A Day at Wanda Beach Leads to a 56 Year Mystery

Ms Sharrock on the left. Ms Schmidt on the right

In all the accounts of this unsolved murder Australia is described as almost a crime free paradise in the 1960s. I am not making any point here, it may well have been true. The killing of two 15 year old girls on 11th January 1965 is said to have changed all that. Along with the disappearance of three children at about the same time, Down Under changed its care free attitude.

The Brief Circumstances

Two friends , Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock lived next door to each other in the working class area of West Ryde, Sydney. They became best friends. Ms Schmidt had a number of younger siblings. There was Peter, Norbert, Wolfgang and Trixie. Three of these accompanied Ms Schmidt and Sharrock when they went on a trip to the beach at Cronulla.

Ms Sharrock on the left. Ms Schmidt on the right

 

Early on that day they were seen around the beach area but it was not the best weather. They had a picnic and the girls were seen talking to a young blond haired man who was spiking crabs with a knife attached to a stick. There are varying reports of him just having a knife with no stick, of him being seen several times or the one I quote about the girls talking to him.  Later the group walked along the beach out of the main area.

I have seen it said that earlier Ms Sharrock had gone off to walk alone before returning. It is also said that the girls had been to the beach early in the month and had met some boys they liked. The impression Peter said he had was that they wanted to go off for a while. They settled the young children on the edge of the sand dunes and were giggling happily as they walked away. The children played and expected the girls to have returned after a short time.

Wolfgang, then eight years old, is reported to have followed his sister and her friend for a short time. He saw a similar looking boy to the one who had been crab fishing. This youngster was walking with them. He said the girls were trying to ignore him and he looked angry. Wolfgang returned to the younger kids.

After several hours Peter had become concerned and gathered the children together and returned the way they had come. They got the train back to West Ryde and expected to see Ms Schmidt at home. Neither she nor Ms Sharrock were there. Ms Sharrock lived with her grandmother in the neighbouring house. The children reported that the girls were missing and the older woman called the police.

The following day the police were searching when a man out in the sand dunes with his nephews found the girls. They had been brutally murdered. Ms Schmidt had been savagely stabbed before Ms Sharrock was chased, hit about the head and stabbed. Someone had tried to have sex with the girls after the attack. They were buried near to each other in the sand.

The Investigation

In one account the girls settled the youngsters about 400 metres from the Surf Club. That would be about here. Others place the walk along the beach as much further. I have heard a kilometre or more mentioned.

 

It was an extensive enquiry. Tons of sand were sifted looking for the knife. Witnesses were interviewed wherever they could be found. A press appeal went out for the blonde boy the girls had been talking to. The theory ran that the girls had been walking across the dunes to a pre arranged meeting. At some point they were attacked either by the person they were meeting or by a stranger as they walked. It was said that there was an access road running on the other side of the dunes. This could have meant that the meeting was with someone with a car.

In some accounts they walked along the beach for about 400 meters. In others there is talk of a couple of kilometres. Either way the dunes are extensive and in the image above it shows the area as it is now. It may well have been open space back then. Looking at those houses close up they all seem to be from a time after 1965.

The attempt at rape had been unsuccessful but there were semen samples on the girls clothing and it had been cut and rearranged. All attacks on those that are victims of murder are horrible and vicious of course. These girls had suffered the upper end of the deranged spectrum of offender. Between them they had been stabbed over 20 times. A 30 plus meter drag trail indicated that Ms Sharrock had been hauled back to where her friend was dead or dying.

A bloody knife blade was found in the dunes but it could not be linked to the murders. In the end a large reward was left unclaimed. Many people who had been seen out and about did not come forward and the case went cold.

It is a very famous Australian case and a bit like the British Jack the Ripper crimes it receives its fair share of theories and reviews. Several men who went on to be killers have been linked as probable. There is no evidence to proceed further though.

DNA has been isolated from the sample taken from the girls clothing. It was described as a weak profile. Sadly it matters little because the sample has now been lost so no matter how much technology improves there is nothing more to test.

My take

Well first I think it would be good if the case was not investigated by the press any more than it has been. I watched a 45 minute programme by 7News. They were making the case that the killer was Christopher Wilder. Wilder was a despicable rapist and killer. The lowest kind. He was around at the time. Later he fled to the USA and went on a serial killing spree. However, I watched the whole thing and apart from being a surfer type back then no evidence was offered to say he was there that day.

In fact the whole thing was about him. Yes I understand he was capable of the killings but so are many others. Logic says that there will have been many such people we will probably never have heard of.¬† The program gave the impression it was almost certain Wilder was guilty. What bothers me about this sort of ‘certain’ speculation is that maybe someone is holding some suspicion. Times have changed for them, maybe the person they suspect has just died. They see ex coppers and mainstream press assert that Wilder did it and think, ‘ Oh I’m wrong then.’ Maybe, just maybe they then keep the info to themselves.

The program also featured a criminologist. I have noticed a rash of these in such programs. They do little inane sound bites confirming the obvious with a heavy wise attitude. Seldom do they look like they have ever investigated anything. They also assert things that could well put someone off coming forward.

You cannot speculate on the identity of the killer in this case unless you at least can place them in the area. You can only take a theory further if their description at least fits one of the people out and about that day. Actually that applies to all such awful cases. Apparently there was a report that the Sydney police had received that pointed to Christopher Wilder’s potential but they did not follow it up. This seems to have been presented to the (now middle to old age) family of Ms Schmidt as proof. Wilder would have been 20 at the time of the Wanda Beach murders. It might have been him but as I say it might have been anyone.

In the case of Janet Brown, a middle aged UK nurse murdered in her own home in 1995, a DNA sample has been isolated. Still all these years later it does not match anyone. It does not even match the relatives of anyone. That murder was savage and the idea that the offender only committed the one crime is unlikely. That said it is possible the offender or offenders  may have died shortly afterwards, emigrated or never committed another offence.

So it is just as likely that the savage killer of these Australian girls did something similar. DNA was only first used in the mid 80s to convict people. By that time the offender at Wanda beach could have died of a heart attack in prison after serving several sentences for violent sexual offences. His DNA would never have been recorded. My point is speculate by all means, but declare this case what it is. Unsolved.

What do you think? Can you look at this sort of case and really decide the guilt of even a seriously horrible killer based on the fact he was capable of it and lived on the same continent?

Cheers, Tim.

 

 

 

 

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