Adelaide — Australia's City of Corpses
Laid-back Adelaide, the capital of South Australia with its population of one million, is small in comparison to most of the other capital cities of Australia. Rich in culture and beauty, Adelaide and its surrounding districts are responsible for some of the finest wines in Australia.
Throughout Adelaide, seemingly on every corner, are houses of worship of all denominations. For this reason Adelaide is referred to as the City of Churches. And they have never had to canvas for business. South Australians are notoriously reverent.
But there is an inexplicable dark side to Adelaide. Some are now choosing to call it the "City of Corpses." And it is not hard to understand why. Per capita Adelaide and environs has recorded more of Australia's most notorious crimes than any other Australian capital city. In the annals of Australia's most horrific crimes, laid-back Adelaide's sinister past (and present) makes other cities look like Camelot.
Here's just some of Adelaide's appalling track record of carnage in modern times;
1958: Rupert Max Stuart rapes and murders nine-year-old Mary Olive Hattam at Thevenard.
1966: The three Beaumont children aged 4, 7 and 9 are abducted from Glenelg Beach.
1971: In South Australia's worst mass murders, ten members of the Bartholomew family, comprising of eight children and two women, are shot to death by a man at Hope Forest.
1972: Homosexual Adelaide University Law lecturer, Dr. George Duncan is thrown into the Torrens River and drowns. Two Adelaide vice squad detectives are eventually charged with the death.
1973: Schoolgirl Joanne Ratcliffe, 11, and Kirsty Gordon, 4, disappear from Adelaide Oval while attending a football match and are never seen again.
1976-77: In Australia's worst serial murders, seven women aged 15 to 26, go missing in and around Adelaide over a 51-day period from Christmas 1976. Their skeletal remains are discovered in the Truro district in the Adelaide foothills several years later in what becomes known as The Mass Murders of Truro. James Miller is sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for his part in the murders.
1979: David Szach murders his lover, lawyer Derrance Stevenson, and conceals the body in a freezer in Parkside.
1979-83: Between 1979 and 1983 in what would become known as "the Family Murders," five men are abducted, drugged, held captive, sexually assaulted, hideously mutilated and murdered.
1984: Sexual sadist Bevan Von Einem is tried for the horrific torture and murder of a 15-year-old youth. Later, Von Einem is charged with numerous other horrendous crimes relating to the "Family Murders."
1994: A letter bomb kills Sergeant Geoff Bowen at the Adelaide offices of the National Crime Authority.
1999: In "the case of the casked cadavers in the crypt," six bodies are found in casks filled with acid in a bank vault in rural Snowtown, which leads police to the discovery of another five bodies buried in and around Adelaide. Four men are charged with murder.
Of these cases there are four that are deeply etched into the annals of Australia's most notorious crimes. They are; The Truro Murders, The Snowtown Serial Murders, The Missing Beaumont Children and The Family Murders. The Truro and Snowtown Murders are already covered in The Crime Library.
The mysteries of the missing Beaumont children and the Family Murders could have been linked by the sinister activities of a monster.
The Missing Beaumont Children
Adelaide, the beautiful garden "City of Churches," situated on the torpid Torrens River first came under the national spotlight on 26 January, 1966 when Jane, 9, Arnna, 7, and 4-year-old Grant Beaumont disappeared from South Australia's Glenelg Beach at about 11:15 a.m. while on an outing alone. Their disappearance made headlines all around Australia.
On that morning the weather was fine and the forecast was for a hot and steamy day, ideal conditions for a day at the beach. The Beaumonts were an average Australian family living at suburban Somerton Park, not far from the beach, and the children's father, a traveling salesman, had opted against joining his children at the beach for the day and instead chose to visit on a client. It was a decision that would prove fateful.
At 10 a.m. the children took the bus to the beach, which was only a few minutes ride away. The eldest girl, Jane, was considered old and responsible enough to mind her two siblings. She assured her mother that that they would be home on the midday bus. They caught the bus at the stop just 100 yards from their front door. The bus driver confirmed later that he dropped them five minutes later at Glenelg beach.
