Safe as Houses: 139 Kippax Street, Surry Hills
Loneliness in a crowd leads to a sad end for a reclusive Sydney resident.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
Cities can be lonely and isolating places. A 2012 study by the Grattan Institute found that Australian capital cities are becoming increasingly lonely as people feel less connected with their local community. In Vancouver, a 2013 survey found the city’s residents ranked social isolation as their number one concern, with more than a quarter describing themselves as lonely.
This isolation can actually put people in mortal peril. For Sydney resident Natalie Wood, it proved fatal.
Unlike the other cases examined in our Safe as Houses column, Natalie Wood wasn’t murdered. At least not in a literal sense. But while she didn’t meet a violent end, there were still a long string of people who may have been responsible for Natalie’s death, and who were undoubtedly responsible for the ignominious way it played out in her terrace house at 139 Kippax Street in Surry Hills.
Natalie Wood was born in 1924, and grew up in the house at 139 Kippax Street. The house in those days was not a place of isolation, but of warmth. Natalie lived there with her parents and her brother, and her cousin John Newlyn told the Sydney Morning Herald he would often come to stay.
Kippax St, Surry Hills. Source: Google Maps 2014.
When Natalie left 139 Kippax Street in 1945 at the age of 20, she married Navy seaman Douglas Wood and relocated to Melbourne. The family home’s pull would continue, though, and when her marriage ended in 1950, Wood found herself back in Surry Hills living with her parents.
She would live at Kippax Street for decades after, before she and her mother moved in with her brother and sister-in-law in Chifley in 1979. But by 1997, years after her mother’s death, Natalie had again returned home to Kippax Street.
Neighbours said Natalie was something of a recluse, and relatives claimed she would only answer her door for special, coded knocks. Still, one Surry Hills resident told the Herald she would often see Natalie sitting out front of 139 Kippax Street, where they would exchange pleasantries.
The last verified sighting of Natalie was in 2003, when she picked up a prescription from a local chemist. It was shortly thereafter that she would hole herself up in her terrace house for the remainder of her days.
No-one seemed to find it odd that Natalie Wood seemed to completely disappear; not the bank which saw her account fall dormant; not Centrelink, which eventually stopped sending her cheques that remained uncashed; not the gas or electric companies that didn’t bother to follow up on unpaid bills; and certainly not Natalie’s neighbours, who came to assume that 139 Kippax Street was abandoned.
Not even Natalie’s sister-in-law, Enid, thought it odd when years passed without contact. She assumed Natalie had moved away without bothering to inform her family. But when Natalie’s brother contracted terminal prostate cancer in 2007, Enid asked police to look into Natalie’s whereabouts so she could inform her. When nothing came of this, Enid asked again in 2011.
And so, in July 2011 police forced their way into Natalie’s now-derelict home. In an upstairs bedroom, the Sydney Morning Herald tells us an officer gave a cursory glance and proclaimed, “There’s nothing in here”. A closer look would reveal a small pile of animal-gnawed bones and a pair of dentures: all that remained of Natalie Wood.
It’s thought that Natalie died shortly after she was last seen in 2003, just before Christmas. The coroner would backdate her official date of death to 2004, when Natalie’s brother was still alive, leaving her sister-in-law her sole beneficiary.
The house that served as Natalie’s tomb for more than seven years is a prime piece of Sydney real estate. Even in its unlivable condition, it sold in February of last year for $1,105,000.
Natalie Wood likely died of natural causes, alone in her home at 139 Kippax Street. Yet, in one of Sydney’s most densely-populated suburbs, no-one thought to look in on their neighbour. Unlike other houses we’ve examined, no-one literally murdered the resident at 139 Kippax Street. But in a way, everyone did.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders and the effect those killings have had on real estate values.