Katherine Knight is the first Australian woman to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Katherine Mary Knight was born 24 October 1955 in Tenterfield, New South Wales, Australia. She was raised in an unconventional and dysfunctional family environment. Her mother, Barbara Roughan née Thorley, had been married to Jack Roughan and had lived with him in the small town of Aberdeen in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley. Four sons were born to the couple before Barbara began an adulterous relationship with Ken Knight, a friend and co-worker of her husband. Both of the families (Rougan and Knight) were well-known in the conservative rural town (population 1,800 in 2016), and the affair caused a major scandal.
Barbara and her lover, Ken Knight, were forced to leave Aberdeen, and moved to Moree, New South Wales. None of her four sons went with her; the two older boys continued to reside with their father, while the two younger sons were sent to be raised by an aunt in Sydney. With her live-in partner Ken Knight, Barbara had four additional children, including a pair of twin girls born in 1955 in Tenterfield, New South Wales. Katherine was the younger of these twin daughters. In 1959, when Katherine was four, her mother’s husband, Jack Roughan, died. The two boys who had lived with him moved in with Barbara and Ken.
Knight’s father Ken was an alcoholic who openly used violence and intimidation to rape her mother up to ten times a day. Barbara, in turn, often told her daughters intimate details of her sex life and how much she hated sex and men (later, when Knight complained to her mother that one of her partners wanted her to take part in a sex act she did not want to perform, Barbara told her to “put up with it and stop complaining”). Knight claims she was frequently sexually assaulted by several members of her family (though not by her father), which continued until she was 11. Although they have minor doubts about the details, psychiatrists accept her claim as all her family members confirmed the events did happen.
Barbara’s great-grandmother was apparently an Indigenous Australian from the Moree area who had married an Irishman. She was proud of this fact and liked to think of her own family as Aboriginal. This was kept a family secret, as there was considerable racism in the area at the time, and this was a source of tension for the children. Apart from her twin, the only person whom Knight was close to was her uncle, Oscar Knight, who was a champion horseman. She was devastated when he committed suicide in 1969, and continues to maintain that his ghost visits her. The family moved back to Aberdeen the same year.
When she attended Muswellbrook high school, she became a loner and is remembered by classmates as a bully who stood over smaller children. She assaulted at least one boy at school with a weapon and was once injured by a teacher who was found to have acted in self-defence. By contrast, when not in a rage, Knight was a model student and often earned awards for her good behaviour. Upon leaving school at 15, without having learned to read or write, she gained employment as a cutter in a clothing factory. Twelve months later, she left to start what she referred to as her “dream job”, cutting up offal at the local abattoir, where she was quickly promoted to boning and given her own set of butcher knives. At home, she hung the knives over her bed so that they “would always be handy if I needed them”, a habit she continued – until her incarceration – everywhere she lived.
On their wedding night she tried to strangle him; Knight later explained it was because he fell asleep after only having intercourse three times.
The marriage was particularly violent and, on one occasion, a heavily pregnant Knight burned all of Kellett’s clothing and shoes before hitting him across the back of the head with a frying pan, simply because he had arrived home late from a darts competition after reaching the finals. In fear for his life, Kellett fled before collapsing in a neighbour’s house, and he was later treated for a severely fractured skull. Police wanted to charge her, but Knight was now on her best behaviour and talked Kellett into dropping the charges. In May 1976, shortly after the birth of their first child, Melissa Ann, Kellett left her for another woman and moved to Queensland, apparently unable to cope with Knight’s possessive, violent behaviour.
The next day, Knight was seen pushing her new baby in a pram down the main street, violently throwing the pram from side to side. Knight was admitted to St Elmo’s Hospital in Tamworth where she was diagnosed with postnatal depression and spent several weeks recovering. After being released, Knight placed two-month-old Melissa on a railway line shortly before the train was due, then stole an axe, went into town and threatened to kill several people. A man known in the district as ‘Old Ted’, who was foraging near the railway line, found and rescued Melissa, by all accounts only minutes before the train passed. Knight was arrested and again taken to St Elmo’s Hospital, but, apparently recovered, signed herself out the following day.
A few days later, Knight slashed the face of a woman with one of her knives and demanded she drive her to Queensland to find Kellett. The woman escaped after they stopped at a service station, but by the time police arrived, Knight had taken a young boy hostage and was threatening him with the knife. She was disarmed when police attacked her with brooms and she was admitted to the Morisset Psychiatric Hospital. Knight told the nurses she had intended to kill the mechanic at the service station because he had repaired Kellett’s car, which had allowed him to leave, and then kill both her husband and his mother when she arrived in Queensland. When police informed Kellett of the incident, he left his girlfriend and moved to Aberdeen with his mother to support Knight.
Knight was released on 9 August 1976 into the care of her mother-in-law, and along with Kellett, they now moved to Woodridge, a suburb of Brisbane, where she obtained a job at the Dinmore meatworks in nearby Ipswich. On 6 March 1980, they had another daughter, Natasha Maree. In 1984, Knight left Kellett 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 house in Aberdeen.
Knight met 38-year-old miner David Saunders in 1986. A few months later, he moved in with her and her two daughters, although he kept his old apartment in Scone. Knight soon became jealous regarding what he did when she was not around and would often throw him out. He would move back to his apartment in Scone and then she would invariably follow and beg him to return. In May 1987, she cut the throat of his two-month-old dingo pup in front of him, for no more reason than as an example of what would happen if he ever had an affair, before going on to knock him unconscious with a frying pan. In June 1988, she 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 came through in 1989.
