The following map displays the location of the main events that occurred throughout the Mr Cruel case. We recommend not using a smart phone when viewing it, in order to fully appreciate its scope. The map tags the locations (approximate or exact) of the 10 attacks that have been atrributed at one point or another to the amorphous character known as Mr Cruel. Also, tagged are other important events that are of interest to this case. For example, the approximate residential locations of the seven main suspects. The places where abduction victims were dumped. Other locations somehow related to the attacks (eg., the location where Karmein Chan’s remains were found) are also included. Also contained within is the location of a number of electrical substations and their proximity to certain crime scenes as first mapped by Melbourne Marvels in 2019.
In March 2022, the Nine Network and their guest Mike King falsely claimed on their program Under Investigation Australia that the locations of these substations were determined using a fancy new technology called GIS. In fact, Melbourne Marvels was the first to map these locations by trawling through copies of old Melway street directories. This task was achieved back in late 2020 a full year and a half before Mike King plagiarised it and claimed to be the first to map the locations of the substations to the crime scenes in question on the Under Investigation program in March 2022. This map and any theories contained within is the exlusive intellectual property of Melbourne Marvels. Anyone wishing to use knowledge contained therein must cite Melbourne Marvels as the creator of this map.
To use the map properly click on the ‘View in larger screen’ icon in the top right hand corner, and then zoom in on the map using your mouse wheel. You can do this to find your desired location. You will see a menu of options on the left hand side which divides the key events by type. You can also click on any of the icons on the map to get more information about that particular event.
On 8 April 2016 Keith Moor wrote an article for the Herald Sun to mark the 25th anniversary of the disappearance of Karmein Chan. In the article, Moor claimed to have recently received previously secret information about seven suspects that police had been unable to eliminate from their investigation into the identity of Mr Cruel. According to Moor, when Operation Spectrum had wrapped up without identifying Mr Cruel in 1994, the detectives had provided a dossier on the seven suspects named the Sierra Files. In the case that another child was abducted, Victoria Police were to arrest all seven suspects and interrogate them.
None of the suspects in the Herald Sun article were named, but Moor did give some details about each of them, such as their age and the suburb they lived in at the time of the Karmein Chan abduction and suggested that all seven had the propensity to commit the types of crimes Mr Cruel was accused of. Nevertheless, within 5 days the Nine Network had named suspect #1 on the list, albeit incorrectly.
On 13 April 2016 A Current Affair ran a story by Reid Butler in which they claimed “Brian Enkler” was among the suspects that could not be ruled out by detectives. Only, they had named the man incorrectly, his real name is Brian “Elkner”. The program included a typical ACA scene in which Elkner is assailed leaving a residence and getting into a vehicle. It has been suggested by commentators that the scene in question is located at Elkner’s Thornbury residence, but this is not the case. While this ACA video is no longer accessible online, to this day, the written account of this article is still accessible on the ninenews.com.au website, still with the misspelling of Elkner’s name.
Elkner had been a strong suspect in the Mr Cruel case because of a series of sex attacks he had committed on teenage girls in the 1970s. In the years since Nine News revealed his identity, a number of online writers and sleuths have revealed more about these crimes. But, what of the six other suspects mentioned in the 8 April 2016 Herald Sun article? Until recently, Melbourne Marvels has been unsuccessful in attempting to uncover some of the identities of these other men.
Was paedophile Christopher Michael Crowther Suspect 7 of the Sierra Files?
According to Keith Moor, Suspect 7 of the Sierra Files was living in Glen Iris at the time of the Karmein Chan abduction. Moor’s article further stated that it was unclear if this suspect was still alive in 2016, but if so, he would have been 67 years old, suggesting this suspect was born in either 1948 or 1949. According to Moor, suspect 7 wasn’t on social media, on the electoral roll or in the telephone directory in 2016. Was this information referring to convicted paedophile Christopher Michael Crowther? Melbourne Marvels does not claim it was, nor do we claim Crowther was a suspect, but let us take a look at his criminal history to see what type of offender he was.
“Paedophile jailed for 16 years”
On 5 September 1992, The Age published an article titled Paedophile jailed for 16 years. Christopher Michael Crowther had “stalked and attacked six children aged four to seven”. He had been jailed by Judge Barnett in the Country Court. The article stated that Crowther was 44 years old and had lived in High Street, Glen Iris before his arrest. He had earlier been “found guilty of five counts of child stealing, four of indecent assault and two of penetration of a child under 10”. The article also reported that he had, just the day before, pleaded guilty to another count each of child stealing and indecent assault.
Immediately we can see that at 44 years of age in 1992, Crowther’s age matches that of Suspect 7 and so does his place of residence (Glen Iris) at the time of the Karmein Chan abduction. But, we should tread carefully here before declaring we know the identity of Suspect 7.
“The judge set a minimum of 13 years for Crowther”.
An article about Crowther’s conviction was also published in The Hearld Sun the same day titled Pedophile ‘relished publicity’, written by Christine Giles. It stated that Crowther was to serve a minimum term of 13 years and gave more details about the court case. It stated Crowther had been in police custody since January 1991, meaning it would have been impossible for him to have committed the abduction and murder of Karmein Chan. This is significant as, if Crowther was Suspect 7 in the Sierra Files, it would seem to indicate that the police were considering the possiblility that the murderer of Karmein Chan was not the same person who had abducted Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas and who had attacked the girl in Lower Plenty.
The article also referred to the fact that Crowther had volunteered to appear on an episode of 60 Minutes in 1983 as a “reformed pedophile”. The judge in the trial, “Judge Barnett”, had stated that the appearance on the TV show in 1983, and a later appearance on Day by Day in 1986 seemed to reflect the fact that Crowther had relished in the publicity of his crimes.
A long history of ‘child stealing’
An article for The Age by Antony Catalano titled Man faces 71 sex charges was published on 15 January 1991, just 3 months before Karmein Chan’s abduction. The article stated that Crowther was charged with rape, child stealing, abduction, gross indecency and indecent assault against 14 girls “as young as three”. This means that he must not have been convicted of the majority of the charges he faced, as we know from the later article he was only found guilty of attacks on six children aged between four and seven.
The article went on to describe Crowther’s long history of offending dating back to 1972 “when he was convicted on charges of willful and obscene exposure” and was convicted of child stealing in 1974 and abduction in 1981.
“A very twisted and dangerous personality”.
On 1 January 1983 an article was published in The Age titled Man who attacked two girls, twisted, dangerous, say police. The article included a photofit of a bearded man and described an attack on two girls in Box Hill in which a six year-old girl had been raped and a seven year-old had been molested. While we haven’t seen it stated that Crowther was ever convicted of this crime, the modus operandi and photofit are extremely similar to some of the crimes that he was later convicted of. The striking similarity being that the perpetrator first stopped his car to ask the young girls for directions and then invited them into his vehicle before he sexually assaulted them. Melbourne Marvels does not claim that Christopher Michael Crowther committed this crime.
“A man lured the little girl into a lavatory block”.
On 3 April 1985 an article was published in the local newspaper The Advertiser titled Police seek information. It described the indecent assault of a six year-old girl in Dendy Park, Brighton. “The incident happened at 3:30pm when the man lured the little girl into a lavatory block and indecently assaulted the little girl.” Again, we cannot confirm that this crime was committed by Crowther, but the MO is extremely similar, the victim is of a similar age to late victims, the offender took her into a public toilet as was alleged Crowther did in a later crime, and we know he was later convicted of this type of crime in this area from attacks in 1985 and 1986.
“The seven year-old was abducted from Black Rock and taken to a park”
In November 1986 there was a media frenzy as a bearded man in a car was abducting girls in Bayside suburbs before sexually assaulting them. On 7 November an article for The Age by Michael Cave titled 14 child sex attacks by same man, say police. The article included a map showing the locations where the 14 attacks had occurred. The most recent attack concerned that of a seven year-old girl who had been abducted by a bearded man on 5 November in Black Rock. The girl had been walking along Iona Street with a friend when the man drove up to the pair in a Ford Cortina station wagon before asking for directions. The girl got into the car because she “thought he was a nice man”. She was then driven to Riviera Park in Seaford where she was “indecently assaulted and raped”. The article also stated that the 14 girls in total who had been attacked were aged between 3 and 14 years old, but it is possible that the 14 year old included here was actually the Hampton Mr Cruel victim in February 1985 discussed elsewhere in this blog as Crowther was later convicted of attacks on children no older than seven years of age.
