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Posted: Apr 20 2012, 09:33 PM
Group: Friend of Ours
Member No.: 11
Joined: 6-April 06
THE first and only time I ever saw Paul Steven Haigh he was sitting in the middle row in the old Coroners' Court, a grubby, cream-brick nightmare near the docks in the Flinders St extension.
The courtroom was so close to the morgue at the back some people claimed they could smell the bodies where the government pathologist, "Mac the Knife", did his work.
It was a creepy place at the best of times, but on the day in 1979 that they brought in Haigh and his partner in horror, Robert Wright, it seemed like a little corner of hell.
Both young and deceptively mild-looking, Haigh and Wright were sitting in the middle row surrounded by many large policemen in uniform. It wasn't clear if this was to block an escape attempt - or to stop members of the public from attacking them.
The latter seems more likely. In those days, long before metal scanners were fitted to courts, there was a fair chance someone might have a shot at inflicting rough justice.
Wright would get his right whack, as they say, when the Jika Jika high-security division at Pentridge was torched by him and other inmates. He and four others died of smoke inhalation from the fire they lit.
Each of the dead was a violent and dangerous man, but you'd save any one of them ahead of Haigh. Even Wright.
There are plenty of murderers in jail. A lot of them aren't real criminals, just flawed humans who did one supremely stupid thing, often under the influence of anything from bourbon to buddha sticks, but more often fired by adrenalin, jealousy, anger or fear.
But there are only a few killers like Haigh. For a start, he is highly intelligent. And none of his seven murders - six outside; one in jail much later - were crimes of passion, provocation or self-defence.
A self-admitted coward who needed guns, he killed helpless people as coolly as a slaughterman kills a pig.
Having started, he killed a string of witnesses who might have been able to testify against him.
When Haigh's name comes up, it's hard not to cite his murder of Sheryle Gardner and of her nine-year-old son, Danny.
Gardner, apart from making the mistake of living with evil men, made the mistake of thinking that she could protect herself from Haigh by "hiding" behind her little boy.
By having Danny with her, she hoped it would save her but the opposite was true: the cunning Haigh judged her fear showed she was likely to "give him up". So he simply killed both mother and son.
In the old Coroners Court that day, some of the evidence referred to the death of Lisa Maude Brearley, Haigh's 19-year-old "girlfriend": the poor girl he lured for a drive in the Dandenongs, let an accomplice rape and then stabbed 157 times.
Hearing about that crime and his others was bad enough. But the thing that sticks in your mind after more than 30 years is the look on Haigh's face as the gut-churning evidence was read out.
He turned to Wright and smiled, cold as ice.
This week Victorians were reminded that this half-forgotten monster is still with us when a manuscript of his was leaked.
In it, he blames his victims - basically for being careless enough to get in his way.
It's breathtakingly self-serving and callous, and makes a mockery of his claims he has reformed and is fit to leave jail.
It is no surprise Haigh has written a "book".
Homicidal narcissists fancy themselves as subjects. In fact, he sent a message to this reporter in 1986, angling for someone to write his life story.
A brief message went back to him. It suggested there was only one thing anyone should volunteer to do for Haigh. That would be to pull the lever opening the trapdoor over a long and fatal drop.