A note on the style of this blog.
In researching for this series of blogs and podcasts on the Mr Cruel crimes, one thing that has struck me is the amount of information out there, in articles and books that have been written about the case, which contradicts other information. There are many examples of this, but to pick one example at random, the victim in the Lower Plenty attack is variously described as being 11 or 12 years old. It may seem a minor detail, but there are many of these inconsistencies. Therefore, in retelling the facts of this case, I have potentially been presented with the problem of choosing the reliability of one source over another. Should we trust the contemporary newspaper articles of the time or the most recent in-depth analysis of the Mr Cruel case, Keith Moor’s 2016 article titled Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking child abductions, perhaps the most comprehensive source of information on the case out there?
When the information is contradictory, it is impossible to know which source to consider more reliable. If you rely purely on the contemporary sources, one runs the risk of relying on information which was later realised to be mistaken. On the other hand, if you rely solely on the most recent source, (as most articles, blogs and podcasts about this case have in recent years) you run the risk of relying on a source which has gained some of its information from interviews with detectives and other experts 30 years after the events in question. Memories are fallible, and I have come across instances of incongruities in recent publications which have relied on the memories of experts who misremembered some details from 30 years ago (I will highlight some of these incongruities later in this post).
When these incongruities come to the fore, and not knowing which is the objective truth, I have decided simply to present information in a way that reports what other journalists have written about the case and bring it to the attention of the reader when there are contradictions. Perhaps by getting all of this information out there, there is a small possibility it might contribute to clearing up some confusion about the finer details of the case.
I realise this style of blog may not be for everybody. If it is pure storytelling you are looking for, there are a number of blogs and podcasts out there that cover this case. They all tell the story as if they were there, a fly on the wall, as if they know exactly what happened. They almost exclusively rely on paraphrasing Keith Moor’s 2016 article mentioned previously, which is a well-written article, but contains information that contradicts some of the details that were presented in newspaper articles in 1987 and 1988.
I have spent many months attempting to read everything that has been written on this case. As a result I have made numerous visits to libraries where I have found many newspaper articles on the subject which nobody else has made available before on the internet. I am confident I have now read the vast majority there is to read about this case that is in the public forum. This blog post is a collation and presentation of all that I found in these sources and it is largely presented in chronological order.
In the first blog post/episode I mentioned the four canonical attacks that are considered by most detectives, to be the work of Mr Cruel. Today, I will focus on the first of these, what was reported in the media as the Lower Plenty rape of a girl in her home on 22 August 1987.
“A particularly violent rape“
As far as I have found, the very first time anything was ever written about this case was on 29 August 1987, when articles were published in both The Age and The Sun News Pictorial. We can probably safely assume therefore, that there was a police press conference the day before on 28 August. Both articles were published exactly one week after the actual attack occurred on 22 August. The Age article was written by Greg Burchall, under the title: Police warn that armed rapist might strike again. It reported that a 12 year old girl (take note of her age as this will be different in later articles) was raped after he broke into her “eastern suburbs house” and bound and gagged her parents, and that police were worried that he could strike again. Detective Inspector Val Simpson of the Greensborough CIB was paraphrased as stating that the attack was similar to the 3 rapes which occurred in December of 1985 in the “Donvale-Warrandyte-Bulleen” area (I will discuss this case in the next blogpost). He went on to say that the family of the raped girl did not want any details of the attack released, but had agreed to do so when told of the “danger of their attacker repeating his crime”.
Detective Sergeant Simpson said the attacker was armed with a “small automatic handgun and a large knife”. He broke a window at the front of the property before heading straight for the parents’ bedroom where he “bound and gagged a couple in their 30s and their six year-old son”. Take note here the article says the son was “six years-old” and that he was bound and gagged in his parents’ bedroom, which contradicts information we hear later.
The attacker then took the 12 year old girl to the lounge room where she suffered a “particularly violent rape”. The detective went on to describe how the attacker stole “$250 cash and a few articles of clothing”. He was described as “an Australian in his 30s, about 175 cm tall, with brown hair and slim build”. Take note of this first ever description of this man too, as it will be different to future reports of this offence. “He was wearing a balaclava, blue jeans and a brown tweed sports coat over a blue zip-up jacket and was carrying a grey cloth bag”. A black and white photograph of an artist’s rendition of the attacker is also provided, which is clearly the same illustration as the colourised version I have included at the top of this blog, only this one is cut off at the man’s belly.
What is noticeable about this image is the balaclava is open from the upper lip up to his hairline. A tuft of hair protrudes from under the top of the balaclava, and there is material stretching across his eyes which seems to act as some kind of visor that hides his eyes. Nevertheless, this remains the best image we have of Mr Cruel as in all the later canonical attacks his entire face is covered by the balaclava.
“A very dangerous sort of person”
The Sun also reported on this crime in an article by Greg Thom on the same date titled Family tied up as girl, 12, raped which goes into a little bit more detail than The Age article. It included a photograph by Janine Eastgate of Detective Sergeant Val Simpson holding three different rolls of red, blue and green tape and two different types of rope or cord. Behind Detective Simpson we can see two illustrations, one of an artist’s depiction of the perpetrator and one of the gun and knife used in the attack. The article stated that police were looking for a man who had raped a 12 year old girl in the “Eltham-Lower Plenty” area after tying up her parents and brother in the “bedroom of their outer suburban house”. He was armed with a “small handgun and large hunting knife”. Police had expressed concern that the man might strike again and that the offences were similar to attacks that had occurred in December 1985.
The offender had handcuffed the girl’s parents and bound their hands and legs before gagging them and putting “surgical tape over their eyes”. He had then taken the girl and her 6 year old brother into the parents’ bedroom where he bound and gagged the boy before taking the girl to another room and raping her. Police said the man had tricked the parents into thinking he was only there to rob the house. He had stolen $250 from a wallet and purse. Detective Segeant Val Simpson was quoted as saying: “Obviously the trauma of rape has been a very nasty experience for the young girl. Anyone who breaks into a home in the middle of the night, subjects a family to this sort of terrorism and rapes a 12-year old girl is obviously a very dangerous sort of person.” He also said: “He has struck once and there is every possibility he could strike again”. Thom wrote that police had stated that the perpetrator was “aged in his 30s, between 173cm and 175cm, probably Australian, with brown hair, slim build, and wearing a dark blue balaclava”, but also mentioned how he was wearing “blue runners with a white trim”. Also, the article stated that the grey cloth bag he was carrying was “similar to the type used by children to carry library books”. The Sun article also included the full-length artist’s depiction of the attacker.
“May have committed 5 similar attacks”
The next newspaper publication of this attack was on 1 September 1987 when the weekly Diamond Valley News published an article titled Task force to hunt rapist, by Sally McDonnell with a photograph similar to the one that appeared in the Sun depicting Detective Sergeant Val Simpson holding up the tape and rope and the full-length artist’s illustration of the suspect.
This article stated that police believed that the man who had raped the 12 year old girl may have committed 5 similar attacks. It stated the girl had been raped after her family had been bound, gagged and locked in another room. Detective Sergeant Val Simpson, it stated, had been appointed to head a task force to “solve this attack”. McDonnell wrote that Detective Sergeant Simpson had speculated that the perpetrator may have been responsible for 3 similar incidents that had occurred in Warrandyte, Bulleen and Donvale in December 1985, and two attempted rapes that had occurred in Greensborough in March and August 1987. Detective Sergeant Simpson was quoted as saying of these attacks: “In the 1985 incidents he entered the homes of women in similar circumstances and the offence of rape was committed.” McDonnell noted that police were: “keeping an open mind as to whether the same offender was responsible for two recent attempted rapes in the Joyce Avenue, Greensborough area.” In the Greensborough attempted rapes, the offender had “forced entry into houses at around 4am early on Saturday mornings and attempted to rape the female occupant of each house”.
