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She was born Juanita Joan Smith in New Lambton, New South Wales to parents Neil Donovan Smith and Vilma Grace Smith (née Meares) (1905–1978). Her parents separated soon after her birth and she was raised by her mother at Killara, Sydney. Her father, Neil Donovan Smith, was an English-born heir to the Mark Foy's retail fortune via his parents, John Joseph Smith (1862–1921), who was a Chairman and Managing Director of Mark Foy's Ltd, and his wife, Kathleen Sophie Foy (1870–1919). Mrs. Kathleen Sophie Smith was a sister of Mark Foy and Francis Foy.
Juanita was educated at Ravenswood School for Girls, in the Upper North Shore of Sydney. She worked at Mark Foys from 1953 until she travelled abroad in 1959. In 1962, she married a Danish seaman named Jorgen Fritz Nielsen at Kobe, Japan although the marriage only lasted for a few years. Juanita returned to Sydney in 1965 and returned to work at Mark Foys for about 5 years. In the early 1970s, Nielsen was the publisher of NOW, an alternative newspaper in the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross. She lived in a terrace house at 202 Victoria Street, and she became involved in a campaign against a proposed development project in her street and across the suburb.
Nielsen disappeared on 4 July 1975 and it is generally believed that she was kidnapped and murdered because of her anti-development and anti-corruption stances. A coronial inquest determined that Nielsen had been murdered, and although the case has never been officially solved, it is widely believed that Nielsen was killed by agents of the developers. The circumstances of her disappearance were fictionalised in the films Heatwave and The Killing of Angel Street.
Victoria Point development
In the early 1970s, property developer Frank Theeman (1913–1989) planned to construct a A$40 million apartment complex in Kings Cross. Theeman, who had initially made his fortune in lingerie, moved into property development in 1972 after he sold his Osti company to Dunlop for A$3.5 million.
The plan involved evicting dozens of people from their houses in Victoria Street, an area which the National Trust compared to Montmartre in Paris. Built along a steep sandstone escarpment east of the city centre and lined with rows of large 19th-century terrace houses, Victoria Street had commanding views of the city, the harbour and The Domain.
The houses were to be demolished and replaced with three high-rise apartment towers. The local community campaigned against the development, and successfully lobbied the Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF) to impose a green ban on the site in 1972. Supported by the BLF, the residents of Victoria Street, including Nielsen, refused to leave their houses. Nielsen used her newspaper, NOW, to publicise the issue.
In July 1973, resident Arthur King was kidnapped by two unidentified men, who put him in the boot of their car. King was then driven to a motel on the South Coast of New South Wales and held for three days before being released under threat of death. King quit as the head of the residents' action group, and immediately moved out of Kings Cross. It was suspected, though never proved, that the men had been hired by Theeman.
Other residents of the street were regularly harassed by men employed by Theeman, as he attempted to have them evicted from their houses. The men were led by Fred Krahe, a former detective with the New South Wales Police. Krahe had been sacked amidst allegations of organising bank robberies and he was suspected of murdering whistleblower and prostitute Shirley Brifman. and other Sydney crime figures.
Police officers did not intervene as Krahe's men worked. Residents would move into each other's houses so that no house was left unattended. On one occasion, when merchant seaman and jazz musician Mick Fowler returned from a period working at sea, he found that his house had been broken into, and all of his belongings taken. Fowler fought a protracted court battle to stay in his home but the strain of the struggle reputedly led to his early death in 1979, aged 50.
Eventually the green ban was broken in 1974 when the conservative federal leadership of the BLF, under pressure from New South Wales politicians, dismissed the leaders of the New South Wales branch, and replaced them with more conservative people. Nielsen and the residents were left as the only significant opposition to Theeman. Nielsen then convinced the Water Board Union to impose their own green ban. By early 1975, Theeman's company had spent about A$6 million (about A$37 million in 2011 money[update]) purchasing property in Kings Cross, and interest payments on loans were costing about A$3,000 a day.
