Anita Cobby was raped and murdered in Sydney’s West in 1986. It was 10pm when her train pulled into Blacktown Station and usually the 26-year-old would call her father to pick her up. But on February 2, 1986, the payphone was broken. So Anita decided to walk home.
On her walk home, five men drove past Anita in a stolen car, stopped and grabbed her from the footpath. A 13-year-old boy and his sister heard her screams. They ran outside to see a woman being forced into a car. They called the police. Their older brother went searching for the screaming woman in his car.
Anita Cobby’s body was found two days later in a farmer’s field in Prospect after the farmer went to investigate why his cows were acting strange.
Her body was badly beaten. She had been raped by five men and her throat had been slit. She had extensive defensive wounds. Her killing had been brutal.
For weeks and weeks Anita Cobby’s murder and the hunt for her killers dominated the news. Everyone in Australia was talking about it. Everyone in Australia was incredulous, sad, shocked, angry.
And the women in Australia filed it. Every detail. It was their greatest fear come to life. The one they had in the back of their heads as they walked home in the dark with their keys stiff in their fingers, like little daggers – just in case.
The one they saw when a group of boisterous men walked toward them in the street.
The one that ran through their mind as they double checked whether the front door was locked, and shut and locked their window even though it was a stinking, hot night and a little breeze would help them sleep better.
The fear. The pain. The why. It’s unbearable to think about.
I had just hit my teens and I remember my mum talking to a friend on the phone about it. I remember the murder being on the front page of the newspapers. Anita was pretty. She was a nurse and a former beauty pageant winner. In all the pictures she was smiling and young and happy.
I remember watching the TV news from my living room in Brisbane. I remember a police woman wore the same clothes as Anita and caught the train to Blacktown trying to jog the memory of commuters.
Five men, including three brothers, were convicted of Anita Cobby’s rape and murder and they are all still in jail. I remember angry mobs outside the courthouse calling for the death penalty to be reinstated. I remember filing away: this is what can happen when you are a woman and walking home.
What I didn’t know then was that ten years later I would sit opposite a police officer in Sydney and look at the crime scene photos of Anita Cobby. I did not know then that ten years later I would go out to Anita Cobby’s parents house and sit in their lounge room and talk to her mum and dad.
I wish I never had to meet them (and I’m sure they wished the same), and I wish I never saw those photographs.
For the tenth anniversary of Anita Cobby’s death two feature writers from the newspaper I was working on were asked to do a comprehensive feature on Anita Cobby’s murder. I was one. I was young and had not long graduated from cadet to journalist.
Reporters on the paper would do the news story, and I would help a more experienced writer with a feature.
Garry and Grace Lynch invited me into their home and I had a cup of tea and some biscuits in a room that had framed photos of Anita on sideboards.
Anita’s mum was quiet. Garry did most of the talking. Now that I am older and understand a few more things about life I can only imagine how hard it would be for Grace to talk. How hard it would be for Grace to breathe.
They talked mostly about how lovely their daughter was, how they had to be conscious not to let hate eat them up. They cried every day for her.
I was completely out of my depth and they treated me with the utmost respect and kindness. I would have understood if they had no kindness left in them, but it was not like that at all. They were dignified and kind to this stranger in their house.
That day in their home I was working so I tried not to cry, even when Garry said he felt guilty because he knew Anita’s last thought would be about him, “because Dads are meant to look after their daughters, they are meant to save them.”
In 1993 they established the Homicide Victims Support Unit. Back then there were no specialised services to support the victim’s families and this became a vital unit for many distressed loved ones.
Garry died in 2008 aged 90. Grace died in 2013 aged 88.
Another part of the feature involved talking to the police. I interviewed one of the investigators. It had been a decade since Anita’s murder and it was obvious it had been a tough case.
We did the interview and at the end the investigator passed me a large yellow A4 envelope on his desk. I opened it and slid out the large photographs. They were crime scene photographs of Anita Cobby. To this day I don’t know why I looked. I wish I hadn’t. I wish more than that: I wish it never happened. I wish it never happens again.
Like most women I know, I always lock my windows on a hot night, even though I need the breeze.
Anita Cobby’s murder, the kindness and strength of her parents, the drive and brutality of her attackers reinforces that it is impossible to understand the world. Completely impossible.
*Feature image via the cover of ‘Anita Cobby: The crime that shocked the nation’ by Alan J. Whiticker.