The Abduction of Sharon Wills


Why I’ve written this blog.

The Mr Cruel crimes remain unsolved, and my hope is that by keeping the spotlight on this series of crimes that it may contribute in some way to answers for the victims of the offender. The vast majority of the information about this case in the public forum comes from a series of newspaper articles written by the award-winning journalist Keith Moor for the Herald-Sun in 2016 to mark the 25 year anniversary of the abduction of Karmein Chan. Moor’s articles were based on files he had received, not through official channels, but from an unnamed source. However, in researching the case, by reading all of the contemporary newspaper articles and watching archival footage on it, I couldn’t help but notice a number of contradictions between the information that was presented to the public at the time of the crimes and the information about the case that Moor presented in his 2016 Herald Sun article. Therefore, this blog post is to be an analysis of the original reports and then a comparison of them with Moor’s 2016 information.

Lastly, I conduct an analysis of all we know about Sharon’s abduction in an attempt to offer some insights about the profile of the offender. Hopefully, having presented all of the information that is on the public record in this case I will be able to offer something constructive about the type of offender we are looking for.

An analysis of the contemporary newspaper articles and archival footage of the Sharon Wills abduction

On 7 July 1988 an article appeared in the Melbourne tabloid the Sun News Pictorial which detailed the story of a house fire which occurred at the home of the Wills family on 5 July in the outer eastern Melbourne suburb of Ringwood.  The article, titled Mother battles blanket blaze, by Paul Cunningham described how 36-year-old mother Julie Wills had responded to cries from her four daughters while in the middle of a phone call.  When she arrived in her daughters’ bedroom she was greeted by the frightening sight of one of the top bunks of the bunk-beds completely on fire.  Mrs Wills had ordered her daughters, Sharon 10, Linda and Robyn 8 and Annette 5 outside as she unsuccessfully attempted to put the fire out. The fire brigade were called but the fire still caused quite a lot of damage to the house.  

The Sun 7 Jul 1988

Accompanying the article was a photograph by Karl Jahn of the 4 girls and Mrs Wills holding up the cause of the blaze, a faulty electric blanket.  Sharon is pictured on the far left of the photograph standing on a bottom bunk bed.  She is wearing glasses, a skivvy, a jumper, a polka-dot skirt, and white socks.  Just over 5 months later, this innocent little girl was to be abducted from her home by an armed intruder, held captive at a residence of some sort, where she was assaulted, before being released 18 hours after her abduction.  Later, investigators were to state that it was possible the abductor saw this 7 July 1988 newspaper article, and that it may have been what prompted him to take her.

Sharon Wills appeared on the Channel 10 children’s television program The Early Bird Show as a member of the Victorian Children’s Choir in early December 1988. On the program the children sang the Christmas song Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon.  Sharon appears only fleetingly for no more than one second, hardly enough time for anyone to notice her.

The Early Bird Show (full video) Darryl Cotton and The Victorian Children’s Choir. Happy Christmas (War Is Over). (Thanks to Reddit user int3rest3d for finding this footage.)
A screenshot of Sharon’s one second appearance as a member of the Victorian Children’s Choir on the Channel 10 children’s television program The Early Bird Show in Dec 1988.

The first newspaper article to break the news about Sharon Wills’ abduction, written by David Towler for The Herald, was titled Armed bandit flees with girl, 10. The bandit had taken the girl from her bed, it explained, at about 6am. The man had entered the house armed with a pistol before going straight to the bedroom of a man and woman before tying them up and declaring: “all I want is money”. The man had left soon afterwards and when the man and woman had untied themselves they realised their 10-year-old daughter was missing. The father of the girl had told police he had had trouble sleeping and so had only been in bed for half an hour when the intruder entered his room.

The girl who had been abducted was the eldest of 4 daughters who had all been asleep in the same room. Her 3 sisters had apparently not woken up when the man took Sharon. To the perspective of the man and woman, the gunman had left the room briefly before returning and asking about the telephone. About 15 minutes after the gunman left, the man managed to free his wife, but when they checked on their children who all slept in one bedroom, they noticed their eldest daughter was missing.

The abducted girl had been wearing a “short, white nightie, with blue and mauve flowers and lace around the neck”. She was extremely short for her age at 112cm tall with “a round face, freckles, and long wavy brown hair”. Note, 112cm would have been the average height of a 6-year-old for the time. Her sisters, who were aged between 5 and 8 had slept through the abduction and so could not help detectives. Sniffer dogs were being used in the surrounding area. This first ever newspaper article about the abduction did not mention the name of the family or the abducted girl, nor did it publish a photograph of her.

The Herald 27 Dec 1988
The Herald 27 Dec 1988
The Herald 27 Dec 1988
The Herald 27 Dec 1988

Melbourne’s evening news channels also reported on Sharon’s abduction. The ABC reported that a search was underway in Kellett’s Road, Rowville after reports that a woman had spotted a girl matching Sharon’s description in the area. They also stated that some items of clothing were missing from Sharon’s bedroom “including a tartan skirt, a white skirt, white pants with a ballerina imprint and a two-tone checked blouse”. A female neighbour of the Willses stated: “You think well, if they picked that house, who’s next?”

This school photo of Sharon Wills was provided to the police and the media on 27 Dec 1988.
A “two-toned checked blouse” like the one that was reported missing from Sharon Wills’ bedroom. Later newspaper reports stated that, unlike this one, the missing item was blue.
Police search a new housing estate in Rowville after reports a woman had seen Sharon Wills in the area.
Chief Inspector Des Johnson addresses the media outside the Wills residence, 27 Dec 1988.
A police information caravan is set up around the corner from the Wills residence on 27 Dec 1988.
Unidentified neighbours of the Wills family are questioned by the media near the Wills residence, 27 Dec 1988. This woman stated: “You think well, if they picked that house, who’s next?”

By the morning of 28 December the other Melbourne dailies were reporting on the abduction, with The Sun News Pictorial publishing a story by Bruce Tobin and Christine McTighe on their front page titled Kidnap agony. This story went to press before it was realised that Sharon had been released around midnight that morning. This time the article detailed the name of Sharon Wills and her family and published a school photograph of Sharon as well as a photograph of what it described as “one of Sharon’s sisters and a friend” through a window at the front of their house in 11 Hillcrest Avenue Ringwood. The article was largely about information gleaned from a police spokesperson who spoke to the media in the afternoon of the 27th.

The Sun 28 Dec 1988

The article detailed a plea by Sharon’s parents for the return of their daughter Sharon before stating that police were worried that she might have seen the gunman’s face after he had left her parents’ bedroom. Chief Inspector Des Johnson expressed his fears that Sharon may have come out of her bedroom after her mother had screamed saying: “He may have taken off his ski mask and she may have seen him. We are very concerned for her safety”. The article went on to state that the intruder may have taken Sharon because he was worried she could have identified him.

The Sun 28 Dec 1988 p.1

Other details included in the article were the facts that 2 skirts and a blouse were missing from her bedroom, and police had speculated this may have been so that the abductor could change Sharon into different clothes to make her “less conspicuous”. Chief Inspector Johnson had speculated that Sharon may have wandered out of her bedroom and seen the intruder after he had tied up her parents and robbed them of $35. The man had only been in the house 7 or 8 minutes.

The Sun 28 Dec 1988 p.2

Sharon’s parents were interviewed by detectives, but had no idea who the intruder may have been. It named Sharon’s sisters as 8-year-old twins Robyn and Linda and 5-year-old Annette. The intruder was wearing a ski mask and armed with a handgun had entered the premises through a backdoor about 5:45am. He then “bailed up” Sharon’s parents, named as John and Julie Wills, before demanding cash. They were forced face down on their bed and tied up with wire. It then took John Wills about 15 minutes to free his wife using a pair of pliers. They then went into their daughters’ bedroom to discover that Sharon was missing.

The article went on to describe Sharon as a pupil of Antonio Park Primary School and “a member of the Victorian Children’s Choir and a keen musician”.

A large police search was being undertaken with search and rescue squad members diving in Mullum Creek. Moreover, a police helicopter was scanning the surrounding area, but there was no sign of Sharon. Acting Detective John Telford described the clothes taken from Sharon’s room as “a white skirt and a tartan skirt and a blue check blouse”. Telford also announced that Sharon had poor vision and had left her spectacles at the house.

The article went on to state how police had searched parts of Rowville the previous day after a woman had sighted a girl in a nightie. “The woman…spotted a young girl hiding behind a fence near Blaxland Drive and Kelletts Rd”. A police caravan had been set up a few metres from the Wills residence in Ringwood “to coordinate the search”.

The police also gave a description of the abductor as “about 180cm tall, thin build and wearing a ski mask, dark blue overalls and armed with a handgun”.

On page 4 of the The Sun, published on the same day, 28 December 1988, another article was published titled A street of fear after abduction with no author listed. It was about interviews conducted with neighbours of the Wills family and their reactions to the abduction. A woman named Paula Corcoran was interviewed and told of her shock and worry that the same thing could happen to anyone. She also described Sharon as a girl who liked her singing and that “her mother is always taking her off to choir practice”.

The Sun 28 Dec 1988 p.4

A teenager who was interviewed spoke of his concern about the recent increase in crime in the area. “A boy got stabbed at Ringwood Station – and now this”. Paula Corcoran said that Sharon and her sisters usually played in their own front yard. Sharon was “lovely” and “quite shy with a gentle nature”.

Also on page 4 of that day’s The Sun was an article about an interview with Patsy Worledge, the mother of 8-year-old schoolgirl Eloise Worledge who had been abducted from her Beaumaris home in similar circumstances to Sharon Wills in January 1976 and had never been found. On hearing about Sharon Wills’ abduction Patsy Worledge said it “goes without saying” that they should not lose hope. She went on: “When I heard, it was a bit of a shock. I just hope that they find her quickly. It’s 13 years on. You’ve got to get on with your life. We’ve had a lot of time to come to terms with it.”

The Sun 28 Dec 1988 p.4

Also, on page 4 of the Sun that day was an article titled Family in narrow escape from blaze, that detailed the fact that the Wills girls and their mother had the article published about them the previous July which described their narrow escape from the house fire mentioned earlier.

Lastly, also on page 4 of The Sun that day was an article titled Report sparks bush search. The article detailed how a search had been carried out in Rowville the previous day after a woman had reported seeing a girl in bushland in the area. The woman had seen the girl about 11:30am on the 27th from her car as she drove past. When shown a photograph of Sharon Wills, she had confirmed that the girl she had sighted looked the same. The search was only scaled back when it was reported that a girl from the area about the same age as Sharon had been playing in the same locality.

However, then the woman who had made the original sighting told police that she was sure the girl she had seen was Sharon and so the search was stepped up again, with police using trail bikes, motorbikes and a four-wheel drive. Then a car was reported in bushland in Ferntree Gully and the search moved to that area. But, this proved to be a false alarm as the occupants of that vehicle were apparently just leaving feed out for cattle. After five hours of searching there was still no sign of Sharon, but police were still open to the possibility the girl the woman had seen was her.

The Sun 28 Dec 1988 p.4

The Sydney Morning Herald chose to contrast the abduction of Sharon Wills with the abduction of another 10-year-old girl in Sydney, Helen Karipidis, on 22 December 1988. Helen was abducted from the suburb of Marrickville and was last seen playing in a sandpit. Her father was quoted as saying: “I’m scared as the days go by. I’m beginning to think someone may have kidnapped her”. The article also went on to say that Sharon Wills had been abducted from her bedroom by an armed robber.

The Sydney Morning Herald 28 Dec 1988 p.1

On page 2 of The Sydney Morning Herald more details were given about the abduction of Sharon. While most details given in these articles were the same as that given in The Sun, there were some points of difference. The first was that this article stated that the intruder bound Sharon’s parents “with strands of copper wire”. Secondly, it stated that the intruder gained entry to the home at 5:30am, slightly different to The Sun’s 5:45am and The Herald’s 6:00am. The clothes of Sharon’s that were taken were also described slightly differently, with this article using the personal pronoun ‘she’ as if it was Sharon’s decision to take the clothes. This description was given thus: “She may have taken a red and green tartan skirt, a white skirt, a pair of underpants, and a two-tone blue checked blouse”. This is interesting as The Sun did not mention the colour of the tartan skirt nor that underpants had been taken.

The Sydney Morning Herald 28 Dec 1988

The article also described neighbours saying that Sharon was a member of a choir, but also that she “played several musical instruments”. It then went on to paraphrase Chief Inspector Johnson as saying that Sharon had been awoken by her mother’s screams and had then got out of bed and “been confronted by the gunman near the lounge room”. The article seemed to present this claim more as if it was fact than speculation as The Sun had presented it.

The Age benefitted from what can only have been a later publication time than The Sun so that it was able to carry the scoop that Sharon had in fact been found in the early hours of the 28th. It ran it’s cover page with the title Ringwood schoolgirl found. Police still hunting for abduction suspect, by Paul Conroy and Gerard Ryle.

The Age, 28 Dec 1988, p.1.

It detailed the fact that Sharon had been found alive in Bayswater early that morning. Naming her as Sharon Louise Wills, it stated that the girl would have a medical examination at the Austin Hospital that morning. Sharon had been found by an unnamed female driver who had found Sharon “walking along Orchard Road, Bayswater” according to a police spokesperson. She had apparently been dumped in the location by a man driving a car.

The Age, 28 Dec 1988, p.1 (closeup 1).

According to the female driver’s husband, his wife had found Sharon “running around in the street” at the corner of Orchard Road and Armstrong Road, when she was returning from work just after midnight. The man said that it had been raining and the woman stopped to check if the girl was alright. When Sharon told the woman she had been abducted, the woman took Sharon back to her house and called the police.

The Age, 28 Dec 1988, p.1 (closeup 2).

Most of the rest of the article is information that has already been mentioned in earlier articles. However, there were some other additional details. Firstly, that “the intruder was believed to have escaped on foot with Sharon, but might have had a vehicle parked nearby”. The article also mentioned that “detectives have not ruled out the possibility that the abduction was prompted by a newspaper report about the family in June”. This is a reference to The Sun article the previous July about the house fire at the Wills residence, but the writers here have made a minor error with the month this occurred. Lastly, the article described the gunman as “in his late teens to early 20s” which is the first description we have seen of the offender’s age in regards to this crime.

By the time the afternoon edition of The Sun was published on 28 December, news had obviously filtered through that Sharon had in fact been found early that morning. In an article titled Sharon Found by Bruce Tobin and Christine McTighe, news of Sharon’s recovery updated the story of her abduction that had run in the morning paper.

The Sun 28 Dec 1988 (afternoon edition) p.1

The front page of the newspaper included an updated section of text just above a photograph of one of Sharon’s sisters from the previous day. It stated that Sharon had been found “by a resident” in Orchard Road, Bayswater 18 hours after she had been abducted. The article reported that the police had said Sharon had not been seriously injured. She was in discussions with police in order to “unravel the mystery” of what had happened to her.

Sun 28 Dec 1988 (afternoon edition) p.1 (closeup)

On page 2 of the same newspaper the story continued under the title Mystery as kidnap girl found.

