As she walks through the dimly-lit streets, a car pulls up beside her and a middle-aged man and woman offer her a lift. Reassured by the presence of the woman and the good condition of the car, Kate steps in. It’s a mistake that will very shortly plunge the vibrant, dark-haired beauty, a feisty teen just shy of her 18th birthday, into a place of unimaginable terror. It will see her fighting for her life.
The couple drive her to her home and park outside, but when Kate goes to get out, she realizes there are no door handles or window winders. She barely has time to panic before the man grabs her head and thrusts it between the front seats. He pulls a butcher’s knife from his ugg boot and holds it at her throat.
It’s clear they mean business, and with the woman now holding the knife, the man drives to a deserted spot nearby. They bind her hands and feet with cable ties and throw a blanket over her. They tell her to keep quiet or else. Fear pulses through her and she is suddenly and terribly sober. From under the blanket, she asks them a question.
“Are you going to rape me or are you going kill me?”
“If you’re good, we’ll only rape you,” came the chilling reply.
More than 30 years on from the horrific attack she suffered at the hands of serial killing couple David and Catherine Birnie, Kate, now 47, has made the difficult decision to publicly relive the night that changed her life forever.
While the Birnies lured, raped and killed four other young women in Perth during 1986, Kate courageously escaped from their “house of horrors” less than 24 hours after she was kidnapped and raped. Her escape — through a window while David Birnie was at work — led to the arrest of the deranged couple who are still known as Australia’s most notorious serial killing couple.
But while David Birnie took his life in jail in 2005 and Catherine is still behind bars, the nightmare never ends for Kate, who has long struggled with being labelled as “the girl that got away from the Birnies.” Now, she wants to take control of her story and is campaigning for reform of mandatory reviews in Western Australia, which mean prisoners on life sentences are entitled to a parole hearing every three years.
As it stands, every three years since 2000, when Catherine finished her 20 year non-parole term, Kate has been notified when her tormentor’s sentence is being reviewed. Kate has bravely told her story to Channel Seven’s Murder Uncovered (Wednesday night at 9pm) and marie claire, in the hope that Catherine’s potential release is no longer a consideration for the courts.
“I believe you revoke your right to return to society upon breaking its rules so badly,” she tells marie claire. “If you’ve taken away (a life) you get life in prison. Prison should be punishment, it shouldn’t all be about rehabilitation.”
“It’s not justice when your rapist-attempted-murderers, who murdered four women, get 20 years in jail. You’re 17 years old and you go, oh great, at 37, they’re up for parole and I have to write victim impact statements. They’ve ruined my life.”
Kate was triggered to campaign for change after Catherine Birnie’s most recent mandatory parole hearing, which came up in February 2016, and was rejected.
“As a result of what I’ve done so far, the Birnies’ names aren’t up the top [of internet searches any more],” she says. “But I’m still up there as a survivor. I’d like to become myself again.”
To read the full story, pick up the latest issue of marie claire and watch Channel Seven's Murder Uncovered at 9pm Wednesday night