You might not think it when standing on the beach - white sand stretching endlessly in either direction, barely a soul in sight, and water so blue it’s hard to distinguish it from the sky - but the city of Adelaide, in South Australia, is the perfect place to set a crime novel.
When I was growing up in Adelaide, in a suburb called Happy Valley, where koalas would occasionally cling to the gum tree in our backyard and kangaroos could be spotted grazing in the fields near my school, fellow students would brag, bizarrely, that Adelaide was the ‘murder capital of the world.’
It’s a myth, but it’s a long-perpetuated one. So engrained is this fact in urban legend that the hit TV series Dexter, about a serial killer with a strict moral code, created a promo around it. In the commercial, the actor who plays Dexter sits in an airport waiting for a flight. When asked by a fellow traveller where he’s headed, Michael C. Hall replies, deadpan, that he’s off to Adelaide as it has more serial killers per capita than any other city in Australia. He grins devilishly at the camera while the passenger beside him shifts uncomfortably.
It’s a pretty chilling accusation to level at an otherwise innocuous coastal city, especially considering it’s not true. So why is it still stated as fact?
Perhaps because in 2008 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that South Australia had 15 per cent of the nation's convicted killers, but only 8 per cent of the population.
Or perhaps it’s just because Adelaide has a history of extremely mysterious (and often quite brutal) crimes.
The Somerton Man is one such case, having baffled police, decoders and armchair sleuths for decades. An unidentified man was found dead on Adelaide’s Somerton Beach in December 1948. Rolled up in one of his pockets was a piece of paper, torn from the pages of a book of poetry called the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám, with the Persian phrase tamám shud (which means ended, or finished) written on it. Theories about spies and ciphers and poisons and stolen cars and a young nurse abound, but no one has ever answered the many questions this case poses (although we did our best when we covered it in the true crime podcast I co-host, called Crime Girl Gang)!
In January 1966, the Beaumont children, aged 9, 7, and 4, disappeared from a popular local beach and were never seen or heard from again. There were the ‘Family Murders’ in the 70s and 80s, the strange disappearance of Rhianna Barreau, and the stabbings of teenagers Fiona Burns and John Lee. Many of these cases remain unsolved to this day.
And of course there were the infamous Snowtown murders, also known as the ‘bodies in barrels’ case - not quite in Adelaide, but still in the state of South Australia. The case made headlines across the world in the 90s, when the remains of eight murder victims were discovered in barrels stored inside an old bank vault.
That’s by no means an exhaustive list of strange and terrifying crimes that have been committed in Adelaide, but it does perhaps give an insight into how the city ended up with its macabre reputation.
When I began writing Like Mother, Like Daughter, I knew immediately that I wanted it to be set in Adelaide. Part of this was because I wanted to play into the city’s misguided reputation for producing dangerous killers. But there was more to it than that.
Adelaide is a beautiful city. It boasts miles and miles of pristine sandy beaches, with dolphins frolicking close to shore on any given day. It has some of the most stunning wine regions in the world (producing mouth-wateringly delicious wines), amazing restaurants, wonderful wildlife, and it’s host to world-class cultural events every year (including what I maintain is the best book festival in the world because you sit outside under palm trees. Sorry, Harrogate, but you can’t beat that!).
In short, I wanted the chance to boast about the city I grew up in. If I had to add a bit of murder, kidnapping and general bad behaviour to make that happen, then so be it (although, rest assured, I set the worst crimes in Victoria, South Australia’s neighbouring state).
Perhaps the ‘murder capital’ rumour isn’t going away any time soon, but there’s far more to Adelaide than just its darkest moments. And I hope that Like Mother, Like Daughter gives my readers a glimpse of all that it has to offer!
Like Mother Like Daughter by Elle Croft is published by Orion on 9th July.
If what they said was true, then the grotesque and the monstrous ran in her blood. It was imprinted within her very core, her DNA, a part of every cell in her body. Kat's children are both smart and well-adjusted. On the outside. Kat has always tried to treat Imogen and Jemima equally, but she struggles with one of her daughters more than the other. Because Imogen's birth mother is a serial killer. And Imogen doesn't know. They say you can't choose your family, but what if your family If what they said was true, then the grotesque and the monstrous ran in her blood. It was imprinted within her very core, her DNA, a part of every cell in her body. Kat's children are both smart and well-adjusted. On the outside. Kat has always tried to treat Imogen and Jemima equally, but she struggles with one of her daughters more than the other. Because Imogen's birth mother is a serial killer. And Imogen doesn't know. They say you can't choose your family, but what if your family chooses you?