Clinton Bailey (pseudonym) has written a manuscript analysing the Mr Cruel crimes. This manuscript was originally written in 2014 and has been updated several times. He has provided the manuscript to the Victoria Police. It has not been published previously on the internet. Clinton has given me permission to publish sections of it here.
There is new information revealed about the Mr Cruel case! The big scoops from the interview are the following.
1. Iddles revealed that the offender’s lair “in the lounge room had a chunky pine lounge suite”. This is significant as previously no information about the lounge room of Mr Cruel’s lair had been revealed by police or journalists.
2. He stated that, in the bathroom of the lair, “the basin was very close to the toilet”. This contradicts previous information from published accounts of Mr Cruel’s bathroom as they all stated the bathroom did not contain a toilet, but that the toilet was located in a different room next to the bathroom (it is unclear what the reason for this contradiction is).
3. In relation to his Eltham suspect, who he talked about on the Australian True Crime podcast in July 2020, he stated that the person who told him about his Eltham suspect was a “well-known criminal” and “well-known to police” who told Iddles this information when he was dying of cancer in “about 2000 or 2001” (ie not Chopper Read as some had speculated as the latter died in 2013). The year he received this tipoff was not revealed in the ATC interview.
4. He stated that the Eltham suspect died in 1992, (this was not revealed in the ATC interview).
5. He described the Eltham suspect as “someone who from time to time crossdressed”, (this was not revealed in the ATC interview).
6. The photo of the Eltham suspect “was shown to Karmein Chan’s mum and the father, but they couldn’t identify him”, (this was not revealed in the ATC interview).
7. The suspect “ran his own business which he was very successful in”, (this was not revealed in the ATC interview).
8. He mentions other attacks that were atrributed to Mr Cruel in “southern Melbourne, down around Sandringam, Brighton”. He said there were 12 attacks in total and that in these other 8 attacks the perpetrator was “always wearing a black balaclava”. “So, there were probably 12 that you might attribute to him, but definitely the last 4”, (these attacks have been written about previously by journalists such as Keith Moor and John Silvester, but the suburb of Sandringham wasn’t mentioned – of course he doesn’t actually state that an attack occurred in Sandringham).
9. He stated about one of these earlier attacks that “it’s a vacant house that’s up for sale. There was no forced entry so how did he get access? And there were questions about could he be a real estate agent, but the way in which he cleaned up, the MO was nearly identical, so that is why all of those cases were put in…a basket. He might have started in 1985 and you’re looking at about every 6 or 8 months for an attack…they were very, very similar”. (This may refer to the Hampton sexual assault of a 14 year old girl which has been written about previously by Keith Moor and John Silvester. However, the information about the house being a vacant house up for sale is new. It is probably the same attack as what Keith Moor describes in his 13 April 2013 article for the Herald Sun in which he stated: “”One of these suspected attacks was on a 14-year-old girl who was abducted from her Hampton home in Melbourne’s southern suburbs in 1985. She was tied, gagged and blindfolded before being driven to a vacant building site and assaulted. The scared and scarred schoolgirl was dumped at the nearby Moorabbin Bowl on the Nepean Highway at 2:10am, nearly five hours after being kidnapped.”
Thank you to Matt Dunlop of Matt Dunlop Media for providing me with the video.
In researching for this series of blogs and podcasts on the Mr Cruel crimes, one thing that has struck me is the amount of information out there, in articles and books that have been written about the case, which contradicts other information. There are many examples of this, but to pick one example at random, the victim in the Lower Plenty attack is variously described as being 11 or 12 years old. It may seem a minor detail, but there are many of these inconsistencies. Therefore, in retelling the facts of this case, I have potentially been presented with the problem of choosing the reliability of one source over another. Should we trust the contemporary newspaper articles of the time or the most recent in-depth analysis of the Mr Cruel case, Keith Moor’s 2016 article titled Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking child abductions, perhaps the most comprehensive source of information on the case out there?
When the information is contradictory, it is impossible to know which source to consider more reliable. If you rely purely on the contemporary sources, one runs the risk of relying on information which was later realised to be mistaken. On the other hand, if you rely solely on the most recent source, (as most articles, blogs and podcasts about this case have in recent years) you run the risk of relying on a source which has gained some of its information from interviews with detectives and other experts 30 years after the events in question. Memories are fallible, and I have come across instances of incongruities in recent publications which have relied on the memories of experts who misremembered some details from 30 years ago (I will highlight some of these incongruities later in this post).
When these incongruities come to the fore, and not knowing which is the objective truth, I have decided simply to present information in a way that reports what other journalists have written about the case and bring it to the attention of the reader when there are contradictions. Perhaps by getting all of this information out there, there is a small possibility it might contribute to clearing up some confusion about the finer details of the case.
I realise this style of blog may not be for everybody. If it is pure storytelling you are looking for, there are a number of blogs and podcasts out there that cover this case. They all tell the story as if they were there, a fly on the wall, as if they know exactly what happened. They almost exclusively rely on paraphrasing Keith Moor’s 2016 article mentioned previously, which is a well-written article, but contains information that contradicts some of the details that were presented in newspaper articles in 1987 and 1988.
I have spent many months attempting to read everything that has been written on this case. As a result I have made numerous visits to libraries where I have found many newspaper articles on the subject which nobody else has made available before on the internet. I am confident I have now read the vast majority there is to read about this case that is in the public forum. This blog post is a collation and presentation of all that I found in these sources and it is largely presented in chronological order.
In the first blog post/episode I mentioned the four canonical attacks that are considered by most detectives, to be the work of Mr Cruel. Today, I will focus on the first of these, what was reported in the media as the Lower Plenty rape of a girl in her home on 22 August 1987.
“A particularly violent rape“
As far as I have found, the very first time anything was ever written about this case was on 29 August 1987, when articles were published in both The Age and The Sun News Pictorial. We can probably safely assume therefore, that there was a police press conference the day before on 28 August. Both articles were published exactly one week after the actual attack occurred on 22 August. The Age article was written by Greg Burchall, under the title:Police warn that armed rapist might strike again. It reported that a 12 year old girl (take note of her age as this will be different in later articles) was raped after he broke into her “eastern suburbs house” and bound and gagged her parents, and that police were worried that he could strike again. Detective Inspector Val Simpson of the Greensborough CIB was paraphrased as stating that the attack was similar to the 3 rapes which occurred in December of 1985 in the “Donvale-Warrandyte-Bulleen” area (I will discuss this case in the next blogpost). He went on to say that the family of the raped girl did not want any details of the attack released, but had agreed to do so when told of the “danger of their attacker repeating his crime”.
Detective Sergeant Simpson said the attacker was armed with a “small automatic handgun and a large knife”. He broke a window at the front of the property before heading straight for the parents’ bedroom where he “bound and gagged a couple in their 30s and their six year-old son”. Take note here the article says the son was “six years-old” and that he was bound and gagged in his parents’ bedroom, which contradicts information we hear later.
The attacker then took the 12 year old girl to the lounge room where she suffered a “particularly violent rape”. The detective went on to describe how the attacker stole “$250 cash and a few articles of clothing”. He was described as “an Australian in his 30s, about 175 cm tall, with brown hair and slim build”. Take note of this first ever description of this man too, as it will be different to future reports of this offence. “He was wearing a balaclava, blue jeans and a brown tweed sports coat over a blue zip-up jacket and was carrying a grey cloth bag”. A black and white photograph of an artist’s rendition of the attacker is also provided, which is clearly the same illustration as the colourised version I have included at the top of this blog, only this one is cut off at the man’s belly.
What is noticeable about this image is the balaclava is open from the upper lip up to his hairline. A tuft of hair protrudes from under the top of the balaclava, and there is material stretching across his eyes which seems to act as some kind of visor that hides his eyes. Nevertheless, this remains the best image we have of Mr Cruel as in all the later canonical attacks his entire face is covered by the balaclava.
“A very dangerous sort of person”
The Sun also reported on this crime in an article by Greg Thom on the same date titled Family tied up as girl, 12, raped which goes into a little bit more detail than The Age article. It included a photograph by Janine Eastgate of Detective Sergeant Val Simpson holding three different rolls of red, blue and green tape and two different types of rope or cord. Behind Detective Simpson we can see two illustrations, one of an artist’s depiction of the perpetrator and one of the gun and knife used in the attack. The article stated that police were looking for a man who had raped a 12 year old girl in the “Eltham-Lower Plenty” area after tying up her parents and brother in the “bedroom of their outer suburban house”. He was armed with a “small handgun and large hunting knife”. Police had expressed concern that the man might strike again and that the offences were similar to attacks that had occurred in December 1985.
The offender had handcuffed the girl’s parents and bound their hands and legs before gagging them and putting “surgical tape over their eyes”. He had then taken the girl and her 6 year old brother into the parents’ bedroom where he bound and gagged the boy before taking the girl to another room and raping her. Police said the man had tricked the parents into thinking he was only there to rob the house. He had stolen $250 from a wallet and purse. Detective Segeant Val Simpson was quoted as saying: “Obviously the trauma of rape has been a very nasty experience for the young girl. Anyone who breaks into a home in the middle of the night, subjects a family to this sort of terrorism and rapes a 12-year old girl is obviously a very dangerous sort of person.” He also said: “He has struck once and there is every possibility he could strike again”. Thom wrote that police had stated that the perpetrator was “aged in his 30s, between 173cm and 175cm, probably Australian, with brown hair, slim build, and wearing a dark blue balaclava”, but also mentioned how he was wearing “blue runners with a white trim”. Also, the article stated that the grey cloth bag he was carrying was “similar to the type used by children to carry library books”. The Sun article also included the full-length artist’s depiction of the attacker.
“May have committed 5 similar attacks”
The next newspaper publication of this attack was on 1 September 1987 when the weekly Diamond Valley News published an article titled Task force to hunt rapist, by Sally McDonnell with a photograph similar to the one that appeared in the Sun depicting Detective Sergeant Val Simpson holding up the tape and rope and the full-length artist’s illustration of the suspect.
This article stated that police believed that the man who had raped the 12 year old girl may have committed 5 similar attacks. It stated the girl had been raped after her family had been bound, gagged and locked in another room. Detective Sergeant Val Simpson, it stated, had been appointed to head a task force to “solve this attack”. McDonnell wrote that Detective Sergeant Simpson had speculated that the perpetrator may have been responsible for 3 similar incidents that had occurred in Warrandyte, Bulleen and Donvale in December 1985, and two attempted rapes that had occurred in Greensborough in March and August 1987. Detective Sergeant Simpson was quoted as saying of these attacks: “In the 1985 incidents he entered the homes of women in similar circumstances and the offence of rape was committed.” McDonnell noted that police were: “keeping an open mind as to whether the same offender was responsible for two recent attempted rapes in the Joyce Avenue, Greensborough area.” In the Greensborough attempted rapes, the offender had “forced entry into houses at around 4am early on Saturday mornings and attempted to rape the female occupant of each house”.
The article went on to describe the Lower Plenty attack in the same ways as had been described in The Sun and The Age on 29 August. But, Detective Senior Sergeant Val Simpson was also quoted as stating “We have no idea at this stage how he selected the house. That’s something we’re working on at this stage. At this stage there is nothing to indicate that he knew the family. This is just a normal everyday family with no special interests or anything that might bring them into conflict with other people. It’s almost as if their whole being has been shattered by this one incident”. McDonnell then also paraphrased Detective Sergeant Simpson as stating that the offender “could be a local resident” and that there was “no indication that he was on drugs or drunk”. The article then went on to describe the physical description of the perpetrator in the same way as was in The Sun.
“Appealing for help”
The next article about the Lower Plenty attack appeared in The Age on 4 September 1987 when a short was written stating that police were “appealing for help” to help catch the perpetrator under the title Police appeal. Surprisingly, this short described the attack as occurring in Eltham, which must have been a mistake as, while the exact address has never been publicised, it has mostly been reported as having occurred in Lower Plenty or the Lower Plenty-Eltham area, which seems to suggest the part of Lower Plenty which is near the border with Eltham.
“There is every possibility he could strike again”
The same day a more detailed article was published in The Sun by Bruce Tobin, under the title Rapist threatened a second family: police. The article described how the perpetrator had gained access to the house in “Lower Plenty-Eltham” after he “smashed a window”. However, it described how, before he raped the girl, he had made a threatening phone call to another family “from the main bedroom of the house and threatened them with physical violence”. Detective Sergeant Val Simpson was paraphrased saying the perpetrator told the second family to “move their children or they would be in danger” and “there is every possibility he could strike again.” He also suggested that the same man could have been responsible for 3 rapes that occurred in the eastern suburbs in December 1985. The man had called the second family between 4:30 and 5am and referred to the person on the other end as ‘Bozo’. Detective Sergeant Simpson “appealed to the people who received the call to contact police”. The article then went on to describe the circumstances of the attack in the same way as had been in the previous Sun article except it said the man was about 175cm tall.
“The call was made to a person named ‘Bozo'”
Then on 8 September another article by Sally McDonnell appeared in the Diamond Valley News titled Phone threat clue to rapist. In the article McDonnell stated that the police believed that the perpetrator had “made a threatening phone call from the house during the two-hour ordeal”. Detective Sergeant Val Simpson was quoted as stating that “when the offender was in the house it would appear that a threatening phone call could have been made between 4:30 and 5am. The call was made to a person named ‘Bozo’ or a similar sounding name. Threatening remarks were made to this person and it was suggested that he remove his children from the house. We are treating it as a genuine call”. The article then stated that the police were looking for anyone who had received a threatening phone call at about 4:30 am on 22 August to contact them.
“Super cool, and super cruel”
The Lower Plenty attack was not in the news again until 19 November 1987, when an article by Jim Tennison appeared in The Sun linking the Lower Plenty attack to an attack on a 48 year old woman that had occurred on the night/morning of the 10/11 November under the heading Police hunt for Mr ‘Cruel’. This was the first usage of the term Mr Cruel by the media. Tennison’s article detailed the fact that a police taskforce had been set up to help find the perpetrator who was described by police as “super cool, and super cruel”. Assistant Commissioner of Crime, Mr Vaughan Werner, was quoted as saying “We have put a very high priority on the hunt for this man. He is a cold-blooded calculating character who has caused incredible trauma to his victims.” Tennison paraphrases Senior Detective Sergeant Gerry Tatter, who was the head of the taskforce, as saying “he believed the man had committed at least 3 rapes and possibly several more over a period of at least 2 years”. Senior Sergeant Tatter then went on to describe how he believed the same man had committed the Lower Plenty attack and then gave a brief summary of that attack. What was notable about this is that the girl is this time described as an 11 year old girl rather than a 12 year old. Another incongruity was that Tennison stated in his article that the girl’s brother was 7 years old. Lastly, he stated that the brother was locked in the wardrobe along with his parents, and this account would be repeated in articles about this case in future years.
Tennison then went on to describe the attack on the 48 year old woman in which the perpetrator broke into her home and “threatened her with a knife, bound and gagged her, and then raped her”. The man then stole her bank card and went to a bank in Moonee Ponds, where he withdrew $300 from her bank account. He had then returned to the woman’s house and “sexually assaulted her again, before leaving in the early hours of last Wednesday morning”.
Tatter was then paraphrased as describing the Lower Plenty attack as a “virtual blueprint” of an attack on “a 35 year old woman” in her home in Donvale on 6 December 1985. The article stated that in that attack the man had been armed with a “long-barrelled handgun” and that “in all 3 cases the rapist has worn a balaclava or hood and blindfolded, bound and gagged his victims, before assaulting them and stealing money.” Tennison’s article gave a slightly different physical description of the perpetrator – about 179 cm tall, aged 25 to 35 and of a slim build.
“Park St or Clarinda Rd”
On 25 November 1987 an article by Nadine Hartnett featuring information about the Lower Plenty attack was published by the Essendon Gazette. This was largely about the attack on the 48 year old Moonee Ponds victim, but also mentioned the Donvale attack in 1985 and included new information.
Regarding the Moonee Ponds attack, it stated a man had broken into the victims home at “10pm” before describing the attack in the same way as was in Jim Tennison’s article. However, more information was given on the location and the description of the attacker. He was described as “a slim man wearing pale blue jeans” and “could have been seen near Park St or Clarinda Rd between 9:30 and 10 pm on November 10, or at the Commonwealth Bank in Puckle St, near Pratt St, between 1 and 1:30am the next morning”.
Hartnett then paraphrased Senior Sergeant Gerry Tatter as describing the Lower Plenty victim as 11 and her brother as 7, repeating the claim that the brother was locked in the wardrobe with his parents. Again, this contradicts other articles and may have simply been a mistake by the officer at the press conference.
The Donvale attack was then also described in the same way as had been in Tennison’s article.
“Red and white and plain white nylon clothesline cord, and blue green and red PVC electrical tape”
On 15 December 1987 a Crime Stoppers report was published in The Age about the Lower Plenty Attack. It described the victim as 11 years old and it stated the perpetrator gained entry to the house when he “smashed a window”. It said he “made several phone calls to speak about a person called ‘Bozo'”. It stated “he carried a grey satchel and red and white and plain white nylon clothesline cord, and blue green and red PVC electrical tape”.
“A cold-blooded, calculating character who has caused incredible trauma to his victims”
Then on 10 May 1988, Innes Willox for The Age wrote an article about the case titled Police ask public for help tracking rapist linked to 20 attacks. This article stated that Detective Inspector Ken MacKenzie had tentatively linked the rapist involved in the Lower Plenty attack to at least 20 other attacks in the northern and eastern suburbs. Willox paraphrased the police in general as describing him as “the most audacious sex attacker they have investigated”. Detective Inspector McKenzie was quoted as saying “It puts him into the Mr Stinky category and he poses no less a threat as Mr Stinky did in his heyday”. The article then added a note that “Raymond Edwards, known as Mr Stinky, was convicted in 1985 of five rapes”. The Detective Inspector said that a task force had been set up the previous November after the attack on the 48 year old woman in Moonee Ponds and that “they are certain (the rapist) has committed three attacks since December 1985” and refer to the Donvale rape of “a 35 year old woman” in December 1985, the Lower Plenty rape of the 11 year old girl, and the Moonee Ponds “assault” of a 48 year old woman in November the previous year.
The article went on to describe how, during the Lower Plenty attack, the rapist had stolen “a box of rare classical records”. The records were by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, in a set called “Classic Gold written in gold print on a black box”. Detective Inspector McKenzie went on to ask for help from anyone in the public who might have acquired a set such as this since August 1987. Willox wrote that during the Lower Plenty attack the man was armed with a “pistol” and that: “He even made himself a meal. He picked the glass from the broken window, and stole a dark blue parka with the label ‘Ecuadorian Shirt Company’” This article described the man as between 168 and 183 cm tall, a much wider range given than in previous articles about this attacker.
“He’s without doubt one of the most dangerous criminals roaming the suburbs”
Also on 10 May 1988, The Sun published an article by Brian Walsh titled Record set clue to rape. This article gave the daughter’s age as 11 and the son’s as 8, which was a combination of ages we had not seen previously. It quoted Detective Inspector Ken McKenzie as stating of the perpetrator “he’s without doubt one of the most dangerous criminals roaming the suburbs”. Walsh paraphrased McKenzie as saying that “the recordings by the London Philharmonic Orchestra were sold by J&B Records in 1978 and 1979 and had not been widely distributed since”. It is a small detail, but it seems Willox erred in the describing the records as “classic”, when the actual title contains the word “classical”.
