It ended in a death that was both brutal and mysterious: strangled in her Sydney home and dumped in a wheelie bin two days after Christmas.
Police say they can’t fathom why; neighbours are equally bewildered and shocked. Mrs Schweitzer, an 80-year-old widow who lived alone in a Bellevue Hill unit, was “timid and kind”, said one neighbour.
Detective Inspector Russell Oxford, of the NSW homicide squad, described the murder as bizarre. “I’m struggling to find a motive for such a callous act.”
Twenty detectives were assigned to investigate a death burdened by added sorrow once details of Mrs Schweitzer’s life story emerged. She had avoided the horrors of the Nazi labour camps that killed her entire family, joined the Zionist resistance movement during the war, fled as a refugee with her husband to Australia when her native Hungary was invaded by the Soviets in 1956, then lived a quiet life notable for her generous but unheralded support for good causes.
That continued in death. With no children or other relatives in Australia, her estate, worth several million dollars, was left to Jewish charities.
“The manner of her death is incongruous with her life, it’s disgusting that her life should end this way,” said Nick Pappas, the lawyer who was a close friend and executor of her will.
Mrs Schweitzer had lived at the nine-storey Tiffany complex on Bellevue Hill Road since 1987.
Her unit had sweeping views of the harbour and eastern suburbs coast, and was on the fifth floor of a building protected by a security system. For detectives, that only adds to the mystery: to work out not just why the killer did it, but how.
The murderer got into the complex, then into Mrs Schweitzer’s unit, strangled her, put her body into a wheelie bin taken from the basement car park, then abandoned the bin and the body on another level of the complex where bins are not typically kept. “It is quite appalling . . . to be found at that age strangled to death and dumped in a wheelie bin,” said Detective Inspector Oxford. “We really don’t know much about her. Living by herself, it’s always very difficult to work out if anything’s been stolen and simply just to work out a motive.”
Mrs Schweitzer was last seen on December 22 by another Tiffany resident, but an autopsy yesterday put the time of death as between 2pm on Wednesday, when she phoned her doctor, and 7pm, when residents noticed the bin. A neighbour and friend, Rose Kles, who lived on the same floor, said: “Kathy was very, very nice, very timid and very kind. She liked to play cards and never bothered anyone. I am amazed, it’s terrible.”
:::::according to another neighbour. “She wanted residents to be aware of who they let into the building,” another neighbour said.She was born in Budapest in August 1926 and, according to details she provided to the Jewish Museum, became involved with the Zionist resistance in Hungary during the war. She filled out the museum’s Holocaust survivors registry, but never said if she had been interned in a concentration camp.
Her role in the resistance was to create forged birth certificates to help people escape the Nazis with fake passports, and collect food stamps and smuggle food and contraband to Jews in the Budapest ghetto. But she and her family were eventually caught and put to work in labour camps and by the end of the war she was the sole surviving member.
In 1948 she married fellow labour camp survivor Paul Schweitzer, and when the Soviets invaded Hungary the pair fled to Australia to start a new life.
Mr Pappas said Mrs Schweitzer made regular donations to charities, including to a Jewish retirement home and hospital, Jewish Care and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
“Katherine was a real victim of the Holocaust who lost her parents and siblings so when her husband died, and with no children of her own she had nothing else left to turn to but to give generously to charities,” he said.
“It is a very sad case . . . that a gentle person, who was always giving, to have to end their life this way, it is disgusting.”::::
With DAVID BRAITHWAITE and DYLAN WELCH