Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Snowtown Murders

A Group Preying upon Itself

Unfamiliar cars frequenting a community the size of Snowtown rarely go unnoticed. This factor helped Chart investigators connect the sleepy town with the northern Adelaide suburbs' missing persons cases. But the "vehicles of interest" also raised other questions. Was there a human network, going beyond the four accused, involved in the killings? If so, how large was it?

The DNA tests concluded. Police released the names of three of the identified victims. Chart intelligence collators and detectives reviewed the emerging correlations. They revealed a tangled snare of past relationships between the accused and the dead, confirming the earlier assertion of Acting Police Commissioner Neil McKenzie. This was "a group that preyed on itself." Cautiously, a little at a time, police sources confirmed as much as they felt was prudent, wary of prejudicing the ongoing investigation.

At the time of writing, not all victims had been publicly named, though all had been successfully identified. DNA matching apparently confirmed a police list of reported -and unreported — missing persons on pensions or benefits. All were associated with the known accused. Police also confirmed that missing Victorian man Gavin Porter, aged between 20 and 30 at the time he disappeared, was among the slain.

Another identified and named victim was missing person Barry Lane. 40 at the time of his disappearance in 1997, Lane was a convicted sex-offender and a transvestite who used the name "Vanessa." But, it was revealed, he had also lived — for some eight years — with one of the accused, Robert Wagner, 27. Their shared residence at 1 Bingham Road, Salisbury North, was a block away from the "death house" occupied by accused man John Bunting, 32. Barry Lane, in turn, had been involved in a sexual relationship with another key missing person who had triggered the whole Chart investigation: Clinton Douglas Trezise, 22, at the time of his vanishing.

Victim Barry Lane
Victim Barry Lane

Returning to John Bunting, former resident of 203 Waterloo Corner Road, the "death house," he was engaged to Gail Sinclair, sister of key missing person — and now identified and named victim — Elizabeth Haydon (nee Sinclair). Elizabeth Haydon, was of course in life, accused man Mark Haydon's wife.

Elizabeth Haydon
Elizabeth Haydon

These revelations bring us full circle, back to that grisly 1994 prequel to the Snowtown murders story, with which we began: the single body at Lower Light. By June 8th, 1999, Chart detectives had obtained an old x-ray image of Clinton Trezise from a previous employer. As it was scrutinised by pathologists and anthropologists assisting the Taskforce, a five-year-old mystery was finally layed to rest and the key historical connection made. The announcement by police in June '99 took me back to '94, when yet again many South Australians had wondered what terrible multiple crimes they might soon be reading about.

Clinton Trezise
Clinton Trezise

Those skeletal remains found at Lower Light on August 16th, 1994, were Trezise's. Ironically, he was the first to be found, among the last to be identified. In a further irony, the ID match was made by an outdated form of medical technology: an X-ray, not complex DNA testing. Clinton Douglas Trezise had last been sighted in 1993, but had not been reported missing until 1995. By then, his unidentified skeleton had already been found.

Summarising Chart's achievements to the time of writing, Detective Superintendent Schramm included the Lower Light body's identification. Calling it a "significant breakthrough..." Schramm defined the elusive ID as "a matter we have been trying to achieve for the past four years."

He added, "of the 11 people on our list, [balancing against 8 vault bodies, 2 backyard burials, and 1 from Lower Light in '94] we now think we can account for all of those people. We are not at the moment looking for any more bodies." The South Australian Police Department's complicated, delicate search for further offenders and accomplices goes on, but for the time being at least, Snowtown's deadly math appears to add up.

 

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