“Cool and calculating, a man who meticulously plans his attacks”
Innes Willox then released another article for The Age 2 days later on the 12 May 1988, under the title Police seek a new “Mr Stinky” Rapist. The article begins by suggesting police were searching for a new rapist in the vein of ‘Mr Stinky’ who, it was stated, was “now serving life for murder”. It paraphrases police as describing the new rapist as “cool and calculating, a man who meticulously plans his attacks” and he also mentions again how the perpetrator had been linked with at least 3 rapes and up to 20 attacks . Willox also wrote: “They know of, but refuse to discuss, several disturbing similarities about the attacks because they fear others could copy his methods”. Willox went on to describe how the police did not know much about the attacker because he always wore a balaclava. It is mentioned how he stole small amounts of money from all his victims. Chief Commissioner Kel Glare, is cited as using this attacker as an example of why police needed more resources to tackle crime. The quote from Assistant Commissioner of Crime, Vaughan Werner, from the article dated 10 May, describing the attacker as “a cold-blooded, calculating character who has caused incredible trauma to his victims” is repeated. Willox described the 6 December 1985 Donvale attack in a unique way with new information. “He (the attacker) waited in a house for a 30 year-old woman (he had described her as aged 35 in his own article just two days previously), and her 17-year-old sister. When the women arrived home at 10:30pm, the older woman was confronted by a man in the lounge in the back of the house. He had broken in through the backdoor. Armed with a long-barrelled pistol, the man took the woman to a bedroom where he had heard the younger woman talking. Using pantyhose he tied the girl up and locked her in a bedroom wardrobe, securing the door handles.
“The man then took the older woman to another bedroom, tied her up and raped her. Police said that during the attack, he called to her sister in the bedroom to check on her. The rapist spent about 90 minutes in the house after the attack. He stole a small amount of money and ripped the telephone from the wall.”
Willox then described the Lower Plenty attack with some new information, saying: “a family home surrounded by bushland in a quiet street”. Also, “he went first to the Master Bedroom where he tied up the parents of an 11 year old girl and forced them into a wardrobe. Again the doors were secured, this time with a shoe rack”. It is stated that he tied the 7 year old brother to the bed in the parents’ bedroom before the girl was taken to the lounge room and assaulted.
Willox also paraphrased the police as reporting that “the man spent two hours in the house making a meal in the kitchen and making several phone calls”. Willox reported: “Before he left, probably through the front door, he picked up the broken glass on the lounge floor, ripped the telephone from the wall, and stole a box of classical records, a coat and some money. Police are especially interested in the coat, made by the ‘Ecuadorian Shirt Company’. It was bought in South America and may be the only one in Australia”. (NB: a Google search for this company brings up nothing, but there is a company called the Ecuadorian Clothing Company. It is unknown if this is the same company being referred to here).
Willox then went on to describe the attack on the 48 year old woman in Moonee Ponds on “10 November 1987. The man broke into the house at 9:20 pm (notice this is different from the time of 10 pm given in Nadine Hartnett’s article in the Essendon Gazette) and used a knife to threaten the 48 year old woman who lived alone. She was sleeping when she was attacked. The rapist did not turn on the lights. He tied her up with a nylon cord which is not available in Australia, and then raped her. He emptied her handbag and took her automatic teller machine card. Police are certain he planned the attack because he walked almost a kilometre to a bank with an automatic withdrawal machine. He withdrew $300 from the woman’s account and walked back to the house. He was away about 45 minutes. During that time the woman freed herself of her gag and called for help. When the man returned, he admonished the woman and raped her again, before ripping out the telephone and leaving. The woman’s ordeal lasted more than four hours”.
Willox then repeated the physical description of the man that he had written in the 10 May article, describing him as between 25 and 35, 168 to 183cm tall and of slim build.
The article included the same police artist’s rendition of the perpetrator as was published in earlier articles about the Lower Plenty attack and a photograph of Chief Commissioner Kel Glare.
“A vicious kidnapper known as “Mr Cruel””
When Sharon Wills was abducted from her Ringwood home in December 1988, press reports did not link it to the Lower Plenty attack. It was not until the abduction of Nicola Lynas in July 1990 that the 3 cases were linked in the media. This occurred when Brian Walsh, Andrew Mevissen and Mary Viscovich wrote an article for The Sun titled Alert on Mr Cruel. It was published on 6 July 1990, after Nicola Lynas had been released by the kidnapper.
The article went to press before it was realised Nicola Lynas had been found alive, so it was written as if she was still missing, even though she was discovered earlier that morning. In linking the Nicola Lynas abduction to the Lower Plenty attack in 1987, the moniker ‘Mr Cruel’ was resurrected – it had not been used in the media since Jim Tennison’s article in November of 1987. The police had linked the Nicola Lynas abduction with the Sharon Wills abduction as soon as the former kidnapping occurred over 2 days previously, but now they were linking the Lower Plenty case as well. It pointed out that in both the Lower Plenty attack and Nicola Lynas’ abduction the offender was wearing a balaclava and armed with a long knife and a handgun. This article described the Lower Plenty victim as 11 years old.
“Same offender…responsible for rape of a girl, 11, in her Lower Plenty home”
The Age published their own article the same day titled Letter imprint clue to missing girl, by Paul Conroy, Jacqui MacDonald and Peter Schwab. While the crux of the article was about a clue that might have been left by the abductor of Nicola Lynas, I will not go into those details now as I will save that discussion for a future in-depth post I do on the Nicola Lynas abduction. Notably, The Age article did not refer to the perpetrator as ‘Mr Cruel’, choosing to ignore the moniker used previously by The Sun, however, it did link the same man who abducted Nicola with the man who had abducted Sharon and the perpetrator who had committed the Lower Plenty attack, describing the victim in the latter as 11 years old.
“”Mr Cruel” who was responsible for the rape of a 12 year old girl “
The same day, 6 July 1990, Louise Talbot and Phillip Hudson published an article in The Herald, an evening newspaper, titled ‘Dangerous’ fantasy the key to kidnap, say police. It also stated that police had linked Nicola Lynas’ abduction to the Sharon Wills abduction and the Lower Plenty attack, describing the Lower Plenty victim as 12 years old and her brother as 6 years old, a combination of ages that had not been used before in previous articles. It also stated: “This man may also be responsible for attacks in December 1985”, which obviously refers to the Donvale-Warrandyte-Bulleen sexual assaults mentioned previously.
Having resurrected the ‘Mr Cruel’ moniker, and associated it with the abductions of Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas, both of which had far more media coverage than the Lower Plenty attack, the name struck a chord and was used from then on by television, radio and the press in reference to this case.
When Karmein Chan was abducted on 13 April 1991, the Herald-Sun newspaper, a merger of the evening broadsheet The Herald and the morning tabloid The Sun News Pictorial, published an article by an unnamed author on 15 April describing the abduction as the work of ‘Mr Cruel’, the same man who had abducted Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas, but did not mention the Lower Plenty attack. The article published false information that all 3 girls were abducted on school holidays. Nicola Lynas was abducted during the final week of term, not on school holidays and this was made clear in a number of the newspaper articles that were published about her abduction in July 1990. I will come back to this topic in the future in-depth post about Nicola Lynas.
The article also falsely asserted that the moniker ‘Mr Cruel’ was one which was given to him by detectives, which was not the case. Rather, he was dubbed ‘Mr Cruel’ in the previously mentioned article by Jim Tennison, published by The Sun on 19 November 1987. There was no mention of the Lower Plenty attack in this article, but it was linked in an article in The Age on 16 April titled Police put together profile of kidnapper, by Bruce Tobin and Jacqui Macdonald.
The Lower Plenty attack did not occur on school holidays!(Thank you to the researcher Clinton Bailey for pointing this out to me)
Over the course of the last 30 years, numerous newspaper articles, books and even the FBI profiling report have erroneously stated that all 4 of the canonical Mr Cruel attacks occurred on school holidays. This is incorrect. In fact, neither the Lower Plenty attack, nor the Nicola Lynas abduction occurred during Victorian school holidays. The latter occurred in the final week of term and the former in mid term 3. Yet, this mistake is repeated by respectable mainstream media organisations en masse. There is a perfectly good explanation as to how this mistake was originally made. When the school terms for 1990 were first decided upon in 1989, they originally had term 2 as finishing on 29 June and term 3 beginning on 16 July. However, this was later amended, and term 2 actually finished on 6 July. Since Nicola Lynas was abducted on Tuesday 3 July, this was in fact, the last week of term. This can be proved by simply looking at the newspaper articles from the period that clearly illustrate that Nicola was to finish school on the Friday 6 July, before she and her family had planned to return to England the following day.
On 24 April 1991, having received a request from Victoria Police to create a profile of the unknown offender, the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia, wrote a letter to the Victoria Police based on information the latter had provided to them about the four canonical attacks. At this stage, Victoria Police was under the mistaken belief that all four attacks had occurred during school holidays, so the FBI provided their profile based on this false information. Of note in this document, relevant to any discussion about the Lower Plenty attack, is that the FBI stated “We believe the offender may reside in the vicinity of the first assault (meaning the Lower Plenty attack). This is further strengthened by the fact that the offender has returned to that same general area in the fourth assault. In cases of serial sexual assault this type of clustering indicates an area of great significance to the offender. Usually it indicates that the offender lives there while in other cases it reflects his employment. In this case we believe that it is more probable that the offender resides in that area. In view of the fact that these incidents all occur during school holidays, coupled with the offender’s use of a school uniform in the third assault we suggest there is a high degree of probability that the offender is involved with a school. He may be employed there or connected with a school in some other capacity.“
The FBI profile continues in this vein and I will delve into it in more depth in a future post. What is startling here however, is the fact that the Victoria Police relied upon this profile which the FBI constructed based on false information! This is not to mention that the entire subject of the FBI method of profiling is an extremely controversial one and is considered to be a pseudoscience by many, with no peer-reviewed studies proving that it works, as is argued in this article. However, I will come back to the topic of the FBI method of profiling in a later post.
In a long article for The Age titled Brutal abductor breeds fear with cruelty, published 3 weeks after Karmein Chan’s abduction, Antony Catalano referred to the Lower Plenty attack. He gave the victim’s age as 11 and her brother’s as 7. He stated that the brother was tied up and locked in the wardrobe with his parents. Confusingly, he also claimed that a police taskforce, set up after the Moonee Ponds attack, dismissed it as not the work of Mr Cruel. This is strange indeed as, as recently as 2019, Xanthe Mallett in the chapter of her book Cold Case Investigations that dealt with Mr Cruel, was asserting that the Moonee Ponds attack was the work of Mr Cruel. We will come back to this seeming contradiction later in the blog.
Catalano also gave a bizarre origin story for the term “Mr Cruel”, claiming that it was coined when police initially thought the identity of the attacker of the 48 year old victim and the Lower Plenty victim were one and the same. They had, he claimed, called the perpetrator in the Lower Plenty case “Mr Cool”, so when Chief Police Commsioner for Crime, Mr Vaughan Werner, described that perpetrator in the Moonee Ponds case as “cruel” the name “Mr Cruel” appeared as the headline the next day in the Sun article by Jim Tennision about the rape. The problem with this claim is that there is no evidence it is true. While the perpetrator in the Lower Plenty attack case had been described as “cool and calculating”, nowhere have I found evidence that he was referred to as “Mr Cool”. Furthermore, the fact that Catalano refers to the linking of the Moonee Ponds rape with the Lower Plenty rape as a “mix-up”, when some experts have more recently asserted that the two crimes were linked, makes this information even more confusing.
A lack of mentions of the Lower Plenty attack
Operation Spectrum was the police taskforce set up to investigate the abduction of Karmein Chan. I will cover Operation Spectrum in more depth in a later post. Throughout the duration of this taskforce, from 1991-1994, the detectives on it asserted to the media that the abductor of Karmein Chan was probably the same person who had abducted both Nicola Lynas and Sharon Wills, and who had raped the girl in Lower Plenty. Despite this, a series of books were published in the following two decades which covered the Mr Cruel case which hardly mentioned the Lower Plenty attack. For example, Paul Anderson’s chapter on Mr Cruel from his 2003 book Dirty Dozen: Shocking Australian True-Crime Stories only included one sentence about the Lower Plenty attack. Larry Writer’s chapter on the Mr Cruel case in his 2008 book the Australian Book of True Crime, does not mention it at all. Colin McLaren, who was a detective on Operation Spectrum, included a chapter on the Mr Cruel case in his 2011 book Infiltration, but he also completely neglects to cover the Lower Plenty case. There are also a number of factual errors in the chapter such as when he claims Nicola Lynas celebrated her 13th birthday on the day of her release by her abductor. It was in fact her 14th birthday, but we will come back to this at a later date.
“Her seven year old brother was forced to watch, tied to a bed”
In October 2007, the Police Life magazine published an article about Mr Cruel which included information about the Lower Plenty attack that had never been released previously. Indeed, it is unclear whether the information included was mistaken as I have not seen this information anywhere else. The article, by Sarah Campbell, included information based on an interview with Detective Senior Sergeant Chris O’Connor who had worked on Operation Spectrum. In describing Mr Cruel, the article stated “One of his victims, an 11 year old girl, was attacked as her seven year old brother was forced to watch, tied to a bed”. This is the only source which describes this detail of this attack, it does not even appear in Keith Moor’s extremely detailed summary of the attack in his 2016 article Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking child abductions for the Herald Sun.
“They believe the same man was responsible for attcks in Caulfield, Hawthorn, Brighton, Dingley and Donvale.”
John Silvester and Andrew Rule’s book Rats Crooks who Got Away with it : Tales of True Crime and Mystery from the Underbelly Archive, published in 2008, discusses the Lower Plenty case in a bit more detail. Their chapter on Mr Cruel makes the same uncorroborated claim that Antony Catalano made in his 1991 article that Mr Cruel was originally called Mr Cool. I suspect this was a mistake by Silvester and Rule that came from simply reading Catalano’s 1991 article and not checking the record to find other references in the media to this alleged moniker.
Silvester and Rule go on to link Mr Cruel to a series of crimes between 1985 and 1991 by an offender dubbed ‘the Hampton Rapist’. Silvester and Rule are the only authors known to have used this moniker. They wrote “There were several obvious similarities between Karmein Chan’s disappearance and other abductions attributed to the offender dubbed Mr Cruel. Mr Cruel would break into homes, sexually assault or abduct residents and go to extremes not to be identified. He often tied victims the same way and cut phone lines before leaving. Police had been looking for a man they called the ‘Hampton Rapist’ who, they suspected, abducted a fourteen-year-old from her home in February 1985. They believe the same man was responsible for attcks in Caulfield, Hawthorn, Brighton, Dingley and Donvale. He was an opportunist who would break into houses looking for money, but who would sexually assault victims if he had the chance. The ‘Hampton Rapist’ was believed to be the same man responsible for later attacks, including Karmein Chan’s. Much later, after thousands of hours of fruitless investigations, police were to conclude there were probably two offenders – possibly one a copycat. While some of the Hampton assaults had striking similarities to the later one, police finally established that the first-known attack by Mr Cruel was in Lower Plenty, in August 1987.”
What is contradictory about this account by Silvester and Rule, is that, firstly, none of the contemporary newspaper articles from the time corroborate the idea that police in 1991 considered these earlier attacks by the ‘Hampton Rapist’ to be the same offender as Mr Cruel. Indeed, we know that the Victoria Police contacted the FBI in the week after the Karmein Chan abduction with information that the offender was only responsible for the four canonical attacks. Seconldy, another confusing point is that Silvester and Rule’s book suggests that police later ruled out the earlier attacks “after thousands of hours of fruitless investigations”. Yet, this contradicts Keith Moor’s later information that some detectives did indeed consider at least two of the 1985 attacks in Hampton as being the work of Mr Cruel. Furthermore, this is the only source on the public record that has ever attributed attacks in Hawthorn, Caulfield, Brighton and Dingley as being possibly the work of Mr Cruel. The Donvale attack referred to must be the same one mentioned in the contemporary newspaper articles as that of the rape of the 30 or 35 year old woman in December of 1985.
“A man armed with a knife and a gun removed a pane of glass from the lounge room window and broke in to a family home about 4am.“
Silvester and Rule’s book goes on: “In that attack (the Lower Plenty one), a man armed with a knife and a gun removed a pane of glass from the lounge room window and broke in to a family home about 4am. He forced both parents onto their stomachs and tied their hands and feet before he locked them in a wardrobe. Their seven-year-old son was tied to a bed, and the eleven-year-old daughter was then attacked. he cut the phone lines and left after two hours in the house. He used knots favoured by truck drivers and farmers who need to secure loads. He also used sailing knots and others used by anglers for restringing musical instruments”.
This information about the Lower Plenty attack is striking for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the description of the entry to the household contradicted previous descriptions of the entry in which it was claimed the man had “smashed” the window to enter the property. Secondly, this description of the knots used to tie up the victims is unique and is not repeated even in the later in-depth articles by Keith Moor (although Moor does describe the knots as the kind used by tradesmen).
Keith Moor’s Herald Sun article Mr Cruel suspected of at least a dozen attacks on children
On 11 April 2012, to mark the 20th anniversary of the discovery of Karmein Chan’s remains, Keith Moor wrote an article for the Herald Sun titled Mr Cruel suspected of at least a dozen attacks on children. The article was quite a comprehensive description of the attacks on the victims of the four canonical attacks. “The first victim police confirm was certainly attacked by Mr Cruel was an 11-year-old girl he raped in 1987. He removed a window pane in the lounge room her (sic) Lower Plenty home about 4am. Wearing a mask and carrying a small handgun and a large hunting knife, Mr Cruel woke the girl’s parents and forced them to lie on their stomachs while he expertly tied their hands and feet, using knots commonly tied by sailors and those familiar with securing loads. He then gagged them and put surgical tape over their eyes before locking them in their bedroom wardrobe. Their six-year-old son was blindfolded, gagged and tied to his bed.
“Mr Cruel then turned his attention to the real reason for the break-in – sexual gratification from the 11-year-old girl. He was in no hurry, spending about two hours in the house. So cool was he during the attack that he took a break from raping the girl to make himself a meal. He also searched the home and stole a box of classical records and a dark blue parka coat with a fake fur collar.
“The girl later told police he made a phone call from the house and threatened another family with physical violence. She said he warned the family to move their children or they would be in danger and that he had referred to the person he phoned as “Bozo”. A police check of telephone records revealed there was no such phone call. It was part of his modus operandi – setting up red herrings to distract police and make his capture less likely.”
This is the first time the telephone phone call has been described in this way – that the perpetrator did not actually make the call, but just pretended to. None of the newspaper reports from 1987 and 1988 mention this and this detail is also left out of Keith Moor’s next big article about the case for the Herald Sun in 2016. This is extremely confusing, and one might rightly ask why this is the case.
Keith Moor’s Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking child abductions
Perhaps the most comprehensive piece of writing on the Mr Cruel case was the article written by Keith Moor for the Herald Sun on 8 April 2016 Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking child abductions. It included a host of new information that had never been revealed previously, however, confusingly, it contradicted Moor’s own 2012 article, Mr Cruel suspected of at least a dozen attacks on children, in regards to some key details.
“8 years old”
In regards to the Lower Plenty attack, it repeated the John Silvester and Andrew Rule description of Mr Cruel removing a window pane of the lounge room window to gain entry to the house. Moor gave the victim the pseudonym ‘Jill’ and said she was “11 years old”, before, describing her brother as “8 years old”. This boy has been described, in various sources, as being 6, 7 and 8 years old respectively, at the time of the attack.
“The parents were uncuffed and then restrained around the hands and ankles with nylon cord, which Mr Cruel expertly tied using knots commonly used by sailors and those familiar with using rope to secure loads.”
Moor stated that the perpetrator “was armed with a handgun, kitchen knife, handcuffs and nylon cord. He went to the main bedroom first, forced the parents onto their stomachs and handcuffed their hands and ankles. Mr Cruel then went to the children’s rooms, woke them up and took them to the parents’ bedroom. He told them he was going to rob them. The parents were uncuffed and then restrained around the hands and ankles with nylon cord, which Mr Cruel expertly tied using knots commonly used by sailors and those familiar with using rope to secure loads. Jill’s brother was tied to the bed and Jill’s hands were tied with the cord. All the victims were then gagged with electrical tape and the children were blindfolded with surgical tape. Mr Cruel asked Jill her name, was told it, but later wrongly and repeatedly referred to her as Kate (not her real name). He also asked the father’s clothes size, saying he was about the same size. He demanded cash and a first aid kit and said he needed some clothes, a shower, some food and wanted to shave. Mr Cruel then removed various items from the wardrobe and forced both parents inside it and put a bed blanket over them. He used the bedroom phone, but did not make a connection. Mr Cruel then went to other rooms in the house before returning to the main bedroom. He then made another call, this time connecting, and made threats into the phone. The word “bozo” was used. Mr Cruel then shut the wardrobe door and locked it. He left the room and returned soon after with a radio and turned it to 3KZ loudly to drown out the sounds of him assaulting Jill in the bathroom. He made Jill clean her teeth and bathe. Mr Cruel led Jill into the kitchen, where he ate some cold lamb, biscuits, milk and orange juice. With his hunger satisfied, Mr Cruel then led Jill to the lounge room, where he assaulted her again before dumping her in a lounge chair. He left the room for about 10 minutes, during which he checked on the welfare of the parents and Jill’s brother. Mr Cruel returned to the lounge and led the terrified Jill to a seat in the spare room. He left her there for a short time before returning and tying her ankles together with nylon cord. He told Jill he was leaving and that she should count to 100 before freeing herself and her family. Jill later told police she heard the front door close and she then released herself and then freed her parents and brother. It is possible Mr Cruel chose Jill as his victim after seeing her photograph in a local newspaper which carried an article about her and her family. Jill was attacked just a few days after the article was published.”
