Real Life

Ashley Coulston: The story behind the triple murder

The chilling case left Australians shocked and traumatised.

By Jess Pullar
The case involving Ashley Coulston is without a doubt one of the most disturbing murder cases in our nation's history.
An execution of three people, all in their twenties, shocked Australians and left Coulston with a life sentence in prison.
Here, we look at the case, and the man who Australians have called a "monster".
The murder case made headlines when it occurred in the 1990s.

Who is Ashley Coulston?

Ashley was born in 1956 and grew up on his family's dairy farm in Tangambalanga. In an excerpt from Murder in Suburbia by crime author Emily Webb , Coulston was reported as "shy, secretive and a loner".
Coulston grew up on his family's farm.
The excerpt also stated that Coulston ran into trouble as a teenager - at age 14, Coulston stalked two young female teachers, eventually breaking into their house and abducting them. Using a .22 rifle, he forced the two 22-year-old women to drive him into New South Wales.
The following morning the trio stopped at a roadhouse for supplies. The teachers screamed for help which alerted a nearby truck driver and they were rescued.
During his early adulthood, Coulston became interested in sailing. He made headlines 1988 when he attempted to cross the Tasman in a self-built boat.
Coulston was a keen sailor.

What led to the triple murder?

It was an "innocent classified advertisement in a Melbourne newspaper by students seeking a housemate," that led to the murders of three people on 29 July 1992.
Webb's excerpt states student teachers Anne Smerdon and Kerryn Henstridge were living in a house on Summit Road in Burwood. Peter Dempsey, who was a Telecom engineer, was also visiting the house that night.
The three were expecting company. They were interviewing people to move into a room in the house after posting an advertisement for it in the Herald Sun.
Coulston was living on a yacht in Hastings Marina at the time of the murder. His girlfriend, Janice McLeod was recovering from surgery in hospital, and the court documents state Coulston visited Janice in hospital that night, leaving "sometime after 7pm".
The document also states Coulston "read and telephoned in response to the advertisement… for a replacement tenant."
The murder occurred in the Melbourne suburb of Burwood.

How did the murder occur?

It is understood that Coulston went into the house with a .22 rifle. The court documents state he used a number of cable ties to truss the three victims. He then placed a towel or dressing gown over the head of each.
He then fired a single shot into each head.
The document then states Coulston left minimal traces of his presence, driving back to the marina at around 10.30pm the same night.
In Webb's excerpt, she states Kerryn Henstridge's mother found the three victims dead the next morning.

How was Coulston caught?

The Homicide Squad questioned more than 400 people who had advertised for a housemate in order to draw out anyone suspicious.
They were unable to track down Coulston in this way, however a breakthrough came five weeks following the murder.
As told in the court documents, Coulston drove into Melbourne with a sawn-off rifle and bullets. He approached a couple, Richard and Anne Shalagin, who had just got into their car.
He pointed the gun at them and forced them to get out of the car. He moved them under a large tree where he made them lie face down.
He put down his gun briefly to tie Anne's hands with a plastic cable, which was when Richard attacked him.
The couple broke away from Coulston and got the attention of two security guards. Coulston shot at the guards, hitting one in the hip. A chase ensued and Coulston was eventually caught and arrested.
The incident with the Shalagins occured around Melbourne's St Kilda Road.

What happened after Coulston was caught?

During his interviews with police, Coulston was co-operative about the incident with the Shalagins, however he remained silent "for the most part" about the Burwood murders.
Coulston was tried for both the Burwood murders and the incident with the Shalagins. He pleaded not guilty to all charges, however the evidence was strongly against him.
Coulston was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 30 years. In his sentencing, Justice Teague shared some poignant remarks.
"The seasons of your life left to you will scarce allow for more feats of fame or notoriety. But you have made for the beloved of the three you killed an enduring winter. And for the three, there are no more seasons," he stated.

What happened after Coulston was found guilty?

Since being sentenced to life imprisonment, Coulston has attempted a fresh inquest into the Burwood murders, but a reopening of the investigation was formally refused by the state coroner in February 2017.
Earlier this year, the Herald Sun also reported that Coulston was later named as a suspect in a murder and series of rapes on the Gold Coast in northern New South Wales in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
To this day, he remains in prison.