Introducing the first in a new series of Mamamia True Crime stories about some of Australia’s most famous and baffling cases.
WARNING: This post deals with murder and includes graphic details.
As a young girl, Katherine Knight had terrible mood swings. She bullied kids younger than her at Muswellbrook High School, in New South Wales’ Upper Hunter region. She was a loner; an outcast. Legendary for assaulting a younger boy with a knife, students weren’t the only ones that feared her: teachers did too.
When Kathy Knight was a teenager she was known for this singular quality: on a good day she was great, and on a bad day she was evil.
No one knows exactly why Kathy didn’t fit in. It may have had something to do with her dysfunctional childhood: the fact she was born from an adulterous affair; frequently sexually assaulted by several members of her own family; and had grown up watching her father – a violent alcoholic – sexually intimidate, violate, and assault her mother on a daily basis.
Kathy’s mother, with no one else to whom she could turn, confided in Kathy from the time she was a child: she recounted the intimate details of her non-consensual sex life; the awful nature of sex in general; and the repugnance and brutality of all men.
These stories and the bleak picture they painted of adult relationships left an indelible mark on an already troubled and vulnerable child who had herself witnessed countless disturbing incidents of abuse and violence.
In 2000, when she was 45 years old, Knight murdered her fourth husband, John Price. She then skinned him – dangling his skin from meat hooks on the ceiling – and cooked his flesh. The media dubbed her the ‘Female Hannibal Lector’, and on November 8, 2001, Justice Barry O’Keefe sentenced her to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
She was the first and only woman in Australian history to receive such a sentence. And the words “never to be released” are stamped across her papers to this day.
In the beginning...
In 1971, Kathy left school aged 15. Unable to read and write, she managed to find employment at the local abattoir in the tiny NSW town of Aberdeen where she lived.
The abattoir was the main source of employment for residents of Aberdeen, population 1500. Sheep, lamb, beef, rabbit and pigs were among the livestock that passed across the killing floor. Every week on Tuesdays or Wednesdays the abattoir would burn carcasses, enveloping the town in an acrid, overwhelming stench. You could never get away from the abattoir in Aberdeen.
But in Kathy's own words, it was her "dream job". She wanted nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of her father, Ken Knight. Despite his alcoholism and sexually abusive tendencies, Kathy always admired the fact he worked at the infamous Aberdeen abattoir.
She also had a deep infatuation with knives.
Meshel Laurie deep dives into some of Australia's most chilling murders with true crime writer, Emily Webb. Post continues after audio...
Kathy was hired in a cleaning role initially: mopping pools of blood from the floor; removing and disposing of carcasses; handling animal flesh.
She didn't clean for long. Kathy impressed her peers and superiors, and within a few months, she was promoted: she moved on to boning and slicing carcasses.
Her knife skills were precise on a bad day, and exquisite on a good one. Colleagues - including John Chillingworth, an older, married man with whom Kathy struck up a friendship - were both shocked and impressed in equal parts.
With her promotion, the abattoir gifted a teenage Kathy with her own set of long-bladed, butcher's knives. Most employees left their knives at work: that's the only place they were used, so that's what made the most sense. Kathy, however, took a huge amount of pride in her knives. She took them home each and every night to clean... and admire.
According to Casefile True Crime, Kathy's teenage years were relatively uneventful...
"She was generally kind-natured and helpful, with a heart of gold. She was average looking, tall, slim, with red hair and glasses. She liked to make her own clothes, she was good at knitting, she played Bingo. There was nothing spectacular about her at all."
She was described by those who knew her then as "a kind-hearted bubbly girl who didn't warrant a second glance if you passed her on the street". But her personality was a split one: because at her core lay streaks of rage. And violence.
Her first husband, David Kellet
In 1973, Kathy met abattoir co-worker David Kellett, and the pair instantly struck-up a relationship. It was a passionate one, filled with giddy highs and violent lows. David wasn't a violent man however... it was Kathy who lashed out: she cracked him over the head with metal frying pans; bludgeoned him with saucepans; and slashed his clothes with kitchen knives.
David forgave her, though. They married after a few short months. And as you would expect, their wedding day was a tumultuous one.
According to Peter Lalor, author of a book about Knight, Blood Stain, Kathy's mother said this to Kellett on their wedding day:
"You better watch this one or she'll f***ing kill you. Stir her up the wrong way or do the wrong thing and you're f**ked, don't ever think of playing up on her [cheating on her], she'll f**kin' kill you.'
Maybe David Kellett thought she was joking. Or maybe he was so in love he felt her dark side could be tamed. He went through with the marriage.
The wedding itself was pleasant enough: a quiet service at the local registration office. However, that night, a drunk Kellett was unable to perform to Kathy's sexual standards... and Kathy wasn't happy. She retaliated by strangling him. It wasn't a genuine attempt on his life... but she was sending a message: 'Get back in line. I'm in charge here.'