“She was crying and yelling and came running up to me with herarms in the air”
A similar article by Mark Davies was published in The Sun the same day. The article went into even more detail about some of the attacks, including an interview with Paul Cowan, the 16-year-old boy who had found the 7-year-old victim in Seaford before contacting the police. One slight contradiction with that of The Age article was that it stated the oldest of the 14 victims was 11-years-old, while The Age article had said the oldest was 14-years-old. The Sun article included more details about some of the other attacks in Caulfield, Sandringham and Mentone.
“A 16 year-old boy found the girl screaming”
Then on 12 November The Advertiser published an article about the same attack and some similar ones titled Abductions bring police warnings. The article stated that “3 girls aged between five and seven years have been lured into station wagons over the past five weeks”. It went on: “another attempt was foiled when two girls in Sandringham were approached but ran off”. It gave additional details about the attack in which the seven year-old girl was taken to Seaford stating “a 16 year-old boy found the girl screaming”.
“Certain matters led police to believe that Mr Crowther had been involved”
Understandably these attacks created a great deal of panic in the community and when an article in The Hampton Bugle was published on 13 November titled Child builds picture of suspect in sex attacks case with a photofit of the same bearded man, there was plenty of discussion in society about who the perpetrator was. It seems that in the same week an a current affairs television program named Day by Day was aired which discussed the attacks. Years later it would be revealed that Christopher Michael Crowther telephoned a producer of the program that week and “had discussed certain matters that led police to believe that Mr Crowther had been involved” (TV call led to 81 child sex charges, Johnson, Philip, The Age, 17 July 1991).
“Displayed a knowledge of the rape of a 7-year-old girl at Seaford that only somebody close to the case would know”.
An article on the same day in The Herald Sun titled Caller gave raped details, court told gave a few more details on Crowther’s 1986 telephone call to the producer of Day by Day that had marked him as a person of interest. It stated that 3 people who knew Crowther had identified his voice from a tape recording of the telephone call
“Goody, goody, goody, because tonight he’s on the prowl again”
In fact, years later when Crowther was convicted, it was also revealed that he had telephoned police after the attack on the Black Rock girl in November 1986. When the police told him they had not got far in their investigations he had replied “goody, goody, goody, because he’s on the prowl again tonight” (The Canberra Times, 5 September 1992). “The transcript of the recording made chilling reading Judge Barnett said, commenting that Crowther appeared to be basking in a state of sexual excitement during the call”.
“Hampton police questioned a 38 year-old South Yarra man”
It appears the police did question Crowther over the rapes in December 1986 soon after his telephone call to the television producer had identified him as a person of interest. However, he was released and was not to be rearrested for over 4 years.
“He had a beard, huge muscular arms and scruffy shirt and jeans”
On 22 December 2013 an article by Chris Johnston titled Melbourne mother Tracey Levey on finding peace after childhood abuse, was published in The Age. It detailed the story of a victim, now an adult woman, who had been picked up by a man in a car in 1979 in Glen Huntly before being assaulted by him. This victim’s memory of this event, which occurred when she was just 5 years old, had recently resurfaced after reading an article about the suicide of sex offender Robert Keith Knight. She had wondered whether Knight had been the man responsible for her own attack. The police had revealed however, that they believed the man responsible for her attack was another man an “even more notorious Melbourne paedophile who would later face 80 charges of sex offences against children over a period of 12 years. When this man was arrested in 1991 a rocking horse and photographs were seized from his home. He was jailed, and then died of a heart attack upon release”. The police had refused to name the offender because his involvement in this attack had not been “conclusively proved”. “But he is almost certainly responsible” Johnston’s article went on.
The article continued: “photographs taken by The Age when this man was finally arrested show him to be bigger and taller than the policeman arresting him. He had a beard, huge muscular arms and scruffy shirt and jeans. The man had an occupation where he had access to a number of vehicles, so at any given stage he may have been driving a vehicle he was not the owner of.” Melbourne Marvels does not claim that the man mentioned in this article is Christopher Michael Crowther.
It should be noted that Crowther was arrested in January 1991 and charged for crimes committed between 1979 and 1987. This arrest occurred 3 months before Karmein Chan’s abduction. Melbourne Marvels has been informed by a source who claims that he was in custody on remand at the time of the abduction and therefore could not have been reponsible for it.
Update: Melbourne Marvels has recently been informed by a source that Crowther was released from prison not long after his conviction in 1992. This person claimed that he only spent a couple of years in jail after he was convicted, but that he had appealed the sentence and it was significantly reduced.This person believes he was released from prison in 1993. Melbourne Marvels has not been able to confirm whether this is true as yet.
We have reason to understand that Christopher Michael Crowther died in 2003 at the age of 55. In his article on the Sierra Files, Keith Moor noted that he was unsure whether Suspect 7 had already died, but that there was no record of him on the electoral roll, and his death could have been a reason for this.
In conclusion, we cannot say conclusively that Crowther is Suspect 7 from the Sierra Files, but we do know that he had been living in Glen Iris a few months before the Karmein Chan abduction, his age is extremely close to the age profile given for suspect 7 as he was born in 1948 (although he would have been 67 at the time of the abduction), and was dead when the existence of the Sierra Files was revealed by The Herald Sun in 2016. Therefore, he seems to be a very close match with Suspect 7, but it is not conclusive.
However, even if he is Suspect 7, all this really means is that he could not be ruled out as being Mr Cruel by the Spectrum Taskforce. It is another thing completely to seriously consider him as being Mr Cruel. There are major differences between his MO and that of Mr Cruel’s considering he didn’t wear a balaclava during his attacks, abducted children off the street, and all his victims seem to have been aged between four and seven years of age.
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.
Many people who have studied the Mr Cruel case cannot help but notice the seeming correlation between significant events and electricity transmission lines, electricity substations or electricity terminal stations. I first came across this theory on the Mr Cruel subreddit on Reddit in 2019. I then researched it a bit more and strongly felt that it was a lead worth investigating. In Ferbruary of 2021 I was contacted by a researcher who had independently investigated the same theory in 2014. This person wishes to remain anonymous, but I will refer to him in this post as Clinton Bailey. Bailey has written a manuscript about Mr Cruel and has passed on a copy to me. Over the coming weeks I intend to publish certain chapters from this manscript, the first of which I am publishing today.
It should be pointed out that Bailey is not an electrician and is by no means an expert in this field. However, he did research the topic extensively over the course of a year for his manscript.
NB: I have had to scan the document and upload as image files because the original formatting of the diagrams contained on the file is not compatiable with this blog.
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.
“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 it as “expertly tied using knots commonly used by sailors and and those familiar with using rope to secure loads”).
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 convicted of this 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.
Today’s episode is the final instalment of a 4 part series on the escaped convict Wlliam Buckley who lived with the Wathaourong aboriginal people for 32 years between 1803 and 1835. It covers the last few years of his life living with the Wathaurong aboriginal people and what became of him after re-contact with British society.
When we last left Buckley he was living alone at a place called Mangahawnz. He had set up a hut here by himself in order to avoid the incessant internecine violence between the different aboriginal mobs. After a few months here Buckley left and made a sturdier hut at the Karaaf River because the area was amply supplied with edible roots. While the area also contained plenty of kangaroo, he was unable to catch any because he had no dog with which to hunt them. Soon a new winter set in and Buckley, exposed to the elements suffered badly from the cold and wet climate. One day, he noticed a large school of bream swim up the river from the sea. He followed along and noticed when they turned around. Buckley decided to run down river and construct a trap made from branches and faggots to catch them before they arrived. To his delight the plan worked and he caught a large number of the bream. He had enough fish to last him for a few days, so he dried them in the sun on top of his hut roof.
