Ask any resident of Adelaide, Australia what they think of their city and most will say the same thing. It’s a tired and beat up town with a bad reputation, but generally it’s quiet and full of friendly people. Though many claim “there’s nothing bad about Adelaide”, most of those originally hailing from Adelaide are ashamed to admit it due to its unseemly reputation. Perhaps it’s unfair to label Australia’s fifth largest city “the murder capital of Australia”, as some media outlets have, when larger Australian cities such as Melbourne and Sydney see more murders per capita annually, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Adelaide seems to be a vortex for bizarre, horrifying, and particularly cold blooded cases.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when Adelaide made the transition from quiet fishing town to “city of corpses”. Perhaps it was the Maria Massacres during 1840, which left 25 men, woman, and children clubbed to death by Aborigines after a shipwreck, or maybe it was when the mysterious Somerton Man washed up on the shores of Adelaide in 1948, leaving investigators baffled on the man’s identity to this day, that initially set Adelaide on the map for peculiar and grisly occurrences. However, it would seem that the two odd cases occurred much too far apart for either of them to be the reason of Adelaide’s notorious reputation. If anything it would have to be the string of (mostly) unrelated, yet gruesome murders and unsolved child abductions, that wrecked havoc on the quiet town beginning in the 1960s.
The Disappearance of the Beaumont Children
Jane(9), Arrna(7), and Grant(4) Beaumont left their Adelaide home on January 26, 1966, never to be seen again. The children were spotted by witnesses at the local beach speaking with a man until approximately noon that day and were suspected to have taken the bus home shortly thereafter. Their mother, Nancy Beaumont, waited at the bus stop for the children, but when the bus finally arrived the children never got off. The last person to witness the children alive was a postal worker doing his usual mail route in the area. The postman claimed that he had waved to the children and saw them walking in the direction of their home coming from the beach. After ruling out drowning, the children were assumed by authorities to have been abducted and listed all three as missing. Although there is still no concrete evidence that the three Beaumont children were murdered, their mysterious disappearance in the summer of 1966 seemed to have set off a shockwave in Adelaide and more mysterious disappearances and grisly murders shortly followed.
Bevan Spencer von Einem and The Family Murders
Bevan Spencer von Einem initially became a person of interest in 1972, when two men were thrown into the River Torrens by a group of men. One man, Dr. George Duncan, drown as a result of the incident, while the other, Roger James, was rushed to a local hospital by von Einem for a broken leg. Rumors swirled that the group of men were actually members of the vice squad and there was plenty of cover-up speculations to accompany it. Though von Einem was the hero in this case, he was everything but a good Samaritan.
Just a hair over a decade later Von Einem would again become public interest when he was indicated in the murder of a local news personality’s 15-year-old son, Richard Kelvin. It’s believed that Kelvin was abducted by von Einem and his accomplices on the evening of June 5, 1983. Kelvin was drugged, raped, and tortured by von Einem for nearly five weeks before he was finally murdered. Kelvin’s body was discovered on July 24, 1983 after having been left on an airstrip near the Adelaide Hills area. Von Einem was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
After von Einem’s conviction for the kidnap and murder of Richard Kelvin, four other unsolved murders between 1979 and 1982 were connected to von Einem and a group of accomplices. The group was nicknamed “The Family” by local media. The pedophilic, homosexual murder cult that von Einem was believed to have been involved with was ripe with conspiracy. Some believed that the group was comprised of high-ranking officials and a massive cover-up was involved, due to the police’s inability to produce any suspects. Although prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to connect von Einem with The Family murders, all charges were later dropped and the murders remain unsolved.
As of 2007 investigators began following leads which connected von Einem to another unsolved case, the disappearance of the Beaumont children. A police sketch of the man the Beaumont children were seen speaking with on the beach the day of their disappearance fit the profile of a much younger von Einem. Like The Family murders, in spite of investigators’ best efforts to pin von Einem to the children’s mysterious disappearance there was not enough evidence to bring von Einem to trial.
The Oval Abduction
Joanne Ratcliff and Kriste Gorden were attending a football match on August 25, 1973, along with their families. The girls had been well-acquainted since their families were both season ticket holders and sat by one another often. Joanne left to go to the restroom and took Kriste along with her. The two girls returned back to their seats several minutes later. Some time had passed and the girls had to use the restroom again. They left their seats and walked to the bathroom, but this time the two girls never returned. Members of both families combed the stadium, with one remaining behind in case one or both of the girls returned. Witnesses claimed they saw the girls leave with a man, but neither the man nor the girls were ever seen again.
