Murder of Anita Cobby
Anita Lorraine (Lynch) Cobby, winning the Miss Western Suburbs beauty Pageant in November 1979
Anita Lorraine Lynch
2 November 1959
|Died||2 February 1986 (aged 26)|
|Cause of death||Homicide|
|Resting place||Pine Grove Memorial Park|
Anita Lorraine Cobby (née Lynch) (2 November 1959 – 2 February 1986) was a 26-year-old Australian registered nurse and beauty pageant winner who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered while walking home from Blacktown railway station after dining out with two Sydney Hospital colleagues in Surry Hills, New South Wales, just before 10:00 p.m. on 2 February 1986. Two days after being reported missing, Cobby's body was discovered on a rural farm in Prospect. Investigations led to the arrest of five men who were later convicted of her abduction, rape and murder on 10 June 1987 and each sentenced to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, on 16 June 1987.
At the time of the killing, Cobby sustained multiple knife wounds and lacerations from barbed wire; her death was a result of a slit throat. The murder received widespread media coverage, condemnation, and attention.
Anita Lynch was born in Sydney on 2 November 1959, to Garry Bernard Lynch, a graphic artist with the Royal Australian Air Force, and Grace "Peggy" Lynch, a nurse. As a teenager she participated in beauty pageants, including winning the Miss Western Suburbs Pageant in November 1979, and had a promising career as a model. However, she decided instead to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a nurse.
She met her future husband, John Cobby, while studying for her nursing degree at Sydney Hospital. They married on 27 March 1982. At the time of Cobby's murder in 1986, the couple had separated and Cobby was living with her parents in Blacktown, New South Wales. According to John Cobby, he and Anita were on good terms and, when she was murdered, had been planning to reconcile.
Cobby worked in Sydney and commuted daily from her home in Blacktown. On the day of the murder, she finished work at Sydney Hospital at 3 p.m. and met friends for dinner in nearby Redfern. Cobby then caught a train from Central railway station to Blacktown station. Arriving at Blacktown, she would usually ring her father who would pick her up. On the day of her death, she most likely decided to walk home after finding the phone to be out of order and no taxis available at the taxi rank. Aside from her killers, only two witnesses saw Cobby after she left the train station.
Cobby was walking alone from the station along Newton Road, Blacktown around 10 p.m., when the gang of five men drove up beside her and stopped their stolen white HT Holden Kingswood. Two men leaped from the car and dragged her into the vehicle, kicking and screaming. A 13-year-old boy, his younger sister and mother heard someone screaming from their house directly opposite and had gone outside in time to see Cobby forced into the attackers' car. The boy ran across the road to help, but the car drove off before he reached it. Returning home he telephoned the police to report what he had seen. A few minutes later, their neighbour and his girlfriend arrived home and, after being told of the abduction, drove off to search for the car. They eventually drove down Reen Road (now known as Peter Brock Drive), Prospect and stopped by the now-empty Holden, where he used a spot light to search the adjacent paddock. Seeing nothing in the paddock and believing the car he was looking for was a different model Holden, he decided to return home. The attackers later stated that they had hidden in the long grass to avoid the spotlight and waited for the man to leave.
Once inside the car on Newton Road, Cobby had been ordered to strip off her clothes but refused, begging her attackers to let her go and saying she was married and also menstruating. Her attackers punched Cobby repeatedly, breaking her nose and both cheekbones, before forcing her to perform fellatio on all five men. The attackers then drove to a service station to purchase fuel using money stolen from Cobby's purse. Cobby was then driven down Reen Road to the secluded paddock, while being held down in the car, raped repeatedly, and being continually beaten by her five attackers. They then dragged the brutally beaten Cobby into the paddock along a barbed wire fence, where they dumped her and continued to sexually and physically abuse her for some time. According to his taped confession, one of the attackers, John Travers, then became concerned that Cobby could identify them because she had seen their faces and heard their names, and convinced the other attackers to kill her. Urged on by the others, Travers slit her throat, almost severing her head.
When Cobby did not return home, her family initially thought she was staying overnight with a friend, but after learning that she failed to appear at work the next day, they reported her missing on 3 February. On the morning of 4 February, her nude body was found in the paddock by a farmer investigating what his cows were milling around. Cobby's body was initially identified by her distinctive wedding ring, which was still on her finger when she was found. Her estranged husband John was initially suspected of her murder, but was quickly cleared.
