We love our reality TV in the UK, though the summer wehave Britain’s got Talent and Love Island, and now in the winter nights we have I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, The X factor and strictly come dancing, currently the one that’s creating the most buzz is I’m a Celeb, basically minor celebrities are sent to an Australian jungle and made to eat all sorts like a kangaroo anus and do challenges like being locked in a box with snakes, spiders and all the creepy crawlies that Oz has to offer. With everyone talking about the show this year I thought why don’t we look at a two-legged creature of horror from Australia, so here’s the story of Paula Denyer aka “Frankston serial killer”.
Paula Denyer was born Paul Charles Denyer on 14thApril 1972, she was raised in an outer suburb of Sydney called Campbelltown in New South Wales. Denyer’s parents Anthony and Maureen Denyer were British immigrants that moved to Australia in 1965. In 1981 the family consisting of 5 sons and a daughter relocated to Melbourne. Denyer’s problems reportedly began around this time as she had a difficult time adjusting and fitting with her peers, this led to issues with her study and self confidence, her self confidence deteriorated during her teens when she went through “significant weight gain”. When Denyer was 11 years old, her more dangerous behaviours started to show, she was caught slashing the throat of her younger sister’s teddy bear and she cut the throat of the family cat and hung it from a tree. She was arrested twice in her teens, the first being an arrest and caution for stealing a car at 13 years old and at 15 years old for assaulting a fellow student. Life didn’t get much easier as an adult either, when she left school, she had trouble holding down a job, she was fired seven times, and failed a physical when she tried to enter Victoria Police.
Denyer continued to grow her list of crimes in her early 20s, she identified as male when she committed all her crimes. She began stalking and attacking several women in and around the Melbourne suburb of Frankston for a five-month period in 1993.
An attack on Donna Vanes was the first sinister incident linked to Denyer, in February 1993 Vanes started receiving disturbing prank calls, she arrived home with her boyfriend around 1am after only being out an hour and found that her cat’s throat had been slashed, the walls, furniture and her baby’s clothes had been slashed, there were pornographic imagery of women left at the unit, and the message “Donna you’re dead” written on the wall in the cat’s blood. Vanes understandably no longer felt safe in her unit, so she moved into her sister’s unit, but her sister lived by Denyer (probably how she found Vanes) and it was revealed that another one of the neighbours had been a victim of Denyer’s break ins.
Denyer took her first victim on 11th June 1993, 18-year-old Elizabeth Stevens had come to Melbourne from Tasmania in January 1993 to study at TAFE Frankston. She lived in Preston with her aunt and uncle and had arranged to meet them on the day of the murder at a bus stop on Cranbourne Road. She did not return home by 8pm so her uncle went out to search for her in his car at 10pm, with no sign of Stevens the police were informed at 1am, little could be done that day due to severe weather. Elizabeth Steven’s body was found the following morning, a man discovered her partially concealed, she had been strangled, stabbed and her throat had been slashed, there was also a criss-cross pattern carved into her chest.
Just shy of a month after her first murder Denyer struck again, on 8th July 1993 41-year-old Rosza Toth alighted at Seaford railway station, she then headed north along the Railway Parade on her way home. She noticed a man “loitering” near a toilet block she walked past on her way home at around 5:50pm on Seafront North Reserve. Toth was attacked shortly after passing Denyer, she was then dragged into the park, Toth managed to break free after Denyer held a fake gun to her head and she pretended to submit. She then ran back to the road and flagged down a passing car and the driver assisted her, she was left shaken with light injuries from her attack.
With a failed attempt, Denyer had to attack again the same day and the second victim of Denyer was 22-year-old Deborah Fream, she lived near Kananoook Station, Seaford and was abducted in her car in the early evening. She had gone out that night at 7pm and left her 12-day-old son with a male friend while she made a short trip to buy milk and some dinner. Fream’s friend grew concerned when she did not return by 8pm, he called her boyfriend,the police and the local hospital to try and locate her, she was then reported as missing at Frankston Police Station. Fream’s body was found by a farmer on 12th July, like Stevens she had been strangled, slashed and had her throat cut.
By now warnings had been released by the media about the “Frankston serial killer” and public fear was heightened, despite such a hostile and risky time Denyer managed to claim her third and final victim on 30thJuly. 17-year-old schoolgirl Natalie Russell was walking home from John Paul College, she had taken a short cut that she always used, this led to Frankston North a fenced walkway (renamed Nat’s track in her memory). She was reported missing that evening at around 8pm, and a police search quickly uncovered her body, she had been dragged from the walkway through a large hole in the fence.Russell died the same as the others, strangled and slashed, but this time there was evidence that she had fought back, through this, investigators were able to pull DNA from her defense wounds.
An investigation into Denyer’s crimes began looking into the slasher break-ins at Denyer’s unit and Vanes’ unit in February 1993, but it was the murders of Stevens and Fream that grew the investigation, searches were organised, and scuba divers examined the Kananook Creek. No forensic evidence was pulled, and no witnesses came forward in the Stevens case, in Fream’s case no evidence was found at the scene due to poor weather, but witnesses did come forward and recall a car. The car was described as a grey Nissan Pulsar, it had been seen driving erratically and flashing high beams.