Sun 28 Dec 1988 (afternoon edition) p.2
Sun 28 Dec 1988 (afternoon edition) p.2 (closeup 1)

However, no new information was given by police about the nature of the abduction. The only other additional information given was that it stated that the Wills family had lived in their weatherboard house for 4 years. Otherwise the article was just a rehash of what was included in their morning edition.

Sun 28 Dec 1988 (afternoon edition) p.2 (closeup 2)

The Herald once again benefitted from its evening publication in that they were able to include in their story information gleaned from a police press conference that evening in an article by David Towler titled Sharon taken by a ‘monster’ – police. It stated that police were worried Sharon’s attacker could strike again after she was found 18 hours after being abducted from her Hillcrest Avenue, Ringwood home. After being treated at the Austin Hospital she had been allowed to go home with her parents to get some sleep. She arrived home holding a teddy bear and waved and smiled at her sisters.

The Herald 28 Dec 1988

Sharon’s father, John Wills, was emotional when he spoke to the media outside his home saying: “I would like to thank the lovely lady who found her. I would just like to thank all our friends, relatives and media for all the coverage that was given. I would like to thank the police. Without the police I don’t know what would have happened.”

The Herald 28 Dec 1988

Police had said Sharon was spoken to by a social worker before she and her father were taken back to the Bayswater area (where she had been dumped). Chief Superintendent Kevin Holliday said “the crime had been very well planned and the man involved had gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal his identity”. After tying up Sharon’s parents “he had blindfolded Sharon and placed an object in her mouth – possibly a ball – to prevent her screaming as he took her away from the house and drove her away in a small car”. Chief Superintendent Kevin Holliday was quoted as saying: “She’s given us some information, but as you can appreciate the child has had little or no sleep. She’s 10 years old and we don’t want to inflict any more interrogation on her so she’ll have a rest and detectives will interview her later”.

The Herald 28 Dec 1988

Mr Holliday was paraphrased as stating that Sharon had been dumped in the street at about midnight (a slight difference to other information that she was in fact dumped on the grounds of Bayswater High School). He was quoted as saying: “The intruder came into the room and asked her name and simply took her with him…I would say that we are dealing with a dangerous, cunning person who has set to capture this girl right from the very beginning and probably put a lot of planning into the commission of this crime…I think to get hold of this girl was his primary target and the fact that an armed robbery was committed at the time was just by the way.” The article also stated that the perpetrator had “gone to great lengths to keep his identity a secret and is not believed to be known to the girl or the family”.

The Herald 28 Dec 1988

However, Holliday stated that police would not reveal the extent of information they knew about the man. This is interesting because, as we saw earlier, The Age had paraphrased police as saying that the man was “in his late teens or early 20s” and The Sun had paraphrased the police as saying that he was “about 180cm” tall. One wonders what the relevance of this sudden shutting up shop may suggest about police motives in this regard. Mr Holliday was also paraphrased as stating that the man had “probably staked out the location for some time” and “was very determined and had gone to a lot of trouble”. The article also stated that “there was real concern that he might strike again”. Holliday was also quoted as stating: “We believe that the person probably looked at the scene well before the crime was committed and may have loitered around there on occasions prior to 5:30am yesterday morning”.

Television news channels also reported on Sharon’s return during the evening news of 28 December 1988. An artist’s rendition of the dark blue balaclava the abductor wore was displayed on the ABC news, as was an image of the handgun he used in the attack. Notably, the man was portrayed as wearing no gloves and the handgun was in his left hand. On giving details about Sharon’s abduction the ABC evening news reported “police say she’d been sexually assaulted, but was otherwise uninjured.” The ABC news coverage also reported: “Police say Sharon had been lying on a bed somewhere for most of her ordeal. The man had offered her vegemite sandwiches, milk and lemonade.”

Chief Superintendent Kevin Holliday speaking to the media about Sharon’s return 28 Dec 1988.
Artist’s rendition of the balaclava the offender wore in the abduction of Sharon Wills.
Artist’s rendition of the offender’s ungloved left hand holding a pistol.
Full body image of the offender as shown on Channel 9 news
Sharon Wills arrives home from the Austin Hospital with her parents 9 hours after being dumped in Bayswater.
John Wills carries his daughter inside their home as she clutches a teddy bear.
An emotional John Wills speaks to the media outside his home in Ringwood.

The story took out the front page of The Sun’s morning edition on 29 December 1988 with an article headlined Brave Sharon by Bruce Tobin and Christine McTighe. Contrary to the previous day’s The Herald article it stated Sharon had been dumped in the Bayswater High School schoolyard. It named the woman who had found Sharon as “Paula”. It quoted her as telling Channel 10 “She just said ‘my name’s Sharon Wills and I was taken from home early this morning. A man left me here and told me to go and ring home'”.

The Sun 29 Dec 1988 p.1
The Sun 29 Dec 1988 p.1 (closeup)

The article quoted Detective-Chief Superintendent Kevin Holliday as referring to the attacker as “a dangerous and cunning monster”. It repeated the notion that the offender had put a lot of effort into planning the crime whilst also stating that Sharon had said she was held throughout her ordeal in a house or flat.

The Sun 29 Dec 1988 p.1 (closeup)

The article also included a photograph of the woman who had found Sharon in the street, “Paula”.

The Sun 29 Dec 1988 p.1 Paula

Page 2 of the same article was headlined Sharon’s ordeal and included a map of where Sharon was abducted from and dumped. It went on to quote Chief Inspector Des Johnson as saying “we have to get this one” and paraphrased him as saying that the man had the potential to kill. He also said that Sharon had been found on the corner of Orchard and Armstrong Roads, Bayswater “wearing only a man’s short-sleeved shirt” and that “she was in quite good spirits”, however, “the clothes she was wearing when kidnapped are still missing”. The man had entered the room of Sharon and her sisters after tying up her parents, “walked up to her bunk and asked for her by name”. This is interesting as it is different to the previous day’s The Herald report which had stated that he had “asked her name”. It is quite a significant difference in reporting because The Herald report indicates the offender did not know her name, whereas, The Sun report indicates he knew her name beforehand.

The Sun 29 Dec 1988 p.2

After abducting her, the man had driven Sharon around for a while before taking her to a flat “and assaulting her”. Apparently, the man was “gruff to her first off, but was quietly spoken afterwards”. He had given Sharon a glass of milk and later a vegemite sandwich. After the ordeal, the man had wrapped Sharon in garbage bags and dumped her at Bayswater High School according to Chief Inspector Johnson. He was quoted as stating: “She was trussed up. She was placed in one and it was taped up to her shoulders. Another was put over her head and taped around her body and the face…was cut out of it”. I found the use of the term “trussed up” interesting here. I had not heard the term before, but MacMillans Dictionary claims it means “wearing tight or heavy clothes that make it difficult to move”.

The Sun 29 Dec 1988 p.2 map

The article also paraphrased Chief Inspector Johnson as stating: “as the man carried her over a fence to dump her in the schoolyard, a car drove along Orchard Rd and the kidnapper had to duck for cover to avoid being spotted. He was quoted as saying: “If someone saw anyone who they thought was putting out the garbage, he wasn’t”. He had told Sharon the direction of where she could get help and warned her not to look at him as he left. He then drove off and Sharon walked towards a house in the direction of where the man had pointed, but she hurt her feet on the ground, so she then went in the opposite direction and was found by Paula on Orchard Road.

The article also stated how surprised Sharon’s rescuer, Paula, had been and how courageous and bright Sharon was. When Paula had encountered Sharon she had asked the girl if she would like to get in and she would take her home and call the police. Sharon had agreed to and seemed pleased that the woman had offered to help.

Also on the 29th December The Sydney Morning Herald published a small article with an artist’s impression of the offender’s head in black and white. It was the same portrait that appears on video footage from news reports of the police press conferences, but which no other newspapers had published till this point.

The Sydney Morning Herald 29 Dec 1988 p.1

The Canberra Times also published an article on 29 December. Most of the details were the same as had been published in other newspapers beforehand. One unique detail was that it stated that the attacker had only removed the tape with which she had been blindfolded for the entire 18 hour ordeal when he dumped her at Bayswater High. Also, that “she must not look at his face or he would recapture her”. It quoted Chief Inspector Des Johnson as stating “we can only guess what would have happened if she had taken the blindfold off”. It paraphrased Johnson as saying that “she had little idea of the distances” (from her house to the flat he took her to), “but, felt he might have driven in circles at some stages”. Like The Sun, it stated Sharon was given a glass of milk first, and later a vegemite sandwich, but added that she was also given a glass of lemonade with the vegemite sandwich.

The Canberra Times 29 Dec 1988

The article added a detail that I have not seen reported elsewhere when it stated “another possible lead for police was that garbage men were in the area of the girl’s Hillcrest Avenue home in Ringwood at the time she was taken”.

That evening’s The Herald contained an article titled A father happy to cry for joy by Mark Harding. It repeated how John Wills had been emotional when he spoke to the media after Sharon’s return to their house. It stated how Sharon’s sisters had been waiting in the house next door, and that when Sharon’s auntie arrived she was taken next door to see them as the Wills residence was still cordoned off by white crime scene tape. The article also expressed surprise that the attacker had chosen to abduct a girl from this area stating: “although the kidnapper took $35 and a handbag after tying up the parents, a bandit would not expect to find great wealth in such an area”.

The Herald 29 Dec 1988

The same paper included an article titled Tears as Sharon returns home, by David Towler. The article included 2 photos of Sharon, one by herself, holding a teddy bear, and one as she is being carried inside by her father John Wills. All of the details included in this article were identical to information that had already been featured in other newspapers earlier in the day apart from some points including: “police hope they will be able to identify the suburb (of the flat or house Sharon was held in) and gain an important breakthrough in the investigation.

The Herald 29 Dec 1988
The Herald 29 Dec 1988
The Herald 29 Dec 1988
The Herald 29 Dec 1988

The article also stated that after she had a rest, Sharon would be interviewed again by police, and that “that interview was also expected to include a reconstruction of the trip she was taken on yesterday”. It also stated that “today, Sharon went with police as they searched the area near Bayswater High School, sifting through rubbish, and lifting drain covers”.

The Herald 29 Dec 1988
The Herald 29 Dec 1988

This edition of The Herald also included an article titled The Attacker with information about him and a photograph of an actor posing in a balaclava. It stated that the perpetrator was “wearing an anonymous blue boilersuit and a dark blue ski mask with holes for the eyes and mouth…the holes were trimmed in white with a red line running through it…a police artist’s impression gave no indication as to his type of footwear”. Interestingly, it also stated: “police said that they had no idea as to his age although initial reports indicated he may have been in his late teens or early 20s…he was of thin build and about 180cm tall”. This comment seems to acknowledge the fact that there were earlier reports giving these details, before police refused to give information about the attacker’s age at the police press conference on the 28th.

The Herald 29 Dec 1988

The television continued to report on the case on 29 December. The ABC evening news reported on a police press conference given that afternoon in which John Wills spoke to the media. The father of 4 girls spoke of the importance of home security after his ordeal. On reporting on the abduction the ABC noted that: “The man sexually abused the 10-year-old, and then dumped her at Bayswater High School.” On reporting on the description of the offender the ABC reported: “Police believe he’s a loner in his late teens or early twenties.” John Wills was also shown saying: “I could never forgive him for what he’s perpetrated against my daughter. I guess if ever I got the opportunity I would certainly convey those thoughts into an action.” It then reported that “police have set up stations at Eastland and Bayswater shopping centres”.

John Wills speaks to the media at a police press conference on 29 Dec 1988.
A police information caravan set up at Eastland shopping centre.

30 December 1988 started off with The Sun’s Trauma lingers for kidnap family, by Bruce Tobin. It included information from John Wills from the previous day that had not been included in the articles from the 29th. Mr Wills spoke of how he and his family had been sleeping in the lounge room since they had returned to their house as they were too afraid to sleep in their own bedrooms, and that they expected to be doing this for some time. He added: “We are all naturally very concerned that he is going to return. If he ever came back I would be prepared next time”. He also mentioned how he thought the attacker was “sick” and needed help, but that he himself would never forgive him, and that he believed the man would continue to commit these sorts of crimes adding: “I feel very aggressive towards him, but I do understand that he needs help”.

The Sun 30 Dec 1988 p.5

Detective Inspector Des Johnson said that detectives were investigating whether the man had been responsible for other attacks in the Melbourne area. John Wills described Sharon as a “brave little trooper” who was coping well despite her ordeal. He also said he would not want the same sort of thing to happen to another little girl. Mr Wills said that he was considering moving his family to a different house because of the attack. He described the trauma he had suffered saying: “To have your daughter taken and not know where she is is indescribable.”

The Sun 30 Dec 1988 p.5 (article closeup 1)

The article went on to describe how the intruder had entered through the back door “at around 5:45am”. Next the intruder had entered the parents’ bedroom, put a gun to John Wills’ temple and told him “not to be a hero”, before ordering him and his wife to lie face down on their bed and tying them up with copper wire. After he had robbed them of $35 he had cut the telephone line. He then blindfolded and gagged Sharon, with “a ball and tape”. Mr Wills then described how he reacted on finding Sharon missing from her bed: “I immediately ran next door because he had cut my telephone, banged on the door and woke up my neighbour. I asked him to ring the police and then I started running around the block looking for her”.

The Sun 30 Dec 1988 p.5 (article closeup 2)

Mr Wills then urged others to put more effort into securing their homes because “they would hate to have happen what has happened to us”. He also called on anybody who might know the perpetrator to come forward to police. The article then gave the same description as had been described previously, saying he was “1.8 metres tall”, but not mentioning his age.

The Sun 30 Dec 1988 p.5 photo

The Age’s article for 30 December 1988 by Paul Conroy was titled We fear intruder will return, says abducted girl’s father. It repeated how the family were sleeping in the lounge room, but added they had been “for the past two nights”, and the family were “too frightened to go to their bedrooms in case the man…returns”. Mr Wills also described how he had installed security doors and an alarm system since the attack. The article added that police said that Sharon and her 8 year-old twin sisters were receiving counselling since the attack. Mr Wills was also quoted as saying: “He put the gun to my head and asked whether I was going to be a hero. I said I wasn’t”. The father also said: “I got the impression he was looking for a little girl. I had four to choose from”.

The Age 30 Dec 1988 p.6

John Wills was also quoted in The Age article as stating: “I honestly believe this man has done this before. He came well prepared and covered his tracks. I have run his voice over and over in my mind to try to remember whether I might know him but I don’t”. The article added that John Wills became emotional by the end of the press conference and had to be helped away by detectives. It was also stated that similar offences were being checked to see if there were any connections with this crime.

Sharon a brave trouper, says father was published by The Canberra Times on the same day. It included most of the same details from the previous day’s press conference as The Sun and The Age articles did earlier. However, it described John Wills as remaining calm throughout before, at the end of the press conference, putting his head in his hands and being led away by police. The article also stated that both the “major crime squad and the rape task force were involved in the hunt for her attacker”.

