Madame of Darkness: Katherine Knight

It has been described as one of the most heinous crimes in Australian history, as a result Katherine Knight found her way into folklore – along the same lines as Ivan Milat, Martin Bryant and Bushranger Ned Kelly – when she became Australia’s First Female Killer to be sentenced to Life in Prison and her file stamped “Never to be released.”

Katherine Mary Knight was born on October 24th 1955, as a twin to parents Ken Knight (father) and Barbara Roughan (mother) in Tenterfield, New South Wales – about three hours from Byron Bay.

She had been born and raised in an unconventional and dysfunctional family environment. Her mother – Barbara Roughan had been married to Jack Roughan with the pair residing in the small New South Wales town of Aberdeen where they together had four boys.

However, Barbara began an adulterous relationship with Ken Knight, a friend and co-worker of Jack Roughan. Both the Roughan and Knight families were well-known in the conservative rural town and the affair was a major scandal.

Barbara and her lover Ken were forced to leave Aberdeen and moved to Moree, New South Wales – approximately three hours from Tamworth.

In addition to the four children from her previous relationship with Jack Roughan, none of whom moved with Barbara and Ken Knight to Moree, the pair had another four children which consisted of two boys and the twin girls Katherine and Joy.

When Katherine was just four years old her mother’s husband Jack Roughan died, and the two boys from their marriage that had remained living with him soon moved in with Barbara and Ken.

As the children grew up it became more obvious to those on the outside to see that things were quite different in the Knight household.

The tempers of the children would see their moods change more often than the wind direction, sometimes at the drop of the hat the children would reportedly go from angelic creatures to something that some claim is best described as creatures of demonic origin.

Knight’s father Ken was an alcoholic who openly used violence and intimidation to rape her mother up to ten times a day. In turn Barbara would often tell her twin daughters intimate details of her sordid sex life.

Often discussing how much she hated sex and men, even later in life telling Katherine to “put up with it and stop complaining” when she complained about one of her lovers wanted her to take part in a sex act that she did not want to perform.

Knight later claimed that she was regularly sexually assaulted by members of her own family (although not her father) which continued until she was around the age of eleven (11) – a claim members of her family confirmed did happen.

In 1969 the only person, apart from her twin sister Joy, that Katherine was close to – her Uncle Oscar Knight – a champion horseman committed suicide devastating her.

That same year the family moved back to Aberdeen where Katherine began to attend Muswellbrook High School where she was considered as a loner, however, classmates remember her as a bully who stood over smaller children.

At least one boy at school was assaulted by Katherine Knight with a weapon, while a teacher was also injured by the out of control teenager with the teacher being cleared of any inappropriate behaviour after it was found that they had acted in self-defence.

Such was the nature of the Knight children and their dramatic mood swings that when not in rage Katherine was a model student who often earned awards for her behaviour.

At the age of fifteen (15) Katherine left school, unable to read or write, she gained employment as a cutter at a local factory before leaving the employment just twelve months later to take up what she would describe as her dream job – cutting up offal at the local abattoir where she was quickly promoted to boning and given her own set of knives.

These knives would become Katherine’s most prized possession and when not at work she would hang these knives above her bed citing that they “would always be handy if I needed them”, a habit she continued at every property she resided in until her incarceration.

Despite always showing her anger throughout her life, with incidents drastically developing into more violent encounters following her first marriage, Katherine Knight was never put into the prison system until she murdered her last boyfriend.

In 1974, Katherine Mary Knight, married first husband David Kellett however, her violent side didn’t take long to come out when on their wedding night Katherine attempted to strangle her new husband because he fell asleep after having sexual intercourse just three times.

“You better watch this one or she’ll fucking kill you. Stir her up the wrong way or do the wrong thing and you’re fucked, don’t ever think of playing up on her, she’ll fuckin’ kill you.” Were words of wisdom given to Kellett by Katherine Knights own mother, Barbara, on the day of their wedding, and hauntingly that evening David Kellett had seen a violent out-burst, that he had seen many times previously in his relationship with Katherine, that made the ominous statement stick in his mind.

It wasn’t long into their marriage when the first serious incident happened between the pair that made David Kellett fearful for his life.

After competing in a darts competition at the local pub, David had made it to the competitions finals and therefore was late home compared to the normal time he usually walked in the door.

Stepping foot in the house Knight struck David Kellett in the back of the head with a frying pan. In fear for his life Kellett fled before collapsing in a neighbours house who called for an ambulance.

In the wake of being rushed to the hospital it was discovered that David Kellett had suffered from a badly fractured skill. Local police wanted to charge Katherine Knight, who by now was on her best behaviour and convinced Kellett not to pursue charges against her.

Over two turbulent years David Kellett put up with Kathy’s constant abuse David left town with another woman leaving Kathy abandoned with her new born child Melissa Ann.

