WAGGA WAGGA, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA — Matthew James Harris came into the world on June 30, 1968 — a date that would later come to be regarded as a dark one in Australian history.
Harris’s birth mother gave him up for adoption. He discovered this fact when he was 10 years old and it sent him into a slow-burn rage that never abated.
Harris engaged in anti-social behavior his entire life, and felt tremendous shame over his use of prostitutes. Those bad feelings ultimately boiled over into homicidal rage the year he turned 30 — the same year, not coincidentally, he tracked down his birth mother and she said she wanted nothing to do with him.
On June 20, 1998, Harris and his pal Kenneth Scott Frazier knocked on the front door of Trang Nguyen, a young mother at home alone with her three children. The two thugs claimed to be police officers and ordered Nguyen to open up. Once inside, Harris and Frazier whipped out knives and knocked Nguyen to the ground. Holding a blade against her throat while her kids watched, the men demanded money. Nguyen handed over $55 in cash, then scrounged up another $3 in change.
Fortunately, the only thing Harris cut before leaving was a telephone line. Then he and Frazier rushed off to spend the loot on booze and get drunk.
Harris’s victims later that fall would not be so lucky.
First, on October 1, Harris dropped by the home of another friend’s older brother, 62-year-old stroke victim Peter Wennerbom, intending to rob him. The older man recognized Harris and let him inside. Harris then strangled Wennerbom to death and later stated:
“He was an old man, there was no resistance at all. I had total, you know, control over the situation … he couldn’t do anything!“
Sixteen days later, Harris committed a particularly heartless atrocity. He had befriended Yvonne Ford, a local 33-year-old who suffered from an intellectual handicap. On the night in question, he showed up at Ford’s house out of the blue. She was delighted to see him.
The pair’s talk turned mildly sexual and they ended up taking a bath together. While sitting in the tub, Harris said, “These thoughts started entering my head that I wanted to kill her.”
He choked Ford while holding her underwater for more than four minutes. He’d subsequently tell police:
“It could have been her, it could’ve been anybody. She was just unlucky … I just thought she would be easy, to target, she wouldn’t put up a fight or … she would be relatively easy to kill … I was angry at the world. This is why this whole thing has happened … it was just my total anger building up from, I don’t know, from the day I was adopted, it’s just all built and built and something has set me off and I killed her.”
Finally, on November 3, Harris pondered the two murders he’d committed and says he thought, Well, why not go again? He then wandered over to the apartment of his neighbor Ronald Galvin, who asked Harris if he wanted to join him for a beer. Observing that Galvin was “only a little bloke,” Harris strangled him to death, too.
Following the Galvin murder, Harris twice attempted suicide by overdosing on heroin. Both times, he survived.
On December 1, police caught up with the sudden serial killer. Two days later, Harris pleaded guilty to all charges and again referenced his anger in terms of an explanation, simply saying he was “just dirty on the world.”
The court sentenced him to three consecutive life terms, with 25 additional years for each sentence. Harris himself called the punishment “too lenient.”
Main photo: [Bidgee via Wikimedia Commons]