The Canberra Times 30 Dec 1988

The Herald article that day, by David Towler, titled Police check links in Sharon abduction, stressed the importance of how police were “sifting through files of similar offences in a bid to establish a link”. It also stated that the “public response to information caravans set up near the family’s Hillcrest Av. home and at Bayswater, where Sharon was left, has been slow.” It may be that this article was published after that day’s police press conference as there were additional details not included in The Sun and The Age articles. Detective Inspector Kevin Holliday was paraphrased as stating that “the methodical nature of the crime has left investigators with little evidence to follow up and they are desperate for any information”.

The Herald 30 Dec 1988

Holliday was also paraphrased as stating that he thought the gunman had operated by himself and “apparently had access to accommodation where he could be alone”. Interestingly, the article also stated: “the only evidence to establish an identity so far was the man’s voice which suggested he was young, perhaps in his late teens or early 20s”. The article also stated that neither John or Julie Wills knew the perpetrator, but that the fact that he had addressed Sharon by name may have been evidence that he may have learnt about the family from the newspaper article that had been published about the house fire at their home earlier that year. Mr Holliday was also paraphrased as stating that the attacker may have spent months planning the crime, but may not necessarily have known about the house.

The Herald 30 Dec 1988

There was another article in The Herald, published on 30 December, by Carolyn Ford, titled Police wait for clues in hunt for kidnapper. This article was more of an exploratory piece, highlighting the irony of a road sign outside Bayswater declaring the suburb “Australia’s most liveable suburb”. The article pointed out that there was an information unit set up just 150 metres from this sign, established to hunt for Sharon’s attacker. The article quoted Senior Detective Ralph Carnell as stating that “this is the worst part of police work, sitting and waiting”. The detective had been working at a similar information unit near Sharon’s home in Ringwood.

The Herald 30 Dec 1988

Apparently, 5 people had approached the Ringwood unit after the 6pm evening news the previous day, while there had been 13 callers on the 30th. At Bayswater, 6 people had phoned, 2 after the evening news. There, Senior Detective Mick Wheeldon was quoted as stating: “it is frustrating work because you want to go out and apprehend the offender”, but that “valuable information could come in at any time”. Wheeldon had only had 4 hours of sleep since 6am on the 27th. The article said that the information gleaned from these people was largely based on car descriptions and suspicions who the attacker may have been based on his description of being 180cm tall and thin. Detective Senior Constable Andrew Humberstone and Constable Andrew Wyatt were to man the information unit at Mountain Highway during that night’s graveyard shift.

On 31 December 1988 The Age published an article about the abduction by Paul Conroy titled The crime that stirs passions and is solved by cool logic. It was an article about the man in charge of the investigation into the abduction, Detective Chief Inspector Des Johnson. Johnson is quoted as describing the perpetrator as “a monster and a mongrel”, and as having four children of his own, before denying that this emotion would reduce his capacity to do his job professionally. Johnson had been told of the abduction when he received a telephone call at 6:55am on Tuesday morning. The article described how Johnson had told Sharon Wills’ distraught mother Julie, when he arrived at their home, that police “had to assume the worst”. He was also quoted as stating: “I told her (Julie Wills) and her husband to keep their spirits up, and that we were doing everything.” The investigation was to include “two teams of detectives who will be assisted by two CIB detectives from Ringwood and Nunawading”.

The Age 31 Dec 1988 p.2

Detective Chief Inspector Des Johnson was also quoted as stating: “The unfortunate fact is that there are so many of this type of offender who are out there in the community. There are so many people with the propensity to do this”. We also have to consider the fact that he could have committed this for the first time.” The article then described how the offender had probably been watching the house for some time and had decided to strike after watching John Wills go to bed at about 5am after having had difficulty sleeping and doing a jigsaw puzzle to relax. The offender had entered the premises via the back door and after tying Sharon’s parents up with copper wire, had gagged Sharon with masking tape.

The Age 31 Dec 1988 p.2 closeup

Des Johnson is then quoted as stating: “We can only dread what the man would have done if the girl had pulled off the blindfold and seen his face. It is that close to being a homicide. It is only an extra step.” The article then states how police had drawn up a list of similar offenders and “have focused their attention on a particular man who is known to have committed similar crimes”. They also paraphrased police as stating that it was also possible that the offender had previously committed milder offences before escalating to the level of this abduction over the course of several years. Lastly, Johnson is paraphrased as stating that the police had “no firm leads” as yet, but was then quoted as expressing his confidence that they would catch him.

A very brief article appeared that evening in The Herald titled Police step up kidnap hunt. It simply paraphrased Des Johnson as stating that the information caravans would be discontinued that evening and quoted him as stating: “There are quite a number of suspects to be checked out and the information that has been received has to be gone through.”

The Herald 31 Dec 1988

Also on 31 December 1988, evening television news programs reported on a police press conference that was held that day in which a $100,000 reward was announced to help catch the offender. The ABC evening news showed Chief Superintendent Kevin Holliday stating: “We suspect that he probably has committed offences in the past…we do suspect that this is not the first offence that he’s committed.” Chillingly, the ABC also paraphrased Holliday as saying that the offender could be capable of murder if he was ever seen by one of his victims and that the police were very concerned that that could happen in the future.

Chief Superintendent Kevin Holliday announces a $100,000 reward to help catch the offender on 31 Dec 1988.

On 2 January 1989 an article by Neil McMahon and Alexandra Cutherson appeared in The Sun titled Family backs reward – $100,000 bid to catch Sharon’s kidnapper. The article made the claim that John Wills had welcomed the reward when speaking to the media on 31 December 1988. Treasurer and acting Police Minister Rob Jolly was paraphrased as stating that the government shared the police view that everything needed to be done to catch the offender. Kevin Holliday was quoted as stating: “We are concerned at the likelihood this offender will offend again and perhaps commit an offence worse than he has. We suspect this is not the first offence he has committed”. The article paraphrased Mr Holliday as saying he feared the offender could eventually kill someone.

The Sun 2 Jan 1989 p.5

Kevin Holliday was also paraphrased stating he believed that someone may have known the identity of the offender, but was covering for him, before calling on any such people to come forward to police. He also stated he believed only one man was involved in the abduction, but would not rule out others being involved. On how Sharon was coping with her ordeal, Mr Holliday was quoted as stating: “So far, for a girl of her age, and the horror she has been through, she has been excellent. She is coping with it extremely well and only time will tell.”

The Sun 2 Jan 1989 p.5 closeup 1
Sun 2 Jan 1989 p.5 closeup 2

The Age also published an article that day titled $100,000 for information on Ringwood abduction by Paul Conroy. It was also about the police press conference from the previous day.

The Age 2 Jan 1989 p.3

The Canberra Times also published an article about the previous day’s police press conference titled $100,000 reward to find abductor.

The Canberra Times 2 Jan 1989

On 4 January 1989, television news stations ran a story about a lead in the abduction case. The ABC News reported that a suspicious white Holden Commodore Vacationer, which was seen behaving strangely in Bayswater around the same time Sharon Wills was dumped at Bayswater High School, was a new lead in the case. Police held a press conference to discuss the potential lead in which they explained that the suspect vehicle, with its headlights turned off, almost collided with another car when turning left from Jersey Road onto Mountain Highway at about 11:15pm on 27 December 1988. Inspector Dannye Moloney said that the driver of the second car told police that the suspect was doing his best to avoid being seen, and that he “pulled the car forward trying to avoid showing his face to the other witnesses.” The Commodore had continued down Mountain Highway before turning right at Church Street heading towards Bayswater High School. The suspect vehicle was described as “an early 1980s Vacationer sedan with three blue stripes down the side.”

Back view of an early 1980s Holden Commodore Vacationer sedan like that one sighted by a witness as behaving suspiciously on the evening of 27 December 1988.
Front view of an early 1980s Holden Commodore Vacationer sedan like that one sighted by a witness as behaving suspiciously on the evening of 27 December 1988.
Inspector Dannye Moloney informs the media about a suspect Holden Commodore Vacationer sedan seen behaving suspiciously in Bayswater soon before Sharon Wills was dumped at Bayswater High School. An unknown police officer points out the location of the near collision on a map.
The suspect vehicle almost collided with the witness’s vehicle whilst turning left from Jersey Road onto Mountain Highway at 11:15pm 27 December 1988.

On 5 January 1989 an article by Brian Walsh titled Car lead in kidnap case appeared in The Sun regarding information about a lead in the case that had been divulged the previous day at a police press conference. The information had been provided to police by a motorist who had seen “a driver acting suspiciously in the area Sharon was dumped”. Inspector Dannye Moloney said “the witness was driving along Mountain Highway, Bayswater about 11.15pm on the night Sharon was found when a white Holden Commodore Vacationer sedan turned out of Jersey Rd in front of him. The witness was forced to swerve violently to miss the Commodore which had its lights switched off. Insp Moloney said the Commodore’s driver appeared anxious not to be identified. He said when the witness pulled up at traffic lights next to the Commodore the man turned to avoid being seen. The witness’s description matched that given to police by Sharon and detectives were treating the information as a definite breakthrough.” The article also stated that police believed Sharon’s abduction could be connected to 8 similar attacks throughout the previous 10 years.

The Sun 5 Jan 1989

The Age also published an article by Innes Willox about the car lead that had been revealed in the previous day’s police press conference. In reference to the 8 attacks that had been linked to Sharon’s abduction, this article added that they were all still “unsolved”. Police would be pamphletting the local area around the Wills family home and near where Sharon was dumped in Bayswater. Also, police hoped to display a car similar to the Holden Commodore Vacationer that was sighted by the witness in both areas. The Age article also added that the vehicle had “three blue stripes along its side” and that the witness had to “brake and swerve to avoid a collision”. Inspector Moloney was paraphrased as stating that the suspect in the Holden Commodore Vacationer “turned his head away and edged forward, as the irate witness, upset at the near collision, looked into his car.”

The Age 5 Jan 1989

The article also paraphrased Inspector Moloney saying that “Sharon’s description of the car had been considered before the information was released”. The article continued: “The suspect’s car then went ahead and turned right about 1.5 kilometres along the road into Church Street, towards Bayswater High School, where Sharon was left less than 45 minutes later. The witness…did not see anybody else in the car.”

The Canberra Times also covered the story of the car lead on the same day, but there was no extra information included in the article.

The Canberra Times 5 Jan 1989

The newspaper articles on 5 January 1989 were the last ones to cover the story of Sharon Wills’ abduction until the abduction of Nicki Lynas in July 1990. There has been no more mention about the car lead in any subsequent newspaper publications until the present day.

On 24 January 1989 an article by David Thomson was published in The Age titled Man accused of nine rapes held in custody. The article detailed the fact that one Mark Anthony Jewell had “made about 40 telephone calls to the family of Sharon Wills.” The information was gleaned from a session at the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court where Detective Sergeant Ian Tanner had told the court that when Jewell was arrested “he was in the process of making telephone calls to the Wills family.” Jewell was remanded to face a host of sex crime charges including 7 rapes which had occurred over 5 years “but mainly in the past 10 months”.

The Age 24 Jan 1989

On 6 February 1990 an article by Peter Gregory titled Phone calls led to rape arrest for The Age was published. The article stated that Mark Anthony Jewell had pleaded guilty to raping and indecently assaulting numerous women in Armadale and Ringwood. He had been arrested after making phone calls to Sharon Wills’ parents in December 1988. The phone calls had been traced to a phone booth in the Alfred Hospital. The Crown Prosecutor Mr Damien Maguire said that Jewell was not involved in the abduction of Sharon. Maguire also accused Jewell of raping a 41-year-old woman in Prahran and raping 2 schoolgirls aged 14 and 15. Jewell had apparently also indecently assaulted girls aged 10 and 12, and women in theirs 20s.

The Age 6 Feb 1990

When Nicki Lynas was abducted on 3 July 1990, Sharon Wills’ parents John and Julie were in the news again expressing their sympathy with Nicki’s parents and hoping for her quick return. Then When Karmein Chan’s body was discovered in April 1992 the Wills family attended her funeral.

The Wills family are escorted to Karmein Chan’s funeral service at Bulleen Baptist Church by 2 unnamed police detectives.

Drawings of the inside of the offender’s lair.

On 27 January 1993, the Spectrum Taskforce investigating the Mr Cruel series of child abductions decided to release previously secret information about the lair where both Sharon Wills and Nicki Lynas were held. Head of the Spectrum Taskforce David Sprague spoke at a press conference about his frustration of not having come up with a result until that point in the investigation and expressed hope that they still might be successful. The police released drawings of the bedroom and bathroom of the building the two girls were held in. The illustration of the bedroom was based on the recollection of Sharon Wills, who had lifted up her blindfold to take a peek at the bedroom she was being held in whilst leashed to a bed. She had taken the opportunity to spy the room after the offender had appeared to leave the building temporarily. This story ran on the ABC news on 30 January 1993.

The ‘detention premises bedroom’ at the building where both Sharon Wills and Nicki Lynas were taken.

An analysis of Keith Moor’s description of the Sharon Wills abduction from his 2016 Herald Sun article titled Victoria Police and FBI Dossier on shocking Mr Cruel child attacks.

In 2016, award-winning journalist Keith Moor wrote a series of articles for the Herald-Sun in which he described previously unknown information about the four canonical Mr Cruel crimes, including the Sharon Wills abduction. According to Moor, he was handed the information from an anonymous source, but not through official police channels. Moor claimed the files included previously unpublished information taken from witness statements and the police files about the Mr Cruel case. While much of it was original, some of it directly contradicted information that had been released by police at the time of the abduction as described above. In fact, some of it even contradicted information contained in Moor’s own chapter about the case from his book Mugshots 1 which he co-wrote with Geoff Wilkinson. Despite this, Mugshots 1 was updated in 2019 and it still contained some of the old information from when it had been published previously, and was not updated with much of the new information from the police files that Moor had published in the 2016 Herald-Sun articles. So, now I will analyse some of the original information Moor presented in the 2016 Herald-Sun article and compare it to the historical information about the Sharon Wills case.

In his description of the abduction of Sharon Wills, Moor mentions that the offender may have seen her photograph in the newspaper article she had appeared in with her family a few months before the attack, as I covered earlier in this blog post. He describes how the victim in the Lower Plenty attack had also appeared in a newspaper article before she was attacked. While Moor suggests that the offender may have chosen Sharon “after seeing her photograph published in a local newspaper”, Sharon’s photograph was published in The Sun News Pictorial (he even says this himself in Mugshots 1). This newspaper was not a local newspaper, but a Melbourne wide morning tabloid.

Moor states that the Wills family were away from their home between the hours of 6pm and 10pm on Boxing Day, 26 December 1988. This is new information that hadn’t been included in the contemporary newspaper articles about the abduction. He doesn’t state where the family were during these hours, just that they arrived home at 10pm and the children were fed and in bed by 10:45pm. Moor also states that both John and Julie Wills went to bed at 1am on the morning of the 27th.

As was stated by the newspapers from 1988, Moor says that John Wills had trouble sleeping and so, got up and did a jigsaw puzzle. The father of four then went back to bed at 4:50am after turning out the lights in the house. Moor then states that the offender gained entry to the house around 30 minutes after John turned out all the lights – about 5:20am. The contemporary newspaper reports gave different times for this event, ranging from 5:30am to 5:45am to 6:00am, all slightly different to Moor’s 2016 information. Even Mugshots 1, puts the time of entry at 5:45am.

