Jail Shrink Reflects On Australia's Worst Killers

Are they mad? Or are they bad?

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses topics that may be distressing for some readers.

Some of Australia's bloodiest crimes are so abhorrent, they become easier digest if the perpetrator is found to be mentally unstable.

Criminal psychologist Tim Watson-Munro spent 40 years screening and assessing criminals to figure out if they are 'mad' or just 'bad'. He said often, most killers didn't qualify for the insanity defence.

Julian Knight, for example, the man responsible for the horrific 1987 Hoddle Street massacre, is what Watson-Munro deemed "bad".

He killed seven people and injured 19 others in the shooting, and was sentenced to seven concurrent life sentences.

Hoddle Street mass killer Julian Knight leaves the Supreme Court in Melbourne in July 2012. The Adult Parole Board of Victoria has decided he has no prospect for release in the foreseeable future. Photo: AAP.

Watson-Munro, who has dealt with 30,000 people in the criminal justice system, told ten daily that Knight was "not the worst person" he's ever examined.

"His crime was horrific, no argument," he told ten daily.

"It was the worst mass murder in Australia at the time -- apart from the killing of Koori people in colony days.

"But when I examined him, 31 years ago, he was cooperative and highly intelligent bloke, quite different to other people I've examined who are far more dangerous."

The worst of the worst, said Watson-Munro, was triple murderer and rapist Johnny Cribb -- another who's definitely "bad".

Triple murderer Johnny Cribb died in Goulburn Correctional Centre in 2018, at the age of 67.

Cribb abducted Valda Connell and her two children, Sally and Damien, from the Sydney Hill's district in 1978.

"He drove around NSW, raped the mother in front of the kids, killed the kids in front of the mother, then killer her," said Watson-Munro.

"He's the one who sticks in my mind, because that was just unbridled, psychopathic evil."

Watson-Munro -- affectionately known as "Doc" to parties both on the inside and out -- has detailed his experiences with mass murders, contract killers, paedophiles, drug dealers, and terrorists in his new book, A Shrink in the Clink.

"A lot has changed in 40 years," he said.

"When I worked in Parramatta Jail, most murders tended to be domestic -- jealous husbands, bashing wives and killing. That still occurs, but I think it's been overtaken by random acts of violence and contract killings."

In his opinion, the driving force behind crime in 2018 is the drug trade. Watson-Munro is no stranger to drugs himself, having a "brief but intense" addiction to cocaine in the late 90s that led to a spectacular fall from grace.

Cocaine might have been a personal problem, but it's the ice trade that's most distressing to Australia.

"A lot of these people are psychotic," he said.

"The drug is never out of their system. They keep topping up. Ice stays in your system for days.

"You could be walking down the street, there's a guy that's ice affected, paranoid, possibly psychotically delusional. He might think that you're looking at him -- or her -- the wrong way and out of nowhere you get this spontaneous and over-the-top act of violence."

He believes our mental health resources are too stretched, and building more prisons to deal with drugs and crime is not the answer.

"It's a farce. We need to have a more intelligent approach in dealing with an ubiquitous problem. Education, treatment, early intervention."

We're living through an age where true crime is the genre that never quite satisfies our voracious appetite. Netflix's Making A Murderer documentary made stars out of its lawyers, the Dirty John podcast was a cultural phenomenon, and it's largely believed that without the late true crime writer Michelle McNamara's investigations into the Golden State Killer -- documented in the bestselling book, I'll Be Gone in the Dark -- an arrest might never have been made.

"Violent crime is so much more in our face these days -- caused by drugs, escalating terrorism," said Watson-Munro. "People are curious to know what's behind all that."

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au