Safe as Houses: 10 and 18 Owen St, Punchbowl
Buried teenagers and multiple shootings; a Sydney street develops a violent history.
- WARNING: The following articles contain descriptions of violent crimes some may find disturbing
There are streets in some cities everyone knows to avoid. Constantly beset by trouble, they seem given over to crime and chaos. Their names become synonymous with violence.
But some streets have a violent history that’s far more concealed. They’re quiet streets, for the most parts, and even their residents may be unaware of their neighbourhood’s troubled past.
While Sydney suburb Punchbowl has developed some notoriety, Owen Street seemed a quiet enclave largely untouched by the turbulence that often surrounded it. That was shattered on 19 December 2012, when Bachir Arja was shot eight times on the front lawn of his family’s home at 10 Owen Street. Mere weeks earlier, Arja’s relative by marriage, Ali Hachem Eid, had been murdered at his home on Lumeah Avenue, less than a kilometre away.
Owen Street today. Source: Google Maps.
But Arja’s tragic end wasn’t the first murder to impact Owen Street. It wasn’t even the first at that address. 10 Owen Street’s bloody history goes all the way back to 1946.
Thirteen-year-old Colin Spencer had been told by his parents not to associate with his neighbour, Allan Gould. Spencer’s father thought 15-year-old Gould was trouble. He hadn’t been welcome at the Spencer’s home at 18 Owen Street in several years, and Colin had been told to avoid the Gould’s home at 10 Owen Street.
On 4 November 1946, Colin alighted from the train at Punchbowl Station and waved goodbye to his school friends. He was next seen approaching the gate of his home at 18 Owen Street. For some reason, he did not go inside, but briskly walked away. He was seen meeting another boy, and the two walked up the street together. It was the last time Colin would be seen alive.
A frantic search covered hundreds of miles. Believing his son may have gone pea-picking in the country, his father even made a frantic car trip to Orange. It was to no avail. The only trace of Colin that could be found was a cardboard box he had been carrying, which was found in an empty lot on Owen Street.
Nine days after Colin first disappeared, Janette Gould noticed an odd smell coming from a section of her house. She removed the floorboards, which gave access to an area under the house her husband William had fashioned into a playhouse for their children. It was there that she discovered Colin Spencer’s body, lying face down, a rope twisted around his neck.
Janette’s son, Allan, was quickly charged with Colin’s murder. As his trial progressed, an emotionally distraught Allan described what had transpired. Feeling self-conscious about a haircut his mother had given him, he was walking up Owen Street on 4 November when he met Colin. The two boys didn’t get on, and Colin wasn’t about to let his rival pass by without hurling a jibe in his direction.
According to Allan, Colin taunted him and the two boys argued. Then Colin hit him, so Allan pushed the younger boy in retaliation. Colin had fallen and struck his head. Terrified that he had killed his neighbour, Allan dragged the boy to the space under the house at 10 Owen Street, and later wound a rope around Colin’s neck, strangling him.
A newspaper clipping from the time. Source: Trove
The jury found little to suggest that the frightened, sobbing boy in the dock was a vicious killer. Allan pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and was handed a four-year suspended sentence by a sympathetic judge.
The value of the house at 18 Owen Street, former home to the ill-fated Colin Spencer, is estimated at $820,550 by CoreLogic. There’s little other information about the home, which has no sales or rental history in CoreLogic’s database.
The former Gould house, however, where both Colin Spencer and Bachir Arja would meet their ends, was last sold in March of 2014 for $935,000. It rented for $480 per week in August of this year. CoreLogic estimates its current value at $1,187,796, a princely sum for a house twice touched by tragedy.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders, and the effect those killings had on real estate values.