Was paedophile Christopher Michael Crowther Suspect 7 from the Sierra Files?

On 8 April 2016 Keith Moor wrote an article for the Herald Sun to mark the 25th anniversary of the disappearance of Karmein Chan.  In the article, Moor claimed to have recently received previously secret information about seven suspects that police had been unable to eliminate from their investigation into the identity of Mr Cruel.  According to Moor, when Operation Spectrum had wrapped up without identifying Mr Cruel in 1994, the detectives had provided a dossier on the seven suspects named the Sierra Files.  In the case that another child was abducted, Victoria Police were to arrest all seven suspects and interrogate them.  

None of the suspects in the Herald Sun article were named, but Moor did give some details about each of them, such as their age and the suburb they lived in at the time of the Karmein Chan abduction and suggested that all seven had the propensity to commit the types of crimes Mr Cruel was accused of.   Nevertheless, within 5 days the Nine Network had named suspect #1 on the list, albeit incorrectly. 

On 13 April 2016 A Current Affair ran a story by Reid Butler in which they claimed “Brian Enkler” was among the suspects that could not be ruled out by detectives.  Only, they had named the man incorrectly, his real name is Brian “Elkner”.  The program included a typical ACA scene in which Elkner is assailed leaving a residence and getting into a vehicle.  It has been suggested by commentators that the scene in question is located at Elkner’s Thornbury residence, but this is not the case.  While this ACA video is no longer accessible online, to this day, the written account of this article is still accessible on the ninenews.com.au website, still with the misspelling of Elkner’s name.

Elkner had been a strong suspect in the Mr Cruel case because of a series of sex attacks he had committed on teenage girls in the 1970s.  In the years since Nine News revealed his identity, a number of online writers and sleuths have revealed more about these crimes.  But, what of the six other suspects mentioned in the 8 April 2016 Herald Sun article?  Until recently, Melbourne Marvels has been unsuccessful in attempting to uncover some of the identities of these other men.  

Was paedophile Christopher Michael Crowther Suspect 7 of the Sierra Files?

According to Keith Moor, Suspect 7 of the Sierra Files was living in Glen Iris at the time of the Karmein Chan abduction.  Moor’s article further stated that it was unclear if this suspect was still alive in 2016, but if so, he would have been 67 years old, suggesting this suspect was born in either 1948 or 1949.  According to Moor, suspect 7 wasn’t on social media, on the electoral roll or in the telephone directory in 2016.  Was this information referring to convicted paedophile Christopher Michael Crowther?  Melbourne Marvels does not claim it was, nor do we claim Crowther was a suspect, but let us take a look at his criminal history to see what type of offender he was.

Paedophile jailed for 16 years”

On 5 September 1992, The Age published an article titled Paedophile jailed for 16 years.  Christopher Michael Crowther had “stalked and attacked six children aged four to seven”.  He had been jailed by Judge Barnett in the Country Court.  The article stated that Crowther was 44 years old and had lived in High Street, Glen Iris before his arrest.  He had earlier been “found guilty of five counts of child stealing, four of indecent assault and two of penetration of a child under 10”.  The article also reported that he had, just the day before, pleaded guilty to another count each of child stealing and indecent assault.

‘Paedophile jailed for 16 years’, The Age, 5 September 1992.

Immediately we can see that at 44 years of age in 1992, Crowther’s age matches that of Suspect 7 and so does his place of residence (Glen Iris) at the time of the Karmein Chan abduction.  But, we should tread carefully here before declaring we know the identity of Suspect 7.  

“The judge set a minimum of 13 years for Crowther”.

An article about Crowther’s conviction was also published in The Hearld Sun the same day titled Pedophile ‘relished publicity’, written by Christine Giles. It stated that Crowther was to serve a minimum term of 13 years and gave more details about the court case. It stated Crowther had been in police custody since January 1991, meaning it would have been impossible for him to have committed the abduction and murder of Karmein Chan. This is significant as, if Crowther was Suspect 7 in the Sierra Files, it would seem to indicate that the police were considering the possiblility that the murderer of Karmein Chan was not the same person who had abducted Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas and who had attacked the girl in Lower Plenty.

The article also referred to the fact that Crowther had volunteered to appear on an episode of 60 Minutes in 1983 as a “reformed pedophile”. The judge in the trial, “Judge Barnett”, had stated that the appearance on the TV show in 1983, and a later appearance on Day by Day in 1986 seemed to reflect the fact that Crowther had relished in the publicity of his crimes.

‘Pedophile “relished publicity”‘, Christine Giles, The Herald Sun, 5 September 1992.

