When I read Unsolved Australia by Justine Ford, once a reporter on Australia’s Most Wanted, it reminded me of Cold Case, the television show because it is essentially a true crime book about unsolved homicides in different Australian states and territories and the reader is invited to become an armchair detective. While cases on television are wrapped up within an hour, in real life many unsolved investigations continue for years because up-and-coming scientific technologies and shifted loyalties with the passage of time is what provides the required breakthrough evidence to solve a case. This book features 18 chilling cases that are probably less heard of than the equally frightening stories of Daniel Morcombe or the Beaumont Children.
The first unsolved case is that of the murder of Shane ‘Bones’ Barker, who was gunned down in Tasmania outside his house on August 2 2009. The most significant lead that was unearthed is about an unidentified man who Shane Barker was seen talking to outside his home on the morning he was murdered. Read more here.
The second chapter covers the case of Daniel O’Keefe who had gone missing from his parents house in Geelong on July 15 2011. His sister Loren has devoted her time to getting the message out to remote corners of Australia and in the mean time founded the Missing Persons Advocacy Network to assist others facing a similar situation. Read more here.
The third case is the tragic story of street worker Elaine ‘Beverley’ King who ended up murdered in Room 96 at the Burlington Hotel on July 11 1974. It had been very difficult at the time to obtain evidence due to public drunkenness and while the case is being looked into now, it has become difficult now because exhibits are hard to find, witnesses have since passed on and leads are no longer fresh. No one still has been arrested for Ms King’s murder that occurred in Sydney. Read more here.
Chapter four is about the shooting of Brewarrina bush schoolteacher Bjarne Carlsen who was branded with the words KKK on his chest. A gunshot was heard by a local on January 25 2000, and on spotting a man wearing a white pillowcase with the eyes and mouth cut out climbing though the fence, fled in fear for his life. While the gun had not been recovered when the book was written, the police made a breakthrough using handwriting analysis and are convinced the murderer is a local. Read more here.
The fifth case is about the disappearance of a young mum from the coastal town of Burnie, Helen Munnings, who had told her mother she was going to the doctor for a pap smear but in reality was meeting her love interest Adam Taylor, father of her son Donovan and during the time, the de facto partner of Karalina Garwood. Karel Munnings is convinced that Helen was killed and cannot move on until she finds out exactly what happened to her missing daughter even though the coroner stated no ruling could be made about how or why Helen died or whether any person contributed to the cause of her death. Read more here.
Case number six was about the child killer Derek Percy and the information discovered during the investigation into the case of abducted 7-year-old Linda Stilwell. The cases for which police suspected Derek Percy of involvement were: the vanishing and abduction of the Beaumont children; the Wanda Beach murders of Christine Sharrock and Marianne Schmidt; the murder of 3-year-old Simon Brook; the murder of Alan Redston and he was caught red-handed for the murder of Yvonne Tuohy for which he was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity. Unfortunately he chose to take some secrets to the grave. Read more here.
The seventh chapter was about the Rack Man who was pulled in by a fisherman while attached to a rusting metal crucifix. The manner in which the body was found makes one leap to the conclusion the victim may have been involved in organised crime but it is still a travesty of justice he still remains unidentified and his killer too. Read more here.
The next featured missing person, feared murdered was Sandrine Jourdan, mum of three children, who had been expecting an unnamed guest on the day she disappeared, July 13 2012. Sandrine struggled with depression and while the suicide probability was suspected, the arrival of bizarre correspondence to her family after she went missing suggests it was someone she knew who was responsible. Read more here.
Chapter 9 was the story of Marlene McDonald who had domestic problems with her estranged husband, John McDonald. While he was charged with the murder of his former wife who went missing on December 18 1986, unfortunately her body has not yet been recovered. Read more here.
The disappearance of Paul Stevenson who was last seen going for a motorbike ride on March 11 2012 apparently to the vicinity of Paradise Dam was the topic of the tenth case. His bike was found on the Mount Perry-Gin Gin Road but Paul was not. His family is still waiting for answers. Read more here.
As I kept reading, I was hit with the realisation there are so many sad missing persons cases, but these stories seem to have evaded attention after a few years. One such story was that of the stolen life of trusting country nanny, Penny Hill, found on July 8 1991 in a comatose state by local teacher, Sue Brown. Her death still remains unsolved although persons of interest were investigated. Read more here.
The most frightening story was that of the Northern Territory murder of Don Stevens and the sister who survived, welfare officer Noelene Stevens. It is the story of a colleague driven by jealousy to hold his workmate hostage in her own home, brutally murder her innocent brother and dispose of her pet dogs. While Matt Vanko is currently behind bars, Noelene is still finding it hard to let go of her torment. This was an odd story because the crime appeared to be wrapped up. Read more here.
The case right after it was chilling because it covered the murder of traveling salesman Nigel McAree who was found beheaded in Sydney’s beautiful Royal National Park,. The tranquil setting and the violence against the victim suggests a personal vendetta to me but the far more experienced Unsolved Homicide Team suspects that it could have been a thrill kill. The murderer in this case has still not been identified and the family longs for closure. Read more here.
The outback disappearance of Western Australian nursing student Brett McGillivray on April 10 2006 has led to the speculation of two fascinating theories: he got lost and perished in the scrub or he is still out there in a state of advanced confusion. The latter theory isn’t that implausible considering Brett left without his medication and he had previously undergone psychotic episodes. It is also possible the bush search party failed to locate him but with no evidence of a body coming to surface the family awaits his return home. Read more here.
The fifteenth case was about the abduction of twin teenager Daniel Sheppard who went missing after family New Years Eve celebrations on January 1 1995. It hit close to home for Michael Sheppard when schoolboy Daniel Morcombe went missing while waiting for a bus. While the possibility of cult kidnappings have been explored, nothing solid came out of it to identify a perpetrator and secure a conviction. Read more here.
As he was in all intents and appearances a family man, the abduction and murder of Turkish Ali Sonmez, an invalid pensioner, in a gangland-style killing and the odd discovery of his body dumped in the Darling river across a state border was nothing short of baffling. While it has been established his body was discarded from the New South Wales side, there is a paucity of evidence and even witnesses making it difficult to find people who would have wanted him dead. There are suspicions involving drug money or fruit trade rivalries but the killer is yet to be caught. Read more here.
The next case is that of skater boy Donny Govan, who, then 16, disappeared on August 31, 2012 from the Echuca camp site where he had been camping with his sister, Rachel O’Keane and four friends. Suddenly becoming paranoid about his camp mates and convinced they were out to get him, Donny ran off into thick bush. Although sightings of Donny have been reported in but not corroborated, Rachel persists in the belief he’s out there alive. Read more here.
The final chapter and case includes the double murder story of sweethearts Alex Rees and Ray Hill who met their tragic deaths during a romantic tryst on 2 January 1970 in a popular lovers’ lane. It was believed shots were fired through the open window of the driver’s door. Theories put forward about the culprit at the time explore if it were an opportunistic thrill killer or jealous ex-partner taking revenge or even a hospital employee/patient known to Alex through her job. Unfortunately no one has been yet able to prove who killed Alex and Ray. Read more here.
The writing in Unsolved Australia is fantastic and easy to read, the book is well researched and the forensic expert profiles were quite insightful. Some cases were going through court or were tied up, but most need to be brought back to front of peoples’ minds so new evidence can be found.