To have a loved one go missing must be one of the worse tragedies that could befall a family or friend; yet in Australia 38,000 people go missing every year. Some of course, return home or eventually make contact with loved ones. But this book, with its sub-heading Terrible Crimes, Incredible Stories, tells of 18 infamous cases of true life from Australia’s past where people, from children to adults, have mysteriously disappeared and never found. The stories certainly make for gripping reading, but the publication of the book also offers hope. The hope is a reader – or readers -- of this book might have their memory pricked and thus provide further clues to help cold case investigators in their quest to solve find their loved ones – or even the remains of their loved ones.
Author Justine Ford has reported on the top-rating TV series Australia’s Most Wanted; as well, she has covered scores of chilling homicides and missing persons’ cases, has access to police all over Australia, and has interviewed surviving relatives, all of whom want to know the truth so their minds can be finally put to rest.
All of her stories here are chilling and sad, but perhaps the story which most lingers in this reader’s mind is that of seven-year-old Linda Stillwell who disappeared from St Kilda, a Melbourne suburb, in 1969. Shortly after this, a 21-year old-sailor, Derek Percy, grabbed another Melbourne girl, Yvonne Tuohy, held a dagger to her throat and abducted her. In this case there was enough evidence to convict Percy and he was sentenced to prison. However, detectives then, and decades later, believed that Percy – a vile, sexually violent man – had abducted and murdered other children (perhaps nine of them), including Linda Stillwell.
More than a decade ago, Detective Senior Sergeant Wayne Newman was handed Linda’s case. By this time Percy was in the terminal stages of lung cancer. Faced with the possibility that Percy might confess to his crimes, the cold case detective spent hours by his bedside trying to build up a rapport. Percy denied harming Linda, as well as the other innocent victims whose names were sadly associated with his own. However, he gave enough information for a coroner to decide that Percy had caused Linda’s death even though her body was never recovered.
Not all relatives of missing people are able to have such closure. There are numerous stories in Unsolved Australia where relatives still know nothing about the whereabouts of their loved ones even decades later. But what is obvious in these stories is that there is always hope. The stories are all detailed and fascinating, and it is gratifying to know that detectives still work on cases to try to bring closure to relatives. The book also includes interesting interviews and profiles of personnel in the murder ‘industry’, such as a forensic pathologist, a hair examiner and forensic biologist, an archaeologist, a forensic anthropologist, a defense barrister, a missing person’s counselor and a victims’ advocate and crime crusader.
It is hoped that Ford’s well-researched and well-written accounts will achieve one of the book’s main goals – to have readers come forward to provide evidence which might help to solve at least one of these dastardly and heart-breaking crimes.
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
Title: Unsolved Australia
Author: Justine Ford
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication Date: $32.99 RRP
Type: Adult Non Fiction