One day a group of aborginal people arrived, two men, two women and some children. They were old friends of Buckley’s from his former mob and, though he had sworn to live alone only months previously, he was delighted to see his former kin. They arrived just after he had caught the fish and Buckley happily shared it with them while they were keen for he to share in their kangaroo meat. They set up their huts near Buckley’s and he was delighted to have their company. As they days passed it was seen that Buckley’s fishing traps were highly successful and so it was decided that the rest of the mob, who were in another location, should be fetched in order to share in the abundance of food. Despite formerly having sworn off living in a group, it seemed Buckley had relented to the good company of his kin and was in fact relieved to be living in a group setting once again. During this time Buckley told the mob about his loss at murder of his brother-in-law and other family members and on hearing this the group vowed vengence.
Eventually the supply of fish in the river diminished and the mob decided to move on to another location where many kangaroo and also the wombat, known in the Wathaurong language as Norngor, could be found. At this point in the book Buckley gives a fascinating insight into how the wombat were hunted, which he relates thus:
“The wombats are killed in the following way. A small child is sent crawling backwards into the wombat’s burrows 20 feet long and from 10-20 deep. When the child touches the animal he or she bangs on the ground overhead and calls as loud as they can. The tribe are listening from above with their ears to the ground and then dig all the way down before they kill them. It involves a lot of work though so the natives are not very fond of this and there is usually only one animal in the burrow unless it has young.”
Buckley’s mob stayed in these hunting grounds for a long time and were eventually joined by two other groups of people who he says were called the Putnaroo and the Warwaroo, with the Warwaroo having travelled along distance to reach the area from the other side of the bay. It should be noted here that I cannot find any reference to these names in modern day. The groups on the other side of the bay would today either be called the Boonwurrung or the Wurundjeri. It is possible that Morgan simply mistranscribed these Kulin nation tribes or that Buckley’s pronunciation left something to be desired when he told Morgan of them. It is possible that Putnaroo refers to Boonwurrung who lived south of the Yarra River and in the area now called the Mornington Peninsula. It is also possible the Warwaroo were the Wurundjeri who are also known as the Woiwurrung and lived north of the Yarra River. Either way, with the presence of these two new groups in the area, it wasn’t long before the internecine violence started up again. One day, a man from the Putnaroo killed a 20 year old man from Buckley’s mob because a woman he desired had been promised to the victim in marriage. As the Buckley’s mob were outnumbered by the Putnaroo, they did not at first seek vengeance. Instead, Buckley was asked to travel to another area in order to inform the father of the slain man about the tragic news. When the father heard about his son’s murder he gathered up a large group of men and they all ochred up with clay to form a raiding party. When they arrived back at the area in question, the Putnaroo, who were now outnumbered themselves, fled in fear. What happened next though is incredibly interesting and so I will relate it in the way it was written in Morgan’s book:
“We now took up our quarters at a place they called Nullemungobeed, situated in the centre of a very extensive plain, with wells of good water handy. When we had settled ourselves down there, some of the men went to the sport where we had left the young man’s remains hanging in the tree, and brought away the lower part of the body, leaving the upper quarters and head where they found it suspended. The usual uproar commenced amongst the women on the arrival of the part of the corpse, lamentation succeeding lamentation, burning with fire-sticks, and all the rest of it, until at length the mangled remains were roasted between heated stones, shared out, and greedily devoured by these savages. Again I was pressed to join in this horrid repast; but I hope I need not say, that I refused, with indignation and disgust. Strange as all these cannibal ceremonies may appear, it is proper to explain, that many are performed out of what they consider respect for the deceased; the cap bones of whose knees, in this instance, after being carefully cleaned, were tied up in a sort of net of hair and twisted bark. Under such circumstances, these relics are carried by the mothers, tied round their necks by day, and placed under their heads by night, as affectionate remembrance of the dead”.
I think it is at this point it is worth remembering the influence Morgan had on the description of some of the events in this book. Buckley was illiterate and Morgan was writing the book as a means of gaining income for the two of them. Some have speculated that the so-called disgust expressed by the Buckley character expressed here was more about Morgan’s attempt to try to present Buckley as a “civilized” man during the Victorian era when civilization was the highest aspiration any man could hope to strive for. Buckley always treated his aboriginal kin with the utmost respect and left Port Phillip in disgust years later when he saw how they were being treated in the colony. I think it is more likely that Buckley left the mob on this occasion because he didn’t like the incessant violence than because of some notion of disgust at the cannibalism that occurred. Nonetheless, this is what Morgan will has us believe Buckley did next, returning to his abode on the Karaaf River, trapping fish as he had done previously.
Once again however, he was joined some months later by some friendly former kin, who encamped near by. It was here and at this time that Buckley was married and he details the entire affair thus:
“And now, reader, I come to a very important period of my life, which was a decision arrived at by my friends that I should take unto myself a wife. I was not in any way consulted, being considered a sort of instrument in their hands to do with as they might think proper. – My wife was a young widow, about twenty years of age, tolerably good-looking, after a fashion, and apparently very mild tempered. The marriage feast, the ring, the fees for the ceremony, the bride’s dress, my own, and all the rest of it, did not cost much. I was not obliged to run in debt, or fork out every shilling or pay fifty per cent. For discounting a bill to pay the piper – nothing of the kind; so I took her to myself, to my turf and bark hunting and fishing hut, on the banks of the Karaaf River. – I should here mention, that although previously married, my wife did not present me on the day of our union, with any tender little remembrances of her first husband, my predecessor in her affections. Affections! – we shall see more about that presently; but, perhaps I may as well say at once, that my dearly beloved played me most abominably false, for at the end of our honeymoon, (perhaps it might have been a few months after that moon had gone down,) one eveing when we were alone in our hut, enjoying our domestic felicity, several men came in, and took her away from me by force; she, however, going very willingly. The next day – as I had no Supreme Court to go to for damages – I went over to the tribe the intruders belonged to, and told them how I had been treated. I confess I did not make a very great fuss about my loss – if it was one – but endeavoured to whistle it down the wind gaily. Several of the friendly natives were anxious I should take the usual revenge upon her and the man she had left me to live with, but I refused, and in the end, she was speared by another man, with whom she had been coquetting, and to whom she had also played falsely. Mixed up by relationship, as all these parties were, after a great number of altercations about her having run away from me, and the circumstances of her death, there was another fight, in which many heads were broken. I however, took no part in these, excepting assuming the defensive, and threatening them with punishment if they interfered with me, being now, and having been for a long time past, quite as expert as any of them with the spear, and boomerang. After a great deal of talk and noise, all became reconciled, and there was another Corrobborree on a large scale.”
At this stage Buckley says how he had adopted two children – a little blind boy and a girl, orphans supposedly of his late brother-in-law. I have seen it suggested that these were possibly his own children, but Morgan may have changed this in his book in order to avoid the scandal that that would have inevitably created in the Victorian era, but for now I think I will take the book at face value and refer to them as his adopted children. It seems the two were very attached Buckley and went everywhere with him, including when he hunted. It seems the two were extremely traumatised from having witnessed their biological father’s murder, and Buckley endeavoured to keep the away from strange men from other mobs in order to protect them, especially since the blind boy had no way of protecting himself should they be attacked. They eventually settled back at his old hut at the Karaaf River, which had been left just as it was months before.
Not long after this a 20 year old man from another group started staying with Buckley’s and his adopted children at the location of his hut on the Karaaf River. However, after a few days the young man became ill and died, despite Buckley’s best efforts to care for him. Buckley and the children left soon afterwards and soon came into contact with the man’s mob. Buckley tried to explain to the strangers what had happened to the man, but they didn’t believe him. When they learnt that the young blind boy had been with the man when he came down with illness it was clear that they suspected his involvement in the death of their kinsman. The mob forced the young boy away from Buckley and to his great sadness killed him. Despite this, Buckley managed to escape with the young girl. Buckley was deeply saddened by the loss of the blind boy, who he had loved very much. He now endeavoured to do all he could to protect the girl from coming to the same fate.
As they travelled they came into contact with a mob one of whom had been previously promised in marriage to the young girl. Buckley explained to them about the untimely demise of the beloved blind boy and the immediately vowed vengeance. Some of the men set off to attack the other mob and returned later having killed 2 or 3 of the mob’s children.