On 4 July 1975, Nielsen went to the Carousel Club in Kings Cross in order to discuss advertising for the club in Nielsen's newspaper, Now. She had been invited there by Edward Trigg, an employee of the club. The club was one of a number of bars and strip clubs owned by Abe Saffron, who was a major figure in Sydney organised crime, and it was managed by James Anderson, who, as a later investigation revealed, owed A$260,000 (about A$1.6 million in 2011 money[update]) to Frank Theeman, and according to a 2008 book by Saffron's son Alan, Abe Saffron lent large sums of money to several prominent Sydney businessmen including Theeman.
Before June 1975 the Carousel had no connection with Nielsen or NOW, but that month Anderson initiated contact by sending Nielsen an invitation to attend a press night at the club on 13 June. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, she would not normally have been invited because NOW did not give free publicity to commercial ventures. In the event, Nielsen did not attend and both Trigg and the Carousel's receptionist Loretta Crawford have claimed that Anderson was "furious" about her non-appearance.
A few days later Trigg instructed the Carousel's PR man Lloyd Marshall to invite Nielsen to a meeting at the Camperdown Travelodge, supposedly to discuss advertising related to landscaping, but Nielsen's boyfriend later recounted that Nielsen became suspicious and refused to attend.
On 30 June, four days before the Carousel appointment, Trigg and another man, Carousel barman Shayne Martin-Simmonds, called at Nielsen's house on the pretext of inquiring about advertising the Carousel's businessmen's lunches in NOW. It was later claimed that Trigg and Martin-Simmonds intended to seize Nielsen when she opened the door, but their plan was foiled when her friend David Farrell answered the door instead. The two men played out their cover story, but Nielsen was listening in an adjoining room and after they left she complimented Farrell on his handling of the query, teasing him by saying she might send him out on the road to sell advertising in NOW.
When interviewed by police on 6 November 1977, Martin-Simmonds confirmed that the advertising story was a ruse and that their actual intention was to kidnap Nielsen if she was alone and take her to see "people who wanted to talk to her". He said that he and Trigg intended to:
- "... Just grab her arms and stop her calling out, no real rough stuff, no gangster stuff. We thought that just two guys telling her to come would be enough to make her think if she didn't come she might get hurt ... we talked about when she came into the room, one of us would be standing there and the other one would come up behind her and just quietly grab her by the arms and maybe put a hand over her mouth or a pillowslip over the head."
According to her friend David Farrell, Nielsen was by then seriously concerned that her activism was putting her in danger. She mentioned her fears to Farrell about two weeks before her disappearance and she arranged to keep him regularly informed of her whereabouts.
Receptionist Loretta Crawford claims that Trigg instructed her to call Nielsen on the night of Thursday 3 July to set up a meeting at the club for the following morning. Crawford now claims that she knew that the advertising story was "bullshit", since the club did not advertise in "local rags", that she was doubtful that Nielsen would attend, and that she was surprised that Nielsen kept the appointment.
At 10:30am on Friday 4 July, Nielsen telephoned David Farrell to tell him that she was running late for the meeting. According to Crawford, when Nielsen arrived she proceeded to the landing on the first floor where Crawford's reception desk was located. Crawford offered her a seat and a cup of coffee, after Nielsen remarked that she had had a "hard night" (i.e. she was hung over), but that Nielsen didn't get to drink the coffee because Trigg arrived. Crawford said that she noted that he was on time, which she thought unusual since he was often late. He and Nielsen exchanged greetings on the landing and went upstairs to Trigg's office.
At this point in her account, given to the Sydney Morning Herald in 2001, Crawford made a new claim: that she then made a phone call to Jim Anderson at his home in Vaucluse, told him that Nielsen had arrived and that he was "quite pleased" by the news. Crawford was adamant that she was, in no doubt whatsoever, certain that Anderson was at his home in Vaucluse—not in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, as he has always claimed.
In statements given to police, Trigg and Crawford said that Nielsen had left the club alone, although in 1976 Crawford changed her story to say that Nielsen and Trigg left together. Nielsen was not seen again. Her handbag and other effects were discovered on 12 July, abandoned near a freeway in Sydney's western suburbs.
