Sixty years after becoming serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke’s first known victim, the last piece of the puzzle that was Pnina Berkman’s life has finally been put in its rightful place.

Thanks to a dogged South Perth genealogist who stumbled across the story by sheer accident, two previously unconnected sides of Ms Berkman’s family — one based in Israel, the other in Victoria — have come together as one.

And the little boy left behind — Pnina’s then eight-year-old son Mark — says he can now be “at peace with himself” knowing all the questions he’s had about his mum over the many years have at last been answered.

The woman originally known as Patricia Grigg was born in Melbourne in 1925, but when she met and married Gary Berkman at the Caulfield Synagogue in 1949, she had already converted to the Jewish faith and adopted her new Hebrew name, Pnina Berkman.

However, the relationship ended acrimoniously and six years later, she and her son Mark moved to Perth. For whatever reason, she told people that her parents had died in a car accident, perhaps wanting to start a new life with a clean slate.

Mother and son had previously been renting a room in Nedlands and had struck up a strong relationship with the owners, Fred and Ruby Pascoe, who were smitten with young Mark.

Now living in Mill Point Road in South Perth, young Mark and Pnina settled well into Perth’s quiet and comfortable suburbia.

The Pascoes were more than happy to babysit Mark when Pnina went out.

Vivacious and glamorous, it was not long before she began dating neighbour Fotis Fountas, a Greek-born radio DJ.

But sometime during the night of January 30, 1959, after a night out with Fountas, and with her darling Mark away at the Pascoes in Nedlands, Cooke crept into her bedroom through an open window and plunged a 17cm diving knife repeatedly into her naked body.

It was an innocent era of unlocked cars and back doors but the discovery of Pnina’s body by Fountas the next morning would jolt Perth out of its sleepy malaise and ultimately signal the start of Cooke’s killing spree.

Detectives immediately fingered Fountas as the prime suspect, despite a lack of evidence. Fountas eventually left WA and returned to Greece, never to come back to WA.

Mark’s father eventually came over from Victoria and took the boy back to Melbourne. Within two years, both had left for Israel.

Fast forward to 1972 and Mark married a childhood sweetheart, Rivka Kronkop, in Tel Aviv. Over the coming decades, while working his way up in the banking industry, Mark and Rivka would have three children.

But the mother he could not remember continued to pull at him. The only thing his father told him when he asked was that his mother “was killed by a madman”.

Wanting to know more, Mark took the first step in 1991 in trying to find out more about Pnina. He received the Victorian birth certificate relating to a Patricia Grigg, believing it to be his mother. The dates and names matched, but his inquiries over the next 18 years led nowhere.

Then in 2009, South Perth genealogist Rose Raymen went to a talk at the Jewish Historical and Genealogical Society of WA by Estelle Blackburn, the award-winning West Australian author of Broken Lives, which chronicles Cooke’s eight known murders and 14 unprovoked, violent and random attacks across Perth.

By this stage, Blackburn had already travelled to Israel and had given Mark many newspaper clippings and historical police documents she had gathered in her research. But he still knew nothing about any Australian family.

“I was fascinated by her talk and she went into great detail about Pnina’s murder,” Ms Raymen told The Sunday Times. “I just couldn’t get it out of my head so I emailed Estelle and she sent me Mark’s contact details.”

Mark and Rose began corresponding. Ms Raymen convinced Mark to continue the search for his Australian links. She offered to help and asked him to send his mother’s birth certificate.

“We eventually discovered that the birth certificate sent to Mark was actually a legitimate birth certificate but for the wrong person,” she said.

For the next three months she would burrow and dig until she uncovered Pnina’s real birth certificate — and her real name; Patricia Vinnicombe.

As she would discover, Eric Cooke’s first victim was born out of wedlock. Dorothea Vinnicombe had her baby, Patricia, on July 8, 1925. With the stigma that came with an illegitimate birth back then, Patricia was adopted in August that year. Enter Charles and Edith Griggs, who would love Patricia as their own.

The next step was to find a Vinnicombe. Rose worked the phones and it was not long before she was directed by a Vinnicombe to a woman named Jean Williams who lived in St Arnaud in regional Victoria.

Jean’s mother, Ruby, and Mark’s grandmother, Dorothea — Pnina’s mum — were sisters.

Rose had found Mark’s blood relatives.

Jean Williams was 80 when she flew to Israel to meet her second cousin, carrying many family heirlooms and belongings that had been handed down to various family members by Dorothea Vinnicombe, Pnina’s mum.

Ms Williams believed the rightful owner of the family valuables was Mark. At last, the little boy who, in a sense, was another victim of Eric Edgar Cooke, had finally something that he could hold and touch that would bring him closer to the mother he could not remember and grandmother he’d never met.

“I remember arriving at Tel Aviv airport at 5am, and it was very emotional,” Ms Williams told The Sunday Times. “I had brought the letters and cards and other family memorabilia because I believed he was the rightful owner of it all.”

Since then, there have been numerous family gatherings. As the years roll on, the two sides of the family become closer.

Mark Berkman, who continues to live in Tel Aviv, did not want to be interviewed for this story, apart from saying that he was now “at peace” but that he “didn’t have the will to start again to bring up sad memories”.

The last words should be left to genealogist Rose Raymen, a woman of strong Jewish faith, who, on finishing her research that uncovered the missing links that brought together a son and murdered mother, wrote to Mark.

“Your story is one of triumph over tragedy, but most of all, it’s a story of hope. Welcome home, my friend.”