What started as a routine welfare quickly became a living nightmare, as two WA cops stumbled on an unbelievably gruesome scene. WARNING: GRAPHIC
When Constable Scott Matthews and Sergeant Graham Furlonger attended a welfare check at the home of Aberdeen mining worker John Price on the morning of March 1, 2000, they could never have expected to walk into one of the grisliest crime scenes of their careers – or indeed, the nation’s history WARNING: Graphic content.
“As we went in I saw straight ahead what I thought was a curtain,” explains Furlonger, speaking on an episode of Crimes That Shook The Nation.
“There was something hanging [that was] blocking my entry into the house,” adds Matthews, “I thought it looked like some sort of blanket, or some sort of covering that had been placed up on the archway.”
It was only when he reached out to push the object aside and felt something cold that Constable Matthews realised his arm was covered in blood.
“I realised then,” says Furlonger, “that it was in fact a human pelt. The skin, minus the head. A full skin just hanging from the top door frame.”
As difficult as it is to imagine, something even more confronting awaited them down the hallway, in the home’s kitchen. It was the handiwork of abattoir worker and now-infamous murderer Katherine Knight, whose life of extreme violence had culminated in an act that would make headlines around the world.
Born in Tenterfield in 1955 as the oldest of twin girls, Katherine was exposed early on to extreme domestic violence, with her father Ken, a violent alcoholic, reportedly raping her mother Barbara up to 10 times a day.
Katherine was known at school for being “rough as guts”, and found herself frequently involved in violent altercations with the other kids and, on one occasion, a teacher.
After leaving school at 15, Knight soon began what she described as her dream job at the local abattoir in Aberdeen, where she earned a reputation as “a very proficient meatworker”.
In her personal life, however, Katherine quickly gained notoriety for her violent temper, which could be triggered by the slightest perceived wrong from a partner.
The attacks on her first husband, David Kellett, began on their wedding night. After celebrating all day, an intoxicated Kellett was reportedly too drunk to perform to Katherine’s satisfaction, and woke up to find both her hands around his neck, choking him.
It was an act that set the tone for an incredibly abusive relationship, peppered with incidents which alone are deeply disturbing, but when viewed together reveal the patterns of a sadistic, vindictive and ruthless criminal. She was known to attack him, often with a heavy frying pan, to burn his clothing and threaten him with her beloved knives, which she had mounted above her bed.
When Kellett eventually left Katherine for another woman and moved to Queensland, she kidnapped an acquaintance at knifepoint with the intention of making her drive to Coffs Harbour so she could kill Kellett’s mother before continuing north to kill him too. Her plan was thwarted when the woman managed to escape.
Most disturbing of all, Katherine took the two-month-old baby she shared with Kellett to the local railway, leaving her on the tracks and walking away. Thankfully the infant was saved by a local man who saw her lying there.
This pattern of violence continued throughout several relationships, until she began an affair with popular local miner John Price in 1993. While the romance started out well, things began to deteriorate a few years in when Price, who had three children from his previous marriage, refused to wed Katherine, citing his desire for his house to go to his children and not a new wife.
As Katherine became increasingly unstable and aggressive, ‘Pricey’, as he was known in town, began to lose friends. No one wanted to be around Katherine’s violence, which reached a crescendo when she stabbed her lover in the chest.
Terrified, Price finally kicked Katherine out of his house once and for all, telling his co-workers he genuinely feared for his life, and for the lives of his children.
On February 29, 2000, John Price took out an apprehended violence order against his Katherine. He stayed out until 11pm, drinking with neighbours, before returning home. Some time after Price had gone to bed, she let herself into his house and woke him up. The pair then had sex before, according to Katherine, John fell back asleep.
It was John Price’s failure to show up at work the next day that led his boss to raise the alarm. A short time later, Officers Matthews and Furlonger found themselves facing the horrific scene inside his hallway.
After the realisation dawned that they were looking at a human skin, the officers worked hard to stave off panic as they moved through the home.
“There was blood everywhere,” recalls Furlonger, “A line of blood down the hallway and out the kitchen door. And there was a pot on the stove. I think I might have even said to Scotty, ‘I’ll give you one guess where the head is.’”
Horrifyingly, the sergeant was right. Along with an array of vegetables, the head of John Price was sitting, cooked, atop his kitchen stove. The table had two places set, each with a plate full of vegetables and cooked human flesh, with a note next to each plate. One note featured the name of John Price’s son, the other of his youngest daughter.
When police reached the bedroom, they discovered a drugged Katherine, otherwise unharmed, asleep on the bed. She had taken an overdose of pills but was still alive, and made a full recovery in hospital, where she was transferred to a psychiatric ward.
It would later be discovered that Katherine had stabbed John Price 37 times before beheading and skinning him, removing his genitals in the process. She had then driven into town with his wallet and withdrawn $1000 from his bank account, money that police still cannot account for to this day.
The judge at Katherine’s murder trial, the Honourable Barry O’Keefe, has since said that he has never before or since “struck something of the horrific nature of Katherine Mary Knight’s case”. He noted her lack of remorse and the continued threat she posed to society, and after pleading guilty, Katherine became the first woman in Australia to receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
These days, Katherine lives out her days in Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre. She’s 66 now, white haired and bespectacled, and her nickname – “The Nanna” – belies the horrific nature of her crimes.
According to James Phelps, author of Green Is The New Black, Katherine spends her time knitting, painting and helping other incarcerated women sort out their disputes. She rarely has a phone call or a visit from a loved one, and has reportedly found religion.