Who is Mr Careful?

Who is Mr Cruel Careful?

How the Mr Cruel moniker is actually a misnomer that was originally used to describe a different man – the curious mix-up of Mr Cruel and Mr Careful.

The following blogpost contains details about the sexual assault of women and girls.   Please use discretion when reading.

In 2019 Criminologist Xanthe Mallett published the book Cold Case Investigations1 which featured a chapter on the “Mr Cruel” crimes.  The work was the author’s professional evaluation of a variety of Australian cold case crimes where she analysed the behaviour of the offenders in question in an attempt to provide the reader with an insight into the type of person they might be.  However, Mallett made a significant error in the chapter on “Mr Cruel” by asserting that the offender had also been responsible for the rape of “an elderly nun”.  In fact, serial rapist Christopher Clarence Hall – known by the media as the Ascot Vale Rapist until he was caught in June 1993 – was responsible for this rape and was convicted of it in April 1994.  Not only this, but the victim in question was only 48 years old, not “elderly” and was in fact a former nun when she was raped by Hall on the night of 10-11 November 1987. Unfortunately, Mallett’s error has only resulted in misinformation about the crimes of the, yet to be identified, unknown offender (who Melbourne Marvels hopes will be one day be arrested for his crimes) who police believe raped an 11-year-old girl in Lower Plenty in 1987, abducted and assaulted 10-year-old Sharon Wills in 1988, abducted and assaulted 13-year-old Nicola Lynas in 1990 and abducted and police believe most likely abducted murdered 13-year-old Karmein Chan in 1991.  

At around the same time as Mallett’s mistake was published in her 2019 book, a concomitant Daily Mail article by Stephen Gibbs was also published making the same false statement under the title Masked child killer ‘Mr Cruel’ who terrified a city by abducting young girls from their homes three decades ago raped an elderly nun years earlier – and he could still be on the loose2.  This article continues to provide people with false information about the case as it is one of the first articles that comes up when one searches for “Mr Cruel” in a Google search.  Unfortunately, this is just one of many falsities that have been published about this unsolved case, all of which create a distorted picture of the truth of this offender’s actions and thus, serve to decrease the likelihood the case will ever be solved.  

To be fair to Mallett, the majority of her chapter on our unknown offender is quite insightful as she draws on her expertise as a criminologist to analyse his behaviour, describing him as “the careful predator3“. She states that she was told the information that Mr Cruel had raped the “elderly nun”4 by psychologist Tim Watson-Munro who had worked on the case and provided a profile of the offender for police back when it was believed the same offender had been responsible for it.  Mr Watson-Munro however, had clearly not learnt of Christopher Clarence Hall’s subsequent conviction for the attack in April 19945, 34.

The Age 13 May 1994.

Let us backtrack for a moment here though so we can understand the origin behind the term Mr Cruel.  As reported in previous posts by Melbourne Marvels, the term Mr Cruel was first used in the headline of an article by Jim Tennison for the Sun News Pictorial on 19 November 1987 titled Police hunt for ‘Mr Cruel’6.  This article was published after a police press conference to inform the public about a man police believed was a serial rapist operating in the suburbs of Melbourne.  The police had held the press conference just one week after a rape of a 48-year-old woman that had occurred on the 11 November 1987 in Moonee Ponds.  The article detailed how a police taskforce had been set up to find the offender who had committed this rape and two others – that of an 11-year-old girl on 22 August 1987 in Lower Plenty, and that of a 30 year-old woman in Donvale in December 1985.  During the press conference the police were quoted as describing the offender as “super cool, and super cruel”.  It is therefore understandable why Tennison’s article includes the term “Mr Cruel”, especially considering it was common practice for the media in the 1980s to give unknown serial rapists “Mr” monikers, such as the infamous Mr Baldy and Mr Stinky. But, there was just one problem.  The man who raped the 48 year-old former nun, would later be ruled out by police as being the man who had committed the two other rapes7

The Sun News Picotrial 18 Nov 1987.