Buckley stayed with his new mob for a short time before once again returning to his quarters at the Karaaf River, this time with the young girl, the boy to whom she had been promised in marriage and 2 or 3 other families from the mob.
After some months there, Buckley decided to leave the girl with the man to whom she had been promised in marriage and another wife the man had with him, despite the man’s insistence that the girl remain with Buckley for longer. Buckley then left alone hoping to avoid the internecine violence that once again that was so common amongst the different groups of aboriginal mobs.
It seems that Buckley suffered very greatly during this time at the trauma of having lost the blind boy which he relates thus:
“Although I had parted with the girl from prudential motives, I lamented very bitterly the savage death of her brother, my poor blind boy, for whom I had acquired a great affection; and who, on his part, had so many hundred times clung to me for shelter and protection.”
One day he was joined by a woman who had run away from her mob who were warring with another mob. She stayed with Buckley a long time, and during this time he was able to provide an ample amount of food for himself and his new companion including what the Wathaurong called a Koorman or seal. Buckley goes on to mention how his new girlfriend particularly enjoyed this meal:
“We found the flesh very good eating, and my female friend enjoyed the repast with great gusto: greasing herself all over with the fat, after we had made the most of the carcass, which might well be compared to bacon.”
It seems Buckley then spent a number of cold winter months travelling about with the woman, staying mainly in caves along the coast. Eventually though the woman returned to her own mob.
Buckley discusses the linguistic differences between the languages of the different tribes. He mentions how while he understood his own mob perfectly, there were others he could not understand. He talks about having once met a man from the Murray River and not only he, but none of the others could understand him. He then uses this fact to make a point about the importance of understanding aboriginal people in matters of law before the courts. It seems he thought it important that they were treated justly in court matters and that in order to achieve this they must be understood correctly by translators.
However, he then goes on to inform the reader on the barbarity of one particular tribe:
“I had almost forgotten to say, that in my wanderings about, I met with the Pallidurgbarrans, a tribe notorious for their cannibal practices; not only eating human flesh greedily after a fight, but on all occasions when it was possible. They appeared to be the nearest approoach to the brute creation of any I had ever seen or heard of; and, in consequence, they were very much dreaded. Their colour was light copper, their bodies having tremendously large and protruding belleis. Huts, or artificial places for shelter, were unknown to them, it being their custom to lay about in the scrub, anyhow and anywhere. The women appeared to be most unnaturally ferocious – children being their most valued sacrifice. Their brutality at length became so harrassing, and their assaults so frequent, that it was resolved to set fire to the bush where they had sheltered themselves, and so annihliate them, one and all, by suffocation. This, in part, succeeded, for I saw no more of them in my time. The belief is, that the last of the race was turned into a stone, or rock, at a place where a figure was found resembling a man, and exceedingly well executed; probably the figure-head of some unfortunate ship.”
One day Buckley was minding his own business when three aboriginal men approached him, one with a flag draped over his shoulders. When he questioned the man as to where he had procured it, the man told him a story of a ship that was anchored in Port Phillip Bay near Indented Heads. The men had watched it and when a rowing boat left the ship to explore the land the aboriginal men had swam towards and climbed upon the ship. Morgan, with his cultural superiority, makes this incident sound like a crime, declaring that the aboriginal men “purloined” the flag along with several other items, while the white men were gone, and calls it a “marauding excursion”. Apparently, when the crew returned they fired their muskets in the direction of the aboriginal men, but were too far away to injure them. They then moved the ship further into the bay. It is then claimed that the aboriginal men instructed Buckley to try to entice the men onto shore so that they and their plunder could be captured, but he warned them against this action for their own safety.
Soon afterwards Buckley himself saw the vessel in the bay, still at anchor and became extremely excited at the prospect contact with his people after 32 years living in the wild. Buckley approached they area near were the men were camped but discovered that he had no way to communicate with them because he had forgotten all his English from having not used it for so long. Apparently, Buckley spent several hours trying to signal to the men, but could not speak so was unable to communicate who he was and looking as he did from a distance with a long beard and hair and naked apart from possum furs the men simply dismissed him as a native.
In his frustration Buckley looked for some around the area where the men had been to see if they had left anything useful. He found a mound of earth and on uncovering the top layers accidentally uncovered the grave of a deceased white man wrapped in a blanket. He thought about taking the blanket because it was extremely cold, but decided not to out of respect for the dead man.
The vessel continued to anchor in the area for sometime afterward, but Buckley could never communicate with them successfully. The aboriginal people there told him that previously another vessel had anchored in the same area and landed and taken 2 men ashore, bound them up and shot them leaving their bodies there. A few months later Buckley found a large boat stranded on the beach. Buckley found someone had used blankets as a sail on this boat and there were oars. He fancied some men had used the boat having been cast away, perhaps whalers. Buckley dried the blankets on the boat and then saw a fire in the distance. Went to fire and found natives cooking and eating fish. They were overjoyed to see the blankets so, Buckley divided them up as best he could to avoid prevent bickering over the prized possessions. Buckley was then told by this aboriginal group, two white men had emerged from the area 2 days previously suffering terribly from exposure. The mob had helped the men, and the white men often pointed back towards the direcetion of the boat as if trying to explain that some terrible accident had happened. After being fed on fish for a couple of days the men soon recovered. The aborigines tried to make the men aware that a white man, meaning Buckley, lived among them, but the men could not cunderstand them and went away soon after towards the Yawang Plains. Some months later, Buckley heard that the same men were murdered by the Waiwaioo while crossing the Yarra River. Buckley grieved very much at this, because if he had arrived earlier, he thinks he could have saved them.
Several months later Buckley found a large barrel or hogshead washed up on the beach. It contained an alcoholic beverage, but Buckley couldn’t tell what it was because it had been so long since he had had any drink except water, and tasted and smelt horrible to him. Buckley decided to cut off the iron handles and divide them amongst the aborigines. This act gave him even more influence with the mob as a result. He spilt the contents of the barrell first to prevent disputes amongst the tribes. Soon afterwards,several families returned to their previous camping places and proceeded to a lake called Jerringot, one of a group in that area that feeds the Barwon River. There were a number of sightings of the mythical monster known as the bunyip here and the aboriginal people had a great fear of them, believing them to be some kind of omen of death and disease. Buckley said he tried to spear a Bunyip several times when alone and it was lucky the mob didn’t see it because they had great fear of said animal and were superstitious about it so that they might have killed him as punishment. He cites a story the natives told of an aboriginal woman being killed by one.
One day, two men approached Buckley with spears held up high with coloured handkerchiefs attached to them. They were trying to attract Buckley’s attention and it was clear they had been in contact with white people. The men explained they had met with 3 white and 6 black men that they had never seen before. Buckley asked if they had a boat and the men explained they had arrived in a Kooyong (ship), that had since left, leaving the men. The latter had erected two white houses, and had plenty of provisions, including blankets, tomahawks etc. These two native men asked if they could have tomahawks and were refused, although apparentlt the civilised men had given gifts of knives and scissors to a local tribe in the Indented Heads area. The two native men said they were leaving to find another tribe so they could return to murder the white men more easily so they could get the possessions.
Buckley worried as to how he could inform the strangers of their perilous situation without appearing to be betraying the natives. He was also aware of having forgotten his native language and the difficulty this would present in solving this problem. The two men left to find their friends and Buckley decided to journey to the whereabouts of the strangers.
At the location Buckley found a camp with a British flag flying from a pole Overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and remembering he had absconded from the sentence imposed upon him Buckey worried about what sentence might be imposed on him if he were to return to civilization. Suddenly a white man got up with a bucket and walked towards a nearby well and Buckley followed him. The following is what transpired thereafter:
“From the well I had a good view of all about me, and observed that the natives had pitched their tents near those of the white men – the former being seated round their fires, evidently in great excitement. Presently some of the natives saw me, and turning round, pointed me out to one of the white people; and seeing they had done so, I walked away from the well, up to their place, and seated myself there, having my spears and other war and hunting implements between my legs. The white men could not make me out – my half-cast colour, and extraordinary height and figure – dressed, or rather undressed, as I was – completely confounding them as to my real character. At length one of them came up and asked me some questions which I could not understand; but when he offered me bread – calling it by its name – a cloud appeared to pass from over my brain, and I soon repeated that, and other English words after him. Somehow or other I soon made myself understood to them as not being a native born, and so the white men took me to their tents, and clothed me, giving me biscuit, tea, and meat; and they were, indeed, all very kind in every way. My sensations that night I cannot describe, and before I closed my eyes I offered p to God fervent prayers of thankfulness for my deliverance; for although I saw great danger to the new comers, in consequence of their weakness in numbers, compared with the strength which could be brought against them, yet I thought it certain they had resources in reserve, which might be made available, even if the first party was doomed to be sacrificed.”
