MUR­DER AT THE BEACH

VIC­TO­RIA CAFASSO WAS MEANT TO BE ON THE HOL­I­DAY OF A LIFE­TIME — BUT THINGS TOOK A SHOCK­ING TURN

New Idea - - Official Magazine -

It’s 23 years since young Ital­ian stu­dent Vic­to­ria Cafasso flew to Aus­tralia to visit her cousin Si­mon, a writer liv­ing on Tas­ma­nia’s north-east coast.

She ar­rived at the tran­quil sea­side ham­let of Beau­maris – pop­u­la­tion 350 – on Fri­day, Oct. 6, 1995, and quickly set­tled into its laid-back, coastal life­style.

Vic­to­ria, a Bri­tish-ital­ian cit­i­zen, had de­ferred her law stud­ies, want­ing to travel the world. But, five days af­ter ar­riv­ing in Tas­ma­nia, the 20-year-old was dead – stabbed mul­ti­ple times in a killing frenzy as she’d lain on the beach.

The mur­der sent shock­waves through Tas­ma­nia’s north-east and beyond.

With Vic­to­ria’s death fol­low­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance two years ear­lier of Ger­man cy­clist Nancy Grun­waldt, who’d van­ished cy­cling down the coast to Ho­bart, lo­cals be­came wor­ried: could there be a se­rial killer in their midst?

Vic­to­ria’s sis­ter Alexan­dra de­clined to talk about the deeply painful case, but Beau­maris res­i­dent Ge­off Adams, 87, still vividly re­calls the af­ter­noon of Wed­nes­day, Oct. 11, when he dis­cov­ered Vic­to­ria’s body on the beach.

“Mem­o­ries of that day re­main with me for­ever,” he tells New Idea. “Our neigh­bour, Mar­garet Mcintyre, now de­ceased, came over to see us and she seemed to be in shock,” Ge­off ’s wife, Norma, 88, re­calls.

“She said, ‘I’ve just been down to the beach. There’s some­thing there that looks like a body. But I’m not sure; per­haps it’s a man­nequin and some­one’s play­ing a prac­ti­cal joke.’”

Ge­off and lo­cal trades­man Rus­sell Har­wood, who was at their home fix­ing the chim­ney, headed straight to the beach, “and there was this young woman ly­ing there, dead”.

Vic­to­ria’s bikini bot­tom was miss­ing and her bikini bra was loosely hang­ing from one shoul­der. She’d been stabbed and bashed re­peat­edly about the head and chest.

“She had marks on her arm where it looked like she’d put up a fight,” Ge­off re­calls.

“Rus­sell ran to call the po­lice while I stayed with the body un­til they ar­rived.”

The shock ex­pe­ri­ence af­fected him so deeply that he’s only been back to the beach, across the road from his house, twice since Vic­to­ria’s mur­der. “It changed ev­ery­thing for us. I’ve never been back to the beach in 23 years,” Norma sighs.

At Vic­to­ria’s in­quest in 2003, Launce­s­ton Coro­ner Don­ald Jones con­cluded Vic­to­ria was prob­a­bly mur­dered be­tween 11.30am and 12.35pm.

At around 8.30am that morn­ing, the law stu­dent had ap­par­ently told her cousin Si­mon de Salis, with whom she was stay­ing at a rented cot­tage,

“MEM­O­RIES OF THAT DAY RE­MAIN WITH ME FOR­EVER,” SAYS GE­OFF

that she was go­ing to the beach.

She’d been ob­served by an­other lo­cal sun­bak­ing on the beach at about 10.10am, an hour or so be­fore she was killed.

“The killer ap­proached her as she lay on her stom­ach, read­ing her book,” re­tired de­tec­tive in­spec­tor Gra­ham Hickey, who headed the mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, tells New Idea.

“He belted her on the back­side with a hard ob­ject. We think she then turned over and fought him off, and he then whacked her face with such force he knocked out three of her teeth. He then be­gan slash­ing her with a knife.