Moor then listed some quotes Mr Cruel had uttered during the attack. To the girl’s parents he had said: “Be quiet and don’t move or I’ll hurt someone” and “Get into the wardrobe and sit down. Get into the closet and kneel down.” and “All I want is money, food and clothes. How much money is in the house?”
To the victim he had said “What’s your name? How old are you?” and “Clean your teeth” and “I’m going out now so count to 100 slowly then you can free your parents.”
Moor then listed details of the description of the perpetrator as given by the victim’s family. “Australian. 178cm to 183cm tall, of slim to medium build with brown, greyish/white hair with white spots in it. (Note how this differs to the 173 to 175cm description that was given in the original 1987 press reports about the man. There was also no mention of greyish/white hair in the original press reports where he was described as “brown hair and slim build”). He possibly had dandruff and his hair was protruding from beneath his balaclava. Greyish/white bushy eyebrows. Aged in his mid 20s. (Again this is inconsistent with the original press reports where he was described as in his 30s.) Had a gruff voice, deepish/nervous/uneducated. Suffered from bad breath (musty smell). Was unshaven, with a couple of days growth. Oval face, soft hands, possibly right handed. Wearing blue denim jeans, good condition, close fitting, a brown tweed sports jacket, possibly rust coloured, a blue nylon waterproofed zip up jacket, blue runners with white flashes down the side, white soles in good condition and white cotton socks. His balaclava was navy blue with an open face and some type of material covering the eye area. His gloves were light in colour, possibly yellow and were of the dishwashing or surgical type.”
Moor then gave a description of items that were stolen by the perpetrator during the attack. “A tartan shirt, men’s size in red, black and yellow. $250 cash. A gold engagement ring of 18 carat yellow gold with a single white diamond. The diamond was on a gold mounting with four claws and had the number 4132 stamped inside and was worth $2500 in 1987. A gent’s dark blue cotton parka with a fake black fur collar. It was slightly padded with a distinctive zip in the left arm. The parka was made in Ecuador and was branded Ecuadorean (sic) Shirt Company. A pair of men’s trousers, 82cm-85cm, possibly Roger David brand. Light blue/grey with a small check and of straight leg design. A Gillette safety razor in a blue plastic box with a clear lid. A dark brown vinyl bag.”
Moor then gave a description of the weapons and equipment Mr Cruel used in the attack. “Small black handgun, pistol type. Knife, kitchen, black handle, silver blade about 20cm long. At least four sets of handcuffs. Nylon coated cord, white and red/white. Electrical tape, adhesive, roll of red, roll of green and roll of blue. Elastoplast. Material bag, dark bluish/grey or light grey colour, similar to school library bag.”
Why all the contradictions?
Without doubt Keith Moor’s 2016 article provided the public with more information about this attack than any other single document had done to date. It has clearly been the chief source that was relied on in the production of a number of notable podcast series about the case like Casefile and True Blue True Crime. However, some of the information in the article clearly contradicted information in Moor’s 2012 article Mr Cruel suspected of at least a dozen attacks on children. Furthermore, these contradictions cannot simply be explained by Moor correcting the record as, in his 2019 book Mugshots 1, co-written with Geoff Wilkinson, his description of the Lower Plenty attack reverts back to the same one he had described in the 2012 Herald Sun article. For example, the boy is referred to as being 6 years old in his 2012 article, then 8 years old in his 2016 article, and then back to 6 years old in his 2019 book! Yes, the 2019 book is an update of a book that was originally published in 2003, but why does it contain the old description of the Lower Plenty attack? The 2012 article (and the 2019 book) also stated that the boy was tied to his own bed by the perpetrator. Whereas, in the 2016 article, Moor simply says the boy was “tied to the bed”. Since the description of the attack at this stage is occurring in the parents’ bedroom, the reader can only presume that the boy was tied to the parents’ bed. Why the incongruities?
Each of his descriptions also differ in key respects to the contemporary press reports and this raises the serious question of why this is the case. Moor did not reveal where he got his information. Yet his 2016 account raises a number of questions I feel should be answered. Why does his account state that the perpetrator was in his 20s when the original press reports said that the man was in his 30s? Why does Moor’s information state that the man was 178-183cm in height when the first press reports said that he was 173-175cm in height? Why does Moor’s account say that the perpetrator “connected” when he made his second call from the telephone, yet his 2012 article, and his 2019 book, and Xanthe Mallett’s account suggests this was a ruse and there was nobody on the other end. What was the actual age of the girl and her brother and why do we have so many contradictory accounts of it, with the girl’s age ranging from 11-12 and the boy’s ranging from 6 to 8? Why did Moor’s account say that the parents were not blindfolded with surgical tape, only the children were, yet the original press reports in 1987 stated the parents were also? Indeed why did the 2007 Police Life article state that the boy was “forced to watch” as the perpetrator attacked the girl, yet this account has not been repeated anywhere else (apart from a blog post by a woman who claims she was in the same grade 5 class as the victim)? Why do some accounts neglect to mention that the girl was assaulted in the bathroom, while other accounts state she was only assaulted in the lounge room (and Chris O’Connor’s account in Australian True Crime Stories seems to suggest the sexual assault only occurred in the bathroom, we will get to this below)? Was the lounge room window “smashed” or did the perpetrator “remove the window pane”. There is so much contradictory information surrounding this case I believe the Victoria Police should answer these questions once and for all so as to prevent the spread of incorrect information about it, which could in turn harm the chances of a breakthrough in the case.
Some misinformation about the exact location of the Lower Plenty attack.
The address of the house where the Lower Plenty attack occurred has never been revealed. When the Herald Sun published a series of articles to mark the 25th anniversary of the abduction of Karmein Chan in April 2016, one of the articles included an interactive map made with a mapmaking tool named Storymap. It showed the exact locations of houses from which the three abducted girls were taken. It also included a location for the Lower Plenty attack, but this was only ever intended to be an approximate location, and the marker was placed on a random spot in Lower Plenty. This had the inadvertent effect of causing some internet users to mistakenly believe that the attack occurred on or off Para Road in Lower Plenty. In fact, the American blogger who goes by the name Gian J. Quasar who runs the blog Questersite, claimed in July 2017 in his own series of blog posts on the Mr Cruel crimes that the Lower Plenty attack occurred in a house “off Para Road”. However, this is not correct. As a result of this misinformation, I have encountered a number of individuals who are interested in this case who falsely believe this is where the attack occurred. Furthermore, there are a number of other factual errors in this blog, which is essentially just a rehash of Keith Moor’s 2016 Herald Sun articles, but the author editorialises for entertainment value throughout the series. This blog is not a credible source for information about this case.
The fact of the matter is we know the Lower Plenty attack occurred in the part of Lower Plenty near the border with Eltham since some newspaper articles described it as occurring in the “Lower Plenty-Eltham” or “Eltham-Lower Plenty” region. I will not reveal the exact location as this is not something the police have ever released publicly. I have marked it on the map at a random location in the part of Lower Plenty near the border of Eltham. Below is a Melway map from 1987 of the area in question. Take note of the SEC transmission lines which cut across this area, and the old SEC site on the left-hand side of the map. SEC sites and transmission lines feature prominently throughout the Mr Cruel story, and I will do a future post on this unexpected correlation. Also, take note of ‘Tennis City’ in the upper right of this image, as tennis also features strongly in this story. The area in the bottom left in yellow is a Christian Brothers ‘Youth Training Centre’.
Cold Case Investigations by Xanthe Mallett2019
In August 2019, criminologist Xanthe Mallett published a book which included a chapter on the Mr Cruel series. In describing the Lower Plenty attack Mallett repeated the assertion that the perpetrator in the Lower Plenty attack “removed a window pane in the lounge”. She wrote that he “forced the parents at gunpoint to lie on their stomachs” and “he also had a small knife”. Remember, this differs to the original press reports of the period which described the knife as “large”. She states that “surgical tape was put over their eyes”, which differs from Moor’s account that it was only put over the eyes of the children. She refers to the age of the boy as “6 years old”, and that he was “tied to his bed”. She refers to the girl as “11 years old”. Mallett does not mention the attack on the girl that others said had occurred in the bathroom before she was told to “clean her teeth”. Rather she states that the perpetrator “assaulted her” after he told her to clean her teeth. She states that the perpetrator “cut the phone lines”, which is different to the Innes Willox 12 May 1988 article which states that “he ripped the telephone from the wall”. Mallett stated the attacker “pretended to make a phone call, using the term ‘Bozo’ to the person on the other end, saying that the other person needed to move their children, otherwise they would be in danger”, which is a direct copy of Bruce Tobin’s 4 September 1987 article from The Sun. In regards to the phone calls made from the house Mallett stated: “Later the police checked and no call had been made”. She goes on: “The conclusion drawn was that this was an attempt to hide his true motives. As was the theft of the personal items, a ruse to distract and confuse the police”. As stated earlier, this account contains the same information included in the 2012 Keith Moor article and the 2019 Wilkinson/Moor book, but differs to Moor’s 2016 article. It also differs to the accounts of the attack in the newspaper articles that were published in 1987 and 1988.
Later in the chapter, Mallett speculated on the likely location of Mr Cruel’s residence remarking on the relevance of the “geographic spread”of the attacks and concludes that “the first and fourth attacks (meaning the Lower Plenty attack and the Karmein Chan abduction) were so close together that it is likely the offender lived close to where these incidents happened.” This is possibly information she took directly from the FBI profile report which, as we saw earlier, was based on incorrect information provided by Victoria Police.
Mallett then went on to describe her belief that the offender “specifically targeted children in their pre-pubescent stage before they go through puberty and develop secondary sexual characteristics. I was interested to know whether Mr Cruel was a paedophile in the true sense of the word.” She then goes on to state that she knew criminal psychologist Tim Watson-Munro had worked on the Mr Cruel case and so she asked him his opinion on whether Mr Cruel was a paedophile. “No, Mr Cruel wasn’t an exclusive paedophile”, he replied. Mallett then goes on to explain in Watson-Munro’s words how he had been retained by Victoria Police to profile Mr Cruel’s offending which exposed him to the “full range of his actions. These included the rape and confinement of an elderly nun in a Melbourne northern suburb, with him brazenly taking her car and her ATM card in order to drive to a local bank and steal her savings.” This is clearly referring to the Moonee Ponds attack on the night of 10-11 November 1987. Except, Tim Watson-Munro has referred to the woman as “elderly” when the woman in question was reported at the time as being only 48 years old. Did you notice the other inconsistency? According to Mallett, Watson-Munro told her that the offender stole the woman’s car and drove it to the bank. However, Innes Willox’s article from 12 May 1988 clearly stated that the offender walked to the bank before stealing the woman’s savings. Mallett also said that Watson-Munro told her the woman was a nun. Antony Catalano’s 4 May 1991 article which mentioned the Moonee Ponds attack stated that the woman in question was a “former nun”. Catalano also claimed that police had ruled out the attack as being the work of Mr Cruel. The amount of contradictory information out there in this case is truly staggering! (NB: I discovered in June 2021 that this attack on the 48-year-old woman in Moonee Ponds was actually ruled out as being the work of Mr Cruel and Christopher Clarence Hall was charged with the attack in 1994).
One clear mistake in Mallett’s work is that the audio version of Mallett’s book pronounces Karmein Chan’s name incorrectly, pronouncing the name “Karmine” throughout. Additionally, Karmein’s sister Karly’s is spelt incorrectly as “Karlie” throughout the book.
Mysteriously, Mallett also quoted Watson-Munro as saying: “There were a number of other crimes involving the detention and rape of adult women”, but then does not say which attacks these are, so it is unclear if what are being referred to here, is the Warrandyte, Donvale, Bulleen and Greensborough attacks.
Dancing with Demons Tim Watson-Munro 2017
I was only recently notified by a fellow researcher who takes an interest in this case that Tim Watson-Munro published his own book called Dancing with Demons in 2017. There is one sentence about the Moonee Ponds attack in that book: “Police asked me to profile this bloke [Mr Cruel], long before he became famous. The police were concerned after a number of break-ins and rapes in the inner Melbourne suburbs. One involved the rape of an elderly nun.” One can only speculate that Mr Watson-Munro has simply remembered this case incorrectly in referring to the victim as “an elderly nun”. She was certainly not reported as being “elderly” as it was reported at the time of the crime that she was 48 years old, and this was stated in numerous contemporary sources. Whether the woman was a nun or a former nun however, I do not feel like I can speculate on. Xanthe Mallett may have come across Tim Watson-Munro’s book in researching her own book and interviewed him about the case and, it being 30 years ago, perhaps Mr Watson-Munro has simply misremembered the details? Or did the police intentionally give the wrong age of the woman so that she could not easily be identified? Regardless, as mentioned previously, Christopher Clarence Hall was charged with the attack on the Moonee Ponds victim in 1994.
In 2019, the Nine Network released a documentary about the Mr Cruel series of crimes. It was written and directed by Adam Shand and showed some interesting archival news footage which could not be found previously on the internet and included interviews with retired detective Chris O’Connor and journalist Keith Moor.
Looking at the facts presented about the Lower Plenty case, Shand gave the victim’s age as 11. Chris O’Connor said the attacker “went to the children’s bedroom and there were two children in there, one was the victim and one was her sibling. The sibling was harnessed to the bed and the 11 year old was taken out of the bedroom to the bathroom. At the completion of the sexual assault he ate some food, had some drink. He stole a quantity of money and some jewellery and clothing from the family and he left via the front door.” What is notable about this is that firstly, this account seems to suggest that the children slept in the same bedroom, whereas other accounts had previously stated the attacker went and got them from their “rooms” plural. Also, it seems to indicate that the boy was tied to his bed in this bedroom and not, as is suggested elsewhere, in the parents’ master bedroom. It also indicates that the girl was sexually assaulted in the bathroom, but at no point does it mention she was assaulted in the lounge room as is suggested in all other accounts. So, yet again we have an account which seems to raise more questions than answers.
During the account given by Chris O’Connor a visual dramatisaton is shown of the attacker invading the home. Only, the man is shown wearing a full balaclava with no opening for the face, which is different to the actual one that was used in the attack. It seems the producers of the program erred here, as in the dramatisation they play for the Sharon Wills attack, the offender is depicted with an open-faced balaclava and wearing a brown tweed coat over a raincoat which is what the attacker was wearing in the Lower Plenty attack, and they also show the police sketch of the intruder as he appeared in the Lower Plenty attack. This means they mixed up the appearance of the intruder from the two attacks.
The program also repeats the mistake that Nicola Lynas was abducted during school holidays which we will delve into more in the future post about Nicola. What is interesting about this program is that it provides some original information about the 14 year old female Hampton attack victim from 1985, but I will discuss that also, in a future post.
Interview with Retired Detective Valentine Simpson
In February 2021 I visited retired detective Valentine Simpson and his wife Mary at their home to interview Val about his involvement in the taskforce that was set up to investigate the Lower Plenty attack. Now, 80 years old, and 95% blind, Mr Simpson had in recent years suffered a stroke that had also slightly affected his speech. What was immediately clear however, was that his mind was sound and he still had a strong attachment to this case. “I didn’t catch the bugger and that’s the worst part of it”, he told me.
Val and his wife Mary were kind, welcoming people and Val was happy to discuss his experience of the case as long as it did not involve a discussion of any of the confidential details of it, such as the identity of the family concerned, the address of where it occurred, or any of the confidential crime scene information.
I started off by reading Val the 4 September 1987 The Sun article by Bruce Tobin, which mentions the phone calls that the offender was said to have made, to remind him of the case. He told me that he decided to release the information about the threatening phone call that was made by the offender because he had used the word ‘Bozo’, and because this was such an unusual word there was a good chance it might “jog someone’s memory” who knew someone who used that word.
Val also told me that he always felt that, whoever the offender was, it was someone who was very analytical and someone with a great deal of forensic knowledge because he did not leave a trace of evidence. Val described it as “the perfect unperfect crime scene” and that he had not seen anything like it in all his years of police work. Val told me that there were a few things he could not tell me about the crime scene which had not been released to the public.
I then asked him whether this had ever led him to suspect that the perpetrator might have been someone involved with the police and he replied “of course. Police, medical, forensics, we went through all those things”. When I suggested the perpetrator might have been someone who had been in prison before and so was determined to cover up their tracks to avoid a return to jail, Val replied: “Maybe, but I think it was someone who had a greater knowledge than that, but that’s just my opinion.” He repeated that it was highly unusual for an offender not to leave a trace in all his years of investigating.
I referred to the point that was made in the 12 May 1988 Innes Willox article which stated that the rope used in the Moonee Ponds attack was not a rope that was found in Australia and Val said: “No, I went to all the rope factories and they all said ‘it’s not made in Australia, it’s from overseas'”.
Even 34 years after the attack one of the things that struck me about Val was that he still had a deep concern about the victims of crime and particularly this one. Mary said Val would regularly stay up to 3am working on the case and then get up at 5am. Val said “when you’ve met the parents and girl, you become attached to them sort of. When you investigate, you put everything into your victim”, he said. “When you don’t catch the bloke you feel like you’ve failed your victim”.
Val described to me how when he was on the taskforce he worked about 12 hours a day 7 days a week reading up on every Australian rape case he could in an attempt to make a link. Val said at the time he had decided that this attacker was a “serial rapist” as he was confident the Lower Plenty attack had such strong similarities to the Donvale rape of 1985 and one other that he could not remember, but he could not remember making any links to the 1987 Greensborough attempted rapes.
Interestingly, when I brought up the Moonee Ponds attack of the 48 year old “nun” or “former nun”, Val said he “thought they had caught the bloke for that”. This was news to me, so I questioned Val as to whether he was sure and he said: “I think he was caught…I may be wrong on that”. Val said he was definitely called to the crime scene for the Moonee Ponds attack, but he was not sure if it was linked to the Lower Plenty attack. I informed Val of Xanthe Mallett’s 2019 book and how she had stated that Mr Cruel was responsible for the Moonee Ponds attack as recently as 2019. When I informed Val of the discrepancy between Innes Willox’s article of 12 May 1988 and Xanthe Mallett’s book of 2019, in that the former claimed the perpetrator walked to the bank and the latter stated he used the woman’s car, Val said he couldn’t remember which the offender had done, but felt like it might have been the latter.
Val did mention however, how, like in the Lower Plenty attack, he could not find the maker of the rope that was used in the Moonee Ponds crime. In fact, he said he could not find the maker of the rope that was used in any of these crimes.
I asked Val if he had any involvement in the investigations of the Warrandyte and Bulleen attacks and he replied: “I examined them very closely because when we were doing our initial investigations into all the rapes, I examined the reports of those crimes very closely.”
Val’s wife Mary at this point said “When you get to Karmein Chan, Val has a theory about that”. I said that I’d love to hear it and Val stated confidently: “In my opinion, Karmein Chan was not Mr Cruel”. When I asked why he thought that, Val responded: “For one, it’s a completely different MO. For starters, the spray-painting on the car, a completely different MO. He (meaning the Lower Plenty attacker), left nothing. Everything was just too different from his normal process.”
