Graeme John Slattery was a sadist well before he kept a woman prisoner as his ‘slave’ in the garage of his Warrnambool house
May 12, 2014
GRAEME John Slattery became a sadist before he became a teenager.
By the time he was 11 or 12 his two younger sisters remember childhood bullying turning into something far more sinister.
It was about that time, during beachside family holidays at Balgowan, on the Yorke Peninsula, that his nasty streak began to badly frighten the girls.
They remember him throwing fish guts and blood into the water to try to attract sharks while his nine-year-old sister was learning how to swim near the jetty.
And the time he pushed her out of a dinghy more than 300m off shore and left her struggling in the water to fend for herself.
And how he used to terrify her by putting her head in an oven at the family’s home in Adelaide and switching the gas on.
The painful recollections of Slattery’s family reveal a history of brutality stretching back 30 years.
They make it clear that until the day he was sentenced to at least 11 1/2 years in jail — for his disgusting treatment of a woman who lived in the garage of the family’s Warrnambool home for 12 months in 1998 and 1999 — he had never been adequately punished for a lifetime of inflicting pain on others.
The case that finally brought him to court, and made him a source of enormous public fascination and disgust, was the extraordinary tale of the woman he called “Toe Rag’’ and treated as a slave.
Slattery, a 42-year-old boat builder at the time he faced trial, originally faced 69 charges including rape and 34 assaults.
The assaults included allegations she had been forced to eat cow manure and Slattery’s faeces, that she had been made to bang her head against walls, a tree, a cafe window, a lamp post and a concrete block, punch herself in the ears, drink motor oil and eat snails.
The prosecution also alleged the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was forced to stand naked on her head in front of Mr Slattery’s friends, and run naked across roads.
It took four days of deliberations for the jury to convict him of 10 counts of intentionally causing injury, eight indecent assaults, 22 assaults, one count of threatening serious injury and one of blackmail. He was cleared of the others, including the charge of rape.
A psychologist and a psychiatrist who assessed Slattery for the judge who sentenced him disagreed about whether there was any forensic explanation for his conduct, but his family’s views are uncomplicated.
“I think he gets a thrill out of hurting people,’’ said one of Slattery’s sisters
“But it’s always women or children, or people weaker than he is — people he can have authority over. He never takes on anyone bigger or stronger than him.’’
She recalled the time her 17-year-old brother held his teenage girlfriend upside down in a swimming pool at their home and nearly drowned her.
Later, when he was an adult, she saw him punish his eldest daughter in the same way by submerging her head in a fish pond in the garden.
The little girl was three, and had been taken back to Adelaide by Slattery and his wife, Julie, to see his terminally ill mother.
“He started an argument by saying that he wanted many of mum’s valuables when she died,’’ his sister said recently in a statement to police.
“He was yelling at us. This caused his three-year-old daughter to start screaming and he said to Julie, `Shut that f…… kid up’.
“She didn’t stop. Graeme grabbed her and ran outside to the fish pond. He then held her by the ankles, head first in the fish pond.
“Dad and the rest of us went outside. We told him to stop. He wouldn’t, and there was nothing we could do.
“He eventually let her head out of the water. She was choking on the water.’’
She said that around the same time her brother grabbed a sharp kitchen knife, held it against his other sister’s stomach and threatened to cut out her unborn child.
Slattery’s father, John, said his son was often bad tempered and nasty to other people as a child, and was taken to a doctor at the age of six or seven because of his behavioural problems.
He was prescribed medication which improved his behaviour, but he stopped taking it when he was 16 after a nurse told him it was for people with mental problems and epilepsy.
“Within a few months he became very nasty towards his sister,’’ Mr Slattery said in a statement to police. “He was argumentative and impossible to talk to because he was always right.’’
HE said that about that time his son started learning karate, and would practise for hours every day.
“He was fanatical about it. He was practising with his friends and would put protective jackets on them, but he would still hurt them and they stopped visiting him.
“By the time he was 18 he was big and strong and I was very wary of him physically. For him to say he was frightened of me is ridiculous.’’
That claim by Graeme Slattery — that a violent upbringing explained his subsequent depraved behaviour — was made in a psychologist’s report tendered to the County Court during his pre-sentence plea hearing.
It has been dismissed as fanciful nonsense by all other members of his family.
The psychologist’s diagnosis of an anti-social borderline personality disorder was also dismissed by the psychiatrist.
After leaving school Slattery got a job as a delivery driver for the Adelaide Ball Bearing Company.
He didn’t last long, but by the time he was 18 the strapping teenager with a love of cars asked his parents to guarantee a loan and help him set up a car detailing business.
He was soon in trouble with the law over forged cheques he used to buy paint for the business — and a karate trophy he pretended to have won in competition.
The cheques were stolen by a man wearing a balaclava who knocked a woman down and stole her purse, but Slattery insisted he had found them in the street.
He was given a suspended sentence by the Adelaide Supreme Court. Just before his 21st birthday he was back in trouble and in jail facing a charge of car theft.