New Zealand born transvestite Monet King (who was then called Marilyn King), the former boyfriend of Trigg, told one journalist that Trigg had returned home on 4 July with blood on his clothes. A piece of paper in his pocket, which was later used by police as evidence before the coronial inquest, also had blood on it. This was supposedly a receipt signed by Nielsen for advertising money paid by Trigg. King said that Trigg threw out the shirt, and the portion of the paper with blood on it. King never gave testimony to the police or the coronial inquiry.
In late 1977, Trigg and two other employees at the Carousel Club were arrested and charged with conspiring to kidnap Nielsen. Trigg was imprisoned for three years, one other man was imprisoned for two years and the third was acquitted. However, it was still unclear what had actually happened to Nielsen. After the death of James Anderson in 2003, Crawford changed her story again. She claimed that she had seen Nielsen's body in the storeroom below the club, with Trigg and two other men standing over her. She saw that one of the men was holding a gun, and Nielsen's body had a small bullet wound.
Nielsen's body has never been found.
The obvious motive for Nielsen's presumed murder was her opposition to the Victoria Street development. However, there have also been claims that she was working on an exposé about vice, corruption and illegal gambling in the Cross. Her then boyfriend John Glebe gave evidence that Nielsen had told him about receiving telephone threats and he also testified that she carried cassette tapes in her handbag. According to Glebe, Nielsen had told him that the tapes could "blow the top off" an issue she was working on. An article in The Bulletin in 2005 ran claims by journalist Barry Ward that Nielsen had been given dossiers on "prominent Sydney identities" by private detective Allan Honeysett, and speculated that these documents would reputedly have exposed the principals involved in Sydney's illegal gaming industry.
In 2004 ABC-TV's The 7:30 Report broadcast a new interview with Loretta Crawford, who had been the receptionist at the Carousel Club at time of Nielsen's disappearance. Speaking with journalist Emma Alberici, Crawford claimed her previous testimony regarding Nielsen was false and had been concocted to protect her former boss, James Anderson, but that Anderson's recent death meant she was now free to reveal the truth. Crawford's new claim was that Nielsen had indeed been killed in the basement of the club in the presence of Trigg and Martin-Simmonds, that she had seen Nielsen's body on the floor, bearing a single small gunshot wound, and that she saw a third man, whom she did not name, standing over Nielsen's body, holding a pistol.
In March 2013 The Australian newspaper reported that, prior to his death in February 2013, Edward Trigg had written a "deathbed" manuscript which allegedly revealed the true facts of Trigg's involvement in the Nielsen case, that it "named names" of those involved in the Nielsen conspiracy, and that it revealed the resting place of Nielsen's remains. A NSW police spokesperson confirmed that police from Redferen Local Area Command had searched Trigg's residence after his death, but they refused to comment on the outcome. An unnamed friend of Trigg's (a retired Kings Cross bouncer) told reporter Ean Higgins that the police visited Trigg's hotel room twice after his death:
- "The cops came here on Sunday after he died, then they came back today (Tuesday) and spent half a day going through his room, taking the place apart, looking for the book. But Eddie was too smart, he didn't leave anything, and it's all with his lawyer. His son and his nephew have been told."
The report also stated that two individuals claimed to have seen Trigg's manuscript, and that it was to be published after his death in the hope of providing an inheritance for his descendants.
A coronial inquiry with a jury was held in 1983, which determined that Nielsen had probably been killed, although there was not enough evidence to show how she died or who killed her. The inquest did note that police corruption may have crippled the investigation into her death at the time.
A Joint Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia was formed in 1994 to further investigate her disappearance. It also concluded that corruption impeded the police investigation.
Although it has never been established who killed Nielsen, there are several major suspects in the conspiracy to silence her.
