Shirley June Shewring|
November 2, 1941
Fremantle, Western Australia
June 23, 1975 (33 years old)|
South Perth, Western Australia
|Cause of death||Murder|
|Body discovered||Royal Perth Golf Club.|
|Resting place||Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth|
|Known for||Unsolved murder|
|Spouse(s)||Desmond (Des) John Michael Finn (Divorced) (Died 2009)|
|Partner(s)||Rosalie Dean (aka Black)|
Shirley June Finn, née Shewring (2 November 1941 – 22 or 23 June 1975), a Perth brothel keeper, nightclub operator and well-connected businesswoman and socialite, who was shot dead at about midnight on 22–23 June 1975. Her body, dressed in an elaborate ball gown and expensive jewellery, was found at dawn in her car which was parked on a golf course next to a busy freeway. The murder is notable because of Finn's close relationship with Western Australia Police detectives who, in that era, controlled and regulated Perth's prostitution and gambling activities. The crime is unsolved. On 29 August 2017, after 42 years, a coronial inquest was commenced.
Early life and career
A wartime baby, Finn was the eldest child of a bomber pilot,:19 and of necessity was brought up by her mother during her early years. After the war, the family lived in comfortable surroundings in the affluent riverside suburb of Mt Pleasant, where she became a teenager before the birth of her three younger siblings. Though successful at her schoolwork, she was sexually active by age 14, which caused her to be committed for eight months to a notoriously cruel Catholic Church welfare home.:21–25
Her biographer Juliet Wills recounts that Finn left school at 15 and found work at a city frock shop, where she met her husband-to-be Des Finn, a 22-year-old air-force mechanic. They married in Perth and went to live in Melbourne, where he continued with the RAAF and she worked as a sales assistant at Buckley & Nunn. Her sons Steven and Shane were born in 1959 and 1960 respectively. They transferred back to Perth, where daughter Bridget was born in 1961.:29 (Bridget later adopted her mother's maiden name of Shewring).
When her husband suffered a serious injury and subsequent mental instability, Shirley Finn was aged 21 and chose sex-oriented activities as a means of supporting her three children, including strip-dancing and body-painting. She also joined a witchcraft coven which conducted "black magic and sex" activities in Kings Park.:31 From this she advanced to a career of topless dancing and body painting in association with a travelling fairground boxing troupe. In 1969 Finn was conducting a "body painting and escort business" which was raided by police, and she was charged and convicted with "keeping premises for the purpose of prostitution." As a result, the family was socially ostracised and the children had to leave the Catholic primary school:35
Finn became associated with King's Cross, Sydney, brothel operator Dorothea Flatman who transferred to Perth in 1968 and set up a number of brothels under the symbiotic protection of Australian vice overlord Abe Saffron and a policy of "containment" upheld by the W.A. Police. It seems that she, Stella Strong (also from Sydney) and Shirley Finn were among a privileged few allowed to operate in the prostitution business under the rigorous line management of Vice Squad chief Bernard Johnson.:47–48
Finn's body was found by a motorcycle traffic officer at about 8.30 a.m. on Monday 23 June 1975, in her parked Dodge DG Phoenix car near the 9th fairway of the Royal Perth Golf Club, South Perth. The location is clearly visible from the adjacent Kwinana Freeway, from which it was then separated only by a waist-high fence and an access road (Melville Parade). Inside the car, Finn's body was slumped behind the wheel with four bullet holes in her head. She wore valuable diamond jewellery which had not been touched.:133
It has been alleged by Finn's biographer Juliet Wills that the long-established police map of the crime scene is grossly erroneous, incorrectly locating the Dodge Phoenix near the 5th tee, more than 100 metres from the 9th green, near the golf clubhouse, where the body was found. If true, the allegation exposes a probability that evidence of important witnesses was ignored or discounted if it did not accord with the police map.
At the time, various rumours regarding the murder attributed it to specific issues relating to prostitution and the way it was being handled by police and government in Perth, but no evidence of this was made public.
