Leonski, Edward Joseph, the “Brownout Strangler”.

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Leonski, Edward Joseph, the "Brownout Strangler".
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Leonski, Edward Joseph, born 12-12-1917 in Kenvil, New Jersy, the sixth child of Russian-born parents John Leonski, labourer, and his wife Amelia, born Harkavitz. Leonski grew up in an abusive alcoholic family. One of his brothers was committed to a mental institution. According to a psychologist who interviewed Leonski during his trial, his mother had been overprotective and controlling. Leonski had been bullied by other neighborhood kids and called a mama’s boy. Accordingly, the psychologist ruled that Leonski’s crimes were born of his resentment and hatred of his mother and thus constituted “symbolic matricide .

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 as a delivery boy for Gristede Bros Inc. Superior Food Markets. He was called up for the U.S. Army in February 1941 When called up for military service on 17-02-1941, he left behind an unhappy family: a mother mentally unstable, two brothers with prison records and a third in a psychiatric hospital. While stationed with the 52nd Signal Battalion at San Antonio, Texas, Leonski began to drink heavily, preferring such concoctions as whisky laced with hot peppers; he displayed his strength by vaulting on to bar counters and walking along them on his hands. About this time he tried to strangle a woman. The American authorities failed to comprehend the problem that they shipped to Australia in January 1942. He arrived in Melbourne, Australia, on 02-02-1942, after the United States had entered World War II.

Leonski was quartered at Camp Pell, Royal Park. He resumed his ferocious drinking and allegedly attempted to rape a woman in her St Kilda flat. Drunkenness led to thirty days in the stockade, but release was followed by another binge.

On 03-05-1942, Ivy Violet McLeod, 40, was found in the doorway of a shop next to the Bleak House Hotel, Albert Park. Melbourne newspapers immediately dubbed it a ‘Brownout Crime’.  She had been beaten and Stranghed, and because she was found to be in possession of her purse it was evident that robbery was not the motive and though their genitals were exposed, she was not sexually assaulted. Six days later 31-year-old Pauline Thompson was strangled after a night out. She was last seen in the company of a young man who was described as having an American accent. 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.”

Gladys Hosking, 40,  was the next victim, murdered on May 18 while walking home from work at the Chemistry Library at  Melbourne University. A witness said that, on the night of the killing, a disheveled American man had approached her asking for directions, seemingly out of breath and covered with mud. This description matched the individual Thompson was seen with on the night of her murder, as well as the descriptions given by several women who had survived recent attacks. These survivors and other witnesses were able to pick 24-year-old Leonski out of a line-up of American servicemen  who were stationed in Melbourne. Leonski, a private in the 52nd Signal Battalion , was arrested and charged with three murders.

Although Leonski’s crimes were committed on Australian soil, the trial was conducted under American military law.  Leonski confessed to the crimes and was convicted and sentenced to death at a general court-martial on 17-07-1942. His motive for the murders was his twisted fascination with female voices, especially when they sang. He claimed that he killed the women to “get their votes.” All three were throttled; all were older than the killer; and, though their genitals were exposed, none was sexually assaulted.

General Douglas MacArthur  confirmed the sentence on October 14, and a Board of Review upheld the findings and sentence on October 28. General Court-Martial Order 1 promulgated Leonski’s death sentence on November 1. In a departure from normal procedure, on November 4, MacArthur personally signed the order of execution (in subsequent executions this administrative task was entrusted to MacArthur’s Chief of Staff Major General Richard Sutherland. 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. Leonski was hanged at Pentridge Prison on 09-11-1942, age 24. He was only the second U.S. soldier to be executed during World War II.

Leonski’s defense attorney, Ira C. Rothgerber,  attempted to win an external review, even from the U.S. Suprme Court , but was unable to do so. He 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 on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii. His grave is located in a section of the facility reserved for prisoners who died in military custody. There were six graves of war criminals, and the other five were, Robert R Peardon, Garlon Mickles , Louis E Garbus, Cornelius Thomas and Jesse D Boston. Private First Class Jesse Boston was a 36 years old Negro soldier found guilty of the murder of a Maui woman Mrs Saito. He struck her on the head with a nine pound stone. Private Thomas a 23 year old Negro soldier shot the Maui man, Francis Timothy Silva with a pistol.




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