Safe as Houses: 15 Bernarra St, The Gap
An idyllic suburban street’s peace was shattered by a crime few could have anticipated.
There were warning signs, of course, that not all was right at 15 Bernarra Street in the Brisbane suburb of The Gap. Honor Colbert seemed to have a perfect family. Her husband Ray’s job as a bank manager had seen the couple and their son Rex move frequently around regional Queensland, and now a promotion had brought the family back to their Brisbane roots. They settled into the red brick home and back into old friendships.
But those close to the family saw a change in Honor. Always an active member of the community in the regional towns the family had lived in for more than a decade, she now withdrew from social life, becoming almost reclusive. Her closest friend in Brisbane, Margaret Greenup, said Honor spoke often of suicide. In a piece for the Courier-Mail, journalist Matthew Condon says Greenup would later claim Honor had even bought two bottles of pesticide in the event she decided to take her life.
Condon’s piece describes Honor’s slow unravelling, starting even before the family relocated from Gayndah to Brisbane. Friends said Honor became increasingly “high-strung”, and developed a tremor. Once in Brisbane, Honor was treated for anxiety, but her dark thoughts continued to take root. She worried the couple’s well-liked son, athletic 17-year-old Rex, might not do well enough in school to secure a spot in university. She worried what would happen to Rex and Ray should she not be around to care for them. She spoke of wanting to spare them from facing “a hostile world”.
15 Bernarra St, The Gap. Source: Google Maps
On Saturday 24 August 24 1963, Honor Colbert’s thoughts turned to action. She entered her bedroom where her husband lay sleeping and struck him in the head with a meat tenderising mallet before tying stockings around his neck and stabbing him 28 times in the neck with a kitchen knife. She then entered Rex’s room, following through with the same grim process. There were signs Rex fought back against his mother, Condon reports, perhaps even dragging himself into the hall before succumbing to his injuries.
Neighbours report seeing Honor the following morning, washing Ray’s shirt as though getting it ready for him to return to work. But others on Bernarra Street thought something might be amiss when they saw the house with the curtains drawn and doors and windows shut tightly. Suspicion grew when Ray didn’t turn up for work on Monday, and Rex failed to appear for the start of his new school term at Anglican Church Grammar.
When one of the tellers from Ray’s bank finally peered into the house on Tuesday after Ray again failed to show up for work, he saw a body and phoned the police. Inside they found the grisly scene of Ray and Rex’s deaths. They also found Honor, who after bringing in the family’s newspaper on Sunday morning had taken more than 50 barbiturate tablets, ingested a large quantity of pesticide and slashed herself 25 times with a knife.
The Colbert family’s tragedy isn’t one of Australia’s more famous murder cases, and many who live in proximity of the house at 15 Bernarra Street may be completely unaware of its history. The house last sold in May of this year for $512,000, well below the suburb’s listed median price of $635,000. It appears as one more innocuous house on a quiet suburban street, an analogue for a family that seemed all too perfect only when observed from afar.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders, and the effect those killings had on real estate values.