When they didn't arrive home their mother wasn't unduly concerned. Children simply didn't go missing in suburban Adelaide, especially from a crowded beach area. She concluded that they must have decided to walk home and had spent their bus fare money on sweets and she would hear the usual ruckus as they ran in the front door at any minute.
When Mr. Beaumont arrived home in the mid-afternoon and his children still weren't home he went looking for them. When they still hadn't been sighted four hours later he notified police and a massive search was launched. By morning their photographs were being circulated to every newspaper across the country telling of every mother's worst nightmare.
Police were left with the three possibilities: that the children had run away; drowned in the surf or had been abducted and were being held for ransom. The only ray of hope was the sighting of the children in the company of a tall blond or light brown-haired young man in blue swimming trunks. Then another witness came forward and said that he had seen the children with the same young blond man in a park opposite the beach and then walking away with him behind the Glenelg Hotel.
Then the local postman came forward and said that he had seen the trio walking up Jetty Road away from the beach and toward their home at about 3 p.m. They were laughing and holding hands.
The police received hundreds of calls about possible sightings of the Beaumont children but they all proved to be fruitless. They had vanished without a trace and have never been seen since.
But there would be a glimmer of hope, albeit a very horrific glimmer, of finding out what happened to the Beaumont children, many years in the future at the committal hearing of one of the most evil murderers in Australia's history.
The Family MurdersAt around midnight on a chilly autumn night in May 1972, on the banks of the Torrens River which flows through the heart of Adelaide and is a notorious "pick up" area frequented at night by homosexuals, Adelaide University lecturer Dr. George Duncan and Roger James were attacked by four men, bashed and thrown in the river and left for dead.
Duncan, a frail man with just one lung as a result of juvenile tuberculosis, was drowned. Severe bruising beneath his arm pits indicated that he had been man-handled and thrown into the freezing river by a number of people.
Roger James escaped with a broken ankle and had been saved by a tall young blond man in his mid-20s, who just happened to be passing by at the time, a Bevan Spencer Von Einem, a name that would be of enormous significance in the time to come.
Dr. George Duncan's death was treated as murder and within days the spotlight fell on three senior Vice Squad detectives who were alleged to have gone to the Torrens River that night in search of "poofters" to bash after they had attended a drunken send-off for one of their comrades. Witnesses said that the detectives were accompanied by a tall civilian whose name never came to light.
All three detectives were called upon to give evidence into a Coronial Inquest into Dr. Duncan's death but all refused to answer any of the incriminating questions put to them and were immediately suspended from duty.
A subsequent police inquiry failed to find sufficient evidence to recommend a prosecution of the three police officers. The public were outraged and while the whole matter stank of a cover-up, there was little that could be done and the incident was soon forgotten... for the time being.
In June 1979, while the God-fearing citizens of Adelaide were trying to come to terms with the murders of seven young women in the Truro Serial Murders, the hideously mutilated body of 17-year-old Alan Barnes was found on the banks of the South Para reservoir northeast of Adelaide. He had been reported missing seven days earlier.
His "fresh" corpse indicated that he had died the day before he was discovered. A post-mortem examination revealed that he had died of massive blood loss from ghastly injuries inflicted upon his anus by a large blunt instrument, while he was still alive.
Two months later police were called to investigate what looked like human body parts found in plastic bags that had floated to rest on the banks of the Port River at Port Adelaide. They turned out to be the dissected remains of 25-year-old Neil Muir, neatly cut into many pieces, placed in the garbage bags and thrown into the river.
In June 1982 the skeletal remains of 14-year-old Peter Stogneff who had gone missing ten months earlier were found at Middle Beach, north of Adelaide, cut into three pieces as if by a surgical saw.
On 27 February 1982, 18-year-old Mark Langley disappeared while walking near the Torrens River. Nine days later his mutilated body was found in scrub in the Adelaide foothills. Among the mutilations was a wound that appeared to have been cut with a surgical instrument that went from his navel to the pubic region. The hair around the area had been shaved as it would have been in an operation in a hospital. Part of his small bowel was missing. The post-mortem revealed that Mark had died from a massive loss of blood from gross injuries to his anus.