The failed attack seemed to be break in the investigation as Toth provided a description of her attacker, she described a man of 18-20 years old, 180cm tall with a round face and blue eyes. A profile was drawn up by police describing their suspect: a male, unemployed or in a menial job, likely a local resident, aged 18-24, average looking and living alone.
With more of an idea of what type of person this suspect could be and a postal worker spotting Denyer sitting in a rusted yellow Toyota Corona that didn’t have plates near the track on the day of Natalie Russell’s murder using binoculars and acting suspiciously. The postal worker was so unnerved by this that he went to a house to call the police and as he did he saw Russell approaching the track alone and being observed by the man in the car, who then ran to the track after her. Police responded to the postal worker’s call and noted the number plate on the car and knocked on a few nearby houses but had to leave then for another call. After the Russell murder forensics from the walkway revealed that the three holes that had been cut into the fence with the same tool, one had blood traces on alongside further skin and hair traces found on Russell’s body that belonged to the offender. The police gave the investigators of “The Frankston Serial Killer” the information from the postal worker’s call and from this the number plate was traced to an owner, Paul Charles Denyer.
On 31st July 1993, detectives visited Denyer’ unit at 186 Frankston-Dandenong Road, at the time Denyer was sharing this unit with a girlfriend and they lived next door to Donna Vanes’ sister. After questioning and having her movements during the time of the murders checked, Denyer admitted to being in the vicinity of the Fream and Russell murders. She was taken to Frankston Police station and she began a videoed interview at 9:20pm that evening. She had no explanation for the scratches and cuts on her from the Russell murder and then further admitted to being in the vicinity of the Stevens attack. She seemed to cooperate with police and agreed to provide a DNA sample on 1st August, she suspected that police already had DNA evidence, so she admitted to everything, the murders, the attack on Toth and the break ins, she further admitted to stalking women in the Frankston area “for years” and that she was motivated to commit her crimes by a desire she had from the age of 14 and a “general hate” for women and girls.
Denyer was charged with three counts of murder and one of abduction, she pled guilty to all these charges and did not contest. She was examined by psychologists and experts that determined a diagnosis of sadistic personality disorder, but not legal insanity. They noted on her lack of emotion when talking about the crimes, a single-minded desire to kill and a “randomness”in choosing her victims. She was sentenced on 20th December 1993 after four days of hearings in Melbourne’s Supreme Court to three consecutive life sentences with no parole, Denyer appealed this however and she was heard in July 1994 and granted a non-parole period of 30 years, eligible in 2023.
The Herald Sun created a website with copies of 14 letters that Denyer had written in 2003 and 2004 to another inmate, these were titled “The Paul Denyer Letters” the newspaper itself also later released articles analysing the letters and handwriting. The first letter in the collection was dated 29th November 2003, this is the year that Denyer started openly identifying as a woman, she claimed the feelings of gender dysphoria are what actually led her to commit her crimes as a way to seek revenge on women,this confession was in “Letter 6” dated 4th February 2004 and she said “I committed these disgusting crimes…not because I ever hated womankind, but because I never really felt that I was male” this is also the year that she began dressing in women’s clothes and make-up in prison, she has also filed for a freedom of information request to learn the Victorian government’s police on gender reassignment surgery for prisoners. Denyer followed this by being evaluated for her suitability for surgery, which was rejected by medical specialists, this decision was criticised by the transgender community. She was receiving counselling for gender identity issues from prison psychologists, she currently goes by the name of Paula, but has not taken any steps to legally change her name. She is currently still imprisoned at Port Phillip Prison.
Denyer may have said that her issues with gender identity caused her to commit her crimes, but it was her sadistic personality disorder that made her feel like she had to/wanted to kill. Plenty of people suffer and struggle through the process of transition, from the realisation that they’re not the right gender to the physical process of hormones and surgeries and from what I have seen through reading and watching things about transgenders it seems a hard and emotionally gruelling process, one that someone wouldn’t go through unless they felt they seriously needed it. In Denyer’s case she seemed to be struggling with accepting herself when she committed her crimes, she saw the murders as revenge against womankind, although feelings of jealousy toward women would have been normal for someone who wants so badly to be a woman, the violence isn’t normal. The sadistic personality disorder caused her to lash out at women, this is clear in the violence in the murders too by slashing and carving her victims she was almost disfiguring their bodies, taking away “feminine beauty” and it almost feels like she wanted the last image that someone would have of the woman she’d killed is a slashed up shocking mess.
There was need for control is clear in Denyer’s murders, what’s interesting is that with male serial killers they exercise control over their victims through rape, but it seems in Denyer’s case the feeling of control came from the actual kill, as it’s never been stated that any of her victims had been sexually assaulted. This is a trait often seen in female serial killers, women will kill for the same reason as men, which is often control but do it through the murder instead of rape or torture or from taking the victim’s property for example Aileen Wuronos shot her victims fast then robbed them. Also the break in at Vanes’ screamed the “bunny boiler” stereotype as oppose to the “creepy perv” stereotype, the biggest sign of this was the message in the cat’s blood, if it had been a standard male serial killer something possibly sexual or sexually aggressive would have been written as if it’s a fantasy of what he wanted to do to Vanes, instead she just wrote “Donna you’re dead” because that’s all Denyer wanted was to kill her. If you were to initially look at these points without Denyer in your head you would immediately think female offender, so surely this is proving that psychologically she is a woman and that these feelings aren’t made up or “just for attention” in anyone.