As mentioned earlier, Christopher Clarence Hall was convicted of the rape of the Moonee Ponds woman, as well as the rapes of numerous other women aged 22 to 82, in April 1994.  He was initially sentenced to 34 years in prison in May of that year, the longest ever sentence for rape in Victoria, but in October of that year had his sentence reduced to 27 years8 on appeal. 

The Age 12 Jun 1993.
The Age 13 Dec 1994.

Hall was convicted based on his confession and DNA evidence9 as he had left semen at many of his rapes.  You can read about the police operation to catch him in Liz Porter’s excellent book Written on the Skin: An Australian forensic casebook. The majority of his rapes had occurred between January and May 1993, but police were also able to link him to the 1987 Moonee Ponds rape.  His rapes occurred in the suburbs of Essendon, Flemington, Airport West, Carlton North, Ascot Vale and Fitzroy North10.  During the first half of 1993 the northern and north-western suburbs of Melbourne were terrorised as this man repeated rape after rape without being caught, much like the East Area Rapist terrorised Sacramento in the mid 1970s.  Just like in that case, the local news media in Melbourne were transfixed with the story of the Ascot Vale Rapist, and many women living in the area were living in fear that they would be his next victim as he continued to carry out his attacks with impunity11.  

The Age 25 May 1993
The Age 28 May 1993
The Age 30 May 1993

Another feature Hall had in common with Sacramento’s East Area Rapist was that he had previously been a prolific house burglar before graduating to rape. His first court appearance was as a 17-year-old all the way back in June 197012.  He was sentenced to six years in prison in June 1979 for committing 31 burglaries and four car thefts between December 1977 and May 1978 that had occurred in the suburbs of Gisborne, Woodend, Airport West, Broadmeadows, Tullamarine, Preston, Sunbury and Bacchus Marsh.  He was living in Arthur Street, Preston at this time13.  He escaped from custody in Wangaratta after a basketball game between Beechworth prisoners and a local team14 before being recaptured in May of that year in Penong, on the Nullabor Plain in South Australia15 (perhaps he was attempting to flee to Western Australia), and extradited to Victoria.  I’m not sure when he was ultimately released from prison, but what is clear is that by 1987 he had become a rapist, and would eventually become a serial rapist.  

The Age 22 Jun 1979
The Age 17 Apr 1980
The Age 2 May 1980

If Hall was the offender in the Moonee Ponds rape, is it also not then possible he was the offender in the canonical Mr Cruel attacks such as the 1987 Lower Plenty rape, and the 1988, 1990 and 1991 abductions?  Hall could not have been our unknown offender as he was in prison again, this time  in South Australia, between mid October 1989 and 12 August 199216 (for what crime I do not know) so could not have abducted Nicola Lynas or Karmein Chan.  There are however, a number of common features between the 1987 Lower Plenty rape and his modus operandi.  For example, in both the Lower Plenty rape and the Moonee Ponds rape the offender wore something that covered his face and broke into the victim’s homes when it was dark. Additionally, both offenders wore jeans, made their victims count to 100 when17 he left their homes, gagged and blindfolded their victims with elastoplast or surgical tape18, stole cash from their victims, wore athletic sneakers, and tied up their victims using a type of cord not sold in Australia19.  In fact the police operation to capture the Ascot Vale Rapist, was named Operation Century after the offender’s penchant for telling his victims to count to 100 before seeking help. It is for these reasons that you can see why the 1987 police taskforce thought these attacks were linked.  

