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Is fact really stranger than fiction?

Is it entirely unrealistic to believe that criminal cases in Australia have dealt with matters relating to zombie drug dealers, a vampire killer and an exorcist? After all, Stranger Things have happened…

Our article today will focus on three Australian criminal matters where fact truly was stranger than fiction; a synthetic ice substance known to cause zombie-like symptoms; a convicted murderer who had a preference for blood; and an exorcism gone horribly wrong in a Victorian country town.

Unfortunately, the victims in these matters did not come back to life….. nor have they communicated via Ouija or an Anabelle doll since .

You’re not you when you’re on “Flakka”

Alpha-PVP, also known as “Flakka” or “Grave”, is a synthetic ice substance often sold to unknowing MDMA (ice) users causing unnatural zombie like behaviour. While it is typically swallowed, it may also be injected. The drug has been associated with elevated body temperatures and heart rate, jaw clenching, vomiting and paranoia. At least one Australian has died after suffering cardiac arrest as a result of consuming the substance.

Two of Perth’s first dealers in the synthetic substance, Thornton and Clegg, contested at trial that Alpha-PVP was not specifically listed to be prohibited at the time of their alleged offending. Nevertheless, at trial, it was found that Alpha-PVP was a derivative of MDPV, or “bath salts”, which at the time of the offending was prohibited. The law at the time of the offending was that MDPV and every derivative of MDPV, was considered to be a prohibited drug. Therefore, their appeal to the Supreme Court of Western Australia to prove that the substance was not a prohibited drug when they first sold it in 2014 subsequently failed.

In South Australia, Alpha-PVP is also classified as a controlled drug pursuant to Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances (Controlled Drug, Precursors and Plants) Regulations 2014 (SA).

The Controlled Substances Act 1984 (SA) regulates the possession, traffic and manufacture of illegal drugs in South Australia. To be liable for a possession offence, the illegal drug holder need not know precisely what the drug is, only that it is illegal. Whilst trafficking offences target the commerciality of distributing drugs, manufacturing charges target the taking part of or causing others to take part in the manufacturing of illegal substances.

From Dusk Till Dawn

Whilst Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn may seem entirely outlandish, Australia has in fact had its own similarly twisted scenario.

In 1989, Edward Baldock was walking home from work when he was lured into a car by a group of women before he was stabbed 15 times, eventually leading to his death. The murder was carried out by Tracey Wiggington and her associates in the hope that Wiggington would drink the victim’s blood. At trial, Lisa Pstaschinski, who was Wiggington’s girlfriend at the time, claimed that the “lesbian vampire killer” often survived only on blood and had on several occasions drank blood from Lisa’s own veins. Wigginton, dubbed ‘Fang’ in prison, pleaded guilty to the murder. Ptachinski was also convicted of murder, but Kim Jervis, who handed Ptaschinski and Wigginton the murder weapon, was found guilty of manslaughter instead.

There are several forms of homicides in South Australia including murder, manslaughter, and causing death by an intentional act of violence. Both murder and manslaughter carry a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment in South Australia with a minimum non-parole period of 20 years.

The Antwerp Horror Story

In 1993, Ms Joan Vollmer died in an exorcism attempted in country Victoria carried out by her husband, two friends and a self-proclaimed exorcist.  It all started when her husband and her friends were convinced she was possessed by demons. In fact, her husband and friend were not aware that she had been hospitalised in psychiatric care for schizophrenia two years before the attempted exorcism.

The bizarre exorcism began with Matthew Nuske, a self-proclaimed exorcist, asking her husband for some cling film so that he could wrap it around the house to ward off evil spirits. Mrs Vollmer’s husband, her friends and Nuske then started to apply force to her chest and throat and attempted to hold her tongue down in order to squeeze out the perceived demons. During this time, Mrs Vollmer died of a heart attack caused by a thyroid cartilage fracture in her neck.

Mr Vollmer invited the media to Mrs Vollmer’s funeral in order to witness and film her resurrection. She did not come back from the dead, and the house where the exorcism took place has been abandoned even after having been sold twice.

Mrs Vollmer’s two friends who caused the physical fracture in her neck have since been convicted of manslaughter and false imprisonment. Her husband was convicted of recklessly causing her injury and false imprisonment. Nuske was also found guilty of false imprisonment.

False imprisonment is a common law offence in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. It is constituted by the intention and unlawful restraint of a victim again his or her will, regardless of whether other injuries are actually imposed on the victim. False imprisonment has a maximum penalty of 10 years in Victoria and no prescribed maximum sentence in South Australia.

Whilst this article focuses on the more abstract cases of criminal law, you should be aware that criminal offending is a persistent and common occurrence in our society, ranging from minor driving offences through to major criminal matters like murder. If charged with a criminal offence, you should not underestimate the importance of timely and competent legal advice.

If you or someone you know needs assistance or advice on criminal offences, or if you need more information, please call us on 08 8210 5400 or email

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