However, perhaps far more interesting was the way in which the offender gained entry to the residence, something that had not been reported anywhere else previously. Moor claimed the man had gotten into the house by sliding a newspaper under the back door and pushing out a key that was placed in the keyhole on the inside of the door. The perpetrator had then apparently pulled the newspaper back under the door.

One of two back doors to the Wills residence had glass panels, which may have allowed the offender to see a key in the door on the inside of the house.
The back door of the Wills residence led directly to the lounge room as can be seen in this real estate photograph from 2009.

According to Moor, the offender then burst into John and Julie’s room and turned the light on whilst wearing a balaclava and carrying a handgun, but Moor doesn’t mention what hand he held the gun in. The newspapers of the day specifically mentioned he was carrying it in his left hand, but we will return to this detail later. As was described in the newspapers, Julie began to scream. In his 2016 Herald-Sun article, Moor says that Julie began to scream first, and then the offender put his gun to John’s head and told her to stop. However, in Mugshots 1, Moor and Wilkinson state that the perp put the gun to John’s temple first and then he told Julie to stop screaming. While holding the gun to John’s head the offender said to him: “You’re not going to be a hero are you”?

According to Moor’s 2016 Herald-Sun article and Mugshots 1, the offender then forced both John and Julie to lie face down on their beds and tied up their hands and feet. With “copper electrical wire” according to the Herald Sun article, which is slightly different to the “copper wire” as reported historically and in Mugshots 1. He then robbed them of $35 as was mentioned in the newspapers of the time.

Like the contemporary newspaper reports Moor reports that Mr Cruel then cut the phone line at this point, before entering the children’s bedroom where the four daughters occupied four bunk beds with Sharon on one of the top bunks. Again, this is verified by newspapers of the day. However, Moor’s 2016 description is unique in describing the subsequent events as told from the perspective of Sharon. Presumably it was taken from her witness statement to police.

It describes how Sharon had woken up when her mother had screamed and she had heard a man’s voice. The man then entered her bedroom and she pretended to be asleep as she was afraid. The offender had then “rolled Sharon over and shone the torch in her face and asked if she was awake”, but Sharon pretended to be asleep (none of the contemporary news reports made any mention of a torch). The offender then left the bedroom, closing the door, only to return a short time later and attempted to wake her up, when “she decided she could no longer pretend to be asleep”.

According to Moor’s anonymous source, the perpetrator then helped Sharon get down from the bunk bed and then started rummaging through her wardrobe for clothes (the items of clothing he is supposed to have taken differ somewhat to what was said to have been taken in the initial newspaper reports, but we will get to this later). Having taken some of Sharon’s clothes from the wardrobe Mr Cruel took Sharon into the lounge room of the house and stole a coat belonging to John Wills off the hat stand in the hallway and put it on Sharon over her nightie.

In the lounge room Moor states that the offender went through a basket of clothes and took a shirt from it which he used to wrap the clothes he had taken from Sharon’s wardrobe. The offender then carried Sharon onto the back porch and put her down, but the girl began to scream so he placed a red rubber ball in her mouth to gag her. He then removed the ball when Sharon agreed not to scream anymore.

Mr Cruel then blindfolded Sharon “by placing material over her head that was either tied or stuck together”. This is an interesting detail as the historical news reports didn’t say exactly when Sharon was first blindfolded, while Mugshots 1 suggested it occurred while she was still in her bedroom. Next, Moor said that the offender carried Sharon out of the driveway and, after walking a short distance, put her down before changing direction and taking her to a car. He told Sharon during this walk to the car that he wasn’t going to hurt her and that he was going to give her parents a ransom note and “would return her in the morning when the banks opened and he got his ransom money”.

In the car the offender put her on the front passenger seat and told her to get on the floor, but after he began to drive, the man asked her if she could see, and she admitted she could. The man then used “adhesive tape” to stick the blindfold to her head and put a blanket over her head. He then drove the car “for some time” before stopping in a driveway where he carried Sharon into a house and put her on a bed.

Here he changed the blindfold he had on Sharon’s head, taping some type of eye pads to her head. While Sharon was on the bed blindfolded, she could hear a radio going and the sound of a running bath. The man then carried her to the bathroom and made her brush her teeth and bathe. He then took her back to the bedroom where she recognised the radio station as 3TT and heard the 7am news playing. Moor states at this point that Sharon “later told police she heard two planes flying over the premises”.

Moor states that Sharon was then “assaulted” before the man gave her a glass of milk and a stale vegemite sandwich. The offender then said that he was going out before he “leashed Sharon to the bed with some type of harness around her neck”. He did not turn off the radio before he left. While the offender was gone Sharon worked up the courage to lift up her blindfold and sneak a peek at the room she was in. This is when she was able to see “a wooden tripod set up for filming near the end of the double bed she was in”.

When the offender returned he took the leash, which was attached to Sharon’s neck, off and carried her back to the bathroom where he once again made her bathe. He then took her to “another room” to “assault” her again before once again taking her to the bathroom where she was made to bathe yet again. Next, she was again carried to the bedroom where he reattached the leash to her neck.

According to the 2016 Herald Sun article, the offender left Sharon leashed to the double bed for quite some time at this point, often returning to the room to check on her and ask “how she was”. The offender finally told Sharon that she was to have a shower rather than a bath where he “made her wash her hair and body really well”. When she was dry the offender dressed Sharon in the shirt he had taken from the basket in the Wills family lounge room and put her inside two garbage bags. He pulled the bottom garbage bag up to her neck and taped it to her shoulders, while he put the other one over her head and taped it to her waist. Then he made a hole so that she could breathe before carrying her to a car and placing her on the floor in front of the front passenger seat.

The car would not start at first, and as the offender struggled to start it he told Sharon that “stolen vehicles do not always start properly”. Once he had the car started he reversed it out of the driveway and “drove for what she described as a long time, sometimes fast, sometimes slow”. After some time he stopped the vehicle, got out and lifted Sharon out of the car with the garbage bags still on her. He began jogging while carrying Sharon “stopping now and then to put her down while he rested”.

After an unstated period of time the man put Sharon down and “told her how to get to a nearby Food Plus store”. Moor states that the offender then removed the garbage bags and blindfold and told Sharon not to look at him as he left. The information about the Food Plus store directly contradicts the information Moor himself gives here in his book Musgshots 1 which stated that the offender told Sharon to walk across the oval to the north of Bayswater High School and “towards a house with lights on” as did the historical newspaper reports. The only Food Plus store which was operating in the area at the time was located to the south of the school at 684 Mountain Highway, Bayswater, in the opposite direction of the houses on the other side of the oval, so it is unclear why this contradiction occurred.

However, it is the description of the offender himself from Moor’s 2016 Herald Sun article which contradicts the historical reports more than any other area, and I am at a loss to explain why they differ so dramatically. The first discrepancy is that it describes the offender as between 173cm and 180cm tall “and of thin to medium build”. This contradicts all the original reports in various newspapers and the ABC television news which described the offender as 180cm tall and of thin build.

Secondly, Moor’s files described the offender as “aged mid 20s to 30s”. Again this contradicts the historical account in various newspapers and the ABC television news which put his age between “late teens and early 20s”. However, other information from Moor’s files was original with the article stating that the offender “had either a moustache or whiskers, possibly an early beard growth”. It also said he was right-handed. While the historical articles didn’t mention whether the offender was right or left-handed, the artist’s depiction of the offender showed him holding the handgun in his left hand. Furthermore, it depicted the offender as ungloved, but Moor’s file states that he was wearing gloves, directly contradicting both the police artist’s depiction of the offender and a Herald article from 29 December 1988 which specifically mentioned that the offender’s hands were “bare”. Moor also said that the offender was carrying a bag and a torch.

This police artist’s depiction of the offender showed an ungloved left hand holding a handgun.

There were also discrepancies between the information provided in Moor’s 2016 article about the items the offender stole from Sharon Wills’ house as compared with the historical record. The 2016 article provided new information about the offender stealing a men’s “brown and black checked waist length lumber jacket with lamb lining” belonging to John Wills. It also stated that “a pair of girl’s cream coloured panties with an amber motif on the left side…of either an apple or an umbrella”, were stolen. Historically, one newspaper reported that “a pair of white pants with a ballerina imprint” had been stolen, while another stated simply that “a pair of underpants” had been. Perhaps they are referring to the same item of underwear?

Moor’s 2016 article also referred to “a girl’s cotton knee length nightie with a mauve and blue pattern, cap sleeves and a ribbon to tie the neckline” had been stolen. This was the nightwear Sharon was wearing when she was abducted that numerous newspapers referred to. What was not mentioned in the newspapers was the “pair of children’s blue thongs with plastic straps and white beading” that Moor’s 2016 article refers to, presumably the footwear Sharon was wearing when she was abducted. Also, not mentioned in the newspapers was a “Bonds white singlet, size 8”. However, other items of clothing that were reported in the historical newspapers as having been stolen, but not mentioned by Moor’s 2016 article, included a “white skirt” and “a blue checked blouse”.

Keith Moor also gave a description of the vehicle the offender drove based on the testimony of Sharon Wills. However, he makes no mention of the witness description of the Holden Commodore Vacationer which had been seen to have been behaving strangely in the Bayswater area not long before Sharon was dumped. In fact, Keith Moor makes no mention of this vehicle in any of his writing, and I have not been able to determine whether anything more ever came of this lead. While that description was only of the exterior of a vehicle, Moor’s 2016 description of the vehicle used in the attack only provided information about its interior.

Sharon described the vehicle as having bucket seats, and that it sounded like an old vehicle. There was a hump in the middle of the floor, and the glove box was located down low. In the middle of the hump was a gear lever. The arm rest, inner front door and the carpet were all coloured cream. The lock on the door was also cream and had a circle on top. The car also smelt clean.

Analysis of the Sharon Wills abduction

In researching the abduction of Sharon Wills I did come across a couple of interesting pieces of information that had not been published anywhere in written accounts of the crime. Firstly, the day before Sharon was taken from her house in Ringwood the area received a whopping 54.2mm of rainfall in 24 hours. This was the highest amount of rainfall received in Ringwood in the entire year of 1988. None of the newspapers covering the crime mentioned this weather anomaly in their coverage of the case. One wonders whether there was any relationship between this event and the committal of the crime. For example, no doubt there would have been a degree of flooding in the low-lying areas of Ringwood that day or around creeks. The Victorian SES (State Emergency Services) may well have been active in the area for this reason due to flooding or rain damage. There may well have been electricity outages in the area requiring SECV linesmen to work on the nearby transmission lines.

Secondly, one element of this crime which has not been reported on at all in the published media is the fact that the Wills residence was and is located barely 30 metres from a 50 metre tall, high-voltage electricity pylon and 750 metres from the Ringwood Terminal Station. As I have written about previously, and as has been pointed out by researcher and writer Clinton Bailey, electricity pylons, sub-stations and terminal stations seem to feature unusually prominently in all the canonical cases of the Mr Cruel series. Perhaps most famously, Karmein Chan’s body was discovered buried at the Thomastown Terminal Station in 1992. Less well-known is the fact that her home was located only 800 metres from overhead transmission lines running along tall pylons from the Templestowe Terminal Station located four kilometres from the Chan family home. Furthermore, Nicki Lynas was dumped at an electricity substation in Kew after she had been held by the perpetrator for 50 hours, and her home at 10 Monomeath Avenue was an 850 metre walk to East Camberwell Substation. The latter was even closer to where the perpetrator parked his getaway vehicle in Chaucer Crescent. While just across the road from Nicki and Karmein’s school, Presbyterian Ladies College, was the site of Burwood Electricity Substation and Box Hill Electricity Service Centre. Lastly, the house in which the Lower Plenty sexual assault occurred in was located approximately 800 metres from overhead transmission wires which ran to an old State Electricity Commission of Victoria substation in Lower Plenty also within a 1km radius of the home.

A 1988 Melway map of the Ringwood area. Circled in red are Hillcrest Avenue where the Wills family home was, the transmission line which ran behind their home, Antonio Park Primary School where Sharon went to school, the SEC Ringwood Terminal Station, and Eastland Shopping Centre.

It should also be noted that Eastlink (a tolled section of freeway) now runs just to the east of Hillcrest Avenue. It had not yet been constructed when the crime was committed in 1988 (despite a well-known American blogger claiming the offender could have used it as a fast getaway). Its construction involved the destruction of the street immediately to the east of Hillcrest Avenue, Bonview Avenue. The 1988 map clearly shows the future path the highway would take in light green.

Regarding the electricity pylon located directly behind the Wills residence, I was startled to discover on visiting it that a linesman working on the tower would have had a direct line of sight into the windows at the back of the Wills residence. What was the Wills residence on Hillcrest Avenue now has a granny flat that would block a view from the tower, but in 1988 this building was not there. Given all of the other links to electricity infrastructure in the Mr Cruel series I wondered whether the police had investigated this angle.

An electricity pylon located directly behind what was the Wills residence in 1988. A linesman or repairman working on this tower would have had a direct line of sight into the rooms at the back of the Wills residence.

I managed to get in touch with a community of linesmen who had worked at various terminal stations and electricity substations throughout the Melbourne area. When I enquired as to whether any of them knew of any police enquiries at their places of work during the Mr Cruel investigation I was pleasantly surprised to hear that indeed the police had entered their work premises and interviewed many of the workers. I’ve been informed that the police interviewed workers at Watsonia Electrical Substation. Another worker who said that he worked for the SEC at Broadmeadows Depot told me he was visited at home by the police and questioned there, and he informed me that some of his colleagues had the same experience. Yet another linesman told me the police visited his depot at Sunbury and questioned numerous linesmen there as well. If nothing else, all this shows the police did consider the electricity infrastructure angle worthy of investigation. However, that is as far as I have been with this lead, and I know of no excellent suspects who were SECV linesmen.

Another feature of the Sharon Wills abduction that merits discussion is the fact that, according to Keith Moor, the Wills family spent the hours of between 6 and 10pm away from the house on 26 December 1988. Of course this begs the question as to whether the offender saw the family out somewhere and decided to follow them home. If the family were shopping during the Boxing Day sales, he may have seen them in a crowded public case and taken notice of Sharon. If this was the case he may have heard Sharon’s name being used and this could have been how he knew her name later.

What other features of the Sharon Wills abduction are worthy of discussion? The method of entry, as described in Keith Moor’s 2016 Herald Sun article surely meets this criteria. Moor claimed the man had gotten into the house by sliding a newspaper under the back door and pushing out a key that was placed in the keyhole on the inside of the door. The perpetrator had then apparently pulled the newspaper back under the door.