The Australian public reacted with anger upon hearing details of Cobby's murder. On 6 February, the NSW state government posted a A$50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Cobby's killers. Also on 6 February, morning radio host John Laws obtained a leaked copy of Cobby's autopsy report, which contained explicit details of her injuries, and read it live on the air, both shocking and galvanising public sentiment. In a 2016 interview with Seven News, Laws said he did it because he felt "the general public ought to know" and that "it incited anger in the public that murders like this were happening and we weren't being given the full details".
On 9 February, police re-enacted Cobby's movements on the night of her disappearance in the hope of jogging the memories of travellers or others who might have seen her. Constable Debbie Wallace wore similar clothing to Cobby and travelled the 9:12 p.m. train to Blacktown. Detectives interviewed the passengers and showed them photos of Cobby whilst Wallace walked the length of the train during the journey.
Following a tip-off from a police informant regarding the stolen Holden, police started searching for Travers, Michael Murdoch, and brothers Les, Michael and Gary Murphy after they discovered that some of them had a history of violence, and that Travers had a reputation for carrying a knife. On 21 February, police arrested Travers and Murdoch at the home of Travers' uncle and Les Murphy at Travers' own house. Murdoch and Murphy were charged with offences relating to stolen cars and released on police bail. Travers, who admitted that he had stolen a car, made conflicting statements about the murder and was detained in police custody. While in custody, he requested that a friend be called so she could bring him cigarettes. The phone number was handed to the investigating police who contacted the friend, a woman.
The woman, Travers' aunt – eventually dubbed "Miss X" – agreed to help with the investigation, met with an officer, and gave him details of Travers' background. Miss X was subsequently sent back in to talk to Travers, agreeing to hide a recording microphone device in her bra while she visited him in his cell and was able to obtain a confession. Miss X later went to Murdoch's home while wearing the concealed recording device to capture his statements on tape as well. Eventually, five men were arrested and charged with the murder. Police were praised for their quick response in capturing all suspects involved. In total, 22 days had elapsed from the time of the murder to the time all suspects were taken into custody.
The five men charged, who later all pleaded guilty or were convicted of the murder, had over fifty prior convictions for offences including armed robbery, assault, larceny, car theft, breaking and entering, drug use, escaping lawful custody, receiving stolen goods and rape.
John Raymond Travers, considered the ringleader of the gang, was raised in poverty in Blacktown, the oldest of eight children from unmarried teenage parents. By age 14, he was already an alcoholic, and was expelled from high school during Year 10 for being continually disruptive to other students. Beyond schooling, Travers held few jobs and relied mostly on unemployment benefits as a source of income. He was eventually committed to Boys Town, a juvenile detention facility, by his mother. His father, with whom he never shared a close relationship, left the household in 1981. Finding it difficult to support the family, Travers relied on crime to provide food, stealing animals such as chickens and ducks from nearby households. The health of Travers' mother eventually deteriorated, and he and his siblings were sent to live with foster families while she was hospitalised. Travers had a history of violent sexual behaviour and bestiality. Witnesses have recounted that on several occasions, he had bought a live sheep for a barbecue and slit the animal's throat as he sodomised it before roasting its carcass on a spit.
Michael Murdoch was a childhood friend and criminal associate of Travers. He had also spent a great part of his childhood in juvenile prisons, where he experienced sexual assaults. He was known to have written to politicians during this period of imprisonment seeking protection from such assaults.
Michael, Gary and Les Murphy, three brothers from a family of nine children, were also accused of the crime.
- Michael Murphy, aged 33, was the eldest of the nine Murphy children. He was sent to live with his grandmother when he was 12 years of age.
- Gary Murphy, aged 28, was five years younger than Michael. A hearing impairment affected Gary's schooling and he left early to seek work. He was noted as being an able and willing worker before the crimes. Gary's strong interest in cars led to him facing several car theft-related charges in the years preceding the murder. He was known to have a very violent temper.
- Les Murphy, aged 22, was the youngest of the Murphy children, and was known as having the worst temperament. He had faced Children's Court on many occasions for a number of theft-related offences before being accused of the Cobby murder.
The trial began in Sydney on 16 March 1987. Before proceedings began, Travers changed his plea to guilty. Sydney newspaper The Sun published a front-page story on the day the trial began, carrying the headline "ANITA MURDER MAN GUILTY" alongside a large image of Travers. The news story also referred to Michael Murphy as an unemployed prison escapee of no fixed address, and another in the same paper detailed Murphy's criminal convictions and his recent escape from Silverwater Correctional Centre, where he was serving a 25-year sentence for a string of burglaries and thefts. The jury was discharged due to the potentially prejudicial information published about Murphy.