The article went on to describe the Lower Plenty attack in the same ways as had been described in The Sun and The Age on 29 August. But, Detective Senior Sergeant Val Simpson was also quoted as stating “We have no idea at this stage how he selected the house. That’s something we’re working on at this stage. At this stage there is nothing to indicate that he knew the family. This is just a normal everyday family with no special interests or anything that might bring them into conflict with other people. It’s almost as if their whole being has been shattered by this one incident”. McDonnell then also paraphrased Detective Sergeant Simpson as stating that the offender “could be a local resident” and that there was “no indication that he was on drugs or drunk”. The article then went on to describe the physical description of the perpetrator in the same way as was in The Sun.
“Appealing for help”
The next article about the Lower Plenty attack appeared in The Age on 4 September 1987 when a short was written stating that police were “appealing for help” to help catch the perpetrator under the title Police appeal. Surprisingly, this short described the attack as occurring in Eltham, which must have been a mistake as, while the exact address has never been publicised, it has mostly been reported as having occurred in Lower Plenty or the Lower Plenty-Eltham area, which seems to suggest the part of Lower Plenty which is near the border with Eltham.
“There is every possibility he could strike again”
The same day a more detailed article was published in The Sun by Bruce Tobin, under the title Rapist threatened a second family: police. The article described how the perpetrator had gained access to the house in “Lower Plenty-Eltham” after he “smashed a window”. However, it described how, before he raped the girl, he had made a threatening phone call to another family “from the main bedroom of the house and threatened them with physical violence”. Detective Sergeant Val Simpson was paraphrased saying the perpetrator told the second family to “move their children or they would be in danger” and “there is every possibility he could strike again.” He also suggested that the same man could have been responsible for 3 rapes that occurred in the eastern suburbs in December 1985. The man had called the second family between 4:30 and 5am and referred to the person on the other end as ‘Bozo’. Detective Sergeant Simpson “appealed to the people who received the call to contact police”. The article then went on to describe the circumstances of the attack in the same way as had been in the previous Sun article except it said the man was about 175cm tall.
“The call was made to a person named ‘Bozo'”
Then on 8 September another article by Sally McDonnell appeared in the Diamond Valley News titled Phone threat clue to rapist. In the article McDonnell stated that the police believed that the perpetrator had “made a threatening phone call from the house during the two-hour ordeal”. Detective Sergeant Val Simpson was quoted as stating that “when the offender was in the house it would appear that a threatening phone call could have been made between 4:30 and 5am. The call was made to a person named ‘Bozo’ or a similar sounding name. Threatening remarks were made to this person and it was suggested that he remove his children from the house. We are treating it as a genuine call”. The article then stated that the police were looking for anyone who had received a threatening phone call at about 4:30 am on 22 August to contact them.
“Super cool, and super cruel”
The Lower Plenty attack was not in the news again until 19 November 1987, when an article by Jim Tennison appeared in The Sun linking the Lower Plenty attack to an attack on a 48 year old woman that had occurred on the night/morning of the 10/11 November under the heading Police hunt for Mr ‘Cruel’. This was the first usage of the term Mr Cruel by the media. Tennison’s article detailed the fact that a police taskforce had been set up to help find the perpetrator who was described by police as “super cool, and super cruel”. Assistant Commissioner of Crime, Mr Vaughan Werner, was quoted as saying “We have put a very high priority on the hunt for this man. He is a cold-blooded calculating character who has caused incredible trauma to his victims.” Tennison paraphrases Senior Detective Sergeant Gerry Tatter, who was the head of the taskforce, as saying “he believed the man had committed at least 3 rapes and possibly several more over a period of at least 2 years”. Senior Sergeant Tatter then went on to describe how he believed the same man had committed the Lower Plenty attack and then gave a brief summary of that attack. What was notable about this is that the girl is this time described as an 11 year old girl rather than a 12 year old. Another incongruity was that Tennison stated in his article that the girl’s brother was 7 years old. Lastly, he stated that the brother was locked in the wardrobe along with his parents, and this account would be repeated in articles about this case in future years.
Tennison then went on to describe the attack on the 48 year old woman in which the perpetrator broke into her home and “threatened her with a knife, bound and gagged her, and then raped her”. The man then stole her bank card and went to a bank in Moonee Ponds, where he withdrew $300 from her bank account. He had then returned to the woman’s house and “sexually assaulted her again, before leaving in the early hours of last Wednesday morning”.
Tatter was then paraphrased as describing the Lower Plenty attack as a “virtual blueprint” of an attack on “a 35 year old woman” in her home in Donvale on 6 December 1985. The article stated that in that attack the man had been armed with a “long-barrelled handgun” and that “in all 3 cases the rapist has worn a balaclava or hood and blindfolded, bound and gagged his victims, before assaulting them and stealing money.” Tennison’s article gave a slightly different physical description of the perpetrator – about 179 cm tall, aged 25 to 35 and of a slim build.
“Park St or Clarinda Rd”
On 25 November 1987 an article by Nadine Hartnett featuring information about the Lower Plenty attack was published by the Essendon Gazette. This was largely about the attack on the 48 year old Moonee Ponds victim, but also mentioned the Donvale attack in 1985 and included new information.
Regarding the Moonee Ponds attack, it stated a man had broken into the victims home at “10pm” before describing the attack in the same way as was in Jim Tennison’s article. However, more information was given on the location and the description of the attacker. He was described as “a slim man wearing pale blue jeans” and “could have been seen near Park St or Clarinda Rd between 9:30 and 10 pm on November 10, or at the Commonwealth Bank in Puckle St, near Pratt St, between 1 and 1:30am the next morning”.
Hartnett then paraphrased Senior Sergeant Gerry Tatter as describing the Lower Plenty victim as 11 and her brother as 7, repeating the claim that the brother was locked in the wardrobe with his parents. Again, this contradicts other articles and may have simply been a mistake by the officer at the press conference.
The Donvale attack was then also described in the same way as had been in Tennison’s article.
“Red and white and plain white nylon clothesline cord, and blue green and red PVC electrical tape”
On 15 December 1987 a Crime Stoppers report was published in The Age about the Lower Plenty Attack. It described the victim as 11 years old and it stated the perpetrator gained entry to the house when he “smashed a window”. It said he “made several phone calls to speak about a person called ‘Bozo'”. It stated “he carried a grey satchel and red and white and plain white nylon clothesline cord, and blue green and red PVC electrical tape”.
“A cold-blooded, calculating character who has caused incredible trauma to his victims”
Then on 10 May 1988, Innes Willox for The Age wrote an article about the case titled Police ask public for help tracking rapist linked to 20 attacks. This article stated that Detective Inspector Ken MacKenzie had tentatively linked the rapist involved in the Lower Plenty attack to at least 20 other attacks in the northern and eastern suburbs. Willox paraphrased the police in general as describing him as “the most audacious sex attacker they have investigated”. Detective Inspector McKenzie was quoted as saying “It puts him into the Mr Stinky category and he poses no less a threat as Mr Stinky did in his heyday”. The article then added a note that “Raymond Edwards, known as Mr Stinky, was convicted in 1985 of five rapes”. The Detective Inspector said that a task force had been set up the previous November after the attack on the 48 year old woman in Moonee Ponds and that “they are certain (the rapist) has committed three attacks since December 1985” and refer to the Donvale rape of “a 35 year old woman” in December 1985, the Lower Plenty rape of the 11 year old girl, and the Moonee Ponds “assault” of a 48 year old woman in November the previous year.
The article went on to describe how, during the Lower Plenty attack, the rapist had stolen “a box of rare classical records”. The records were by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, in a set called “Classic Gold written in gold print on a black box”. Detective Inspector McKenzie went on to ask for help from anyone in the public who might have acquired a set such as this since August 1987. Willox wrote that during the Lower Plenty attack the man was armed with a “pistol” and that: “He even made himself a meal. He picked the glass from the broken window, and stole a dark blue parka with the label ‘Ecuadorian Shirt Company’” This article described the man as between 168 and 183 cm tall, a much wider range given than in previous articles about this attacker.
