Police could have arrested the “granny killer” John Wayne Glover more than three weeks earlier than they did – saving the life of his last victim.
Investigations by the Herald over the past 12 months have discovered that police bungled an inquiry into an attack by Glover on an elderly woman in a nursing home, allowing his reign of terror to continue.
The failure of the police to pick up Glover – who was identified by hospital staff – helps explain how, in broad daylight, in busy suburbs on Sydney’s North Shore, he could escape detection for more than a year as he preyed on frail old ladies, battering and strangling six to death and attacking at least seven more.
Just before noon on January 11 last year, Glover drove his car into the grounds of the Greenwich Hospital in River Road, Greenwich – the hospital was on his regular round as a salesman of pies and pastries. Both the date and the location are significant.
By January, Glover had been on his rampage for 10 months and had already killed five elderly women and assaulted several more in hospitals and nursing homes. All his victims had been attacked within a few kilometres of the Greenwich Hospital, and one had been murdered only 250 metres from the hospital’s front gate.
The previous November, a massive police task force of about 70 officers had been assigned to the case – Australia’s first serial murders – and they were in the process of tracking down more than 700 named suspects and taking thousands of pages of statements the day John Glover walked into the hospital for an appointment with its administrator, Mr Reg Cadman.
The hospital refuses to discuss what happened next, citing patient confidentiality. But the Herald has learnt from police and other sources that after talking to Mr Cadman, John Glover, dressed in his blue-and-white salesman’s jacket and carrying a clipboard, walked into the hospital’s palliative care ward where four very old, very ill women lay dying.
The woman he assaulted was Mrs Daisy Roberts, then aged 82 and suffering from advanced cancer – she has since died. Glover went to her bed, asked if she was losing any body heat, then pulled up her nightie and began to poke and prod her in an indecent way. Mrs Roberts became alarmed and rang the buzzer beside her bed.
A sister at the hospital, Pauline Davis, answered the call and found Glover in the ward. “Who the hell are you?” she called out, and when Glover ran from the ward she chased after him and took his registration number as he drove away.
Sister Davis called the police, and later that day two young, uniformed policewomen from Chatswood police station arrived to investigate.
The hospital staff was able to identify and name Glover – he was well known and quite popular from previous visits on his pie round. Later, the police returned with a Polaroid photograph of Glover which Sister Davis positively identified, and Mrs Roberts said was “most like him”. One of the officers said: “We know who it is. We know all about him.”
Besides the time, the location, and the type of assault – all of which should have immediately alerted police to the possibility that Glover was the granny killer – there was Glover’s police record.
Among his previous convictions, which stretch from 1947 to 1978, were two for assaults on women (one of them elderly) and a six-week stretch he served in jail in Melbourne for a Peeping Tom offence.
But the alarm bells failed to go off. Instead of questioning Glover or taking out a search warrant for his house and car (where the hammer he used to bludgeon some of his victims to death and a pair of gloves were kept under the front seat) the Chatswood police asked Glover to come to the police station for an interview on January 13.
He failed to turn up, and the constables telephoned his wife, Jacqueline Gail Glover. Mrs Glover told one of the officers, “After your phone calls he tried to kill himself”, and told them he was in the Royal North Shore Hospital.
When police went to the hospital, staff gave them Glover’s suicide note, in which he named one of the Chatswood officers and also wrote the phrase “no more grannies”.
When police interviewed him five days later he denied the assault on Mrs Roberts – but he provided a Polaroid photograph of himself which was identified by hospital staff.
In spite of this accumulation of evidence – the modus operandi, the location, the identification, Glover’s prior record – it was not until Monday February 5, 25 days after the attack on Mrs Roberts, that the information was passed on to the task force.
The officers involved were unable to explain this delay to the Herald. And when, eventually, Glover was identified as a suspect, a decision was taken to place him not under arrest for the assault, but under surveillance.
That was a fatal decision.