While Buckley was still not able to communicate effectively he showed the men a tattoo of his initials WB, which he had decades before had written on his arm. The men took pity on him, fancying him for a shipwrecked castaway and treated him with great care. Slowly he started to understand more and more of what they were saying and he was able to understand that they men had designs on staying in the area and settling the country. He goes on:
“They had seen several of the native chiefs, with whom – as they said they had exchanged all sorts of things for land; but that I knew could not have been, because, unlike other savage communities, or people, they have no chiefs claiming or possessing any superior right over the soil: theirs only being as the heads of families. I also knew that if any transactions had taken place, it must have been because the natives knew nothing of the value of the country, except as hunting grounds, supplying them with the means of present existence. I therefore looked upon the land dealing spoken of, as another hoax of the white man, to possess the inheritance of the uncivilized natives of the forest, whose tread on the vast Australian continent will very soon be no more heard, and whose crimes and sorrows are fast fading away amongst other recollections of the past.“
The men informed Buckley that the ship which had landed them in the area would be returning from Launceston in the coming days, carrying many more people and supplies.
Soon afterwards the large group of men arrived and camped in the area as Buckley had feared and he now tried to think of a way to prevent a massacre. Indeed, the aboriginal men informed Buckley that they would soon attack them and that if he did not participate he would also be killed. To this threat, Buckley cleverly pretended to be on the side of the aborigines, but he urged them to postpone their attack for a few days until the ship arrived with more supplies to plunder. However, when the ship had not come for a couple of days the aboriginal men grew impatient and informed Buckley they wished to attack imminently. At this, Buckley informed the white men to be on guard for an attack, which he had not done previously, and armed himself with a gun which he used to threaten the aboriginal men if any of them killed on of his white peers. He pacified them with the promise of presents from the ship when it did arrive.
The aborginal men accepted this and busied themselves with hunting and fishing while they waited for the ship. The next day Buckley spotted the vessel on the bay and he informed both the white men and the aboriginal men who were extremely excited with the prospect of provisions.
The ship anchored and on it was John Batman, the founder of Melbourne himself and he was accompanied by John Wedge the surveyor and explorer. A little background of these two men. John Batman had set up the Port Phillip Association, a group of Launceston businessmen and prospectors who had already set up camp near the mouth of the Yarra River in order to form a settlement. Batman had controversially ‘acquired’ land from the local aboriginal people who as Buckley had suspected were tricked into the agreement. Batman had since returned to Launceston to fetch his wife and more supplies. He had had some of his men set up a camp at Indented Heads as a stopover point. Not only was Batman’s new settlement controversial for duping the local aborigines, he had failed to gain permission for the settlement from the governor of New South Wales and the Port Phillip settlement was, according to the British Crown at least, part of the colony of New South Wales at the time. John Wedge was to aid Batman in surveying the land which he claimed to have purchased from the aborigines.
The two men came ashore from the main vessel in a small rowing boat and when they landed they were shocked to see Buckley, the giant wild white man, as he was. Batman asked him many questions and Buckley informed him that he had arrived on a ship, as he thought, about 20 years previously. Remember it was actually 32 years since Buckley had absconded from the Settlement at Sullivan’s Cove. Buckley then tried to impress on Batman the importance of providing the aboriginal men with gifts, since they had been waiting for them so patiently for the past few days. Batman was happy to concur and had bags of bread and biscuits passed out among them. That night the aboriginal men had a corroboree which delighted the visitors.
At this time Buckley expressed to Mr Wedge his worries about his possible punishment at having escaped the convict settlement so many decades previously. Wedge promised to represent Buckley in a favourable light with a view to gaining a pardon from Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur who was then based at Hobart
The ship left the following day to bring the message to Hobart, leaving Batman, his wife, Wedge and some others to continue the preparations for the settlement on the Yarra River.
Soon afterwards, Wedge approached Buckley with the request to accompany him on an exploration inland. Wedge was fully aware of Buckley’s usefulness being fluent in the local languages and Buckley was happy to comply.
They travelled around a wide area in Wathaurong country both inland and to the coast as far as Buckley’s old fishing grounds on the Karaaf River. On this expedition Buckley proved very useful as a translator.
Not long after they returned from their expedition, the vessel returned from Hobart with the message that Buckley Arthur had agreed to pardon Buckley, and he would be allowed to move to Van Diemen’s Land. Buckley was absolutely delighted at this news. For decades he roamed the wilderness lost from his own culture and with the cloud hanging over his head of being a convict. Now he was officially a free man and he spoke thus: Quote: “I can now, once more, raise my thoughts – my unsackled mind and hands – to Heaven, as a free man, I can now offer up my prayers of praise and thankfulness to God, for my extraordinary deliverance, and hor His wonderful preservation of me during so long a period. My heart beats high with joy, almost to its bursting”.
So, what happened to Buckley afterwards? It appears he joined the settlement at the Yarra River in the employ of at first, the Port Phillip Association, and later, the local government. He is credited with helping to prevent a massacre here. The story goes that Derrimut, a friendly Bunurong man, as part of his duty of hospitality, informed some of the settlers of the intentions of some of the up country tribes to massacre all the whites who had started to build huts on the new site at Melbourne. Buckley is credited with translating the message, so that they fully understood Derrimut’s pleas and armed themselves with weapons to deter the attackers who afterwards left.
Employed by the government of the new settlement, Buckley became quickly disenchanted with his role when it became clear that many of those in power would not listen to his recommendations and he was particularly unhappy with the treatment of the aboriginal people. He was usually asked to translate in matters of dispute between the aborigines and settlers. He relates a case where a great injustice was almost carried out against a young aboriginal man as an example of the kind of prejudice he constantly had to deal with in representation of the original owners of the land. Two gentlemen went missing when travelling on the road between Geelong and Melbourne. Later at Melbourne, a man who had alighted a vessel from Hobart accused young aborigine of being their murderer based on the apparent evidence that he was wearing one of the men’s coats. The young aboriginal man was mortified and expressed in his innocence in the matter, but the police locked him up nonetheless and a trial was begun in order to determine his guilt in the matter. The accuser was adamant in court that the coat belonged to his former colleague who was missing and that this proved the guilt of the aboriginal man in question. Buckley, translating for the accused, was 100% sure of the latter’s innocence, but it was only when another man came forward, after overhearing Buckley talking frustratedly about the case to a friend, to say that he had given the coat to the young aboriginal man for payment for some work he had done for him, that the charges were dropped.
Thus, Buckley left Melbourne frustrated, and sailed for Hobart in December 1837. Here he found work first at the Immigrant’s Home and later the Female Nursery. At the former he befriended an Irish family, the husband and father of which, Daniel, was later killed by aboriginal people on an expedition to the mainland at the Murray River. Later Buckley married Higgins’s wife Julia and adopted her daughter Mary Ann, living out his remaining years with a humble income.
William Buckley died in 1856 at the age of 76 just outside of Hobart after he fell from the gig being pulled by his horse.
Today’s podcast covers most of the time Buckley spent living with the Wathaurong people, about 25 years, as they roamed around South-Western Victoria. I’ve basically summarised a lot of the highlights of this time as related in the book The Life and Adventures of William Buckley. I would like to footnote this episode by mentioning a couple of things first. There was an ample amount of internecine violence between the various groups of aboriginal people Buckley lived and interacted with during this time and he talks of having witnessed both cannibalism and infanticde. I have seen some sketchy far right Twitter accounts using these facts as justification for their racist ideologies in which they make sweeping assumptions about the inferiority of aboriginal culture. I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not hold these views. Furthermore, the book itself was ghost-written by John Morgan, whose own racial prejudice is clearly documented in its preface. One must remember that he has coloured much of its contents with this prejudice. Nevertheless, I think it would be remiss of me not to report the important details of the book and so I have included them here, but it may well be that the Wathaurong account William Buckley, or Murrangurk as they called him, differs in some respects.
