Australian kids tortured & murdered on Peat Island asylum frequented by Nazi Dr Leonas Petrauskas
Mysterious deaths at Peat Island asylum: ‘One day he was there and the next he was gone’
THE mysterious deaths of Australian children who were sent to live on an island and then washed up dead in the New South Wales’ Hawkesbury River have never been explained.
Peat Island psychiatric facility repeatedly made headlines during the years of its operation over the deaths of its child patients.
The families of the children who died in care were simply told their children drowned, with the first report of a drowning made public in 1940.
But one man has refused to accept that explanation for the best part of 55 years.
Queensland business owner Karl Reinders, 62, last saw his older brother Bernardus — known as Benny — around 1960.
Benny was about 10 years old when he was institutionalised for learning difficulties in Newcastle Psychiatric Unit and later, in the Peat Island asylum, according to his brother.
“He didn’t have psychiatric problems, just learning difficulties but it was in an era where that was frowned up,” Mr Reinders told news.com.au.
“One day he was there and the next day he was gone. I never, ever saw him again.”
Mr Reinders said once his brother was institutionalised, there were no visits to see him at the home, no letters exchanged and no phone calls between the pair.
“My parents had emigrated from Holland and been through a war together, they never spoke about him,” Mr Reinders said.
Just five years after Benny disappeared from his brother’s life, he was dead, aged about 15.
“All I know was my parents got a knock on the door in Queanbeyan telling them he drowned and had passed away,” Mr Reinders said. “Next thing you know we’re going to a funeral.”
Mr Reinders was only a child when Benny died but wasted no time in searching for answers once he was older.
“I’ve always been of the opinion it was more than just a simple drowning,” he said.
He said the Peat Island asylum was surrounded by “a six foot fence” at the time of his brother’s captivity and impossible for a child to escape.
“How would a boy who is mentally disabled climb a six foot fence and drown in the Hawkesbury River?” he said.
Mr Reinders said his quest for the truth had fuelled his suspicions of foul-play.
“The more I looked into it the more I read about other kids who had been on the island and died by drowning as well,” he said.
“A lot of horrific things happened there … I don’t want that to be what happened to Benny … I hope he wasn’t a victim of that.”
Benny’s death was not an isolated case.
Robert Bruce Walker, 8, was found floating off the island after he had been “put in the pen”, a caged compartment, as punishment in 1940.
The hospital manager, William James McCoy told an inquest into the boy’s death that “these patients are up to all sorts of tricks”.
In May 1950, 11-year-old Robert Blackwood was found asphyxiated in a linen bin made of iron after only five months at the institution.
A hospital attendant said Robert had been “mischievous and playful” and had died playing hide and seek among a pile of soiled linen.
One journalist, who visited the island in 1956, described it as a “hospital of forgotten children”.
Many other unexplained deaths also took place on the island.
At least 300 patients, a mixture of adults and children, who died at the institution were buried in unmarked graves at the nearby Brooklyn Cemetery.
Reports of sexual and physical abuse, torture and a lack of thorough investigations also spilt out from under the closed doors of the site.
One of the most shocking incidents made headlines across the country in 1983.
“A retarded youth’s 10 fingernails were torn out while under temporary care in a psychiatric institution,” The Daily Telegraph reported in 1983.
“In a 39-page report, the NSW deputy ombudsman Darryl Gunter criticised the Health Department for not investigating the matter adequately. Mr Gunter’s report stems from complaints by the youth’s parents.
“They left their 17-year-old son at the Peat Island Hospital on the Hawkesbury River on January 10, 1981. When they collected him on January 28, he was without his fingernails.
“The parents rejected reports from doctors that a 12-year-old patient was responsible.”
Mr Reinders said he wanted more records about the childrens’ deaths on Peat Island made available to the public.
“I just keep hitting brick walls and no one will tell me anything,” he said. “It’d be nice to know the truth and how he and all the other children drowned.
“Benny’s death is always in back of mind. I’ve been driving past Peat Island for years and it just comes straight up, you never forget something like that.”
A NSW Police spokesperson referred news.com.au to the New South Wales Coroner’s Court for details relating to a possible past investigation into Benny’s death.
The NSW Coroner’s Court did not respond to questions from news.com.au in relation to the death of the young boy.
Dr Ted Freeman, who worked at the mental institution for one year in 1981, described Ward 4 as “a prison”.
“In January 1981, I met with the medical superintendent of Peat Island and walked around the wards with him,” Dr Freeman wrote in his book Battle for the Injured Brain, co-authored by Dr Peter Cullagh.
“There were approximately 160 patients, or residents as they were called. Some had been inmates for almost 50 years.
“The staff were caring but it was a custodial institution. Many of the wards had an open-door policy. One ward did not. It was Ward 4.
“Its doors were heavily padlocked and the windows had heavy wire mesh over them. It was a prison. The smell of human urine, faeces and vomit hit you the moment you entered.
“The patients were shouting, screaming, yelling, banging their heads, jostling each other, walking or dragging themselves from one place to another apparently without purpose.
“Many had adopted the typical institutional constant rocking movement — backwards and forwards — whether standing, sitting or lying on the seats or on the floor.
“Some were openly aggressive. It was One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest in reality.”