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 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.
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 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 their sister. 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.
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?”
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 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.
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.
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”.
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.”
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
On page 2 of the same newspaper the story continued under the title Mystery as kidnap girl found.
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.
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.
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.”
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”.
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”.
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.”
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 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 article also included a photograph of the woman who had found Sharon in the street, “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.
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 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 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 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 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 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”.
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 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”.
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”.
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 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”.
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 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”.
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 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”.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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 Canberra Times also published an article about the previous day’s police press conference titled $100,000 reward to find abductor.
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.”
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 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 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 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”.
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.
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.
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, we learnt years later, 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 the aforementioned date.
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 a 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.
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 her 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.
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, 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.
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.
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, in order to protect the privacy of the victims, 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 Cardianl 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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 and pwurg 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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