A long history of ‘child stealing’

An article for The Age by Antony Catalano titled Man faces 71 sex charges was published on 15 January 1991, just 3 months before Karmein Chan’s abduction.  The article stated that Crowther was charged with rape, child stealing, abduction, gross indecency and indecent assault against 14 girls “as young as three”.  This means that he must not have been convicted of the majority of the charges he faced, as we know from the later article he was only found guilty of attacks on six children aged between four and seven.  

‘Man faces 71 sex charges’, Antony Catalano, The Age, 15 January 1991.

The article went on to describe Crowther’s long history of offending dating back to 1972 “when he was convicted on charges of willful and obscene exposure” and was convicted of child stealing in 1974 and abduction in 1981.  

“A very twisted and dangerous personality”.

‘Man who attacked two girls twisted, dangerous, say police’, The Age, 1 January 1983.

On 1 January 1983 an article was published in The Age titled Man who attacked two girls, twisted, dangerous, say police.  The article included a photofit of a bearded man and described an attack on two girls in Box Hill in which a six year-old girl had been raped and a seven year-old had been molested.  While we haven’t seen it stated that Crowther was ever convicted of this crime, the modus operandi and photofit are extremely similar to some of the crimes that he was later convicted of.  The striking similarity being that the perpetrator first stopped his car to ask the young girls for directions and then invited them into his vehicle before he sexually assaulted them.  Melbourne Marvels does not claim that Christopher Michael Crowther committed this crime.

“A man lured the little girl into a lavatory block”.

On 3 April 1985 an article was published in the local newspaper The Advertiser titled Police seek information.   It described the indecent assault of a six year-old girl in Dendy Park, Brighton.  “The incident happened at 3:30pm when the man lured the little girl into a lavatory block and indecently assaulted the little girl.”  Again, we cannot confirm that this crime was committed by Crowther, but the MO is extremely similar, the victim is of a similar age to late victims, the offender took her into a public toilet as was alleged Crowther did in a later crime, and we know he was later convicted of this type of crime in this area from attacks in 1985 and 1986.  

‘Police seek information’, The Advertiser, 3 April 1985.

“The seven year-old was abducted from Black Rock and taken to a park”

In November 1986 there was a media frenzy as a bearded man in a car was abducting girls in Bayside suburbs before sexually assaulting them.  On 7 November an article for The Age by Michael Cave titled 14 child sex attacks by same man, say police.  The article included a map showing the locations where the 14 attacks had occurred.  The most recent attack concerned that of a seven year-old girl who had been abducted by a bearded man on 5 November in Black Rock. The girl had been walking along Iona Street with a friend when the man drove up to the pair in a Ford Cortina station wagon before asking for directions.  The girl got into the car because she “thought he was a nice man”.  She was then driven to Riviera Park in Seaford where she was “indecently assaulted and raped”.  The article also stated that the 14 girls in total who had been attacked were aged between 3 and 14 years old, but it is possible that the 14 year old included here was actually the Hampton Mr Cruel victim in February 1985 discussed elsewhere in this blog as Crowther was later convicted of attacks on children no older than seven years of age.

’14 child sex attacks by same man, say police’, Michael Cave, The Age, 7 November 1986.

“She was crying and yelling and came running up to me with her arms in the air”

A similar article by Mark Davies was published in The Sun the same day. The article went into even more detail about some of the attacks, including an interview with Paul Cowan, the 16-year-old boy who had found the 7-year-old victim in Seaford before contacting the police. One slight contradiction with that of The Age article was that it stated the oldest of the 14 victims was 11-years-old, while The Age article had said the oldest was 14-years-old. The Sun article included more details about some of the other attacks in Caulfield, Sandringham and Mentone.

‘Girl, 7, rapist victim number 14’, Mark Davies, The Sun, 7 November 1986.

“A 16 year-old boy found the girl screaming”

Then on 12 November The Advertiser published an article about the same attack and some similar ones titled Abductions bring police warnings.  The article stated that “3 girls aged between five and seven years have been lured into station wagons over the past five weeks”.  It went on: “another attempt was foiled when two girls in Sandringham were approached but ran off”.  It gave additional details about the attack in which the seven year-old girl was taken to Seaford stating “a 16 year-old boy found the girl screaming”.  

‘Abductions bring police warnings’, The Advertiser, 12 November 1986.

“Certain matters led police to believe that Mr Crowther had been involved”

Understandably these attacks created a great deal of panic in the community and when an article in The Hampton Bugle was published on 13 November titled Child builds picture of suspect in sex attacks case with a photofit of the same bearded man, there was plenty of discussion in society about who the perpetrator was.  It seems that in the same week an a current affairs television program named Day by Day was aired which discussed the attacks.  Years later it would be revealed that Christopher Michael Crowther telephoned a producer of the program that week and “had discussed certain matters that led police to believe that Mr Crowther had been involved” (TV call led to 81 child sex charges, Johnson, Philip, The Age, 17 July 1991).