Glover was released from hospital, and on March 19, while two policemen sat in a car outside, he entered the Beauty Point house of his mistress, 60-year-old Joan Violet Sinclair, battered her to death with a claw hammer and throttled her with a pair of pantyhose, before attempting to kill himself by swallowing pills, drinking a bottle of Scotch and lying in a bath full of water.
Mrs Roberts’s grandson, Mr Steven Groves, a Penrith solicitor, confirmed the circumstances of the attack and told the Herald: “I am appalled at what has happened. After the attack on nan surely the police should have at least rounded him up for questioning.
“The nursing staff quite clearly identified him and took his car registration, and yet this great team of detectives, these experts coming over from the United States, didn’t arrest him. It’s an appalling lack of communications and I believe it has cost at least one person her life.”
The officer in charge of the granny-killer squad, Detective Inspector Mike Hagan, said that he was “disappointed” the information on Glover had not been passed on earlier – the two officers were young and “I don’t think they realised what they had”. In spite of this, he said that the identification was inadequate, and there was not enough evidence to arrest Glover at that stage.
Another senior officer on the task force said: “You must remember this was in the aftermath of the Blackburn affair and other fiascoes … we were under enormous pressure to get this one right.”
Some members of the group were encouraged to read a novel called Silk Stocking, which warns of the dangers of arresting the wrong man for a crime -even when all the evidence points to his guilt.
And this was not all Glover had going for him. He simply did not fit the image of the daylight Night-Stalker who terrified the entire North Shore to the extent that old women would not leave their homes without special escorts organised for them by the council, and security companies did a booming business in locks, bars and alarms.
For a start, psychological profiling done for the task force told the police they were looking for a man aged 15 to 35, a loner, who had recently had a family upheaval. Only one of these things – the upset caused by the death of Glover’s mother-in-law which appears to have triggered the killings -was true.
Said the senior detective: “Anyone who looked weird in the Mosman area, we pulled them in … hippies, druggies, crazies. We were not looking for a man of 58, happily married with a couple of kiddies, employed, well-dressed, well-respected in the community. We were not looking for John Wayne Glover and maybe that’s one of the reasons he got away with it for so long.”
Nor did any of his friends, his workmates or his family have any suspicion that Glover was the killer. Don Lopez, the former mayor of Mosman, knew the family for 15 years and often had a drink with Glover and watched him playing the poker machines at the Mosman RSL.
“He was into community work and would always offer to help our senior citizens,” says Mr Lopez. “He once offered to drive my 80-year-old mother home from the club – she took the bus, thank God. Everyone was absolutely amazed when he was lumbered as the killer.”
His employer, a national pastrygoods company where he worked for nine years, had no cause for concern until the last few months before his arrest when he began to take time off work.
The company had not checked on Glover’s criminal record (otherwise, presumably, he would not have been given a round that took him into hospitals and nursing homes) and a spokesman said: “It is a tragic case. Everyone who worked with him is shocked – it was so out of character.”
Nor, psychiatrically, was there anything that should have pointed police in his direction – not until the suicide note, that is. Says a Sydney professor of psychiatry who has studied the case: “He built up a pile of hostility and aggression from childhood against his mother, then his mother-in-law. She was the lightning conductor, and when she died he had to take it out on other people.
“This is a very unusual case because there are very few mass murderers, and most of them are mad, they have an organic disease of the brain. He is not mad.”
Sequence of Investigation
Mrs Daisy Roberts is molested in Greenwich Hospital
Witnesses identify Glover as the attacker. Glover’s criminal record known to police
“Granny killer” Task Force first notified of attack. Glover not arrested. Placed under surveillance.
Glover kills Joan Sinclair while police wait outside her house
Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Pub date: Saturday 30 November 1991
Section: News and Features
Word count: 1718
Keywords: Biog John Wayne Glover Inquiries John Glover
Picture courtesy of Channel 9
Caption: John Glover … identified by nurses
Table: Sequence of investigation