I believe firmly that even in the tiny space that is the UK we have serial killers who went undetected. I don’t mean they just got away with horrific crimes. I mean the murders were never linked in the first place. I also think on our comparatively small island we look to link killings when they are committed by several people.
In the case of the Melbourne murders of the 1980s there is overwhelming evidence it was one killer. This unknown face murdered six women in the space of only 17 months. All of the victims, except one, disappeared in the daytime from well travelled places and all these years later none have been granted justice. Currently there is a six million Australian dollar reward for information that could bring that justice.
30th May 1980
Allison Rooke, 59, told friends she would take a bus and go grocery shopping in Frankston, Melbourne, Australia. Her body was found over a month later in scrubland a few miles (5km) from where she was last seen.
9th October 1981
Joy Summers, 55, went to catch a bus on the same road as Ms Rooke. This is the Frankston-Dandenong Rd. Alarmingly not only did these two victims start out at a similar point their naked bodies were found within a short distance from each other. Both women were discovered in the McClelland Drive area of Frankston.
So we have two middle aged ladies who set out to get a bus on the same road, during the day, who end up in the same area naked and murdered. This then gets more complicated.
Tynong North is a district 30 miles away. There you will find Brew Road. On 6th December 1980 three bodies were uncovered when men were dumping sheep offal in a quarry. I have no idea why they would be doing that, I guess it has to go somewhere. It is fortunate they did otherwise the family of Bertha Miller,73, Catherine Headland,14, and Ann-Marie Sargent,18, would not have known what happened to them.
10th August 1980
Ms Miller set out for church from where she lived in Glen Iris. She should have travelled by tram west to Prahran. The burial site on Brew Rd is over an hour’s drive away to the south-east of where she was last seen.
28th August 1980
This teenager was intending to get a bus from her home district of Berwick and travel west to Fountain Gate Shopping Centre a half hour drive away. Again this was during the day and she ends up in the quarry just over four miles (7km) in the opposite direction.
6th October 1980
Ann-Marie Sargent was on her way to the benefit office in Dandenong from her mother’s home in Cranbourne, Melbourne. Once again we have a planned bus journey that didn’t seem to happen. Instead of travelling north for 10 miles to her destination she is found in the quarry 30 miles to the west of where she started out.
29th November 1980
This is Narumol Stephenson. She was 34 years old when she went missing and is the only victim in this series that had not planned to use public transport. Ms Stephenson was visiting friends in Melbourne with her husband. At a house in the Brunswick district there was a dispute and the victim insisted on staying in their car overnight. Her husband checked on her during this time. At about dawn he realised she was not there.
It would be February 1983 before a man needed to change a tire on Prince’s Freeway in Tynong North. It just so happened that the stranded motorist was an academic with knowledge of human anatomy. He saw a bone he thought was human. He was right it was Mrs Stephenson.
Not only had there been no known bus or tram use but this victim had not disappeared in broad daylight. Her vanishing had happened in the right time period when a killer or killers were stalking the Melbourne area and so it was right her death was included in the investigation.
So Who Killed These Women?
There are theories and they seem complicated. I’ll break them down.
Where All The Victims Killed By The Same Inadequate Moron?
Initially the idea was that the two Frankston murders were related but the victims found in Tynong North were separate. Of course it was not until 1983 that Mrs Stephenson was found so the cops were working on the five initial killings.
The killing of Mrs Stephenson stands outside of the others because the time she disappeared was during the night and when I look she was in Brunswick which is a long way in city driving terms from the others.
The nearest victim to Brunswick had been the church going Ms Miller who was on her way to a Sunday service 10 miles away in Glen Iris. The date when Ms Miller disappeared was three and a half months before Mrs Stephenson.
It would seem totally logical that this poor lady might have gone for a walk in the hour or so before dawn on that November day. She had been in her car, she was upset and of course it is the Australian summer. It would have been getting light from about 4.30am. So this she does, for example, and the killer of the other ladies is out and about for some reason. The streets are quiet and there you go. Her body was found not far from three of the others in Tynong North. How can that be ignored?
It was a problem for the cops when it came to linking the murders and I can well see why. Two very similar victims are killed and hidden in Frankston. Three others are buried together having come from different parts of the city. In fairness you cannot just declare you are after one killer without serious consideration. As for Mrs Stephenson she would have been a missing person case during all of this early period.
