A GRANDMOTHER living in a small country town stabs her partner to death 37 times before decapitating him, skinning him and serving up slices of his cooked flesh at a table set for his children.
The story of how former abattoir worker Katherine Knight brutally murdered and mutilated her partner, John Price, in a suburban red-brick house in Aberdeen reads like the far-fetched plot of a gory horror movie.
But the truth can be stranger, and more appalling, than fiction.
When Australian filmmaker Dane Millerd sent a script based on Knight’s chilling crime to US production company Shoreline Entertainment last year, it took them less than three weeks to come back to him with an offer.
“They’d read it four times. They couldn’t believe it was true,” Millerd says.
Parts of the feature film, with the working title of The Speckled Hen – Price’s nickname for Knight, will be filmed in the Hunter Valley.
The film has a budget of more than $1 million, and production is likely to begin early 2017. The script, written by Ross Murray, is based on Peter Lalor’s 2005 book Blood Stain.
Sixteen years have passed since Knight’s unfathomable crime shocked a nation and rocked a small Hunter Valley community.
A statement of facts issued to East Maitland Supreme Court for the case show that police attended Price’s home in Aberdeen on the morning of March 1, 2000.
They had received a phone call from Price’s concerned employer after he had not shown up for work that day.
On arrival, they found blood stains on the front door, and a piece of cooked meat on the grass at the rear of the premises.
The officers forced entry to the house, and inside they found a bloody and terrifying crime scene that would haunt them for years to come.
Price’s decapitated and skinned body was lying on the lounge room floor. His complete skin was hanging from a hook in a doorway. His head had been cooked in a large pot with vegetables on the stove.
The table was set with two plates of cooked meat. Below each plate was a piece of paper with the names of Price’s children scrawled upon them.
The meat was later revealed to be flesh cut from the buttocks of Price, as was the piece found in the back yard.
Police found Knight asleep, and difficult to rouse, in the main bedroom. An ambulance was called for a suspected overdose on prescription medication.
Blood smeared and spattered throughout the house gave investigators an insight into the ferocity of the attack, which appeared to have begun in the bedroom and progressed as Price tried to flee.
He had made it to the front door, but succumbed to his injuries before he could escape.
Earlier that evening, Knight had visited her daughter and made a home video with her family. She left her other children there for a sleepover, and arrived at Price’s house at about 11pm.
The couple had sex. Investigators suspect Price was asleep when Knight grabbed one of her coveted boning knives and began her frenzied attack.
At 2.30am she drove to a Muswellbrook automatic teller machine and withdrew $1000 from Price’s bank account.
Knight had a history of violence, not just towards Price. Former partners described her as vindictive and violent, cold and vengeful.
Knight has borderline personality disorder, and she was known to fly into a “murderous rage” in response to minor upsets.
Her ex-husband, David Stanford Kellett, was quoted as saying, “Sometimes she’d just snap like a biscuit.’’
Both Knight and Price had taken out apprehended violence orders against each other following a domestic dispute in the days before he was killed.
The police were called to the house at that time, but Knight denied she had pulled out a knife during the argument.
On February 29, 2000 – the day he was murdered – Price had attended Scone local court to discuss the AVO with the clerk. He had also sought advice on how he could prevent Knight from entering his home.
A post-mortem revealed Price had been stabbed at least 37 times.
Following psychiatric assessment, Knight pleaded guilty to the murder of Price on October 18, 2001.
She was the first Australian woman to be sentenced to life in prison without parole, and is serving time at Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre in Sydney.
Millerd had been intrigued by the story ever since he read Lalor’s account of the murder 10 years ago.
“After reading the book, I remember saying to my old man, ‘I think this is a feature film’,” Millerd says.
After reading the book, I remember saying to my old man, ‘I think this is a feature film’. But if it is to be done, it has to be done right. It is not a B-grade horror film.Dane Millerd, producer of a movie about Katherine Knight
“But if it is to be done, it has to be done right.
“It is not a B-grade horror film.”
Millerd sees the film aligning with the likes of Snowtown and Monster, rather than a Freddie Versus Jason bloodbath.
“It has got a bit more meat to the sandwich,” he says.
“It has greater character arcs and a bigger dramatic angle. We lose a little bit of suspense because everyone knows the ending, like Apollo 13 for argument’s sake. But it is made up for with the average person finding out how it all led to that.”
Millerd became increasingly fascinated by the story while living in the upper Hunter for three years.
He was awarded the film rights mid-2015.
“There is this misconception that it’s going to be treated poorly,” he says.
“But it is a sensitive subject, and we have strict guidelines in place from the people we got the rights from as to how the film needs to be made and what we can and can’t do. They preclude us from making a B-grade, crappy horror film.”
Millerd understands that tackling this project may upset some people in the Hunter, particularly the friends and families of Knight and Price.
“People think I’m trying to create some sort of reaction that revolves around either sullying Price’s memory, or trying to champion Katherine Knight’s cause to get her out,” he says.
“Neither of those are true.”
Millerd says due to the nature of the crime and the reporting of the time, a lot of information was left out of the papers and assumptions were made.
He hopes the film will clarify some misconceptions about the crime, such as the perception Knight was a cannibal.
He also hopes the film will raise awareness of domestic violence and abuse.
“What I’m interested in is making compelling content, and getting people talking,” he says.
“We are trying to do a true and accurate representation of what happened. We’re not interested in trying to sensationalise it, because it is already sensational.”
Millerd, who will be a producer on the film, says they are looking for a female director to guide the “unique, female-driven story.”
The production is likely to be career-defining for the people involved.
If the right female lead is cast, with the right director and the right team, Millerd may even find himself ironing his suit ahead of awards season.
“The story is so unique,” he says.
“Snow Town and Wolf Creek and even Monster all had something. But I don’t think any of them hold a candle to this.”
Charlize Theron won an Academy Award for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster.
But one of the major things that separated the crimes of Knight and Wuornos was choice, Millerd explains.
“Katherine Knight worked a job. Katherine Knight still had a house,” he says.
“Aileen Wuornos’ crimes were driven out of desperation. Katherine Knight’s crimes were driven by greed, anger, cunning and nastiness.
“Stabbing Price 37 times, as bad as it was and as tragic as it was, would not have separated her from a lot of the other males and females who have shot, strangled or poisoned one another.
“They are all bad, we all agree on that. But what she did next, and the cunning and calculating and the time it would have taken to do what she did next, alone, in my opinion, is what separates her from the rest.”
Knight had come from a broken home. She had been exposed to violence and had been sexually abused as a girl.
“There was always that issue there with men,” Millerd says.
“People may have been able to empathise with her to some extent if she had just stabbed or shot him. But when you turn around and start doing the extra things she did… The warning signs were there years before, but she fell into a grey area.
“Where do you put these people? They can function, they can work in a job and they can pay their bills, but we all know they shouldn’t be out and about. She was one of them.”
Price’s murder was undoubtedly gruesome and grisly. But Millerd says any violence shown in the film would not need to be gratuitous.
“The strongest tools in film can be impending doom, implied or suggested,” he says.
“If you’re a good enough filmmaker you don’t need to show those things.
“We haven’t written a script to reveal those things. You don’t need to glorify the horror that went on inside that house.
“A decent enough filmmaker would be able to show they’d had a blue, but when it starts getting murky there are suggestive, clever ways to do it without glorifying it.”
Millerd says he wants his mother to be able to watch the film, but he doesn’t want it to be a midday telemovie either.
“It still has to deal with certain things to a point,” he says.
“There is no escaping what she did. We know how it ends, we know how it goes.”