Murder of Anita Cobby
|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 this century.
Anita Lorraine Lynch was born on 2 November 1959, to Garry Bernard Lynch and Grace "Peggy" Lynch. She met her future husband, John Cobby, while studying for her nursing degree. They married on 27 March 1982. At the time of her murder, though, the couple had separated and Cobby was living with her parents in Blacktown, New South Wales.
Cobby worked in Sydney and commuted daily from her home at 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, 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. Then they dragged her into the paddock along a barbed wire fence where they dumped the brutally beaten Cobby. After hiding from the man searching for them, one of the attackers, John Travers, returned to Cobby where he slit her throat, almost decapitating her. She was conscious for at least 3 minutes as she bled to death. Cobby was reported missing by her family on 3 February. Her body was found in a farmer's field on 4 February. Cobby's body had extensive bruising on her head, breasts, face, shoulders, groin, thighs and legs.
On 6 February, the NSW State Government posted a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of her killers. 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, who became known as Miss X, talked to Travers and he confessed the crime to her. Miss X was subsequently sent back in to talk to him with a recording device, with which she was able to obtain a confession.
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 accused suspects 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. A follow-up story in the same paper detailed Michael Murphy's recent escape from Silverwater Correctional Centre, where he was serving a 25-year sentence for a string of burglaries and thefts, and his criminal convictions. The jury was discharged.
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 murder. On 16 June 1987, they were 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, a graphic artist with the Royal Australian Air Force died on 14 September 2008, aged 90, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Cobby's mother, Grace, a former nurse died of lung cancer in 2013, at the age of 88. The Lynches had been married for 54 years.
The murder was the subject of a September 2006 episode of Australian television series Crime Investigation Australia, and a July 2010 episode of Australian Families of Crime, titled "Blood Brothers: The Anita Cobby Killers". 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.
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