The murder, and the implied connections with issues relating to policing of the sex industry, resulted in a Royal Commission being held. Continued interest in Finn's murder, and the apparent lack of evidence, led to periodic speculation as to the murderer's identity and has been the subject of numerous articles and television pieces and two books—Juliet Wills's 'Dirty Girl' and David Whish-Wilson's crime novel 'Line of Sight'. There is evidence that major Sydney underworld figures were in Perth at the time, including vice king Abe Saffron and corrupt police officer Roger Rogerson, yet no significant line of investigation was pursued by the police.
In 1985, according to former state premier Brian Burke, a "very senior police officer" was under investigation for murder, resulting in that officer's retirement and the matter then being deemed to have been "resolved". The West Australian newspaper reported Burke's belief that the subject killing was that of Shirley Finn.
In 2014, another cold-case review was launched by WA Police. The following year, the Corruption and Crime Commission confirmed it had received new information about the murder. News reports said a former policeman had spoken about seeing Shirley Finn with detectives in the bar of the old central police station, in East Perth, on the night she was killed. As of 7 September 2017[update], no further information had been released by police about their cold-case review.
On 6 March 2017, the ABC Television documentary series Australian Story aired a story titled "Getting Away With Murder" which revealed that a coronial inquest would be conducted in 2017. The story also presented testimony from Shirley Finn's former driver, Leigh Beswick, that Finn had an extended relationship with then police minister Ray O'Connor.
The inquest scheduled to open on 11 September 2017 was in fact commenced on Tuesday 29 August to take evidence from former WA detective James Archibald Boland about an officially documented 1975 rumour that Sydney criminal Neddy Smith had flown to Perth "for an arranged meeting with [Shirley Finn] and an unnamed police officer."
The public hearing was adjourned on 20 December 2017 and resumed on 23 July 2018. After a week, it was again adjourned for 6 months, "allowing new leads to be followed up and two scientific investigations to be completed". Coroner Barry King acknowledged limitations but had not given up hope. He urged persons with information to come forward.
James Archibald Boland (29 August) said he had met a man known as Keith Alan Lewis who told him that Neddy Smith flew to Perth on June 23 and was "paid $5000 to kill her on behalf of her business partners." An official police document, known as “serial 393”, was produced to support the witness's claim that "Mr Lewis had been willing to provide information about Smith in exchange for fraud charges against his boyfriend being downgraded." Following suggestions that Smith was aiming to take control of Perth brothels, Boland said he was ordered by former CIB boss Don Hancock not to have any further involvement in the inquiry.
Bridget Shewring (13 September), daughter of the deceased, claimed her 1975 statement was twisted or mishandled by detectives, and that her mother's partner Rose Black may not have revealed all she knows.
Phillip Hooper (13 September} testified that he saw nightclub owner Lawrence Tudori and another man at the scene of the crime, and that he was subsequently intimidated into silence by them and Bruce Wilson, a former Australian Workers Union leader.
Frank Zanetti (18 September), is a former WA Police deputy commissioner who, as a detective-sergeant, had signed Keith Alan Lewis's statement about Neddy Smith. He had no memory of any action taken to investigate the Smith tip-off. Despite recognition of the omission in 1993, the police did not interview Smith until 2014 and had not yet disclosed any details.
[Zanetti] was asked how so many reports from the investigation had seemingly disappeared, why his name and signature appeared on countless police documents he had no memory of, and why — after only four months — it appeared police began to wind down the investigation.
Jacqueline De Gaye (19 September), a close friend of Ms Finn who wrote down and kept details of conversations occurring two days before the murder, in which Ms Finn said she had received a death threat from Owen Leitch, who was about to become police commissioner.
John Mearns (20 September) reported to police the presence of a small green vehicle at the murder scene and was told the evidence was not needed. Mearns has also reported being warned that he was potentially in danger from police.
Ray Gardner (20 September), an excitable taxi-driver, claimed to have seen Ray O'Connor shoot a lady twice in the head and then fire at the taxi. Details of his evidence were at odds with known facts, e.g., he said it was a "beautiful fine day" when it was actually raining heavily.
Edward (Ted) and Elaine Moseley (20 November) said they saw a woman at the golf course matching Rose Black's description on the night of the murder.
