him. Hurst was so intoxicated that he did not realise what was happening and eventually began to haemorrhage. Blood poured from his mouth and onto MacDonald’s hands. MacDonald then punched Hurst in the face killing him.

Five days later he found Hurst’s name in the obituary column. It said Amos Hurst had died accidentally. MacDonald had been in terror of the police arresting him for murder, even though he was certain that no one had seen him leave Hurst’s room.

Alfred Reginald Greenfield (Victim 2)

On June 4, 1961, police were summoned to the Sydney Domain Baths. A man’s nude corpse was found, savagely stabbed over 30 times with his genitalia completely severed from his body. Alfred Greenfield became the second victim claimed by the killer soon to be dubbed the “Sydney Mutilator”.[2]

Alfred Reginald Greenfield was sitting on a park bench in Green Park, just across the road from St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst. MacDonald offered Greenfield a drink and lured him to the nearby Domain Baths on the pretext of more alcohol. Once at the Domain the need to kill had become overwhelming. MacDonald waited until Greenfield had fallen asleep. Once asleep he removed his knife from its sheath and stabbed Greenfield approximately thirty times. The ferocity of the first blow severed the arteries in Greenfield’s neck. MacDonald then pulled down the victim’s pants and underwear, he then lifted the victims testicles and his penis severing them from the scrotum before throwing them (his genitals) into Sydney Harbour.

William Cobbin (Victim 3)

Thereafter, a third victim, William Cobbin, was claimed. Similar to the second victim, Cobbin was stabbed repeatedly and mutilated in a like fashion as Greenfield. His body was found in a public toilet at Moore Park.[3]

On this night MacDonald was walking down South Dowling Street where he met 55 year old William Cobbin. MacDonald lured his victim to Moore Park and drank beer with him in a public toilet. Just before the attack MacDonald put on his plastic raincoat. Cobbin was sitting on the toilet seat when MacDonald, using an uppercut motion, struck Cobbin in the neck with a knife severing his jugular vein. Blood splattered all over MacDonald’s arms, face and his plastic raincoat. Cobbin tried to defend himself by raising his arms. Even after his victim had died, MacDonald continued to stab his victim multiple times. By this time the toilet cubical was covered in blood. Once the victim had finally died, MacDonald began to pull down his victim’s pants, lifted the victims penis and testicles and then began to sever them off, he then put the victims genitals into a plastic bag along with his knife and departed the scene. On the way home he washed the blood off his hands and face.

Frank Gladstone McLean (Victim 4)

On March 31, 1962, in suburban Darlinghurst, Frank McLean was found mortally wounded by an unfinished assault from MacDonald by a man walking with his wife and child. The man found McLean still breathing but bleeding heavily and went to get police.

On this day MacDonald bought a knife from the Mick Simmons sports store in Sydney. That night MacDonald left the Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst and followed McLean down Bourke Street past the local police station. MacDonald initiated conversation with McLean and suggested they have a drinking session around the corner in Bourke Lane. As they entered Bourke Lane MacDonald plunged his knife into McLean’s throat. McLean tried to fight off the attack but he was too intoxicated to do so. He then stabbed him once again in the face and then punched him, forcing him off balance. When McLean fell to the ground, MacDonald was on top of him, stabbing him about the head, neck, throat, face, chest, belly and abdomen until he was interrupted by the young family approaching. MacDonald had hidden himself once he heard the voices and the sound of a baby’s cry. Once the man and his family had left to get police, MacDonald returned to the barely alive McLean and pulled him further into the lane and continued to stab him until he was dead. He then pulled down McLean’s trousers and sliced off his genitals. He put them into a plastic bag and took them home, disposing of them the next day.

The police at one stage thought that the killer could have been a deranged surgeon. The manner in which McLean’s genitals were removed seemed to be done by someone with years of surgical experience. Doctors at one stage found themselves under investigation.

His residence in Burwood, New South Wales

After getting the sack from his job at the local post office, MacDonald went into business for himself. He purchased a mixed business store in Burwood. Here, MacDonald made sandwiches and sold various small goods. MacDonald lived in a residence above the store. When the urge to kill came about him, he could bring his victims home and not risk being seen by members of the public.

Patrick James Hackett (Victim 5)

On Saturday night, 6 June 1962, MacDonald went to a wine saloon in Pitt Street Sydney. Whilst at the bar he met forty-two-year-old James Hackett, a thief and derelict who had just recently been released from prison. They went back to MacDonald’s new residence where they continued to drink alcohol. After a short period, Hackett fell asleep on the floor. MacDonald then got out a boning knife that he used in his delicatessen. He then stabbed Hackett in the neck, the blow went straight through. After the first blow Hackett woke up and tried to shield the next blow. This pushed the knife back into MacDonald’s other hand, cutting it severely. MacDonald then unleashed a renewed homicidal rage on Hackett. He eventually brought the knife down into Hackett’s heart, killing him instantly. MacDonald continued to stab his victim until he had to stop for breath. Hackett’s blood was splattered all over the walls whilst MacDonald sat in a pool of blood next to his victim’s body.

MacDonald then began to remove his victim’s genitals. The knife was now blunt due to the blade passing through Hackett’s bones so many times. MacDonald hacked around the penis and testicles a few times and then gave up. MacDonald was too tired to go downstairs to get another knife, so he sat head to toe covered in blood and fell asleep where he sat.

When MacDonald woke the following morning he found himself lying next to the victim’s body covered in sticky, drying blood. The pools of blood had soaked through the floorboards and almost onto the counter in his shop downstairs.

