During WWII, A United States Serviceman Became A Serial Strangler In Australia

(Photograph of Edward Leonsky taken prior to 1942, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


Private Edward Joseph Leonski, also known as Eddie, was one of around 15,000 U. S. military personnel stationed in Melbourne, Australia in 1942 during the midst of World War II. Yet, unlike the other thousands of U.S. troops, the twenty-four-year-old Edward Leonski was a serial killer who would go on a murder spree, ending the lives of three innocent women.

Like many serial killers, Leonski had a horrid childhood. Born in New Jersey in 1917 or 1918, his early life was marked by abuse. Leonski’s mother was the boy’s only comfort from abuses doled out on Edward by his alcoholic father. Even when Leonski’s mother divorced her husband, there was no improvement in his life—Edward Leonski’s new stepfather also proved to be an abusive man. Leonski’s mother, however, was always there to comfort her son, frequently singing the boy to sleep. Unfortunately, this only created an obsession in the boy that would later become a self-proclaimed motive for murder—Edward Leonski was enthralled by the power of a woman’s voice, especially while singing.

In 1942, Edward Leonski was stationed at Camp Pell in Melbourne, Australia. At first glance, he seemed like a kind and cheerful soldier. Leonski was tall and burly, but also had a boyish face and gave off an aura of harmlessness.  He was well liked by his comrades and could be the life of the party when the soldiers went out drinking.



  (Soldiers at Camp Pell in Australia c. 1942, [Public Domain] via the Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)


Yet, much like Leonski’s father and stepfather, he easily became a monster when he drank. And drink he did, in outlandish quantities. He was known to drink up to thirty beers in a sitting, often accompanied by harder alcoholic beverages. Leonski was reported to sometimes mix his drinks with peculiar substances, such as milk and ketchup. He was certainly an odd drunk—Leonski was known to talk and sing in a high-pitched, womanly voice after he had a few drinks. The enormous quantity of alcohol, combined with Leonski’s military training and his unnatural obsession with the female voice, resulted in a deadly combination in May of 1942.

Melbourne Australia, in 1942, was tense, yet lively. The city was in a “brownout,” where lights were doused and windows were shut during the night to ensure that Japanese aircraft would see no targets from the sky. Even so, U. S. soldiers from Fort Pell and women from Melbourne would often congregate to drink and party in the city. As such, Edward Leonski had many potential victims in an environment with an unusually low level of possible witnesses. Even worse, all it took to throw Leonski into a maddened delirium was the pleasant sound of a woman’s voice. In Edward Leonski’s drunken and deranged state, he did not just want to hear a woman’s voice; he wanted to possess it and literally strangle it from a woman’s body.

Edward Leonski, otherwise known as the “brownout strangler,” killed his fist victim, the forty-year-old Ivy McLeod, on May 3, 1942. The way in which Leonski killed Mcleod would be repeated for his future victims. After a night of drinking, Leonski encountered McLeod on the darkened streets of Melbourne. He then strangled her and stripped her body, leaving the woman lifeless next to a dry cleaner. After the murder, Leonski returned to Camp Pell. Even though Leonski often did not remember what he did while drunk, this time he had a vague memory. When he began to sober up, he confessed his crime to a friend, but the drunken confession fell of deaf ears.

On May 9, a thirty-one-year-old mother of two, named Pauline Thompson, had the misfortune of meeting a heavily-inebriated Edward Leonski. Again, something about her voice threw the disturbed murderer into a violent rage. As with Ivy McLeod, Leonski strangled and stripped Pauline Thompson, leaving her body to be later found on the steps leading to her house. After the crime, Leonski returned to Camp Pell and supposedly confessed, once more, to his friends. This confession, too, was not deemed credible and ultimately disregarded.

On May 17 or 18, 1942, Edward Leonski committed his third and final murder, earning him his macabre badge as a serial killer. This time, his victim was forty-one-year-old Gladys Hosking. Maddened by her voice, Edward Leonski strangled Hosking and left her stripped body in a muddy pit near Camp Pell. After the murder, a mud-covered Leonski was witnessed entering the camp, where he cleaned himself up. When Hosking’s body was discovered just outside of Camp Pell, Edward Leonski’s comrades finally tipped off their superiors about the confessions they had heard. With evidence piling up, the U.S. military finally agreed to work with Australian authorities to arrest the murderer.



  (Military police guarding the trial of Eddie Leonski, the “Brownout strangler”, in Melbourne, 1942, [Public Domain] via the Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)


General Douglas MacArthur was quickly informed of the troubling issue and he immediately sprang to action. On the one hand, he needed to keep Australia happy. On the other hand, he needed the problem solved orderly and without emotion. Most importantly, he needed the embarrassment caused by Edward Leonski to disappear. Therefore, MacArthur quickly swooped in to ensure that the U.S. military would try Leonski for the murders of Ivy McLeod, Pauline Thompson and Gladys Hosking. Even though the U. S. military, and not the Australian authorities, was holding the trial, it showed no mercy. Despite Leonski’s lawyer, Ira Rothgerber, giving a passionate plea for an insanity defense on behalf of his charge, Edward Leonski was found guilty and executed by hanging on November 9, 1942.


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