Miscarriages of Justice

The John Button and Darryl Beamish Cases

The Button and Beamish cases in which both men were convicted of murders in Western Australia were (many years later) shown to be gross miscarriages of justice. These injustices were the result of failures by the investigating police to examine in sufficient detail the circumstances of the two crime scenes and to keep an open mind about alternative theories suggested by the protestations of innocence by both men. In both cases, police employed coercion and physical harassment to obtain signed confessions, and these confessions persuaded the respective juries at the trials to convict, based on the arguments presented to the courts by the prosecutions. Button was convicted of the 1963 hit-run murder of his seventeen year old girlfriend Rosemary Anderson in the Perth suburb of Shenton Park, and Darryl Beamish, an eighteen year old deaf mute, was convicted of the 1959 axe and scissors murder of socialite Jillian Brewer in the upmarket Perth suburb of Cottesloe. Button received a ten year sentence for manslaughter and served five, while Beamish was sentenced to death but his sentence was later changed to life imprisonment. Neither Button nor Beamish was guilty of the murder he was charged with, but both (especially Beamish) served long sentences in Fremantle Prison before being paroled. Many years later, a concerted campaign by journalist Estelle Blackburn with assistance from Tom Percy QC and others, finally revealed the truth behind the Anderson and Brewer murders, both of which had been committed by another man: namely, Western Australia’s most notorious serial killer, Eric Edgar Cooke.

Between 1958 and his execution by hanging in Fremantle Prison on 26 October 1964, Cooke murdered eight victims and attempted to murder another fourteen. None of these unfortunate people knew Cooke, nor did Cooke know them. In fact, they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some were deliberately run down by cars that Cooke had stolen with this purpose in mind, a few were knifed or axed, and others were shot with one of two rifles he had stolen in the course of his life of crime. Many other victims of Cooke had their houses broken into and money or other belongings stolen. Cooke was born with a hare-lip and a cleft palate which made him a figure of fun at school, while his home life was ruined by a violent, insensitive and alcoholic father. Cooke nurtured a powerful desire to revenge himself on society, especially on those who were born with the advantages that he, himself, was deprived of. He committed so many crimes that not all were known to the police, and not all were heard in court, and he was sentenced to death based on major crimes that could be proved. Innocent people like Button and Beamish took the blame for crimes that the police did not initially associate with Cooke. Despite this, as Cooke took his place on the gallows, he took the bible from the minister’s hand and stated, “I swear before almighty God that I killed Anderson and Brewer.” (Broken Lives, 2005, Estelle Blackburn, p.2 and p.445.)

Although this gallows confession in 1964 gave hope to both Button and Beamish who were serving time in the same institution, their hopes were dashed by the authorities who believed that in claiming these two murders Cooke was lying. The authorities believed that Cooke was hoping to prolong his execution date by having these two murders re-investigated.

Both Button and Beamish were easy victims of determined and ruthless police officers who were looking to convict someone for the serious crimes that had been committed. Nineteen year old Button had had an argument with his girlfriend and was unable to prevent her from flouncing out of the house to walk the three miles home. Although he followed her in his old model Simca and begged her to forgive him, she ignored him, and walked on. As she walked under the railway bridge and turned left into Stubbs Terrace near Shenton Park station she attracted the attention of Edgar Eric Cooke who was cruising the streets in a stolen FB Holden looking for someone to run down. Cooke immediately saw her as a suitable target, did a U turn, accelerated and struck Rosemary from behind at about 40 miles per hour. The severe impact caused her body to flip up onto the bonnet of the speeding car and come down heavily on the hard sandy ground. She lay there unconscious for a minute or so before Button arrived on the scene in his Simca. Button was horrified at what he saw but managed to get her into his car and to the surgery of a Dr Quinlivan. But Rosemary never recovered consciousness and died in Hospital. Button blamed himself for her death and when detectives Deering and Wiley (mistakenly) decided that Button had driven his car at Rosemary and caused her death, Button was in no frame of mind to combat their arguments or to insist on his innocence. He felt that he was to blame for her death and so he signed a confession. It did not matter to the police that there was a lack of damage to Button’s Simca consistent with hitting a ten-stone girl at speed; nor did it matter to the police that there was no hair, blood or fabric of Rosemary’s clothing on Button’s car.

In the 1990s, journalist Estelle Blackburn became interested in Cooke’s crimes and researched his life of crime in a book entitled Broken Lives first published in 1999. In this book she revealed new evidence in both the Anderson and Brewer murders and this resulted in new appeals for Button and Beamish before Western Australia’s Court of Criminal Appeal. In 2002, Button was exonerated of manslaughter, and in 2005, after a record six appeals, Beamish was exonerated of the willful murder of Jillian Brewer. For Beamish, the forty five years between conviction in 1961 and exoneration in 2005 is the longest for anyone convicted in Australia.

Button received an ex-gratia payment of $460,000 from the Western Australian government. In 2011, Darryl Beamish received an ex-gratia payment of $425,000 from the Western Australian government for his wrongful imprisonment. The Western Australian Court of Criminal Appeal had finally accepted that Cooke’s gallows confession of the murders of Anderson and Brewer was genuine. However, the Western Australian Attorney-General, in awarding the ex-gratia payment to Beamish said that “there was a lack of conclusive evidence to suggest that there was serious misconduct by the prosecutors or police in his original conviction.” (http://forejustice.org/db/Beamish--Darryl.html)

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