Safe as Houses: 12 Gerrish Street, Gladesville
An unassuming home houses an unlikely killer.
What does a murderer look like? For that matter, what does a murderer’s home look like? If the nondescript pink house at 12 Gerrish Street in Gladesville cuts against expectations, it’s only appropriate. It used to house one of the more unlikely-looking mass murderers in Australian history.
Caroline Grills was a squat, matronly woman with a beaming smile and easy laugh. She was so doting upon her friends and family that she was known to them as Aunty Carrie. Caroline could be counted on to visit the sick and infirm, to drop round with tea, cake and biscuits for friends and to be there to help any of her family in time of need.
And yet, people in Aunty Carrie’s circle of friends and family seemed to suffer tragedy. After her father passed away in 1948, Caroline inherited the house at 12 Gerrish Street, but the home only fell to her due to the sudden death the year before of her stepmother.
12 Gerrish St, Gladesville. Source: Google Maps.
From her new home in Gladesville, Caroline began to call upon her sister-in-law, Eveline Lundberg. She would make the trip to Lundberg’s home in Redfern with her usual treats of tea and biscuits, and would visit with Lundberg and her adult daughter, Christine Downey. But Lundberg and Downey soon began to notice a pattern. Their health had taken a turn for the worse during 1953, with both of them suffering from loss of hair, vision, slurred speech and nervous disorders. The symptoms got gradually worse, and yet seemed to abate when Aunty Carrie’s visits fell off.
Finally, the evidence became overwhelming. Tests showed the presence of thallium, a powerful rat poison, in the women’s bodies. On 11 May 1953, police arrested the unassuming Caroline Grills, and charged her with the attempted murder of both Lundberg and Downey.
As the investigation into Caroline’s crimes continued, the bodies of her stepmother and a friend of her mother were exhumed and found to also contain traces of thallium. While there was compelling evidence to charge Caroline with four murders, police proceeded only with a charge of attempted murder of Lundberg.
Caroline maintained her innocence, but her appearances in court were marked by bizarre outbursts of laughter at strange moments during the trial. Perhaps this behaviour cemented her guilt in jurors’ minds, because it took them only 12 minutes to find her guilty.
Originally condemned to death, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at the State Reformatory for Women. This, rather than the Gladesville home she’d poisoned her stepmother to obtain, would be her home for her remaining years. Her infectious laugh and sunny demeanour gained her many friends in prison, and she was lovingly referred to as “Aunty Thally” until her death in 1960.
The home in Gladesville Caroline killed for last sold in 1993 for $250,000. Its value has risen substantially over the past two decades, and CoreLogic currently estimates its worth at $1,351,991. It remains as unassuming as the woman who once called it home.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders, and the effect those killings had on real estate values.