The Hoddle Street Massacre was a mass shooting that occurred on the evening of Sunday, 9 August 1987, in Hoddle Street, Clifton Hill, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, in Australia.
Julian Knight was a nineteen year old former army cadet who at the time, had just been expelled from the Royal Military College in Canberra. Adopted into an army family that moved around a lot at a young age, Knight’s fascination with guns and all things military consumed him. His lifelong dream was to defend Australia and go to war.
Knight joined the army cadets at the age of fourteen and was a member of the army reserve whilst still in high school. Entering the Royal Military College, Duntroon in Canberra, ACT on 13 January 1987 at the age of 18, seemingly marked the beginning of the military career he had always dreamt of having. However, he performed poorly at his studies and gained good results only in weapons expertise exercises. Knight did not like authority, and was expelled after a bar brawl where he stabbed a fellow soldier.
The disgrace of his expulsion, and being plunged back into civilian life, didn’t sit well with the ex-recruit and he became severely depressed. Upon returning to Melbourne, Knight found out that his longtime girlfriend had moved on and his mother, whom he had always relied on, had turned his childhood bedroom into an extra living room, forcing Knight to sleep on the couch. Knight was broke and unemployed, so he decided to sell his car, however on his way to the car yard, it broke down.
There were no warning signs when Julian Knight applied for a shooter’s license which was granted three months later. He also had a vast collections of guns, including a 22 calibre Kruger rifle, a 12-gauge pump action Mossberg shotgun, and a Norinco M14 military rifle, all obtained legally and again arousing no suspicion.
It’s hard to say what made Knight snap and trigger the deadly rampage of the evening of 9 August, however this is what was pieced together after a police investigation, along with the help of Knight himself.
At 11:30am on Sunday 9 August, 1987, Knight woke up in his temporary bedroom in the front room of his mother’s house at number 6 Ramsden Street, Clifton Hill.
He attended a belated birthday party for his mother held at his grandmother’s house in Hawthorn. Whilst at the party, Knight consumed two full strength cans of beer, and left the party in his own car to drive his younger sisters home, before driving aimlessly around the Clifton Hill area.
At around 4:50pm, Knight decided to go and visit an old girlfriend, to give her a magazine. He was only with her for about five minutes, when he jumped back into the car and continued to drive aimlessly around the area. Minutes later, his gearbox jammed and became stuck in second gear. He limped his car, the only thing he owned home, and drank another can of beer whilst he changed his clothes, before walking to the nearby Royal Hotel at 5:30pm.
When Knight arrived, he noticed that none of his friends were there, so he drank alone in the public bar till about 8:55pm. By this time, Knight began to feel the effects of all the alcohol he had consumed, and told police later he had a vision of soldiers being ambushed. He rushed out of the hotel and ran back home to his mother’s house.
Arriving minutes later, he was temporarily stalled by his sister who met him in the hallway. She then went to the back of the house to watch a movie on the television with their mother, which gave Knight the perfect opportunity to head upstairs to his mother’s room undetected.
It was here in her bedroom that all of Knights guns were stored under her bed. Knight retrieved the Ruger rifle, the Mossberg shotgun and the M14 rifle from underneath the bed, and then returned to his makeshift bedroom at the front of the house. He then returned to his mother’s room and collected the M14, and a steel ammunition box and a leather shotgun cartridge belt from his mother’s wardrobe, before returning to the front room to load the three firearms.
After loading the three firearms, and filling his pockets with ammunition, he grabbed a black combat knife and placed it down the back of his jeans. Now fully armed, he ran out of the house into Ramsden Street. He crossed the nearby railway line, to reach the eastern side of the main four lane arterial road, known as Hoddle Street.
He positioned himself on a raised platform behind a billboard at the corner of Ramsden and Hoddle Streets. Why he chose this position is not known, he then began shooting at passing cars with the Ruger rifle.
If first, bystanders were thoroughly confused at what was happening, thinking was it a vehicle backfiring or that stones were being thrown into their windshields. When they realised the enormity of their danger, motorists quickly took shelter at a local gasoline station where staff called police.
The first car that Knight opened fire on contained a married couple, Con and Rita Vitkos. Rita received minor wounds and her husband drove on before stopping at a Mobil service station about 150 metres further south down Hoddle Street.
His next target was a car containing Michael Anthony and Trevor Smeelie, and a car driven by Gregory Elliott. A bullet meant for Elliott just missed his head. Both cars were pelted with bullets, but all occupants narrowly escaped injury.
The next car in the line of fire was driven by Alan Jury, with passengers Monica Vitelli and Dannielle Mina. Both Jury and Vitelli were wounded as they also took refuge at the Mobile Service Station.
Knight continued to fire aimlessly at random cars passing, as he moved north along the nature-strip towards Clifton Hill station. Many drivers escaped injury, but some weren’t so lucky. In all, seven people died that night, another 19 were injured.
A car containing Jayne Morris managed to pass through the ambush zone, driving further down Hoddle Street, where they flagged down a police divisional van containing Constable Glen Nichols and Constable Belinda Bourchier. They immediately radioed in for backup as they drove to the scene. As they approached the intersection of Hoddle Street and Ramsden Street with lights and siren blaring, Knight shot at them.
It was now 9.39pm and numerous police units were rushing to the scene. When Knight took a break to re-load his guns, one of the police officers on the western side of Hoddle Street fired a shot at him, which missed him by only a couple of metres.
At 9.43pm Constable Bourchier requested another ambulance from D24 and nominated the Mobil service station as a safe rendezvous point for ambulances, as two police units were there for protection.
At this point Knight, who was surrounded by at least 40 armed police officers, decided to withdraw from the area and began “hunting” police officers. It was just after 9.45pm and he’d expended 40 rounds of .22 calibre bullets, 25 rounds of 12-gauge Buckshot and 32 rounds of 7.62mm calibre bullets in the preceding 15 minutes. Five people lay dead, two were fatally wounded and a further 17 had been wounded. In addition to the expended ammunition, Knight had lost his “suicide” bullet and another 7.62mm bullet as he had moved up the nature-strip. Knight had also lost his knife on the nature-strip. He now retained only his M14 rifle and 17 rounds of ammunition.
Now with only 17 rounds left, Knight retreated, moving north beside the railway line. When he spotted a police car, he fired three shots. Both officers in the car were unharmed, and abandoned the car after Knight ceased firing.
After firing at the police, Knight moved to a nearby cluster of trees where he sat down and had a cigarette. On the move again, he again shot at police in a patrol car before turning to the skies to shoot at a police helicopter. His gunfire pierced the main fuel tank, forcing the chopper to land at a nearby sports field.
Knight then headed down McKean Street in an attempt to reach his ex girlfriends house. It was now 10:13pm when he was spotted by Constable John Delahunty and Constable Ralph Lockman, who gave chase in their police car. Knight ran into a laneway, where he turned and fired his last ten rounds straight at the police car. Both police with minor injuries from shrapnel wounds, leaped from the car, revolvers drawn. As both policemen rolled to the back of the car for cover, they called upon Knight to surrender.
Knight squatted down near a low brick wall, and searched in vain for his suicide bullet. As Delahunty and Lockman again called on him to surrender he yelled back “Don’t shoot! I’m coming out!” He rose up with his hands in the air before walking out onto the street where he was arrested by Delahunty and Lockman. After running out of ammunition (and realising that he lost his suicide bullet), Julian Knight was arrested without incident.
At the St Kilda Road Police Complex Knight was interrogated extensively by McIntosh and Cox, briefly by the then head of the Homicide Squad, Detective Chief Inspector Brendon Cole, then extensively by Homicide Squad detectives Detective Senior Sergeant Brian McCarthy and Detective Senior Constable Graham Kent.
When asked by police afterward why he killed innocent people, Knight replied: “I dunno, I’m not sure”. Newspaper journalists besieged family members and former friends of the shooter searching for clues to his rampage.
After psychologists found Knight to be fit to stand trial, he was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences with a non-parole period of twenty-seven years. Julian Knight will be eligible for parole as early as 2014 although representatives of the Victorian government have stated that it is unlikely he will ever be released. Knight himself, remains incarcerated at Port Philip Correctional Centre near Melbourne.
In the years since he was first imprisoned, Knight has earned a university degree with additional training in law. Knight has had a series of legal challenges, launched at the Victorian government surrounding prison conditions and Knight’s failure to be granted rehabilitation programs that might improve his chance of parole. He has also been denied the right to write to the families of all his victims to express his regret over his actions. In February 2003, it was determined that Julian Knight’s various legal challenges have cost the Victorian government over AUD $250,000 with additional costs for legal aid consultations.
On 19 October, 2004, a judge declared Knight a ‘vexatious litigant’ which effectively bans him from pursuing any new cases for a ten-year period. He now requires court approval before launching any legal action.
2020 and Melbourne mass killer Julian Knight has submitted a complaint to the United Nations in a latest bid to overturn a ruling that he not be allowed graphic crime scene and autopsy photos of the massacre.
The Hoddle Street mass murderer wants access to the distressing images as part of a proposed appeal against his conviction and sentence for killing of seven people and injuring 27 others during a shooting spree at Clifton Hill in 1987.
His latest application to the Supreme Court was backed by a solicitor helping him with a separate complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee.
Knight would have been eligible for parole six years ago, but The Premier of Victoria, Denis Napthine confirmed that new legislation introduced into parliament in 2014 specifically targeting Knight, has constituted that Knight only be released if he is in imminent danger of dying or is seriously incapacitated. These introduced retrospective laws are a way to keep him behind bars indefinitely. He lost a High Court bid to have this overturned.
Knight is a vexatious litigant, meaning he frequently tries to bring about “meritless” legal claims. He now needs the approval of Victoria’s Supreme Court to begin legal action. In just one month, he had five cases thrown out, including attempts to regain his computer rights.
Knight was given access to a laptop in his cell for five weeks in December 2017, but from January 2018 until November last year he had supervised access to the laptop in the Port Phillip Prison library twice a week. Knight lost access in November after Corrections Victoria Deputy Commissioner Rod Wise asked for a review.
“I am told (you) repeatedly attempted to obtain copies of your crime scene photographs despite clear instructions not to do so without prior arrangements. This caused some significant distress to the Education Coordinator who innocently opened the file to arrange printing, only to be confronted with the graphic photos without warning.”
…/ Mr Wise
Whilst Knight continues to fight his sentence, one thing is very clear. He wont be released any time soon, and would be far better spending his time feeling remorseful for his actions.