“He’s without doubt one of the most dangerous criminals roaming the suburbs”
Also on 10 May 1988, The Sun published an article by Brian Walsh titled Record set clue to rape. This article gave the daughter’s age as 11 and the son’s as 8, which was a combination of ages we had not seen previously. It quoted Detective Inspector Ken McKenzie as stating of the perpetrator “he’s without doubt one of the most dangerous criminals roaming the suburbs”. Walsh paraphrased McKenzie as saying that “the recordings by the London Philharmonic Orchestra were sold by J&B Records in 1978 and 1979 and had not been widely distributed since”. It is a small detail, but it seems Willox erred in the describing the records as “classic”, when the actual title contains the word “classical”.
“Cool and calculating, a man who meticulously plans his attacks”
Innes Willox then released another article for The Age 2 days later on the 12 May 1988, under the title Police seek a new “Mr Stinky” Rapist. The article begins by suggesting police were searching for a new rapist in the vein of ‘Mr Stinky’ who, it was stated, was “now serving life for murder”. It paraphrases police as describing the new rapist as “cool and calculating, a man who meticulously plans his attacks” and he also mentions again how the perpetrator had been linked with at least 3 rapes and up to 20 attacks . Willox also wrote: “They know of, but refuse to discuss, several disturbing similarities about the attacks because they fear others could copy his methods”. Willox went on to describe how the police did not know much about the attacker because he always wore a balaclava. It is mentioned how he stole small amounts of money from all his victims. Chief Commissioner Kel Glare, is cited as using this attacker as an example of why police needed more resources to tackle crime. The quote from Assistant Commissioner of Crime, Vaughan Werner, from the article dated 10 May, describing the attacker as “a cold-blooded, calculating character who has caused incredible trauma to his victims” is repeated. Willox described the 6 December 1985 Donvale attack in a unique way with new information. “He (the attacker) waited in a house for a 30 year-old woman (he had described her as aged 35 in his own article just two days previously), and her 17-year-old sister. When the women arrived home at 10:30pm, the older woman was confronted by a man in the lounge in the back of the house. He had broken in through the backdoor. Armed with a long-barrelled pistol, the man took the woman to a bedroom where he had heard the younger woman talking. Using pantyhose he tied the girl up and locked her in a bedroom wardrobe, securing the door handles.
“The man then took the older woman to another bedroom, tied her up and raped her. Police said that during the attack, he called to her sister in the bedroom to check on her. The rapist spent about 90 minutes in the house after the attack. He stole a small amount of money and ripped the telephone from the wall.”
Willox then described the Lower Plenty attack with some new information, saying: “a family home surrounded by bushland in a quiet street”. Also, “he went first to the Master Bedroom where he tied up the parents of an 11 year old girl and forced them into a wardrobe. Again the doors were secured, this time with a shoe rack”. It is stated that he tied the 7 year old brother to the bed in the parents’ bedroom before the girl was taken to the lounge room and assaulted.
Willox also paraphrased the police as reporting that “the man spent two hours in the house making a meal in the kitchen and making several phone calls”. Willox reported: “Before he left, probably through the front door, he picked up the broken glass on the lounge floor, ripped the telephone from the wall, and stole a box of classical records, a coat and some money. Police are especially interested in the coat, made by the ‘Ecuadorian Shirt Company’. It was bought in South America and may be the only one in Australia”. (NB: a Google search for this company brings up nothing, but there is a company called the Ecuadorian Clothing Company. It is unknown if this is the same company being referred to here).
Willox then went on to describe the attack on the 48 year old woman in Moonee Ponds on “10 November 1987. The man broke into the house at 9:20 pm (notice this is different from the time of 10 pm given in Nadine Hartnett’s article in the Essendon Gazette) and used a knife to threaten the 48 year old woman who lived alone. She was sleeping when she was attacked. The rapist did not turn on the lights. He tied her up with a nylon cord which is not available in Australia, and then raped her. He emptied her handbag and took her automatic teller machine card. Police are certain he planned the attack because he walked almost a kilometre to a bank with an automatic withdrawal machine. He withdrew $300 from the woman’s account and walked back to the house. He was away about 45 minutes. During that time the woman freed herself of her gag and called for help. When the man returned, he admonished the woman and raped her again, before ripping out the telephone and leaving. The woman’s ordeal lasted more than four hours”.
Willox then repeated the physical description of the man that he had written in the 10 May article, describing him as between 25 and 35, 168 to 183cm tall and of slim build.
The article included the same police artist’s rendition of the perpetrator as was published in earlier articles about the Lower Plenty attack and a photograph of Chief Commissioner Kel Glare.
“A vicious kidnapper known as “Mr Cruel””
When Sharon Wills was abducted from her Ringwood home in December 1988, press reports did not link it to the Lower Plenty attack. It was not until the abduction of Nicola Lynas in July 1990 that the 3 cases were linked in the media. This occurred when Brian Walsh, Andrew Mevissen and Mary Viscovich wrote an article for The Sun titled Alert on Mr Cruel. It was published on 6 July 1990, after Nicola Lynas had been released by the kidnapper.
The article went to press before it was realised Nicola Lynas had been found alive, so it was written as if she was still missing, even though she was discovered earlier that morning. In linking the Nicola Lynas abduction to the Lower Plenty attack in 1987, the moniker ‘Mr Cruel’ was resurrected – it had not been used in the media since Jim Tennison’s article in November of 1987. The police had linked the Nicola Lynas abduction with the Sharon Wills abduction as soon as the former kidnapping occurred over 2 days previously, but now they were linking the Lower Plenty case as well. It pointed out that in both the Lower Plenty attack and Nicola Lynas’ abduction the offender was wearing a balaclava and armed with a long knife and a handgun. This article described the Lower Plenty victim as 11 years old.
“Same offender…responsible for rape of a girl, 11, in her Lower Plenty home”
The Age published their own article the same day titled Letter imprint clue to missing girl, by Paul Conroy, Jacqui MacDonald and Peter Schwab. While the crux of the article was about a clue that might have been left by the abductor of Nicola Lynas, I will not go into those details now as I will save that discussion for a future in-depth post I do on the Nicola Lynas abduction. Notably, The Age article did not refer to the perpetrator as ‘Mr Cruel’, choosing to ignore the moniker used previously by The Sun, however, it did link the same man who abducted Nicola with the man who had abducted Sharon and the perpetrator who had committed the Lower Plenty attack, describing the victim in the latter as 11 years old.
“”Mr Cruel” who was responsible for the rape of a 12 year old girl “
The same day, 6 July 1990, Louise Talbot and Phillip Hudson published an article in The Herald, an evening newspaper, titled ‘Dangerous’ fantasy the key to kidnap, say police. It also stated that police had linked Nicola Lynas’ abduction to the Sharon Wills abduction and the Lower Plenty attack, describing the Lower Plenty victim as 12 years old and her brother as 6 years old, a combination of ages that had not been used before in previous articles. It also stated: “This man may also be responsible for attacks in December 1985”, which obviously refers to the Donvale-Warrandyte-Bulleen sexual assaults mentioned previously.
Having resurrected the ‘Mr Cruel’ moniker, and associated it with the abductions of Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas, both of which had far more media coverage than the Lower Plenty attack, the name struck a chord and was used from then on by television, radio and the press in reference to this case.
When Karmein Chan was abducted on 13 April 1991, the Herald-Sun newspaper, a merger of the evening broadsheet The Herald and the morning tabloid The Sun News Pictorial, published an article by an unnamed author on 15 April describing the abduction as the work of ‘Mr Cruel’, the same man who had abducted Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas, but did not mention the Lower Plenty attack. The article published false information that all 3 girls were abducted on school holidays. Nicola Lynas was abducted during the final week of term, not on school holidays and this was made clear in a number of the newspaper articles that were published about her abduction in July 1990. I will come back to this topic in the future in-depth post about Nicola Lynas.
The article also falsely asserted that the moniker ‘Mr Cruel’ was one which was given to him by detectives, which was not the case. Rather, he was dubbed ‘Mr Cruel’ in the previously mentioned article by Jim Tennison, published by The Sun on 19 November 1987. There was no mention of the Lower Plenty attack in this article, but it was linked in an article in The Age on 16 April titled Police put together profile of kidnapper, by Bruce Tobin and Jacqui Macdonald.
