The Smiling Strangler: Eddie Leonski

Stepping off the tram at the Beaconsfield Parade stop in Melbourne’s Albert Park, the fresh salty smell of the nearby ocean hit me. It was easy to locate the supermarket which now sits in place of the old shops and alcove were Ivy McLeod, aged 38, had sheltered from the cold whilst waiting for her tram on the fateful night she was killed.

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Ivy McLeod.

In the middle of World War Two the Australian government had imposed a brownout on Melbourne and other main Australian cities to reduce risk of attack from Japanese forces. American soldiers had arrived by the tens of thousands to help Australians fight in the south pacific. One of the soldiers, a young man named Eddie Leonski, sent to help protect, instead became a predator of Melbourne women, using the dimly lit streets of Melbourne’s brownout to help carry out his evil and twisted murders.

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Eddie Leonski.

After living in this city for over a year the earlier excitement I had when I first arrived in Melbourne had begun to dull, but on the tram ride to Beaconsfield Parade I felt a renewed appreciation. If it’s one thing I love about Melbourne, it is the many well preserved historical buildings. Few things endear me more to a place than visiting historical sites and exploring the areas history.

It was sad fate that Ivy made an impromptu visit to her boyfriend on the night of her murder, declined his offer to walk her to the normally safe tram stop, and then appeared to have missed her tram by only minutes due to it leaving early. Ivy had already been through hard times in her life before her murder, she had not heard from her estranged husband in 5 years and had also undergone a premature hysterectomy.

Beaconsfield Parade Tram stop, Albert Park. 2018.

Having drank first at the Victoria Hotel then the Bleak House hotel, (now in it’s place contemporary bar The Beach) American soldier Eddie Leonski was sitting on a low wall bordering the South Melbourne Beach and Beaconsfield Parade when he heard footsteps across the street and saw a woman, Ivy McLeod.

Eddie went over to join Ivy in the alcove in the pretence he was also seeking shelter. Once inside the alcove he almost immediately placed an arm across her shoulder, quickly bringing up the other arm to choke her. Ivy collapsed almost instantly, hitting her head which killed her. Eddie began to rearrange her body into lewd positions before being interrupted by a man coming out to inspect from a nearby block of flats.

The Hotel Victoria, Beaconsfield Parade, Albert Park. 2018.

Walking onto Beaconsfield Parade, I was able to find the Hotel Victoria quite quickly, a beautiful and well maintained historical building, across from the beach.

Beaconsfield Parade, South Melbourne Beach. 2018.(Across the street is the area were Ivy sheltered in the alcove and the tram stop.)

Returning to Victoria Avenue, after standing outside the supermarket entrance (as if it were the alcove) which attracted a rather bemused look from the store owner, I caught the tram back to the city and from Elizabeth Street made my way down Collins Street towards Collins Place, the former site of the Astoria Hotel, now an international shopping complex.

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Pauline Thompson.

Eddie’s next victim, the attractive 31 year old Pauline Thompson, who also went by the name Coral, had moved to Melbourne to pursue her career as an entertainer, while her husband stayed behind in Bendigo to wait for a work transfer. Believing herself to have been stood up by a young male friend (who was running late) Pauline decided to join the friendly, young and handsome Eddie for drinks after he approached her at the Hospitality Club on Elizabeth Street.

It was at the Astoria Hotel in Collins Place, they downed gin and squashes before Eddie walked with Pauline back to her boarding house on Spring Street, attacking her just outside her front door. Pauline, according to Eddie had put up quite a struggle. After killing and raping her, he arranged her body into a lewd, half naked position as he had done with Ivy.

Spring Street, Melbourne. 2018.

Gladys Hosking.

Late one May evening in 1942, University lecturer Gladys Hosking, aged 41, was walking home from work, when she ran into Eddie outside a milk bar on the corner of Royal Parade and Gatehouse Street. It was raining and Eddie offered to help the petit woman carry her things while she held her umbrella. Arriving outside Gladys boarding house on Park Street, Eddie asked for directions to Camp Pell (the temporary American military base set up in Melbourne’s Royal Park during world war two).

According to Eddie, Gladys offered to take him there, so they walked back up to Gatehouse Street and it was on the grass verge just outside Royal Park that Eddie struck, killing the tiny woman quickly, before half undressing and dumping her body down a bank in the park.

Gatehouse Street, Parkville. 2018.

A witness had seen an American soldier walking with Gladys shortly before her death and already on the lookout for the killer of Ivy and the similar murder of Pauline, aswell as a number of attacks on young woman by a young American soldier who fitted the same description, police officers were sent to the American Base to investigate alongside the American military.

With the evening growing late, I hurried along Flinders Lane to catch the tram up to Melbourne University, the workplace of Eddie’s final victim. The walk from Melbourne University and down Royal Parade would be beautiful anytime, but in the late evening with the smell of early spring in the air is especially charming. Old Victorian Mansions stand in rows along the broad tree lined street with beautifully maintained gingerbread trimmings and roof turrets. It’s the type of area that makes you almost consider if spending most of your pay check on rent would be worthwhile. Arriving at Royal Park, I didn’t stay long as it was getting dark.

It was by chance the Uncle of one of the young ladies who survived such an attack, walked past Eddie, during a visit to Camp Pell to help police try identify the attacker. Upon recognising Eddie he cried out and Eddie was taken in for questioning. Eddie, confronted with much evidence, including witnesses and forensic evidence that matched mud and dirt on his pants to the site Gladys body was dumped, didn’t take long to confess.

Royal Park, Parkville. 2018.

The case was given to the American military to try and Eddie was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, carried out in the Old Melbourne Goal later that year.

I finished my trip with a quick visit to the Melbourne Goal. It was after hours so I was unable to do the tour, but I had a quick look around the open courtyard inside the old Goal’s walls. It seems interesting that less than a hundred years ago prisoners still languished behind the stone walls and were hung in the courtyard. Another era, yet when you put it into perspective, it almost doesn’t seem that long ago.

Sources of information.

Shaw, Ian W. Murder at Dusk: How US soldier and smiling psychopath Eddie Leonski terrorised wartime Melbourne. Australia. Hachette, 2018.

Hore, Monique. Herald Sun, 2018. Edward Leonski hanged by US military on Australian soil in The Hangman’s Journal, part IV

5 thoughts on “The Smiling Strangler: Eddie Leonski

  1. Random murder is most chilling. It can happen to anyone. If there’s any consolation in this tragic tale it’s that justice was served quickly. Amazing that you’ve (literally) traced the progress of this case.

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