Mary also pointed out that retired police wear their hearts on their sleeves and, in any case where the crime goes unsolved, they beat themselves up about it. She recalled that when Karmein Chan was found to have been murdered in 1992, Val had told a colleague how guilty he felt because he had failed to catch Mr Cruel since they had said the offender was responsible for Karmein Chan’s death. Val had said “I didn’t catch him and now look at what’s happened”, Val’s colleague replied: “the operative word Val is ‘we’. ‘We’ didn’t catch him.” But, later, Mary said, Val had decided: “It’s not him” because, he said, “to me the MO was completely different”.
Getting back to the topic of the identity of Mr Cruel, Val said that “it was probably someone who had a very good knowledge of forensic investigation”. On the question of whether Mr Cruel was still alive, Val said he wasn’t sure. “If he’s still alive, why’s he gone so quiet?”, he asked.
It struck me that Val still took his responsibility very seriously, he remained very professional throughout the interview and did not disclose any confidential information about this crime.
There are a number of contradictions in the reporting of facts about the Lower Plenty attack. Therefore, it is important to consider all sources before overly relying on any one source. Highlighted below is a list of these contradictions as have been established in this blog post.
Girl victim’s age: variously 11 or 12 years old.
Brother’s age: variously 6, 7 or 8 years old.
The location and circumstances of the sexual assault on the girl. Variously, brother was harnessed to bed in bedroom she shared with her brother; the brother was tied to the parents’ bed in the master bedroom; the girl was sexually assaulted in the bathroom; or in the bathroom and the lounge room; or only in the lounge room; the boy was forced to watch the sexual assault (unclear how latter could occur if boy was blindfolded with surgical tape).
Circumstances surrounding the blindfolding of the victims: variously, the parents and children were blindfolded with surgical tape; only the children were blindfolded with surgical tape.
The circumstances of the entry into the home: variously, the window was smashed; smashed with a brick; or the window pane was removed.
The circumstances of the phone calls that were made: variously, a number of phone calls were made; a connection was made on the second call and the perpetrator threatened someone who answered on the other end; two calls were made, both of which were the attacker just pretending he was speaking to someone.
The circumstances surrounding the cutting of the phone line: variously, no mention of it; the perpetrator pulled the phone from the wall; the perpetrator cut the line.
The knife used in the attack: variously described as large; or small.
The physical characteristics of the intruder: variously, 173-175 cm tall; about 175 cm tall; 178-183 cm tall.
The age of the offender: variously, in his 20s; or in his 30s.
Whether the Moonee Ponds attack is linked to the Lower Plenty attack at all (unlikely given Christopher Clarence Hall was charged with the attack in 1994).
The age and information of the Moonee Ponds victim: variously, a 48 year old woman; a 48 year old former nun; an elderly nun.
Circumstances of the attack on the Moonee Ponds victim: variously, the intruder walked to the bank to steal the woman’s money; or the intruder drove the woman’s car to the bank.
I call on detectives who have worked on this case to set the record straight about the above contradictions in order to prevent misinformation about the case circulating in society.
Note. If you have gained something from this post please consider donating to my Patreon to cover the costs I have incurred in researching it.
Mr Cruel is the moniker for a serial rapist, and most probably murderer, who terrorised Melbourne in the late 80s and early 90s. He was never caught and punished for his crimes. There continues to be some debate as to exactly which crimes were his, but it seems that most detectives who worked on the Mr Cruel case agree that he was responsible for at least four attacks in the eastern suburbs on girls aged between 10 and 13 between 1987 and 1991. The first attack involved a rape of an 11 or 12 year old girl, while the second and third attacks involved abductions and assaults. The last attack ended in the infamous murder of Karmein Chan.
However, more attacks have been attributed to him during investigations over the years, with a total of ten attacks having been attributed to him by journalists who have interviewed detectives about the case. These ten attacks stretch back to 1985 and involve home invasions and rapes of adults and children from the age of 14 and up.
This overview will first look at the 4 cases that are considered the canonical Mr Cruel attacks, which, it seems, most detectives agree were the work of Mr Cruel, before then looking at the lesser known attacks that have at some point been attributed to Mr Cruel in the media.
The Canonical Attacks
The first case of the canonical Mr Cruel attacks was that which occurred on 22 August 1987 in Lower Plenty. In this case the perpetrator wearing an open-faced balaclava and armed with a handgun, a knife and carrying a rape kit, broke into a house at an unknown address and tied up the parents in the household and their 6 or 7 year old son (sources differ on the ages here), before raping the 11 or 12 year old daughter over a period of 2 hours. The location of this house has never been revealed publicly, nor has the identity of the family in question. (1) (2)
The second canonical attack occurred in the early hours of 27 December 1988. This time the attack occurred in the home of the Wills family at 11 Hillcrest Avenue, Ringwood. The perpetrator broke into the house and tied up the parents before abducting a 10-year-old girl – Sharon Wills – from her bedroom and taking her to a waiting vehicle. He drove Sharon to his lair at an unidentified location where she was assaulted. He then dumped her 18 hours later at Bayswater High School, Bayswater.
The third of the canonical attacks occurred on 3 July 1990, when Mr Cruel broke into the expensive rented home of the Lynas family, at 10 Monomeath Avenue, Canterbury. This time the parents were not home, but Nicola Lynas (13) and her sister Fiona (15) were sleeping in their bedrooms. Mr Cruel woke them up before tying Fiona to her bed and abducting Nicola. He took the family’s rented car keys and stole their car before driving Nicola to Chaucer Avenue, just a few streets away. From here he bundled Nicola into his own car and drove her back to his lair. Here he assaulted her, and held her captive for a period of 50 hours, before dumping her in the early hours of her 14th birthday at an electricity substation in Kew.
Lastly, the fourth of the canonical attacks. This time the attack occurred on 13 April 1991 in the wealthy suburb of Templestowe at 111 Serpells Road where Karmein Chan (13) and her two sisters, Karly (9) and Karen (7) were at home alone watching television. A masked man broke into the house before bundling Karly and Karen into a wardrobe and pushing a bed up against it to block their exit. He then abducted Karmein and she was never seen alive again.
Almost one year to the day later, a man was walking his dogs along Edgars Creek in Thomastown when his dogs were attracted to something protruding from the earth in a landfill site at that location. It was a human skull, that of a young female. Police were confident it was Karmein’s and lab tests later confirmed that it was indeed hers.
The Karmein Chan murder was the last crime that has been attributed to Mr Cruel. However, some people believe there is not enough evidence to link the Karmein Chan case to the first three canonical attacks because, unlike in the first three canonical attacks, police could not interview her about her attacker. Adding to this confusion, police maintain that Mr Cruel was almost certainly responsible for a number of other attacks besides the four canonical ones, but have kept their lips tight about these cases. Nevertheless, a scouring of the contemporary newspaper articles reveals a number of other attacks which were attributed to Mr Cruel in the late 1980s. On top of this, research by other journalists has revealed information about some of the other attacks some detectives believe to be the work of Mr Cruel.
Other attacks attributed to Mr Cruel
The first of these occurred on an unknown date in February 1985, when, at 9pm at night, a man abducted a 14 year old girl from her Hampton home at an unknown address. He then drove the girl to a vacant building site and sexually assaulted her, before dumping her at Moorabbin Bowl, a ten-pin bowling business on Nepean Highway.
Then, on an unknown date in July 1985, a 14 year old boy was abducted from his Hampton home at an unknown address at 8:25pm. He was taken to an unknown residence and imprisoned for just over 3 hours and was sexually assaulted. He was then released in Caulfield South at 11:45pm.
Both of these Hampton attacks were revealed by Keith Moor in an article (3) he wrote for the Herald Sun in 2016 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Karmein Chan abduction. It is not clear why detectives believe these attacks may be the work of Mr Cruel. It is possible it is because they occurred in Hampton, which is where one of the main suspects in the Mr Cruel case, convicted rapist, Dr. Brian Alan Elkner, lived until March 1985 (more on him at a later date).
Other attacks that have been attributed to Mr Cruel are three attacks that occurred in December of 1985. The first of these occurred on 4 December, when a 30 year old woman was raped in her home in Warrandyte at an unknown address by a man wearing a balaclava and armed with a sawn off shotgun. Then, on 6 December, a 30 or 35 year old woman (depending on source) was raped in her home in Donvale at an unknown address by a man armed with a rusty revolver or a long-barrelled handgun (depending on source). Finally, on 7 December, a 34 year old woman was asleep in bed with her 6 year old daughter at her Bulleen home at an unknown address when she was awoken by a man at about 11:30pm and raped. (4) He was armed with a silver pistol or sawn off shotgun. In all three of these cases the attacker wore a balaclava or hood, and blindfolded, bound and gagged his victims, (2) which is a very similar modus operandi to the later attacks.
The last attack that has been attributed to Mr Cruel in the media is the Moonee Ponds rape of a 48 year-old woman which occurred on 11 November 1988. The attacker entered the woman’s home before binding, gagging raping her. He then left her bound up, stole the woman’s ATM card and drove to a bank before stealing $300 from her bank account. He then returned to her house and raped her again. (2) (I discovered in June 2021 that the Ascot Vale Rapist Christopher Clarence Hall was found to have been responsible for the Moonee Ponds attack in 1994. That same year he was jailed for 29 years for this and other attacks).
In November 1987, the Warrandyte-Donvale-Bulleen attacks of December 1985 were linked with the Lower Plenty attack and the Moonee Ponds attack. A taskforce was then set up to try to establish any connection between them. By May 1988 the taskforce were convinced the Donvale, Lower Plenty and Moonee Ponds attacks were linked whereas at least 17 other attacks were deemed to be possibly linked, but it is unknown which attacks were being referred to here. It is unknown if the Warrandyte, Donvale and Bulleen attacks were ever ruled out as being the work of Mr Cruel. (5)
So, this has been an overview of the case. In the future I will be giving an in-depth analysis of each of the canonical cases and then I will write some posts about some possible theories I have in this case.
In the meantime here is a detailed map I made of the case which helps you navigate the important locations. Zoom in on the eastern suburbs of Melbourne to see the tagged areas where the important events in this case occurred. Each tag is clickable and contains more information on each event.
Here is a Youtube video that explains how to use the map.
On 21st of October, 1978, 20 year old Frederick Valentich is flying a Cessna 182 light aeroplane from Moorabbin Airport to King Island. Not long after commencing the over water section of the flight, between Cape Otway and King Island, at 7:06 in the evening, just before sunset, Valentich contacts Air Services at Tullamarine Airport with an unexpected request. “Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet, is there any known traffic below 5,000 feet?” Working that evening for Air Services is Steve Robey, whose job it is to control air traffic outside of restricted airspace. Robey quickly confirms in the negative that there should be no traffic before Valentich continues: “There seems to be a large aircraft below 5,000.” Robey asks Valentich what type of aircraft it is before the young pilot replies: “I cannot affirm, it is 4 bright, it seems to me like landing lights”. Here he pauses for a few seconds before adding: “The aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above”. Robey asks Valentich if it is a large aircraft and the young man replies: “er unknown due to the speed it’s travelling, is there any airforce aircraft in the vicinity?” Robey replies in the negative and a few seconds later Valentich says: “it’s approaching now from due east towards me”. About 30 seconds pass as Valentich observes the mysterious craft, before he adds: “It seems to me that he’s playing some sort of game, he’s flying over me, 2, 3 times at a time, at speeds I could not identify”. Robey asks Valentich what his altitude is and the 20 year old replies that he is at four and a half thousand feet. The flight services officer then asks the young pilot to confirm that he cannot identify the aircraft. “Affirmative”, Valentich replies. Some seconds pass before Valentich says: “It’s not an aircraft, it’s (…2 seconds…). Robey then asks Valentich if he can describe the aircraft. Valentich answers with: “as it’s flying past, it’s a long shape(…3 seconds…) cannot identify more than that (that it has such speed) (…3 seconds…) before me right now Melbourne…”. Robey interrupts the pilot here, as he says “roger, and how large would the er object be.” A few moments pass before Valentich gives his response: “it seems like it’s stationary. What I’m doing right now is orbiting and the thing is just orbiting on top of me. Also, it’s got a green light and sort of metallic like. It’s all shiny on the outside. Twenty seconds later Valentich holds down the microphone for 5 seconds before adding “it’s just vanished”. A few seconds later he asks Robey if he would know what type of aircraft he’s got, is it a military aircraft? Robey asks Valentich to confirm that the aircraft has just vanished, but Valentich doesn’t hear this message and asks Robey to repeat it which Robey does. Valentich must see the craft again at this point though as he says: “now approaching from the southwest”. Distressingly, about 30 seconds later Valentich reports “the engine is rough idling. I’ve got it set at 23, 24 and the thing is coughing”. Robey responds “Roger, what are your intentions?“ The next reply Valentich speaks down the microphone is the last thing Valentich is known to have spoken to another human being: “my intentions are ah to go to King Island. Ah Melbourne, that strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again(…2 seconds…) it is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.” The audio tape of this conversation has never been released to the public, as it is classified by the Department of Defence. The Department of Transport did however release the final 17 seconds of Valentich’s call before he and his light aircraft disappeared and were never heard from again. The following is those final 17 seconds.
Frederick Valentich went missing that day and despite protracted air, land and sea search, neither he nor his cessna 182 L have ever been found.
Frederick Valentich was born in Melbourne on June 9th 1958 to Italian immigrant parents Guido and Alberta Valentich who hailed from the multicultural city of Trieste in the north east of the country. Fred was the eldest of four children, who included his younger brother Ricky and his younger twin sisters Olivia and Lara. The family lived in the Melbourne suburb of Avondale Heights, where they enjoyed a happy, suburban life like many other European immigrant families who lived in the same area.
In 1974, Fred left school after completing year 10 at Keilor Heights High school. While he was noted as being an excellent athlete by his P.E. teacher, his results in his other subjects were all average or below average, and he failed both of the maths subjects he took that year. However, he did not want to let this stop him from fulfilling his dream of joining the Royal Australian Airforce. Unfortunately for Fred, his poor academic results from school and his performance in the entrance examination he took for entry into the RAAF in 1976, meant that he failed in his application. An examiner noted about Fred’s test results: “very low scores, indicative low I.Q. fit for unskilled work only”.
While disappointed with failing in his application to the RAAF, Fred was determined to prove that he could still become a civilian pilot, and so in February of 1977 he gained his student’s pilot licence, with a view to later gaining his commercial pilot’s licence. Throughout 1977, Fred took and failed many of the testing components that are prerequisites for gaining one’s commercial pilot’s licence. While he passed many of these components at subsequent attempts, he failed all 5 of his CPL theory exams, in both October 1977 and April 1978. Despite failing in his attempts to become a commercial pilot, throughout 1978, Fred possessed the legal documentation required to pilot single-engine cessna aircraft by himself and carry passengers. While he continued to study for another attempt at the CPL examinations throughout 1978, Fred built up his flying hours by flying light aeroplanes out of Moorabbin Airport on weekends. Meanwhile, after Fred had failed all his CPL examinations in April of ‘78 he requested assistance from one Edwin Robert Barnes, a Squadron Leader attached to the Air Training Corps that Fred was studying in. Fred had begun volunteering for no pay at the Air Training Corps in order to gain more experience. Barnes saw his enthusiasm for his work and after Fred requested the squadron leader become his private tutor, Barnes agreed to help him in navigation and aircraft performance. Thus Fred would regularly visit Barnes at his home on Sundays for his lessons, where Barnes was impressed with Fred’s enthusiasm and politeness. Barnes noted that, while Fred was particularly bad at spelling, he felt that the young man had the capability and responsibility required to pass his next examinations in July of that year. Barnes further noted that Fred was “of sober habits” and never partook in the consumption of more than one alcoholic beverage on the evenings in question.
In July of 1978 Fred took 2 of his 5 CPL examinations for the 3rd time and the following Sunday, he turned up to Barnes’ home with his girlfriend Rhonda Rushton and two bottles of wine saying he wished to celebrate as he believed he had passed his two examinations. Barnes declined a drink because he was on “reserve”, and told Fred that they would drink them when he was told that he had passed all of his exams. In September of ‘78, Barnes returned from a holiday and received a telephone call from Fred in which the trainee pilot informed him that he had passed all 5 of his CPL examinations. Fred had in fact failed 3 examinations for the third time and not taken the final 2, a fact Barnes only discovered after Fred’s disappearance when the Air Safety Investigation Branch of the Department of Transport wrote to him to request his assistance in providing a character reference for Fred. In his letter to the ASIB, Barnes expressed extreme disappointment at Fred’s dishonesty and wondered whether Fred’s failure had something to do with his disappearance.
Throughout 1978, Fred was dating the formerly mentioned 16 year old girl, Rhonda Rushton. On a number of occasions she had flown with Fred, and she considered her boyfriend to be a diligent and responsible pilot who understood the importance of being disciplined while flying. About two months before his disappearance they had flown together to Newcastle. On the return flight Fred had accidentally strayed into restricted airspace in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown. Rhonda later recalled that Fred had become extremely agitated during this incident and remembered using a handkerchief to dab the sweat off his forehead. Fred received a letter reprimanding him for this incident for his poor navigation skills.
When Rhonda was interviewed by the Department of Transport 3 days after Fred’s disappearance, investigators were keen to understand Fred’s mental state in the days leading up to the 21st. While Rhonda told the interviewers that Fred was a very sober young man, rarely drinking more than two beers on nights out, she also mentioned a couple of things which stood out to the investigators as unusual. Firstly, about one week before the incident, she and Fred had driven out to the Dandenong Ranges where they had discussed the topic of UFOs and Fred had said “If a UFO landed in front of me now, I would go in it, but never without you”. When pressed as to whether UFOs were a topic he often discussed or was heavily interested in, she said that they had talked about them only occasionally, and never in any depth and denied that he was any more interested in them than the average person. The interviewer also claimed that Rhonda said she had seen newspaper clippings of UFOs that Fred kept as a hobby, something she denied 40 years later when questioned about this at an anniversary event held by the Victorian UFO Action group.
Furthermore, according to Rhonda, Fred had lied to her previously about passing his meteorology subject. According to her he had told her this false information when he first met her, but that 4 months later he had admitted to his lie. But, perhaps the most significant piece of information that Rhonda later revealed was that, the weekend prior to his disappearance, 2 days before the trip to the Dandenong Ranges mentioned previously, Fred had asked Rhonda to marry him. According to her he had proposed to her and given her ‘a friendship ring’, which was to be replaced at a later date by a more expensive ring which he had placed on layby. He told her she could keep the friendship ring until he had enough money to pay the amount owing on the more expensive ring on layby at a jewellers near where he worked in Moonee Ponds. He also told Rhonda to keep the engagement secret because he didn’t want to announce it until he had enough money to pay out the remainder of the layby which he was planning to do that Christmas. Furthermore, he had planned to be engaged to her for 1 year because Rhonda was to turn 17 in the December and then after 1 year she would be 18 and she would have reached the legal age for marriage. On the one hand, Fred’s plans to marry Rhonda may well be seen by some to be a sign of a young man who was looking forward to the future. On the other hand, his tutor Edwin Robert Barnes, in his letter to the Department of Transport, saw his actions in proposing to Rhonda and giving her a temporary friendship ring as the behaviour of someone who was acting very strangely indeed and wondered whether he did it because he had planned to commit suicide on the 21st October.
Years later at the 40th anniversary event of the incident held by the Victorian UFO Action group at Moorabbin Airport in 2018, Rhonda told a live audience that the Department of Transport had asked her some extremely inappropriate personal questions, the nature of which she was not willing to disclose. Needless to say, this would be very unprofessional behaviour by a Government Department when questioning the grieving girlfriend of a missing man, especially since she was just 16 years old at the time and not accompanied by her parents. In addition,, while she was being interviewed she felt intimidated because a bright spotlight was shone in her face throughout so that she could not see who was interviewing her.
On the evening prior to Fred’s disappearance, Fred visited Rhonda at her home in Preston at about 9:15pm. Rhonda told the DoT in her interview that Fred wasn’t his usual-cheerful-self that evening and appeared as though something was bothering him. According to the DoT interview report of Rhonda’s interview he had agreed to take her out on the Saturday night after he returned from his flight. “In their conversation it became evident to her that he had forgotten he had agreed to take her out on Saturday night. The forthcoming flight to King Island was discussed and together they evolved the schedule of departure: Moorabbin 4 o’clock; land King Island 5:30pm; pick up crayfish, leave 6 o’clock; land Moorabbin 7:30. As it was a 20 minute drive from the airport to Preston she suggested Valentich put his good clothes in which to take her out, in his car when he left home early on Saturday. Since the aircraft went missing, she had seen the car at Moorabbin, and was aware that no clothes were in it.”