The Lower Plenty attack did not occur on school holidays! (Thank you to the researcher Clinton Bailey for pointing this out to me)
Over the course of the last 30 years, numerous newspaper articles, books and even the FBI profiling report have erroneously stated that all 4 of the canonical Mr Cruel attacks occurred on school holidays. This is incorrect. In fact, neither the Lower Plenty attack, nor the Nicola Lynas abduction occurred during Victorian school holidays. The latter occurred in the final week of term and the former in mid term 3. Yet, this mistake is repeated by respectable mainstream media organisations en masse. There is a perfectly good explanation as to how this mistake was originally made. When the school terms for 1990 were first decided upon in 1989, they originally had term 2 as finishing on 29 June and term 3 beginning on 16 July. However, this was later amended, and term 2 actually finished on 6 July. Since Nicola Lynas was abducted on Tuesday 3 July, this was in fact, the last week of term. This can be proved by simply looking at the newspaper articles from the period that clearly illustrate that Nicola was to finish school on the Friday 6 July, before she and her family had planned to return to England the following day.
On 24 April 1991, having received a request from Victoria Police to create a profile of the unknown offender, the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia, wrote a letter to the Victoria Police based on information the latter had provided to them about the four canonical attacks. At this stage, Victoria Police was under the mistaken belief that all four attacks had occurred during school holidays, so the FBI provided their profile based on this false information. Of note in this document, relevant to any discussion about the Lower Plenty attack, is that the FBI stated “We believe the offender may reside in the vicinity of the first assault (meaning the Lower Plenty attack). This is further strengthened by the fact that the offender has returned to that same general area in the fourth assault. In cases of serial sexual assault this type of clustering indicates an area of great significance to the offender. Usually it indicates that the offender lives there while in other cases it reflects his employment. In this case we believe that it is more probable that the offender resides in that area. In view of the fact that these incidents all occur during school holidays, coupled with the offender’s use of a school uniform in the third assault we suggest there is a high degree of probability that the offender is involved with a school. He may be employed there or connected with a school in some other capacity.“
The FBI profile continues in this vein and I will delve into it in more depth in a future post. What is startling here however, is the fact that the Victoria Police relied upon this profile which the FBI constructed based on false information! This is not to mention that the entire subject of the FBI method of profiling is an extremely controversial one and is considered to be a pseudoscience by many, with no peer-reviewed studies proving that it works, as is argued in this article. However, I will come back to the topic of the FBI method of profiling in a later post.
In a long article for The Age titled Brutal abductor breeds fear with cruelty, published 3 weeks after Karmein Chan’s abduction, Antony Catalano referred to the Lower Plenty attack. He gave the victim’s age as 11 and her brother’s as 7. He stated that the brother was tied up and locked in the wardrobe with his parents. Confusingly, he also claimed that a police taskforce, set up after the Moonee Ponds attack, dismissed it as not the work of Mr Cruel. This is strange indeed as, as recently as 2019, Xanthe Mallett in the chapter of her book Cold Case Investigations that dealt with Mr Cruel, was asserting that the Moonee Ponds attack was the work of Mr Cruel. We will come back to this seeming contradiction later in the blog.
Catalano also gave a bizarre origin story for the term “Mr Cruel”, claiming that it was coined when police initially thought the identity of the attacker of the 48 year old victim and the Lower Plenty victim were one and the same. They had, he claimed, called the perpetrator in the Lower Plenty case “Mr Cool”, so when Chief Police Commsioner for Crime, Mr Vaughan Werner, described that perpetrator in the Moonee Ponds case as “cruel” the name “Mr Cruel” appeared as the headline the next day in the Sun article by Jim Tennision about the rape. The problem with this claim is that there is no evidence it is true. While the perpetrator in the Lower Plenty attack case had been described as “cool and calculating”, nowhere have I found evidence that he was referred to as “Mr Cool”. Furthermore, the fact that Catalano refers to the linking of the Moonee Ponds rape with the Lower Plenty rape as a “mix-up”, when some experts have more recently asserted that the two crimes were linked, makes this information even more confusing.
A lack of mentions of the Lower Plenty attack
Operation Spectrum was the police taskforce set up to investigate the abduction of Karmein Chan. I will cover Operation Spectrum in more depth in a later post. Throughout the duration of this taskforce, from 1991-1994, the detectives on it asserted to the media that the abductor of Karmein Chan was probably the same person who had abducted both Nicola Lynas and Sharon Wills, and who had raped the girl in Lower Plenty. Despite this, a series of books were published in the following two decades which covered the Mr Cruel case which hardly mentioned the Lower Plenty attack. For example, Paul Anderson’s chapter on Mr Cruel from his 2003 book Dirty Dozen: Shocking Australian True-Crime Stories only included one sentence about the Lower Plenty attack. Larry Writer’s chapter on the Mr Cruel case in his 2008 book the Australian Book of True Crime, does not mention it at all. Colin McLaren, who was a detective on Operation Spectrum, included a chapter on the Mr Cruel case in his 2011 book Infiltration, but he also completely neglects to cover the Lower Plenty case. There are also a number of factual errors in the chapter such as when he claims Nicola Lynas celebrated her 13th birthday on the day of her release by her abductor. It was in fact her 14th birthday, but we will come back to this at a later date.
“Her seven year old brother was forced to watch, tied to a bed”
In October 2007, the Police Life magazine published an article about Mr Cruel which included information about the Lower Plenty attack that had never been released previously. Indeed, it is unclear whether the information included was mistaken as I have not seen this information anywhere else. The article, by Sarah Campbell, included information based on an interview with Detective Senior Sergeant Chris O’Connor who had worked on Operation Spectrum. In describing Mr Cruel, the article stated “One of his victims, an 11 year old girl, was attacked as her seven year old brother was forced to watch, tied to a bed”. This is the only source which describes this detail of this attack, it does not even appear in Keith Moor’s extremely detailed summary of the attack in his 2016 article Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking child abductions for the Herald Sun.
“They believe the same man was responsible for attcks in Caulfield, Hawthorn, Brighton, Dingley and Donvale.”
John Silvester and Andrew Rule’s book Rats Crooks who Got Away with it : Tales of True Crime and Mystery from the Underbelly Archive, published in 2008, discusses the Lower Plenty case in a bit more detail. Their chapter on Mr Cruel makes the same uncorroborated claim that Antony Catalano made in his 1991 article that Mr Cruel was originally called Mr Cool. I suspect this was a mistake by Silvester and Rule that came from simply reading Catalano’s 1991 article and not checking the record to find other references in the media to this alleged moniker.
Silvester and Rule go on to link Mr Cruel to a series of crimes between 1985 and 1991 by an offender dubbed ‘the Hampton Rapist’. Silvester and Rule are the only authors known to have used this moniker. They wrote “There were several obvious similarities between Karmein Chan’s disappearance and other abductions attributed to the offender dubbed Mr Cruel. Mr Cruel would break into homes, sexually assault or abduct residents and go to extremes not to be identified. He often tied victims the same way and cut phone lines before leaving. Police had been looking for a man they called the ‘Hampton Rapist’ who, they suspected, abducted a fourteen-year-old from her home in February 1985. They believe the same man was responsible for attcks in Caulfield, Hawthorn, Brighton, Dingley and Donvale. He was an opportunist who would break into houses looking for money, but who would sexually assault victims if he had the chance. The ‘Hampton Rapist’ was believed to be the same man responsible for later attacks, including Karmein Chan’s. Much later, after thousands of hours of fruitless investigations, police were to conclude there were probably two offenders – possibly one a copycat. While some of the Hampton assaults had striking similarities to the later one, police finally established that the first-known attack by Mr Cruel was in Lower Plenty, in August 1987.”