I consulted a locksmith about the feasibility of such a method of gaining entry to a house. He assured me that it would be impossible with modern locks, but that it was a technique that was employed by house burglars decades in the past. The method of entry certainly seems to point to a perpetrator who was somewhat skilled in the arts of burglary, and it begs the question: did he know the key would be on the inside of the lock, or did he just notice this in the early hours of the morning of 27 December 1988? It raises another question. Could he see that there was a key on the inside of the lock from some vantage point in the back garden of the Wills residence? Or, had the perpetrator been on the inside of the residence in some other capacity and seen the key on the inside of the lock? We know firemen, journalists and a photographer were inside the residence in July of 1988, what about others? No doubt tradesmen had been on the inside of the household in the weeks after the 5 July fire to repair fire damage. We also know that in all three of the other canonical crimes attributed to Mr Cruel, he gained entry to the residence through a window, so this method is certainly unique in its MO. And Did the offender bring the newspaper he used with him, or whatever device he used to poke the key out of the door? Perhaps these items were inside the bag Moor said he brought with him.

The next detail of the attack on the Wills family to analyse is the way in which he dealt with the two adults in the house. The offender confidently managed to subdue two adults including the man of the household. Unlike the three other canonical attacks, the offender in the Sharon Wills abduction was not carrying a knife. He was carrying a handgun in his left hand and, according to Moor’s 2016 Herald Sun article, a torch. Pointing the gun at John Wills’ head asking him if he was going to be a hero suggests a brazen individual who perhaps had executed this type of crime previously. Perhaps the modus operandi on display here points to an individual who was experienced at armed robbery, an alpha-male type character who was confident enough to control two adults because he had committed crimes in the past that similarly involved threatening adults with a gun, such as bank robbery. This fact might be one reason why any future investigation should concentrate on individuals who had a history of armed robbery prior to 1987. Perhaps the offender had experience as an armed robber and later decided to employ these skills to satisfy some latent sexual fantasies he had about prepubescent/early pubescent girls.

This last point also raises an interesting detail about the offender’s victim selection. If we are to accept that the same offender was responsible for all four canonical crimes (something for which there is not a consensus on among the police) we can analyse his victim choice. Nicki Lynas was the oldest of the victims at the time of her attack as she was almost 14-years old. Likewise, Karmein Chan would also have already reached puberty, being 13-years old when she was abducted. The Lower Plenty victim however, was only 11-years old, and Sharon Wills was a 10-year old who was the height of a 6-year old. Perhaps Sharon was the anomaly amongst all these girls in that she certainly wouldn’t have appeared to have been pubescent at the time she was abducted. Was Sharon abducted because of her unusually small size? The offender was able to carry Sharon around various crime scenes because she was so small, something he could not do with Nicki Lynas. Perhaps he had decided carrying his victim was not so important by the time of Nicki’s abduction in 1990.

This also raises the discussion of the motive of the offender. While Keith Moor never states in his writing that either Sharon Wills or Nicki Lynas were sexually assaulted, historical news reports did say they were. The ABC television news reported that both Sharon Wills and Nicki Lynas were sexually assaulted saying that the police said this was the case. In fact, celebrity policeman Ron Iddles also stated this in an interview with Matt Dunlop Media in November 2020. Looking at the clothes the offender selected from Sharon’s wardrobe also points to the sexual motive of the offender. He stole two of her skirts and a pair of her underwear. Moreover, after she was assaulted by the offender, and he had apparently left the building temporarily, Sharon reported seeing a wooden tripod set up for filming. It is therefore likely he recorded the assault on the child to satisfy a sexual motive. Sharon’s statement to police also included information about her being “leashed” to the bed. Does this indicate that the offender had some kind of sexual fetish or an interest in sado-masochism? Or was the leash simply a tool of convenience to prevent the child’s escape?

Another major feature of the offender’s modus operandi in the abduction was the fact that he was so careful not to leave behind any forensic evidence. Both times Sharon was assaulted he forced her to bathe to remove any trace of evidence. He even forced her to shower before he dumped her, and she was instructed to “wash her hair and body really well”. She was then dumped wearing only a shirt taken from her home. Since it is unclear whether he was wearing gloves as, as mentioned previously we have contradictory reports about this, it is unknown whether he would have left any fingerprints, either at the Wills residence or on Sharon (although Keith Moor claimed that police had no DNA or fingerprint evidence in an interview with Ethan Cardinal in November 2020). It may be that, as the police artist’s depiction portrays him, he was not wearing gloves, but that any fingerprints left at the crime scenes did not match any in the police database. One does have to wonder about the only item of evidence left on Sharon, the men’s short-sleeved shirt that the offender took from a laundry basket in the Wills lounge room. Has this item of evidence been retained? Could it be checked in the future for DNA evidence?

Another interesting aspect of the offender’s personality was his use of trickery to get what he wanted. He told John and Julie Wills when he first burst into their bedroom that he only wanted money. He told Sharon while transporting her to his vehicle that he was going to give her parents a ransom note and that he would return her in the morning once he got his money. He told Sharon on the return journey that “stolen cars do not always start properly” when he struggled to start the engine. Of course, we have no way of knowing whether the vehicle was stolen or not, but I’d suggest there is a good chance it wasn’t since he seemed to want Sharon to believe it was.

1988 Melway map of the Bayswater area where Sharon Wills was dumped at about midnight 28 December 1988. Circled in red are Bayswater High School, a tennis court near where Sharon was dumped, the corner of Orchard and Armstrong Roads were Sharon was found by ‘Paula’, the location of the Food Plus store at 684 Mountain Highway, the corner of Jersey Road and Mountain Highway were a witness driving a car almost had a collision with a Holden Commodore Vacationer which may have been the offender when he was driving to Bayswater High.

While he did finally dump Sharon at Bayswater High School, no source, whether historical or later sources, state where the offender parked his car. All we know from Sharon’s statements is that he carried her while jogging and would stop to rest every now and again. This suggests that he must have parked his car a reasonable distance from the school, perhaps because he was worried about it being seen in the area. We will see in a future blog post that the offender displayed the same wariness about his car being identified in the abduction of Nicki Lynas in 1990. If the perpetrator was the same person as the man seen driving the Holden Commodore Vacationer, we know that he did turn right from Mountain Highway onto Church Street not long after 11:15pm. Unfortunately, that is still currently a big ‘if’. I did contact former detective Dannye Moloney regarding this lead as he was the officer who gave the press conference about it, but he had no memory of the incident. All he said was that, any enquiries about the vehicle mustn’t have led anywhere if there was no more information about it.

Possible route Holden Commodore Vacationer seen by a witness may have taken from the corner of Jersey Road and Mountain Highway to Bayswater High School.

So, where did the offender leave his vehicle? As I said, it must have been some distance from Bayswater High. We have conflicting accounts of the offender ordering Sharon to flee to houses to the north of the oval (itself to the north of Bayswater High), and to the south towards the Food Plus. An analysis of the crime scene however, suggests that the latter account is more likely to be true. Why? Because this part of Bayswater is completely cut off to traffic to the north, east and west because of Dandenong Creek to the north, the railway line to the east, and no main connecting roads to the west respectively. It is for this very reason that Bayswater High School made such an excellent dumping site and would have made for an easy getaway. The offender would have been anxious about police arriving on the scene in the minutes after Sharon was dumped and closing off exit points from this part of the suburb at the only location that could be closed off – to the south. However, I have found a relatively simple walking route he could have taken to enter a completely different suburb on the other side of both the railway track and Dandenong Creek.

In fact, the offender could well have parked his vehicle north of Dandenong Creek at the southern tip of Bungalook Road East in Bayswater North, very near Dandenong Creek. From here he could easily have carried Sharon over the footbridge over Dandenong Creek and then west towards the railway line. From there he would have used the tunnel at this location under the railway line which would have brought him out to the north eastern end of Bayswater High School. Rather than entering the school through the football oval here, he may have tried to confuse the girl by carrying her south down Church Street before turning right at Orchard Road. Here (according to The Sun on 29 December 1988) he lifted Sharon over the small fence and had to duck for cover as a car drove down Orchard Road. Of course, Sharon was still blindfolded at this point so there is every chance she was confused and he lifted her over the fence at Church Street, and this is where he ducked for cover to avoid being seen. Either way, by telling Sharon she could reach a Food Plus store, which was located to the south on Mountain Highway, this would have given him enough time to flee to the north east and head back through the tunnel and over the footbridge over Dandenong Creek to where his vehicle would have been waiting in Bayswater North. This way, he would not be caught by any roadblocks set up along Mountain Highway to block vehicle exit points from this part of Bayswater.

1988 Melway map of Bayswater area. Areas circled in red are the tunnel access under the railway; the footbridge over Dandenong Creek, the Food Plus store on Mountain Highway, and an SEC substation a short walk from Bungalook Road.

We don’t know for sure that this is what the offender did, but it would go a long way to explain why he chose this particular area as a dumping ground, and hence, escape site. However, while the area by the creek would undoubtedly have been deserted at that time of the night, as mentioned earlier, it had been raining heavily on Boxing Day. Would Sharon not have heard the sound of running water as he carried her over the footbridge? Google Streetview images of Dandenong Creek show it as little more than a trickle today, but it surely would have been raging after the area received 55mm in a day only 24 hours previously. I’ve spoken to a person who grew up in this area and he has no memory of this creek being anything more than a trickle even after heavy rainfall. Furthermore, if we are to accept that the Holden Commodore Vacationer really was the perp’s car then wouldn’t this theory be ruled out as the vehicle was seen turning right onto Church Street (a dead end road that cannot reach Bayswater North) just before 11:20pm. It was cryptically suggested in some newspapers that the information was checked with Sharon before it was released. Does that mean that Sharon corroborated the fact that the two cars almost collided? Even if we are to accept that Sharon was in the Vacationer though, there was still 40 minutes to kill before she was dumped, and it is therefore possible the offender turned his vehicle around, turned back onto Mountain Highway, before turning left at Bayswater Road and driving to the Bungalook Road area of Bayswater North. Indeed, Moor’s 2016 article stated Sharon had felt the offender may have been driving around in circles at times.

Possible walking route the offender took in order to bypass railway line and Dandenong Creek

If the offender really did escape under the tunnel and over the footbridge over Dandenong Creek to Bayswater North he would have had ample time to flee as we know Sharon was not picked up by Paula at the corner of Orchard and Armstrong roads until 12:15am. By then, he surely would have been in his vehicle.

Tunnel under railway track just to the northeast of Bayswater High School which also existed in 1988.
Dandenong Creek looking north from the walking track between the railway tunnel and the footbridge over Dandenong Creek.
Walking track facing east heading from the railway tunnel towards the footbridge.
Footbridge over Dandenong Creek, view from the south east, facing north west.
View of footbridge facing south west from the southern tip of Bungalook Road East (simply called Bungalook Road, in 1988).

Summary – Questions about the case that need to be clarified

Having researched everything I can find that has been written by original sources about the Sharon Wills abduction case, I must conclude by requesting that the following items are clarified.

  • Was the offender wearing gloves during the commission of the crime? If he was, then why did the police artist’s rendition of him picture him as wearing none? If he wasn’t then why did Keith Moor’s 2016 article on this case state that he was? Was it that he wasn’t at some point, but was at other points in the commission of the crime? If so, how did he manage to leave no forensic evidence behind?
  • Did the offender tell Sharon when he dumped her at Bayswater High School to head north towards the lights of houses on the other side of the footie oval as stated in the historical account, or did he tell her to head south towards the Food Plus on Mountain Highway as stated in Keith Moor’s 2016 article?
  • Was the lead of the witness seeing the Holden Commodore Vacationer on the night of 27 December 1988 the offender or not? Was this lead ruled out, or do investigators still consider it important?
  • What was the actual description of the offender? Late teens to early 20s and 180cm tall as reported in the historical record, or late 20s to early 30s and 173cm to 180cm tall as reported in Moor’s files.

If detectives cleared up these items, it would go some way to creating a clearer picture about the crimes.

Melbourne Marvels 4 September 2021


Thank you to Reddit users Elocra, mjr_sherlock_holmes, pwurg and HollywoodAnonymous for lots of help and feedback which helped a lot in the creation of this blogpost. Thank you also to researcher Clinton Bailey.


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Keith Moor discusses Mr Cruel with Ethan Cardinal

This is a Zoom interview of Keith Moor by Ethan Cardinal from November 2020. Matt Dunlop of Matt Dunlop Media gave me permission to publish this interview.

Topics mentioned in the interview include:

Some detectives don’t think Mr Cruel murdered Karmein Chan, but they had to treat it as Mr Cruel case as so many similarities.

Karmein was a feisty 13 year old, her mum says she would have ripped off his mask.

The offender may have reluctantly killed Karmein Chan. Some detectives think offender might have got such a shock he stopped offending.

Says it’s possible offender flies to Bali, Cambodia or Philippines three times a year and hires someone to dress up as a schoolgirl.

Police hated the title of Mr Cruel.

Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas were spoken to for hours and hours and both were incredible witnesses.

Both heard aeroplanes probably landing.

Police first of all released FBI profile, that was a big story.

Then they released the stuff about the bathroom, then the flight paths.

In 2016 for the 25th anniversary Moor obtained a lot of information that had never been made public before including the names and identities of the 7 main suspects.

They had a shortlist of 20 people of whom, 7 were more likely than the others.

All of them had the propensity to kidnap girls from their bedrooms.

One of those 7 was the self-confessed main suspect.

Moor spoke to him.

David Sprague believes he’s the prime suspect.

Other detectives put him alongside the other six.

There are no fingerprints, no DNA evidence in this case.

Moor had no qualms with abiding by the stipulations of Victoria Police in relation to the information contained in the Sierra files because he’s got a good rapport with Victoria Police and would never jeopardise an ongoing investigation.

He didn’t get the files officially, he got them from a source, but he then went to a senior serving member of the Victoria Police and still is and he said, “look, I’ve got this stuff, surely it’s time to bring out some new stuff as it’s been 25 years”.

He struck up a deal with him that he would write his long article, but he let him read it and if there was anything in there he thought they should keep out as it might jeopardise the investigation that was fine.

There were a couple of things he left out.

He had originally named the Melbourne Uni lecturer, but he left that out at the request of the Victoria Police as they are concerned with vigilantism.

Not that he has sympathy for somebody who’s already done nasty things to six other girls.

But, he did agree to that, nor did he go into the details of the attacks on the girls.

He reminded the interviewer to remember it’s illegal in Victoria to identify sexual assault victims, and he’s not saying whether Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas were sexually assaulted, but they’ve never been referred to as such in any respectable media (this is untrue as numerous media organisations including the ABC reported the police as stating that both girls were sexually assaulted).

He never has, they’re referred to as being kidnapped, and abducted and assaulted. Neither of those girls have given their permission to be identified.

John Wills spoke to Keith Moor for support.

He felt he failed in his duty as a protector.

David Sprague was horrified when evidence of a rope used to tie up a rape victim in 1985 was lost.

It had been thrown in a bag and put in a policeman’s locker, and then the policeman moved somewhere else and then someone cleaned his locker out and chucked it out.

A lot of evidence that might have caught Cruel out…if that happened now. Rehash about new rules coming in to preserve evidence.

If the another journalist had the running of a particular crime he wouldn’t try to knock him off. Keith Moor would be surprised if the offender’s not one of the 7 in the Sierra Files.

Or the longer list of the 20 odd.

A lot points toward the uni lecturer.