His parents bailed him, but he failed to appear in court.
A warrant for his arrest was issued, but — with his parents’ help — he fled to Brisbane, Perth then Sydney, where he met his future wife, Julie.
By the late 1980s he had settled in Melbourne, where he took up abalone poaching and philandering — both on a large scale.
John Slattery told police his son brought three women to Adelaide and introduced them to the family.
All had been told Julie was Slattery’s sister, and at least two of them thought they were going to marry him.
Mr Slattery also received a call from a woman in Sydney who had been told the same story.
The woman also told him that while skin diving with his son he had cut her air hose and held her underwater until she blacked out.
Warrnambool detective Fred Hughson began tracing Slattery’s movements after his arrest in 2001 for assaulting two employees.
As Det Hughson started joining the dots to establish the extent of Slattery’s criminal behaviour, a frightening pattern emerged.
Holding women and children’s heads under water, whether it was in a swimming pool, a pond, a bucket or the open sea, was not the only common denominator.
For more than 10 years he had preyed on vulnerable single women.
HE convinced them he would help get their lives back in order, borrowed or stole money from them, bullied and beat them, mistreated and humiliated their children and threatened to harm their families if they left him or did not help in his sign-writing and poaching businesses.
The level of overt support Slattery received from his wife and six children during his three-week trial in Ballarat’s County Court was one of many things that amazed people about the man who became known as the slave master.
Julie Slattery was in court almost every day.
The day the jury retired to consider their verdict she blew him a kiss and said, “Bye spunk’’ as he left the dock.
Several of his children, including the daughter dunked in the fish pond, also took their turn in court to lend support.
They heard shocking evidence about their father’s treatment of the ‘slave’ woman who lived at their property.
At one point in the trial prosecutor Peter Faris, QC, suggested to the jury that the woman was almost treated as “the family slave’’.
Julie Slattery certainly saw much of what happened in her own back yard, where the woman was hosed down every few days with cold water, forced to perform degrading chores and regularly beaten.
The court was told Mrs Slattery watched, but said nothing as her husband shaved the woman’s head and forced her to pierce her nipple with a needle, and regularly saw her abused and humiliated.
Judge Graeme Crossley observed after the trial that Mrs Slattery had done well to face only one charge herself.
She received a suspended sentence in 2002 after pleading guilty to making threats to cause serious injury by conspiring with her husband to arrange for a stand-over man to threaten a key witness in a series of fraud charges against Slattery.
Before Slattery’s trial police and prosecutors took the view that his wife had probably been beaten into submission years earlier and, like so many others, became a slave to him.
SLATTERY’S father told police he once saw his son punch his wife in the face and knock her to the ground because she had ironed a crease into his jeans.
But the slave master’s female victims are not inclined to give Julie Slattery the sympathy vote.
Three Melbourne women beaten and brutalised by Slattery between 1989 and 1999 told the Herald Sun they believed she shared culpability for their suffering at her husband’s hands.
All three were first introduced to her as Slattery’s sister, not his wife, and all said she knew he was having relationships with them.
One of Slattery’s real sisters said he had turned his wife into a zombie who was too frightened to do or say anything about his behaviour.
“But there’s help out there,’’ the sister said. “She watched that poor woman humiliated and she did nothing. She should have done something to help.’’
The sister, who did not want to be named, said she felt great sympathy for the couple’s six children.
“They do not deserve children. Those kids probably think this is how life is,’’ she said.
“They used to have brand new bikes in the shed, but they weren’t allowed to ride them because Graeme didn’t want them talking to other people.
“It sounds like a cult, something you’d see in a movie … but unfortunately it’s our family.’’
John Slattery said his son had forced the children to lead a strictly regimented life.
“When they came home from school they had to immediately get into their pyjamas and remain in the house until they went to bed,’’ Mr Slattery said in his statement.
“They weren’t allowed outside to play at all. They were not allowed to go to other children’s parties, and no one was allowed to eat until he came home, and this could be any time.
“Julie and the children had to immediately obey any of his requests, often running to do so.’’
Slattery told psychologist Wendy Northey his life in the ‘90s was “a cross between a James Bond movie and a Jackass movie’’.
He blamed everything from a difficult birth and an abusive father to Asian kingpins in the illegal abalone industry for his grotesque behaviour during the decade of depravity covered by the charges against him.
Slattery told Ms Northey he was making thousands of dollars a week from abalone poaching, and spending thousands a month on amphetamines.
“He was desperately attempting to maintain control at a time when his world was falling apart,’’ Ms Northey wrote in her report to the County Court.
“His life had been threatened and he felt trapped by the heavies of the abalone poaching industry,’’ she said in her assessment of Slattery. “He states: `I was f….., I was their boy’.’’
But, like most of the information in the psychologist’s report, it was based entirely on Slattery’s version of events.
And, like most of the assertions he made, it didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
As Judge Graeme Crossley observed, the bulk of the report was “absolutely unsupported by a tittle of evidence’’.