However, for whatever reason, the police later decided the Lower Plenty attack was not Hall.  Perhaps these are some of the reasons they concluded this: Hall’s 19 known victims were all adults, and were raped in their homes mostly in the north and north-western suburbs of Melbourne (in 1997 Hall was convicted of five more rapes of four more women in Thornbury, Glenroy and Glen Iris, the latter of which is in the eastern suburbs)20. Unlike in the Lower Plenty attack, Hall never attacked his victims when men were present and his victims were often extremely vulnerable women as many were elderly and his victims included a blind woman, a woman with schizophrenia and a woman who was eight months pregnant, and he twice raped one victim who was intellectually disabled, with an interval of five years (meaning she was likely first raped as early as 1988).  These women were also alone in every instance bar one, when one victim was at home only with her young child.  In this case, Hall threatened the woman that he would harm the child if she did not accede to his requests21.  Hall also often left DNA evidence in the form of his semen whereas our unknown offender did not22. Lastly, Hall never used a gun in any of his attacks, but the offender in the Lower Plenty attack, and the abductions of Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas had a gun.

Therefore, while I cannot conclusively say that Hall did not commit the 1987 Lower Plenty rape, there may be other reasons the police know that I don’t as to why they ultimately ruled it out as being him. What is clear is police certainly suspected him of committing more rapes and worked hard to link him to unsolved rapes.  He was eventually convicted in 1997 for committing four more rapes, some of which occurred between 1988-1989. An article in The Age from 1997 claimed this occurred after Hall contacted police from his prison cell and admitted raping four more women than he was originally sentenced for23, however, Liz Porter in her chapter on how police caught Hall from her book Written on the Skin: An Australian Forensic Casebook states this only occurred when Detective Jacqueline Curran pored through old files of unsolved rapes and managed to link his DNA to two of them24. Then, when confronted with this information, Hall inadvertently admitted to two more rapes when he became confused as to which crimes she and her fellow detective Steve Waddell were referring to.

As a result his sentence was increased to 32.5 years with a minimum of 27 years after it had been reduced to 29 with a minimum of 27 years on appeal in 1994.  In 2006 Hall made a legal challenge in the Supreme Court for leave to appeal against his sentence. However, it is unclear if he took up the opportunity to appeal, nor whether, if he did (likely), he was successful. As a result of his legal challenge a new non-parole period of 24 years and 8 months was granted from April 1997, meaning he would not have been eligible for parole until 2021. If he hadn’t made his legal challenge he would have been eligible for parole in December 2011 and released by June 2015 (assuming that is, that he was still alive).  

The Age 3 Apr 1997

A high degree of violence, humiliation and cruelty on vulnerable women. When Hall was released on parole from his prison stint in South Australia on 12 August 1992, it took him little over a week before he raped his next victim and he would go on to be convicted of this rape and that of another 18 women in the nine months until he was caught in June 1993, with the majority occurring between January and May of 1993. Hall’s attacks always involved a high degree of violence, humiliation and cruelty. Cruelty being the operative word here.  Reading The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994) and understanding the degree of cruelty Hall displayed is an exercise of engaging with the darkest side of humanity, so I urge the reader to do so with caution25.  

An analysis of the rape of the 48 year-old former nun makes it plain why police described the man they were looking for as “cruel”, even if they had mistakenly linked him with two crimes he probably hadn’t committed.  The details of the Moonee Ponds rape, and those of Hall’s other rapes make for harrowing reading. Among the horribly cruel things Hall did to this victim were the following:

  • The victim told Hall she was a virgin as she was a former nun.  Hall raped her anyway, causing her excruciating pain and ignored her screams that she was in pain.
  • Hall taunted the victim, by asking her why God had not prevented her from being raped.
  • After the first rape he hogtied the woman, leaving her prone on the bed.
  • He stole the victim’s ATM card, asked her for the PIN and threatened her with the words “If you give me the wrong one, I’ll come back and I’ll…”, not finishing the sentence to leave the woman to speculate as to what it might involve.
  • When he returned from withdrawing $300 from the ATM, he raped her several more times.
  • During the final rape of the woman, she lost control of her bowels and asked to go to the toilet.  Hall subjected her to further indignity by insisting on watching her as she went.  He watched her throughout this act, handing her toilet paper as she went.
  • After the rapes he asked the victim if she were still a nun.
  • He suggested the rapes were because God was punishing her for having resigned from being a nun26.

