Bega schoolgirl murders

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The Bega schoolgirl murders refers to the abduction, rape and murder of New South Wales schoolgirls, 14-year-old Lauren Margaret Barry and 16-year-old Nichole Emma Collins of Bega, New South Wales on 6 October 1997.[1]

The girls were abducted by Leslie Camilleri and Lindsay Beckett, both from the New South Wales town of Yass, some 60 km from Canberra. The men subjected the girls to repeated rapes and sexual assaults on five or more separate occasions, while driving them to remote locations throughout rural New South Wales and Victoria.[2] Over a twelve-hour period the girls had been driven several hundred kilometres from Bega, New South Wales, to Fiddler's Green Creek in Victoria, where they were stabbed to death by Beckett under the order of Camilleri.

The girls were reported missing on the day of their disappearance, and a massive manhunt consisting of family, friends, police and members of the Bega community combed the area but failed to locate any sign of the missing girls.[2] Police investigations lasting several weeks eventually led to Camilleri and Beckett, career criminals with over 200 criminal convictions between them.[3] Camilleri, who claimed he was innocent of any crime and insisted Beckett acted alone, was facing existing charges relating to other sexual assaults against minors at the time of the schoolgirl murders.[2]

Perpetrators[edit]

Leslie Camilleri[edit]

Leslie Camilleri
Leslie Camilleri.jpg
Born Leslie Alfred Camilleri
(1969-05-31) 31 May 1969 (age 45)
Liverpool, New South Wales
Criminal penalty
Life imprisonment
Conviction(s) Theft, Murder x 4

Leslie Alfred Camilleri (born 31 May 1969) was born to a family of six children in Liverpool, New South Wales. He did not meet his natural father until he was 13 years of age. A psychiatric report prepared in 1993 spoke of Camilleri's deprived childhood, and "a pattern of theft and vandalism which have been his reaction to social ostracism, leading to frustration, which because of poor impulse control has ended in explosive outbursts of destructive behaviour".[4]

Camilleri was considered "uncontrollable" as a child, and spent a large part of his childhood in juvenile detention. He escaped the institution and between the ages of 10 to 12 lived on the streets of King's Cross in Sydney as a street kid. He was eventually taken before the Children's Court by police and ordered to return to the institution where he remained until he was 15.[4]

Four days prior to the abduction of a girl, Rosamari Gandarias, in Canberra and three weeks prior to the schoolgirl murders, Camilleri appeared in the District Court of New South Wales on trial for charges relating to sexual offences against his defacto's daughter. After two days the trial was aborted and Camilleri was released from custody on bail.[4] Camilleri had 146 prior convictions for offences such as dishonesty, theft and wilful damage.[4] At the time of the murders Camilleri lived in Yass, New South Wales. He had known Beckett for a period of two to three years and would often associate with him to steal cars.[2]

In 2012 Camilleri appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court via videolink from prison charged with murdering Prue Bird, 13, a schoolgirl after she disappeared from her Glenroy home between February 2 and 11, 1992. Camilleri had made admissions in a police record of interview but there was a dispute over the alleged motive and how the murder was effected.[5]

On 5 December 2013, Camilleri was sentenced to an extra 28 years imprisonment for the murder of Bird.[6]

Lindsay Beckett[edit]

Lindsay Beckett
Born Lindsay Hoani Beckett
(1974-03-27) 27 March 1974 (age 40)
Opotiki, New Zealand
Criminal penalty
Life imprisonment
Non-parole period of 35 years
Conviction(s) Murder x 2

Lindsay Hoani Beckett (born 27 March 1974) was born in New Zealand and lived in the town of Opotiki[7] before moving to Australia. At the time of the murders Beckett lived in Yass and had come to associate with Camilleri, five years his senior, in criminal pursuits. It would be Beckett who would eventually break and confess to police about the schoolgirl murders, and leading them to the bodies of the victims.

