Safe as Houses: 197 Arthur Street, Grafton
A seemingly happy couple’s secrets turn two different houses into tombs.
- WARNING: The following articles contain descriptions of violent crimes some may find disturbing
If the walls of a house contain its secrets, perhaps nowhere was that more literally true than at 197 Arthur Street in Grafton, NSW.
While today a different structure sits at that address, in 1990 the house at 197 Arthur Street was the family home of Reg and Patricia Irwin, a friendly, older couple who were well-known to their neighbours and regular visitors to the nearby Grafton District Services Club. The two would often stroll from their home to spend evenings at the club, Reg watching the races and enjoying a beer while the immaculately dressed Patricia read the newspaper.
It wasn’t deemed all that unusual by the couple’s neighbours when Patricia began showing up at the club by herself. After all, Reg’s work as a shunter for the NSW State Rail Authority often took him to Newcastle for days at a stretch. It wasn’t uncommon for Patricia to be seen around Grafton unaccompanied.
Reg’s absence did begin to draw suspicion, however, as friends and family tried to contact the Irwins to wish him a happy 63rd birthday. Patricia always seemed to have a different answer regarding his whereabouts. He had gone down to the pub, or the club or had absconded with another woman. The excuses for his absence piled up, with Patricia even trying to stymie attempts by the couple’s adult children to contact their father.
Two months passed, with Reg still nowhere to be found. Patricia continued to pay regular visits to the club, and in July of 1990 she casually mentioned to a fellow poker machine player that she was “going away”. True to her word, on 11 August, she flew to the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the Irwins’ 26-year-old son Darren had grown increasingly suspicious. Seven days after his mother left the country and after repeated failed attempts to contact her in the Philippines, he went to his parents’ house to investigate. It was in the garage that he found an odd structure that hadn’t been there before.
Inside the structure, behind wood panelling, brick and steel rebar, covered by carpet and potting mix, was the body of Reg Irwin. His hands and feet had been bound, and a plastic bag covered his head. To police investigating the scene, the structure appeared to have been professionally constructed.
The home currently at 197 Arthur St, Grafton.
For unfathomable reasons, Patricia returned to Australia in November. She was immediately arrested for her husband’s murder. Her brother, Raymond Thomas Landrigan, was later arrested as an accessory for having constructed the crypt that hid Reg’s body. While he admitted to building the structure for his sister, he claimed he had been unaware of its grisly purpose.
As for Patricia, she spent the next 10 months increasingly lonely and isolated. NSW law dictated that there was to be no contact between witnesses in a criminal case and the defendant. For Patricia, this meant she was entirely cut off from her own children, her family and her community. After she was bailed, she lived in rented houses, shunned from the support network that could have guided her through the tumultuous period.
It was in one of these rented houses that the already-tragic story of the Irwins drew to its conclusion. When the owners of the Woy Woy home where Patricia had found short-term accommodation came to tidy the house for its next tenants, they knew right away something was amiss. They opened the refrigerator to find the body of Patricia Irwin, who had climbed in the appliance to suffocate herself.
Patricia Irwin never saw her day in court. Many of those close to her insisted she could not have murdered Reg, and that her decision to secrete his body within the walls of their garage had an explanation, however bizarre, that did not entail violence. They maintain that the tenacity of the police investigation and the law’s role in isolating Patricia drove her to her death.
Crimes like the one that occurred at 197 Arthur Street can render properties irredeemable. Unsurprisingly, it appears the home shared by the Irwins, the one in which Reg Irwin was entombed, was demolished. Onthehouse.com.au states that the house currently residing at the address was built in 1993, three years after the crime. The current value of the house is estimated at $274,349.
While the house at 197 Arthur Street may not be the one shared by the Irwins, the address for the people of Grafton will always be synonymous with the macabre secrets Patricia Irwin took with her to her grave.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders, and the effect those killings had on real estate values.
Images: Google Earth and RPData.com.