It wouldn’t be until March of 2015 that the potential identity of the man would be discovered. Stanley Arthur Hart was known within his family to be a pedophile and was more than likely near the stadium the day the two girls had been abducted. A search of the childhood home of Hart, which he had unrestricted and unmonitored access to at the time of the girls disappearance and also featured an underground bunker, uncovered a few small pieces of evidence but nothing substantial. While Hart hasn’t been positively identified as the girls’ abductor, there has been a number of tips and other leads that detectives are hopeful will finally close this cold case. In addition to Hart, a man by the name of Arthur Stanley Brown has also been named as a potential suspect in both the Beaumont children’s disappearance and the abduction of the two girls.
The Truro Murders
Aside from child abductions, Adelaide became famous for its connection to a seven week murder spree at the hands of one of the worst serial killers Southern Australia has ever seen, and left seven young women between the ages of 15 and 26 dead. The first body was found in Truro, just North of Adelaide by a man collecting mushrooms. It was clear that the woman was met with foul play before her body was dumped in the woods. The body of a second woman turned up just East of Adelaide, near the Murray Bridge. She had been shot in the head. A third body was discovered in March of 1978 in a landfill. This time the victim had been beaten and stabbed to death. All three women were reported missing within a two month period and some similarities between the cases suggested that the murders were the work of a serial killer.
On Easter Sunday 1979 a fourth victim would be discovered in Truro within the brush close to where the first victim was found. After police offered a reward for the capture and conviction of the killer involved in any of the unsolved murders a women claimed to know who the killers were. She reported to investigators that James Miller had confessed to committing six murders, with the help of his lover Christopher Worrell, during a conversation they were having two days after Worrell died suddenly in a car wreck.
The woman’s story explained why the murders had suddenly stopped and Miller’s description matched one of them men described by witnesses. During police interrogation Miller agreed to show investigators where he had left the bodies. In March of 1980 Miller was found guilty of six of the seven murders he stood trial for and sentenced to life in prison.
Snowtown/Bodies in Barrels Murders
Perhaps the most famous murders involving Adelaide and would supersede the Truro murders as the work of the worst serial killers in Australian history were the Bodies in Barrels Murders, later referred to as the Snowtown Murders in spite of the fact that most of the murders never happened there.
The murders originally occurred between 1992 and 1999 and were later uncovered when eight dismembered bodies were found in barrels left behind an abandoned bank in Snowtown, located around 90 miles mid-North from Adelaide. It is believed that before the bodies were discovered they were moved to various locations around Adelaide, before finally being brought to Snowtown.
John Justin Bunting, along with his accomplices Robert Wagner, James Vlassakis, and Mark Haydon, were accused of flaying, murdering, and dismembering their victims. These victims were all specifically targeted by the group because Bunting considered them to be the dregs of society. In addition to the eight victims found sealed within the barrels in Snowtown, two more victims were also murdered by the group and later recovered from the backyard of one of Bunting’s former homes.
Bunting claimed that he and his friends murdered many of their victims because they were believed to be pedophiles, but it is also known that some had been targeted solely on the fact that they identified as homosexuals. The trial against Bunting and Wagner would become the longest in Australia’s history, lasting nearly a year. By the end Bunting would be sentenced to 11 life sentences with no chance of parole, Wager would receive a similar sentence with 10 consecutive life sentences, while the other two boys received relatively lighter sentences by comparison. Vlassakis received four consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole after serving 26 years, and Haydon – who wasn’t an active participant in any of the murders, but did help the others hide the bodies – was ordered to serve 25 years with the possibility of parole after eight.
The Hectorville Siege
Things stayed quiet around Adelaide once the Snowtown trials came to a close in 2002, but then in 2011 another crime would rock Southern Australia, with Adelaide again thrown into the center of the ordeal. In the suburb of Hectorville, about 14 minutes East of Adelaide, a man with a shotgun went on a shooting rampage in the early morning hours on April 29. After a alleged dispute with neighbors over the poisoning of a dog, Donato Anthony Corbo, took out his shotgun and began opening fire on the family of South African immigrants. The woman who initially called the police was able to escape the home unharmed, however, the woman’s parents and husband were killed during the ambush and her 14-year-old son was wounded.
Police arrived on the scene and began exchanging fire with the suspect. As a result of the standoff an officer was left in critical condition after having been shot in the face. Corbo was able to be apprehended by police and the victims were rushed to an Adelaide hospital.
Corbo’s criminal history as well as his mental state at the time of the crime were a hot topic for discussion as his trial date drew closer. On May 12, 2012, Corbo was acquitted of all charges including three counts of murder and two additional counts of attempted murder, by reason of insanity.
With so many shocking and bizarre cases involving Adelaide for the better part of the last 50 years, it’s easy to see why an outsider would come to the conclusion that Adelaide is a cursed city, plagued by horrific murders and the tragic disappearance of young children. Maybe with time Adelaide will begin to fade out of the limelight and return to the quiet little town, full of friendly neighbors and prime fishing spots it once was. But for now, like it or not, Adelaide can’t escape its less-than-honorable reputation.