After cleaning himself of all the blood, he went to the hospital and had the wound in his hand stitched by a doctor. He told the doctor that he had cut himself in his shop. After cleaning up all the pools of blood, MacDonald dragged the dead Hackett underneath his shop. Later on, when MacDonald had time to think about what he had just done, he became paranoid. He thought the police would come looking for his victim. He thought that if the police did come to his store to question him, they would see the blood stained floorboards and walls which he had trouble cleaning. MacDonald became so paranoid that he fled to Brisbane.

Three weeks later, local residents complained about a putrefying smell that was coming from a shop owned by MacDonald, which he purchased under an assumed name (Alan Edward Brennan). The smell was so overwhelming that neighbours called the health department, who in turn called the police. When the police arrived they kicked the front door in. The smell inside the shop led the police to the rotting corpse. Further investigation uncovered a nude body, so badly decomposed that it could not be identified. The body was so putrid that a doctor had to carry out the autopsy in a shed, out the back of the hospital. The only thing that could be determined, was that the body belonged to someone in their forties, the same age as the missing Brennan. The body was eventually buried on hospital grounds. Police at this stage thought that the rotting corpse belonged to MacDonald. MacDonald was presumed dead.

The case of the walking corpse

Shortly after the rotting corpse was mistakenly identified as MacDonald (Alan Brennan), a notice was put forth in the obituary column. This was read by his old work mates at the local post office, who attended a small memorial service that was conducted by a local funeral director. Around this time MacDonald was living in Brisbane and then moved to New Zealand, as he thought that the police would still be looking for him. The urge to kill was getting stronger, day by day. He felt the need to kill again, but for some reason he had to return to Sydney to do it.

Shortly after returning to Sydney MacDonald bumped into one of his old work mates, John McCarthy, who had attended his funeral service. McCarthy was in shock to see that his old work mate was still alive, especially after attending his funeral. MacDonald at this stage was unaware of the mistake the police had made in identifying the body. His old work mate explained what had happened and how they attended his funeral. The two men went and had a drink together. McCarthy asked him if it wasn’t his body under the shop, then whose b
ody was it? After this MacDonald became paranoid and ran from the hotel. Shortly after he fled to Melbourne.

McCarthy went straight to the police. At first they did not believe him. They accused him of having had too much to drink and he was told to go home and sleep it off. They even said that he was crazy. He even went back the next day and tried to explain what had happened but they still didn’t believe him. This persuaded John to go to the Daily Mirror. He spoke to a reporter by the name of Joe Morris. McCarthy explained how he bumped into the “supposed to be dead” MacDonald, aka Alan Brennan. The reporter thought that the witness account was credible and decided to run the story under the headline ‘Case of the walking corpse’. After the article was circulated, the police were forced to exhume the corpse. After running a check on the corpse’s fingerprints, they identified the body as belonging to one James Hackett and not William MacDonald. Closer examination found that the body had several stab wounds and mutilation of the penis and testicles. Police now knew that they were on to MacDonald.

Capture, trial and sentencing

Shortly after the police were supplied with an identikit picture of MacDonald. The image was circulated in every newspaper in the nation. MacDonald had taken a job on the Melbourne railways and even though he tried to disguise himself by dying his hair and growing a moustache, he was instantly recognised by his workmates. When William was about to collect his pay for that week, the police arrived and took him into custody.

Under questioning MacDonald readily admitted to the killings, blaming them on an irresistible urge to kill. MacDonald claimed he was the victim of a teenage homosexual rape, and was inflicting his revenge on victims chosen at what appears to be random. Shortly after confessing to the crimes he was charged with four counts of murder. The trial began in September 1963 and was one of the most sensational cases the nation had ever seen. The public hung on to every word that came from MacDonald’s mouth. During the trial MacDonald spoke in great detail of the gruesome murders. He told the court of how blood had sprayed all over his raincoat as he castrated his victims, put their private parts into plastic bags and took them home. He even told the court what he did with the genitals once he got home. Some jurors fainted and had to be taken from the court. MacDonald pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity. Before passing sentence, Mr Justice McLennan said that this was the most barbaric case of murder and total disregard for human life that had come before him in his many years on the bench. MacDonald showed no signs of remorse and made it quite clear that, if he were free, he would go on killing as often as the urges came about.

MacDonald was sentenced to prison for life with the strong recommendation that he never be released, and is currently held in Sydney’s Long Bay Correctional Centre. In prison MacDonald is simply known as Bill. He has been in prison for so long now that he is Institutionalised, and has the title of being the longest current serving inmate in the New South Wales prison system. So much has changed since his imprisonment that he would not survive for very long on the outside. Staff at the Long Bay prison say that MacDonald’s papers are marked: Likely to offend again.


As of 2007[update], MacDonald is imprisoned at Long Bay Hospital, a division of Long Bay Correctional Centre.[4]

See also

  • List of serial killers by country


  1. ^ Kidd, Paul B. (First 1993 and then 2001). Never To Be Released (Australia’s most vicious murderers). St Martins Tower, 31 Market St Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd Limited. pp. 9–03. ISBN 0 330 36293 3 (pbk.). 
  2. ^ William MacDonald, Sydney serial killer known as “the Mutilator” the Crime Library – The Crime library
  3. ^ serial killer true crime library * serial killer news * list of serial killers * serial murder * female serial killers * crime scene investigation * tueur en serie * omicidi seriali *
  4. ^ Heinrichs, Paul (2007-05-13). “The oldest kid on the block“. The Age: pp. 2. Archived from the original on 2008-11-08. http://www.webcitation.org/5cArgkTDO. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 

Further reading

  • Kidd, Paul B. (2002). The Knick-Knack Man: Inside the Mind of Australia’s Most Deranged Serial Killer. HarperCollins Australia. ISBN 0732272424. 

External links

NAME MacDonald, William
PLACE OF BIRTH Liverpool, England, United Kingdom

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