There are a couple of strange things about this information. Firstly, it is at least a 40 minute drive from Moorabbin Airport in Cheltenham to Preston. But, more significantly, Rhonda now denies that she ever told the investigators that she told Fred to put his good clothes in his car. She denies that she ever told them that they had agreed for him to pick her up at her house in Preston to go out that night. In fact, at the 40 year anniversary event, Rhonda Rushton spoke publicly about how she and Fred had agreed to fly to King Island together. That later they were going to go out for dinner to celebrate their 6 months anniversary together.
In fact, in its final report summary written on 24th of August 1981, almost two years after the incident, investigator Barry Mahony also made a slanderous accusation about Rhonda with the following comment: “Frederick’s girlfriend seemed to enjoy the publicity limelight surrounding the disappearance. She did not appear to be unduly concerned and gave the impression that she expected to see him again.”
Fred’s father, Guido Valentich, was interviewed by the Department of Transport on October 25th 1978, the day after Rhonda Rushton’s interview. Among other things he told them that Fred was a firm believer in UFOs and had read the book Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, by Swiss author Elrich Von Danniken. Published in 1968, the central tenet of the book was that many of the technological advances made by ancient civilisations were introduced to them by extraterrestrial beings. Furthermore, Guido told the investigators that Fred’s beliefs in UFOs had not long ago been strengthened during a recent camping trip he had made to Gippsland with the Air Training Corps, when he had been allowed to view the RAAF’s secret files on UFOs. However, Fred had refused to reveal the contents of those files to his family as they were classified and he took his duty not to reveal its contents very seriously. Guido also told the investigators that Fred’s mother Alberta had recently seen a UFO and had called Fred and he had seen it too. They described it as a large light, its size about ten times that of the largest star. The object had remained stationary for some time before shooting off at a high speed. While Guido had not been present during this incident himself, his wife and son’s explanation of it convinced him that UFOs were real, and that the planet was regularly being visited by some sort of extraterrestrial intelligence. Lastly, Guido revealed that Fred had worried about attack by UFOs, so his father had attempted to assuage his fears by telling him that if aliens did attack there was nothing they could do, so there would be no point in worrying about it.
According to Guido, Fred had gone to bed at about 10:30 on the night of the 20th of October 1978. In the morning he had a light breakfast of coffee, orange juice and cereal with his family. He then drove to Puckle Street in Moonee Ponds where he worked as the Assistant Manager of an Army Disposals shop, a store which specialises in camping and outdoor equipment. He started his shift here at 9am before finishing at noon, when he immediately drove from Moonee Ponds to Moorabbin Airport, where he had his first lecture at 1pm. This meant that he would not have had time to get lunch before the start of his classes.
Meanwhile, at Moorabbin Airport that morning, Vince Alfonso carried out the daily inspection of the Cessna 182, DH-VSJ, Fred would later that day fly to King Island. The inspection was begun before 6am when Alfonso flew the aircraft to French Island as part of the routine examination that was to check the performance of the aeroplane. Alfonso noted the plane performed “ok”. There was a smell emanating from the heater, which soon dissipated, but this was not considered unusual. More alarmingly, on the return flight to Moorabbin Airport a passenger noticed fuel emanating from the fuel tank on the right hand side of the aircraft. After landing it was discovered that the cap was out of the tank and hanging from the chain, so Alfonso reported this anomaly to Southern Air Services. The next morning when discussing the disappearance of Fred at S.A.S. he discovered that the cap had been repaired before Fred’s flight.
Fred’s classes finished at 5pm, after which he headed to the briefing office to submit his flight plan. Fred lodged the flight plan at 5:23pm, and it stated a take off time of 5:45pm. However, he did not actually take off until later as he was so hungry, having not eaten anything since morning. Later, both Rhonda and Guido told investigators as it was his normal practice to do so, he would have driven to the local McDonalds restaurant on the Nepean Highway near the Southland Shopping Centre and eaten a large meal that usually consisted of “2 Big Macs, 2 Cheeseburgers, a fillet-o-fish and some chips and most likely would have drunk a carton of coca-cola”. Rhonda later said she believed Fred would have gotten take away and would have driven his car to the beach where he would have eaten his large meal while looking out to sea.
It is believed Fred took the Cessna for refuelling at 6:10pm and waited in the cessna as it was being refuelled by mechanic Ronald Tyson. Once done he was given the ok for take off. Crucially, Fred did not actually take off from Moorabbin Airport until 6:19pm, a full 34 minutes after he had indicated he would in the flight plan. This meant that by the time his cessna was to arrive at King Island the sun would have set and it would be almost completely dark. Despite this, Fred made no phone call to the airport on the island requesting them to turn on the runway landing lights, as was standard procedure at the time. In fact, there were a number of contradictions in what Fred told to different people in regards to his intentions for this flight. In the days after the incident the Department of Transport was told by Bob Hope, an instructor with Southern Air Services, that Fred had told him on the day that he had planned to pick people up on King Island. He also told Darcy Hogan his briefing officer that he was going to pick up passengers on the Island, but no such passengers existed. Yet, according to the Department of Transport he had told Guido and his friend Greg Reaburn that he was picking up crayfish on the island. This was also strange, as the crayfisherman on the island, Cliff Day, said he had no contact with Fred regarding procuring any crayfish, and that they had sold out of cray fish early in the afternoon anyway.
It is not clear why he told different people different things about the purpose of his flight. His girlfriend Rhonda Rushton, now believes he had no intention of landing at all and was just building up flight hours.
It is believed Fred flew towards Frankston before heading out over Port Phillip Bay towards Point Lonsdale. From here Fred flew along the coastline towards Cape Otway which he reached at 7pm. Here he contacted Steve Robey at Air Services in Tullamarine Airport by radio to inform him he was commencing the over water section of his flight.
Fred had been flying for 6 minutes over the open water before his first contact with Steve Robey, in which he enquired about whether there was “any known traffic below 5,000 feet”. The 17 seconds of indecipherable static that is heard at the end of the tape occurred at 7:12pm. It is not known what happened to Fred’s plane, but if he did crash into the ocean at this point, and assuming he was flying in largely a straight line from Cape Otway, the crash site would have been located about 40 km south south east of Cape Otway, not quite halfway to King Island. This however, is disputed as we shall see later.
After the transmission of the 17 seconds at the end of the call from Fred’s plane, Steve Robey made numerous attempts to communicate with Fred, but received no reply. He therefore initiated a safety measure known as an Alert Phase that would require a King Island Flight Service officer to duty, as the last employee had gone home for the day at 5 o’clock. This alert phase also involved the activation of the island’s emergency procedures, one of which included turning on the landing lights at the runway. When Fred’s cessna failed to arrive at King Island at 7:33pm, the Distress Phase was declared, and an immediate ground, sea and air search was commenced.
Brian Jones, the officer in charge at King Island Airport was called back to duty at 7:15pm after the Alert Phase was initiated. He arrived at the airport, and put the landing lights on at 7:35pm. At the same time that he arrived, his assistant Graeme Smyth also arrived to put the landing lights on for a cessna that was flying out of the airport, but had been delayed while waiting for passengers. This other cessna was then used to fly around the island to search for Fred’s plane. Despite the fact that there was excellent visibility, and they could see all the way to the Cape Otway lighthouse, they did not sight Fred’s plane. That night a ship in the area was notified of the missing aircraft and conducted a search for Fred’s plane, but did not see anything. Planes were also sent along the route Fred’s aircraft took, but as it was night it was difficult to spot anything in the darkness.
With daylight, the search was given renewed impetus. One aircraft conducted a land search of the island and another a coastal search, but found nothing. 3 vessels searched off the west coast and islands off King Island and the RAAF Orion searched off the north coast. An oil slick was found here, but no wreckage could be located. The next day the vessel ‘Nomad’ was sent to the area and a sample of the oil slick was taken for testing, to determine whether it could be from Fred’s cessna. However, later it was determined that the oil was not of the type that would come from an aircraft. Debris consisting of fruit and vegetable boxes was also located near this site, but this was determined not to be from Fred’s Cessna 182.
A light aircraft also located some more debris to the north west of King Island, but as this plane was not fixed with integral navigation systems it needed to rise in altitude in order to sight land before fixing its position, and in doing so it lost sight of the debris and could not locate it again.
After 3 full days of searching, the search and rescue operation by sea vessels was called off on the 25th of October. Nevertheless, volunteers and friends of Fred’s continued to search by air and land. Many of Fred’s friends felt that since no wreckage had been found in the ocean search, he must have turned the aeroplane around and crash landed somewhere on the heavily forested Cape Otway Peninsula. Therefore, on the 26th a group of his flying buddies travelled down to the region and spent a number of days performing flyovers and searching the area by foot, which was also to prove fruitless.
The media became aware of the unusual nature of Fred’s disappearance as soon as the search and rescue operation was put in place on the night of the 21st, and the general public was able to eavesdrop on the radio transmissions. This prompted the DoT to publicly release the transcript of the radio conversation between Fred and Air Services controller Steve Robey on the 22nd. The fact that Fred had witnessed an unidentified aerial phenomenon right before he and his plane went missing became a huge story, and newspaper and radio journalists scrambled to interview all those who were close to Fred.
On the 23rd of October, an article appeared in the Bendigo Advertiser titled ‘UFO Took Our Boy – Pilot’s Parents’ detailing Guido and Alberta Valentich’s belief that Fred may have been abducted by the UFO. The interview, which had been conducted on the evening of the 22nd, after the first full day’s search had ended in failure, also explained that Guido and Alberta did not believe a proposed explanation that Fred may have turned the plane upside down or entered into an uncontrolled spiral after becoming disoriented. Fred’s parents also expressed the view that the Department of Transport was attempting to cover up what really happened to their son.
In the days after Fred’s disappearance, it became evident that one month earlier, a woman had written a letter to the editor, published in the King Island News on September 20 concerning recent accounts of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. It stated: “We saw our first sighting two months ago. We were driving into Currie and a slow moving light followed us down the North Road, and finally disappeared toward the lighthouse. There were other sightings in Currie on the same night. Some people further up north also saw a strange light passing over their house. Then another (told) of seeing beautiful strange lights outside. On going out to investigate the lights suddenly disappeared. Then last night…the strange light appeared again just up from Camp Creek. On each of these occasions, the light has been very large and bright, and seems to light up the area as if it were daylight.”
Soon other stories of sightings of unexplained aerial phenomena emerged. A man by the name of John Snow contacted the Department of Transport investigators on the 23rd of October to inform them that, at about 11:45pm on the night of Fred’s disappearance, his 11 year old son had witnessed a long streak of greenish white light flash across the sky to the south of the Barwon Heads area, about 120km from Cape Otway. A Mr P. Farr of Burwood, an officer in the RAAF reserve, contacted investigators to inform them that on the night in question he had witnessed what he described as “a shower of very bright metallic scintillations, to the south, high in the sky..about 30 bright centres.” The Australian published an article describing a sighting by a technician who worked with the CSIRO named Wayne Bellew who witnessed a UAP whilst camping with his wife at Bateman’s Bay NSW on the night in question. He described seeing a “bright white object performing wild stunts over the ocean…the thing was performing such incredible manoeuvers that any conventional pilot who tried it would have been guts over kneecaps”.
Perhaps the most startling UAP sighting made on the night of Fred’s disappearance came from a man named Don Cox and his wife from Valley View, South Australia, in a detailed letter to the RAAF. Describing a bright shining object he and his wife witnessed from the garden of their home he wrote in his letter: “Having got my binoculars from within the house I focussed (on) this object…What I saw was a large triangular, yellow white light, laying on it’s (sic) side, with one side of the triangle in a vertical position. Within this triangle were iridescent lights. I can only positively remember three of the colours, which were blue, blue green and orange, but feel sure there were also others. My wife watched it for near enough ten minutes, and myself for a total of roughly forty-five minutes before losing sight of it behind a large gum tree two gardens away. During the last stage of viewing this assortment of colours it transformed into a V shape, still on it’s (sic) side with the top half appearing to be the reflection of the lower portion, as one might view a boat sitting on the surface of the water. I reported this matter to Edinburgh Airport at 5:45pm Monday the 23rd of October, and was told by a girl that this information would be passed onto the UFO investigations officer in the morning. By now I was aware I had seen word for word exactly as the missing Melbourne pilot (meaning Fred) had described. I rang again Edinburgh Airport the following day October 24th and spoke to an officer who told me he would try either to see me at my place of work or at my home in the evening. As by the following day, the 25th, he had not made the effort to interview me, I again phoned and told him of my concern, pleading with him to heed this information which I felt so vital in the case of the missing pilot. After confirming my statement with my wife over the phone, this officer subsequently visited my home and took a signed statement from me along with a diagram of the three stages that this moving light had taken. I have no doubt in my mind that whatsoever I witnessed was exactly as the young pilot described who has gone missing…I am prepared to swear an oath or submit myself to any lie detector test to substantiate this my statement.”
One week after Fred’s disappearance, Air Services controller Steve Robey was involved in another UAP sighting incident. In the vicinity of Sale, Gippsland a pilot reported seeing an extremely bright light heading from west to east. A few minutes later the same pilot reported the same phenomenon and told Robey that if it happened again he would land the aircraft. It happened again, an extremely bright light, travelling quickly from west to east, this time it was travelling below him. As a result, the pilot landed the aircraft out of fear of being impacted by any similar objects. At the time there was a military phone number that was provided to all Air Services personnel to report such incidents. Robey contacted the number and soon afterwards he was interviewed by a man from the military about the incident.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transport set about investigating the cause of Fred’s disappearance, an investigation that would not be completed for 2 and a half years. It was this process that led to the interviewing of Fred’s girlfriend Rhonda Rushtion on the 24th of October, Fred’s father Guido on the 25th of October and many of Fred’s friends and peers. As time went on and Fred and his plane were nowhere to be found, speculation mounted in the media as to whether the six minute transcript of the radio contact between Fred and Steve Robey was a full account of the conversation that transpired between the pair. Despite the fact a number of UAP research organisations based in both Australia and the United States wrote to the Department of Transport urging them to release the full audio tape recording of the conversation. The DoT responded by declaring it had never been its policy to release audio tapes related to accident investigations.
In January 1979, Fred’s father, Guido Valentich, wrote a letter to the Director of the Department of Transport for the Victoria and Tasmania region, G.Hughes, requesting a copy of the audio tape of Fred’s radio transmission with Steve Robey. The department privately expressed reluctance to release the tape, expressing the view that it went against their normal procedures to release audio tapes from accident investigations, particularly ongoing investigations which had not yet concluded. Guido was suspicious that the Department was trying to hide something, and believing that Fred had been abducted by alien spacecraft, he requested the help of veteran American UFO researcher Paul Norman. Norman and Australian UFO researcher John Auchettl established a dialogue with the Department on Guido’s behalf and arranged a meeting with the DoT in which they requested a full, unedited copy of the tape. The Department however, agreed only to supply an edited version which only included only the parts of the tape between 7:06 and 7:12pm – from when Fred had first reported the unusual aerial sighting until the final indiscernible 17 seconds. Furthermore, the edited tape would not include any of the parts of the tape in which Steve Robey was speaking, nor the part of the tape that was recorded prior to 7:06pm. While, Guido and UFO researchers Auchettl and Norman tried to insist on the full tape the DoT insisted that this would not be possible as those other parts of the tape were deemed confidential and it was only releasing the 6 minutes of Fred’s voice out of sympathy to Guido and his family. Furthermore, they asked Guido to sign a document stating that he would not release the audio tape to the media and that he was to play it for family members only. After much back and forth, in March 1979 the DoT finally released this edited version of the tape to Guido and the Valentich family.
Paul Norman and John Auchettl were both members of VUFORS or Victorian Unidentified Flying Object Research Society, a research group which professed an agnostic stance towards UFOs, but considered the phenomenon deserved closer scientific scrutiny than was offered by mainstream science or sceptical explanations for UFOs. While VUFORS was simply seeking all available evidence in order to find out the truth of what had happened to Fred, the story was also ripe for charlatans and shysters to make a quick buck with pseudo-scientific explanations and false narratives of what had become of the 20 year old.
On 23rd April 1979 an article by reporter David Elias appeared in the Australian which detailed the claims of a New Zealand confidence trickster by the name of Colin Amery who falsely claimed to be a clairvoyant. According to the article, Amery claimed that he had conducted a seance the previous Saturday in which he had communed with Fred. Amery further claimed that Fred had told him during this seance that he had been “taken by a community in space and that the reason his aircraft had not been found is that it disappeared from any physical existence”. Amery also reported that Fred had told him that sixty seconds of the radio transcript of his conversation with Steve Robey had been “edited out and suppressed” and that Fred was “safe, but no longer (has) a physical body, I am in light, but can move to wherever I want to be”.
Despite Amery’s claims, others suggested that he was simply trying to publicise his book New Atlantis: The Secret of the Sphinx a book that “looks forward to a new and golden age of Aquarius that will succeed the present cycle of chaos and destruction”.
In October 1979 Michael Fields, writing for the American magazine “Ideal UFO Quarterly” made the false claim that the Department of Transport had released only an edited version of the true transcript and published a story that they claimed was the true version of Fred’s radio conversation with Steve Robey. Strangely the narrative of this article was written like a long comic book story, but interspersed with some of the real dialogue from the transcript the Department of Transport had released one year previously. Furthermore, there were extra details included that were not in the original transcript, most notably the parts in which Fred describes the unidentified aerial phenomenon as being a 100 feet long tube, with green gas emanating from it, windows showing lights on in the interior and that just before the call ends in indecipherable noise, Fred reports suffering from a scorching pain.
Local Melbourne based charlatans also attempted to profit from Fred’s story by giving credence to Ideal UFO Quarterly’s bogus story. That same month, author John Pinkney, who has made a career out of writing books about ghosts, the supernatural and conspiracy theories, wrote an article published in Rupert Murdoch owned Melbourne Tabloid, Truth. Now disbanded, Truth was a British style weekly tabloid newspaper that contained photos of bare-breasted page 3 models and usually published sensational scoops on personal scandals. Pinkney’s article was included in a section of the newspaper titled “The Outer Limits” next to a photograph of him which was captioned “John Pinkney: Australia’s Leading UFO and Supernatural Investigator”. The article reported on the publication of the story in Ideal UFO Quarterly, and Pinkney mysteriously concludes his article with the line “Some of the pilot’s comments in the American magazine tally with notes I was given last October”.
Despite the publication of these two articles, Ideal UFO Quarterly’s completely fictitious account was quickly dismissed by the one person who had first-hand knowledge of the nature of the conversation with Fred. Steve Robey himself has always maintained that the transcript released by the Department of Transport is exactly how the call played out.
In 1980, a book named the The Devil’s Meridian, which included a section on the Valentich disappearance, was written by authors Kevin Killey and Gary Lester. The central thesis of the book was the idea that there was an area of the Bass Strait, the so-called Bass Strait Triangle, in which a number of unexplained disappearances of both ships and aircraft had occurred. It provided a historical analysis of other ships and aircraft that had gone missing without a trace in the previous 150 years.
On the 28th February 1981 Melbourne tabloid newspaper, Truth, published an article in which they claimed that a filmmaker by the name of Brian Morris intended to make an expensive documentary about Fred’s disappearance. The article, by Brian Blackwell stated that Morris intended to import the same type of cessna 182 L aircraft from the United States before hiring a helicopter to tow the plane over the Bass Strait and ditch it into the sea. This would be done to see what happened to the wreckage of the plane. The film was to be largely based on the previously mentioned book by Kevin Killey and Gary Lester, The Devil’s Meridian. Morris stated that it was his intention to include an interview with former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, who claimed to have seen a UFO. He also expressed his belief that the documentary would cost in the region of $600,000 to produce. It is not known what happened to Morris’ film project, but it was never made.