What is contradictory about this account by Silvester and Rule, is that, firstly, none of the contemporary newspaper articles from the time corroborate the idea that police in 1991 considered these earlier attacks by the ‘Hampton Rapist’ to be the same offender as Mr Cruel. Indeed, we know that the Victoria Police contacted the FBI in the week after the Karmein Chan abduction with information that the offender was only responsible for the four canonical attacks. Seconldy, another confusing point is that Silvester and Rule’s book suggests that police later ruled out the earlier attacks “after thousands of hours of fruitless investigations”. Yet, this contradicts Keith Moor’s later information that some detectives did indeed consider at least two of the 1985 attacks in Hampton as being the work of Mr Cruel. Furthermore, this is the only source on the public record that has ever attributed attacks in Hawthorn, Caulfield, Brighton and Dingley as being possibly the work of Mr Cruel. The Donvale attack referred to must be the same one mentioned in the contemporary newspaper articles as that of the rape of the 30 or 35 year old woman in December of 1985.
“A man armed with a knife and a gun removed a pane of glass from the lounge room window and broke in to a family home about 4am.“
Silvester and Rule’s book goes on: “In that attack (the Lower Plenty one), a man armed with a knife and a gun removed a pane of glass from the lounge room window and broke in to a family home about 4am. He forced both parents onto their stomachs and tied their hands and feet before he locked them in a wardrobe. Their seven-year-old son was tied to a bed, and the eleven-year-old daughter was then attacked. he cut the phone lines and left after two hours in the house. He used knots favoured by truck drivers and farmers who need to secure loads. He also used sailing knots and others used by anglers for restringing musical instruments”.
This information about the Lower Plenty attack is striking for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the description of the entry to the household contradicted previous descriptions of the entry in which it was claimed the man had “smashed” the window to enter the property. Secondly, this description of the knots used to tie up the victims is unique and is not repeated even in the later in-depth articles by Keith Moor (although Moor does describe the knots as the kind used by tradesmen).
Keith Moor’s Herald Sun article Mr Cruel suspected of at least a dozen attacks on children
On 11 April 2012, to mark the 20th anniversary of the discovery of Karmein Chan’s remains, Keith Moor wrote an article for the Herald Sun titled Mr Cruel suspected of at least a dozen attacks on children. The article was quite a comprehensive description of the attacks on the victims of the four canonical attacks. “The first victim police confirm was certainly attacked by Mr Cruel was an 11-year-old girl he raped in 1987. He removed a window pane in the lounge room her (sic) Lower Plenty home about 4am. Wearing a mask and carrying a small handgun and a large hunting knife, Mr Cruel woke the girl’s parents and forced them to lie on their stomachs while he expertly tied their hands and feet, using knots commonly tied by sailors and those familiar with securing loads. He then gagged them and put surgical tape over their eyes before locking them in their bedroom wardrobe. Their six-year-old son was blindfolded, gagged and tied to his bed.
“Mr Cruel then turned his attention to the real reason for the break-in – sexual gratification from the 11-year-old girl. He was in no hurry, spending about two hours in the house. So cool was he during the attack that he took a break from raping the girl to make himself a meal. He also searched the home and stole a box of classical records and a dark blue parka coat with a fake fur collar.
“The girl later told police he made a phone call from the house and threatened another family with physical violence. She said he warned the family to move their children or they would be in danger and that he had referred to the person he phoned as “Bozo”. A police check of telephone records revealed there was no such phone call. It was part of his modus operandi – setting up red herrings to distract police and make his capture less likely.”
This is the first time the telephone phone call has been described in this way – that the perpetrator did not actually make the call, but just pretended to. None of the newspaper reports from 1987 and 1988 mention this and this detail is also left out of Keith Moor’s next big article about the case for the Herald Sun in 2016. This is extremely confusing, and one might rightly ask why this is the case.
Keith Moor’s Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking child abductions
Perhaps the most comprehensive piece of writing on the Mr Cruel case was the article written by Keith Moor for the Herald Sun on 8 April 2016 Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking child abductions. It included a host of new information that had never been revealed previously, however, confusingly, it contradicted Moor’s own 2012 article, Mr Cruel suspected of at least a dozen attacks on children, in regards to some key details.
“8 years old”
In regards to the Lower Plenty attack, it repeated the John Silvester and Andrew Rule description of Mr Cruel removing a window pane of the lounge room window to gain entry to the house. Moor gave the victim the pseudonym ‘Jill’ and said she was “11 years old”, before, describing her brother as “8 years old”. This boy has been described, in various sources, as being 6, 7 and 8 years old respectively, at the time of the attack.
“The parents were uncuffed and then restrained around the hands and ankles with nylon cord, which Mr Cruel expertly tied using knots commonly used by sailors and those familiar with using rope to secure loads.”
Moor stated that the perpetrator “was armed with a handgun, kitchen knife, handcuffs and nylon cord. He went to the main bedroom first, forced the parents onto their stomachs and handcuffed their hands and ankles. Mr Cruel then went to the children’s rooms, woke them up and took them to the parents’ bedroom. He told them he was going to rob them. The parents were uncuffed and then restrained around the hands and ankles with nylon cord, which Mr Cruel expertly tied using knots commonly used by sailors and those familiar with using rope to secure loads. Jill’s brother was tied to the bed and Jill’s hands were tied with the cord. All the victims were then gagged with electrical tape and the children were blindfolded with surgical tape. Mr Cruel asked Jill her name, was told it, but later wrongly and repeatedly referred to her as Kate (not her real name). He also asked the father’s clothes size, saying he was about the same size. He demanded cash and a first aid kit and said he needed some clothes, a shower, some food and wanted to shave. Mr Cruel then removed various items from the wardrobe and forced both parents inside it and put a bed blanket over them. He used the bedroom phone, but did not make a connection. Mr Cruel then went to other rooms in the house before returning to the main bedroom. He then made another call, this time connecting, and made threats into the phone. The word “bozo” was used. Mr Cruel then shut the wardrobe door and locked it. He left the room and returned soon after with a radio and turned it to 3KZ loudly to drown out the sounds of him assaulting Jill in the bathroom. He made Jill clean her teeth and bathe. Mr Cruel led Jill into the kitchen, where he ate some cold lamb, biscuits, milk and orange juice. With his hunger satisfied, Mr Cruel then led Jill to the lounge room, where he assaulted her again before dumping her in a lounge chair. He left the room for about 10 minutes, during which he checked on the welfare of the parents and Jill’s brother. Mr Cruel returned to the lounge and led the terrified Jill to a seat in the spare room. He left her there for a short time before returning and tying her ankles together with nylon cord. He told Jill he was leaving and that she should count to 100 before freeing herself and her family. Jill later told police she heard the front door close and she then released herself and then freed her parents and brother. It is possible Mr Cruel chose Jill as his victim after seeing her photograph in a local newspaper which carried an article about her and her family. Jill was attacked just a few days after the article was published.”
Moor then listed some quotes Mr Cruel had uttered during the attack. To the girl’s parents he had said: “Be quiet and don’t move or I’ll hurt someone” and “Get into the wardrobe and sit down. Get into the closet and kneel down.” and “All I want is money, food and clothes. How much money is in the house?”
To the victim he had said “What’s your name? How old are you?” and “Clean your teeth” and “I’m going out now so count to 100 slowly then you can free your parents.”
Moor then listed details of the description of the perpetrator as given by the victim’s family. “Australian. 178cm to 183cm tall, of slim to medium build with brown, greyish/white hair with white spots in it. (Note how this differs to the 173 to 175cm description that was given in the original 1987 press reports about the man. There was also no mention of greyish/white hair in the original press reports where he was described as “brown hair and slim build”). He possibly had dandruff and his hair was protruding from beneath his balaclava. Greyish/white bushy eyebrows. Aged in his mid 20s. (Again this is inconsistent with the original press reports where he was described as in his 30s.) Had a gruff voice, deepish/nervous/uneducated. Suffered from bad breath (musty smell). Was unshaven, with a couple of days growth. Oval face, soft hands, possibly right handed. Wearing blue denim jeans, good condition, close fitting, a brown tweed sports jacket, possibly rust coloured, a blue nylon waterproofed zip up jacket, blue runners with white flashes down the side, white soles in good condition and white cotton socks. His balaclava was navy blue with an open face and some type of material covering the eye area. His gloves were light in colour, possibly yellow and were of the dishwashing or surgical type.”
