Safe as Houses: 77 Porter Street, Parkside

Adam Smith 8 November 2016

Safe as houses 77 porter street parkside

A national housing shortage leads to a murder and a macabre aftermath.

WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes some may find disturbing

If you think current Australians have it rough when it comes to getting a foot on the property ladder, spare a thought for Aussies in the 1940s. Following World War II, Australia was hit by a simultaneous baby boom and influx of immigration that led to a massive housing shortage. By 1946, it was estimated 200,000 families were in need of homes that didn’t yet exist. This undersupply could put enormous pressure on families, and for one Adelaide family it turned deadly.

To say that Herbert Castle had a strained relationship with his adult sons would be something of an understatement. In September of 1946, he drafted a new will, cutting three of his grown sons from his estate. His reasoning, in his words, was that “they have treated me badly for many years”.

Herbert was particularly irked by his 31-year-old son Alan. A devoted teetotaler, Herbert disapproved of Alan’s heavy drinking, and was embarrassed by his son’s many run-ins with police. Adding fuel to the already volatile situation was the fact that the Australian housing shortage had forced Alan to move back in with his parents in the family home at 77 Porter Street, Parkside. The quaint, three-bedroom cottage must have felt very small with Herbert, his wife Ellen and Alan trying to coexist.

77 porter street parkside

77 Porter Street Parkside. Source: Google Maps.

Herbert and Alan did more than just get on each other’s nerves, and Herbert’s disposition toward his son went far beyond fatherly disapproval. He once told one of Alan’s siblings that he feared their relationship would end in violence.

“Either him or me,” Herbert had said. “If you find me dead at any time, call the police.”

The police were indeed called to 77 Porter Street on the morning of 12 September, 1946. A neighbour noticed the house was conspicuously quiet, and the family had failed to bring in their morning newspaper. When police gained entry to the residence, they found Alan dead on the dining room floor, having been struck two blows to the right temple with an axe. Ellen was gravely injured, and lay in a pool of blood at the foot of a bed in the house’s front bedroom. She was rushed to the hospital as police tried to piece together what had happened.

The picture became clearer when Herbert’s body was discovered floating in the River Torrens later in the afternoon. It appeared he had taken his own life. The family’s tragedy was made final when Ellen succumbed to her injuries the following day.

An ensuing coronial inquest could not conclusively prove that Herbert had murdered his wife and son, though all signs seemed to point in that direction. The working theory was that Herbert had struck and killed Alan as he lay sleeping on a couch in the family’s dining room, and had attacked Ellen when she had tried to keep him from committing suicide in the aftermath. Finally, Herbert had left the house and flung himself into the river.

Australia’s housing shortage may have led to the powderkeg situation that saw the family at 77 Porter Street torn apart, and it had one more macabre role to play in their story. As the hearses carted Herbert, Ellen and Alan away from the house following their funeral, a crowd of hopeful buyers descended on the now-vacant property to see if its notoriety could score them a discount.

The house at 77 Porter Street remains virtually unchanged since the day of the murders in September 1946. It last sold in November of 2014 for $682,000, and CoreLogic estimates its current value at $755,241. Whoever currently resides in the home, here’s hoping they’re a happier family than the Castles.

Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders, and the effect those killings had on real estate values.

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