For the past three months, The Australian’s crime reporter Dan Box has been looking at an unsolved serial killing in Bowraville. Three children, all killed within five months, all living on the same street.
The Australian Newspaper released a weekly podcast examining the murders of the 3 children. Narrated by crime reporter Dan Box the podcast resulted in significant national attention being placed on the 3 unsolved murders.
The Bowraville murders were a series of serial killings that took place over a period of five monts from September 1990 to February 1991 in Bowraville, New South Wales, Australia.
There were several similarities between the disappearances that led police to believe that they were committed by the same killer:
- The murders all took place within the short time frame of five months.
- All three victims were Aboriginal.
- Autopsies of the two bodies that were found indicate both suffered blunt force trauma to the head.
- All three victims disappeared after parties in the Aboriginal community in Bowraville, in an area known as “The Mission”.
There were three victims in the series of killings. The first person to disappear was 16-year-old Colleen Walker, who was reported missing September 13, 1990. The second to disappear was Walker’s cousin, Evelyn Greenup, on October 4, 1990. The third victim was 16-year-old Clinton Speedy-Duroux on February 1, 1991.
Victim 1 – Colleen Walker
The first victim, Colleen Walker, was last seen alive at a party in the area known as “The Mission”, in the Aboriginal community, on September 13, 1990. The last positive sighting of Colleen was walking away from a group of people at the party. She was reported missing to the police the following day by her family. Despite the family being sure that something terrible had happened, the Missing Persons report was not taken seriously by police; no search parties were formed and no formal police action was taken.
Colleen Walker’s body has not been found, although her weighted down clothes were later found by a fisherman in the Nambucca River. Lots of media attention believed Colleen was from Bowraville but she was visiting families and friends and was from Sawtell.
Victim 2 – Evelyn Greenup
Two and a half weeks after the disappearance of Colleen Walker, 4-year-old Evelyn Greenup disappeared after a party at “The Mission”, on October 4, 1990. She was last seen by her mother as she was put to bed some time during the night. The next morning she was gone from her bed. Evelyn’s skeletal remains were found six months later in bushland near the side of the road, about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from Bowraville. An autopsy could not conclusively determine the cause of death, but noted that a skull injury was “consistent with a forceful penetration by a sharp instrument”.
Victim 3 – Clinton Speedy-Duroux
Approximately three months after the disappearance of Evelyn Greenup, 16-year-old Clinton Speedy-Duroux went missing after a party at the Mission. He was last seen leaving the party on his way to a house to sleep.
Clinton Speedy-Duroux’s remains were found about two weeks later by farmers who were collecting wood.
Investigation and Prosecution
In spite of two trials and a coroner’s inquest no one has been successfully prosecuted for the murders.
Arrest of Thomas Jay Hart
On April 8, 1991, a local Bowraville labourer, 25-year-old Thomas Jay Hart, was arrested for the murder of Clinton Speedy. Hart was well known in the Aboriginal community in Bowraville, and often attended the parties at The Mission.
On October 16, 1991, while on bail awaiting trial, Hart was arrested and charged with the murder of Evelyn Greenup. Despite a strong circumstantial case, Hart was acquitted of Speedy’s murder by a supreme court on February 18, 1994, the third anniversary of the discovery of his body.
After the acquittal on the Speedy case, prosecutors did not proceed with the trial against Hart for the Evelyn Greenup murder.
Evelyn Greenup trial
In 1997, the former New South Wales Police Commissioner Peter Ryan set up Task Force Ancud, to continue the investigation into the unsolved murders. In February 2004, an inquest was held into the murders, and as a result Thomas Jay Hart was charged again, this time for the murder of Evelyn Greenup.
The trial was conducted in February 2006. The prosecution provided strong evidence including two supposed confessions made by Hart. Despite the evidence and confessions, Hart was acquitted on March 3, 2006.
The murders, and the fact that to date no one has been convicted of the crimes, is a source of pain and bitterness in the Aboriginal community in Bowraville.
After the acquittal of Hart in 2006, the NSW Police Minister raised the reward to $250,000 for information leading to the conviction of the persons responsible for the murders. The previous reward was $100,000 and it was only for Colleen Walker.
In November 2011 bones were found believed to be Colleen Walker-Craig but they were DNA tested and turned out to be animal remains. In 2006, changes were made to double jeopardy legislation in NSW opening the way for retrial of any person acquitted of a life-sentence offence if “fresh and compelling evidence” was uncovered. On 8 February 2013, the Attorney General of New South Wales, Greg Smith, refused to re-try all three cases in a single trial. The families of the three children have called for a Royal Commission to enquire into the conduct of the police investigation.
Facebook pages have been set up for victims families: Justice for Colleen Walker-Craig, and Justice for the Bowraville Children.
Submission to Attorney-General
In May 2016 the Australian Newspaper released a weekly podcast examining the murders of the 3 children. Narrated by crime reporter Dan Box the podcast resulted in significant national attention being placed on the 3 unsolved murders.
In May 2016, the detective inspector leading the investigation made a submission to the Attorney-General calling for a retrial of the prime suspect based on new evidence.
From this submission and in a dramatic resolution to the controversy surrounding the murders, NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton decided to forgo a further review of the evidence and instead refer the case straight to the state’s Court of Criminal Appeal.
Should the appeal court decide to review the Bowraville deaths, the man previously acquitted of two of the killings could see that judgment overturned. If that happened, he could then face a retrial in which evidence about all three deaths is heard together in court for the first time.
Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione personally signed off on a formal application to Ms Upton, calling for the cases to be sent to the appeal court.
Over the past decade, previous NSW attorneys-general and at least one director of public prosecutions have refused to allow this to happen. Ms Upton had been widely expected to refer the new retrial application to an independent assessor but, in a written statement: “After careful consideration, I have decided that there should be no further delay in bringing this matter to court. I have met their families and understand the pain and suffering they experience every day more than 25 years after the death of the children.”
Ms Upton has engaged a former South Australia director of public prosecutions, Wendy Abraham QC, to appear on her behalf in the appeal hearing.
The appeal court will now hear evidence about the deaths of both Clinton and Evelyn before deciding whether to overturn the previous acquittals of Mr Hart. Should that happen, the court can then order he face trial over all three killings.
“The court must be satisfied that the evidence is fresh, compelling and that a retrial is in the interests of justice,” Ms Upton said. “While there can be no certainty whatsoever about the outcome, this is the course of action that promises a sense of closure for all involved.”