Moor then gave a description of items that were stolen by the perpetrator during the attack. “A tartan shirt, men’s size in red, black and yellow. $250 cash. A gold engagement ring of 18 carat yellow gold with a single white diamond. The diamond was on a gold mounting with four claws and had the number 4132 stamped inside and was worth $2500 in 1987. A gent’s dark blue cotton parka with a fake black fur collar. It was slightly padded with a distinctive zip in the left arm. The parka was made in Ecuador and was branded Ecuadorean (sic) Shirt Company. A pair of men’s trousers, 82cm-85cm, possibly Roger David brand. Light blue/grey with a small check and of straight leg design. A Gillette safety razor in a blue plastic box with a clear lid. A dark brown vinyl bag.”
Moor then gave a description of the weapons and equipment Mr Cruel used in the attack. “Small black handgun, pistol type. Knife, kitchen, black handle, silver blade about 20cm long. At least four sets of handcuffs. Nylon coated cord, white and red/white. Electrical tape, adhesive, roll of red, roll of green and roll of blue. Elastoplast. Material bag, dark bluish/grey or light grey colour, similar to school library bag.”
Why all the contradictions?
Without doubt Keith Moor’s 2016 article provided the public with more information about this attack than any other single document had done to date. It has clearly been the chief source that was relied on in the production of a number of notable podcast series about the case like Casefile and True Blue True Crime. However, some of the information in the article clearly contradicted information in Moor’s 2012 article Mr Cruel suspected of at least a dozen attacks on children. Furthermore, these contradictions cannot simply be explained by Moor correcting the record as, in his 2019 book Mugshots 1, co-written with Geoff Wilkinson, his description of the Lower Plenty attack reverts back to the same one he had described in the 2012 Herald Sun article. For example, the boy is referred to as being 6 years old in his 2012 article, then 8 years old in his 2016 article, and then back to 6 years old in his 2019 book! Yes, the 2019 book is an update of a book that was originally published in 2003, but why does it contain the old description of the Lower Plenty attack? The 2012 article (and the 2019 book) also stated that the boy was tied to his own bed by the perpetrator. Whereas, in the 2016 article, Moor simply says the boy was “tied to the bed”. Since the description of the attack at this stage is occurring in the parents’ bedroom, the reader can only presume that the boy was tied to the parents’ bed. Why the incongruities?
Each of his descriptions also differ in key respects to the contemporary press reports and this raises the serious question of why this is the case. Moor did not reveal where he got his information. Yet his 2016 account raises a number of questions I feel should be answered. Why does his account state that the perpetrator was in his 20s when the original press reports said that the man was in his 30s? Why does Moor’s information state that the man was 178-183cm in height when the first press reports said that he was 173-175cm in height? Why does Moor’s account say that the perpetrator “connected” when he made his second call from the telephone, yet his 2012 article, and his 2019 book, and Xanthe Mallett’s account suggests this was a ruse and there was nobody on the other end. What was the actual age of the girl and her brother and why do we have so many contradictory accounts of it, with the girl’s age ranging from 11-12 and the boy’s ranging from 6 to 8? Why did Moor’s account say that the parents were not blindfolded with surgical tape, only the children were, yet the original press reports in 1987 stated the parents were also? Indeed why did the 2007 Police Life article state that the boy was “forced to watch” as the perpetrator attacked the girl, yet this account has not been repeated anywhere else (apart from a blog post by a woman who claims she was in the same grade 5 class as the victim)? Why do some accounts neglect to mention that the girl was assaulted in the bathroom, while other accounts state she was only assaulted in the lounge room (and Chris O’Connor’s account in Australian True Crime Stories seems to suggest the sexual assault only occurred in the bathroom, we will get to this below)? Was the lounge room window “smashed” or did the perpetrator “remove the window pane”. There is so much contradictory information surrounding this case I believe the Victoria Police should answer these questions once and for all so as to prevent the spread of incorrect information about it, which could in turn harm the chances of a breakthrough in the case.
Some misinformation about the exact location of the Lower Plenty attack.
The address of the house where the Lower Plenty attack occurred has never been revealed. When the Herald Sun published a series of articles to mark the 25th anniversary of the abduction of Karmein Chan in April 2016, one of the articles included an interactive map made with a mapmaking tool named Storymap. It showed the exact locations of houses from which the three abducted girls were taken. It also included a location for the Lower Plenty attack, but this was only ever intended to be an approximate location, and the marker was placed on a random spot in Lower Plenty. This had the inadvertent effect of causing some internet users to mistakenly believe that the attack occurred on or off Para Road in Lower Plenty. In fact, the American blogger who goes by the name Gian J. Quasar who runs the blog Questersite, claimed in July 2017 in his own series of blog posts on the Mr Cruel crimes that the Lower Plenty attack occurred in a house “off Para Road”. However, this is not correct. As a result of this misinformation, I have encountered a number of individuals who are interested in this case who falsely believe this is where the attack occurred. Furthermore, there are a number of other factual errors in this blog, which is essentially just a rehash of Keith Moor’s 2016 Herald Sun articles, but the author editorialises for entertainment value throughout the series. This blog is not a credible source for information about this case.
The fact of the matter is we know the Lower Plenty attack occurred in the part of Lower Plenty near the border with Eltham since some newspaper articles described it as occurring in the “Lower Plenty-Eltham” or “Eltham-Lower Plenty” region. I will not reveal the exact location as this is not something the police have ever released publicly. I have marked it on the map at a random location in the part of Lower Plenty near the border of Eltham. Below is a Melway map from 1987 of the area in question. Take note of the SEC transmission lines which cut across this area, and the old SEC site on the left-hand side of the map. SEC sites and transmission lines feature prominently throughout the Mr Cruel story, and I will do a future post on this unexpected correlation. Also, take note of ‘Tennis City’ in the upper right of this image, as tennis also features strongly in this story. The area in the bottom left in yellow is a Christian Brothers ‘Youth Training Centre’.
Cold Case Investigations by Xanthe Mallett 2019
In August 2019, criminologist Xanthe Mallett published a book which included a chapter on the Mr Cruel series. In describing the Lower Plenty attack Mallett repeated the assertion that the perpetrator in the Lower Plenty attack “removed a window pane in the lounge”. She wrote that he “forced the parents at gunpoint to lie on their stomachs” and “he also had a small knife”. Remember, this differs to the original press reports of the period which described the knife as “large”. She states that “surgical tape was put over their eyes”, which differs from Moor’s account that it was only put over the eyes of the children. She refers to the age of the boy as “6 years old”, and that he was “tied to his bed”. She refers to the girl as “11 years old”. Mallett does not mention the attack on the girl that others said had occurred in the bathroom before she was told to “clean her teeth”. Rather she states that the perpetrator “assaulted her” after he told her to clean her teeth. She states that the perpetrator “cut the phone lines”, which is different to the Innes Willox 12 May 1988 article which states that “he ripped the telephone from the wall”. Mallett stated the attacker “pretended to make a phone call, using the term ‘Bozo’ to the person on the other end, saying that the other person needed to move their children, otherwise they would be in danger”, which is a direct copy of Bruce Tobin’s 4 September 1987 article from The Sun. In regards to the phone calls made from the house Mallett stated: “Later the police checked and no call had been made”. She goes on: “The conclusion drawn was that this was an attempt to hide his true motives. As was the theft of the personal items, a ruse to distract and confuse the police”. As stated earlier, this account contains the same information included in the 2012 Keith Moor article and the 2019 Wilkinson/Moor book, but differs to Moor’s 2016 article. It also differs to the accounts of the attack in the newspaper articles that were published in 1987 and 1988.
