Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published July 2nd 2012
The Serial Killer Capital
Every city has its myths: implausible tales of murderers and ghosts set in familiar streets and tailored to a familiar culture. British urban legends tend to be unsettling and understated, like faces seen in the fog or haunted buildings. American ones are a bit more brash – think screaming cannibals with chainsaws, or serial killers with a hook in one hand and a severed head in the other. What about Adelaide, though? Does this normally-peaceful city have a dark and treacherous underbelly? Well, maybe. It depends how much you're willing to believe.
Let's start with a simple one. It's often said that Adelaide has more serial killers per capita than any other city in the world. This isn't just a silly bar story, either – Top Gear referenced it in a column, and advertisements for the TV show Dexter characterize sleepy Adelaide as a blood-drenched murder city. In 2008, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that South Australia holds fifteen percent of Australia's convicted murderers, despite holding only eight percent of population. Some of its serial killers, like John Bunting, even made double figures before they were caught. Doubters might argue that the ABS figure includes manslaughter, and that the murder rate in South Australia is below the national average (according to unreliable authorities like the Australian Institute of Criminology). Still, it makes you wonder.
Schnieder's Alley (in Stonyfell) shot up in popularity after a five-minute Youtube video was posted in 2011. The video claims that Doctor Schneider, who lived in Clifton Manor in the early 1900s, went a little crazy after the death of his wife and child. He set up a hut in the forest surrounding the manor and began conducting horrible experiments – screams of agony from his patients could be heard for miles around. Now the whole area, in particular a tree-lined trail, is haunted by his ghost and the ghosts of the people he killed.
Thrill-seekers and ghost-hunters flock to the area in question – officially called Andrew's Walk – to hear strange noises and experience paranormal activity. Is the rustling in the bushes a wandering possum? Could that strange black shape, hunched over in the dark, be a koala? Yes, it could, but it's harder to explain the reports of cold spots and people being manhandled by ghosts. The only way to find out is to brave the annoyed locals and visit Schneider's Alley yourself.
Secret Tunnel Network
There's a grain of truth in this story: in the late 1830s, at least three tunnels were constructed around the CBD. If you explore these, you'll find some old World War II bunkers, large open sewers, and probably a few youths with spray cans and illicit substances. But what else? Pale monsters? Underground secret societies, dedicated to world domination? Crime-fighting turtles?
Probably not. But you might find something even stranger – a hidden city, complete with roads and buildings, under the real one. One theory holds that it was built underground, like Coober Pedy, to avoid the intense summer heat. If you think that's a bit ridiculous, how about this: Adelaide's a planned city, designed to repel enemy attack. The parklands surrounding the city are as wide as the range of a rifle at the time Adelaide was built, so invaders would be exposed to defensive fire the moment they broke cover. Is it really so strange that, in the case of a total defeat, there would be a second, hidden city to retreat to and plan guerrilla warfare?
The Adelaide Arcade Haunting
Forget Schneider's Alley – there's another, more famous ghost much closer to home. Adelaide Arcade (near the Grenfell St end, specifically) is known to be haunted by a mysterious blue presence. There are surveillance camera videos, which provide a form of evidence, and eyewitness accounts from traders in the Arcade to security guards. One guard reported "a large light, about five feet tall" that appeared in front of him as he was locking up.
Joan Lesley, the Arcade's clairvoyant, claims that the apparition is the ghost of Francis Cluney, the Adelaide Arcade's former caretaker. He died in 1887 from a generator accident in the Arcade itself, and now wanders around, slamming doors and saying hi to the occasional customer. Apparently Francis is a friendly ghost: the security guard said that he experienced a "calming effect" before the light disappeared. Real ghost sighting? Cheap PR stunt that takes advantage of a dead man's name? Whatever you choose to believe, remember: the truth is out there.
I'd avoid going to Schneiders now - the local council have copied the botanic gardens in the city and put a $5k fine on it for anyone caught in there after dark. Signs up everywhere.
We had a friendly chat with one of the locals and she reckoned several of the neighbours have infra red cameras up now so they know as soon as anyone comes in, and they just call Norwood police straight away. Apparently all the local kids were getting woken up all through the night by moronic teens getting bored and screaming at each other for a scare when they couldn't find any ghosts...
Gotta admit it was a pretty boring place anyway... more chance of finding the tooth fairy than a ghost!