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The Unresolved Disappearance of Frederick Valentich

“It seems to me that he’s playing some sort of game, he’s flying over me, 2, 3 times at a time, at speeds I could not identify”.

On 21st of October, 1978, 20 year old Frederick Valentich is flying a Cessna 182 light aeroplane from Moorabbin Airport to King Island.  Not long after commencing the over water section of the flight, between Cape Otway and King Island, at 7:06 in the evening, just before sunset, Valentich contacts Air Services at Tullamarine Airport with an unexpected request. “Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet, is there any known traffic below 5,000 feet?”  Working that evening for Air Services is Steve Robey, whose job it is to control air traffic outside of restricted airspace.  Robey quickly confirms in the negative that there should be no traffic before Valentich continues: “There seems to be a large aircraft below 5,000.”  Robey asks Valentich what type of aircraft it is before the young pilot replies: “I cannot affirm, it is 4 bright, it seems to me like landing lights”.  Here he pauses for a few seconds before adding: “The aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above”.  Robey asks Valentich if it is a large aircraft and the young man replies: “er unknown due to the speed it’s travelling, is there any airforce aircraft in the vicinity?”  Robey replies in the negative and a few seconds later Valentich says: “it’s approaching now from due east towards me”.  About 30 seconds pass as Valentich observes the mysterious craft, before he adds: “It seems to me that he’s playing some sort of game, he’s flying over me, 2, 3 times at a time, at speeds I could not identify”.  Robey asks Valentich what his altitude is and the 20 year old replies that he is at four and a half thousand feet.  The flight services officer then asks the young pilot to confirm that he cannot identify the aircraft.  “Affirmative”, Valentich replies.  Some seconds pass before Valentich says: “It’s not an aircraft, it’s (…2 seconds…). Robey then asks Valentich if he can describe the aircraft.  Valentich answers with: “as it’s flying past, it’s a long shape(…3 seconds…) cannot identify more than that (that it has such speed) (…3 seconds…) before me right now Melbourne…”.  Robey interrupts the pilot here, as he says “roger, and how large would the er object be.”   A few moments pass before Valentich gives his response: “it seems like it’s stationary.  What I’m doing right now is orbiting and the thing is just orbiting on top of me.  Also, it’s got a green light and sort of metallic like.  It’s all shiny on the outside.  Twenty seconds later Valentich holds down the microphone for 5 seconds before adding “it’s just vanished”. A few seconds later he asks Robey if he would know what type of aircraft he’s got, is it a military aircraft?  Robey asks Valentich to confirm that the aircraft has just vanished, but Valentich doesn’t hear this message and asks Robey to repeat it which Robey does.  Valentich must see the craft again at this point though as he says: “now approaching from the southwest”. Distressingly, about 30 seconds later Valentich reports “the engine is rough idling.  I’ve got it set at 23, 24 and the thing is coughing”.  Robey responds “Roger, what are your intentions?“  The next reply Valentich speaks down the microphone is the last thing Valentich is known to have spoken to another human being: “my intentions are ah to go to King Island.  Ah Melbourne, that strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again(…2 seconds…) it is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.”  The audio tape of this conversation has never been released to the public, as it is classified by the Department of Defence.  The Department of Transport did however release the final 17 seconds of Valentich’s call before he and his light aircraft disappeared and were never heard from again.  The following is those final 17 seconds.

Audio of last 17 seconds of radio transmission that was released by the Department of Transport.
1st page of transcript of radio transmission
2nd page of transcript
3rd page of audio transcript

Frederick Valentich went missing that day and despite protracted air, land and sea search, neither he nor his cessna 182 L have ever been found.

Planned route of flight

Frederick Valentich was born in Melbourne on June 9th 1958 to Italian immigrant parents Guido and Alberta Valentich who hailed from the multicultural city of Trieste in the north east of the country.  Fred was the eldest of four children, who included his younger brother Ricky and his younger twin sisters Olivia and Lara.  The family lived in the Melbourne suburb of Avondale Heights, where they enjoyed a happy, suburban life like many other European immigrant families who lived in the same area. 

In 1974, Fred left school after completing year 10 at Keilor Heights High school.  While he was noted as being an excellent athlete by his P.E. teacher, his results in his other subjects were all average or below average, and he failed both of the maths subjects he took that year.   However, he did not want to let this stop him from fulfilling his dream of joining the Royal Australian Airforce.  Unfortunately for Fred, his poor academic results from school and his performance in the entrance examination he took for entry into the RAAF in 1976, meant that he failed in his application.  An examiner noted about Fred’s test results: “very low scores, indicative low I.Q. fit for unskilled work only”.  

Class photo of Fred from 1974 Keilor Heights High School

While disappointed with failing in his application to the RAAF, Fred was determined to prove that he could still become a civilian pilot, and so in February of 1977 he gained his student’s pilot licence, with a view to later gaining his commercial pilot’s licence.  Throughout 1977, Fred took and failed many of the testing components that are prerequisites for gaining one’s commercial pilot’s licence.  While he passed many of these components at subsequent attempts, he failed all 5 of his CPL theory exams, in both October 1977 and April 1978.  Despite failing in his attempts to become a commercial pilot, throughout 1978, Fred possessed the legal documentation required to pilot single-engine cessna aircraft by himself and carry passengers.  While he continued to study for another attempt at the CPL examinations throughout 1978, Fred built up his flying hours by flying light aeroplanes out of Moorabbin Airport on weekends.   Meanwhile, after Fred had failed all his CPL examinations in April of ‘78 he requested assistance from one Edwin Robert Barnes, a Squadron Leader attached to the Air Training Corps that Fred was studying in.  Fred had begun volunteering for no pay at the Air Training Corps in order to gain more experience.  Barnes saw his enthusiasm for his work and after Fred requested the squadron leader become his private tutor, Barnes agreed to help him in navigation and aircraft performance.  Thus Fred would regularly visit Barnes at his home on Sundays for his lessons, where Barnes was impressed with Fred’s enthusiasm and politeness.  Barnes noted that, while Fred was particularly bad at spelling, he felt that the young man had the capability and responsibility required to pass his next examinations in July of that year.  Barnes further noted that Fred was “of sober habits” and never partook in the consumption of more than one alcoholic beverage on the evenings in question.  

Fred in his Air Training Corps uniform

In July of 1978 Fred took 2 of his 5 CPL examinations for the 3rd time and the following Sunday, he turned up to Barnes’ home with his girlfriend Rhonda Rushton and two bottles of wine saying he wished to celebrate as he believed he had passed his two examinations.  Barnes declined a drink because he was on “reserve”, and told Fred that they would drink them when he was told that he had passed all of his exams.  In September of ‘78, Barnes returned from a holiday and received a telephone call from Fred in which the trainee pilot informed him that he had passed all 5 of his CPL examinations.  Fred had in fact failed 3 examinations for the third time and not taken the final 2, a fact Barnes only discovered after Fred’s disappearance when the Air Safety Investigation Branch of the Department of Transport wrote to him to request his assistance in providing a character reference for Fred.  In his letter to the ASIB, Barnes expressed extreme disappointment at Fred’s dishonesty and wondered whether Fred’s failure had something to do with his disappearance. 

Letter to ASIB from (Edwin) Robert Barnes 1
to ASIB from (Edwin) Robert Barnes 2

Throughout 1978, Fred was dating the formerly mentioned 16 year old girl, Rhonda Rushton.  On a number of occasions she had flown with Fred, and she considered her boyfriend to be a diligent and responsible pilot who understood the importance of being disciplined while flying.  About two months before his disappearance they had flown together to Newcastle.  On the return flight Fred had accidentally strayed into restricted airspace in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown.  Rhonda later recalled that Fred had become extremely agitated during this incident and remembered using a handkerchief to dab the sweat off his forehead.  Fred received a letter reprimanding him for this incident for his poor navigation skills.  

When Rhonda was interviewed by the Department of Transport 3 days after Fred’s disappearance, investigators were keen to understand Fred’s mental state in the days leading up to the 21st.  While Rhonda told the interviewers that Fred was a very sober young man, rarely drinking more than two beers on nights out, she also mentioned a couple of things which stood out to the investigators as unusual.  Firstly, about one week before the incident, she and Fred had driven out to the Dandenong Ranges where they had discussed the topic of UFOs and Fred had said “If a UFO landed in front of me now, I would go in it, but never without you”.  When pressed as to whether UFOs were a topic he often discussed or was heavily interested in, she said that they had talked about them only occasionally, and never in any depth and denied that he was any more interested in them than the average person.  The interviewer also claimed that Rhonda said she had seen newspaper clippings of UFOs that Fred kept as a hobby, something she denied 40 years later when questioned about this at an anniversary event held by the Victorian UFO Action group.  

Furthermore, according to Rhonda, Fred had lied to her previously about passing his meteorology subject.  According to her he had told her this false information when he first met her, but that 4 months later he had admitted to his lie.  But, perhaps the most significant piece of information that Rhonda later revealed was that, the weekend prior to his disappearance, 2 days before the trip to the Dandenong Ranges mentioned previously, Fred had asked Rhonda to marry him.  According to her he had proposed to her and given her ‘a friendship ring’, which was to be replaced at a later date by a more expensive ring which he had placed on layby.  He told her she could keep the friendship ring until he had enough money to pay the amount owing on the more expensive ring on layby at a jewellers near where he worked in Moonee Ponds.  He also told Rhonda to keep the engagement secret because he didn’t want to announce it until he had enough money to pay out the remainder of the layby which he was planning to do that Christmas.    Furthermore, he had planned to be engaged to her for 1 year because Rhonda was to turn 17 in the December and then after 1 year she would be 18 and she would have reached the legal age for marriage.  On the one hand, Fred’s plans to marry Rhonda may well be seen by some to be a sign of a young man who was looking forward to the future.  On the other hand, his tutor Edwin Robert Barnes, in his letter to the Department of Transport, saw his actions in proposing to Rhonda and giving her a temporary friendship ring as the behaviour of someone who was acting very strangely indeed and wondered whether he did it because he had planned to commit suicide on the 21st October.

Rhonda Rushton and Fred Valentich 1978

Years later at the 40th anniversary event of the incident held by the Victorian UFO Action group at Moorabbin Airport in 2018, Rhonda told a live audience that the Department of Transport had asked her some extremely inappropriate personal questions, the nature of which she was not willing to disclose.  Needless to say, this would be very unprofessional behaviour by a Government Department when questioning the grieving girlfriend of a missing man, especially since she was just 16 years old at the time and not accompanied by her parents.  In addition,, while she was being interviewed she felt intimidated because a bright spotlight was shone in her face throughout so that she could not see who was interviewing her.  

On the evening prior to Fred’s disappearance, Fred visited Rhonda at her home in Preston at about 9:15pm.  Rhonda told the DoT in her interview that Fred wasn’t his usual-cheerful-self that evening and appeared as though something was bothering him.  According to the DoT interview report of Rhonda’s interview he had agreed to take her out on the Saturday night after he returned from his flight. “In their conversation it became evident to her that he had forgotten he had agreed to take her out on Saturday night.  The forthcoming flight to King Island was discussed and together they evolved the schedule of departure: Moorabbin 4 o’clock; land King Island 5:30pm; pick up crayfish, leave 6 o’clock; land Moorabbin 7:30.  As it was a 20 minute drive from the airport to Preston she suggested Valentich put his good clothes in which to take her out, in his car when he left home early on Saturday.  Since the aircraft went missing, she had seen the car at Moorabbin, and was aware that no clothes were in it.”  

There are a couple of strange things about this information.  Firstly, it is at least a 40 minute drive from Moorabbin Airport in Cheltenham to Preston.  But, more significantly, Rhonda now denies that she ever told the investigators that she told Fred to put his good clothes in his car.  She denies that she ever told them that they had agreed for him to pick her up at her house in Preston to go out that night.  In fact, at the 40 year anniversary event, Rhonda Rushton spoke publicly about how she and Fred had agreed to fly to King Island together.  That later they were going to go out for dinner to celebrate their 6 months anniversary together.

Interview with Rhonda starts at 1:05:00
ASIB interview report of meeting with Rhonda Rushton 24 October 1978 1
ASIB interview report of meeting with Rhonda Rushton 24 October 1978 2

In fact, in its final report summary written on 24th of August 1981, almost two years after the incident, investigator Barry Mahony also made a slanderous accusation about Rhonda with the following comment: “Frederick’s girlfriend seemed to enjoy the publicity limelight surrounding the disappearance.  She did not appear to be unduly concerned and gave the impression that she expected to see him again.”  

Fred’s father, Guido Valentich, was interviewed by the Department of Transport on October 25th 1978, the day after Rhonda Rushton’s interview.  Among other things he told them that Fred was a firm believer in UFOs and had read the book Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, by Swiss author Elrich Von Danniken.  Published in 1968, the central tenet of the book was that many of the technological advances made by ancient civilisations were introduced to them by extraterrestrial beings.  Furthermore, Guido told the investigators that Fred’s beliefs in UFOs had not long ago been strengthened during a recent camping trip he had made to Gippsland with the Air Training Corps, when he had been allowed to view the RAAF’s secret files on UFOs.  However, Fred had refused to reveal the contents of those files to his family as they were classified and he took his duty not to reveal its contents very seriously.  Guido also told the investigators that Fred’s mother Alberta had recently seen a UFO and had called Fred and he had seen it too.  They described it as a large light, its size about ten times that of the largest star.  The object had remained stationary for some time before shooting off at a high speed. While Guido had not been present during this incident himself, his wife and son’s explanation of it convinced him that UFOs were real, and that the planet was regularly being visited by some sort of extraterrestrial intelligence.  Lastly, Guido revealed that Fred had worried about attack by UFOs, so his father had attempted to assuage his fears by telling him that if aliens did attack there was nothing they could do, so there would be no point in worrying about it.  

Guido Valentich
Guido interview with ASIB DOT 25 October 1978 1
Guido interview with ASIB DOT 25 October 1978 2

According to Guido, Fred had gone to bed at about 10:30 on the night of the 20th of October 1978.  In the morning he had a light breakfast of coffee, orange juice and cereal with his family.  He then drove to Puckle Street in Moonee Ponds where he worked as the Assistant Manager of an Army Disposals shop, a store which specialises in camping and outdoor equipment.  He started his shift here at 9am before finishing at noon, when he immediately drove from Moonee Ponds to Moorabbin Airport, where he had his first lecture at 1pm.  This meant that he would not have had time to get lunch before the start of his classes.  

Meanwhile, at Moorabbin Airport that morning, Vince Alfonso carried out the daily inspection of the Cessna 182, DH-VSJ, Fred would later that day fly to King Island.  The inspection was begun before 6am when Alfonso flew the aircraft to French Island as part of the routine examination that was to check the performance of the aeroplane.  Alfonso noted the plane performed “ok”.  There was a smell emanating from the heater, which soon dissipated, but this was not considered unusual.  More alarmingly, on the return flight to Moorabbin Airport a passenger noticed fuel emanating from the fuel tank on the right hand side of the aircraft.  After landing it was discovered that the cap was out of the tank and hanging from the chain, so Alfonso reported this anomaly to Southern Air Services.  The next morning when discussing the disappearance of Fred at S.A.S. he discovered that the cap had been repaired before Fred’s flight.  