Later in the chapter, Mallett speculated on the likely location of Mr Cruel’s residence remarking on the relevance of the “geographic spread”of the attacks and concludes that “the first and fourth attacks (meaning the Lower Plenty attack and the Karmein Chan abduction) were so close together that it is likely the offender lived close to where these incidents happened.” This is possibly information she took directly from the FBI profile report which, as we saw earlier, was based on incorrect information provided by Victoria Police.
Mallett then went on to describe her belief that the offender “specifically targeted children in their pre-pubescent stage before they go through puberty and develop secondary sexual characteristics. I was interested to know whether Mr Cruel was a paedophile in the true sense of the word.” She then goes on to state that she knew criminal psychologist Tim Watson-Munro had worked on the Mr Cruel case and so she asked him his opinion on whether Mr Cruel was a paedophile. “No, Mr Cruel wasn’t an exclusive paedophile”, he replied. Mallett then goes on to explain in Watson-Munro’s words how he had been retained by Victoria Police to profile Mr Cruel’s offending which exposed him to the “full range of his actions. These included the rape and confinement of an elderly nun in a Melbourne northern suburb, with him brazenly taking her car and her ATM card in order to drive to a local bank and steal her savings.” This is clearly referring to the Moonee Ponds attack on the night of 10-11 November 1987. Except, Tim Watson-Munro has referred to the woman as “elderly” when the woman in question was reported at the time as being only 48 years old. Did you notice the other inconsistency? According to Mallett, Watson-Munro told her that the offender stole the woman’s car and drove it to the bank. However, Innes Willox’s article from 12 May 1988 clearly stated that the offender walked to the bank before stealing the woman’s savings. Mallett also said that Watson-Munro told her the woman was a nun. Antony Catalano’s 4 May 1991 article which mentioned the Moonee Ponds attack stated that the woman in question was a “former nun”. Catalano also claimed that police had ruled out the attack as being the work of Mr Cruel. The amount of contradictory information out there in this case is truly staggering!
One clear mistake in Mallett’s work is that the audio version of Mallett’s book pronounces Karmein Chan’s name incorrectly, pronouncing the name “Karmine” throughout. Additionally, Karmein’s sister Karly’s is spelt incorrectly as “Karlie” throughout the book.
Mysteriously, Mallett also quoted Watson-Munro as saying: “There were a number of other crimes involving the detention and rape of adult women”, but then does not say which attacks these are, so it is unclear if what are being referred to here, is the Warrandyte, Donvale, Bulleen and Greensborough attacks.
Dancing with Demons Tim Watson-Munro 2017
I was only recently notified by a fellow researcher who takes an interest in this case that Tim Watson-Munro published his own book called Dancing with Demons in 2017. There is one sentence about the Moonee Ponds attack in that book: “Police asked me to profile this bloke [Mr Cruel], long before he became famous. The police were concerned after a number of break-ins and rapes in the inner Melbourne suburbs. One involved the rape of an elderly nun.” One can only speculate that Mr Watson-Munro has simply remembered this case incorrectly in referring to the victim as “an elderly nun”. She was certainly not reported as being “elderly” as it was reported at the time of the crime that she was 48 years old, and this was stated in numerous contemporary sources. Whether the woman was a nun or a former nun however, I do not feel like I can speculate on. Xanthe Mallett may have come across Tim Watson-Munro’s book in researching her own book and interviewed him about the case and, it being 30 years ago, perhaps Mr Watson-Munro has simply misremembered the details? Or did the police intentionally give the wrong age of the woman so that she could not easily be identified?
In 2019, the Nine Network released a documentary about the Mr Cruel series of crimes. It was written and directed by Adam Shand and showed some interesting archival news footage which could not be found previously on the internet and included interviews with retired detective Chris O’Connor and journalist Keith Moor.
Looking at the facts presented about the Lower Plenty case, Shand gave the victim’s age as 11. Chris O’Connor said the attacker “went to the children’s bedroom and there were two children in there, one was the victim and one was her sibling. The sibling was harnessed to the bed and the 11 year old was taken out of the bedroom to the bathroom. At the completion of the sexual assault he ate some food, had some drink. He stole a quantity of money and some jewellery and clothing from the family and he left via the front door.” What is notable about this is that firstly, this account seems to suggest that the children slept in the same bedroom, whereas other accounts had previously stated the attacker went and got them from their “rooms” plural. Also, it seems to indicate that the boy was tied to his bed in this bedroom and not, as is suggested elsewhere, in the parents’ master bedroom. It also indicates that the girl was sexually assaulted in the bathroom, but at no point does it mention she was assaulted in the lounge room as is suggested in all other accounts. So, yet again we have an account which seems to raise more questions than answers.
During the account given by Chris O’Connor a visual dramatisaton is shown of the attacker invading the home. Only, the man is shown wearing a full balaclava with no opening for the face, which is different to the actual one that was used in the attack. It seems the producers of the program erred here, as in the dramatisation they play for the Sharon Wills attack, the offender is depicted with an open-faced balaclava and wearing a brown tweed coat over a raincoat which is what the attacker was wearing in the Lower Plenty attack, and they also show the police sketch of the intruder as he appeared in the Lower Plenty attack. This means they mixed up the appearance of the intruder from the two attacks.
The program also repeats the mistake that Nicola Lynas was abducted during school holidays which we will delve into more in the future post about Nicola. What is interesting about this program is that it provides some original information about the 14 year old female Hampton attack victim from 1985, but I will discuss that also, in a future post.
Interview with Retired Detective Valentine Simpson
In February 2021 I visited retired detective Valentine Simpson and his wife Mary at their home to interview Val about his involvement in the taskforce that was set up to investigate the Lower Plenty attack. Now, 80 years old, and 95% blind, Mr Simpson had in recent years suffered a stroke that had also slightly affected his speech. What was immediately clear however, was that his mind was sound and he still had a strong attachment to this case. “I didn’t catch the bugger and that’s the worst part of it”, he told me.
Val and his wife Mary were kind, welcoming people and Val was happy to discuss his experience of the case as long as it did not involve a discussion of any of the confidential details of it, such as the identity of the family concerned, the address of where it occurred, or any of the confidential crime scene information.
I started off by reading Val the 4 September 1987 The Sun article by Bruce Tobin, which mentions the phone calls that the offender was said to have made, to remind him of the case. He told me that he decided to release the information about the threatening phone call that was made by the offender because he had used the word ‘Bozo’, and because this was such an unusual word there was a good chance it might “jog someone’s memory” who knew someone who used that word.
Val also told me that he always felt that, whoever the offender was, it was someone who was very analytical and someone with a great deal of forensic knowledge because he did not leave a trace of evidence. Val described it as “the perfect unperfect crime scene” and that he had not seen anything like it in all his years of police work. Val told me that there were a few things he could not tell me about the crime scene which had not been released to the public.
I then asked him whether this had ever led him to suspect that the perpetrator might have been someone involved with the police and he replied “of course. Police, medical, forensics, we went through all those things”. When I suggested the perpetrator might have been someone who had been in prison before and so was determined to cover up their tracks to avoid a return to jail, Val replied: “Maybe, but I think it was someone who had a greater knowledge than that, but that’s just my opinion.” He repeated that it was highly unusual for an offender not to leave a trace in all his years of investigating.
I referred to the point that was made in the 12 May 1988 Innes Willox article which stated that the rope used in the Moonee Ponds attack was not a rope that was found in Australia and Val said: “No, I went to all the rope factories and they all said ‘it’s not made in Australia, it’s from overseas'”.
Even 34 years after the attack one of the things that struck me about Val was that he still had a deep concern about the victims of crime and particularly this one. Mary said Val would regularly stay up to 3am working on the case and then get up at 5am. Val said “when you’ve met the parents and girl, you become attached to them sort of. When you investigate, you put everything into your victim”, he said. “When you don’t catch the bloke you feel like you’ve failed your victim”.