It was claimed Camilleri exerted a strong influence over Beckett. In sentencing Beckett to life imprisonment, Justice Vincent described Beckett as having "quite a low IQ" and as someone "who had fallen under the influence of an older individual of much stronger personality".[2] Beckett was 23 at the time of the murders. He will be 59 when eligible for parole in 2033.

Events[edit]

Abduction of Barry and Collins[edit]

On 3 October 1997, a camp site was set up by the father of Nichole Collins at White Rock, near Bega, for his teenage daughter to invite friends over for the coming Labour Day long weekend. The camp site was located three kilometres from the Collins' home.[1] The girls would regularly call at the house while camping to change clothing, shower and eat. Collins' father regularly called at the camp site to check on the children and did so on the day the girls disappeared. At approximately 9pm on 5 October 1997,[2] Collins, wearing her high school jacket, and her younger friend Barry, left a group of friends at the camp site and walked off for a nearby party.[1]

A Ford Telstar belonging to Camilleri's defacto partner and driven by Camilleri was nearby with Beckett alongside him in the passenger seat. Camilleri had an argument hours earlier with his defacto partner and talked to Beckett about his feelings of depression. He and Beckett were consuming beer and injecting each other with amphetamines[4] while driving aimlessly.

According to Beckett, it was Camilleri who spotted the girls walking single file along the Bega-Tathra Road in Evan's Hill and stopped to offer them a lift. At approximately 10pm, after a brief discussion with the men the girls entered the car willingly, according to Beckett. A pink portable television set, which had earlier been taken by Camilleri and Beckett from a friend in lieu of a drug-related debt was removed from the back seat of the vehicle and discarded at the side of the road to provide room for the girls to sit. The television set would later become important evidence and implicate the two men in their crimes to follow.[1]

Beckett told police the group travelled to Tathra Beach and spent some time there before returning to the camp site at White Rock. On the road leading to the camp site, Camilleri became disturbed at the car bottoming out on the uneven gravel road and became angry at the girls. The rear doors of the vehicle had been previously locked using the vehicle's child locks and there were no window winders, preventing the rear doors from being opened by passengers inside. Camilleri produced a knife and told the girls they would be stabbed if they tried to escape. Beckett also produced a knife and went along with Camilleri in threatening the girls.

"Whilst Les (Camilleri) was going off, he pulled his knife out of a pocket in the driver's door. This was a black handled pocket knife with a serrated edge. Les turned around to the girls and showed them the knife. He told them to shut up and not to say anything. Les said if they did not do what he said, he would stab them. During this Les told me to get my knife. I got my knife out of the glove box. I have a black handled knife with a jagged edge. I showed the girls I had a knife, too. I said to the girls to do as Les says.[2] "

Camilleri reversed away from the camp site and drove onto Old Wallagoot Road.[1]

Assaults[edit]

Rather than being returned to the camp site as earlier promised, the girls were driven to a rubbish dump off Old Wallagoot Road, not far from their homes in Kalaru, and raped. They were then driven further south, passing through the town of Merimbula until the car stopped at Ben Boyd National Park and the girls were further assaulted. A black rubber torch belonging to Barry and a tampon were later located at the scene by police.[1]

They continued through the town of Eden, where the men again raped the girls in an area south of Eden. Camilleri then ordered Beckett to drive, while Camilleri continued to force Barry to perform oral sex on him in the back seat. They drove towards Orbost before turning off and eventually stopping at Wingan Point in Victoria, where the girls were again assaulted.

Camilleri slept, but later woke up and realised he was deep into the state of Victoria. Beckett recalled in his statement to police,

"I drove down the highway and just before Cann River Les woke up. He wanted to know where we were. I told him we were in Victoria heading to Orbost. Les cracked the shits and was abusing me. He was saying he wanted to go to Sydney. He kept saying 'the bridge'. I took this to mean he wanted to throw the girls off the bridge because he had spoken about this before. There are some bridges on the way to Sydney on the Hume Highway which have great drops."