As the years passed, Buckley started to develop an understanding of the Wathaurong language which he was patiently taught by his clan. He learnt that they believed he had lost his language ability due to his experience of having died and returned from the spirit world They spent some time in the area between the Barwon River and the sea, hunting kangaroo. By now, the affection he had with his people had grown, as they always treated him kindly, giving him the choicest pieces of kangaroo meat during meal times. He learnt how to throw a spear or tomahawk and skin the kangaroos and possums with mussell shells. His friends taught him how to hunt salmon and bream at night in the Barwon River. They would tie some sticks in a bunch and light one end of it. The fish would be attracted to the light and then they would be speared in abundance.
One day a large group about 300 men from a neighbouring aboriginal group, the Wurundjeri, arrived in their area. The group were considered the enemy of the Wathaurong and as a result they a battle commenced between the two. Even the women from the Wathaurong joined in in the fighting, with two of them being killed. After about two hours of fighting the two groups negotiated a tentative peace and the Wurundjeri retreated. But, the men from the Wathaurong secretly followed them and discovered their camp. The Wathaurong waited until the Wurundjeri had retired to sleep for the night before attacking them. After the attack 3 Wurundjeri men lay dead and the rest ran away into the night, but it was what happened next that most horrified Buckley. The Wathaurong mutilated the corpses of the Wurundjeri, Buckley related it thus:
“The bodies of the dead they mutilated in a shocking manner, cutting the arms and legs off, with flints, shells, and tomahawks. When the women saw them returning, they also raised great shouts, dancing about in savage ecstasy. The bodies were thrown upon the ground, and beaten about with sticks – in fact, they all seemed to be perfectly mad with excitement; the men cut the flesh off the bones, and stones were heated for baking it; after which they greased their children with it, all over. The bones were broken to pieces with tomahawks, and given to the dogs, or put on the boughs of trees for the birds of prey hovering over the horrid scene. Having apparently gratified their feelings of revenge, they fetched the bodies of their own two women who had been killed; these they buried with the customary ceremonies.”
Time passed and Buckley’s clan moved on to a lake by the the name of Yawangcontes, today called Lake Murdeduke. Here they settled in huts for about 2 years before being contacted by a nearby aboriginal group who invited them to a much larger nearby lake called Kongiadgillock, or what is today called Lake Corangimite. Within this large lake there was an island on which nested many Black Swans. The island could be reached from a bank of the lake at a kind of isthmus in only knee-deep water. Here Buckley’s clan gorged themselves on thousands of swan eggs, having been allowed to do so by the other aboriginal group. They also butchered and roasted many swans. Afterwards they also invited Buckley’s clan to a corroboree, where, there occurred the usual fight over a woman from the other group who had gone with a man from Buckley’s group.
As time passed Buckley’s clan moved from lake to lake and it was at the aboriginal people called Moodewarri, today known as Lake Colac, that Buckley saw the mythical Bunyip. For non-Australian listeners, the Bunyip was a mythical beast that inhabited Rivers throughout Australia. It was said to have supernatural powers and to attack eat humans from time to time. Buckley claimed to have witnessed one in the following account from his biography:
“In this lake..is a very extraordinary amphibious animal, which Bunyip, which apeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf; the creatures only appear when the weather is very calm, and the water smooth. I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the heard or tail, so that I could not form a correct idea of their size; or what they were like.”
After their time at the lake Buckley a messenger visited the group with a message from another mob to visit them. It took Buckley’s mob 14 days to trek the distance to wear the others were located as was determined by the number of red stripes Buckley painted on his arm for each passing day. Here a woman from Buckley’s mob was speared in retribution for having run off with a man from the other mob.
Afterwards the group travelled to Beangala, now known as Indented Heads. While here he experienced the biggest hailstorm he had ever encountered. Around this time also, Buckley was beginning to master the Wathaurong language. He learned during his time here what had happened to one of the other escapees he had left Sullivan Bay with, from the book, quote:
“It seemed, that one of them, having, after a few days, separated from the others, was found by the natives and kindly relieved by them; but after some time, they – as it was said – had reason to be jealous of him – he having made too free with their women – so they killed him.”
It should be noted here that, this account by Buckley, given much later in 1853, differs markedly from an account he gave to George Langhorne just a year after he returned to Western society, in 1836. In it he is quoted giving the following account: “I had lived with this tribe about six months, when I fell in with one of my companions, whom I found had been living with another family of the tribe on the sea coast. He then came and lived with me, but from his reckless conduct with the women and dissolute behaviour, I was fully convinced that if he remained one or both of us would be murdered. I therefore told him that it was necessary for the safety of both parties that one or the other must leave. He left, and I never saw him or heard of him again, except by a vague rumor – that he had been killed by the blacks, which I fully believe to have been the case.” End quote.
The question arises here, which account is true? Did he indeed fall in with his companion as he put it and ask him to leave, or did he just hear about his companion as he related in the 1853 book? We may never know. It seems though that Buckley is a bit sketchy on this point. One wonders if there was a third possibility, that Buckley himself had something to do with his companion’s demise, we may never know the truth.
At this stage of the book, Buckley talks about some of the customs of the Wathaurong to do with marriage and child rearing. A marriage must be agreed to by the parents of both the male and female in question. A male suitor must be able to prove himself a good fighter and hunter so as to be able to protect his wife. A male may have a number of wives sometimes as many as five or six so long as he can look after them. Some men have no wives as a result of this.
Quarrels are usually caused by jealousy and the women are just as prone to this as the men. In the fighting however, the women usually come out worse off. Another thing he points out is that the meetings of the different aboriginal groups were not just for exchanging food, but also for showing off their eligible daughters to be seen and courted.
At this time Buckley talks of how a man from his mob went to that of another and murdered a man because he had years before promised him his daughter in marriage and then retracted the promise and married her to another man. Buckley and some women visited the group in question to mourn together. The man was tied up in a tree as a form of burial. This incident and murder in general being such a regular occurrence unsettled Buckley and made him contemplate escaping.
Buckley’s group then went to Biarhoo on the Barwon River and then Godocut near the seaside. The contemplated punishing the murderer as they worried about an impending revenge attack, but in the end decided against it. Next they went to a place called Palac Palac and stayed for many months because there was plenty of animal food and fish. Eventually they noticed another group approach them and they feared it was the kin of the murdered man come for revenge. But, a messenger was sent and it was not that group but a friendly mob and they were invited to share in an abundance of eels that had been found in a lagoon.
At this point Buckley explains the native origin for the fire story. A woman was digging an ant hill one day when a crow was flying overheard and dropped some dry grass and it burst into fire and burnt a tree. For this reason they respect the crow which they call Waakee and rarely eat him.
The mob travelled to a place called Bordek where there were plenty of possums to eat. Buckley’s brother-in-law taught him how to hunt the possums. He used his tomahawk to carve notches into a tree to make places to position his toes while holding his tomahawk in his mouth. He would do this and gradually climb up the tree and pull possums out and fling them to the ground by their tails. Buckley’s job was to stand at the bottom and kill them.
The mob moved to Moriock (near Geelong) and here most of the males left to go on a hunting expedition leaving only 12 males and the females with Buckley. Soon after they left, another group arrived and put up some huts very close to them. The mob were aggressive and used their numbers to their advantage to intimidate Buckley’s mob. Eventually they killed a boy and a girl and Buckley’s mob, outraged, attacked them. There was a fight which lasted an hour. Eventually when it became clear Buckley’s mob could defend themselves, this other mob left. A message was sent to the hunting party to return urgently which they did. A war council was set up and it was decided to pursue the offending mob for revenge. Only men were chosen for the pursuit and they returned with a number of men severely wounded, but it was considered a success because they had killed two of the other mob.