The one part of Slattery’s statement to the psychologist that was based on fact rather than fiction was his claim that he was a talented soap box racer.
But his father dismissed the psychologist’s assertion in her report to the court that his son “travelled overseas and won a world championship’’.
Family photographs provided by Slattery and included as an attachment to the report included pictures which suggested he had competed in the 39th All-American Soap Box Derby in 1978 in Akron, Ohio.
But Mr Slattery said his son never got to the US to race.
“We couldn’t afford to go. We tried to raise some money, but couldn’t,’’ he said.
He said certificates from Akron and the event organisers, provided to the psychologist by Slattery, had been sent to him as a memento despite his inability to compete.
Graeme Slattery — like his father before him — did win the South Australian billy cart championship, and once recorded a speed of 85km/h in a cart built by his father.
He also raced interstate, but his father said his claim to have beaten visiting Japanese, German and US racers to claim the world title was way off track.
THE great white shark expedition could have been a metaphor for Graeme Slattery’s approach to life.His grand plan to bring overseas divers to Australia to swim with man-eaters certainly sounded impressive.
Like so many of his schemes and lies and fantasies, it was more Jackass than James Bond.
Advance bookings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were sold at a diving industry trade show in New Orleans.
But when the first group of American adventurers arrived in Australia, the biggest shark they encountered proved to be Slattery.
Another victim was “Sandra’’, who accompanied him to the United States dive show and later found she had unwittingly paid for the trip and all the marketing material promoting the venture.
She later told police she had given Slattery more than $35,000 in the belief she was investing in the business and the money would be used to buy boats and equipment.
The money was all in cash, withdrawn from a bank account in her younger son’s name, and was the balance of a court settlement related to the sale of a house after her divorce.
“I thought I was paying for a 28ft (8.5m) Bertram boat in Adelaide that he showed me pictures of and said it was going to be used for the shark diving expeditions,’’
“I never saw the boat, a receipt or anything — but now I know how the trip to America got paid for.’’
Sandra said Slattery took her passport and hid it when they arrived in the US, then left her to sell diving trips while he chatted up women working at the show.
She told police she had no idea how much Slattery was paid or what happened to the money.
But when the first group of American divers arrived in Australia the expedition quickly proved to be “an absolute fiasco’’.
“I was sent to Adelaide, where the trips were to start from,’’ Sandra said.
“Slattery was to supply suitable accommodation and a properly equipped diving boat, a diving cage and staff. If I started to question him about details he told me to shut up.’’
Sandra said Slattery forced her to leave her two sons without warning and drive with him to Adelaide the next day.
“I didn’t want to go, but I had no choice,’’ she said. “In Adelaide there was no boat, a crappy motel and the Americans were getting very angry.’’
After making excuses for several days that the weather was too rough to go diving, Slattery sent Sandra before dawn to tell a charter boat skipper from Kangaroo Island that the trip was off.
When she arrived back at the motel the great white shark hunter had climbed out through a bathroom window and headed home to Melbourne, leaving her to face the music.
“I was wrecked emotionally and physically,’’ she said.
“Eventually the Americans made me come to one of the rooms and sat in a circle around me and asked me what was going on.’’
The disgruntled tourists left the next day talking court cases, while Sandra was left to pay a $1200 bill for the motel and the wages for two girls who had been hired as cooks.
“I knew Graeme was full of lies, but I was in too deep and was too terrified to go against him for fear of his threats,’’ Sandra told police.
THE woman whose ordeal at the hands of slave master Graeme Slattery almost defies belief says
at last she has started to regain control.
She has a job she enjoys, has renewed her relationship with the children she gave up to protect them from Slattery and has a new man in her life.
This time though, it’s a man who loves and respects her, treats her well and makes her happy.
And, importantly, a man her son and daughter regard as “cool’’ after spending three weeks with their mother and her new fiance during the last school holidays.
The woman’s decision to speak is a measure of her new determination and independence.
“Why should I hide any more?’’ she asked.
“I’ve been through so much, and there’s been so many times I just wanted to end it.
“But the support of my family and friends has been great. They all know what happened now, so I don’t see why I should hide my face.
“After what I’ve been through, I’m not going to put up with any crap any more.’’
Her journey back from the depths of despair and humiliation has been long and traumatic.
She has survived two suicide attempts, a major operation, a nervous breakdown and extensive therapy during a long spell in hospital.
But now she feels that at last she has reason to feel more positive and cautiously optimistic about the future.
She also feels anger towards the man who sent her to the dark side.
“I hate his guts,’’ she says.
“I call him `The Plank’, because he’s like a piece of wood with no feelings or emotion.
“I hate him because he put me in this situation. It’s been really hard and I didn’t think I would ever get back to this stage.”
The woman shares the belief of other victims and police who investigated Slattery that he is capable of killing.
“I felt like if I stayed any longer he would kill me,’’ she said.
“It was getting to the stage I was so sick of being belted for no reason at all, I thought if I didn’t get out then I’d probably be dead.’’