The girls began to question the men, asking if they were going to be murdered. Camilleri assured the girls they would only be tied up so the men could make their escape. During this time Beckett recalled Camilleri repeating the words "They can't go back", referring to his intention to murder the girls to avoid detection for their crimes.[2]

Double murder[edit]

The final stop, at approximately 8am the following morning, was at Fiddler's Green Creek, located just south of the Victorian border with New South Wales. The girls' hands were tied and they were ordered along a remote bush track over rugged terrain to a creek. The group walked alongside the creek for several hundred metres. Camilleri ordered the girls to remove their clothing and wash their vaginas thoroughly to remove any evidence of the prior sexual assaults.

After washing, the girls were then ordered to lie on their stomachs before being retied and gagged. They were then separated by a distance of approximately 30 metres as Camilleri and Beckett discussed what to do next. Camilleri demanded Beckett drown the girls but Beckett protested, saying it was unfair that he had to kill both. Beckett eventually complied when an argument occurred and Camilleri threatened to stab Beckett if he did not do as wanted.[2]

Murder of Lauren Barry[edit]

Beckett attempted to first drown Barry, who was tied up near the creek. After a struggle, he became angry when his knee became wet.[2] He reached for his knife and stabbed Barry in the neck, accidentally cutting his thumb. Beckett described the scene to police as follows,

"I went over to Lauren and dragged her down to the water. I held her head under the water. She was struggling and she knocked me into the water. One of my knees, I think the left went into the water. This pissed me off a little bit and I opened my knife, it was in my left hand and I stabbed Lauren in the left side of the neck. I said in my interview that it was the right side of the neck with my right hand but I am been thinking since. It wasn't my right thumb which was cut but my left. After a couple of seconds after I stabbed her she stopped moving."[2]

Murder of Nichole Collins[edit]

Beckett then ran up the embankment towards Collins who was tied to a tree and out of view of Barry who now lay dying in the creek bed. Beckett slashed Collins to the throat several times then began to punch and kick her when he realised she had not died instantly from the knife wounds.[1]

"After I stabbed Lauren, I ran up the bank to where I tied Nichole up. She must have heard what I had done to Lauren because when I got to her she said, 'you're going to kill me, aren't you.' I said 'shut up' and walked around to her left side and I cut her throat two or three times. This was across her throat. The knife was in my left hand. Nichole was sitting down when I cut her throat.
After this she was thrashing around on the ground. She was trying to scream but nothing was coming out. I think I kicked her because she wouldn't keep still. And then I put my foot on to her to keep her still. This didn't work so I stabbed her in the throat. I aimed and stabbed at the hard thing in her neck. I pushed the knife all the way in but she still wouldn't keep still so I worked out where her heart would be and I stabbed her on the left side of the chest.
She still didn't stop moving so I stabbed her in the front of the chest. I was aiming for her heart. I needed two hands to get the knife through her chest. She kept moving so I kicked her in the head a couple of times. She still kept moving but she was slowing down. I waited until she stopped moving which didn't take long.[2] "

After the murders, Camilleri, who was not present during the murders and was waiting in the car, asked Beckett "Did you see the demon?".[2] The pair quickly left the crime scene with Beckett driving and returned to New South Wales.

Disposal of evidence[edit]

Commonwealth Avenue Bridge over Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra.

Camilleri drove from the murder scene while Beckett slept in the vehicle, and woke as the pair approached Canberra. They stopped at Theodore Lookout on the Monaro Highway to the south of Canberra and burned their blood-stained clothing, ropes and gags used to restrain the girls. The knives used by the pair were later thrown from the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge into Lake Burley Griffin before returning to their homes in Yass, New South Wales.[1]

On 8 October 1997, Camilleri and Beckett drove from Yass to Sydney and stayed with Camilleri's brother for several days.[1] While in Campbelltown in Sydney's south-west, they spent six hours cleaning the car at a Car Lovers car wash, going as far as removing the vehicle's seats and carpets to clean them thoroughly.[1]

The pair then returned to Canberra to destroy further evidence, before returning to Bega on an unsuccessful search for the discarded pink television set which Camilleri believed would lead police to them as the abductors of the missing schoolgirls. The television set was earlier removed by a local council worker.[1]