By now the zealous press was convinced that the murders were the work of a group of surreptitious Adelaide homosexuals in very high places throughout the community; politicians, judges, religious leaders and the like, who paid handsomely for kidnapped young men who they drugged and kept alive for their pleasure. When the victim was no longer any use to them the procurers disposed of the bodies.
The press christened this unconfirmed clandestine group "the Family" and from then on the case was referred to in the national press as the Adelaide Family Murders.
Note: Two of the three detectives who allegedly threw Dr. George Duncan in the River Torrens in May 1972, and left him to drown, were eventually brought to trial in 1987 in the South Australian Supreme Court, charged with manslaughter.
After a three- week trial, they were found not guilty.
The Tall Blond ManWorking on the now obvious assumption that the murders were the work of the same individual(s) and that the person(s) they wished to talk to most of all was a homosexual, South Australian Police Major Crime Squad detectives infiltrated the vast South Australian homosexual network. Through their secret contacts they came up with a short-list of possible suspects consisting of known deviants and "closet" kinks known only in the homosexual sub-culture.
One such person of interest was a tall, blond, well-groomed, 37-year-old accountant named Bevan Spencer Von Einem. Openly homosexual, Von Einem was well known to police as a frequenter of homosexual pick-up spots or "beats" as they were more commonly known. Von Einem also had a reputation as being particularly fond of young boys, a pastime scorned by the homosexual community.
Von Einem was brought in and questioned at length about the Barnes and Langley killings. He vigorously denied any knowledge of the murders other than what he had read in the papers and the rumours he had heard that were circulating about the specific injuries to the victims. Police had no choice but to let him go. For the time being.
On 23 July, 1983, a fifth victim turned up. Seven weeks earlier, 15-year-old Richard Kelvin was abducted a short distance from his North Adelaide home and his body was found by an amateur geologist off a track near One Tree Hill in the Adelaide foothills. The boy was wearing a Channel Nine T-shirt, jeans and sneakers — the clothes he had on when he left his parent's home on June 5.
He went to a bus stop only 200 yards from his home that afternoon to catch a bus to say goodbye to a friend. Several neighbours reported hearing calls for help at about that time and police were convinced he had been kidnapped.
No real attempt had been made to conceal the body. Police weren't surprised that the post-mortem revealed that the lad had similar grotesque wounds to the anus as the other victims.
The examination also revealed that the teenager had been heavily drugged and had been kept alive for up to five weeks before he was murdered. Richard's body was found to contain traces of four different drugs.
Police rounded up the usual suspects once again and this time Von Einem aroused their suspicions by not protesting as vehemently to their questioning as he had previously. Task force detectives decided to search Von Einem's house and give him and his clothing a thorough scientific once-over. It paid off in spades. In Von Einem's possession they found three of the drugs taken from the dead boy's body and found Von Einem's hair in the deceased's clothing.
Von Einem was charged with the murder of Richard Kelvin. At his trial Von Einem pleaded not guilty and even though he was faced with undeniable evidence that he had been in Kelvin's company, he denied ever having known the boy. Then in a complete turnaround Von Einem said that he had picked Kelvin up one time when he was hitchhiking and dropped him off near his home.
The jury was obviously unimpressed and found him guilty of murder. Bevan Spencer Von Einem was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 24 years which was later increased to 36 years on appeal by the Crown, a record for South Australia.
But that was not to be the end of it. Not by a long shot.
More Murder ChargesThe detectives who had worked on the Kelvin case were absolutely convinced that Von Einem, either alone or with others, most likely with others, was responsible for the deaths of the other youths, or in the very least knew who was. And they had very good reason to be.
Apart from the fact that most of the other victims had suffered the identical anal injuries as Kelvin and had died in similar circumstances, their homosexual informants told them that it was common knowledge that Von Einem regularly picked up young hitch-hikers, drugged them and then sexually abused them.
The detectives worked tirelessly on new leads and new witnesses. After four years they visited Von Einem in Adelaide's Yatala Prison where he was being held for his own safety in the protective custody division and charged him with the murders of Alan Barnes and Mark Langley.
At Von Einem's committal hearing held in 1990, the Crown chose to pursue a committal for Von Einem on the lines that "similar fact evidence" was admissible and alleged that if Von Einem was guilty of the Kelvin murder then he must also be guilty of the murders of Barnes and Langley as they were identical in every fashion.