Gregory Hall (21 November) testified that he was a bagman for Vice Squad chief Bernie Johnson, whom he feared.
Brian Eddy (21 November) is the former motorcycle traffic officer who said he saw Ms Finn with Johnson at the police canteen shortly before she was killed.
Geoffrey McMurray (21 November), a motorcycle traffic officer, was first to discover the crime scene and noted the early arrival and departure of Johnson.
Leigh Varis-Beswick (22 November) had been employed as Ms Finn's driver "from about 1968 to 1971, before going on to work as a prostitute for Ms Finn". She was at some time in a relationship with corrupt police officer Tony Lewandowski who allegedly told her in 2004 that he was present when Don Hancock shot and killed Ms Finn. Lewandowski had previously admitted fabricating evidence in the Perth Mint Swindle.
Maxwell Raymond Healy (23 November), a past associate of Hancock, Johnson and O'Connor, testified that he was beaten up at the Zanzibar nightclub for talking about having seen Johnson on the night and in the neighbourhood of the murder scene. At Wooroloo Prison, O'Connor implicated Johnson in procuring (from a police store) the rifle used to kill Finn.
Ron William Brown (23 November) confirmed he accompanied Johnson on a long sea journey after Ms Finn's death, but rejected a suggestion that Johnson had thrown a rifle overboard.
Michael Joseph Regan (24 November} is a former junior police officer who used to drive for all the top detectives and knew that Johnson had targeted Mrs Finn to be killed.
Peter Burns (28 November), a former security guard at the University of Western Australlia, said police ignored his evidence and falsely fabricated his statement when he reported seeing and speaking to Ms Finn near the University campus at about 11.30 the night she was killed.
Rose Black (29 November), Finn's partner, testified that Finn had large tax debts she could not afford and that she was meeting a man she called "the Bear" who was "bringing someone over from Sydney" to sort out her tax bill.
Glen Maxwell Properjohn (30 November), a friend and dressmaker to Ms Finn, expressed his instinctive belief that Johnson had arranged a contract killing by a Sydney hitman.
Robin Thoy (11 December) is a former detective who knew and feared the 'purple circle' police clique as "pretty powerful people" who "could do whatever they wanted."
Laurie Tyler (11 December) was then a young detective, who saw Abe Saffron, Roger Rogerson and Bernie Johnson drinking together at Saffron's Raffles Hotel. He learned not to ask questions.
Kevin Parker (11 December) is the "Keith Alan Lewis" alleged by James Boland to have implicated Neddy Smith as an interstate hitman. Testifying via phone link from Melbourne, Parker strongly denied and ridiculed counsel's suggestion that he tried to do "a deal" with Mr Boland to help a friend.
Lindsay Okamoto, who was involved in the initial murder investigation, said he had no concerns about the "purple circle" of senior police (whom he identified as Catholics) and that rumours of Bernie Johnson's involvement did not emerge until 10 years after the event.
Bob Meyers (13 December) is a convicted horse-race fixer with police friends including Colin Pace, who told him Johnson had shot Ms Finn with a gun from the police armoury.
William Burnett (20 December), a former policeman, testified that he searched for the .22-calibre Anschutz rifle used in the killing but was unaware that a rifle of that type was missing from police custody.
Linda Watson (20 December), who was a Perth brothel madam in the 1980s, said the vice-squad boss Bernie Johnson threatened that she would "end up like Shirley Finn" if she did not co-operate with him; and that she paid police officers about $2000 a week.
Bernie Johnson (excluded as a witness) was head of the Vice Squad at the time of the murder. He was the subject of a written submission by his doctor, Folo Bella, read to the inquest on 12 December 2017. Johnson had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and the doctor concluded "I am of the opinion he has no testamentary capability to give evidence or make any reasonable contribution to any legal proceedings." Johnson's death was reported in April 2018, while the inquest was in recess.
Trevor Lawrence and Gary Timms (22 July), who were police constables in 1975, gave evidence about their presence in the police canteen at the time a page was ripped out of the visitors' book. Both said they had not seen Ms Finn on the night when a drunken senior sergeant objected to the presence of two female teenagers who were associating with junior constables.
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- Crime in Western Australia
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