true crime

Three dead. No convictions: The baffling case of the Bowraville murders.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains names, descriptions and photos of people who have died.

On the mid north coast of NSW, there's a small town called Bowraville, with a population of around 1000 people. 

Within the town, there's an Indigenous community made up of a stretch of eight brown brick houses known as 'The Mission'. 

On September 13, 1990, 16-year-old Colleen Walker was last seen alive at a party at The Mission. She was noticed by witnesses walking away from the area with a group of people, but was never heard from again. 

On October 4, 1990, Colleen's four-year-old cousin, Evelyn Greenup, disappeared after a party at The Mission. She was last seen by her mother as she was put to bed sometime during the night. The next morning, she was gone.

On January 31, 1991, 16-year-old Clinton Speedy-Duroux went missing after a party at The Mission. He was last seen sleeping in a caravan that night. 

The three missing Indigenous children disappeared a mere five months apart, and a white man was seen at all three parties. The same man was allegedly seen leaving Evelyn's bedroom the night she disappeared, and it was the man's caravan that Clinton went to sleep in. 

But in the days after each child went missing, local police did not take the reports seriously, and they refused to believe the disappearances were linked. 

Only about 1000 people live in the NSW town of Bowraville. Image: Google Maps.  

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As Dan Box, the author of Bowraville, told True Crime Conversations in 2019, "You would think at the second child, police would have flooded Bowraville looking for potentially a child killer. A second child, from the same street in the same kind of circumstances? But they treat her as a missing child, they moved slowly, and they said to the family 'maybe your child has gone walkabout'."

As well as writing a book, Dan released a five episode podcast on the murders in 2016. Post continues after podcast. 

To be clear, the murders of the Bowraville children weren't afforded the same resources, or thrust into the media spotlight with the same ferocity as other cases, because they weren't white children. The missing Beaumont children from 30 years earlier made that point painfully clear. Their names were known by practically every Australian. 

As Detective Gary Jubelin, who re-investigated the case years later, told a parliamentary inquiry: "It would be nice to believe that all victims are treated equally, but it's not true. In this case, race and poverty played a role in how the police and the media [of the time] responded". 

On February 18, 1991, Clinton's body was found in bushland about seven kilometres outside Bowraville, near Congarinni Road. He had suffered a massive blow to the jaw, and a puncture wound to the skull. He was wearing shorts, and a pillowcase from the caravan was found stuffed down them.

Evelyn's body was found more than a month later, a bit further up the same road. She'd suffered a blow to the head, and a puncture wound to the skull. 

Even further along that road, Colleen's clothes were eventually found in bags in a nearby river. They'd been weighted down by stones, but her body was nowhere to be found. 

Finally, police were treating the deaths as a serial killer. 

The pre-mentioned white man (who can't be named for legal reasons) who was seen at all three parties at The Mission, was interviewed three times as the discoveries were made and let go, before finally being charged with the murders of Evelyn and Clinton. 

He denied any involvement in their deaths.

A white man whose name has been suppressed by the courts was eventually charged. Image: 60 Minutes. 

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The two murders were tried separately in court, with prosecutors unable to rely on the similarities between the cases. Subsequently, with the help of a flawed investigation and missing evidence, the man was found not guilty of both murders in 1994.

For years, the families fought for justice. 

In NSW, the law of double jeopardy meant the man couldn't be tried again for the same crime. But relatives of the Bowraville kids dug their feet in and fought hard, and managed to get the 800-year-old laws abolished in 2006. 

The DPP then said the police evidence gathered was not sufficient for a retrial. 

The families kept fighting. They held protests, they spoke to politicians, they gave media interviews, and they had Detective Gary Jubelin on their side, re-investigating and also putting his own pressure on the justice system. 

Protesters marching through Sydney in 2013 to bring awareness to the Bowraville murders. Image: Dan Himbrechts/AAP.  

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In 2014, an inquiry by the NSW parliament's upper house found the initial police investigation was flawed and recommended a 'broadening' of the double jeopardy exception, to enable a retrial. The Greens introduced a bill to achieve this, but it was rejected. 

Finally, in 2016, the attorney general overruled a predecessor's decision not to send the case back to court, and applied for a retrial of the same white man who had been found not guilty all those years before.

The appeal court was overseen by three judges and no jury, and they deliberated on their findings for nine months, before rejecting the submission on September 13, 2018, in front of all three families who had turned out in court.

As Dan Box explained to True Crime Conversations, "They don't say 'we've looked at all the evidence and the evidence isn't good enough to overturn this case,' what they say is, 'we don't need to look at the evidence'."

They determined the new evidence presented wasn't 'fresh', and therefore they didn't need to look at it.

An attempt was then made in the High Court in 2019, but the decision was made to uphold the appeal court's decision. This means the man remains not guilty to this day, and the three murders have never been heard together in a court. 

The families of Colleen, Evelyn and Clinton remain broken, after three decades of fighting and no justice to speak of. 

"We are hurt, saddened and angry that the Australian justice system has failed us," Colleen's family said in 2019.

"For over 28 years we have been fighting for justice, and we will never give up hope that the person accountable will be brought to justice," added Clinton's family. 

In his interview with True Crime Conversations, Dan explained that the only hope for the Bowraville children, and their families, now is if Colleen's body is found with some evidence alongside it.

Image: ABC Four Corners.

Crowdfunding for a documentary titled The Bowraville Murders is currently underway. You can make a tax-deductible donation to the Documentary Australia Foundation, right here

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