It is clear to see that Hall’s actions in this rape are the very definition of cruel.  Of course, that is not to say that the offender who committed the unsolved crimes by our unknown offender wasn’t cruel himself.  No doubt, he caused a great deal of suffering and trauma to his victims.  However, in his own twisted mind he seemed to believe he was “nice” to his victims. Despite the horrible things he did, it was reported by the ABC television news on 6 July 1990 that he generally spoke softly to his victims. One victim described him as playing a kind of role where he was imagining being married to her27.  He released Nicola Lynas on the day of her 14th birthday, which police thought may have indicated a measure of compassion28.  He brought his victims food and drink29.  He also told Nicola Lynas that she was prettier than the photograph of her that had been circulated in the media30.  Of course, none of these actions would have been in any way reassuring to the frightened and traumatised victims, but there is a clear contrast between this type of behaviour and the misogynistic humiliation that Hall displayed in the rapes of the 19 women for which he was convicted.  Indeed, Hall seemed to relish in the very act of humiliating his victims. Therefore, while cruelty was certainly involved in the Mr Cruel canonical crimes, it would be unlikely that those people who know him well would describe him in this way.  Rather, as has been reported by this author and many others over the years, the defining trait that sums up our unknown offender, more than any other, is carefulness in avoiding being apprehended, despite the risky behaviour he was carrying out.

The real Mr Cruel was captured in May 1993. It seems then that police were almost certainly thinking of “cruel” when referring to Christopher Clarence Hall’s attack of the 48 year-old former nun in November 1987.  As mentioned though, police later reassessed and decided Hall was not responsible for the August 1987 rape of an 11-year-old girl in Lower Plenty nor the 1985 rape of a 30 year-old woman in Donvale.  Eventually, the police would reassess again and decided the unknown offender who abducted Karmein Chan in April 1991, Nicola Lynas in July 1990 and Sharon Wills in December 1988 was the same offender who committed the rape of the 11-year-old girl in Lower Plenty in 1987.  After the millions of dollars spent on the Spectrum Taskforce between 1991 and 1994, they were confident the unknown offender was responsible for these four attacks (and possibly a series of other rapes and abductions in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne between 1985 and 1987).  But, since the real Mr Cruel had been arrested in 1993 and sentenced in 1994 who is the unknown offender who has never been brought to justice for his crimes?

So, if the real Mr Cruel was captured in 1994, who is our unknown offender? As I mentioned above, the defining feature which characterised our unknown offender was “carefulness”.  Xanthe Mallett referred to him as “the careful predator” in her 2019 book31.  This was because of how meticulous he was in avoiding leaving any fingerprints or DNA evidence in any of the four canonical attacks.  Val Simpson, the lead detective of the taskforce which investigated the Lower Plenty rape told me he had never seen a crime scene like it – in other words, one in which the offender was so good at cleaning up any evidence. He had made his victim clean her teeth carefully and bathe after assaulting her to ensure he left no evidence of himself on her. He did the same with his 1988 and 1990 abduction victims32. This was at a time when DNA fingerprinting technology was in its infancy, but it was something he was clearly knowledgeable about.  He also rigorously ensured his victims never saw his face.  Clearly whoever this man was, he went to great pains to ensure he would not be identified, and he knew how to avoid leaving clues for police detectives to make their job that much harder. In a word, he was careful. Mr Careful. The real Mr Cruel, Christopher Clarence Hall, was not as careful as Mr Careful and was caught by police in 1993 before spending decades in prison. Mr Careful on the other hand, has never been identified and is possibly still out there hiding amongst us.

In the past it has been reported by journalists Keith Moor and John Silvester that police were never happy with the moniker Mr Cruel for our unknown offender. This was because they felt it might have given the public a false image of who this man was. He was likely to have been a very ordinary man they said, and possibly, outwardly very neighbourly and community-minded33. Perhaps then it is time to shed this misnomer and refer to our unknown offender as Mr Careful.