After some time passed Buckley’s mob moved to Barrackillock far to the north. Another mob had already settled here. Buckley describes how a 20 year old woman from his mob was speared in the thigh for going with a man with the other mob and her parents did not agree to it. The couple then eloped and revenge was planned on them.
Here Buckley describes another animal called karbor, otherwise known as the (koala). He describes how it tastes like pork, is ugly and mainly lives in the trees. It also made a sickening sound like a child in pain when it was speared.
After this the group went to Monwok. Soon, the man and woman who had eloped were found and invited to participate in some sort of ceremonial battle. The man’s mob and Buckley’s mob were in attendance. The man danced and capered challenging someone from Buckley’s mob to a fight. Eventually someone accepted and they fought. The man from Buckley’s mob was winning and struck the eloper in the head so that blood was flowing from it. The eloper’s mob stopped the fight there though and threatened a greater fight if it continued, so it stopped.
Later the mob came to a freshwater lake. They saw another mob on the opposite shore during the day. During the night they were awoken by a terrible commotion coming in the direction of the other mob. In the morning they travelled to other side to investigate. Most of mob had been slaughtered by a third mob, many bodies of women and children were lying there mutilated. Many of the attacked mob drowned in the lake fleeing. Buckley’s mob invited those who had survived to their huts and they accepted. There was no time to bury the victims. Buckley’s mob and their new members left as it was dangerous and travelled to their usual country of Moodewari where they remained for several months.
Buckley relates how infanticide is carried out by the natives on illegitimate children or children of a woman who was first one man’s but then promised to another. They also killedl children who are deformed. He saw the brains of one being dashed out by a blow to the head and the brother of the child made to eat them. There was a superstitious reasoning behind this act. It was observed that the women behaved oddly during certain periods of the moon’s cycle. This was considered the reason for the deformity and therefore this cannibalistic rite had to be performed in some sort of sacrifice. The boy’s father denied his being the father and it was said the other boy had to eat the brains so the same fate would not befall him.
Buckley tells the story of how after a long time at Moodewari another tribe joined them and woman of Buckley’s tribe was taken away by the other tribe until he was forced to give her up. She was placed in Buckley’s hut, he wasn’t happy about this. In the night man came to hut and speared man from Buckley’s tribe who he was jealous of and kidnapped the woman. Buckley and victim’s brother tried to pull out the spear but could not because it was jagged. Eventually a woman pulled the spear, but victim died later and was buried. Some men pursued murderer, but returned at night when they could not find him. Victim’s mother burnt her face with firesticks in lamentation. Shortly afterwards, Buckley’s tribe changed hunting grounds and fellin with tribe murderer belonged to. Fight ensued. Buckley’s tribe could not find murderer so instead they murdered his 4 year old son by bashing his brains in. Also killed his brother and speared his mother through the thigh. Murderer himself came back at night and killed the man who had killed his brother, cut most of flesh from his body and carried it away on spears. The tribe (which tribe not clear) signalled their joy at this revenge by by singing and dancing. Buckley requested to partake in cannibalism and refused to do so. Buckley was told it was their intention to serve all of the murderer’s tribe in the same way.
Buckley’s tribe settled near a lake called Koodgingmurrah. Another fight occurred, as usual about women. Buckley nearly killed by boomerang that split his shield. It was not meant for Buckley but for his brother in law. Man was punished despite Buckley’s protests. Buckley’s hand was wounded and the women bound it with possum felt and sinew.
Buckley says the aborigines love music and play on possum rugs and sticks. The natives never wash and wear ornaments as rings and in their hair such as bones and teeth from animals and feathers from emu and swans.
At opposite side of lake, ate mainly Kalkeeth (large ants) found in the hollows of trees. Pulled out by hand and burnt or roasted on strips of bark. Only available one month of the year. Mentions how the natives get the stone for making their axes from a place called Karkeen (Mount William about 230km inland), 300 miles inland. The tribes who live in the area are savage so it was necessary to send a contingent of tough fighting men to fetch this necessary article.
Invited by other tribe to fish for eels at River called Booneawillock. Another tribe arrived and another fight occurred over women. Buckley’s tribe continued to roam about after this. One man was bitten by a snake while stepping over a tree and died immediately. Was esteemed high member of tribe and death caused great sorrow, was buried in tree.
Eventually Buckley was left only with his immediate relations and 2 or 3 families of others. A large tribe of 60 came upon them and painted themselves up as if for war. They came upon Buckley’s tribe and attacked killing his brother-in-law’s wife and sending a spear through brother-in-law’s body. They came back to Buckley where he was caring for his injured brother-in-law. Brother-in-law sprung up and speared one in arm. Was immediately dispatched with spears and boomerangs as was his son. For some reason, they did not attack Buckley. The cause of attack was that man who died of snake bite belonged to attacking tribe. Tribe believed Buckley’s brother-in-law had caused his death somehow. Buckley deeply affected by the killing of his relatives. He cried for a long time about it. Buckley ordered by one murderer to join his tribe but he angrily refused. He wrapped up his spears and set out alone. After about 4 miles he fell in with a tribe he knew. Buckley told them about the murders and they vowed vengeance. Before they set off they told Buckley where to remain once they had returned. He set off for the place near Barwon River. 5 women returned few days later, said was great fight, friends had avenged killer of brother-in-law, but women left because danger of being captured. Women left Buckley after few days. Buckley then went to scene of massacre of his family. Found the ashes of family and buried them. Then went back to Barown River and men returned next day. Asked Buckley to join their tribe, but he refused as was depressed following murder of family and did not trust them to avoid violence. They left, next day Buckley left in opposite direction toward sea. Reached place called Mangahawnz. Set up hut and lived alone for months. Had now been living in the wild for more than 25 years.
Had learnt from natives, Calcutta left Bay many years before. Often looked towards sea and hoped for ships, but never saw any. Prayed often to God as lived a very lonely and miserable existence.
The tale of an escaped convict who lived in the bush for 32 years with the Wathuroung aboriginal people before the settlement of Melbourne.
Buckley stayed in the hut that had become his home for a few months in order to recover his health. But, he soon grew lonely and longed for human contact. Just as he was considering leaving the area he was surprised one day by some human voices speaking a strange language. Buckley looked up and was startled to see three aboriginal men armed with spears standing on an outcrop. He tried to hide, but the men discovered his tracks and called out to him. Buckley emerged from his hiding place and the men stared at him in wonderment. They took his hands in theirs and struck both their breasts and his while making an unusual sound which was “bewteen singing and crying…a sort of whine which to me sounded very much like premeditated mischief”. After examining Buckley’s hut the men then made a fire and threw some crayfish onto it alive. Buckley was worried they might want to cook him next but his fears were proved misguided when they gave him the first and best portion of the seafood.
After eating, Buckley’s new friends gestured for him to follow them, which he did reluctantly. Buckley, still feeling tentative about his new acquaintances hoped to escape at the first chance he got, but, while two of the men went on ahead, the one that was left with him watched him like a hawk. After arriving at some huts made of turf they turned in for the night and Buckley thought this might have been a good opportunity to abscond, but his guard stayed in the tent with him and didn’t sleep at all muttering to himself the whole time.
In the morning the men seemed to beckon Buckley to follow them once again, but this time he refused to go further. The men reluctantly accepted these conditions, but tried to get Buckley to part with his old, worn stockings. Buckley refused this too though and they accepted after quote “sundry striking of breasts and stamping of feet”. As Buckley was considering what he might do next, one of the men returned with a crude basket made of rushes, which had the berries mentioned previously and attempted to exchange this for his stockings. Buckley again refused and the man, dejected, went on his way.
When night came Buckley cursed having left the men because he had no fire to warm himself. Therefore, he returned to where he thought the huts were, but they were no longer there. Suffering from exposure, he desperately tried finding the aboriginal men by making out in the direction he thought they had left in, but after a while, he became completely lost, and exhausted, lay down under a large, hollow tree. Luckily he found a firestick nearby and made a fire which attracted dingoes and possums and he couldn’t sleep because of the howling of the former.