Val described to me how when he was on the taskforce he worked about 12 hours a day 7 days a week reading up on every Australian rape case he could in an attempt to make a link. Val said at the time he had decided that this attacker was a “serial rapist” as he was confident the Lower Plenty attack had such strong similarities to the Donvale rape of 1985 and one other that he could not remember, but he could not remember making any links to the 1987 Greensborough attempted rapes.
Interestingly, when I brought up the Moonee Ponds attack of the 48 year old “nun” or “former nun”, Val said he “thought they had caught the bloke for that”. This was news to me, so I questioned Val as to whether he was sure and he said: “I think he was caught…I may be wrong on that”. Val said he was definitely called to the crime scene for the Moonee Ponds attack, but he was not sure if it was linked to the Lower Plenty attack. I informed Val of Xanthe Mallett’s 2019 book and how she had stated that Mr Cruel was responsible for the Moonee Ponds attack as recently as 2019. When I informed Val of the discrepancy between Innes Willox’s article of 12 May 1988 and Xanthe Mallett’s book of 2019, in that the former claimed the perpetrator walked to the bank and the latter stated he used the woman’s car, Val said he couldn’t remember which the offender had done, but felt like it might have been the latter.
Val did mention however, how, like in the Lower Plenty attack, he could not find the maker of the rope that was used in the Moonee Ponds crime. In fact, he said he could not find the maker of the rope that was used in any of these crimes.
I asked Val if he had any involvement in the investigations of the Warrandyte and Bulleen attacks and he replied: “I examined them very closely because when we were doing our initial investigations into all the rapes, I examined the reports of those crimes very closely.”
Val’s wife Mary at this point said “When you get to Karmein Chan, Val has a theory about that”. I said that I’d love to hear it and Val stated confidently: “In my opinion, Karmein Chan was not Mr Cruel”. When I asked why he thought that, Val responded: “For one, it’s a completely different MO. For starters, the spray-painting on the car, a completely different MO. He (meaning the Lower Plenty attacker), left nothing. Everything was just too different from his normal process.”
Mary also pointed out that retired police wear their hearts on their sleeves and, in any case where the crime goes unsolved, they beat themselves up about it. She recalled that when Karmein Chan was found to have been murdered in 1992, Val had told a colleague how guilty he felt because he had failed to catch Mr Cruel since they had said the offender was responsible for Karmein Chan’s death. Val had said “I didn’t catch him and now look at what’s happened”, Val’s colleague replied: “the operative word Val is ‘we’. ‘We’ didn’t catch him.” But, later, Mary said, Val had decided: “It’s not him” because, he said, “to me the MO was completely different”.
Getting back to the topic of the identity of Mr Cruel, Val said that “it was probably someone who had a very good knowledge of forensic investigation”. On the question of whether Mr Cruel was still alive, Val said he wasn’t sure. “If he’s still alive, why’s he gone so quiet?”, he asked.
It struck me that Val still took his responsibility very seriously, he remained very professional throughout the interview and did not disclose any confidential information about this crime.
There are a number of contradictions in the reporting of facts about the Lower Plenty attack. Therefore, it is important to consider all sources before overly relying on any one source. Highlighted below is a list of these contradictions as have been established in this blog post.
- Girl victim’s age: variously 11 or 12 years old.
- Brother’s age: variously 6, 7 or 8 years old.
- The location and circumstances of the sexual assault on the girl. Variously, brother was harnessed to bed in bedroom she shared with her brother; the brother was tied to the parents’ bed in the master bedroom; the girl was sexually assaulted in the bathroom; or in the bathroom and the lounge room; or only in the lounge room; the boy was forced to watch the sexual assault (unclear how latter could occur if boy was blindfolded with surgical tape).
- Circumstances surrounding the blindfolding of the victims: variously, the parents and children were blindfolded with surgical tape; only the children were blindfolded with surgical tape.
- The circumstances of the entry into the home: variously, the window was smashed; smashed with a brick; or the window pane was removed.
- The circumstances of the phone calls that were made: variously, a number of phone calls were made; a connection was made on the second call and the perpetrator threatened someone who answered on the other end; two calls were made, both of which were the attacker just pretending he was speaking to someone.
- The circumstances surrounding the cutting of the phone line: variously, no mention of it; the perpetrator pulled the phone from the wall; the perpetrator cut the line.
- The knife used in the attack: variously described as large; or small.
- The physical characteristics of the intruder: variously, 173-175 cm tall; about 175 cm tall; 178-183 cm tall.
- The age of the offender: variously, in his 20s; or in his 30s.
- Whether the Moonee Ponds attack is linked to the Lower Plenty attack at all.
- The age and information of the Moonee Ponds victim: variously, a 48 year old woman; a 48 year old former nun; an elderly nun.
- Circumstances of the attack on the Moonee Ponds victim: variously, the intruder walked to the bank to steal the woman’s money; or the intruder drove the woman’s car to the bank.
I call on detectives who have worked on this case to set the record straight about the above contradictions in order to prevent misinformation about the case circulating in society.
Note. If you have gained something from this post please consider donating to my Patreon to cover the costs I have incurred in researching it.
- Burchall, Greg Police warn that armed rapist might strike again, The Age, 29 August 1987.
- Thom, Greg, Family tied up as girl, 12, raped, The Sun News Pictorial 29 August 1987.
- McDonnell, Sally, Task force to hunt rapist, Diamond Valley News, 1 September 1987.
- Police appeal, The Age, 4 September 1987.
- Tobin, Bruce, Rapist threatened a second family: police, The Sun News Pictorial, 4 September 1987.
- Phone threat clue to rapist, Diamond Valley News, 8 September 1987.
- Tennison, Jim Police hunt for Mr ‘Cruel’, The Sun News Pictorial, 19 November 1987.
- Hartnett, Nadine, Taskforce to hunt rapist, Essendon Gazette, 25 November 1987.
- Girl, 11, raped, The Age, 15 December 1987.
- Willox, Innes, Police ask public for help in tracking rapist linked to 20 attacks, The Age, 10 May 1988.
- Walsh, Brian, Record set clue to rape, The Sun News Pictorial, 10 May, 1988.
- Willox, Innes, Police seek a new ‘Mr Stinky’ rapist, The Age, 12 May 1988.
- Walsh, Brian, Mevissen, Andrew & Viscovich, Mary, Alert on Mr Cruel, The Sun News Pictorial, 6 July 1990.
- Conroy, Paul, MacDonald, Jacqui & Schwab, Peter, Letter imprint clue on missing girl, The Age, 6 July 1990.
- Talbot, Louise & Johnson, Phillip, Dangerous fantasy the key to kidnap, say police, The Herald, 6 July 1990.
- Kidnap victim fears, The Herald Sun, 15 April 1991.
- Tobin, Bruce & Macdonald, Jacqui, Police put together profile of victim, The Age, 16 Apr 1991.
- Catalano, Antony, Brutal abductor breeds fear with cruelty, The Age, 4 May 1991.
- Anderson, Paul, Dirty Dozen: Shocking Australian True-Crime Stories, 2003.
- Campbell, Sarah, Police Life, October 2007.
- Writer, Larry, The Australian Book of True Crime, 2008.
- Silvester, John & Rule, Andrew, Rats, Crooks who Got Away with it : Tales of True Crime and Mystery from the Underbelly Archive, 2008.
- O’Donnell, Phillippa, New suspect in decades old Mr Cruel investigation, 14 December 2010.
- McLaren, Colin, Infiltration, 2011.
- Moor, Keith Mr Cruel suspected of at least a dozen attacks on children, The Herald Sun, 12 April 2012.
- Moor, Keith Victoira Police and FBI Dossier on shocking Mr Cruel child attacks, The Herald Sun, 8 April .2016 (paywalled).
- Watson-Munro, Tim, Dancing with Demons, 2017.
- McConnell, Carla, Do you remember Mr Cruel??, 2017.
- Mallett, Xanthe, Cold Case Investigations, 2019.
- Moor, Keith & Wilkinson, Geoff, Mugshots 1 , 2019.
- The Nine Network, Australian True Crime Stories Mr Cruel, 2019.
P.S. Here is a video explainer of how to use the map I created for this case.