Crime writer Vikki Petraitis was with the Frankston police the day 17-year-old high school student Natalie Russell disappeared. It was a Friday. July 30, 1993.
Petraitis was working on a true-crime book and was due to begin another night shift riding along with a local sergeant. She met him at the rear of the station around 10.30pm.
A group of officers was gathered outside the door for their smoke break.
"Another one's gone missing," one told them.
Petraitis remembers the sinking feeling that overcame her at those words. By then, two local women had been found dead in apparent homicides. The area had been flooded with dozens of extra police searching for the killer; door-knocking, checking cars, monitoring for suspicious activity. The Melbourne papers were already crying 'serial killer'.
"There were police everywhere, and the sense that this girl could go missing right under the noses of everyone, it was just—. It's really hard to describe. It was like deflated. There was this defeat," Petraitis told Mamamia's True Crime Conversations podcast. "We couldn't believe this had happened."
By the time she and the sergeant were inside, near the front of the station, another officer emerged from upstairs with more news. "They've found her," he said. "She's dead."
The Frankston Murders.
Elizabeth Stevens, 18, was walking home from a bus stop in Langwarrin on the evening of June 11 when a man jumped towards her. It was dark and raining heavily, with gusting winds that muffled her screams.
Threatening her with what seemed to be a gun, the man grabbed the TAFE student's hand and led her along Paterson Avenue. "Shut up or I'll blow your head off," he said.
Nearby, a woman ran through the rain to her car, but she barely noticed the pair.
The man dragged the teenager into Lloyd Park Reserve, strangled her, cut her throat and partially concealed her body, which was found the following day.
Less than an hour after killing Elizabeth Stevens, the man arrived at his girlfriend's mother's house. He was soaking wet. The rain had washed the blood clean from his hands. His girlfriend's mother asked where he'd been, and he made an excuse about dropping in to see his mum but finding she wasn't home.
He sat down and tucked into a hearty meal of soup and roast, and waited for his girlfriend to come home from work.
Listen: For more of Vikki Petraitis' first-hand insight into the case, listen to True Crime Conversations. (Post continues below.)
A month later, on July 12, a farmer made a gruesome discovery in a paddock at Carrum Downs.
It was the body of 22-year-old mother Deborah Fream, who'd been reported missing just days earlier.
She'd ducked out of her home on the evening of July 8 to fetch the milk she needed for her omelette dinner. She left her friend to watch her baby and the vegetables simmering away on the stove. When she hadn't returned an hour later, the friend raised the alarm.