A man was walking his dog through Centennial Park in Sydney on the morning of February 7, 1986 when he noticed the body of a woman floating in Busby Pond. After police were alerted, two uniformed constables rowed out and dragged her in.
When detectives rolled her over on the riverbank, they realised it was 31-year old Sallie-Anne Huckstepp – the high-profile police whistle-blower and sex worker.
Huckstepp knew her days were numbered when she appeared on 60 Minutes in 1981 and accused NSW detective sergeant Roger Rogerson of being a cold-blooded killer. The man she claimed Rogerson had killed was her boyfriend, heroin dealer Warren Lanfranchi.
The Lanfranchi hit
After robbing another dealer, Lanfranchi fired shots at a young policeman. To avoid facing charges, he asked his associate, notorious standover man Neddy Smith, to negotiate a price with Rogerson.
At the time, Rogerson had a sterling reputation in the force, and was slated to potentially become the next police commissioner.
Rogerson arranged for Neddy to drop Lanfranchi at Dangar Place in Chippendale, where he was waiting with 18 police officers.
He then shot Lanfranchi twice, later claiming it was in self-defence. Subsequent investigations found that while Rogerson may not have acted in self-defence, he had not done anything untoward. Rogerson was commended for his bravery.
Lanfranchi was the third man Rogerson had shot dead in a public place in five years.
Two weeks later, Huckstepp turned up at police headquarters with her father and detailed a string of allegations against NSW police.
The claims included that Rogerson had executed her boyfriend, and stolen the $10,000 Lanfranchi had turned up to bribe the officer with. Huckstepp also gave details of payments she had been making to Vice and Drug Squad detectives for the past 10 years, while she had been a sex worker on Darlinghurst Road.
A life on the wild side
Huckstepp was born into a middle-class Jewish family and grew up in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. She attended the exclusive Dover Heights High School. But there was trouble at home. She didn’t get on with her step-mother and her behaviour became unruly.
At 14, she was sent to the Minda Remand Centre in Lidcombe. After being released, she found a job as a waitress at the Kings Cross club Whiskey A Go Go. She then got into heroin, and to support both her and her boyfriend’s habits, she started working the streets.
It was through her associations in Sydney’s underworld that Huckstepp became keenly aware that NSW police were heavily involved in criminal activities, and that Rogerson was one of the kingpins.
Partners in crime
In 1980, when Rogerson was moved to the Darlinghurst police station, he was the star detective of the Armed Holdup Squad. At the time, the heroin market was going through the roof in Kings Cross, and the opportunity to make some extra cash was hard to resist.
Neddy Smith was one of the top heroin distributors in the city, and he was raking it in. He and Rogerson formed a mutually-beneficial association.
Smith became a police whistle-blower in the early 1990s, testifying at the Independent Commission Against Corruption that Armed Holdup Squad detectives had been supplying information that enabled him to carry out a string of holdups.
However, Smith refused to name Rogerson during the hearing.
Huckstepp had always lived a charmed, and somewhat tragic life. She shot to stardom after her television appearance, coming across as an articulate and engaging figure. And she had a significant impact in alerting the public to the high level of corruption amongst NSW police.
Penguin publishers gave her an advance to write an autobiography, and author Richard Neville arranged for her to move into artist Martin Sharp’s house.
Many believe her notoriety prevented Huckstepp from being knocked-off straightaway.
A life cut short
But by the time her body was dragged out of the water, five years had passed. She was using again and back working the streets. No one was paying attention anymore.
On the night she was murdered, Huckstepp received a phone call from heroin dealer Warren Richards: an associate of Rogerson and Smith. She told her flatmate that she had to step out for a moment, and would be back in 10 minutes. That was the last time she was seen alive.
Smith ended up serving two life sentences for beating a tow truck driver to death, and for shooting brothel-keeper Harvey Jones. Police suspected that Smith was connected with a string of drug-related murders, so they bugged his cell and got his cellmate to chat with him.
Sure enough, Neddy bragged about killing seven people, one of which was Sallie-Anne. He outlined how he strangled her to death, and held her head under the water. His confession led to her body being exhumed from Rookwood Cemetery for DNA testing.
Smith later claimed he’d made up the story, as he knew he was being recorded. He went to trial for her murder, but was acquitted in 1999.
A clear statement
He claimed Rogerson wanted Huckstepp dead because she was “bugging” him by “ringing him up and leaving messages that he was a dog.” He said it was an associate of Rogerson who strangled Huckstepp, performing the deed to get on the good side of the detective. He said the man had never been to prison.
Smith added that the reason Huckstepp was left floating in the pond was that Rogerson wanted to leave a message.
Rogerson had an alibi for the night of the murder – he was drinking with police prosecutor Mal Spence in a Merrylands pub.
But Rogerson had no alibi when he stood trial earlier this year for the murder of 20-year-old UTS student Jamie Gao, as he was captured on CCTV footage.
In June, he was found guilty of murdering Gao during a drug deal at a Padstow storage facility in May, 2014. In September, he was sentenced to life in prison.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.