It's been 25 years today since 13-year-old Karmein Chan was snatched from her Templestowe home in Melbourne's northeast. Twenty-five years is a long time, yet no conviction was ever made and everything we know fills just a couple of paragraphs.
It was 1991, school holidays, and Karmein was babysitting for her two younger sisters, Karly and Karen. Their parents were working at the family's Chinese restaurant, just 10 minutes away. All three girls were watching a documentary about Marilyn Monroe in Karmein's bedroom. The eldest sister, Karmein was recovering from a case of glandular fever. She was wearing a white nightie with a blue flower pattern.
Around 9 PM, the two older sisters went to the kitchen. In the hallway they found a man in a balaclava, carrying a large knife. He grabbed both girls by the hair, forcing Karmein's two younger sisters into a cupboard and barring the door with a bed. The two younger girls later told police the intruder had called out "I won't hurt you." By the time Karly and Karen pushed their way out, there was no sign of Karmein.
Police dogs traced Karmein's scent through the house, past the family's Toyota Camry outside which had been spray painted with the words "payback" and "more to come." The teenager had then been taken across the garden and tennis court, through a gate and onto the street. The trail led police to a vacant block 300 metres away. From there, everything was speculative.
To this day, police believe that Karmein was abducted by "Mr Cruel"—which was the media's nickname for a unknown person responsible for a dozen attacks on Victorian children during the 1980s and 90s. Mr Cruel has never been found. What we do know is pieced together from first-hand accounts of victims who escaped his abductions, and an in-depth psychological profile constructed by the FBI after Victoria Police requested their help. The details of this partnership have been recently released to the public.
Profilers with the FBI painted a picture of a brutal, composed killer. They believe the man may have worked for the education system because of the way his attacks happened during school holidays.
If Mr Cruel did have a partner, the FBI believed they would have known of his sexual dysfunctions. "The offender's sexual arousal and gratification would be dependent upon the partner acting out a certain role," they wrote. "Dressing in a specific manner such as a schoolgirl in a uniform."
Aspects of the FBI profile are backed up by statements from Mr Cruel's victims. One saw a camera and tripod at the end of the bed she was shackled to, which affirms speculation that Mr Cruel likely created homemade porn to keep as trophies. There are sketches of his car and the house his victims were kept in: white walls, beige carpets, and salmon-coloured curtains—very little to go by.
Only two of Mr Cruel's victims have ever been formally identified. There was 10-year-old Sharon Wills, who was released after 18 hours, dumped at a school in Bayswater dressed in plastic bags. Then in 1990, 13-year-old Nicola Lynas—who went to Presbyterian Ladies College like Karmein—was abducted from her home in Canterbury and held for 50 hours. Neither ever saw his face. The enduring image of Mr Cruel is an unnerving police sketch: his face obscured by a balaclava, the eyes and mouth rimmed in contrasting white stitching. It's speculated Karmein may have been killed because she pulled off his mask, or recognised him.
In 1992, a year after the teenager disappeared, a man was walking his dog along Edgars Creek in Thomastown when he discovered what looked like a human skull in some landfill. Over the course of 24 hours, police painstakingly excavated what remained of the body. But forensic odontologists Dr John Clement and Dr Sheena Chan had little to work with—only portions of the skull, the jaw, and the neck could be found. The remains suggested they were looking at a person between 10 and 13 years old, likely of Asian descent. But dental records were useless, because Karmein was too young to have had X-rays on her teeth. Finally, DNA confirmed it was Karmein. She'd been shot three times in the head.
For nearly three years after this grisly discovery, 40 investigators—named the Spectrum Taskforce—followed 10,000 tip-offs, searched 30,000 houses and arrested 73 people. It was Victoria Police's largest ever investigation at the time. Police even wrote to the state's 10,000 doctors, pleading with them to breach doctor-patient confidentiality because they believed Karmein's abductor may have sought medical help. But the $4 million manhunt turned up little in the way of answers. Now police are hoping, more than two decades on, that raising the reward to $1 million will finally lead to answers about what happened to Karmein.
Follow Maddison on Twitter