The Department of Transport finally released their accident investigation report summary of the Valentich Disappearance in August 1981. It stated that it could not be determined what happened to Frederick Valentich and his aircraft, but it did offer 5 possible hypotheses.
1. That Fred experienced disorientation which caused him to crash the plane into the sea. However, it noted that if this had been the case that it was unusual that there had been no wreckage discovered.
2. That Fred intentionally landed the cessna on the sea, before attempting to escape, either successfully or unsuccessfully. It implied that if this had been the case the aircraft may have sunk to the bottom of the sea completely intact, either with or without Fred’s body inside.
3. A controlled landing elsewhere. It suggested the possibility that Fred was not where he said he was and that he may have intentionally deceived the public by intentionally landing elsewhere.
4. Crashing on land while attempting a controlled landing. It suggested this as a possibility, and that if this was the case, the wreckage simply had not been found yet.
5. UFO intervention. The DoT then falsely added to this item, in a comment that is uncharacteristically speculative of a goverment department, that there were: “no sighting observations of a brightly illuminated craft large enough to take on board a cessna 182”. In fact there were at least 15 sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena reported to either the Department of Transport investigators, news media or to the RAAF, on the night in question.
The summary report was delivered by hand to the Valentich family on 12th May 1982. A copy was also sent to the owner of the aircraft Dr. C.Day, Southern Air Service, and the Victorian Coroner that month.
In 1982 the Air Safety Investigation Bureau (ASIB), which had been a branch of the Department of Transport, had its name changed to the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI), an operationally independent unit, no longer of the Department of Transport (DoT), but now a branch of the Department of Aviation (DoA).
In December 1982, Fred’s father Guido Valentich received a telephone call from a filmmaker by the name of Ron Cameron. In the phone call, Cameron claimed that two divers contacted him to inform him that they had located 3 or 4 aircraft wrecks off Cape Otway, and that they had identified one as Fred’s Cessna 182 L, DSJ. Cameron claimed that the divers had requested $10,000 in return for revealing the location of Fred’s plane. A story in the ‘Herald’ evening newspaper on the 15th of December then elaborated on this story. Cameron claimed to have seen photographs taken of the underwater aircraft and believed one of them bore the same markings as Fred’s plane. He further claimed that the photograph revealed the cockpit of the cessna, but that Fred was not inside. Cameron told the newspaper that he intended to make a documentary film about the disappearance, and conduct a salvage operation in recovering the aircraft.
After this article was published the Coroner’s Court of Victoria contacted BASI expressing concern that these private individuals were publicly declaring a desire to interfere with possible evidence in determining the cause of a deceased person. Therefore, in January 1983, the J.Sandercock, the director of BASI, contacted Ron Cameron to explain to him the sensitivity of the issue at hand and to arrange a meeting where he hoped to explain to him that any salvage operation could only be carried out in the presence of both someone from the Coroner’s Court and a member of BASI.
Then, on 11th January 1983, on the day Sandercock was to meet Ron Cameron to discuss the salvage operation, another article appeared in the press, this time in the Sun titled: ‘UFO Plane Photos Upset Father’. In the article written by John Beveridge, Guido expressed his dismay that the divers were attempting to profit from the salvage operation of Fred’s plane. Filmmaker Ron Cameron was also interviewed again where he stated: “The plane was a little bit twisted, but in one piece. Once we get a line down to it we will be able to bring it to the surface in half a day.”
BASI director J.Sandercock immediately cancelled his meeting with Ron Cameron on seeing the article, expressing dismay that there had been so much media attention around the planned salvage operation. Then, according to Ron Cameron, the two divers in question pulled out of the deal to show him the location of the wreck, as they were unhappy that he seemed to suggest that he did not fully trust them in a radio interview on the topic.
BASI memos imply scepticism about Ron Cameron’s claims, and they expressed the opinion that he was simply trying to drum up publicity about the affair in order to attract funding for his film. Regardless, like Brian Morris’, the film was never produced and there were to be no more newspaper articles about the supposed wrecks.
The Valentich disappearance was back in the news for different reasons however, in May of 1983, when BASI received a package from Arthur Withers the Airport Manager of Flinders Island, a similarly sized island to King Island, but lying 350km to its east. The package contained some debris, an engine cowl flap from a Cessna aircraft that had washed up on the beach on Flinders Island, very close to that island’s airport runway. The debris had been found by Withers’ son Robert, and it was accompanied by a letter that stated that they believed it to be from Fred’s cessna 182 L – DSJ. The debris was in 3 pieces and heavily eroded, but BASI immediately set about attempting to determine whether it was in fact from Fred’s plane.
The partial serial number visible on the debris, indicated that it came from a range within which DSJ’s serial number fell, meaning it was definitely possible that it was DSJ, but not certain. The debris however, was not buoyant and so Sandercock wrote to the Royal Australian Navy Research Laboratory to try to understand if it was possible for a piece of debris which could not float to be transported over such a long distance and end up at Flinders Island.
In October of 1983, Ian Jones of the Ocean Sciences Division of the RAN Research Laboratory replied that indeed it would be possible for the debris in question to have travelled across the bottom of the sea particularly during days when the ocean currents were strong. Since almost 5 years had passed since Fred went missing it would have been entirely possible that this debris could have been carried to Flinders Island in that time.
While some are convinced that this cowl flap is almost certainly from Fred’s plane, others are not. There had been two other known events when cessna aircraft taking off from Flinders Island airport had lost the same piece of engine cowl flap. Given that this piece was found so close to the runway, it is believed to be more likely to have come from one of these planes. Modern scientific analysis would be capable of determining whether the piece had been in salt water for 5 years, but unfortunately the debris in question has been lost by the Department of Aviation and so unavailable for testing.
In October 1988 Guido received a telephone call from celebrated Australian journalist and television personality, Ray Martin. On the phone call, Martin urged Guido to release his copy of the audio tape of Fred’s last radio transmission. Guido, unsure as to the legality of such an action contacted BASI to enquire as to whether he was still bound by having signed the agreement six years previously not to release the audio tape beyond his own immediate family. Sandercock told Guido that the agreement still stood, and as result the latter had to disappoint Ray Martin.
In 1998, VUFORS researcher Paul Norman interviewed an anonymous man who claimed to be witness to a startling sighting on the night of Fred’s disappearance 20 years previously, which he had. The sighting, which the man had not reported at the time, took place on the Great Ocean Road, at Barham River, about a kilometre south of Apollo Bay. The anonymous man stated that just beyond the bridge here, he pulled over his car where he and his two nieces, looking in an easterly direction towards the sea, observed a cessna aeroplane slowly descending in a diagonal direction. While light was fading, as it was dusk, he could clearly make out the cessna and its distinctive white navigation light and red wingtip light. But, more astonishingly, the cessna was being pursued by a much larger craft, illuminated by a green, circular light travelling on top of and slightly to the rear of the cessna. He and his nieces stood watching this event for half a minute until both aircraft disappeared from view to the northeast It was clear that if the cessna had continued on its diagonally downward trajectory it would have splashed down in the sea just off the coast near Apollo Bay.
Researchers Paul Norman and Richard Haines then wrote a paper about this sighting in which they suggested that, based on this witness description, it was highly probable that Fred had changed course when he encountered the UAP. They hypothesised that Fred become somewhat disoriented when he first saw it, and turned away from King Island and back towards the coast of Victoria. Then, at 7:10pm on the transcript Fred states: “what I’m doing right now is orbiting and thing is just orbiting on top of me”. Normans and Haines suggested at this point Fred was facing towards the Victorian coast before doing a complete 360 degree orbit and continuing towards the coast.
It was soon after this that Fred reported his engine coughing, at which time Norman and Haines suggested, Fred began to lose altitude. The 17 seconds of indecipherable sounds, they suggested, was possibly caused by Fred’s plane dropping to an altitude when ground to air radio transmission was made impossible due to the curvature of the earth preventing a direct line of sight between the radio tower and the aircraft. It is believed Fred continued towards the Victorian coast for several more minutes, all the time losing altitude and then turned to the right at 7:16pm heading towards the northeast about 1 to 2 kilometres from the Victorian coast. It was soon after this, they believe, Fred and the UAP were brseen by the anonymous man and his nieces while continuing a gradual diagonal descent, before disappearing beyond their line of sight and splashing down about 6km out from Apollo Bay at roughly 7:21pm.
The Norman and Haines paper concluded by recommending an underwater search be conducted at this location, but as of July 2020, this has not occurred.
Sadly, in the year 2000, Fred’s father Guido passed away, without ever having found an answer as to what happened to his son on that day in 1978. His mother Alberta and his brother Ricky and sisters Lara and Olivia, still travel to Cape Otway each year to remember Fred and are still looking for answers as to what happened to him.
In researching this episode I was contacted by a source who informed me that, while it has never been released publicly by what is now called the Air Safety Transport Bureau (formely BASI), there are in fact multiple copies of the original 13 minutes Valentich/Robey audio tape. This source made the claim that an anonymous person who had previously worked for the Department of Transport at Tullamarine Airport had taken recording equipment into their place of work and made a recording of the original, non-edited tape. This tape has since fallen into the hands of certain anonymous private UAP researchers. Despite this, these individuals have never released the tape publicly, as technically, the tape is the property of the Department of Transport.
As of July 2020, Frederick Valentich is still officially listed as a missing person, and as far as we know, nobody knows what happened to him. His family members still hold out hope that one day some evidence will come to light revealing what his fate was.
My name is Eamonn and you’re listening to Melbourne Marvels, a podcast about interesting events that have happened in the Melbourne area throughout history. I am releasing this podcast in recognition of national missing person’s week in order to highlight the plight of families who suffer from not knowing what happened to their missing loved one, as is very much the case with Frederick Valentich. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the podcast.
If you would like to reach out to me to ask me about anything in the podcast, please feel free to do so. You can contact me by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow me, on Facebook at Melbourne Marvels, on Instagram at melbinmarvels, or on Twitter on @melbinmarvels. If you would like to support this show, please do so by either leaving a 5 star review for the podcast on itunes, or writing a positive review on the Facebook Page. Leaving these positive reviews will mean that the show is exposed to more people online. You can also support the show financially by seeking out the podcast on Patreon and donating as little as $1 per episode. This really helps with the expenses of the upkeep of the show. For example, I must pay an annual fee for the webpage, I have also paid for equipment I’m using to record the show and I also pay for monthly subscriptions to newspapers.com. I really appreciate any support you can manage, but don’t feel like you have to donate, especially in these difficult financial times, as I wouldn’t want anybody to pay who is not able to afford it.
I would also like to thank independent researcher Paul Dean for being a valuable source of information on this incident. Thank you also to George Simpson of VUFOA for giving his time to discuss this case. I would also like to thank Rhonda Rushton for answering the questions I put to her about Fred. I would like to thank the following musicians from freesound.org for allowing their productions to be used as part of the soundtrack to the podcast: Erokia; Ispeakwaves; samplingsamthemarylandman; josefpres; erh.
Eamonn Gunning 4/8/2020
Valentich 40, a video record of an event marking the 40th anniversary of the Valentich disappearance
NB: After completing this podcast and blogpost I learnt that researcher Keith Basterfield was largely responsible for the digitisation of the above files. While I didn’t rely on his blog in my research for this work, he is probably the most important researcher on this topic and you can view what he has to say on it by visiting his blog here.
Newspapers: The Australian; Melbourne Truth; The Herald; The Sun; Bendigo Advertiser; Courier (Ballarat)
The Bunurong aboriginal people, a tribe of the Kulin nation, have for thousands of years inhabited the land south-east of the modern city of Melbourne. Their country, covering about 8000 square kilometres, stretches from Werribee at its westernmost point, to Wilson’s Promontory in the south east and all the land in between including the Mornington Peninsula and the land south of the Yarra River, including the Dandenong Ranges. Although this land was only sparsely populated with between 300 and 500 Bunurong by the time of British settlement in the 1830s, they had a rich culture with an oral tradition that had managed to pass down stories of significant environmental events that had occurred in the region. The Bunurong had been in the area so long they had witnessed the formation of Port Phillip Bay 8000 years previously caused by rising sea levels which were occurring globally due to the demise of the last glacial period. The Bunurong oral traditions tell stories of their ancestors hunting kangaroo and emu in the valley where this body of water now lies.
One wonders therefore what significance the Bunurong gave to an incredible event that occurred in their country sometime in the late 1700s some 50 years before the devastation of their culture that British settlement was to bring. Roughly around the same time that Captain James Cook was sailing the Endeavour up the east coast of Australia an iron bolide from space, about the size of a truck, pierced the earth’s atmosphere in Bunurong country, coming from the North East and breaking up over a wide area between modern day Pakenham and Pearcedale. The event would have been spectacular visually, even if it had occurred in daytime the larger pieces of the breakup would have appeared brighter than the sun. Had it occurred during the night, the event would have turned night into day creating a magnificent spectacle for Bunurong witnesses. This would have been followed by incredible sonic booms and shock waves that could have knocked people to the ground for kilometres around. Indeed, there is no doubt the local Bunurong people would have attached a large amount of significance to the event.
From what is known about other cases of impact events being witnessed by Australian aboriginal groups, they tend to be accompanied by myths which portent catastrophe. Indeed, the aboriginal tribe who border the Bunurong to the north, the Wurundjeri have a myth about a separate impact site at Lilydale, known in the Wurundjeri language as Bukkertillibe. The story goes that Bunjil, the creator deity was displeased by the people’s behaviour and so became angry and punished them by causing a star to fall from the sky and strike the earth resulting in an explosion that killed many people. What is more, across Australia there are many other such accounts of impact events being explained by stories of deities punishing humans by flinging fiery rocks at them in what were no doubt meteor impact events.
Unfortunately, it seems that any myth surrounding the later impact event to occur in Bunurong land was lost by the almost complete devastation of Bunurong culture that was to occur upon British settlement in their lands. Bunurong alive today descend from a handful of aboriginal women who were abducted as sex slaves by Westernport Bay sealers who invaded the area in the early 1800s and any oral tradition about the event has been lost. So, one can only wonder how this incredible incident was viewed by the Bunurong in the late 1700s.
What is clear is that it was to prove to be an extremely inauspicious occurrence, as Bunurong culture, which had continued in a consistent manner for thousands of years, was to be laid waste in the form of British vices, murder and diseases within 100 years.
One surviving account of what the Bunurong thought of the large iron meteorites in their country seems to suggest a more positive perspective of the incident. The area of the strewnfield where the meteorites fell, between Pakenham and Pearcedale, while today a mixture of farmland and residential land, at the time of the impact in the late 1700s was largely swamp. Once Melbourne was settled by entrepreneurs from Launceston in 1835 squatters immediately set about transforming the surrounding swamplands into pasture land for cattle grazing, including at what was later to be known as Cranbourne about 40km to the south east of Melbourne. Here, protruding from some land owned by a Mr McKay there was a large body of iron and, years before it was identified as a meteorite, contemporary colonial reports state the local Bunurong people would:
“dance around it, beating their serpentine tomahawks against it, and apparently much pleased with the metallic sound thus produced”.
Other unsubstantiated reports suggest the iron meteorite was revered as a symbol of fertility, and that the Bunurong performed fertility rituals around it. This was apparently because, though the main mass was mostly buried, at the top of it there was a large protruding spur of nickel iron that, it is claimed, was in the shape of a phallus. This, the largest of more than a dozen meteorites that would eventually be discovered, would later be referred to as the Bruce meteorite or Cranbourne no.1.
When the impact event occurred the main mass, due to the extremely high temperatures generated and the extreme air pressure it was subjected to on entering the earth’s atmosphere at such a high speed, broke up into a number of smaller pieces which were strewn in more or less a straight line stretching about 25km from modern day Pakenham to Pearcedale.
In 1853 a settler who was travelling by horseback through McKay’s land attempted to tether his horse to what he thought was a tree stump sticking out of the ground. It was then that he realised that it was a mass of iron. Later that year a second iron mass about half the size of the first was also discovered about 6km to the north east on the land of James Lineham in what is today the suburb of Clyde. This mass would later be referred to as the Abel Meteorite or Cranbourne no. 2.
In 1854, the phallus-shaped spur on Cranbourne number 1 was cut off and 2 horseshoes were forged out of it. These were then exhibited at the Melbourne Exhibition by a farrier named James Scott. It is not known what the Bunurong thought of this emasculating action, but the deed would certainly be viewed unfavourably by everybody concerned when it was established later that a priceless meteorite had in fact been defaced to make some horseshoes.
In about 1857, a farmhand discovered a much smaller iron near the location of Cranbourne number 1. Even though the iron could fit in the palm of his hand it weighed 7kg because of its extremely dense composition of iron and nickel and was later to be known as Cranbourne no. 3. Not realising its significance, it was used as andiron on a fire where it was exposed to extreme temperatures that caused it to split in two. The owner at this point threw away one half of the meteorite.
It wasn’t until 1860 that the iron masses were, finally, correctly identified as meteorites. This occurred when a Cranbourne councillor by the name of Alex Cameron visited Melbourne in order to petition the government to build a railway line through the Cranbourne area. In order to entice interest in his idea he suggested that it would benefit the colony to build the railway through the Cranbourne area because of what he claimed was the huge seem of iron that existed just beneath the surface of the land there. The Melbourne town clerk at the time, Irishman Edmund Fitzgibbon, was an amateur geologist, and on hearing this bit of trivia knew that the councillor must have been mistaken, as there was no way such a huge seem of iron could have existed on what had been swampy territory. He decided to inspect the iron for himself. He was shown both Cranbourne numbers 1 and 2 where he made trenches in order to determine their size. Both McKay and Lineham, the owners of the land on which the meteorites rested, offered Fitzgibbon the meteorites for free if he agreed to pay for the cost to deliver them to Melbourne. He declined both offers, saying he simply wanted to generate interest in them as scientific curiosities and said it was now the government’s responsibility to arrange for their relocation.
In February 1861 the famous German meteorologist Georg von Neumayer, who had, a handful of years earlier, established the first weather observatory in Melbourne at Flagstaff Gardens read a paper about the meteorites by the town clerk Fitzgibbon. Both he and a German mineralogist named August Theodore Abel, who was based in Ballarat, and some other scientists were fascinated with the account and decided to set out to Cranbourne to visit the meteorites. The men camped the night at the sight of Cranbourne no. 1 on McKay’s farm, performing some magnetic experiments and taking some samples before McKay informed them that he had already sold it to a neighbour of his named James Bruce. For the next fifty years this meteorite, known now as Cranbourne no. 1, would be known as the Bruce meteorite.
Von Neumayer and his party continued on the next day and eventually located Cranbourne no.2 on James Lineham’s farm. Lineham viewed the meteorite as a nuisance and was happy to sell it on, so it was purchased by Abel who made arrangements to have it delivered to Melbourne. For the next fifty years this mass would be known as the Abel Meteorite.
Abel had it excavated and it weighed in at over 1 and a half metric tonnes, which in 1860 was the second largest meteorite in the world, only after Cranbourne no.1, which was to weigh in at 3 and half metric tonnes. Cranbourne no.2 generated great excitement on delivery to Melbourne where it was exhibited before being quickly shipped to London for the International Exhibition. Before having it shipped to London, Abel had offered the National Museum, in Melbourne a chance to purchase it from him for 300 pounds, but they declined the offer saying it was too expensive. Instead he agreed to sell it to the British Museum for 300 pounds, which meant he made a profit of 250 pounds having purchased it from Lineham and transported it to Melbourne for fifty pounds.
Meanwhile Fitzgibbon had obtained the remaining 3.5 kg of Cranbourne no.3 from McKay, exhibited it to the Royal Society, a Melbourne community of scientists and wrote a paper on it. The publication of this paper gave rise to great interest in the meteorites in Europe. Even the Emperor of Austria at the time, Franz Joseph the first, wrote a letter to Henry Barkly, the Governor of Victoria at the time, asking for more information. Barkly had a sample of no.1 sent to the Emperor through the German-Austrian botanist Ferdinand Von Mueller, who was the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, and he also sent a larger fist sized piece of no.1 to the K.K. Hofmuseums in Vienna.