Kellett put up with Kathy's abuse over two turbulent years, during which they had a daughter together. But one evening, after Kathy hit David with a saucepan, knocking him unconscious... he was done. He ran off with another woman, leaving Kathy with their daughter.
Kathy didn't handle it well: she abandoned the pair's daughter on a set of nearby railroad tracks; held an abattoir worker at knifepoint, in the hope of being driven to Kellett's mother's house (where she planned to kill her, then commit suicide); and was found swinging an axe around the centre of town.
Their daughter was rescued from the train tracks by 'Old Ted', a well-known local forager.
Police placed Kathy under arrest, and transported her to St. Elmo's hospital in Tamworth for psychological evaluation. She was diagnosed with postnatal depression and a split personality disorder.
She was released from hospital into David Kellett's care. The pair regained custody of their daughter and resumed their relationship. The re-united family moved back into their marital home, and in 1980 they had another daughter. Ever-lustful of her beloved butcher's knives, she made a disturbing request of Kellett: that he mount her beloved knives above their bed.
Four tumultuous years later, their relationship reached a permanent conclusion. Kathy left, and her attention turned back to full time work at the abattoir. She was as ambitious as ever, but it didn't last long. The following year, she received a a back injury while on the job. The injury was a serious one: she was placed on the disability pension, and offered a housing commission property in Aberdeen.
The onset of injury meant the end of Kathy's work at the abattoir. And with that, the end of a viable outlet through which she could physically manifest her love of knives.
Knight's following three relationships went down a similarly violent path to her first. The pattern had been established.
Relationship with David Saunders
She entered an initially uneventful relationship with miner David Saunders in 1986, but quickly became jealous of what Saunders' might've been doing when she wasn't around.
The New York Daily News reports "he was a simple guy who loved dogs, booze and good times, which Knight, with her roaring hunger for wild sex, was quick to provide."
No evidence exists to suggest he was, in fact, being unfaithful. But Knight felt the need to send him a message regardless: she sliced the throat of Saunder's two-month-old puppy, in the garden of their home.
He left. She apologised. He returned.
By that time, the couple had a daughter together - Kathy's third child. Thanks to her disability payments, Kathy was legally able to purchase the house in which the couple lived. She took it upon herself to interior decorate: animal skins, skulls, horns, rusty animal traps, leather jackets, old boots, machetes, rakes and pitchforks littered the home.
It all became too much when Kathy beat Saunders with an iron following an argument. Journalist Mara Bovsun writes:
"He came home too late after a night out with some pals. She hit him in the head with an iron and stabbed him with scissors. He ended up in the hospital for three days."
And with that, Saunders was gone. He took long service leave from his job, and went into hiding. When he returned seven months later to visit his daughter, he was informed there had been an AVO (Apprehended Violence Order) taken against him. When he asked Police whom had sought out the order, they gave him an answer: it was Kathy. She claimed she was afraid of him.
Relationship with John Chillingworth
She first met John Chillingworth working in the Aberdeen abattoir when she was only 18. Chillingworth, seven years her senior, was married at the time. But they struck up a friendship.
By 1990, Chillingworth had split from his wife and the 43-year-old entered a relationship with a 35-year-old Katherine Knight. She quickly gave birth to a baby boy, Eric.
Eric was child number four for Knight, to a third different father.
Chillingworth and Knight dated for three years, and never married. She left him in 1994 for John Price.
Relationship with John Price
John 'Pricey' Price was a good human being.
He was a man with whom Knight had been having an affair for some time; a man who already had three beautiful children of his own; and a man whom, however unwillingly, would play a part in broadcasting the name Katherine Knight across news headlines worldwide.
Price was well aware of Kathy's stormy reputation. In the small town of Aberdeen, it was impossible not to be. Everyone had a Kathy story.
There was that time she knocked her beau unconscious with a frying pan; the time she left her infant daughter on the railway tracks; or that time she slaughtered her fella's pup with her own two hands.
His friends warned him - they were well aware of her reputation - but Price wouldn't hear a word against her: as far as he was concerned, their life together was "like a bunch of roses."
Like her past relationships, the pair fought regularly. When Price refused to marry her, Kathy sent video footage of toilet rolls and expired medical kits he'd stolen from work to his boss. The items had been scavenged from the company rubbish tip, rather than stolen... but the footage was enough for Price to lose his job of 17 years.
He kicked Kathy out of the house immediately. Whispers began. Rumours of what she'd done spread through the tight-knit town, feeding the 'Katherine Knight enigma'.
It was at this point, according to court documents, that Kathy hauntingly confided in her daughter:
“I told him if he took me back this time it was to the death”.
Just like that, Kathy flicked the switch. She once again reverted to the loving, sex-driven partner she had the capability to be. Price took her back. She moved back into his home.
The fighting became increasingly frequent, and increasingly physical. Price's friends reached a stage where they refused to see him as long as the pair remained together. They could see what he couldn't: her rage frequently sent her to an unreachable place. It was only a matter of time before she took an argument too far.
