Within the span of only a few weeks, three women were killed in Melbourne, Australia. WWII was raging and police were at a loss as to who was committing the crime, none initially suspecting that the culprit was a U.S. Army private stationed in the city.
Edward Joseph Leonski, was born on December 12, 1917 at Kenvil, New Jersey. He was the sixth child of Russian-born parents John Leonski, laborer, and his wife Amelia, née Harkavitz. There was abuse and alcoholism in the household.
The family moved to East 77th Street, New York, during Edward's infancy. Leaving junior high school in 1933, he took a secretarial course and finished in the top 10 per cent of his class. He held several clerical jobs before working for Gristede Bros Inc. Superior Food Markets. When called up for military service on February 17, 1941, he left behind an unhappy family: a mother mentally unstable, two brothers with prison records and a third in a psychiatric hospital.
On May 3, 1942, Ivy Violet McLeod, 40, was found dead in Albert Park, Melbourne after leaving a tavern for home. She had been beaten and strangled, and because she was found to be in possession of her purse it was evident that robbery was not the motive.
Just six days later, 31-year-old Pauline Thompson was strangled to death after a night out. She was last seen in the company of a young man who was described as having an American accent. Gladys Hosking, 40, was the next victim, murdered on May 18 while walking late at night near Melbourne University.
A fourth woman was also accosted, but the killer unaccountably left her alone when she threatened to call the police.
A witness said that, on the night of the killing, a disheveled American man had approached him asking for directions, seemingly out of breath and covered with mud. This description matched the individual Pauline Thompson was seen with on the night of her murder, as well as the descriptions given by several women who had survived recent attacks.
Suspicion focused on American servicemen after an Australian sentry reported sighting a GI in blood-stained clothing on May 28. Troops in Melbourne were assembled on parade, for an inspection, and the sentry picked Leonski from the lineup. Under questioning, the stocky Texan made a full confession, telling his interrogators of a twisted fascination with the female voice. "That's why I choked those ladies," he explained. "It was to get their voices." Pauline Thompson had sung for Leonski on their last date, and he recalled that "Her voice was sweet and soft, and I could feel myself going mad about it."
Dubbed the "Singing Strangler" in the press, Leonski filed a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Trial and execution
Leonski was convicted and sentenced to death at a United States Army general court-martial on July 17, 1942. He described himself as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. General Douglas MacArthur confirmed the sentence on October 14, 1942 and a Board of Review upheld the findings and sentence on October 28, 1942. General Court-Martial Order 1 promulgated Leonski's death sentence on November 1, 1942.
Held in the city watchhouse, he corresponded with a woman at Eltham, learned Oscar Wilde's 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' and became a communicant of the Catholic Church.
In a departure from normal procedure, on November 4, 1942, MacArthur personally signed the order of execution (in future executions, this administrative task would be entrusted to his Chief of Staff, Richard Sutherland). Leonski was hanged at Pentridge Prison on November 9, 1942, only the second American serviceman to be executed during World War II.
Leonski's counsel, Ira C. Rothgerber, attempted to win an external review, even from the U.S. Supreme Court, but was unable to do so. Rothgerber kept the issue alive after the war, and Leonski's case contributed to the development of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Leonski was temporarily interred at several cemeteries in Australia. His remains were eventually permanently interred in Section 9, Row B, Site 8 at Schofield Barracks Post Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii, in a portion of the facility reserved for general prisoners who had died in military custody.
Albert Tucker's painting, 'Memory of Leonski' (in his 'Image of Evil' series, 1943), is privately owned; Leonski was also the subject of a novel by Andrew Mallon (1979) and of a feature film, Death of a Soldier (1986).
Source - Murderpedia
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer