It was Christmas of 1970, and Charles King and Christopher Lowery were watching a motorcycle race at Mack Park in Hamilton, Australia. King lived nearby with his parents and worked as a shop assistant, having recently been turned down for a job in the Postmaster General’s department in Melbourne. Lowery was an apprentice bricklayer and an expectant father, as his wife Hazel was six months pregnant. Most 18-year-olds at the race that day would have been innocently chatting about bikes and beer. But Lowery and King were not most 18-year-olds, and they were talking about what it would be like to kill a girl. The conversation fascinated them so much that they continued fantasising about it for weeks afterwards. It was only a matter of time before they turned their thoughts into reality.
On 31st January 1971 at around 6:30 p.m., 15-year-old Rosalyn Nolte left the house to take her dog for a walk. Her corgi, Jodie, was her pride and joy, and she would be taking her to a dog show the following day. Aside from dogs, Rosalyn loved riding horses and playing the guitar. Although she didn’t do well at school sports due to bronchitis, she was good at ballet and had won awards for needlework. She was happy, full of fun, intelligent, and creative.
Her mother June was expecting her back within an hour but when she failed to return home, she called the police. Rosalyn and her dog had been spotted walking towards the shops earlier that evening but after that, it was as if she had vanished from the face of the earth. Police searched the town and checked at the homes of Rosalyn’s friends; in case she had turned up there. When midnight came and went, June was beside herself with worry. The police reassured her that in most cases, missing teenagers turn up sooner or later, and predicted that Rosalyn would be found the next day.
June was not convinced. She knew her daughter would never deliberately disappear like that. When she turned on the radio in the morning and heard that a farmer had found a lost corgi on a dirt track eight miles south of Hamilton, her blood ran cold. Police searched the area and learned from witnesses that Rosalyn had got into a car at around 8:30 p.m. A female police officer in the area decided to ask her own neighbours if they had noticed anything suspicious. By sheer chance, she lived next door to the King family. Charles King admitted that he and his friend Christopher Lowery had picked up Rosalyn the night before and dropped her off in front of the Commercial Hotel on 64 Lonsdale Street, but claimed this was the last interaction they had with her.
A couple of days later, police stumbled across track marks in an isolated area of bushland near Mount Napier. They followed the tracks into a grassy hollow, where they discovered a scene that shocked them to the core. A naked young woman had been hog-tied with electrical wire, her legs drawn up behind her and the wire looped around her ankles, securing her wrists behind her back in such a way that her own bodyweight had slowly strangled her as she struggled to get free. She had been beaten and kicked before being tied up, but there had been no sexual assault. The body was identified as Rosalyn Nolte.
Lowery and King were taken in for questioning, as they were the last known people to see the 15-year-old alive, and it didn’t take long for them to break down and point the finger at each other. King claimed he had been under the influence of drugs and had been unable to stop Lowery. Lowery, on the other hand, said that he was in fear of King, who he claimed was the ringleader. A psychiatric examination found that Lowery was a sadistic psychopath who had a strong personality and lacked empathy with others, while King was impulsive and uncaring, but was more likely to be led by someone more dominant.
The 18-year-olds pled not guilty, but the jury found them guilty of murder in under two hours and they were sentenced to death. They would have been the last criminals in the state of Victoria to be hung, but the Governor commuted the death penalty and announced that the pair would spend the rest of their lives in prison for at least 50 years without parole.
Despite the justice system’s claim that they would have no chance of seeing the light of day until 2021, both King and Lowery became free men as early as 1992, after the Supreme Court made a ruling on new minimum terms of 20 years.
At the age of 40, the killers had the chance of a new life; a chance that they never gave Rosalyn when she begged them to let her go as they tortured her. Rosalyn’s mother June died just two years after her daughter, which her surviving family members believe was from a broken heart.
Rather than taking the opportunity to redeem himself and prove that his release was deserved, Lowery led a life of petty thievery and drug trafficking before committing suicide in 2007. In contrast, King had been a model prisoner behind bars, using the time to study art, direct plays, take part in the debating team, and raise money for charity. By the time of his release, he had been downgraded to a low security facility.
By all accounts, King has led a normal life since his release and is married with children. He has expressed remorse for his actions, stating, ‘I can do nothing to make amends for the past and I shall carry the public vilification and memory through my life. The punishment will not end with the expiry of my prison term.’
The judge believed that both men had accepted responsibility for the heinous crime they had committed and that they no longer posed a threat to society. King spent some time working at the Greenvale Corpus Christi Community, a residential care facility that provides support for men with a history of homelessness and addiction. His colleagues described him as loyal, honest, and hardworking, so some would argue that he has made a positive contribution to the world to atone for his sins as a young man. He even admitted in a letter to a national newspaper that he is not perfect, but feels that he can hold his head up, describing himself as a ‘good and kind man.’
This case reminded many of Leopold and Loeb, two wealthy students from the University of Chicago who abducted and murdered a 14-year-old boy in 1924 because they wanted to demonstrate their superior intellect and pull off a ‘perfect crime’.
Is it really possible for someone to commit a brutal murder at a young age, and be completely rehabilitated as an adult? Is it right that Lowery and King were allowed such a chance, after what they did to their victim? These questions arise time and time again in the study of true crime, and it is unlikely that as a society we will ever all agree on the answers.
Deery, Shannon, “Revealed: Thrill killer Charles Ian King’s secret past”, Herald Sun, Aug 2014, https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/true-crime-scene/revealed-thrill-killer-charles-ian-kings-secret-past/news-story/30d11cf31778a28697a796e262fcf58f
Wright, Tony, “A young life cut short by casual savagery”, The Age, May 2011, https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/a-young-life-cut-short-by-casual-savagery-20110513-1em6c.html