Friday night in suburban Melbourne, 1984 and 41-year-old Nanette Ellis was planning to go out after work with the girls from the office.
Nanette was the advertising manager of Free Press Leader, a Belgrave-based newspaper that was, and still is, part of the Leader Community Newspapers group in Melbourne. The team was a small and tight-knit group, made up of editorial and advertising, who produced the paper for the residents of villages in the region known as the Dandenongs – one of the most picturesque areas in Australia. Nanette was a hard worker and well respected and loved by her colleagues.
A strikingly beautiful woman, Nanette had been a single mum to her two sons Greg, 16, and Craig, 18 for several years. She was paying off her modest house in Manuka Drive, Boronia (an outer east suburb not far from her workplace) and had devoted herself to raising her boys. Apart from a regular aerobics class she did with a friend and a few drinks out with her workmates, Nanette lived a very quiet, modest life. Her looks were so striking that Nanette was often asked to model for advertisers and had appeared in several fashion and lifestyle photo shoots for newspaper features.
But things had been quite unsettling for Nanette in recent weeks. On four consecutive mornings her car had been pelted with rocks as she drove along Monbulk Rd on her way to work. The first time it happened on January 31, Nanette wasn’t even fully aware that a rock had been thrown at her 1976 Corolla sedan but it lodged under the bonnet, piercing the radiator, which caused the engine to boil. She called Craig who met her then organised a tow truck to the service station.
Listen: Nanette’s son Craig describes what happened in the weeks before her murder.
The next day a rock was thrown at her car as she travelled to work between 8am and 9am and this time it shattered her windscreen. The rock throwing happened again the next two mornings at the same time. Was someone targeting Nanette?
What happened next left Nanette and her sons in no doubt that someone victimising their mother. Sometime on Saturday evening February 4, Nanette’s car, which was parked in her driveway, was vandalised. Paint – a water-based fawn colour – was tipped over the roof, cascading down the boot bonnet and driver’s door.
Nanette discovered the damage at around midnight. It was frightening for this hardworking suburban mother whom son Craig said “didn’t have an enemy in the world”. Was it kids making mischief by vandalising cars? (There had been a few reports of car vandalism in the neighbourhood that weekend.) Or was it someone who had more sinister motives?
Then, unbelievably, Nanette’s car was targeted again. On Monday evening, February 6, someone slashed the car tires, ripped off a number plate and aerial and bent back the windscreen wipers. The police patrolled Nanette’s neighbourhood and escorted Nanette to work and back home for the next few days.
The vandalism stopped. Nanette’s boys were keeping an eye out too. On the Friday, It February 10, a police car escorted her from work until she was clear of Burwood Hwy – the main arterial between the office and her home.
Nanette arrived home at 5.15pm from work to get ready to go out with her girlfriends from the office. She was being picked up at 6pm and that morning, she had laid out her clothes for the evening – a red shirt and black pants.