Safe as Houses: 99 Hill Street, West Hobart
A man branded a “mad scientist” uses a quiet suburban house for a gory purpose.
The crime Rory Jack Thompson committed at 99 Hill Street in West Hobart, Tasmania, couldn’t be chalked up to passion. He had planned it meticulously for weeks, and had fantasised about it for far longer.
Thompson was a brilliant scientist; a senior researcher for CSIRO’s Division of Oceanography. He had emigrated to Australia from the United States along with his wife Maureen and their daughter Melody. A son, Rafi, soon followed, and in 1983 the family relocated to Hobart where the CSIRO provided them a house at 234 New Town Road.
But all was not well with the Thompson family. Maureen, Rory’s second wife, had become increasingly estranged. Rory’s growing fits of rage and an incident of domestic violence saw her flee the marriage and settle with the children at 99 Hill Street, about four kilometres away from the home they’d intended to share as a family.
Rory had already been separated from one daughter when his first marriage broke down. Now, as Maureen and Rory wrangled over custody of their children, he began to formulate a violent plan.
Rory was no stranger to dark and violent thoughts. In his autobiography, he admitted to having fantasised about murdering his first wife, and spoke of fantasies concerning Maureen’s murder as well.
These fantasies began to take root in reality as Rory began planning Maureen’s demise in earnest. According to the book Secret Tasmania by Philip and Mary Blake, he bought half a sheep carcass to see if he could dispose of it. On a business trip to Sydney he purchased a hacksaw.
99 Hill Street, West Hobart. Source: Google Earth.
Finally, on the night of 10 September 1983, Rory set off toward 99 Hill Street disguised in a skirt and wig. He gained entry to the house, where he found Maureen asleep. The two briefly struggled before he stunned her with a blow to the head, then strangled her.
Next, he set to work disposing of the body. According to newspaper reports from the time, he used his hacksaw to cut Maureen’s body into 91 pieces, many of which he flushed down the home’s toilet. The remainder buried in bushland in nearby Lenah Valley.
According to the Blakes’ book, police began to close in on Rory when one of Maureen’s fingers was discovered in the sewerage works. He eventually confessed to manslaughter, but claimed “the bad Rory” had carried out the murder. It was statements such as this, coupled with his growing instability, that led a jury to find him not guilty by reason of mental illness. He was sent to a mental health facility attached to Risdon Prison.
It was there Rory Jack Thompson, who changed his name in 1994 to Jack Newman, would reside for the remainder of his life. While he was recommended for release several times, he continued to be knocked back. After a bizarre escape attempt in 1999 that saw him recaptured in less than 90 minutes, Jack Newman hanged himself in his prison cell.
The house at 99 Hill Street has changed hands many times since then. It last sold in April of 2015, bringing in $387,000. The median price for West Hobart, meanwhile, is listed by CoreLogic at $528,000. It’s difficult to say if the house’s history has played a role in its discounted price, but it will forever bear the reputation as the house where West Hobart’s mad scientist carried out his violent deeds.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental health issues please reach out to a local mental health facility.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders, and the effect those killings had on real estate values.