Interview with Vince Alfonso

Fred’s classes finished at 5pm, after which he headed to the briefing office to submit his flight plan.  Fred lodged the flight plan at 5:23pm, and it stated a take off time of 5:45pm.  However, he did not actually take off until later as he was so hungry, having not eaten anything since morning. Later, both Rhonda and Guido told investigators as it was his normal practice to do so, he would have driven to the local McDonalds restaurant on the Nepean Highway near the Southland Shopping Centre and eaten a large meal that usually consisted of “2 Big Macs, 2 Cheeseburgers, a fillet-o-fish and some chips and most likely would have drunk a carton of coca-cola”.  Rhonda later said she believed Fred would have gotten take away and would have driven his car to the beach where he would have eaten his large meal while looking out to sea.  

It is believed Fred took the Cessna for refuelling at 6:10pm and waited in the cessna as it was being refuelled by mechanic Ronald Tyson.  Once done he was given the ok for take off.  Crucially, Fred did not actually take off from Moorabbin Airport until 6:19pm, a full 34 minutes after he had indicated he would in the flight plan.  This meant that by the time his cessna was to arrive at King Island the sun would have set and it would be almost completely dark.  Despite this, Fred made no phone call to the airport on the island requesting them to turn on the runway landing lights, as was standard procedure at the time.  In fact, there were a number of contradictions in what Fred told to different people in regards to his intentions for this flight. In the days after the incident the Department of Transport was told by Bob Hope, an instructor with Southern Air Services, that Fred had told him on the day that he had planned to pick people up on King Island.   He also told Darcy Hogan his briefing officer that he was going to pick up passengers on the Island, but no such passengers existed.   Yet, according to the Department of Transport he had told Guido and his friend Greg Reaburn that he was picking up crayfish on the island.  This was also strange, as the crayfisherman on the island, Cliff Day, said he had no contact with Fred regarding procuring any crayfish, and that they had sold out of cray fish early in the afternoon anyway.

It is not clear why he told different people different things about the purpose of his flight.  His girlfriend Rhonda Rushton, now believes he had no intention of landing at all and was just building up flight hours.  

It is believed Fred flew towards Frankston before heading out over Port Phillip Bay towards Point Lonsdale.  From here Fred flew along the coastline towards Cape Otway which he reached at 7pm.  Here he contacted Steve Robey at Air Services in Tullamarine Airport by radio to inform him he was commencing the over water section of his flight.  

Fred had been flying for 6 minutes over the open water before his first contact with Steve Robey, in which he enquired about whether there was “any known traffic below 5,000 feet”.  The 17 seconds of indecipherable static that is heard at the end of the tape occurred at 7:12pm.  It is not known what happened to Fred’s plane, but if he did crash into the ocean at this point, and assuming he was flying in largely a straight line from Cape Otway, the crash site would have been located about 40 km south south east of Cape Otway, not quite halfway to King Island.  This however, is disputed as we shall see later.

After the transmission of the 17 seconds at the end of the call from Fred’s plane, Steve Robey made numerous attempts to communicate with Fred, but received no reply.  He therefore initiated a safety measure known as an Alert Phase that would require a King Island Flight Service officer to duty, as the last employee had gone home for the day at 5 o’clock.  This alert phase also involved the activation of the island’s emergency procedures, one of which included turning on the landing lights at the runway. 
When Fred’s cessna failed to arrive at King Island at 7:33pm, the Distress Phase was declared, and an immediate ground, sea and air search was commenced.  

Brian Jones, the officer in charge at King Island Airport was called back to duty at 7:15pm after the Alert Phase was initiated.  He arrived at the airport, and put the landing lights on at 7:35pm.  At the same time that he arrived, his assistant Graeme Smyth also arrived to put the landing lights on for a cessna that was flying out of the airport, but had been delayed while waiting for passengers.  This other cessna was then used to fly around the island to search for Fred’s plane.  Despite the fact that there was excellent visibility, and they could see all the way to the Cape Otway lighthouse, they did not sight Fred’s plane.  That night a ship in the area was notified of the missing aircraft and conducted a search for Fred’s plane, but did not see anything.  Planes were also sent along the route Fred’s aircraft took, but as it was night it was difficult to spot anything in the darkness.  

With daylight, the search was given renewed impetus.  One aircraft conducted a land search of the island and another a coastal search, but found nothing.  3 vessels searched off the west coast and islands off King Island and the RAAF Orion searched off the north coast.  An oil slick was found here, but no wreckage could be located.  The next day the vessel ‘Nomad’ was sent to the area and a sample of the oil slick was taken for testing, to determine whether it could be from Fred’s cessna.  However, later it was determined that the oil was not of the type that would come from an aircraft. Debris consisting of fruit and vegetable boxes was also located near this site, but this was determined not to be from Fred’s Cessna 182.

A light aircraft also located some more debris to the north west of King Island, but as this plane was not fixed with integral navigation systems it needed to rise in altitude in order to sight land before fixing its position, and in doing so it lost sight of the debris and could not locate it again.  

After 3 full days of searching, the search and rescue operation by sea vessels was called off on the 25th of October.  Nevertheless, volunteers and friends of Fred’s continued to search by air and land.  Many of Fred’s friends felt that since no wreckage had been found in the ocean search, he must have turned the aeroplane around and crash landed somewhere on the heavily forested Cape Otway Peninsula.  Therefore, on the 26th a group of his flying buddies travelled down to the region and spent a number of days performing flyovers and searching the area by foot, which was also to prove fruitless.

The media became aware of the unusual nature of Fred’s disappearance as soon as the search and rescue operation was put in place on the night of the 21st, and the general public was able to eavesdrop on the radio transmissions.  This prompted the DoT to publicly release the transcript of the radio conversation between Fred and Air Services controller Steve Robey on the 22nd.  The fact that Fred had witnessed an unidentified aerial phenomenon right before he and his plane went missing became a huge story, and newspaper and radio journalists scrambled to interview all those who were close to Fred.  

On the 23rd of October, an article appeared in the Bendigo Advertiser titled ‘UFO Took Our Boy – Pilot’s Parents’ detailing Guido and Alberta Valentich’s belief that Fred may have been abducted by the UFO.  The interview, which had been conducted on the evening of the 22nd, after the first full day’s search had ended in failure, also explained that Guido and Alberta did not believe a proposed explanation that Fred may have turned the plane upside down or entered into an uncontrolled spiral after becoming disoriented.  Fred’s parents also expressed the view that the Department of Transport was attempting to cover up what really happened to their son.  

Bendigo Advertiser 23 Oct 1978 “UFO Took our boy – Pilot’s parents”

In the days after Fred’s disappearance, it became evident that one month earlier, a woman had written a letter to the editor, published in the King Island News on September 20 concerning recent accounts of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.  It stated: “We saw our first sighting two months ago.  We were driving into Currie and a slow moving light followed us down the North Road, and finally disappeared toward the lighthouse.  There were other sightings in Currie on the same night.  Some people further up north also saw a strange light passing over their house.  Then another (told) of seeing beautiful strange lights outside.  On going out to investigate the lights suddenly disappeared. Then last night…the strange light appeared again just up from Camp Creek.  On each of these occasions, the light has been very large and bright, and seems to light up the area as if it were daylight.”

The Courier 24 Oct 1978 “Hopes Fade for Pilot”

Soon other stories of sightings of unexplained aerial phenomena emerged.  A man by the name of John Snow contacted the Department of Transport investigators on the 23rd of October to inform them that, at about 11:45pm on the night of Fred’s disappearance, his 11 year old son had witnessed a long streak of greenish white light flash across the sky to the south of the Barwon Heads area, about 120km from Cape Otway.  A Mr P. Farr of Burwood, an officer in the RAAF reserve, contacted investigators to inform them that on the night in question he had witnessed what he described as “a shower of very bright metallic scintillations, to the south, high in the sky..about 30 bright centres.”  The Australian published an article describing a sighting by a technician who worked with the CSIRO named Wayne Bellew who witnessed a UAP whilst camping with his wife at Bateman’s Bay NSW on the night in question.  He described seeing a “bright white object performing wild stunts over the ocean…the thing was performing such incredible manoeuvers that any conventional pilot who tried it would have been guts over kneecaps”.

Perhaps the most startling UAP sighting made on the night of Fred’s disappearance came from a man named Don Cox and his wife from Valley View, South Australia, in a detailed letter to the RAAF.  Describing a bright shining object he and his wife witnessed from the garden of their home he wrote in his letter: “Having got my binoculars from within the house I focussed (on) this object…What I saw was a large triangular, yellow white light, laying on it’s (sic) side, with one side of the triangle in a vertical position. Within this triangle were iridescent lights.  I can only positively remember three of the colours, which were blue, blue green and orange, but feel sure there were also others.  My wife watched it for near enough ten minutes, and myself for a total of roughly forty-five minutes before losing sight of it behind a large gum tree two gardens away.  During the last stage of viewing this assortment of colours it transformed into a V shape, still on it’s (sic) side with the top half appearing to be the reflection of the lower portion, as one might view a boat sitting on the surface of the water.  I reported this matter to Edinburgh Airport at 5:45pm Monday the 23rd of October, and was told by a girl that this information would be passed onto the UFO investigations officer in the morning.  By now I was aware I had seen word for word exactly as the missing Melbourne pilot (meaning Fred) had described.  I rang again Edinburgh Airport the following day October 24th and spoke to an officer who told me he would try either to see me at my place of work or at my home in the evening.  As by the following day, the 25th, he had not made the effort to interview me, I again phoned and told him of my concern, pleading with him to heed this information which I felt so vital in the case of the missing pilot.  After confirming my statement with my wife over the phone, this officer subsequently visited my home and took a signed statement from me along with a diagram of the three stages that this moving light had taken.  I have no doubt in my mind that whatsoever I witnessed was exactly as the young pilot described who has gone missing…I am prepared to swear an oath or submit myself to any lie detector test to substantiate this my statement.”

One week after Fred’s disappearance, Air Services controller Steve Robey was involved in another UAP sighting incident.  In the vicinity of Sale, Gippsland a pilot reported seeing an extremely bright light heading from west to east.  A few minutes later the same pilot reported the same phenomenon and told Robey that if it happened again he would land the aircraft.  It happened again, an extremely bright light, travelling quickly from west to east, this time it was travelling below him.  As a result, the pilot landed the aircraft out of fear of being impacted by any similar objects.  At the time there was a military phone number that was provided to all Air Services personnel to report such incidents.  Robey contacted the number and soon afterwards he was interviewed by a man from the military about the incident.  

Meanwhile, the Department of Transport set about investigating the cause of Fred’s disappearance, an investigation that would not be completed for 2 and a half years.  It was this process that led to the interviewing of Fred’s girlfriend Rhonda Rushtion on the 24th of October, Fred’s father Guido on the 25th of October and many of Fred’s friends and peers.  As time went on and Fred and his plane were nowhere to be found, speculation mounted in the media as to whether the six minute transcript of the radio contact between Fred and Steve Robey was a full account of the conversation that transpired between the pair.  Despite the fact a number of UAP research organisations based in both Australia and the United States wrote to the Department of Transport urging them to release the full audio tape recording of the conversation. The DoT responded by declaring it had never been its policy to release audio tapes related to accident investigations.   

In January 1979, Fred’s father, Guido Valentich, wrote a letter to the Director of the Department of Transport for the Victoria and Tasmania region, G.Hughes, requesting a copy of the audio tape of Fred’s radio transmission with Steve Robey.  The department privately expressed reluctance to release the tape, expressing the view that it went against their normal procedures to release audio tapes from accident investigations, particularly ongoing investigations which had not yet concluded.  Guido was suspicious that the Department was trying to hide something, and believing that Fred had been abducted by alien spacecraft, he requested the help of veteran American UFO researcher Paul Norman.  Norman and Australian UFO researcher John Auchettl established a dialogue with the Department on Guido’s behalf and arranged a meeting with the DoT in which they requested a full, unedited copy of the tape.  The Department however, agreed only to supply an edited version which only included only the parts of the tape between 7:06 and 7:12pm – from when Fred had first reported the unusual aerial sighting until the final indiscernible 17 seconds.  Furthermore, the edited tape would not include any of the parts of the tape in which Steve Robey was speaking, nor the part of the tape that was recorded prior to 7:06pm.  While, Guido and UFO researchers Auchettl and Norman tried to insist on the full tape the DoT insisted that this would not be possible as those other parts of the tape were deemed confidential and it was only releasing the 6 minutes of Fred’s voice out of sympathy to Guido and his family.  Furthermore, they asked Guido to sign a document stating that he would not release the audio tape to the media and that he was to play it for family members only.  After much back and forth, in March 1979 the DoT finally released this edited version of the tape to Guido and the Valentich family.

Paul Norman and John Auchettl were both members of VUFORS or Victorian Unidentified Flying Object Research Society, a research group which professed an agnostic stance towards UFOs, but considered the phenomenon deserved closer scientific scrutiny than was offered by mainstream science or sceptical explanations for UFOs.  While VUFORS was simply seeking all available evidence in order to find out the truth of what had happened to Fred, the story was also ripe for charlatans and shysters to make a quick buck with pseudo-scientific explanations and false narratives of what had become of the 20 year old.

On 23rd April 1979 an article by reporter David Elias appeared in the Australian which detailed the claims of a New Zealand confidence trickster by the name of Colin Amery who falsely claimed to be a clairvoyant.  According to the article, Amery claimed that he had conducted a seance the previous Saturday in which he had communed with Fred.  Amery further claimed that Fred had told him during this seance that he had been “taken by a community in space and that the reason his aircraft had not been found is that it disappeared from any physical existence”. Amery also reported that Fred had told him that sixty seconds of the radio transcript of his conversation with Steve Robey had been “edited out and suppressed” and that Fred was “safe, but no longer (has) a physical body, I am in light, but can move to wherever I want to be”.  

The Australia 23 Apr 1979 “Seance ‘reaches’ UFO kidnap pilot”

Despite Amery’s claims, others suggested that he was simply trying to publicise his book New Atlantis: The Secret of the Sphinx a book that “looks forward to a new and golden age of Aquarius that will succeed the present cycle of chaos and destruction”. 

“New Atlantis the Secret of the Sphinx” by Colin Amery

In October 1979 Michael Fields, writing for the American magazine “Ideal UFO Quarterly” made the false claim that the Department of Transport had released only an edited version of the true transcript and published a story that they claimed was the true version of Fred’s radio conversation with Steve Robey.  Strangely the narrative of this article was written like a long comic book story, but interspersed with some of the real dialogue from the transcript the Department of Transport had released one year previously.  Furthermore, there were extra details included that were not in the original transcript, most notably the parts in which Fred describes the unidentified aerial phenomenon as being a 100 feet long tube, with green gas emanating from it, windows showing lights on in the interior and that just before the call ends in indecipherable noise, Fred reports suffering from a scorching pain.  