That argument came in February 2000, when Knight, 45 at the time, assaulted Price. She used a knife to stab him in the chest following a heated debate. Price, in dire fear for the lives of himself and his children, took out a restraining order. He kicked her out of his house.
But it wasn't enough. Because that evening - February 29th 2000 - regardless of the AVO, Price feared she would break into his home, and kill him. He warned his co-workers: if he didn't turn up for work the next day, Knight would have killed him.
They pleaded for him not to return home. But Price felt that if he wasn't there, her inexplicable rage would be directed towards his children instead, two of whom lived with him.
His fears were by no means unfounded. Kathy's brother Kenneth Knight later revealed that Kathy would share her intentions with him in the weeks leading up to the murder:
“I am going to kill Pricey and the two kids too...I’ll get away with it cause I’ll make out I’m mad."
The most gruesome crime in Australian history
Price failed to heed the advice of his colleagues, who warned him not to return home on the evening of February 29th 2000. Despite his fears, he arrived home at 9:30pm to find an empty house: Kathy was not waiting. However his children were not there either. He later found out Kathy had sent them to stay at elsewhere for the night.
Kathy kept a key to John's house despite their relationship issues, and it was this key that allowed her entry into John's house at around 11pm that evening.
According to Casefile, "there was no fighting, no arguing... instead, they had sex". John Price forgot all about the fear he had for the woman in his bed. He dropped his guard and it was a decision that would cost him his life.
John Price was a beacon of reliability. He never missed work. Was always where he said he'd be. So it raised more than a few eyebrows when he failed to show for work the next morning. Police were contacted immediately.
Warning: graphic details of John Price's murder below.
Officer Matthews and Officer Furlonger arrived at Price's house at approximately 8:10am. The date was March 1 2000. The door was locked, and their knocking went unanswered. So they ventured round the side of the house, and broke in through the back door.
Officer Matthews recounted the experience on Casefile: "There was something hanging, blocking my entry... I thought it looked like some type of blanket... I used my left to hand push it aside, and I remember feeling coldness... I looked down and my left arm was covered in blood. I couldn't understand why my arm was bleeding."
Officer Matthews came to a reasonable conclusion: that he must have cut himself forcing entry into the house.
He had not, though. Their entry had been textbook.
The blood on the left arm of Officer Matthews came from the "pelt" of John Price. The material dangling from the ceiling wasn't a blanket at all. Attached to a meat hook, swinging from side-to-side across the entryway into the corridor was John Price's skin.
"I saw a torso on the ground without a head, without any genitalia" - Officer Matthews
John Price's corpse no longer bore resemblance to a human being. According to his autopsy, he'd been stabbed 37 times in both the front and back of his body. Many of these stab wounds extended into vital organs. Knight then skinned him, with the casualness and precision one could only pickup from working years in an abattoir. She hung his skin from the ceiling; a hide, waiting to dry.
According the Price's autopsy, Knight then decapitated him. She detached his head from his torso, placed it into a pot, and boiled it. The officers on the scene found Price's head still in this pot.
She carved other parts of his body, too. Cooked meat was plated alongside boiled vegetables, and lay on the dining table. Beside each plated meal lay a name tag, Knight's intended recipients of the meal. On the tags,the names of John Price's children from his first marriage were scrawled.
Knight's comatose body was in her bedroom. She'd taken a large number of pills and was unresponsive.
"We carried her outside and put her onto the back lawn... I wasn't sure if she tried to kill herself, but she certainly wasn't injured in any way", Officer Matthews revealed on Casefile.
Kathy was handcuffed and taken to a psychiatric ward. The officers held grave concerns for Price's children. However they were found alive and well at the house of Kathy's second eldest daughter, Natasha.
Knight claimed she remembered none of the incident. She claimed she had amnesia and dissociation, which, if found to be true, had the potential to reduce her sentence.
However after extensive psychological testing, she was deemed clinically sane.
After initially insisting on pleading guilty only to manslaughter, Kathy Knight changed her plea.
She pleaded guilty to the murder of John Charles Thomas Price, and in 2001 was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Katherine Knight was the first woman in Australian history to receive such a sentence.
In 2006, she appealed the sentence. In Kathy's eyes, regardless of her crime, the reality of life in jail without the possibility of ever being released was unnecessarily harsh. The judge, however, felt differently.
"This was an appalling crime, almost beyond contemplation in a civilised society,” he wrote. Her appeal was rejected.
John Price's family were present during the trial.
44-year-old Robert Edward Price, brother of John, was arrested attempting to smuggle two shards of glass into the courtroom. According to the Newcastle Herald, he was heard on the steps outside the court saying, "I'm going to kill the **** that killed my brother". He was fined $800.
Katherine Knight is currently being held at Silverwater Women's Correctional Centre in NSW. According to the Daily Mail, "Knight regularly attends church services and sings in a women's prison choir."
She will never walk free.
You can listen to the Casefile True Crime Podcast episode on Katherine Knight, here.