Claremont serial murders
|Born||Claremont, Western Australia|
|Other names||The Claremont Killer|
Span of killings
|January 1996–14 March 1997|
The Claremont serial murders is the case of the unsolved murders of two young Australian women and the unresolved disappearance of a third in 1996 and 1997 in Claremont, a wealthy western suburb of Perth, Western Australia. All three women disappeared in similar circumstances after attending night spots in Claremont, leading police to suspect that an unidentified serial killer was the offender. Mark Dixie was a suspect in the killings; however, WA Police Deputy Commissioner Murray Lampard has been quoted in saying (The Age February 24, 2008) "Dixie was closely investigated at the time and eventually ruled out as a suspect."
The case began with the disappearance of Sarah Spiers, 18, on 26 January 1996, after she left a nightclub in the centre of Claremont. Her disappearance was described by her friends and family as out of character and attracted massive publicity. Spiers had apparently called a taxi from a phone booth but was not present when the responding vehicle arrived. Her fate remains uncertain.
On 14 March 1997, Ciara Glennon, a 27-year-old lawyer, disappeared from the Claremont area. Her body was found on 3 April, near a track in scrub off Pipidinny Road in Eglinton, a northern suburb of Perth. After this murder police confirmed that they were searching for a serial killer.
Each of the women had attended either a pub called The Continental (since renamed The Red Rock and now known as The Claremont Hotel) and/or the nightclub Club Bayview.
It has also been suggested by Liam Bartlett, a journalist, that Sarah Spiers was not the first victim. He wrote that police have told the father of a fourth missing woman, 22-year-old Julie Cutler, that his daughter was probably a victim of the Claremont killer.
Ms. Cutler, a university student, from Fremantle, vanished after leaving a staff function at the Parmelia Hilton Hotel in Perth at 9pm, one night in 1988. Her car was found in the surf near the groyne at Cottesloe Beach two days later. Her fate is also unknown.
Investigation and speculation
The Western Australian Police established a special task force to investigate the case. It was given the name "Macro". Several phases have elapsed in the course of the continuing work of the task force.
Initial suspicion focused on the taxi-drivers of Perth because of the women last seen in circumstances where they may have been seeking taxi service. There had also been a predisposition to this possibility because of reports from late 1995 of possible improper conduct by some drivers. A massive DNA-testing exercise was carried out to cover all of the taxi drivers licensed in Western Australia; a group of more than two thousand. A thorough review of the character/background standards for drivers was conducted and led to drivers with any significant criminal history being de-licensed. Training for drivers and examining standards for license eligibility were raised. Stricter standards were also applied to verifying that decommissioned taxi vehicles were stripped of any insignia and equipment that could be used to falsely purport that a vehicle was a taxi. While this had the beneficial side-effect of improving the quality of the taxi service and enhancing the confidence of the public in using it, the investigation itself does not appear to have progressed.
In the next major development, a junior officer of the Western Australian Public Service was targeted by police as the prime suspect, after he attracted their attention during a decoy operation. The suspect made himself known to the media and asserted his innocence. He was subjected to a high level of overt surveillance, apparently with the purpose of prompting a confession. Although this continued for several years, the suspect maintained his innocence and appears to have intact alibis. He remains a nominal suspect, but the focus upon him has decreased in intensity.
It has been reported that police are also investigating whether Bradley John Murdoch, the convicted killer of Peter Falconio may have been involved, although Murdoch was serving a custodial sentence from November 1995 until February 1997.
One of the tactics used by the Macro Task-force was the distribution of questionnaires to "persons of interest", including various confrontational enquiries such as "Are you the killer?" The utility of this approach was disputed and the choice of persons to whom they were sent was controversial. One was a prominent civil libertarian and local government figure, Peter Weygers. He was mayor of the Town of Claremont at the time of the women's disappearance/demise and was involved in some disputes with the victims' families concerning the duty of care of the local authority in securing the district. He also was leasing a premises to a taxi-driver who attracted police attention to himself by claiming to have transported Sarah Spiers in his taxi shortly before her disappearance. Weygers' premises were raided by the police and he and his tenant were obliged to give samples for DNA testing. As with other avenues of investigation, nothing was to come of it.
In October 2006, it was announced that Mark Dixie (AKA Shane Turner), who was convicted in the United Kingdom for the 2005 murder of 18-year-old model Sally Anne Bowman, is a prime suspect in the killings, and the WA Police's Macro Taskforce has requested DNA samples from Dixie to test against evidence taken during the enquiry. However a WA Police Deputy Commissioner Murray Lampard was later quoted as saying (The Age February 24, 2008) "Dixie was closely investigated at the time and eventually ruled out as a suspect."
In a memoir titled The End of Innocence, published in 2007, Estelle Blackburn, a Western Australian journalist and author, speculated that her former partner, who had assaulted and threatened many times to kill her, may be the killer; claiming that he had performed maintenance on taxi vehicles and often had overnight access to them. This was further explored in a two-part episode of the ABC's television programme, Australian Story, in November 2007.
- Claremont serial killer video released. The West Australian. 28 August 2008.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Story, He Who Waits, 9 February 2004
- POST Newspapers Online: Headline News
- Falconio killer probed over murders, 17 December 2005
- Police raid lawyer in hunt for serial killer - National - www.theage.com.au
- 'Maniac' admits having sex with model's corpse
- Murder accused linked to WA riddle - National - smh.com.au
- Australian Story - Before You Leap Part 2 - Transcript