Tales from the NSW Police Cold Case Vault

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Stacey Willoughby was only 13-years-old when he was murdered. His body was found in the family car, along with his mother’s, 34-year-old Barbara Brooks. Both had been shot with a .22 calibre rifle and left slumped in the vehicle in the Millewa State Forest, located 55 km south of Deniliquin.

Their bodies were discovered on March 16, 2000. Four days later, the body of Stacey’s stepfather, 38-year-old Steven Brooks, was found in bushland just 500 metres from the rest of his family. Mr Brooks had been shot by the very same weapon.

The family were last seen sitting in their car on the main street of Deniliquin: a town in the Riverina region of NSW, on the afternoon before Barbara and Stacey’s bodies were found. An unknown man was seen sitting in the car with them.

Homicide Squad detective inspector Hans Rupp described the crime as, “… an execution style killing of the worst kind, with the life of a young boy taken in the most violent of circumstances.”

Despite the Homicide Squad’s investigation, no one has ever been charged with the murders. And the identity of the mysterious man in their vehicle has never been established.

The list of NSW cold cases

A $250,000 reward was put up in 2012, for any information leading to a conviction for the Deniliquin triple murder. Today, the case is one of 94 cold cases listed on the Rewards Offered page of the NSW police website.

The majority of those unsolved crimes are murders and disappearances. But there’s also the 2007 hit and run of Jennifer Franco and the 2002 Abernethy bushfire that led to the death of Ronald Gillett.

Most cold cases come with a $100,000 reward. But there’s a $1 million reward for information that leads to the recovery William Tyrell, the boy who went missing two years ago from the rural township of Kendall.

And there’s half a million on offer for information leading to the conviction of the person who murdered 17-year-old Michelle Bright in Gulgong in 1999.

The disappearance of an Eastern suburbs model

Revelle Balmain was last seen in the Sydney suburb of Kingsford on November 5, 1994. The 22-year-old model and part-time escort was about to move to Japan to work as a dancer. Police suspect she has been murdered, and there’s a $250,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the culprit.

On the last night Revelle was seen, she called a girlfriend from the McNair Ave home of her client Gavin Samer to arrange a meeting at the Royal Hotel in Paddington. Samer was to be her last ever client, as Revelle was about to quit escorting as she’d become romantically involved with a man.

But Revelle never turned up at the hotel. Samer told police he dropped her off at the Red Tomato Inn at Kingsford. But no witnesses reported seeing her there. Her belongings – including a bag, keys and a cork heeled shoe – were found scattered through the streets of Kingsford.

Mr Samer was named as a person of interest during the 1999 coronial inquest, but no charges were laid against him. In 2008, homicide detective superintendent Geoff Beresford announced police had new evidence and forensic test results.

That evidence supported the theory that she was murdered at a house in Kingsford. Police allegedly wanted to find Samer to take a DNA sample, but he had disappeared from Sydney.

Killer confesses

Some cold cases do get solved. On November 20 this year, Vinzent Tarantino walked into the Surry Hills police station and confessed to the 1998 murder of 12-year-old Quanne Diec.

Tarantino initially abducted the schoolgirl at Clyde Station in western Sydney with the intent of holding her for ransom. It was reported last week that police were searching for the remains of the schoolgirl in bushland close to Wollongong, with the help of her killer.

Bombings in Sydney and Bondi

Also on the cold case list are the 1982 bombings of the Israeli Consulate in Sydney and Bondi’s Hakoah Club. NSW police, in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police, launched “a counter-terrorism investigation cold case review” of the incidents on their thirtieth anniversary.

The reward for information leading to a conviction is $100,000.

At around 2pm on December 23, 1982, an explosive device was detonated in the stairwell of the premises across from the Israeli Consulate General, located in William Street, Sydney. The bomb caused significant damage and two people were injured.

About five hours later, another device exploded in the boot of a green 1970 Valiant sedan parked in the carpark of the Hakoah Club. The bomb failed to detonate properly, but it was designed to cause the collapse of the Jewish sports club and kill the people inside.

The police have identikit images of two men suspected of being involved in the bombings. The men were seen outside the Hakoah Club earlier that day.

In 1983, 32-year-old Mohammed Ali Beydoun was arrested in connection with the Hakoah Club bombing, as he’d been identified as the man who bought the car used in the incident. Beydoun appeared in court, but the charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence.

At the time, NSW police linked the bombing to the May 15 Palestinian organisation. The group has links to the 1982 bombing of Pan Am Flight 830 and several other incidents around the world.

Cases are never closed

In the case of these bombings and others like the disappearance of Revelle Balmain, NSW police are now applying new technologies and investigative practices to solve these unsolved crimes.

At the time of the breakthrough in the Quanne Diec case, a spokesperson from NSW Police Unsolved Homicide Squad told Sydney Criminal Lawyers® that police solve many of these cold cases. “If a case hasn’t been solved it never is closed,” the spokesperson said. “It remains open, but it’s not always active.”

Alternative lifestyle practitioner missing

The last case listed on the Rewards Offered page is the disappearance of Peter Messariti. A $50,000 reward was posted in 2008 to help solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of this man from the town of Bombala in the Monaro region of south-eastern NSW.

The 54-year-old, known as Moses, was last seen on November 15, 1998 at the Athame property near Bombala, where he was believed to be setting up an alternative lifestyle community.

His car was found that afternoon in Bukalong, not far from the property. It was parked as if it had broken down. It was unlocked and his personal papers were still inside. There have been no confirmed sightings of Messariti since, and no activity on his bank accounts.

Deputy state coroner Sharon Freund heard from 13 witnesses at Cooma in relation to the case. She concluded that Messariti had died suspiciously. But the cause and manner in which he died remain unknown.

The coroner said she believes somebody knows about the death, but they haven’t come forward.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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