Katherine fell deep into depression, and in next to no time she was seen pushing her new baby in a pram down the main street, violently throwing the pram from side to side.

Knight was admitted into St Elmo’s Hospital, in Tamworth, for treatment from postnatal depression and spent several weeks recovering.

With Melissa Ann just two months old Knight was witnessed placing her on a railway line shortly before the train was due, Katherine then stole an axe and went into town where she threatened to kill several people.

A local, known as “Old Ted”, was foraging near the railway line and rescued Melissa, by all accounts only minutes before the train passed through.

Knight was arrested, and again taken to St Elmo’s Hospital but apparently recovered and signed herself out the following day.

While many had hoped this would be the wakeup call Katherine needed it took just two days for them to realize she was the same ‘Kathy’ they had grown to know and fear.

Katherine slashed the face of a woman with one of her knives and demanded that the woman drive her to Queensland to find her estranged husband, David Kellett.

The terrified woman was able to escape after they stopped at a service station and raised the alarm, by the time police responded Knight had taken a little boy hostage and was threatening him with a knife.

She was soon disarmed by police who attacked her with brooms and upon being taken into custody Knight was admitted to the Morisset Psychiatric Hospital.

Knight admitted during her time in the Morisset Psychiatric Hospital that she had intended to kill the mechanic at the service station because he had once repaired Kellett’s car, which had allowed him to flee to Queensland with his new lover.

Katherine Knight went on to admit that her plan once arriving in Queensland was to kill both her husband, David Kellett, and his mother.

When police informed Kellett of what had transpired he left his girlfriend and along with his mother moved to Aberdeen to support Katherine.

Knight was released from the Morisset Psychiatric Hospital on 9th August 1976, into the care of her mother-in-law and along with Kellett they moved to Woodridge, a suburb of Brisbane, where she had no trouble finding employment at the Dinmore meatworks in nearby Ipswich.

On 6th March 1980 Katherine and David had a second daughter Natasha Maree.

In 1984 Katherine Knight left David and moved in, first with her parents in Aberdeen, then to a rented house in nearby Muswellbrook. Although she returned to work at the abattoir, she injured her back the following year and went on a disability pension.

No longer needing to rent accommodation close to her work the government gave her a Housing Commission property in Aberdeen.

Knight met 38-year-old miner David Saunders in 1986, and after a few months of dating he moved into her housing commission property with her and her two daughters, however kept his old apartment in Scone.

Katherine Knight soon became jealous regarding what he did when she was not around and would often throw him out, where he would move back to his apartment in Scone, where Knight would invariably follow and beg him to return.

In May 1987 Katherine cut the throat of his two-month-old dingo pup in front of him for no reason than showing what would happen to him if Saunders had an affair or left her, before she went on to knock him unconscious with a frying pan.

In June 1988 Katherine Knight gave birth to her third daughter Sarah, which prompted Saunders to put a deposit on a house, which Knight paid off when her workers’ compensation settlement came through in 1989.

Katherine took it upon herself to decorate the house which consisted of animal skins, skulls, horns, rusty animal traps, leather jackets, old boots, machetes, rakes and pitchforks throughout – no space, including the ceilings, were left uncovered.

Soon after the pair had a massive argument where Knight hit Saunders in the face with an iron before stabbing him in the stomach with a pair of scissors, he moved back to Scone, but when he returned home found that she had cut up all of his clothes.

Taking Long Service Leave from his employment Saunders went into hiding, Knight tried desperately to find him but no one admitted to knowing where he was.

Several months had passed and Saunders returned to the area to see his daughter Sarah only to find that Knight had gone to the police and told them that she was afraid of him. They had issued her with an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) against him.

In 1990 Katherine Knight became involved with 43-year-old former abattoir co-worker, John Chillingworth, and in 1991 gave birth to a boy the pair named Eric.

Their relationship latest three years before Knight left him for a man she had been having an affair with for some time, John Price.

John “Pricey” Price was the father of three children when he and Knight had begun their affair. Reputedly a “terrific bloke” liked by everyone who knew him, his own marriage had ended in 1988.

While his younger two-year-old daughter had remained with his former wife, the two older children lived with him.

‘Pricey’ was well aware of Knight’s violent reputation and in 1995 she moved into his house. Pricey’s children like her, and he was making a lot of money working in the local mines, apart from a few violent arguments, everyone who knew the couple suggested that “life was a bunch of roses”.

Things began to turn sour for the pair in 1998 when the couple had a fight over Price’s refusal to marry her and in retaliation Knight videotaped items he had stolen from work and sent the tape to his boss. Although the items were out of date medical kits that he had scavenged from the company rubbish tip, Price was fired from the job he had held for 17 years.

That same day he kicked her out and she returned to her own home while news of what she had done spread through the gossip-vine throughout the town.

A few months later Price restarted his relationship with Knight, although he now refused to allow her to move in with him. The fighting between the pair became even more frequent and most of his friends would no longer have anything to do with him while he remained in the relationship citing that she brought out the ‘worst in him’.