Knight decorated the house throughout with animal skins, skulls, horns, rusty animal traps, leather jackets, old boots, machetes, rakes and pitchforks. No space, including the ceilings, was left uncovered. After an argument where she 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 later returned home found she had cut up all his clothes. Saunders took long service leave and went into hiding. Knight tried to find him but no one admitted to knowing his whereabouts. Several months later, he returned to see his daughter and found that Knight had gone to the police and unjustly told them she was afraid of him. They issued her an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) against him. In 1990, Knight became pregnant by 43-year-old former abattoir co-worker John Chillingworth, and gave birth the following year to a boy they named Eric. Their relationship lasted three years before she left him for a man she had been having an affair with for some time, John Price.
John Charles Thomas Price (born 6 January 1955) was the father of three children when Knight had an affair with him. Reputedly a ‘terrific bloke’ liked by everyone who knew him, his own marriage had ended in 1988. While his two-year-old daughter had remained with his former wife, the two older children lived with him. Price was well aware of Knight’s violent reputation and she moved into his house in 1995. His children liked her, he was making a lot of money working in the local mines and, apart from violent arguments, at first “life was a bunch of roses.”
In 1998, they 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 town. A few months later, Price restarted the relationship although he now refused to allow her to move in with him. The fighting became even more frequent and most of his friends would no longer have anything to do with him while they remained together.
In February 2000, a series of assaults on Price culminated with Knight stabbing Price in the chest. Finally fed up, he kicked her out of his house. On 29 February, he stopped at the Scone Magistrate’s Court on his way to work and took out a restraining order in an attempt to keep her away from both him and his children. That afternoon, Price told his co-workers that if he did not come to work the next day, it would be because Knight had killed him. They pleaded with him not to go home but he told them that he believed she would kill his children if he did not.
Price arrived home to find that Knight, although not there herself, had sent the children away for a sleep-over at a friend’s house. He then spent the evening with his neighbours before returning home and going to bed at 11 pm. Earlier that day, Knight had bought new black lingerie and had videotaped all her children while making comments which have since been interpreted as a crude will. Knight later arrived at Price’s house while he was sleeping and sat watching TV for a few minutes before having a shower. She then woke Price and they had sex, after which he fell asleep.
At 6 am the next day, the neighbour became concerned that Price’s car was still in the driveway and when Price did not arrive at work, his employer sent a worker to see what was wrong. Both the neighbour and worker tried knocking on Price’s bedroom window to wake him, but after noticing blood on the front door, alerted the police, who arrived at 8 am. Breaking down the back door, police found his body with Knight comatose from taking a large number of pills. She had stabbed Price with a butcher’s knife while he was sleeping. According to the blood evidence, he awoke and tried to turn the light on before attempting to escape while Knight chased him through the house, he 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. Later, Knight went into Aberdeen and withdrew $1,000 from Price’s ATM account.
Price’s autopsy revealed that 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. Several hours after Price had died, Knight skinned him and hung the skin from a meat hook on the architrave of a door to the lounge room. She then decapitated him and cooked parts of his body, serving up the meat with baked potato, pumpkin, beetroot, zucchini, cabbage, yellow squash and gravy in two settings at the dinner table, along with notes beside each plate, each having 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 and it is speculated Knight had attempted to eat it but could not and this has been put forward in support of her claim that she has no memory of the crime.
Price’s head was found in a pot with vegetables. The pot was still warm, estimated to be at between 40 and 50 °C (104 and 122 °F), 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:
The accusations in the note were found to be groundless.
Knight’s initial offer to plead guilty to manslaughter was rejected and she was arraigned on 2 March 2001 on the charge of murdering Price, to which she entered a plea of not guilty. Her trial was initially fixed for 23 July 2001 but was adjourned due to her counsel’s illness and it was re-fixed for 15 October 2001. When the trial commenced, Justice Barry O’Keefe offered the 60 jury prospects the option of being excused due to the nature of the photographic evidence, 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, Knight changed her plea to guilty, and the jury was dismissed. It was now made public that Justice O’Keefe had been advised of the plea change the day before. He had adjourned the trial and then ordered a psychiatric assessment overnight to determine if Knight understood the consequences of a guilty plea and was fit to make such a plea. Knight’s legal team had planned to defend Knight by claiming amnesia and dissociation, a claim supported by most psychiatrists although they did consider her sane. Two psychiatrists concluded that Knight suffered from borderline personality disorder.
No reason has ever been given for the guilty plea, and despite giving it, Knight still refused to accept responsibility for her actions. At the sentencing hearing, Knight’s lawyers requested that Knight be excused to avoid hearing some of the facts, but the application was refused. When Timothy Lyons took the stand and described the skinning and decapitation, Knight became hysterical and had to be sedated.
On 8 November, 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 in prison, 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, Knight appealed the life sentence, claiming that a penalty of life in prison without possibility of parole was too severe for the killing. Justices Peter McClellan, Michael Adams and Megan Latham dismissed the appeal in the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal in September, with Justice McClellan writing in his judgement “This was an appalling crime, almost beyond contemplation in a civilised society.”
Now into her sixties, Katherine Knight is in Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre in western Sydney Knight, she is housed in a section of Mulawa called “Willet”. She is a Category 4 inmate – the highest and worst category a prisoner can be assigned – and always will be. She’s known to other inmates as “The Nanna”, she’s known in prison as a hoarder whose cell is full of knitting, knick-knacks and art and also as somewhat as a ‘prison boss’.