Updated: Mar 10, 2021
It was an event that horrified the Australian population in the 1920s. A father slashes the throats of his three little girls and goes missing, with authorities believing he has committed suicide.
Edward Williams paced backwards and forwards in the small dark room, constantly glancing over at the double bed against the wall where his three young daughters were sleeping peacefully. The sounds of passers-by talking and walking along Underwood St in the Sydney suburb of Paddington were the only interruption to the still quiet night. This did not calm Edward, however, and he looked again at his daughters and then raised the razor he had in his hand, watching, as if in a trance, how the street light from outside the window glinted off its sharp edge.
Edward had sharpened the razor especially for what he felt he had to do. He didn't want his daughters to suffer in this life. He knew he loved them, but he also knew he couldn't look after them anymore. It had been a very difficult two years that had seen his wife Eileen become mentally unstable since their last child was born. He had had no choice but to have her admitted to Callan Park Asylum. Edward and the girls had visited their mother on a regular basis, but this had become too hard a burden to bear.
The photo of Edward Williams that circulated after it was discovered he had killed his three daughters. Photo: The Herald
As a music teacher Edward didn't earn enough to keep the girls safe and he had no regular baby-sitter that could help him when he was visiting his students. This is why he decided to take the action he now committed himself to. While they were sleeping was the best time to do it. He would cut heavy so they wouldn't wake and would soon be in heaven.
Six-year-old Rosalie, four-year-old Mary and two-year-old Cecilia never knew what happened to them. Edward lifted their heads to ensure he slashed their throats most effectively. He sobbed as he knew he couldn't reverse his actions. When the deed was done he spread a sheet over the three little bodies, who had felt no pain as they hadn't even twitched, and glanced at the clock. It was five minutes to eleven.
Rosalie (6), Mary (4) and Cecilia (2) were murdered in their sleep by their father Edward. Photo: The Herald.
The next morning Edward headed to his friend Mr Tonkin's furniture store in Oxford Street and asked him to come to his house and take a number of items of furniture, including a piano, to cover a debt he owed him. Little did Tonkin know when he went to the house with Edward, they stood in the bedroom and discussed a new job the music teacher said he had obtained in Queensland, the bodies of the three little girls lay cold under the quilt. In later interviews Tonkin would say he thought it was just a pile of clothes.
After being told that he and the girls were leaving the area, Edward's landlady, his sister-in-law Florence Mahon went into the room and noticed the untidy bed. She drew back the counterpane and made the discovery of the three bodies. Her husband rushed into the room at the sound of his wife's screams, to discover she had fainted. The police were immediately called, but Edward had been seen catching a tram and had disappeared.
After an examination by the coroner, the three little girls were eventually buried together in Waverley cemetery in a family grave.
The final resting place of the Williams girls in a family grave at Waverley cemetery. Photo: Gregory Ross, Friends of Waverley Cemetery
* 'Tragedy of Want - How Edward Williams Killed his Children', The Daily Express, Wednesday 13 February 1924, Page 1
* 'Murder of Williams children', Evening News, Thursday 7 February, 1924, Page 1
* 'Sydney ringed with police', The Herald, Friday 8 February 1924, Page 13