As the dust settled over the years they have become convinced these murders are a group of six. They have all the files, they have all the forensics, they have access to what all of thousands of interviewed people have said. That has to give weight to the idea there was one killer when they declare it as such. In a video they have on the Victoria Police website a detective says a few things that are different to press and blog accounts.
The victims were concealed to some extent. In a few places it is said Mrs Stephenson was not.
Efforts had been made to disguise the identity of the victims. This is not reported everywhere. The police stated there were such efforts. In one article it said the personal items of the victims were removed to frustrate identification. I’m not sure that would count as an effort to conceal who they were. It could just be those items were taken for the killer’s own reasons.
Ms Headland was last seen in Berwick but she left from her boyfriend’s home. In other accounts it said she left home to meet her boyfriend.
The cops are saying that Ms Sargent was last seen in Cranbourne. Other places say she definitely attended the unemployment office in Dandenong.
All of the others were trying to get from A to B during the day. One had probably hitchhiked. Ms Sargent was between jobs, was broke and had a history of thumbing rides. The distance she had to go was 10 miles to get a benefit cheque so it is a good bet she tried to get a lift.
The others probably got to a bus or tram stop. I am not aware of any driver that said they picked up any of the victims. In the case of the youngest one a bus driver thought he had picked her up at a stop but there is no confirmation elsewhere in the accounts. As far as anyone knows she left her boyfriend’s home to get a bus and disappeared.
I picture these ladies at the bus stop and a car pulls up. They are offered a lift and for some reason the driver gives them confidence all is well so they get in. There are no reported disturbances where any of the victims were dragged into a vehicle. Yet here we have Mrs Stephenson in her car outside of where her friends and husband sleep or walking around North Melbourne. Why would she get in a car willingly? If she didn’t get in a car willingly then the ‘one’ killer has changed method all of a sudden. A method that was working well for them.
Of course the killer could have taken a chance and dragged her or threatened her into the car. He might not have been able to resist the temptation of the silent street he found himself on. Mrs Stephenson might have decided to get an early morning bus into Melbourne with the intention of going home after the fight.
I am not claiming I am sure of anything. There is a dedicated website that looks at these murders. I have not used it as a reference elsewhere but I did look at the case of Mrs Stephenson. The author says on one occasion she was walking down the street when her husband came out of the house. On another of his checks she was talking to a guy who was in his car. Notably she was speaking Thai with him yet he was a European. Her husband sat with her until almost dawn as she still would not come into the house. He went for a sleep and returned about 6am and she had gone.
Who Was Able To Abduct Such A Range Of Victims In Broad Daylight
I would love your thoughts on this. The areas they were travelling from were mostly home addresses. Ms Sargent is said to have been at her mother’s house so I assume she had somewhere else to live. They all have a plan to get to a main road and then wait. What can pull up at a bus stop and have women get in the vehicle and yet no-one would think anything of it? The first answer has to be a bus.
The reality is you can’t abduct anyone on a bus during the day. I have known it happen at night but that is another story and it was solved.
So not a bus. Any car could pull up and someone who was waiting could get in and an observer would assume they got lucky. Someone they knew had spotted them and offered a lift. It could well happen. I mean look at the times. Mostly in the week. The oldest victim, Ms Miller, might have been on a quiet street but even so it was mid morning on a Sunday not late evening.
Ms Rooke – Friday, 11am
Ms Miller – Sunday, 10am
Ms Headland – Thursday, about 11am
Ms Sergeant – Monday, 9.30am
Ms Summers – Friday, 1.20pm
Mrs Stephenson – Sunday
All except Mrs Stephenson must have been picked up by someone they felt totally comfortable with. I have read that Ms Miller told a friend that she had been approached by a man a few weeks before she died. She had a bible in her hand and they talked of her faith. She was not alarmed by the conversation, she enjoyed it. So was the killer approaching these women before they vanished and striking up a casual relationship as a friendly face at bus stops?
