Three elderly people found dead in their South Australian homes between 1998 and 2011 are now believed to have been murdered by the same man. At a media conference on Tuesday, SA Police revealed they had assembled a task force that had been quietly sifting through evidence since January, finding a forensic link that pointed to a 39-year-old man living near Mildura, over the Victorian border.
"We clearly know where he is; he knows that he's been a focus of the investigation for many years, he knows that we're looking at it again now,” Superintendent Des Bray told media. "We're quite comfortable with him knowing about it now.”
The first murder occurred in 1998. Phyllis May Harrison was 71 when she was found dead in her home in the northern Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth. She’d died from multiple stab wounds and her home had been ransacked, but it was unclear what had been stolen.
The next body was found on October 6, 2010. Beverley Ellen Hanley, 64, died of head injuries in her home in Elizabeth North. Again, the house had been ransacked but it seemed that only her handbag had been stolen. It was believed she’d been killed earlier that day.
The most recent murder happened in September 2011, although the decomposing body of Stephen Hugh Newton wasn’t discovered until November 4. The 55-year-old man was found in his home in Mount Gambier, again with injuries consistent with assault. A number of things were missing from his home, including a TV, a video game console, and a bunch of games and DVDs.
Another man later served several months in jail for property theft over this case, although police now admit that they probably had the wrong guy.
In all three cases the same suspect was living within 10 minutes of the victim. Police also found the same DNA evidence in each crime scene, although it seems they currently lack sufficient anecdotal evidence from the public to make an arrest.
Superintendent Bray said that people who had provided information in the past had likely omitted important details, and were now being asked to come back. “We know that there are people who have provided incorrect or incomplete statements and I would urge them to come forward and speak with us,” he said. “We know that they may be feeling vulnerable, but we can help them.”
He reiterated that a $200,000 reward had been posted for information leading to a conviction for both Phyllis Harrison and Beverley Hanley.
As to why the police decided to go public with their investigation, Fairfax is suggesting that they’ve actually lost track of their suspect. According to an article published Tuesday evening, the 39-year-old man disappeared as soon as he learned police were onto him. The article highlighted all the same quotes and information as provided in the media conference, but suggested police were now looking for their suspect.
Anyone with information should phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or make an anonymous at www.crimestopperssa.com.au