“Child builds picture of suspect in sex attacks case’, The Hampton Bugle, 13 November 1986.
‘Have you seen this man?’, The Advertiser, 19 November 1986.
‘TV call led to 81 child sex charges’, The Age, 17 July 1991.

“Displayed a knowledge of the rape of a 7-year-old girl at Seaford that only somebody close to the case would know”.

An article on the same day in The Herald Sun titled Caller gave raped details, court told gave a few more details on Crowther’s 1986 telephone call to the producer of Day by Day that had marked him as a person of interest. It stated that 3 people who knew Crowther had identified his voice from a tape recording of the telephone call

‘Caller gave rape details, court told’, The Herald Sun, 17 July 1991

“Goody, goody, goody, because tonight he’s on the prowl again”

In fact, years later when Crowther was convicted, it was also revealed that he had telephoned police after the attack on the Black Rock girl in November 1986.  When the police told him they had not got far in their investigations he had replied “goody, goody, goody, because he’s on the prowl again tonight” (The Canberra Times, 5 September 1992).  “The transcript of the recording made chilling reading Judge Barnett said, commenting that Crowther appeared to be basking in a state of sexual excitement during the call”.    

‘Judge: taunts of paedophile to police chilling’, The Canberra Times, 5 September 1992.

“Hampton police questioned a 38 year-old South Yarra man”

It appears the police did question Crowther over the rapes in December 1986 soon after his telephone call to the television producer had identified him as a person of interest.  However, he was released and was not to be rearrested for over 4 years.  

‘Man questioned on child rape’, The Age, 6 December 1986.

“He had a beard, huge muscular arms and scruffy shirt and jeans”

On 22 December 2013 an article by Chris Johnston titled Melbourne mother Tracey Levey on finding peace after childhood abuse, was published in The Age.  It detailed the story of a victim, now an adult woman, who had been picked up by a man in a car in 1979 in Glen Huntly before being assaulted by him.  This victim’s memory of this event, which occurred when she was just 5 years old, had recently resurfaced after reading an article about the suicide of sex offender Robert Keith Knight.  She had wondered whether Knight had been the man responsible for her own attack.  The police had revealed however, that they believed the man responsible for her attack was another man an “even more notorious Melbourne paedophile who would later face 80 charges of sex offences against children over a period of 12 years. When this man was arrested in 1991 a rocking horse and photographs were seized from his home. He was jailed, and then died of a heart attack upon release”.  The police had refused to name the offender because his involvement in this attack had not been “conclusively proved”.  “But he is almost certainly responsible” Johnston’s article went on. 

The article continued: “photographs taken by The Age when this man was finally arrested show him to be bigger and taller than the policeman arresting him. He had a beard, huge muscular arms and scruffy shirt and jeans. The man had an occupation where he had access to a number of vehicles, so at any given stage he may have been driving a vehicle he was not the owner of.” Melbourne Marvels does not claim that the man mentioned in this article is Christopher Michael Crowther.

It should be noted that Crowther was arrested in January 1991 and charged for crimes committed between 1979 and 1987.  This arrest occurred 3 months before Karmein Chan’s abduction.  Melbourne Marvels has been informed by a source who claims that he was in custody on remand at the time of the abduction and therefore could not have been reponsible for it.  

Update: Melbourne Marvels has recently been informed by a source that Crowther was released from prison not long after his conviction in 1992. This person claimed that he only spent a couple of years in jail after he was convicted, but that he had appealed the sentence and it was significantly reduced. This person believes he was released from prison in 1993. Melbourne Marvels has not been able to confirm whether this is true as yet.

We have reason to understand that Christopher Michael Crowther died in 2003 at the age of 55.  In his article on the Sierra Files, Keith Moor noted that he was unsure whether Suspect 7 had already died, but that there was no record of him on the electoral roll, and his death could have been a reason for this.

In conclusion, we cannot say conclusively that Crowther is Suspect 7 from the Sierra Files, but we do know that he had been living in Glen Iris a few months before the Karmein Chan abduction, his age is extremely close to the age profile given for suspect 7 as he was born in 1948 (although he would have been 67 at the time of the abduction), and was dead when the existence of the Sierra Files was revealed by The Herald Sun in 2016.  Therefore, he seems to be a very close match with Suspect 7, but it is not conclusive.  

However, even if he is Suspect 7, all this really means is that he could not be ruled out as being Mr Cruel by the Spectrum Taskforce.  It is another thing completely to seriously consider him as being Mr Cruel.  There are major differences between his MO and that of Mr Cruel’s considering he didn’t wear a balaclava during his attacks, abducted children off the street, and all his victims seem to have been aged between four and seven years of age.  

Melbourne Marvels June 2021