The Frankston Serial Killer

Kylie Fox interviews fellow CDP author Vikki Petraitis about The Frankston Serial Killer

In 1993, Melbourne true crime writer Vikki Petraitis did a series of interviews with police officers as research for her next book, a collection of real life stories from different sectors of Victoria Police.

In July that year, Vikki had been consulting officers of the community policing squad in Frankston when she found herself in the middle of what was to become one of the most terrifying chapters in Victorian history. And the previously sleepy bayside town, on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula, was about to be put on the map; in the worst possible way.

Barely a month after 18-year-old Elizabeth Stevens had been brutally murdered in the area, another young woman had gone missing. Vikki witnessed the turmoil amongst police at the news of the disappearance of Debbie Fream, who had left her 12-day-old baby at home with a friend while she nipped to the local shop for milk.

Police went on high alert when her abandoned car was found with the seat pushed back, as if to accommodate somebody taller or much larger than the young mother.

When Debbie Fream’s body was discovered in a paddock several days later, it seemed obvious to the police and public alike that a serial killer was on the loose.

Less than two weeks later, Vikki Petraitis once again found herself literally at the scene of the crime. She was on a ride-along with Frankston police when the call came through that 17-year-old schoolgirl Natalie Russell, missing since early afternoon, had been found.

Vikki sat in the police car in the school carpark that backed on to a bike track, as helicopters lit up the crime scene and police went about their work of collecting evidence. Natalie Russell had fought her attacker, that much was evident; but with several stab wounds she was powerless to defend herself against the attacker who finally cut her throat.

Vikki says it was then that she knew she had to write a book about what had been happening that winter.

“I knew the local detectives involved, and I saw first-hand how hard everyone was working to catch the guy. I’m glad it was me who wrote it; that it was someone who lived in the area and felt what it was like.”

Vikki’s book details the palpable feeling of fear that coursed through the community. Once a place where most people waved to one another on the street, Frankston and its suburbs became a place where people eyed each other with suspicion and nervous apprehension.

“Being a true crime writer, and the reader of hundreds of true crime books, I probably felt safer than most. I knew that this killer picked women off the streets who were alone or hadn’t locked their car doors,” Vikki says.

“My perception was that he was unlikely to change his MO and break into my house and kill me. Knowledge is power in these situations. But other locals were out in droves buying security doors and guard dogs.”

The killer’s spree, terrifying while it lasted, was quickly brought to an end. The day after Natalie Russell’s murder, Paul Charles Denyer was arrested and charged with the murders of all three young women.

In his police interview, presented with the likelihood that forensic evidence of his crimes was bound to incriminate him, Denyer calmly and dispassionately admitted and described his crimes. At no stage did he show any signs of remorse.

Over the course of the next year and a half, Vikki interviewed everybody she could find who was involved in the case – from police to the families of the victims – and worked tirelessly to collate all of the information to give a chilling and true account of the events that surrounded the short-lived but horrific chapter in our history.

“For me it was all about honouring the three victims, by telling their story to the best of my ability,” Vikki says.

“When family members shared their harrowing stories of loss, my thought was always: How can I best show this to the reader while also respecting those involved?”

Now, almost 20 years after the event, Vikki’s book has been updated and re-released as The Frankston Serial Killer (Clan Destine Press, 2011).

Vikki says revisiting the crimes after all this time was quite distressing. “Revising the story is different now, with time. I know that a number of the people I interviewed have passed away since then. I grew very fond of Natalie Russell’s aunt, Bernadette. She was so keen to keep the public aware of Denyer and what he did. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to do this.”

But Vikki has. With this new release, a whole new generation can learn about the depravity of this woman-hating killer; and that can only be a good thing. For, as long as his crimes are remembered the chances of his release from prison are less.

The Frankston Serial Killer is one of the best books of its kind, offering insights that we seldom see in other true crime books. Complete with new information and a letter addressed to Vikki from ‘Ms Paula Denyer’, as the murderer prefers to be called these days, the book is available now and is certainly not to be missed.

Available in good bookstores; or online at: http://www.clandestinepress.com.au

The eBook version will be available in November; in mobi, epub and kindle formats.

For another interview with Vikki Petraitis visit: http://www.tarasharp.com/kylies-true-crime-corner-the-frankston-serial-killer/