true crime

Inside the horrifying lives of crime of Anita Cobby's five killers.

Warning: This article may contain details of violence and sexual assault that are triggering for some readers. 

The murder of 26-year-old Sydney nurse and beauty pageant winner Anita Cobby remains, after 36 years, one of Australia’s most heinous crimes.

On the night of February 2, 1986, Anita was walking home from the train station in Blacktown. She didn’t make it – pulled off the streets by five men, raped, tortured and then murdered, left to rot in what was known as the Boiler Paddock on a property on Reen Road in Blacktown in Sydney’s West.

Her naked body was found on February 4 by dairy farmer John Reen, who noticed his cows were milling around the corner part of his property.

Twenty-two days later five men – John Travers, Michael Murdoch and brothers Leslie, Michael and Gary Murphy – were taken into custody.

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Leslie Murphy, then aged 22, his brothers Gary and Michael, then 28 and 33, Michael Murdoch, then 19, and John Travers, then 18, were found guilty of murdering Anita and sentenced to life in prison.

anita cobby
Anita Cobby.

Among them, the five had more than 50 previous convictions including armed robbery, assault, car theft, breaking and entering, drug use, rape and escaping lawful custody. They were renowned for their crimes throughout Western Sydney


The three Murphy brothers were from a family of nine children.

Michael, the oldest, had spent much of his life behind bars and had successfully escaped from Silverwater prison.

Gary Murphy also had a string of convictions, and the youngest brother Leslie had followed in both their footsteps to become a career criminal.

The other killers, Travers and Murdoch, were lifelong friends and had been involved in the bashing and sexual assaults of women and gay men since their teens.

Travers was the leader of the pack. An alcoholic at 14, he had been in and out of institutions since he was 12 and was witnessed by many practising bestiality.

All five initially pleaded not guilty, but Travers changed his plea to guilty before the proceedings.

He had confessed the crime to 'Miss X', a close family friend who Travers believed idolised him. She still remains in witness protection.

She had worn a recording device when visiting him in jail and got his account on tape.

At their trial, the five men were sentenced to life imprisonment. Cheers erupted from the public gallery.

"There is no doubt that, apart from the humiliation, degradation and terror inflicted upon this young woman, she was the victim of a prolonged and sadistic physical and sexual assault," Justice Alan Maxwell said in his closing address.

"This was a calculated killing - done in cold blood."

He asked that each man's file be marked "Never to be released" and they were denied the possibility of parole.

Michael Murphy, 66,  died at Long Bay Hospital about 11.55pm on Thursday. Murphy reportedly had cancer.

The four other killers remain in various maximum security prisons.

Anita’s widower John Cobby was informed of the death this morning.

“I hope it was painful for him,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “One down, four to go”.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.