- Frank Theeman, the 'Victoria Point' developer, was considered by a number of journalists to be the prime suspect in the conspiracy to silence Nielsen. The costly delays to his development offer a highly plausible motive for Theeman wanting to get Nielsen 'out of the way'. Although no direct evidence has been uncovered conclusively linking Theeman to the presumed murder, there is clear circumstantial evidence of business links between the three main suspects, Theeman, Saffron and Anderson.
- Abe Saffron, who owned and operated several 'businesses' in Kings Cross, had numerous circumstantial connections with the case. Throughout his life Saffron (often dubbed "the Boss of the Cross" or "Mr Sin") was accused of having masterminded a wide range of criminal activities including gambling, prostitution, drug dealing and "sly grog" sales, and to have co-ordinated a network of bribery and official corruption that (according to his son Alan) included former New South Wales Premier Robert Askin and Police Commissioner Norman Allan. Although no evidence has yet surfaced to reliably link Saffron to Nielsen's disappearance, there are significant circumstantial connections—Saffron owned the Carousel club, where Nielsen was last seen, Saffron associate (and Carousel manager) Jim Anderson reportedly borrowed large sums from Frank Theeman, and Alan Saffron's 2008 book about his father claims that Theeman was one of several prominent Sydney business identities to whom Saffron lent money through a loan sharking operation, a claim which links to earlier reports that Theeman had tried to borrow money from Saffron to cover his 'loans' to Jim Anderson. Also, as well as her campaign against Theeman's development, Nielsen was also reportedly investigating vice and corruption in Kings Cross.
- James Anderson has long been considered a prime suspect, although he protested his innocence right up until his death in 2003, and the recent book by Alan Saffron supports the allegations that Anderson organised Nielsen's abduction. Like his boss Abe Saffron, Anderson's circumstantial connections to the Nielsen case are numerous: he reportedly borrowed a considerable sum of money from Theeman; he had business links to both Theeman and Theeman's "drug troubled" son, and he was a known associate of the three men charged with conspiring to kidnap Nielsen. Anderson always insisted that he was in Surfers Paradise, Queensland with another person on the day of Nielsen's disappearance, and that he flew there with another man on 4 July and stayed for about three days in a room booked in his wife's name at the Chevron Hotel. However, Loretta Crawford later claimed that Anderson was at his home in the eastern Sydney suburb of Vaucluse that day and that she spoke to him by telephone. Police did not fully investigate Anderson's alibi, and they only determined that his car, which was left at Sydney Airport, had received two parking tickets. Police reportedly failed to contact the man that Anderson claimed had accompanied him to Surfers Paradise, nor did they verify whether Anderson actually flew there on that day or checked into the hotel.
- Det. Sgt Fred Krahe, the former detective, has been named on several occasions by investigative journalists and experts on the case as Juanita's killer. He was a regular customer at the Venus Room, a nightclub owned by Abe Saffron, who also owned the Carousel Club, and it has been repeatedly alleged that Krahe organised the "heavies" hired by the developers to intimidate stubborn residents and force them out. The 1994 parliamentary Joint Committee identified Anderson and Krahe as significant suspects in Nielsen's disappearance. Alleged hit-man James Bazely named Krahe as the killer of Griffith anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay, and it has also been claimed that another allegedly corrupt detective, Supt. Don Fergusson, who was reported to have killed himself with his service pistol in the toilets at police headquarters, had in fact been executed by Krahe.
The Kings Cross Sting Private Investigation named three persons of interest in the case of Juanita Nielsen.
- Morris, Richard. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A150556b.htm
- Hickie, David. The Prince and The Premier p. 284
- "The Juanita Nielsen Mystery", 7:30 Report, broadcast ABC-TV, 16 February 2004
- Ean Higgins, "Nielsen Story In Lawyer's Hands", The Australian, 4 March 2013
- "The Juanita Nielsen mystery". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 16 February 2004.
- "Juanita Nielsen, casualty of ideological war". Sydney Morning Herald. 3 March 2004.
- "The Disappearance of Juanita Nielsen". Nine Network – Sunday. Retrieved 3 September 2005.
- "Unsolved". Persons Missing. Retrieved 3 September 2005.
- "The Kings Cross Sting".