According to the medical examiner's report, Cobby's body showed extensive bruising on her head, breasts, face, shoulders, groin, thighs and legs consistent with "a systematic beating", including a "blow of considerable force around the right eye". She also had lacerations on her hips, thighs and legs from the barbed wire, several cuts to her neck resulting in the severing of her ear and windpipe and near decapitation, and many cuts to her hands and fingers, resulting in the near severing of three of her fingers, which likely occurred when she raised her hands to her face trying to protect herself from the knife. The medical examiner later testified that after Cobby's throat was cut, she would have died within two minutes. The medical examiner later testified that some radio bulletins purportedly based on his own report contained misinformation about the type and extent of Cobby's injuries. She was not mutilated apart from the slashing of her throat and hands, there had been no attack with a knife on her stomach or genitals, and her shoulders had not been dislocated.
The trial for the remaining members of the gang lasted 54 days, with the men's defence relying on convincing the jury of their minimal involvement in the beating and murder. On 10 June 1987, all five were found guilty of sexual assault and murder. On 16 June, they were each sentenced in the Supreme Court of New South Wales to life imprisonment plus additional time without the possibility of parole. Justice Alan Maxwell described the crime as, "One of the most horrifying physical and sexual assaults. This was a calculated killing done in cold blood. The Executive should grant the same degree of mercy they bestowed on their victim."
Cobby's parents would join forces with Christine and Peter Simpson, the parents of murder victim Ebony Simpson, to create the Homicide Victims' Support Group (Aust) Inc.—a community support group that helps families deal with heinous crimes. The Cobbys also campaigned in seeking tougher sentencing and truth in sentencing laws, which eventuated after Cobby's murder. Cobby's father Garry Lynch died on 14 September 2008, aged 90, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Her mother, Grace, died of lung cancer in 2013, at the age of 88. The Lynches had been married for 54 years at the time of Garry's death.
As of 2016[update], John Travers is currently housed in Goulburn Correctional Centre in maximum security. In 1996, he and another inmate were being transported from Goulburn to Long Bay Hospital at Long Bay Correctional Complex when they attempted to escape the prison van by hacksawing the back door. When discovered, the van pulled over at Bowral Police Station to charge them. Travers is regularly in protection at Goulburn after he was involved in bloody fights with other inmates and threatening prison staff.
As of 2016[update], Michael Murphy is currently housed in Goulburn Correctional Centre in maximum security. In 1988, Michael was housed along with his brother Gary in the newly-built Special Protection Unit in Long Bay Correctional Complex. In 1992, he was transferred to Lithgow Correctional Centre, where he was learning Year 10 studies and doing weekly work. A few years later Michael was transferred to Goulburn; he usually keeps to himself and stays out of trouble. In May 2015, he was reclassified to medium security until July 2015, when he was reclassified back to maximum security. In September 2018 it was reported that he had terminal cancer and was living in palliative care.
As of 2016[update], Gary Murphy is currently housed in Lithgow Correctional Centre in maximum security. In 1988, he was housed along with his brother Michael in the newly-built Special Protection Unit in Long Bay Correctional Complex. A few years later, Gary was transferred to Maitland Gaol Correctional Centre, where he was housed till the prison's closure. Gary was then transferred to Lithgow Correctional Centre.
As of 2016[update], Les Murphy is housed in Goulburn Correctional Centre in maximum security. Les has a long list of associates in Goulburn he is not allowed to have contact with and, in 2005, he got into trouble for failing a urine test.
As of 2016[update], Michael Murdoch is currently housed in John Morony Correctional Complex in Windsor, New South Wales in medium security. He used to be a maximum security inmate at Goulburn Correctional Centre till December 1999 when he was reclassified to medium security and he was transferred to Bathurst Correctional Complex. In 2002, Murdoch was reclassified back to maximum security and transferred to Lithgow Correctional Centre after an inmate feared for his life from Murdoch. In 2008, while housed at Lithgow, Murdoch was investigated over a mobile phone being found in his cell block. He was reclassified back to medium security and transferred to John Morony Correctional Complex.
The murder has been covered by several true crime television series, including Crime Investigation Australia in 2006, Crime Stories in 2008, and Australian Families of Crime in 2010. The case was covered by Casefile True Crime Podcast on 22 July 2017. It has also been the subject of several books (see Further reading).
The Australian social-realist film The Boys (1998), directed by Rowan Woods, is, in part, inspired by the Cobby murder and follows the journey of three brothers leading up to a similar crime.
In February 2016, at the time of the 30th anniversary of the murder, police released the taped confessions of Travers and Murdoch that were obtained by Miss X. Seven News broadcast a documentary, 7 News Investigates: Anita Cobby — You Thought You Knew It All, which included the newly released taped confessions and John Cobby's first televised interview about his wife's murder.