And further more, the Crown alleged, it had circumstantial evidence that could back this up. Magistrate David Gurry allowed Crown Prosecutor Brian Murray, Queens Council, to proceed along these lines. It would prove to be a disastrous ploy.
And if the packed public gallery thought they had heard stories of unbelievable horror as the evidence unfolded of how the boys had died from the injuries inflicted upon them, then they must have thought that the Crown had saved the most shocking allegations for last.
If what they were about to hear was true, Bevan Spencer Von Einem would go down in history as one of the most sadistic monsters the world has ever known.
The Case for The CrownThe Crown prosecutor called 22 witnesses which included former hitchhikers and associates of Von Einem. The police had really done their homework and had left no stone unturned in their efforts to nail what they believed was the most heinous killer in Australian history.
The first prosecution witness would only give testimony under an alias of "Mr. B" for his own protection and his name was withheld from publication by court order. Mr. B claimed that he believed that Von Einem had killed 10 young people, including five children who had disappeared 24 years earlier.
Mr. B denied that he was a "perpetual liar," and that a reward over the unsolved murders of several Adelaide teenagers, which stood at $250,000, had anything to do with his giving information to police.
In an angry outburst, Mr. B claimed that consideration for relatives of the deceased was part of the reason he was telling what he knew of Von Einem's activities. "I have given a lot of consideration to the relatives of the kids. They deserve to know what's really happened," he told the court.
Mr. B was a former friend of Von Einem's and a homosexual. He said he had evidence that linked Von Einem with the five Family murders and also the disappearances of the three Beaumont children in 1966 and the 1973 disappearance of schoolgirls Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirsty Gordon from Adelaide Oval. The courtroom was stunned. They couldn't believe what they were hearing.
For four days Mr. B testified how he and Von Einem picked up young boys who were hitchhiking and drugged them and raped them. On the night that Alan Barnes had died he and Von Einem went looking for hitchhikers after meeting on the banks of the Torrens River.
He said that they gave Alan Barnes a lift and gave him alcoholic drinks containing a very strong sedative called Rohypnol which they knew that when mixed with alcohol would induce unconsciousness. They all then went into a café where Barnes was obviously affected by the drug and was showing signs of passing out.
Von Einem went away and made a phone call and when he came back said that he had rung a friend and had arranged to meet him back at the Torrens River. They met up with a man known only as "Mr. R." Von Einem went for a walk with Mr. R and came back ten minutes later and asked if Mr. B would like to go with them while they "performed some surgery" on the now unconscious Barnes.
Von Einem went on to say that they also intended to take videos of what happened, then kill Barnes and throw his body from a bridge. Mr. B told the hushed courtroom that he had declined the offer and Von Einem, Mr. R and the unconscious Barnes had driven off.
Mr. B said that he saw Von Einem a few days later and he said that the youth had died and that Mr. R was concerned about what Mr. B knew about what happened. Von Einem then warned him that if he said anything to anyone about what he had seen then he would be implicated in the murder as well.
Mr. B then explained that since that night his life had been a mess and he lived under the constant threats of an "Adelaide businessman."
Resolution to the Beaumont Children Mystery?Mr. B said that Von Einem had also told him that he had picked up the Beaumont children at Glenelg Beach on 26 January, 1966. Von Einem had told him that he went to the beach regularly to have a perve on people in the showers and had picked up three children and had performed some "brilliant surgery on them" and that he had "connected them up" and one had died. Von Einem said that he had dumped the childrens' bodies at Moana or Myponga, south of Adelaide.
Mr. B also said that Von Einem told him that he had also picked up two children at a football match and killed them and even though Von Einem didn't mention any names it seemed apparent that he was talking about Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirsty Gordon who had gone missing from the Adelaide Oval in 1973. Mr. B said that Von Einem didn't elaborate any further.
Mr. B alleged that an Adelaide trader who he says could have helped kill Alan Barnes was in court while he was giving his evidence. "You've got no idea what I've had to go through... coming here... facing crap like (the Adelaide trader) sitting in the body of the court," he said.
