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Paula Doneman on Things a Killer Would Know

Crime journalist Paula Doneman spent seven years researching and writing Things a Killer Would Know (Allen and Unwin, Australia; Independent Publishers Group, U.S.), about the life and crimes of Australian serial killer Leonard John Fraser. It’s a confronting book, but Leonard John Fraser's criminal career has been horrific.

READERSVOICE.COM: When did you get the idea for Things A Killer Would Know?

PAULA DONEMAN: In April, 1999, when I went to cover the initial court appearance of Leonard John Fraser who had been charged with abducting a Rockhampton school girl.

RV: What was it about him that hooked you into the story?

PD: He was such a menacing presence in the court room; and what we knew about how he abducted the girl, which had played out in front of witnesses, made me want to understand his actions.

I also knew from a police contact that he was a serial rapist who had offended in two states.

RV: Overall what was Leonard John Fraser convicted of?

PD: Four murders, three rapes, and two attempted rapes.

RV: Was there something different about Leonard John Fraser compared with other notorious Australian killers?

PD: I don’t know whether there’s anything different about him compared with other killers, but he’s someone who has no remorse for the carnage he has caused, and he’s someone who has been described as a classic psychopath.

And he doesn’t discriminate with his victims, so they can be children, adults, or animals.

RV: Who did you interview to help piece together the picture of Leonard John Fraser?

PD: Prison officers, prisoners current and former, associates, police, victims, family members, court staff, friends, and people from the communities that he lived in.

RV: What sort of childhood and upbringing did he have?

PD: Not a lot’s known about his childhood but by all appearances it was “normal”; but by the time he reached his teenage years he had started his criminal career which would span three decades.

RV: Was there a crime he committed which was a point of no return for him?

PD: That’s a bit hard to say. He raped women before he started killing them, so his sexual offending was horrific enough.

How would you ever come back from that?

The thing about Fraser is, though, that there’s not really a point of no return because there’s absolutely no remorse for what he does, and has no empathy or understanding of the consequences of his actions.

RV: Which towns did he live in and what sorts of jobs did he have there? What were the towns like?

PD: He lived in several towns; he spent two-thirds of his life behind bars, and in between jail stints has led a nomadic existence between New South Wales and Queensland, mostly areas between Sydney and as far north as Mackay in Queensland.

His only full-time work was between 1982-85 when he worked as a ganger for Queensland Rail.

Outside of that he worked odd jobs mowing lawns, doing garden maintenance, and at times drove kids to school in exchange for cigarette and petrol money.

RV: Where is he now and what is his future likely to be?

PD: He’s now behind bars in a Brisbane protection prison where he’s serving four indefinite life sentences. He will most likely die behind bars.

RV: When did you start writing the book and how long did it take?

PD: I started writing the book in 2002, and I finished last year. The writing of the book was protracted because Fraser was a hard subject to get to know.

People who knew him could either provide only limited insight, because Fraser’s friendships were short-lived or based on lies because he made up most of his background.

RV: What sorts of lies do you know of that he has told about himself?

PD: He lied about witnessing his younger brother’s death in a farming accident; he lied about this in part to explain his offending.

He claimed he witnessed his brother’s death, but in fact Fraser was too young being only 12 months old at the time, and wasn’t present anyway.

He lied about being Aboriginal.

He claimed that at one point when he served a stint in New South Wales’ Long Bay Gaol that he was having an affair with the governor’s daughter, and as a result had been allowed thousands of dollars of electric appliances which he claimed to have in his cell.

He also claimed he was a boxer who sparred with champion boxers.

Fraser often told people that he had a very high standing in the criminal underworld and was a member of several bikie gangs. All untrue.

RV: What would you ask him if you had the opportunity of an interview?

PD: I’d ask him why: why he’s done what he’s done. Was there a turning point in his life? Was he born bad or did something happen to him to trigger such a horrific criminal career.

RV: Can you recommend a few titles of true crime books?

PD: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; Five Families by Selwyn Raab; Australian Outlaw by Derek Pedley – a biography of Postcard Bandit Brenden Abbott; Angels of Death – Inside the Bikers’ Global Crime Empire, by William Marsden and Julian Sher; Somebody Else’s Daughter, by Janet Fife-Yeoman, on the Anita Cobby murder.

RV: What are the hardest things about writing a book like this?

PD: Not letting him get in my head; remaining objective, and making sure that I don’t cause his victims’ families any more hurt or harm.

Keeping a balance between exposing him and consideration.

RV: Do you have a few books lined up?

PD: I already have ideas for two other books.

RV: Is it difficult writing a book and working a day job?

PD: Really hard: trying to serve two masters.

RV: Do many stop reading because of the violence in the book?

PD: Some people find it very confronting, but intriguing enough to continue through to the end.

RV: What are some of your favorite reactions to the book?

PD: The best feedback I got for the book was from the family of one of the victims, who told me that I’d done justice to their daughter’s story.

Things a Killer Would Know, by Paula Doneman, is published by Allen and Unwin in Australia, and Independent Publishers Group in the U.S..