- "Anita Cobby's sister tells of ongoing grief and fear nearly 30 years after nurse's murder". The Daily Telegraph (Sydney). November 24, 2015. Retrieved 2017-12-12.
- "Case 56: Anita Cobby - Casefile: True Crime Podcast". Casefile: True Crime Podcast. 2017-07-23. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
- Kidd, Paul B. "The Murder of Anita Cobby: Australia's Worst Crime". TruTV. p. 5. Archived from the original on 25 June 2008. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
- John Cobby (interviewee) (7 February 2016). 7 News Investigates: Anita Cobby — You Thought You Knew It All (Television broadcast documentary). Australia: Seven News.
- "Chilling images of Anita Cobby's killers with police at murder scene". dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
- "The Anita Cobby Murder". Crime Investigation Australia. Season 1. Episode 8. September 2006. Crime & Investigation Network (Australia). Archived from the original on 26 April 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
- John Travers (taped confession) (7 February 2016). 7 News Investigates: Anita Cobby — You Thought You Knew It All (Television broadcast documentary). Australia: Seven News.
- "The Blacktown Boys". Crime Stories. Season 6. Episode 1. 25 January 2008. truTV.
- John Laws (interviewee) (7 February 2016). 7 News Investigates: Anita Cobby — You Thought You Knew It All (Television broadcast documentary). Australia: Seven News.
- Kidd, Paul B. "The Murder Of Anita Cobby: Australia's Worst Crime". truTV. Archived from the original on 2 July 2008. Retrieved 14 July 2008.
- MURPHY v. THE QUEEN AND MURDOCH v. THE QUEEN AND MURPHY v. THE QUEEN  HCA 28 (30 May 1989), High Court (Australia)
- "Mrs Cobby 'Beaten Systematically'". The Canberra Times. 27 March 1987. p. 13. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
- Macey, Richard (25 June 1986). "Anita May Have Died in Two Minutes, Court Told". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 3. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
- Ian "Speed" Kennedy, former detective (interview) (7 February 2016). 7 News Investigates: Anita Cobby — You Thought You Knew It All (Television broadcast documentary). Australia: Seven News.
- Macey, Richard (27 June 1986). "Travers Cut Anita's Throat, Court Told". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 3. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
- Sheppard, Julia (14 September 2008). "Father of Anita Cobby dies at 90". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 6 November 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2008.
- Fife-Yeomans, Janet (9 July 2013). "Anita Cobby's mother Grace Lynch is buried covered in the bright blooms that reminded her of her murdered child". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 10 July 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- Sutton, Candace (20 September 2018). "Anita Cobby killer Michael Murphy in palliative care". news.com.au. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
- "Blood Brothers: Murphys, Murdoch, and Travers". Australian Families of Crime. Season 1. Episode 8. 29 June 2010. Nine Network.
- Gates, Anita (15 October 1999). "The Boys (1998)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 March 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
- Mitchell, Tony (27 July 2005). "Minimalist menace: The Necks score The boys". Screening the Past. La Trobe University.
- Biron, D. (2013). "The Aesthetics of Conservatism" (210). Overland: 72–77. Archived from the original on 18 March 2014.
- Christian, Natasha (8 February 2016). "'He Doesn't Want to Know, It Makes It Real': Anita Cobby's Husband Refuses to Learn the Names of His Wife's Killers". Seven News. Australia. Archived from the original on 9 April 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
- "Chilling Recordings of Cobby Murder Confession". The Australian Women's Weekly. 9 February 2016. Archived from the original on 10 February 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
- Robbo (22 July 2010). "Murder of Anita Cobby". aussiecriminals.com.au. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
- Morri, Mark (2016). Remembering Anita Cobby: The Case, the Husband, the Aftermath – 30 Years On. Ebury Australia. ISBN 978-1-925324-15-0.
- Sheppard, Julia (1991). Someone Else's Daughter. Ironbark Press. p. 215. ISBN 1-875471-02-2.
- Whiticker, Alan (2015). Anita Cobby: The Crime That Shocked the Nation. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 978-1-74257-791-3.
- "Artists put human face of tragedy in new light". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 March 2003. Archived from the original on 3 January 2014.
- "Anita and Beyond". The Sydney Morning Herald. 4 March 2003. Archived from the original on 11 April 2014.
- Casefile True Crime Podcast - Case 56: Anita Cobby - 22 July 2017
- Murder of Anita Cobby at Find a Grave