When it became clear just how important the meteorites were, many in the Royal Society decided it was of utmost importance that the main masses should be kept in the colony. One member was Irishman Frederick McCoy who was also Director of the the National Museum in Melbourne. Knowing that Abel had already sent his mass to London, McCoy wrote to Mr Bruce as to whether he would be interested in donating Cranbourne no. 1 to his museum. Bruce, being a proud citizen of the British Empire first and an Antipodean second informed McCoy that his request would be impossible, as he was determined to donate it to the British Museum. However, he told McCoy that he would be willing to have the meteorite cut in two, giving one half to the museum in Melbourne and one to the museum in London.
He wrote his letter to McCoy in early January 1862, but it seems that McCoy did not reply immediately to this letter, and Bruce, taking this to mean a rejection of his proposal, on January 31st, gave Cranbourne no.1 to Von Mueller in order for him to present it to the British Museum. Cranbourne no.1 was then moved to the University of Melbourne quadrangel, where it waited to be transported to London. When the Royal Society discovered that Bruce had arranged to send it to the British Museum, debate ensued in public throughout 1862 and many petitioned to have Cranbourne no.1 retained in Melbourne. Many members became outraged and publicly criticised Bruce’s actions in letters that were published in The Argus newspaper. One in particular, a Dr. MacAdam, criticised Bruce for his lack of “scientific attainments”. Bruce however, wrote his own letter in December of 1862, in which he bitterly defended himself. In it he explained how he informed McCoy that time was of the utmost importance in replying to Bruce’s agreement to split the meteorite in two, but as McCoy hadn’t replied in almost a month, he was well within his right to send the meteorite abroad. He also included a stinging rebuke of MacAdam with the following words:
“As for Dr. MacAdam’s insidious sneer with respect to my scientific attainments, they may or may not be empirical; at all events, I have not thrust myself before the public. If the great doctor’s last lecture is a fair specimen of his scientific attainments, I scarcely think he is free from the taint. But, this is beside the question, I have yet to learn that, unless I am possessed of great scientific attainments, I cannot deal with any property I may have possessing a scientific interest, as I see fit, without consulting even the Royal Society. Let the doctor commence to weed nearer home; there is plenty of room for the knife. I have lived long enough to know that they are not the men of greatest scientific attainments who are continually thrusting themselves before the public. I have spent many a pleasant day in the British Museum, and gained some information, why should I be prevented from making some return? By what right do the Royal Society attempt to deal with my property against my wish? Would it not be more creditable to them to throw all selfishness aside, take a more cosmopolitan view of the the matter, and lend their aid, instead of throwing obstacles in the way.”
Just when it seemed as if the impasse could not be overcome, Henry Barkly came to the rescue by writing to the British Museum and arranging for them to return Cranbourne no.2 in exchange for Cranbourne no.1. This agreement seemed to appease all parties involved and also saved the larger meteorite from being desecrated by being split into two.
Cranbourne no.1 was sent to London in 1865, where it is still on display in the Natural History Museum. Cranbourne no.2 was returned to Melbourne and put on display in the National Museum. It can still be seen in the Melbourne Museum in Carlton to this day.
In 1876 what came to be known as Cranbourne no.9 was found in a railway cutting, roughly 3km east of Beaconsfield Railway Station, when they were building the train line to Gippsland. It weighed 75 kg and had apparently been exposed above the ground for many years, unburied, unlike the two main masses. It apparently fell into the possession of a German mineral dealer who destroyed it by greedily cutting it up into many pieces and selling each piece for a profit.
In 1886 Cranbourne no.10 was discovered on the property of a Mr Padley, about 7km south east of the old Langwarrin Railway Station, by an employee who was ploughing an orchard. Padley saw the rock as a nuisance and simply moved it out of his way, not realising its significance. It was only when a Government geologist by the name of Murray visited the locality that it was Identified as a meteorite. It was quite a large fragment, weighing in at 914kg. Murray encouraged Padley to donate it to the Melbourne Technological Museum and today it is located at the Melbourne Museum, Carlton.
In 1903 the Pearcedale iron, or what became known as Cranbourne no.11 was found. It was quite large, weighing in at 760kg. This piece was to prove to be the most westerly fragment discovered as of February 2020.
1923 was a busy year for Cranbourne meteorites as another four were found this year all, nearby the largest fragment Cranbourne no.1. Cranbourne no. 4 weighed in at almost 1300kg, no.5 356kg, no.7 153kg, and no.8 24kg. All 4 fragments were found in the same paddock, by farmers ploughing the land.
5 years later in 1928, Cranbourne no.6 was discovered, further to the north east, at Pakenham and was a smaller rock at just 40kg. It was discovered during construction work involved in the widening of the Princes Highway, and like many of the others was buried at a shallow depth. This piece is the most easterly of the the 13 pieces discovered as of February 2020.
Cranbourne no. 12, a small fragment of some 23 kg was only identified in 1982. It had actually been found in 1927, but was not identified scientifically until the later date.
The last piece to be found, Cranbourne no.13, was identified as recently as 2008. A market gardener in Clyde, not far from the location of the Abel fragment, Cranbourne no.2, dug up a rock that had been annoying him for years. He had intended to dispose of the 85kg piece at the local tip until a friend suspected there was something special about it and urged him to keep it. Coincidentally, the man’s son was studying about the Cranbourne Meteorites at Clyde Primary School, and informed his teacher that his father was in possession of an unusual, heavy rock. When the assistant principal of the school, Maruie Richardson, made enquiries with the parent, the latter agreed to take it to the school, so that the children could study it. The school arranged for a sample to be taken and sent to the Melbourne Museum, and it was confirmed then that the fragment was indeed of meteoric origin.
It should be noted that, while 13 fragments of this meteorite have been discovered there are more out there awaiting discovery. As mentioned previously all of the pieces of the Cranbourne Meteorite were discovered in locations more or less in a straight line stretching 25km from Pakenham to Pearcedale. In total, the mass discovered thus far comes to 8,500kg. If one looks at the map of the strewnfield inlcuded in the melbinmarvels.com blogpost about this event, it can clearly be seen that the fragments are clustered together at four different main areas along the 25km flight path. These areas are at Pakenham, Clyde, Devon Meadows and Pearcedale.
Within these clusters larger bodies, because of their greater mass, travel further along the flight path. This can clearly be seen from the cluster at Devon Meadows, where Cranbourne no.1, the heaviest object, was further along the flight path to the south west than were the smaller bodies of Cranbourne numbers 4,5,7 and 8. The only exception to this theory in this location was Cranbourne no.3 which was located further to the south west than the others, but at just 7.5kg it is possible that this iron was picked up by a human and carried to the area it was found in in the late 1850s.
At both Pakenham, and Pearcedale the theory plays out as well, but with only 2 and 3 irons found thus far at these locations respectively, it is possible that searching in these locations for further irons may prove fruitful.
But, perhaps the best chances of success in attempting to find more of the fragments of the Cranbourne Meteorite would be at Clyde, where, until 2008 the only fragment to have been discovered was the massive 1.5 tonne Abel Meteorite, Cranbourne no.2. The theory predicts that upon separating from the main body, Cranbourne no.2 would have had smaller fragments detach from it, before it finally came to rest. And this theory was proven correct, when Cranbourne no.13 was found in 2008, close by, just to the north east. However, there are almost certainly more of these smaller fragments out there in the Clyde area.
Unfortunately, since 2008, much of this area has been rezoned as a residential area and a housing estate has been built on what was until about 3 years ago farmland. Therefore, an extensive search using metal detectors would be much harder to carry out today.
In 2001 the Pakenham Gazette interviewed Glenda Tait and Jean Hermon, who were granddaughters of Suzanne Lineham, who was a 9 year old child of James Lineham, on whose property Cranbourne no.2 had been taken from in 1860. Jean Hermon told the newspaper that her grandmother remembered as a child the impact the transportation of the meteorite had on local members of the Bunurong aboriginal tribe. “Grandma said the meteor was worshipped by the aborigines who came to the property. She said it was so special to them that they cried when they saw it being taken away.”
This account of the importance attached to Cranbourne no.2 by the Bunurong people, as well as the earlier one related by Mr McKay in regards to Cranbourne no.1, leads one to suspect that the impact event was the source of some profundity for the tribe. It is a terrible shame that, what that significance entailed, was lost. Indeed the Cranbourne Meteorite was to prove to be a particularly inauspicious occurrence for the Bunurong people. That this prized possession of the Bunurong was transported out of their lands to the capital city of the Empire that had so decimated their culture is perhaps symbolic of the British invasion of Bunurong land. One could view the Cranbourne Meteorite lying in the Natural History Museum in London as the Bunurong’s Elgin Marbles. Perhaps one day, the British government will return this culturally significant artefact to the Bunurong people as a gesture of goodwill.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Melbourne Marvels on the Cranbourne Meteorite. My name is Eamonn, the creator of Melbourne Marvels. You can help me out by subscribing to the podcast on itunes, spotify or your Android podcasting app. You can also help support me on Patreon from as little as $1 US an episode. If you can’t afford that you can support me by giving me a 5 star rating on Itunes, this helps the discoverability of the show.
I would like to personally thank Peter Skilton of the Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society for answering enquiries I had about this topic.
Also, the Transactions of the Royal Society by Royal Society of Victoria, published in 1860, contained the information regarding the display of the horseshoes at the Melbourne Exhibition of 1854, the information regarding the Cranbourne councillor Alex Cameron petitioning the construction of the railway in 1860 and also the information regarding Fitzgibbon’s own visit to sites of the two main masses near Cranbourne.
The other main source I used was Australian Gem and Treasure Hunter, Year Book, 1982, by William Cappadonna. This contains much of the information regarding the predictions for where future finds of meteorites in the Cranbourne area are likely to be.
Credits: Narration and research by Eamonn Gunning
Music By: James Longley; Klankbeeld; Frankum; Andrewkn
I recently started to research fatal shark attacks that had occurred in Port Phillip Bay. What I found surprised me. There have been 7 since 1835. The contemporary newspaper reports of some of these accounts are quite incredible.
In 1876 the city of Melbourne was a vibrant place with a population of about 250,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the British Empire. What’s more it was a popular destination for Europeans, Americans and Chinese who were seeking to strike it rich since gold had been discovered in Central Victoria in the 1850s.
Peter Rooney was born in Melbourne in 1857 to Patrick Rooney an Irish labourer and Rose Rooney who was originally from Berkshire in England. The Rooneys had married in 1847 at St. Francis’ Roman Catholic Church. By 1876, Peter was 18, and was one of 5 children to Patrick and Rose, he being the only surviving boy. As was common for the time, 3 of Peter’s siblings, died in infancy, while he had 4 remaining sisters. As the only male heir remaining, he was his parents’ pride and joy, and it was expected he would carry on the Rooney family name.
Peter lived with his parents and sisters in Leichardt Street, a lane off Lonsdale Street. The area was a slum called “Little Lon” and was a notorious red light district replete with poverty. Despite this, he worked as an apprentice stonemason in Emerald Hill, what we today refer to as South Melbourne. Peter was a strong swimmer, and would sometimes swim at the beach after a hard day’s work. The 6th of February 1876 was a Sunday, so while Peter didn’t have work on this day, he was still keen to go for a swim at Emerald Hill with his friend Robert Johnson, and some other young men. The boys got up very early, and arrived at the beach as early as 6am. Peter and Robert set out to swim straight away, and were seen to be swimming from the Emerald Hill jetty to the Emerald Hill Company’s baths. They took rest here before Peter jumped off the piles and swam out into deeper waters, while Robert swam in the shallow waters back towards the jetty.
What happened next would haunt Robert for the rest of his life. Swimming in the shallows he managed to reach the jetty before Peter, and just as he climbed up onto the platform he heard a desperate scream from his mate: “For God’s sake, save me”. Looking around Robert was horrified to see a monster of a shark, 5 metres in length, its enormous jaws clenched on to his friend’s left leg. Before Robert had a chance to react, the shark appeared to be dragging Peter further out to sea, whilst he struggled against it. Watching these events unfold was a man by the name of James Pritchard who was riding his horse on the beach. Without thinking Pritichard rode his horse into the sea in an attempt to rescue Peter from the clutches of the shark. Peter was in about 5 feet of water and was just about to sink beneath the bloody waves when Pritchard, on horseback, grabbed his hand. Pritichard was able to to lift Peter out of the water, but not quite onto the horse, and the shark seemed to hesitate for a second due to the presence of the horse. But, as Pritchard retreated, Peter dangling awkwardly from the horse with blood pumping from the wound to his left thigh, the shark seemed to get its bearings and swam aggressively towards them. This time it bit at Peter’s left calf to the horror of his friends. The scene was nightmarish with the colour of the water all around turning red due to being diluted with blood.
Pritchard struggled on though, still managing to pull Peter towards the shore. At one point the shark swam in between their position and the shore as if to cut them off. By this stage a small crowd had gathered on the beach and the combination of their clamoring and the horse’s frantic neighing seemed to spook the shark, and it swam out to sea.
Peter seemed to be barely conscious, perhaps from shock and blood loss, since he had first yelled out for help. When Pritchard’s horse arrived back on the beach Peter was completely unconscious. They lay him on the sand and rested his head on Robert’s knee. The majority of the flesh of his left thigh and calf dangled from the bone, and blood pumped onto the sand. There was nothing the young men could do and within a few minutes Peter stopped breathing and died.
The next day an inquest was held at the Black Eagle Hotel on Lonsdale Street. Peter’s body had been taken to his mother’s house nearby where the jury could view the body. It was clear from the bite marks that the shark had not taken any of the flesh with it, nevertheless the bones of both the thigh and calf were visible. Patrick, Peter’s father, spoke first at the inquest, followed by Robert Johnson and finally James Pritchard. The jury was then satisfied that Peter had died from blood loss having been bitten by a shark.
It seems that Peter’s mother Rose took Peter’s death particularly badly. She slumped into a deep depression after the loss of her only son and died, herself, within two months of his death. The inscription on her gravestone at Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton North reads:
Quote ”Erected by Patrick ROONEY in memory of his beloved wife Rose age 51 years who died of excessive grief, 4 Apr 1876 through the loss of their son Peter who was killed by a shark whilst bathing on 6 Feb 1876, age 18 years” end quote.
Peter’s father, Patrick Rooney, would go on to live a very tragic life. Of his 4 remaining children, 2 of them would be dead within 4 years, 1 would die 12 years later at the age of 35 and the last would die in 1898 at the age of 33. He would outlive them all and die a lonely death at the age of 77 in 1899.
As if that wasn’t enough, barely one year later there was another fatal shark attack at a Melbourne beach. William Marks an American from Chicago had recently arrived in Melbourne. He was working as a ferryman on the Yarra River. According to a fellow worker, he was 39 years old, a keen violinist and a very strong swimmer. No doubt he was unaware of the attack that had occurred the year before less than 200 yards from where he decided to go swimming at 7am on Sunday the 4th of February 1877.
On that day, a man by the name of Dorsay Dossor was bathing in the shallows at Emerald Hill. On walking back to the shore, he observed a man, later to be established as William Marks, taking off his clothes before going for a swim himself. Dossor noted that Marks swam out quite a distance, about 300 yards, before swimming parallel with the beach. Dossor observed the unfamiliar man swam confidently before he suddenly seemed to jump or was thrown out of the water. He then seemed to swim a few more yards before he suddenly disappeared beneath the waves. Dossor did not notice any shark, but thought it strange that the man never resurfaced. After waiting some time, he and another man on the beach noticed the swimmer had left some clothes on the beach. Amongst his possessions were a tuning fork, and a letter with American postage marks, addressed to a, William Marks, care of his employer, the ferry operator, on the Yarra River. The men took the possessions to the St. Kilda police station and the police conducted a search of the water using the quote “local Chinamen’s fishing nets” end quote, to trawl the water, but no body was found.
Two days later a man by the name of Thomas Coppin, a saddler who lived on Brunswick Street, was bathing in the local Emerald Hill baths. He noticed a dark object floating in the waves about 300 yards away. Copping reported his discovery to Captain Levens, the owner of the baths. With the help of a telescope Levens was able to tell that the object was that of a dead body and surmised that it must have been that of the American man who had gone missing two days previously. The two men took a boat out to retrieve the body, and when they did, it was obvious that the man had been killed by a shark. The flesh on each leg, from the knee up had been eaten away and there was a large bite mark stretching 14 inches on both his chest and back.
At the inquest into the man’s death, a co-worker from the ferry company he worked at on the Yarra River, identified him as William Marks, a 39 year old American from Chicago, who had been, until his recent arrival in Melbourne, working as a farmer in California.
This attack coming so soon after the one on Peter Rooney the year before, and at virtually the same location, leads one to assume that it may well have been the same shark that killed both men, perhaps a Great White that lurked in that part of the bay in the late 1870s.
But, these were not the first shark-caused fatalities in the Bay. Indeed two had occurred in the bay 20 years earlier in the 1850s. Adolphe Bollander was a 21 year old sailor with the Swedish ship Constance which arrived in Melbourne on March 10th 1858 having left Leith in Scotland on November 25th the previous year. On Sunday the 14th of March, Bollander and some of his fellow crew, were enjoying a swim under the bow of their 785 ton vessel, where it was anchored 1km off the shore, in Hobson’s Bay, at the Northern tip of Port Phillip Bay, near Williamstown. One by one the men had enough of their swim and returned to the ship until Bollander was the only man left in the water. Suddenly, a horrific shriek was heard from his direction. The other sailors who were on the deck looked towards him, and saw that he had been seized on the thigh by a large shark that was dragging him under the water. Bollander was a fit strong man, 6 feet in height, and somehow he managed to escape from the shark’s clutches and reach the ship. The shark though seemed to reenergise and took another chunk out of Bollander’s leg as he was being helped onto the ship, to which he screamed out in agony, and blood pumped out all over the side. It was a horrific scene. The other men used long poles with hooks on the ends and paddles to beat the shark, until it finally relented and they managed to drag him onto the deck. The men immediately took him to the shore in order to seek medical attention, but Bollander died of blood loss before they reached it.
An inquest was held the next day at Williamstown at Rees’s Steam Packet Hotel, where Bollander’s body lay. The coroner remarked that Bollander was an extremely handsome man, but was horrified to observe that the flesh had been completely torn from his thigh. The jury found that he had died from the effects of being bitten in the thigh by a shark, and cautioned against bathing in Hobson’s Bay.
3 years earlier than this incident, in 1855, the earliest recorded confirmed fatal shark attack occurred in Port Phillip Bay. Not much information has been recorded about this incident, including the name of the victim. However, there were enough contemporary media reports about it to confirm that it was a verifiable shark attack. It was reported in Sydney’s Empire Newspaper as follows, quote: “Fatal Occurrence – Reported Destruction of a Bather By a Shark. Yesterday afternoon, two seaman belonging to the whaling brig Curlew, lying off Towns’s Wharf, jumped overboard for the purpose of bathing, and having a swim. They had not been many minutes in the water when one of them suddenly disappeared,and the other rapidly returned to the vessel, and reported that his companion had been seized by a shark.” End Quote
Thus far, we have only reported on fatal shark attacks in Port Phillip Bay that occurred in the 19th century, however, there were a handful that also occurred in the 20th century. 27 years after William Marks was killed at South Melbourne, on the 12th of June 1914, Adriah Croxford, had an encounter at Sandringham Beach that would change her life forever. She went to the beach that day with her husband John Croxford. Mr and Mrs Croxford had eleven children from their marriage, but it is not clear from press reports whether any of the children were with them that day. John Croxford, who was 43 years old, and reportedly an excellent swimmer, was, no doubt, also fairly resistant to cold, considering he chose to swim in the Bay on this day in the middle of winter. At around 3pm he told his wife he was going to swim in the water. He went into the Ti Tree scrub for privacy, and changed into his bathing suit before swimming out quite a distance. Soon afterwards, John returned, no doubt invigorated by the icy water, as he remarked to Adriah how beautiful it was. He told her he was going in again, and this time swam out about 100 yards. Little did Adriah know that she would never speak to the father of her 11 children again.
