REAL LIFE

Terror in the night: Face to face with The Joker

This couple never imagined their dream home would become the scene of a horrifying ordeal
Janie Barrett

Nola Turnbull, 71, Kempsey, NSW

I sat bolt upright in bed when I heard the crash. My partner Maurice, 83, was sound asleep so I got up to investigate. Going into the lounge room, I flicked the light switch but it didn’t work. That’s strange, I thought.

I could hear voices outside. Then Maurice came in. As he shone a torch around the room, we could see the glass double doors onto our porch had been forced open and there was broken glass splintered on the floor.

‘I’ll see what’s going on,’ Maurice said bravely, heading outside. There, he found two men in black. Thankfully, they ran off into the night.

‘…what the police discovered was chilling.’

‘Maurice, are you all right?’ I called. I grabbed the phone to dial Triple-0 and minutes later, police arrived. My grandson Luke, 17, was staying for the school holidays and helped us secure the doors, but what the police discovered was chilling. Our electricity had been cut at the mains. Had the intruders done it so they wouldn’t be seen?

The next day, Luke was heading home to Sydney. ‘Are you sure you’ll be all right?’ he asked as we got the power reconnected. Though shaken, we didn’t want to affect his plans. Besides, I was sure it was just a one-off.

As I opened the door again I saw the most terrifying sight imaginable.

The next night as Maurice headed to bed about 11.30, I grabbed my mobile phone before brushing my teeth in the bathroom. As I opened the door again I saw the most terrifying sight imaginable.

Two masked men towered over me. Behind them, two others ransacked the lounge room. ‘No!’ I gasped in shock. One was wearing a black and white mask painted with a smile on it like the evil Joker from Batman while the other brandished an iron bar.

I scrambled backwards to shut the bathroom door as the intruder swung the weapon down, just as I slammed and locked it. Crack. The iron bar lodged in the door, splitting the wood. I barely had time to react as the weapon was jiggled free and smashed into the door again. Shaking, I fumbled for my phone and dialled Triple-0.

The joker from Batman
‘I’ll never forget the terrifying face of the Joker’ (Credit: Snapper Media)

Where was Maurice? I wondered frantically. I had to warn him. But how?

‘Stay where you are,’ police told me on the phone. ‘We’re on our way.’

Suddenly, I heard the intruders turn on Maurice. ‘Where’s your money?’ someone shouted, then I heard a thumping noise. Maurice was being attacked. Hearing his groans while I was locked in the bathroom was agony.

‘We have no money,’ he insisted. But the hitting sounds continued and Maurice moaned in pain. Then an eerie silence descended on our house and I thought the worst. ‘Maurice!’ I called, but there was no response.

My husband was dead. I was sure of it. How would the family cope knowing the terrible circumstances of his death? Was I next?

‘Then an eerie silence descended on our house and I thought the worst.’

Suddenly I heard the gang flee before the police arrived. I gingerly opened the door, then raced into the lounge room. Broken glass covered the floor, drawers had been turned out and the TV was smashed. There was blood on the floors and walls. ‘Maurice!’ I screamed. Racing into the kitchen I saw him holding his mobile phone. He was as white as a ghost and blood was pouring from his hands.

‘Thank god you’re alive,’ I sobbed.

‘Nola, I thought they’d killed you,’ he cried, pulling me into his arms.

I listened in horror as Maurice told me he’d come out of the bedroom with his torch to find a man standing in the doorway. Determined to protect me, he whacked the intruder over the head. But then poor Maurice was hit across the arm with a steel pipe by the man in the Joker mask, while another intruder whacked him with a garden stake. After Maurice backed into the hall, he was stabbed through the right thigh with the stake. Finally, the intruders had fled.

Maurice in hospital following the ordeal
Maurice in hospital – I was sure that he was dead (Credit: Nola Turnbull)

Paramedics arrived and Maurice was taken to hospital while I stayed back to give a statement to police. The home invaders had entered by the same doors that’d been forced the previous night. When I went to see Maurice my heart broke. Cuts and bruises covered his arms and face. But at least he was alive!

Maurice was stabbed in the leg with a stake.
The wound in his leg from the garden stake stabbing. (Credit: Nola Turnbull)

After Maurice was discharged, we stayed with friends while police combed our house for evidence. Sadly, the intruders had destroyed a lot of our possessions. When we returned, we installed special security measures to keep our home safe. Even so, we went to bed with every light left on.

The slightest rustle would send me into a panic. But that house has been our home for six years, we won’t let the intruders take it from us. That’s why, three months after our ordeal, we’re appealing for information that might see the attackers caught.

‘The slightest rustle would send me into a panic.’

Everywhere I look I’m reminded of the terror I felt when I saw the face of the Joker. Sadly, Maurice and I have since discovered other couples – aged in their 70s and 80s – living nearby have also been through a similar ordeal. Connecting with them has given us some much-needed support in a difficult time.

Police are still investigating but believe increased drug use could be to blame for a surge in home invasions. This could happen anywhere, even in a nice town like ours, so it’s important to remain vigilant and keep your home secure. We’d hate for anyone to go through what we’ve been through. But we refuse to live in fear.

As told to Megan Reynolds

This story first appeared in that’s life! Issue 2, 2016

Home invasions on the rise:

• According to the latest research, amphetamine trafficking offences in Kempsey, NSW, are now more than twice the state average, while break-ins are three times the average.

• As part of Operation Velvet, additional police have been dispatched to 
the area to investigate the surge in violent home invasions.

• Commander of the Mid-north Coast Region, Superintendent Paul 
Fehon,​ said the attacks were concerning for 
the whole community. ‘Police are still investigating the aggravated break 
and enters which were committed at Nola Turnbull and Maurice Smith’s residence,’ Superintendent Fehon said. ‘Police will not tolerate crimes against the vulnerable in our community, particularly the elderly. This strikes at the very heart 
of a person’s lifestyle and targets them in a place they should feel safe.’

•Anyone with any information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers 
on 1800 333 000.

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