Losing a child affects parents in a myriad of terrible ways, some damaged worse than others. This is a story about one of them.
The birth of a son was one of the few gentle things in the life of Archibald Beattie McCafferty, a 24-year-old Scottish-born Australian with an extensive criminal sheet. McCafferty's marriage to Janice Redington lasted a scant six weeks, just long enough for her to fall pregnant. One evening, she fell asleep nursing her infant and awoke to the horror she'd accidentally smothered her own child.
Then things turned worse, far worse.
In and out of mental and correctional institutions, Archie McCafferty wasn't firmly seated to begin with, but the death of his baby unhinged his teetering mental balance. More than ever, he embraced drugs and drink. Combined with grief, they may explain his 'vision' seeing his son hovering above the child's grave. In his hallucination, his son told him he could be brought back to life if McCafferty killed seven victims.
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McCafferty had forged a Fagin-like bond with a 26-year-old woman and four teens, a relationship that involved alcohol, dope, and thievery. He described his son's visitation to them and demanded their assistance in carrying out his gruesome intentions. They acted immediately.
The first victim they choked, beat and stabbed in a bar's back alley before they came up with a better plan. Posing as hitchhikers in the rain, the teens rounded up and shot two more victims, wrongly described as tramps. The car they seized from the third victim ran out of gasoline, forcing the gang to postpone the final kills until the following night. That delay saved lives.
One of the teens didn't trust McCafferty and he sensed McCafferty didn't trust him. Rightly fearing he'd become one of the seven victims, Rick Webster nervously returned to work at the Sydney Morning Herald. Glancing out a window, he spotted his fellow gang members waiting in a van. He correctly guessed they intended to kill him as soon as he stepped into the street.
Certain he couldn't leave the building alive, Webster phoned police and asked for an investigator to come to the newspaper office. When detectives grasped what Webster was telling them, they called in a team that swooped in and arrested the entire gang. Without question, Webster's call saved McCafferty's wife and her family.
In court, the news media compared the case to the Charles Manson gang. Throughout, McCafferty had to be drugged with a quadruple dose of tranquilizers. Candidly telling the court he'd kill until he reached seven victims, he was sentenced to three life terms.
Only 26-year-old Carol Howes escaped a guilty verdict. The four teens were sentenced to prison. Gang member Julie Todd hanged herself days after her 17th birthday.
Over time, his rage seemed to abate. McCafferty gave testimony about corrupt prison officials and other criminals. Eventually, wardens moved him from a maximum security prison to a minimum security farm. He was admitted to a work release program and allowed him to spend weekends with his brother's family. A judge agreed to consider him for parole.
Meanwhile, parole officials discovered a legal wrinkle. When McCafferty's parents brought young Archie to Australia as a child, the proper paperwork for citizenship hadn't been taken care of. Technically, McCafferty was still a British subject, meaning the state could make him someone else's problem.
Escape the Past
Twenty-five years after he landed in Scotland, he again fell under the influence of alcohol. After a drinking and driving binge, he threatened his wife and police. That was peaceably resolved.
On a trip to New Zealand, authorities arrested and deported him for failing to declare his criminal past. But, when all is said and done, McCafferty, one of the more feared of killers, kept up his end of the parole bargain better than expected.
That Manson Label
Manson's motivations embody pure evil, self-serving to the extreme. His followers long repented and, harmless if not toothless, should be released. But Manson– I can't imagine him other than the self-created monster of malevolence, incapable of interacting with society in a rôle other than predator.
McCafferty isn't anything close. Although branded as Australia's Charles Manson, the label doesn't fit. We can at least understand the sorrow and pain that drove the man. And, McCafferty made great efforts to turn his life around. Life's imperfect, but he, his wife Mandy, and the court system deserve high marks.