A series of assaults, which culminated with Knight stabbing Price in the chest, was the final straw for the much loved larrikin. On 29th February 2000 on his way to work he stopped in at the Scone Magistrate’s Court and took out a restraining order to keep Katherine away from both he and his children.

Worried about how Katherine would react upon hearing the news Price told colleagues throughout the afternoon that if he did not come to work the next day it would be because Knight had killed him.

Everyone to whom Price mentioned this to had begged him not to go home, but he replied that if he didn’t she would kill his children.

After work that evening Price arrived home to find out that Knight, although not there herself, had sent the children away for a sleep-over at a friend’s house. He spent the evening with his neighbours before going to bed at around 11pm.

Katherine Knight had spent the day purchasing new black lingerie, and visited all her children videotaping them while making comments which have since been interpreted as a crude will.

Later she returned to Price’s house while he was sleeping and sat watching TV for a few minutes before having a shower and changing into her new black lingerie, waking Price for sex which afterwards he fell asleep.

A neighbour became concerned the following morning when at 6am Price’s car was still in the driveway, and when Price didn’t arrive for his shift at work his employer sent a worker to his residence to see what was wrong.

Both the neighbour and worker tried knocking on both the front door and Price’s bedroom window to wake him but after noticing blood on the front door they alerted police who arrived shortly after 8am.

After failing to raise Price the officers broke down the back door to the property and found the body of John Price. Katherine Knight was in a comatose state on his bed after taking a large number of pills.

She had stabbed Price with a butcher’s knife while he was sleeping. According to the blood evidence Price had woken during the attack and tried to turn the light on before attempting to escape.

Evidence suggested that Knight chased him throughout the house, Price had managed to open the front door and get outside but either stumbled back inside or was dragged back into the hallway where he finally died after bleeding out.

During the night, after the attack, Knight went into Aberdeen and withdrew $1000 from Price’s ATM account.

The autopsy of John Price revealed he had been stabbed at least 37 times, in both the front and back of his body, with many of the wounds extending into vital organs.

In the hours that followed his death Knight skinned Price, she had hung his skin from a meat hook on the architrave of a door to the lounge room – where police originally believed to be a curtain to the room they had pushed aside when searching the property.

Katherine Knight then decapitated Price and cooked parts of his body, serving up the meat with baked potato, pumpkin, zucchini, cabbage, yellow squash and gravy in two settings at the dinner table, along with notes beside each plate, each containing the name of one of Price’s children on it – she was preparing to serve his body parts to his children.

A third meal was thrown on the back lawn for unknown reasons, it was speculated by investigators that Knight had attempted to eat it but couldn’t.

During her court appearance the claim was put to her, however her defence team stated that due to the intake of the pills she had consumed in an attempt to take her life that Knight had no recollection of the crime.

Price’s head was found in a pot with the vegetables, the pot was still warm estimated to be at between 40 and 50 degrees Celsius, indicating that the cooking had taken place in the early morning.

Sometime later Knight arranged the body with the left arm draped over an empty 1.25 litre soft drink bottle with the legs crossed.

This was claimed in court to be an act of defilement demonstrating Knight’s contempt for Price. Knight had left a handwritten note on top of a photograph of Price. Blood stained and covered with small pieces of flesh the note read:

Time got you back Johathon for rapping [raping] my douter [daughter]. You to Beck [Price’s daughter] for Ross – for Little John [his son]. Now play with little Johns Dick John Price. (sic)

The accusations in the note were found to be groundless.

At trial Knight’s initial offer to plead guilty to manslaughter was rejected and she was arraigned on the 2nd February 2001 on the charge of murdering Price, to which she entered a plea of not guilty. Her trial was initially fixed for the 23rd July 2001 but was adjourned to her counsel’s illness and was re-fixed for the 15th October 2001.

When the trial finally commenced, Justice Barry O’Keefe offered the 60 jury prospects the option of being excused due to the nature of the photographic evidence, of which five accepted.

When the witness list was read out to the prospects several more also dropped out after which the jury was empanelled.

Knight’s attorneys then spoke to the judge who adjourned to the following day; the next morning, Katherine Knight changed her plea to guilty, and the jury was dismissed.

On the 8th of November 2001, Justice O’Keefe pointed out that the nature of the crime and Knight’s lack of remorse required a severe penalty.

He sentenced her to life imprisonment, refused to fix a non-parole period and ordered that her papers be marked “never to be released”, the first time that this had been imposed on a woman in Australian history.

In June 2006, Katherine Knight appealed the life sentence, claiming that a penalty of life in jail without the possibility of parole was too severe for the killing. Justices Peter McClellan, Michael Adams and Megan Latham dismissed the appeal in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in September of that year with Justice McClellan writing in his judgement “This was an appalling crime, almost beyond contemplation in a civilized society.”

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