Idea UFO Quarterly “UFO Collides with Plane in Australia” by Michael Fields 1979

Local Melbourne based charlatans also attempted to profit from Fred’s story by giving credence to Ideal UFO Quarterly’s bogus story.  That same month, author John Pinkney, who has made a career out of writing books about ghosts, the supernatural and conspiracy theories, wrote an article published in Rupert Murdoch owned Melbourne Tabloid, Truth.  Now disbanded, Truth was a British style weekly tabloid newspaper that contained photos of bare-breasted page 3 models and usually published sensational scoops on personal scandals.  Pinkney’s article was included in a section of the newspaper titled “The Outer Limits” next to a photograph of him which was captioned “John Pinkney: Australia’s Leading UFO and Supernatural Investigator”.  The article reported on the publication of the story in Ideal UFO Quarterly, and Pinkney mysteriously concludes his article with the line “Some of the pilot’s comments in the American magazine tally with notes I was given last October”.   

Truth Weekend Magazine 24 Oct 1979, “Pilot ‘censored'”, John Pinkney

Despite the publication of these two articles, Ideal UFO Quarterly’s completely fictitious account was quickly dismissed by the one person who had first-hand knowledge of the nature of the conversation with Fred. Steve Robey himself has always maintained that the transcript released by the Department of Transport is exactly how the call played out.

In 1980, a book named the The Devil’s Meridian, which included a section on the Valentich disappearance, was written by authors Kevin Killey and Gary Lester.  The central thesis of the book was the idea that there was an area of the Bass Strait, the so-called Bass Strait Triangle, in which a number of unexplained disappearances of both ships and aircraft had occurred.  It provided a historical analysis of other ships and aircraft that had gone missing without a trace in the previous 150 years.  

On the 28th February 1981 Melbourne tabloid newspaper, Truth, published an article in which they claimed that a filmmaker by the name of Brian Morris intended to make an expensive documentary about Fred’s disappearance.  The article, by Brian Blackwell stated that Morris intended to import the same type of cessna 182 L aircraft from the United States before hiring a helicopter to tow the plane over the Bass Strait and ditch it into the sea.  This would be done to see what happened to the wreckage of the plane.  The film was to be largely based on the previously mentioned book by Kevin Killey and Gary Lester, The Devil’s Meridian.  Morris stated that it was his intention to include an interview with former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, who claimed to have seen a UFO.  He also expressed his belief that the documentary would cost in the region of $600,000 to produce.  It is not known what happened to Morris’ film project, but it was never made.  

Melbourne Truth 28 Feb 1981, “New Bid to Solve UFO Riddle”, Brian Blackwell

The Department of Transport finally released their accident investigation report summary of the Valentich Disappearance in August 1981.  It stated that it could not be determined what happened to Frederick Valentich and his aircraft, but it did offer 5 possible hypotheses. 

1. That Fred experienced disorientation which caused him to crash the plane into the sea.  However, it noted that if this had been the case that it was unusual that there had been no wreckage discovered.

2. That Fred intentionally landed the cessna on the sea, before attempting to escape, either successfully or unsuccessfully.  It implied that if this had been the case the aircraft may have sunk to the bottom of the sea completely intact, either with or without Fred’s body inside.

3.  A controlled landing elsewhere.  It suggested the possibility that Fred was not where he said he was and that he may have intentionally deceived the public by intentionally landing elsewhere.  

4. Crashing on land while attempting a controlled landing.  It suggested this as a possibility, and that if this was the case, the wreckage simply had not been found yet.  

5. UFO intervention.  The DoT then falsely added to this item, in a comment that is uncharacteristically speculative of a goverment department, that there were: “no sighting observations of a brightly illuminated craft large enough to take on board a cessna 182”.  In fact there were at least 15 sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena reported to either the Department of Transport investigators, news media or to the RAAF, on the night in question.  

Summary of accident investigation in to Valentich disappearance by the Air Safety Investigation Bureau of the Department of Transport

The summary report was delivered by hand to the Valentich family on 12th May 1982.  A copy was also sent to the owner of the aircraft Dr. C.Day, Southern Air Service, and the Victorian Coroner that month.  

In 1982 the Air Safety Investigation Bureau (ASIB), which had been a branch of the Department of Transport, had its name changed to the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI), an operationally independent unit, no longer of the Department of Transport (DoT), but now a branch of the Department of Aviation (DoA).  

In December 1982, Fred’s father Guido Valentich received a telephone call from a filmmaker by the name of Ron Cameron.  In the phone call, Cameron claimed that two divers contacted him to inform him that they had located 3 or 4 aircraft wrecks off Cape Otway, and that they had identified one as Fred’s Cessna 182 L, DSJ.  Cameron claimed that the divers had requested $10,000 in return for revealing the location of Fred’s plane.  A story in the ‘Herald’ evening newspaper on the 15th of December then elaborated on this story.  Cameron claimed to have seen photographs taken of the underwater aircraft and believed one of them bore the same markings as Fred’s plane.  He further claimed that the photograph revealed the cockpit of the cessna, but that Fred was not inside.  Cameron told the newspaper that he intended to make a documentary film about the disappearance, and conduct a salvage operation in recovering the aircraft.  

The Herald, 15 Dec 1982 “Film Man: I’ll Find Riddle Plane, Bill Hitchings

After this article was published the Coroner’s Court of Victoria contacted BASI expressing concern that these private individuals were publicly declaring a desire to interfere with possible evidence in determining the cause of a deceased person.  Therefore, in January 1983, the J.Sandercock, the director of BASI, contacted Ron Cameron to explain to him the sensitivity of the issue at hand and to arrange a meeting where he hoped to explain to him that any salvage operation could only be carried out in the presence of both someone from the Coroner’s Court and a member of BASI.  

Then, on 11th January 1983, on the day Sandercock was to meet Ron Cameron to discuss the salvage operation, another article appeared in the press, this time in the Sun titled: ‘UFO Plane Photos Upset Father’.  In the article written by John Beveridge, Guido expressed his dismay that the divers were attempting to profit from the salvage operation of Fred’s plane.  Filmmaker Ron Cameron was also interviewed again where he stated: “The plane was a little bit twisted, but in one piece.  Once we get a line down to it we will be able to bring it to the surface in half a day.”  

BASI director J.Sandercock immediately cancelled his meeting with Ron Cameron on seeing the article, expressing dismay that there had been so much media attention around the planned salvage operation.   Then, according to Ron Cameron, the two divers in question pulled out of the deal to show him the location of the wreck, as they were unhappy that he seemed to suggest that he did not fully trust them in a radio interview on the topic.  

BASI memos imply scepticism about Ron Cameron’s claims, and they expressed the opinion that he was simply trying to drum up publicity about the affair in order to attract funding for his film.  Regardless, like Brian Morris’, the film was never produced and there were to be no more newspaper articles about the supposed wrecks.

The Valentich disappearance was back in the news for different reasons however, in May of 1983, when BASI received a package from Arthur Withers the Airport Manager of Flinders Island, a similarly sized island to King Island, but lying 350km to its east.  The package contained some debris, an engine cowl flap from a Cessna aircraft that had washed up on the beach on Flinders Island, very close to that island’s airport runway.  The debris had been found by Withers’ son Robert, and it was accompanied by a letter that stated that they believed it to be from Fred’s cessna 182 L – DSJ.  The debris was in 3 pieces and heavily eroded, but BASI immediately set about attempting to determine whether it was in fact from Fred’s plane.

Engine cowl flap debris found off Flinders Island in May 1983, was it from Frederick Valentich’s plane?

The partial serial number visible on the debris, indicated that it came from a range within which DSJ’s serial number fell, meaning it was definitely possible that it was DSJ, but not certain.  The debris however, was not buoyant and so Sandercock wrote to the Royal Australian Navy Research Laboratory to try to understand if it was possible for a piece of debris which could not float to be transported over such a long distance and end up at Flinders Island.  

In October of 1983, Ian Jones of the Ocean Sciences Division of the RAN Research Laboratory replied that indeed it would be possible for the debris in question to have travelled across the bottom of the sea particularly during days when the ocean currents were strong.  Since almost 5 years had passed since Fred went missing it would have been entirely possible that this debris could have been carried to Flinders Island in that time. 

While some are convinced that this cowl flap is almost certainly from Fred’s plane, others are not.  There had been two other known events when cessna aircraft taking off from Flinders Island airport had lost the same piece of engine cowl flap.  Given that this piece was found so close to the runway, it is believed to be more likely to have come from one of these planes.  Modern scientific analysis would be capable of determining whether the piece had been in salt water for 5 years, but unfortunately the debris in question has been lost by the Department of Aviation and so unavailable for testing.  

In October 1988 Guido received a telephone call from celebrated Australian journalist and television personality, Ray Martin.  On the phone call, Martin urged Guido to release his copy of the audio tape of Fred’s last radio transmission.  Guido, unsure as to the legality of such an action contacted BASI to enquire as to whether he was still bound by having signed the agreement six years previously not to release the audio tape beyond his own immediate family.  Sandercock told Guido that the agreement still stood, and as result the latter had to disappoint Ray Martin.

In 1998, VUFORS researcher Paul Norman interviewed an anonymous man who claimed to be witness to a startling sighting on the night of Fred’s disappearance 20 years previously, which he had.  The sighting, which the man had not reported at the time, took place on the Great Ocean Road, at Barham River, about a kilometre south of Apollo Bay.  The anonymous man stated that just beyond the bridge here, he pulled over his car where he and his two nieces, looking in an easterly direction towards the sea, observed a cessna aeroplane slowly descending in a diagonal direction.  While light was fading, as it was dusk, he could clearly make out the cessna and its distinctive white navigation light and red wingtip light.  But, more astonishingly, the cessna was being pursued by a much larger craft, illuminated by a green, circular light travelling on top of and slightly to the rear of the cessna.  He and his nieces stood watching this event for half a minute until both aircraft disappeared from view to the northeast  It was clear that if the cessna had continued on its diagonally downward trajectory it would have splashed down in the sea just off the coast near Apollo Bay.  

Researchers Paul Norman and Richard Haines then wrote a paper about this sighting in which they suggested that, based on this witness description, it was highly probable that Fred had changed course when he encountered the UAP.  They hypothesised that Fred become somewhat disoriented when he first saw it, and turned away from King Island and back towards the coast of Victoria.  Then, at 7:10pm on the transcript Fred states: “what I’m doing right now is orbiting and thing is just orbiting on top of me”.  Normans and Haines suggested at this point Fred was facing towards the Victorian coast before doing a complete 360 degree orbit and continuing towards the coast.

It was soon after this that Fred reported his engine coughing, at which time Norman and Haines suggested, Fred began to lose altitude.  The 17 seconds of indecipherable sounds, they suggested, was possibly caused by Fred’s plane dropping to an altitude when ground to air radio transmission was made impossible due to the curvature of the earth preventing a direct line of sight between the radio tower and the aircraft.  It is believed Fred continued towards the Victorian coast for several more minutes, all the time losing altitude and then turned to the right at 7:16pm heading towards the northeast about 1 to 2 kilometres from the Victorian coast.  It was soon after this, they believe, Fred and the UAP were brseen by the anonymous man and his nieces while continuing a gradual diagonal descent, before disappearing beyond their line of sight and splashing down about 6km out from Apollo Bay at roughly 7:21pm.  

The Norman and Haines paper concluded by recommending an underwater search be conducted at this location, but as of July 2020, this has not occurred. 

Sadly, in the year 2000, Fred’s father Guido passed away, without ever having found an answer as to what happened to his son on that day in 1978.  His mother Alberta and his brother Ricky and sisters Lara and Olivia, still travel to Cape Otway each year to remember Fred and are still looking for answers as to what happened to him.

In researching this episode I was contacted by a source who informed me that, while it has never been released publicly by what is now called the Air Safety Transport Bureau (formely BASI), there are in fact multiple copies of the original 13 minutes Valentich/Robey audio tape.  This source made the claim that an anonymous person who had previously worked for the Department of Transport at Tullamarine Airport had taken recording equipment into their place of work and made a recording of the original, non-edited tape.  This tape has since fallen into the hands of certain anonymous private UAP researchers.  Despite this, these individuals have never released the tape publicly, as technically, the tape is the property of the Department of Transport.

As of July 2020, Frederick Valentich is still officially listed as a missing person, and as far as we know, nobody knows what happened to him.  His family members still hold out hope that one day some evidence will come to light revealing what his fate was.

My name is Eamonn and you’re listening to Melbourne Marvels, a podcast about interesting events that have happened in the Melbourne area throughout history.  I am releasing this podcast in recognition of national missing person’s week in order to highlight the plight of families who suffer from not knowing what happened to their missing loved one, as is very much the case with Frederick Valentich.  I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the podcast. 

If you would like to reach out to me to ask me about anything in the podcast, please feel free to do so.  You can contact me by email on or you can follow me, on Facebook at Melbourne Marvels, on Instagram at melbinmarvels, or on Twitter on @melbinmarvels.  If you would like to support this show, please do so by either leaving a 5 star review for the podcast on itunes, or writing a positive review on the Facebook Page.  Leaving these positive reviews will mean that the show is exposed to more people online.  You can also support the show financially by seeking out the podcast on Patreon and donating as little as $1 per episode.  This really helps with the expenses of the upkeep of the show.  For example, I must pay an annual fee for the webpage, I have also paid for equipment I’m using to record the show and I also pay for monthly subscriptions to  I really appreciate any support you can manage, but don’t feel like you have to donate, especially in these difficult financial times, as I wouldn’t want anybody to pay who is not able to afford it.  

I would also like to thank independent researcher Paul Dean for being a valuable source of information on this incident.  Thank you also to George Simpson of VUFOA for giving his time to discuss this case. I would also like to thank Rhonda Rushton for answering the questions I put to her about Fred.  I would like to thank the following musicians from for allowing their productions to be used as part of the soundtrack to the podcast: Erokia; Ispeakwaves; samplingsamthemarylandman; josefpres; erh.

Eamonn Gunning 4/8/2020

Update: In December 2021 I was contacted by researcher Jack Frost who had recently managed to source a copy of a recording by legendary UFO researcher Richard Haines. The recording is of a presentation Haines did in which he plays the recording to an audience. The recording of the presentation can be found here.


Valentich 40, a video record of an event marking the 40th anniversary of the Valentich disappearance

Haines, Richard F., and Norman, Paul, 2000. Valentich disappearance: New evidence and a new conclusion. Journal of Scientific Exploration (Vol. 14 No. 1, 2000)

National Archives of Australia: File numbers:

V116/783/1047; (Includes Department of Transport Investigation Report and newspaper reports about incident)

M116/783/1047 PART 1; (Includes Department of Transport Investigation Report and newspaper reports about incident)

A9755 parts 1-24 (RAAF UAS Reports)

NB: After completing this podcast and blogpost I learnt that researcher Keith Basterfield was largely responsible for the digitisation of the above files. While I didn’t rely on his blog in my research for this work, he is probably the most important researcher on this topic and you can view what he has to say on it by visiting his blog here.

Newspapers: The Australian; Melbourne Truth; The Herald; The Sun; Bendigo Advertiser; Courier (Ballarat)

Magazines: Idea UFO Quarterly

Music Sources Artists from

Erokia; Ispeakwaves; samplingsamthemarylandman; josefpres; erh