Murder of Anita Cobby
Anita (Lynch) Cobby in 1979
|Born||Anita Lorraine Lynch
2 November 1959
Sydney, New South Wales
|Died||2 February 1986
Prospect, New South Wales
|Cause of death||Homicide|
Anita Lorraine Cobby (née Lynch, 2 November 1959 – 2 February 1986) was an Australian registered nurse and beauty pageant winner who was abducted from the western Sydney suburb of Blacktown. Cobby was raped and murdered at nearby Prospect on the evening of 2 February 1986. Five men, including three brothers, were convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, without any possibility of parole. The murder caused much outrage within the community and Australia at large, with some people subsequently campaigning for the reinstatement of capital punishment. The NSW Premier, Neville Wran, described it as the vilest crime of the century.
Anita Lorraine Lynch was born 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 and had a promising career as a model, but 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. They married on 27 March 1982.
At the time of Anita Cobby's 1986 murder, 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 were planning to reconcile when she was murdered.
Cobby worked in Sydney and commuted daily from her home in Blacktown. On the day of the murder, Cobby finished work at Sydney Hospital at 3 pm and met friends for dinner in nearby Redfern. She then caught a train from Central Station to Blacktown Station. Arriving at Blacktown station 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. Aside from her killers, only two witnesses saw her after she left the train station.
Cobby was walking alone from the train station along Newton Road, Blacktown around 10 pm, when the gang of five men drove up beside her and stopped their stolen HT Holden Kingswood. Two men leaped from the car and dragged her into it, kicking and screaming. A 13-year-old boy and his younger sister 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 older brother arrived home and after being told of the abduction drove off to search for the car. He eventually drove down Reen Road (now known as Peter Brock Drive), Prospect (a local "lovers' lane"), and stopped by an empty HT 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, 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. Her attackers then drove to a service station to purchase fuel using money stolen from Cobby's purse. She was then driven down Reen Road to a secluded paddock, while being held down in the car, raped repeatedly, and being continually beaten by her five attackers. They then dragged her into the paddock along a barbed wire fence where they dumped the brutally beaten Cobby and continued to sexually assault 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 that she must be killed. Urged on by the others, Travers slit her throat, almost severing her head. The medical examiner later testified that after Cobby's throat was cut, she would have died within two minutes.
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 4 February, her nude body was found in the paddock by the farmer who kept cows there. Her body was initially identified by her distinctive wedding ring, which was still on her finger when she was found.
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. Her eyes were still open when her body was found, indicating that she had seen her killer inflict her fatal wounds. (The medical examiner also testified that contrary to some radio reports made after the crime, Cobby 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.)
Cobby's estranged husband John was initially suspected of her murder, but was quickly cleared. On 6 February 1986, the NSW State Government posted a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Cobby's killers. Also on 6 February, John Laws, who was at that time the host of an extremely popular morning radio program, obtained a leaked copy of Cobby's autopsy report, which contained explicit details of her injuries, and read it live on the air. 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". The Australian public reacted with anger upon hearing details of Cobby's murder. The medical examiner later testified that some radio reports purportedly based on his own report contained misinformation about the type and extent of Cobby's injuries.
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 witnessed her movements. 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 a stolen vehicle, police started searching for John Travers, Michael Murdoch, and Les, Michael and Gary Murphy after they discovered that some of them had a history of violence and Travers had a reputation for carrying a knife. On 21 February, police found and arrested Travers and Murdoch at Travers' uncle's house and Les Murphy at Travers' 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, had also made conflicting statements about the murder. He was detained in police custody.
While in custody, Travers 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 agreed to help with the investigation, met with an officer, and gave him details of Travers' background. The woman was Travers' aunt, who became known as "Miss X". Miss X was subsequently sent back in to talk to him, 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 the home of Michael Murdoch 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 was raised in poverty in Blacktown, New South Wales, Australia. At 14 Travers was already an alcoholic. Travers was expelled from high school during Year 10 for being continually disruptive to other students. Beyond schooling, he 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, leaving Travers as the head of the family. 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. She died in 1989.
The oldest of eight children from unmarried teenage parents, Travers had a history of violence and was considered the ringleader of the gang of attackers responsible for the murder. Travers had a history of violent sexual behaviour and bestiality. Witnesses have recounted that on several occasions he had bought a sheep for a BBQ and then slit the animal's throat as he sodomized it. He would then roast the animal on a spit for his guests.
Michael Murdoch was a childhood friend and criminal associate of Travers. Murdoch 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 was 33 at the time of the murder. He was the eldest of the nine Murphy children. Murphy was sent to live with his grandmother when 12 years of age.
- Gary Murphy, aged 28 was five years younger than Michael Murphy. A hearing impairment affected Gary Murphy's schooling and he left early to seek work. He was noted as being an able and willing worker before the crimes. His strong interest in cars led to him facing several car theft related charges in the years preceding the murder. Gary was known to have a very violent temper.
- Les Murphy was the youngest of the Murphy children, but 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 Anita Cobby murder. He was 22 years old at the time of the 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.
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 1987, they were each sentenced in the Supreme Court of New South Wales to life imprisonment plus additional time, never to be released. 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 were the founders of the Homicide Victims' Support Group (Aust) Inc. - a community support group that helps families deal with heinous crimes. They also campaigned in seeking tougher sentencing and truth in sentencing laws which eventuated after Anita 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.
The murder has been the subject of an episode of several true crime television series, including a September 2006 episode of Crime Investigation Australia, a January 2008 episode of Crime Stories, and a June 2010 episode of Australian Families of Crime. 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 Anita Cobby murder and follows the journey of three brothers leading up to the crime.
In February 2016, at the time of the 30th anniversary of Cobby's murder, police released the taped confessions of John Travers and Michael 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 the first television interview ever with John Cobby discussing his wife's murder.
- Murphy v R High Court of Australia MURPHY v. THE QUEEN AND MURDOCH v. THE QUEEN AND MURPHY v. THE QUEEN 1989 HCA 28, 30 May 1989
- "Anita Cobby murder: Brutal rape and murder of nurse haunts Australia 29 years later".
- "Anita Cobby's Sister Tells of Ongoing Grief and Fear 30 Years After Nurse's Murder". The Daily Telegraph (Sydney). 24 November 2015. Archived from the original on 16 April 2016. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
- 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.
- "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.
- Macey, Richard (25 June 1986). "Anita May Have Died in Two Minutes, Court Told". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 3. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
- "The Blacktown Boys". Crime Stories. Season 6. Episode 1. January 25, 2008. truTV.
- "Mrs Cobby 'Beaten Systematically'". The Canberra Times. 27 March 1987. p. 13. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Blood Brothers: Murphys, Murdoch, and Travers". Australian Families of Crime. Season 1. Episode 8. 29 June 2010. Nine Network.
- Anita Gates (15 October 1999). "The Boys (1998)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 March 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
- Minimalist menace: The Necks score The boys Tlweb.latrobe.edu.au
- 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.
- 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.