Eric Thomas Turner

Eric Thomas Turner, murdered twice in 1948, twice again in 1973

‘You wouldn’t have picked him as a mass murderer’

Eric Turner...the last man in NSW to receive death sentence.

WHEN Eric Thomas Turner was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, it was not the first time he had been told he was going to die.

After strangling his teenage girlfriend and bludgeoning her father to death with an axe, in 1948 he became the last man sentenced to death in NSW. By the time he died 60 years later in Long Bay prison hospital he was the state’s longest-serving inmate.

Turner dodged the hangman when his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released on licence in 1970 and married after a whirlwind romance. But his spell of freedom – and his marriage – ended with another double murder, this time of his mother-in-law and stepson in 1973.

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Turner died aged 80, in July last year, having done time in Bathurst, Berrima, Glen Innes, Goulburn, Kirkconnell, Maitland and Silverwater jails.

Deaths in custody are routinely investigated by the coroner, but an inquest was requested by Turner’s niece who raised concerns about his treatment after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2007.

The Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon yesterday found that Turner died of natural causes. ”There is nothing to suggest that Mr Turner, following his diagnosis … was not provided with appropriate care and treatment,” he told the Coroner’s Court in Glebe.

Turner was used to being given life terms. At the time of his cancer diagnosis, he was given 12 to 18 months. The dedicated smoker suffered a stroke and developed brain tumours before bronchopneumonia killed him. His niece, Gail Turner, was by his side almost until his final hour. At her request the prison’s Anglican chaplain, Ray Beckman, baptised the killer on his deathbed.

For Turner’s victims, the end had come more swiftly. In 1948, aged 20, he strangled his 15-year-old girlfriend, Claire Sullivan, at Liverpool.

Her father, Frank Sullivan, had tried to break up the relationship. Turner took to him with an axe.

His relationship troubles again turned deadly in 1973. Apparently blaming the failure of his three-week marriage on his mother-in-law, Harriet Field, he stabbed her 11 times. His stepson, John Pilz, 11, was fatally stabbed trying to defend his grandmother.

When Turner’s life sentences were redetermined by a Supreme Court judge in 1992, prison reports reflected a mellowing of his truculent and explosive personality. He was described as a ”quiet, affable, ageing gentleman”, a ”rather tragic figure”.

He became eligible for parole in 1993 but it was repeatedly denied.

He unsuccessfully sought his freedom in 2007 after learning he was terminally ill but was granted day release early last year.

Turner was deeply institutionalised, his lawyer, Jack Grahame, said yesterday.

”He was totally unfamiliar with what was going on in the outside world and relied entirely on the jail routine,” Mr Grahame said.

”He was used to being told what to do. If he had ever been released it would have been very confusing and difficult for him.”

Both double murders were committed when Turner was ”full of grog”, Mr Grahame said.

”If you met him in a friend’s home you’d think he was a slightly withdrawn but quite affable old man. You wouldn’t have picked him as a mass murderer.”

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36 thoughts on “Eric Thomas Turner

  1. Leon or Kylie,did you get my response about a month ago? I wrote im not sure about Louisa,but she had 3 other children while married to Norm Proctor,B….,M…. and J……,does this help?


  2. Elizabeth is my dads mother he is looking for her or any information on her please call me on 0432210697 with any information at all thank u


    • Hi I am Eric’s sister Lorna. Elizabeth (Betty) Mary Turner is my sister. The last I know Betty lived in Junee NSW. My brother Bob Turner Lives in Richmond NSW, he may have a contact for Betty. I am happy for you to contact me re his address and phone no. Regards Lorna


        • hi, My sister Daphne Swainson has lived in England since 1946. Do you mean Daphne Swainson’s son. Or is there another Daphne in the family?


          • Hi Lorna,

            If you give permission, I can swap email addresses for you and john6747. It will need to be on this email address that you use all the time for this site, so I know it is you.


          • Hi John, Do you have any photos of your family – many years ago, when my Mum was alive she had a photo of Daphne with her children. Mum lost all family photos due to flood/fire when she was living with my sister. I have never seen a photo of your Dad.
            I have two adult children, Sonya and Andrew and three grandchildren. My husband, Reg and I have recently bought a house near the beach after having lived in Melbourne suburbia for 25 years.
            My brother Tony lives in NSW-Bob, another brother, I haven’t seen since my Mum’s funeral. My youngest brother Ronnie died in 1998. It is a pity that we were not a close family but circumstances got in the way.
            I would love to hear from you and yours when you have a moment.
            Regards Lorna.


      • Hi again, This is Lorna – what I meant to say was “who is your Pop?”-I am taking your Pop to be Bob Turner and your mother is Gail. Regards Lorna.


  3. I did a year at Berrima and a year at Kirk when Eric was there. He was a very nice, polite, gentle old man. The young crims and some screws (the 2 lowest orders of pond life in my opinion) used to torment him but he showed remarkable patience – he never killed any of them altho they richly deserved it and he had nothing to lose. I used to give Eric extra pies, which he loved, when I worked in the store and always made sure he had tobacco and he was always very grateful. He had a wry sense of humour. Once a wanker officer took him into town to “acclimatise” him to modern life and reported that Eric had failed to show much enthusiasm.”What did he want me to do?” Eric said, “Jump up and down”


  4. you people are delusional read what this filth done to my grandmother,3101354
    why was parole denied repeatedly! i’ll tell you why its because he had continually made threats against the surviving members of the family my mother and father lived in fear of his release I recall my father sleeping with a loaded shotgun beside the bed and him saying “drop round eric I got something for you”
    “remarkable patience” bullo! he was probably too scared that what he had done to others may well have happened to him!
    the nsw government failed my family by not dispatching this grub after his first double murder


  5. This is my great uncle my dads mums brother who recently to meet up with his mum who he had no seen for years :) it’s amazing that knowing Eric’s name could bring the family bak together I know my dad was happy when they reunited


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