One suspect does fit the bill. Apparently a man called Harold Janman is said to have done just that. He would offer lifts to women in just the way we are talking about. In 1980 he would have been about 48 years old. According to an article in Bayside News ( link below) he lived in Frankston at the time of the murders, had worked at the Tynong quarry decades before and was named as a person of interest. In a Channel 9 article an ex detective called Cole said Janman had been known to curb crawl around bus stops and get out chatting to middle aged women who stood at them.
Now that is a great tie in no doubt. However, Ms Headland, Ms Sargent and Ms Miller were not from any common location. I can see how Janman might have known the Frankston victims enough for them to have got in his car. I don’t get why the others would have known him. Ms Sargent hitchhiked so that means she was less likely to be as suspicious as your average bus traveller. It certainly doesn’t explain a 14 year old girl just getting to a stranger’s car. Unless you add another element. What if it wasn’t your average, lone male driver.
Melbourne had a population of 275,000 people back then. This was no hamlet where all knew everyone. Also it is a city spread over a large area.
Recently we had the case of Sarah Everard who was falsely arrested by a plainclothes copper. He made out she had breached COVID rules. She was placed in a car he had rented. He then raped and killed her. It is an awful crime. He did this at night and used the pretext awarded by emergency measures. Wayne Couzens is now unlikely to ever walk free again. He got a whole life sentence and he is 48 years old. It is likely he will be carried out rather than walk out of prison.
So was the offender a cop or posing as one? It could be. It is unlikely they straight out offered a lift. I could maybe see that with Ms Miller. She would have been dressed for church maybe, as in wearing her Sunday best as the saying goes. The offender would have probably been able to tell that was her intention. I remember back then you would have seen many men and women obviously dressed for a church service.
The bad guy sees her, he makes out he is off to church and knows what a pain it is waiting for a Sunday bus. I am speculating, but such a scenario could have got Ms Miller into the vehicle quickly. Also I don’t know what the weather was like. Add rain to the situation and it is plausible.
As for young Ms Headland, he pulls up flashes the police ID card and asks for her help looking for a suspect or suggests she might be one. It would likely have worked with all the victims including Mrs Shepherd.
There is a lot of anti police sentiment following the events of the last couple of years. To be honest there always has been for one reason or another. I have my theories about why and they have little to do with individual events. The point is it is rare for actual cops to act like Couzens. I would go as far as to say very rare. It is not unusual for people to pretend to be cops though.
Another possibility is a teenage female accomplice or even another woman who gave credibility to the male driver. Would people take even less notice of a woman and a man picking up females from a bus stop? I think so.
Here you have more examples to refer to than the pretend cop theory. Rose West worked with her husband to sexually assault and kill girls. Myra Hindley worked with Ian Brady to entice kids into their car and then they would suffer a similar fate.
Mr Jenman fits the bill nicely when it comes to suspects. At 48 years old he did approach women he did not know and offering lifts in broad daylight according to the police. He denied this. The police interviewed him and checked out his alibi for each crime. I see reports that the alibi did not always hold up. For example he said that he and his wife had been at his bank when one of the women vanished. His wife confirmed this though bank records had no record of any business with him that day. In the final analysis he was never proved guilty of anything and as far as I know he had not even committed any other crime. He died in 2020 at the age of 88.
Just a thought but in the Green River killer a taxi driver looked just as likely a killer as Mr Jenman. More so in many respects. It turned out it wasn’t him. I always keep that case in mind when I see situations like this arise in cold cases.
This all remains in the air. The cases are linked together and live. The link to the Aussie police website is below. I have found this fascinating for one simple reason. I cannot recall a group of largely adult victims disappearing in the day time like this. There is a number of unsolved killings that I feel are likely the work of one killer here in the UK. Even then they are rural murders of lone women.
I assume that once in the vehicle ( unless a van) the victims were threatened into being compliant. They would have realised that they were not being dropped off as promised. They would probably have been in traffic, watching people going past and yet they felt unable to simply cry out or escape. Help would have been torturously close.
The offender then drives them somewhere. Into an open garage next to a house? Out into the countryside? Due to the delay between them disappearing and them being found no clear cause of death has been established for any of them. So we don’t really know what befell them once they reached their destination.
I don’t hope for a solution for me. I have no right to ask for one. I do hope the family find some peace. Also such a cruel nonsense of a human being as this killer deserves no peace whether they are 60 0r 100 years old.