Melbourne Marvels 19/04/2023


  1. Mallett Xanthé (2019) Cold case investigations. Sydney, N.S.W.: Macmillan/Pan Macmillan Australia.
  2.  Gibbs, S. (2019) “Masked child killer ‘Mr Cruel’ who terrified a city by abduction young girls from their homes three decades ago raped an elderly nun years earlier – and he could still be on the loose,” Daily Mail Australia, 2 September. 
  3. Mallett Xanthé (2019) Cold case investigations. Sydney, N.S.W.: Macmillan/Pan Macmillan Australia. 
  4. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994).
  5. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994). 
  6. Tennison, J. (1987) “Police hunt for ‘Mr Cruel,’” The Sun News Pictorial, 18 November.
  7. Catalano, A. (1991) “Brutal abductor breeds fear with cruelty,” The Age, 4 May.
  8. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994).
  9.  Porter, L. (2007) “Reading the blood,” in Written on the skin: An Australian forensic casebook. Sydney, NSW: Pan Macmillan, pp. 34–35.
  10. Tippett, G. (1993) “Crime fear stalks a generation,” The Age, 30 May. 
  11. Tippett, G. (1993) “Crime fear stalks a generation,” The Age, 30 May.
  12. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994). 
  13. The Age (1979) “Jailed for burglary,” 22 June.
  14. The Age (1980) “Prisoner missing after basketball,” 17 April. 
  15. The Age (1980) “Jail Escaper Recaptured”, 2 May. 
  16. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994).
  17. Moor, K. (2016) “Victoria Police and FBI Dossier on shocking Mr Cruel child attacks,” The Herald Sun, 8 April
  18. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994).
  19. Willox, I. (1988) “Police seek a new ‘Mr Stinky’ rapist,” The Age, 12 May.
  20. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994).
  21. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994).
  22. Porter, L. (2007) “Reading the blood,” in Written on the skin: An australian forensic casebook. Sydney, NSW: Pan Macmillan, pp. 34–35. 
  23. Gurvich, V. (1997) “Convicted rapist gets another three years,” The Age, 3 April. 
  24. Porter, L. (2007) “Reading the blood,” in Written on the skin: An australian forensic casebook. Sydney, NSW: Pan Macmillan. 
  25. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994).
  26. The Queen V. Christopher Clarence Hall (1994).
  27.  Silvester, J. and Rule, A. (2006) Rats: Crooks who got away with it: Tails of true crime and mystery from the underbelly archives. Camberwell, Vic.: Floradale/Sly Ink.
  28. Brundrett, R. (1996) “Predator behind neighbourly mask,” Herald Sun, 13 April. 
  29. Edmonds, M., Armstrong, P. and Talbot, L. (1990) “Nikki’s safe,” The Herald, 6 July. 
  30. Silvester, J. and Rule, A. (2006) Rats: Crooks who got away with it: Tails of true crime and mystery from the underbelly archives. Camberwell, Vic.: Floradale/Sly Ink. 
  31. Mallett Xanthé (2019) Cold case investigations. Sydney, N.S.W.: Macmillan/Pan Macmillan Australia. 
  32. Moor, K. (8 April 2016) “Victoira Police and FBI Dossier on shocking Mr Cruel child attacks,” The Herald Sun.
  33. Silvester, J. and Rule, A. (2006) Rats: Crooks who got away with it: Tails of true crime and mystery from the underbelly archives. Camberwell, Vic.: Floradale/Sly Ink.
  34. Johnson, P. (1994) “Rapist gets 25 years for reign of terror”, The Age, 13 May 1994.
  35. Kearns, L. (1993) “Man faces sex charges”, The Age, 12 Jun 1993.
  36. Johnson, P. (1993) “Sentence cut for Ascot Vale Rapist”, The Age, 13 Dec 1994.
  37. Trioli, V. (1993) “In Ascot Vale the mood is anger”, The Age, 25 May 1993.
  38. Milburn, C. and Plunkett, R. (1993) “Rape fear mobilises neighbourhood”, The Age, 28 May 1993.