Mrs Croxford watched her husband enjoy himself for a few moments before seeing a dark object appear in the water behind him. She recognised it as a shark and called out to her husband, but he did not seem to hear her. Abruptly, the shark disappeared beneath the water, and in the next moment John Croxford completely disappeared from view. Adriah Croxford was convinced her husband had been taken below the waves by a shark, so immediately rushed to Sandringham Police Station where, in an extremely agitated state, she informed Constables Lane and Raven about what she had witnessed. The officers arranged for a motor boat to scour the area for Mr Croxford, but they found no sign of him, in fact, despite an extensive search, his body was never found.
But, perhaps the most notable, and eventful fatal shark attack to occur in Port Phillip Bay, occurred on the 15th of February 1930. Norman Clark was born in 1910 in Brighton, a Bayside suburb of Melbourne. He was one of 12 children to James Clark a mechanic, who worked for Brighton Council, and Priscilla Clark. But, James had died in 1924 leaving Priscilla and her 12 children to survive as best they could. By 1930, at just 19, Norman was a winchman at the Melbourne Wharves, where he worked hard to help support his brothers and sisters.
This day, however, was a Saturday, and Norman intended to enjoy it at the beach with his fiance and his 14 year old younger brother, Russell. The day was the occasion of the Interstate dinghy race being held by the Brighton Yacht Club and, as a result, there were about 200 people on Middle Brighton pier watching proceedings. Norman, his girlfriend, and Russell walked down to the end of the pier, and sat on the lower-level platform which is almost at the level of the sea. This point of the pier is about 400m from the shoreline, and as such the water level is quite deep. While the three were dressed in bathing suits, witnesses described Norman’s girlfriend and brother Russell as reluctant to enter the water, as Norman seemed to spend a few minutes trying to goad his two companions to enter with him.
Unable to convince them, Norman dived in alone and swam out about 7 or 8 metres, before returning to the landing. At this point he began splashing his girlfriend in order to encourage her to jump in with him, but if anything it had the opposite effect to what he intended, as she recoiled away from him because of the cold.
Norman decided this was not going to ruin his fun though, and dived in again, swimming out some distance. He returned to his companions and treaded water about 3 metres from the platform. He once again asked them to join him, and this time it seemed like his girlfriend had acquiesced to his insistence as she approached the edge where he was. Just before she was about to enter though, Norman seemed to raise one hand into the air while shrieking, “Oh!”, before disappearing under the water.
The girlfriend at first thought he was playing games, but a few seconds later, this was proven wrong when Norman reappeared as he was straddling the nose of a huge Great White Shark. The shark clearly had a hold of one of Norman’s legs, and he was desperately struggling with it, throwing punches in a vain attempt to get the beast to let go. At the same time there was a huge commotion on the pier, as onlookers became aware of the terror unfolding in front of their eyes. Norman’s girlfriend fainted almost immediately at the shock of what she was witnessing and was carried away, whilst Russell called pitifully to his brother. But, the shark and Norman, disappeared under the water again, and were carried to a spot about 4 metres from the end of the pier, where they could be faintly made out struggling under the water.
Then, Norman resurfaced again, this time blood diluted the water all around, and he seemed to have been weakened by the shark, as he was not throwing as many punches as he had previously. Again, he was dragged under and resurfaced in a spot about ten metres to the south west side corner of the end of the pier. Here he resurfaced a few times, all the time struggling more and more feebly. This went on for about five minutes before he was dragged under and wasn’t seen again.
Throughout this horrifying experience, about 100 hundred people stood transfixed on the pier, watching the horrifying events unfold. News spread down the pier as to what was happening and swimmers on Brighton Beach soon exited the water, but nobody on the pier attempted to help Norman throughout his ordeal.
A few minutes after he last disappeared, news of the incident had finally motivated someone to put 4 motorised boats into the area to search for any sign of his body. But, they failed to locate neither Norman nor the shark.
Witnesses, described the shark as a monster, 4 to 5 metres long. In the weeks following the tragedy, fishermen throughout Port Phillip Bay made extra effort to catch the shark responsible for Norman’s death. Dozens of sharks were caught and killed, but none of them were the same monster Great White.
For decades afterwards, tales of Norman’s demise took on an almost mythical quality in Melbourne’s pubs and school playgrounds. One apocryphal version of the story which seems to have gotten quite widespread traction was the tale of Norman Clark, the kid who jumped off Brighton pier straight into the jaws of a shark. Of all the incidents detailed in this podcast, it was definitely the one that captured the imagination of Melburnites more than any other. For some reason, his death lived on in memories far longer than any other shark attack. This is despite, the fact that just 6 years later there was another fatality in Melbourne’s bay.
Early in the morning, on the 30th of November 1936, Charles Frederick Swann, a crippled 46 year old World War I veteran who had taken a bullet to the knee in battle, decided to go fishing for snapper in a small dinghy about 6km off the coast of Mordialloc. Concerns were raised when he failed to return and one of the oars, and the backseat to his dinghy washed up on the beach at 3pm. The oars were recognised by a friend of his named George Anstey who had lent them to Swan two weeks previously. That night Anstey and some of Swann’s other friends from Parkdale began to search for him on the Bay in a large motor launch, but did not find him. The next day an R.A.A.F seaplane was sent out to try to find him, and at 11 am it spotted his waterlogged dinghy. A motor boat was sent out to tow the dinghy to shore, and when they arrived they spotted a huge 4 metre Grey Nurse Shark circling the boat. There was a significant 2 by 3 feet hole in the dinghy and a shark’s teeth from the upper and lower jaws were embedded in it. Fisherman believed that the shark had followed a snapper that Swann had hooked, and attacked the boat throwing, him into the water where he was easy pickings for the shark. Numerous sharks were caught in the following weeks in an attempt to find his body, but neither he nor the shark were ever seen again.
1936 is the last time someone was verifiably killed by a shark inside Port Phillip Bay. There have been other incidents just outside the bay, such as the 1956 case in which John Wishart was killed by a 12 foot shark whilst surfing at Portsea backbeach. This is not to mention the infamous case of the disappearance of the Prime Minister of Australia Harold Holt whilst swimming at Portsea backbeach in 1967, there is no evidence he was taken by a shark though. In an extraordinary coincidence another man by the name of Wishart was killed by a shark off Wilson’s Promontory early in Vicotria’s history in 1839. There have been other claimed shark fatalities in Port Phillip Bay such as that of two teenage boys who disappeared whilst fishing from a boat in Carrum in 1916, but despite the coroner finding they were taken by sharks, there was no physical evidence suggesting this was the case and so I don’t consider it a verifiable shark attack. So, in the 185 years since Melbourne’s settlement there have been 7 fatal shark attacks in Port Phillip Bay, in 1855 off Port Melbourne, 1858 off Williamstown, 1876 off South Melbourne, 1877 off South Melbourne, 1914 off Sandringham, 1930 off Brighton, and 1936 at Mordialloc. This means there have been 7 verifiable shark fatalities in Port Phillip Bay, since 1835, but none for 84 years. I suspect this may have something to do with the large number of large sharks that were purposely baited and killed right throughout the 20th century, particularly in the wake of these attacks. There simply may be fewer large sharks in the bay now than there were in the early days of the settlement. Large sharks are rarely sighted in the bay, but they still are occasionally. In 2009, a huge 5 metre Great White Shark was photographed by two fisherman 7km off the coast of Altona. So, while rare, it is clear they do still occasionally frequent the waters of the bay.
In researching the podcast I used Trove and Newspapers.com to scour old newspaper reports of shark attacks. I made a list of the newspaper articles I used. You can find them here.
Credits: Narration and research by Eamonn Gunning
Music Track 1: elementary-wave-11 by ‘Erokia’ on Freesound.org
Music Track 2: ambient-level-location-sound by ‘Kickhat’ on Freesound.org
Music Track 3: sci-fisurvival-dreamscape by ‘Onderwish’ on Freesound.org
Music Track 4: creepy-background-noice-1-loopable by ‘Osiruswaltz’ on Freesound.org
Music Track 5: intro-electronic-loop by ‘Frankum” on Freesound.org
The tale of an escaped convict who lived in the bush for 32 years with the Wathuroung aboriginal people before the settlement of Melbourne.
In 1803, when the transportation of British convicts to Australia is at its height. An attempt is made to start a settlement in Port Phillip Bay at modern day Sorrento. The mission is doomed to failure because of a lack of an adequate water supply, but before it relocates to Van Diemen’s Land and starts the settlement of Hobart Town, a handful of convicts escape their captivity by fleeing into the bush. Among them is a 6ft 5, 23 year old, former soldier named William Buckley. With the nearest sign of civilization at the time being the convict colony at Sydney, more than 850 kilometres away and with no maps or supplies the men are given up for dead.
Later, when the settlement of Melbourne has just begun, and a basecamp for the settlement has been set up at Indented Head on the Bellarine Peninsula to await the return of supplies from Van Diemen’s Land, a stranger walks into the campsite. Whoever it is is a giant of a man. He has long white hair and a long white beard. He’s dressed in possum furs and carries two spears. It is William Buckley. He’s been away from civilization for so long he’s forgotten how to speak English.
This is 1835, he’s been living in the wild with the Wathaurong aboriginal people for 32 years
In researching this story I’m relying largely on the 1852 biography ghost written by John Morgan called The life and adventures of William Buckley : thirty-two years a wanderer amongst the aborigines of the then unexplored country round Port Phillip, now the province of Victoria. It is the longest and considered the most authoritative source of Buckley’s life. However, it differs in some key respects to some other much shorter, contemporary accounts of the time which I we will discuss at the appropriate time.. Others criticise Morgan’s account for over embellishing certain aspects of Buckley’s story, however, historians tend to agree that Morgan’s account, as it is written in Buckley’s own voice, is the most accurate account we have.
However, I will say it is impossible to know for sure the truth of all the events that occurred as we are reliant on the veracity of Buckley’s story and the integrity of Morgan to avoid using creative licence. Ultimately, I think it is up to the reader as to how much of the story they should take for fact. The account would certainly reads as controversial to modern eyes in some respects. Particularly in its representation of the constant warfare and violence between the aboriginal ‘tribes’. There are also a number of accounts of cannibalism detailed amongst them and certainly the way this is represented by Morgan is in a extremely patronising way as he clearly looks down on what he regards as the uncivilised nature of the aboriginal savages and comes across as racist to a modern reader.
William Buckley was born in 1780 in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England. He had two sisters and a brother and his parents were farmers. He was adopted by his mother’s father and at the age of 15 was apprenticed as a bricklayer to a Mr Robert Wyatt. Buckley clearly didn’t enjoy this lifestyle because at the age of 19 he ran away and joined the Cheshire Militia. He describes receiving a bounty of ten guineas for this and remembers thinking this amount of money would last him forever.
After a year, his money had exhausted and he volunteered in the King’s Own Regiment of Foot at Horsham in the south of England a long way from his native Cheshire. After only 6 weeks here his unit was ordered to to embark for war in Holland where the Duke of York was in battle against the French Republic. Buckley’s regiment under the command of the Earl of Chatham suffered heavy losses in this battle and Buckley’s hand was severely injured although he doesn’t detail how this injury occurred.
On returning to England Buckley received another bounty for extended service. His officers had a good opinion of him because of his height, he was six foot five, and his good conduct. But, soon afterwards he fell in with a bad crowd he had met in the regiment and was arrested for receiving false goods.
Buckley always maintained his innocence in this affair saying that a woman asked him to collect some items for her and then he was arrested by authorities for receiving stolen goods. He was found guilty in court and after this sentence he never heard from his family again.
As a prisoner he initially worked on fortifications being built at Woolwich, but as a mechanic he was identified as possibly being useful to a new penal colony that was to be set up at Port Phillip in what was then New South Wales.
Buckley saw this as an excellent opportunity to redeem his sullied name and so he embraced being sent for transportation to the other side of the world. This is noteworthy when you consider the hardships that often went hand in hand with a marine trek to the Antipodes.
A journey from England to what was called New Holland at the time took the best part of a year to complete and trips were arduous affairs that often involved the deaths of upwards of 10% of those who embarked.
This is not to mention the exceptional remoteness of the colony. The convicts were expected to build infrastructure when they arrived in a complete wilderness. This says a lot about Buckley’s character that he was willing to embrace his transportation in order to redeem himself.
On top of this, prisoners were often treated cruelly in a time when severe punishments were the rule. Lieutenant Colonel David Collins was chosen to lead the expedition and to be the governor of what was to be the first settlement in modern day Victoria. They set sail in two ships, the Calcutta and the Ocean.Buckley was treated well on the journey and spent most of the time helping out the crew.
When they arrived the ships anchored 2 miles within the heads at a place Collins named Sullivan Bay. This site was chosen as a penal settlement because it was over 600 miles from Sydney which meant escape would have been practically futile.
The marines and convicts landed and encamped and Buckley mentions how, while most of the convicts had to camp inside a line of sentinels, he and the other mechanics were permitted to camp outside it and were set to work on the first buildings of the settlement.
Life, though, was tough at the new settlement. There was no access to a reliable fresh water supply and the soil proved poor for growing crops. So, after 3 months of roughing it Buckley and 3 others decided to make an escape from their bondage. Buckley in 1852 freely admitted to the madness of this plan, as it involved walking to Sydney 600 miles to the north.
With no maps though and no idea which direction Sydney lay in, the attempt was utterly pointless and perhaps speaks of the desperation he felt at the time, especially considering the settlement was attempting to survive on brackish seawater. Buckley and his 3 companions had been entrusted with a gun to shoot kangaroo in the area they were working in.
One dark night they absconded with the gun, an iron kettle and as many supplies as they could take. They were spotted however, by a sentinel who shot at them, taking down one of Buckley’s companions. He never found out if this man survived as he never heard from him again.
In fear for their lives the 3 remaining men ran for 3 or 4 hours before stopping for a break. Not long after renewing their march they came to a river now known as Balcombe Creek in Mouth Martha.
At daylight they began to renew their trek when they encountered a party of natives. This was the first encounter Buckley had with any of the natives that we know about. He says he fired the gun in order to scare them off and they ran into the bush.
Buckley crossed first to test the depth and then helped the others across and went back for their clothes.
That night they reached to about 20 miles from the modern city of Melbourne and rested there until the morning when moved on again until they crossed the Yarra River a few hours later.
They crossed the river and continued their way up the Mornington Peninsula crossing the Yarra River the next day. After this, they headed away from the coast and travelled through vast plains until they reached the Yawang Hills (today knows as the You Yangs). Here they finished the last bit of bread and meat they had taken with them.
As they were incapable of finding any food Buckley told his friends they must return to the bay to find shellfish or they would die of starvation and they agreed so they returned to the coast after what Buckley called “a long and weary march.”
They were able to subsist off shellfish, travelling down the west coast of Port Phillip Bay through the areas of modern day Corio and Port Arlington. But, life was becoming a serious struggle. Water was hard to come by and the only thing they had to eat was shellfish and which caused the men to suffer from diarrhea.
By this stage the men had been gone for a few days. There were thirsty, tired, suffering from diarrhea and they had started seeing native huts dotted about the place.
The indigenous people who lived in the area at the time, known as the Wathaurong people, were a nomadic hunter-gatherer people much like the other Australian indigenous peoples. They would often build these temporary huts made from bark and tree branches and then they would abandon them or perhaps come back to them at a later date. So, these 3 European men were seeing these types of huts around the place, but they were not occupied.
Buckley and his companions must have felt great fear at the prospect of bumping into these tribes as they referred to them. The common early 19th century trope that was in the backs of their minds was that these were untamed savages who would eat them as soon as greet them, so it can be imagined that they were somewhat concerned about this inevitable meeting. But, apart from the meeting they had had on their second day from the settlement on the other side of the bay, in this area they were only encountering vacant huts.
The next day they reached an island the Wathaurong called Barwal, which is called Swan Island in modern parlance. Buckley mentions how they could reach the island during low tide. Even today if you look at Swan Island on Google Maps you’ll see that the island is separated from the mainland by a very narrow strait of water.
Melbourne sits on the Northern tip of a large bay, but the point of entry to the bay is a very narrow strait at the Southern end. The Calcutta had anchored just inside the Eastern head of the bay and so the 3 escapees had walked around the entire length of the bay from the eastern head to the western head a journey of well over a hundred and close to two hundred kilometres. From Swan Island which lies just inside the Western head of the bay they could actually see the Calcutta at anchor on the other side as the bay considerably narrows the closer to the Heads you get. So, these men were exhausted, dehydrated and hungry, and in their minds they were in danger of being captured and potentially eaten by roaming packs of savages.
Suddenly the prospect of returning to the settlement started to look appealing. Sure they might be punished, they might have their sentences lengthened, but at least they would have a roof over their heads and something to eat and drink, and didn’t have the threat of being cannibalised at any moment hanging over their heads.
Buckley relates what happened next:
“The perils we had already encountered damped the ardour of my companions, and it was anxiously wished by them that they could rejoin her (meaning the Calcutta), so we set about making signals, by lighting fires at night, and hoisting our shirts on trees and poles by day. At length a boat was seen to leave the ship and come in our direction, and although the dread of punishment was naturally great, yet the fear of starvation exceeded it, and they anxiously waited her arrival to deliver themselves up, indulging anticipations of being, after all the sufferings they had undergone, forgiven by the Governor. These expectations of relief were however delusive; when about half way across the bay, the boat returned, and all hope vanished. We remained in the same place, and living in the same way, six more days, signalizing all the time, but without success, so that my companions seeing no probable reply, gave themselves up to despair, and lamented bitterly their helpless situation.”
Buckley goes on to relate how at the end of the next day, his companions decided to retrace their steps round the bay and return to the settlement. He spells it out thus:
“To all their advice, and entreaties to accompany them, I turned a deaf ear, being determined to endure every kind of suffering rather than again surrender my liberty. After some time we separated, going in different directions. When I had parted from my companions, although I had preferred doing so, I was overwhelmed with the various feelings which oppressed me: it would be vain to attempt describing my sensations. I thought of the friends of my youth, the scenes of my boyhood, and early manhood, of the slavery of my punishment, of the liberty I had panted for, and which although now realized, after a fashion, made the heart sick, even at its enjoyment. I remember, I was here subjected to the most severe mental sufferings for several hours, and then pursued my solitary journey.”
Now you may be wondering at this point what Buckley was doing on the Western side of Port Phillip Bay considering he was trying to reach Sydney. The elder Buckley wonders this himself in 1853 and reflects at how futile the quest of his younger self was.
On the first day of his solitary wanderings one of Buckley’s greatest fears was realised in that he encountered a group of about 100 aborigines in and near some huts made of bark and branches and some of them made towards him. Fearing for his life, Buckley jumped into a river with his clothes on whilst carrying his firestick. Luckily the natives didn’t follow him into the river, but in quickly jumping into it all his clothes were drenched and he had no longer any means by which to start a fire to keep warm. He had to sleep on the bank of the river that night in wet clothes in early Spring, which must have been close to unbearable.
The next day he returned to the beach making sure he wasn’t seen by the natives. As it was low tide, he found lots of abalone which the natives called Kooderoo. He continued on up the coast, subsisting on what the Watharoung called Kooderoo, which we know as abalone, which was abundant in the area. He passed through the Karaaf River and the River that pass through modern day Torquay at the beginning of what is today the Great Ocean Road. Buckley was just travelling further into the wilderness.
Adding to Buckley’s suffering throughout this time was the fact that water was hard to come by. On top of this, when he ate the abalone it made him thirstier. He would have to rely on the dew that collected on the branches in order to survive. If we look at the direction Buckley was travelling in at this point we will see that he was actually going in the opposite direction of Sydney, his supposed destination. Sometimes he would spot the abandoned huts of the natives. At others he would see wild dingoes and their howlings haunted him at night.
He continued travelling along the coastline in a South-Westerly direction passing through the areas of modern day Angelsea and Airey’s Inlet. Luckily he found the natives had been burning the bush here and managed to procure a firestick for himself. At this location he also found a native well, some berries in bushes and a great supply of shellfish which he was able to cook on his new fire. Buckley talks of giving up great thanks to God for this because he had been growing weak all the time due to the conditions he had been living under.
He continued on down the coast and two days later came to Mt. Defiance which the natives called Nooraki. Here he decided to settle down for a while as his body had begun to break out in strange sores, probably as a result from suffering from scurvy from malnutrition. He created a more permanent shelter and found some edible plants nearby that could sustain him and stayed in the area for a few months.