For a while Buckley travelled around by himself subsisting on anything he could find such as the fruit the men had brought him and shellfish. Eventually, a desire for comfort brought him back to his old cabin on the beach and he remained here many months.
As the weather had become very cold and stormy by this stage and as his clothes had become worn and tattered, Buckley eventually resigned himself to attempting to return to the ship. He bade farewell then and began to retrace his steps back along what is now the location of the Great Ocean Road.
By this time Buckley was becoming extremely weary and could only make short distances each day. After a few days he arrived at a creek the natives call Doonagawn and made himself a simple shelter in the vegetation. Although he didn’t realise it at the time, here Buckley was to make a fortuitous discovery that was to have a considerable impact on the rest of his life. Right next to where he had made his shelter Buckley found a mound with a spear thrust into it. He immediately realised it was a native grave. But, in his weary state, Buckley simply saw the spear as an excellent potential walking stick and thought nothing more of it at the time. The next day he reached the Karaaf River and tried to cross it, but weak as he was, he was unable to and he was carried downstream some distance, before eventually reaching the other side where he collapsed in a heap, exhausted. Drenched, he lay down in the scrub freezing and lamented his condition. He prayed long and hard into the night as the dingoes howled around him and he fully expected to be eaten by them before morning.
The next day he came across a lagoon the Wathaurong called Maamart. While he was searching for gum a group of aboriginal people appeared out of the bush and approached him. They seemed to be overcome with emotion at seeing him. The men took him by the hands and beat their breasts and his in a gesture that he assumed was a greeting. The women assisted him to walk while making terrible wailing noises and pulling clumps of hair from their head. They took Buckley to their huts and gave him some sustenance in the form of a pulp made from gum and water which Buckley greatly enjoyed. They called Buckley Murrangerk, who he later found out was the man whose grave he had taken the spear from. Much later Buckley learnt that the aboriginal people believed that white people were the spirits of people who had died. In cases in which they had killed white people it was because they had believed the white people to be the returned spirits of their enemies. Buckley felt great fortune at his situation because if he had not picked up the spear when he had, he may have died.
As it was, the people were extremely kind to him. They went away and found some moth grubs to give him sustenance and he was surprised at how tasty they were. Buckley stayed with them all night and was still a bit scared of what they might do to him, but was too weak to escape. The women spent the night wailing and inflicting wounds on their faces and pulling the hair from their heads. Buckley was shocked by this, but later he found out that this was a custom they performed when someone died or when someone returned having been away a long time. They were expressing their grief at the pain Buckley must have undergone when he died.
The next day Buckley’s new companions took him to the main body of the tribe on the other side of the Barwon River. Here there were upwards of one hundred people who made a great commotion on Buckley’s arrival with the usual beating of breasts by the males and the pulling of hair from their heads of the females. In order to welcome Buckley the people held a great Corroboree. At the time, Buckley was still anxious as he was not sure whether they wanted to cook him, but this didn’t prove to be the case as he relates thus:
“then there was a great noise amongst them, and a trampling backwards and forward from hut to hut, as if something of importance was going on. I was naturally anxious at this, not knowing how it would all end; at last it came on night, and the boys and girls set to work making a very large fire, probably to roast me – who could tell? At any rate I supposed it not at all improbable, surrounded as I was by such a host of wild uncultivated savages: however that might be, it was impossible to escape, as I was too weak and terrified at the appearance all around. At last all the women came out naked – having taken off their skin rugs, which they carried in their hands. I was then brought out from the hut by the two men, the women surrounding me. I expected to be thrown immediately into the flames; but the women having seated themselves by the fire, the men joined the assemblage armed with clubs more than two feet long; having painted themselves with pipe-clay, which abounds on the banks of the lake. They had run streaks of it round the eyes, one down each cheek, others along the forehead down to the tip of the nose, other streaks meeting at the chin, others from the middle of the body down each leg; so that altogether, they made a most horrifying appearance, standing round and about the blazing night fire. The women kept their rugs rolled tight up, after which, they stretched them between the knees, each forming a sort of drum. These they beat with their hands, as if keeping time with one of the men who was seated in front of them, singing. Presently the men came up in a kind of close column, they, also, beating time with their sticks, by knocking them one against the other, making altogether a frightful noise. The man seated in front appeared to be the leader of the orchestra, or master of the band – indeed I may say, master of the ceremonies generally. He marched the whole mob, men and women, boys and girls, backwards and forwards at his pleasure, directing the singing and dancing, with the greatest decision and air of authority. This scene must have lasted at least three hours, when, as a wind-up, they gave three tremendous shouts, at the same time pointing to the sky with their sticks; they each shook me heartily by the hand, again beating their breasts, as a token of friendship. By this time I was greatly relieved in my mind, finding no injury to me was contemplated, and particularly when they all dispersed to their huts, and I was left again with my guardians.”
The next day Buckley was to quarter with the brother of the man they believed him to be and his wife and son.
That night there was another great Corroboree, but Buckley retired to the hut of his new acquaintances. They entertained him with roots and possum meat which was a great feast for him because he had not had meat since he had left the Calcutta. He was presented with a possum skin-rug after which he presented his “brother’s” wife with his old worn jacket and this greatly increased the affection which the family showed him.
In the morning there was an argument and some men began brandishing their spears. After a great deal of swaggering the two groups of men actually began fighting and when Buckley’s relations saw this they took him away and observed from a distance. One man was speared in the thigh and a woman from the group Buckley was associated with was speared under the arm and killed. Eventually peace was restored and everyone retired except about 20 of the members of this woman’s tribe, who made a fire and threw her body on it. When there was nothing but ashes they piled them together and stuck her digging stick into it.
After this, everyone went away except Buckley’s relations and one other family. They went to another part of the bush and remained there some considerable time. They ate roots mainly, which the women sought daily and occasionally the men would kill a possum. Sometimes they killed kangaroo and Buckley found this meat delicious. After a few weeks they joined another tribe of about 50 and had a Corroboree on the evening of their meeting, but during the festivities there was a fight and two boys from the other group were killed. Buckley couldn’t understand what these quarrels were about, but understood later that it was because one tribe had taken women away from the other tribe. At other times, women willingly left their husbands to join other men, which gave rise to jealousy. When the fights occurred, Buckley was always kept in the rear for his protection. When the fracas was over the tribe to which the boys belonged retired into the bush and Buckley’s people set up huts from branches and bark. Suddenly in the night the other tribe attacked them again and took the bodies of the two boys who had been killed from a hut. They cut off their legs and thighs and took them away. Buckley’s tribe retreated and the remains of the boys were burnt in the usual way.
Afterwards, Buckley’s people went to the coast. From here a message was sent to the other group with whom they had had the earlier fracas about the women. They challenged them to a fight at a designated place to settle the matter. After 4 days the messenger returned to say that the other tribe had accepted the challenge and they went there, but Buckley was not aware at the time of the reason why they were going there. They arrived at the meeting spot about 20 miles away, where about 5 tribes were gathered and the fighting commenced. The fighting lasted about 3 hours after which 3 women lay dead. Buckley says in these fights the women usually faired worse off. The quarrels alarmed Buckley because the participants often pointed towards him during the fighting as if he was the source of the dispute so he again started to worry that he might be sacrificed.
Eventually Buckley’s tribe returned to him and encircled him before escorting him to the clearing where the fight had been and where the other tribe were waiting in a square-shaped guard. Buckley was worried he’d be killed. There was silence and they all stared at him. They then began muttering and shaking their spears and gave 3 shouts and eventually returned to their respective huts. In the morning Buckley found the other tribe had gone and his tribe returned to the place they usually occupied and remained there for a very long time unharmed. After a while a messenger came from another tribe saying they were to meet them some miles off. Their method of marking time was by marking days on the arm in chalk and rubbing one off as each day passes. After travelling two or three days they met the other tribe and Buckley had never seen them before and they had a great corroboree that night.
The next morning the two tribes had a big kangaroo hunt. Buckley was very interested in participating as it was his first and they conducted it with great skill. They killed several big kangaroos and had them roasted that night. The next day there was a big argument between the two tribes over two of the women. This time though it didn’t end in bloodshed. Afterwards, the tribes separated and each went to its own area.