Arrests[edit]

On 25 October 1997, police located a car earlier stolen by Beckett in Canberra. The vehicle was searched and police discovered maps of the Bega area and items belonging to Beckett. Members of the Australian Federal Police arrested Beckett on 27 October 1997 on car theft charges and remanded him in custody. Police interviewed Camilleri the following day. Both men denied any knowledge of the girls' abduction and murder. The pair also denied discarding a television set by the roadside, however Camilleri admitted travelling with one that he had dropped at a St. Vincent De Paul store.[1]

On 12 November 1997, police again interviewed Beckett, who made a full confession. He agreed to take police to the crime scene at Fiddler's Green Creek where the remains of the girls' bodies were discovered.

Camilleri, who was at this time also remanded in custody for breaching bail conditions, was awaiting trial at Goulburn Correctional Centre. He was again interviewed by police regarding the schoolgirl murders. Police informed Camilleri of Beckett's confession.[1] Camilleri again denied any involvement in the murders, and attempted to implicate Beckett as the lone murderer. Camilleri insisted he was in a drug induced stupor for most of the time the girls were in the car.

"We picked up the girls and went to the beach. I had a shot behind the shed. While the girls were drinking I was trying to OD. We drove around with them. I was asleep most the time. Beckett told me he dropped them off at home. I remember waking up and seeing the girls and then later I asked Beckett where we were and he said Victoria, on the main road somewhere. And I went off my head. I told him to go home, get the fuck out of here. Then I saw him walking out of the bush. He had blood all over him. Told me he cut his finger."[1]

Police later charged Camilleri and Beckett with multiple counts of abduction, rape and murder.

Trials[edit]

Leslie Camilleri[edit]

The trial of Camilleri for the murder of Barry and Collins began on 15 February 1999 and ran until 10 April 1999. A total of 70 witnesses were called.[1] Prosecution evidence included a shirt belonging to Barry containing semen matching the DNA profile of Camilleri. The shirt was discovered at the rubbish dump in Old Wallagoot Road where the pair had first taken the girls. Police recovered evidence from almost every location the pair had taken the girls and assaulted them. Beckett was called to give evidence against his co-accused and spent five days in the witness box.

Camilleri claimed he was in a drug induced stupor when the girls were with the pair, and that he barely remembered them, hoping to lay the entire blame for the murders on his associate Beckett.[1] He was found guilty by the Supreme Court jury and on 27 April 1999 was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders, never to be released.

In sentencing Camilleri to life imprisonment, never to be released, the judge remarked

"Using the control which you clearly had over your weaker willed but equally evil companion (Beckett), you instructed him to perform acts that, in a somewhat perverse way, it could be said that you probably did not possess the courage to perform yourself.[1] "
"It is terrible to contemplate the prospect that, as a consequence of the order which in my view justice and a proper appreciation of sentencing principles would require in your case, you may never be released from prison. However, I consider that my duty is clear. Through your own actions, you have forfeited your right ever to walk among us again.[8][9] "

Camilleri was 28 at the time of his crimes and 29 when sentenced. Camilleri appeared before the Supreme Court in 2001 to appeal his sentence; the appeal was unsuccessful .[1] He later appealed to the High Court in May 2002[10] and again his appeal was dismissed.[11] Camilleri has received numerous death threats from other prisoners[4] and remains in protective custody.

Lindsay Beckett[edit]

On 26 June 1998, Lindsay Hoani Beckett, who confessed to the murders, appeared in the Supreme Court of Victoria where he was arraigned and pleaded guilty to the murders of Lauren Barry and Nichole Collins. On 20 August 1998, Beckett was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 35 years. At the time of Beckett's sentencing, his non-parole period was the longest ever given to a Victorian prisoner.[12] After sentencing, the mother of one of the schoolgirls yelled to Beckett, "I hope you rot in hell" as he was led from the courtroom to begin his sentence.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]