Safe As Houses: Collyburl Station, Narromine

Adam Smith 2 November 2017

Blue police tape over house

Only the imprint of a worn tennis shoe served as a clue to a mysterious attacker's reign of terror.

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

One could easily be forgiven for thinking the violent individual who stalked the workers of Collyburl station was an apparition. He certainly seemed to be able to appear and disappear at will for several days in July of 1928, and none of the numerous people he attacked could describe their assailant.

Just as mysterious as the man who stalked the 5,000 acres of the Western Australian property was his motive. He seemed to attack without provocation, without discrimination and certainly without warning.

It began when farm worker Bill Cooper headed to the machinery shed to work on a tractor. Some moments later, another worker saw Cooper stagger from the shed, his hands to his face. He collapsed face first in the dirt, his skull fractured by a blow to the forehead. When he came to, he could remember nothing of what had happened.

Contemporary news article of the mystery

Source: Trove

Even as a doctor was attending to Cooper, another man was brought to him unconscious. Yet another worker from Collyburl Station. This time, the man had gone to fetch water, and when he failed to return his colleagues went searching for him. They found him unconscious, lying between two buildings, an ugly welt across his shoulders. He remembered having been struck, but had not seen or heard anyone before the blow fell.

The wife of gardner Mat Thomas was the first person to get a look at the assailant who would become known simply as “The Terror”. When Mrs. Thomas went for firewood one dawn, she opened the door to the wood house only to be confronted by a man who swung at her with a weapon before fleeing. But the Terror remained as elusive as ever, with the stricken woman unable to offer a description other than that he had worn soiled tennis shoes.

Throughout the days to come, mysterious raps would be heard on windows. Knocks would come at doors, which would be opened to reveal only the empty night. The Terror was toying with his victims.

His taunting culminated when Collyburl Station's owner, George Reynaldson, determined to put an end to the violence. Reynaldson tried to stalk the Terror through the property, glimpsing a shadowy figure dashing through the orange grove. He fired a rifle toward the form, only to hear the man escape through a gate, its latch clicking as it swung open seemingly on its own.

And then, mysteriously as he appeared, the Terror vanished. The attacks ceased, and the only evidence that the Terror had ever existed were his victims’ injuries and some muddy footprints.

Countryside surrounding the station

Land around the old Collyburl Station. Source: Google Maps

There’s no record that Collyburl Station ever sold as a going concern. A company of the same name went into administration earlier this year, so it’s likely the land has been subdivided. The median house price in Narromine, the town closest to the station, is $275,000.

In total, the Terror attacked three people, nearly mortally wounding two of them. The three seemed to have no connection other than their proximity, and no enemies that they knew of. But the Terror’s inscrutable vendetta, it seemed, had been accomplished.

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.

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