The magistrate, Mr. David Gurry, immediately suppressed the name of the Adelaide trader whom Mr. B claimed could have helped kill Alan Barnes. The man's counsel said the trader categorically denied being with Von Einem and Barnes the night Barnes was last seen alive.
The trader was not called as a Crown witness. The trader's counsel said that his business of 20 years would be ruined if he was identified and also challenged Mr. B's claim that the trader was in the public gallery listening to evidence.
Garry Wayne Place, an insurance worker in his 30s, said that he came forward late the year before as he had "had enough" after 11 years of telephone threats to his life if he talked. Mr. Place said that the last anonymous call was about a week earlier and the caller told him to "keep your mouth shut or you and your wife will get it."
Mr. Place told the court that Alan Barnes had introduced Von Einem one Saturday at an Adelaide hotel about a week before his murder. Barnes had also introduced three other people with Von Einem — a doctor whose name sounded like Goodard, a man called Mario, and a woman. There had been talk about a party that night where there would be "women, drugs, booze — anything you like."
Later that week Place and Barnes had gone to a hotel where Von Einem had told him (Place) that if he provided sex, he would get "drugs, women, anything" and the same things would be provided if he brought along some young lads.
Mr. Place told the court that the first threatening telephone call came the night he learnt that Alan Barnes had been murdered. A muffled male voice had said something like: "Keep your mouth shut or you're going to get it," and there had been about 20 other calls that night.
Committal and Dismay
If the parents of the missing children were holding their breathes in the hope that Von Einem was going to admit guilt and tell police where their remains were, then they were sadly mistaken. Von Einem vigorously denied any involvement in the abductions of the children and lashed out at Mr. B claiming that Mr. B was merely out for a portion of the $250,000 reward on offer.
But the circumstantial evidence against him appeared to be overwhelming. After two months of hearings, on May 11, 1990, Bevan Spencer Von Einem was committed to stand trial in the South Australian Supreme Court on charges of having murdered Alan Barnes and Mark Langley.
Immediately Von Einem's defence council lodged an interjection to have the trial put on permanent stay of proceedings due to the fact that no matter what, their client could not possibly get a fair hearing due to the amount of public animosity toward him and the over-exposure of the committal hearing in the newspapers.
It didn't work. The trial judge, Justice Duggan chose to throw it out. But there were other matters about the forthcoming trial that worried His Honour. At a pre-trial hearing Justice Duggan ruled the "similar fact evidence," so successfully used in the committal hearing by the Crown prosecutor, as inadmissible. This ruled the evidence presented at the committal all but useless.
The Crown tried different tactics. It would present two separate trials for the murders of Barnes and Langley. But a couple of days later the Crown withdrew the murder charge against Langley considering that they could build a stronger case by trying Von Einem on the Barnes murder alone, the case for which they had the strongest evidence.
Then came the killer blow. After lengthy consideration, Justice Duggan ruled that evidence from the Von Einem trial and conviction for the murder of Richard Kelvin was disallowed. Justice Duggan also ruled inadmissible any evidence about Von Einem's alleged involvement with hitchhikers and his purported associates.
The Crown case was in tatters and if it went to court without their evidence the Crown didn't have a prayer of gaining a conviction. To their disgust, on 1 February, 1991, the Crown had no choice but enter a nolle prosequi (unwilling to pursue) on the second charge of the murder of Alan Barnes.
To the detectives who had worked tirelessly on the case for years it was a bitter pill to swallow. To the parents of Alan Barnes and the other young men who were so inhumanely violated and died such ghastly deaths at the hands of suspected respectable citizens it meant that their nightmare of wondering would go on.
And to many Australians, there is little doubt in their minds that "the Family" of depraved and murderous pedophiles did, and possibly still does, exist in South Australia.
They also believe that there are more victims as yet unaccounted for. Transient hitchhikers from other states and young tourists perhaps. And those same believers are also convinced that the tall, blond, well-groomed accountant with the aristocratic name, Bevan Spencer Von Einem, knows all of the answers of where the bodies are buried and who the guilty parties are.
But while he rots in Yatala Prison he is keeping his dark secrets to himself.