“It was ob­vi­ous from her wounds that she put up a fight. Vic­to­ria was a strong, ath­letic young woman, but even­tu­ally he stabbed her in the heart, fa­tally wound­ing her.”

He adds, “The killer then put her in the wa­ter, no doubt hop­ing she’d float away. She didn’t though, she came back in, and she was found by the shore.”

By then the killer’s DNA had been washed off by the salt wa­ter, ham­per­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions. But other vi­tal clues were also lost due to mis­takes made by the three po­lice of­fi­cers first at­tend­ing the crime scene, who failed to make a thor­ough record of all the foot­prints in the sand sur­round­ing Vic­to­ria’s body.

While some of her be­long­ings were found on the beach, Vic­to­ria’s trousers, towel, T-shirt, shell neck­lace and flo­ral bikini bot­tom have never been found.

Po­lice were later crit­i­cised by the coro­ner, who said the en­tire scene should have been closed off and recorded on video and that a state foren­sic pathol­o­gist should have at­tended.

“The cru­cial start of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was blun­dered, yes,” ad­mits Gra­ham Hickey, who was in­ter­state when po­lice en­quiries be­gan. “Cer­tain things were over­looked and in that short win­dow of op­por­tu­nity be­fore the tide comes in, we lost vi­tal clues. We have no idea how the killer left the area.”

Once he was ap­pointed to head the mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion upon his re­turn a few days later, he says, “we called all the towns­folk to­gether and told them, ‘You’re all sus­pects if you live here!’”

From there, lo­cals were ex­ten­sively in­ter­viewed and in­ter­ro­gated about their move­ments on the day of Oct.11. “It was a long, painstak­ing process.” But un­for­tu­nately, the po­lice weren’t able to es­tab­lish who was be­hind the sav­age mur­der of Vic­to­ria.

“It’s one of the most puz­zling cases I’ve ever been in­volved in,” says the for­mer de­tec­tive. “This mur­der re­mains a mys­tery. We still do not have enough ev­i­dence to know who ac­tu­ally com­mit­ted the crime.” He adds, “I do be­lieve it was car­ried out by some­one

liv­ing on the east coast of Tas­ma­nia. They may eas­ily still be liv­ing here.”

Vic­to­ria’s death came just two years af­ter the dis­ap­pear­ance of Ger­man tourist Nancy Grun­waldt, 26, last seen cy­cling along the Tas­man High­way in Beau­maris. Her body has never been found, nor her bi­cy­cle.

“We never used to lock our door when we went out, but af­ter th­ese two tragedies we cer­tainly be­came a lot more se­cu­rity con­scious,” says Norma.

Though many lo­cals be­lieve the deaths of the two women must be linked, Mr Hickey be­lieves it’s highly un­likely.

“Two anony­mous tip-offs over the years led us to con­clude Nancy was prob­a­bly a vic­tim of a hit-and-run, pos­si­bly by a mo­torist who then pan­icked and hid her bi­cy­cle.

“I do think some­body, some­where knows some­thing which could help po­lice with their in­ves­ti­ga­tions, both with Nancy’s death and also Vic­to­ria’s,” he says. “It’s im­pos­si­ble for their be­reaved fam­i­lies to have full clo­sure un­til some­body is brought to jus­tice for th­ese ter­ri­ble crimes.”

At times Gra­ham Hickey ad­mits he’s been ver­bally abused by busi­ness op­er­a­tors in north­east Tas­ma­nia, wor­ried that his oc­ca­sional me­dia ap­peals for pub­lic help in solv­ing the deaths may keep tourists away.

“My role was al­ways to do ev­ery­thing I could to try to solve th­ese crimes,” he shrugs.

He re­mains con­vinced that “some­one knows who’s be­hind Vic­to­ria’s death and hope­fully they’ll come for­ward.”

Ge­off and Norma Adams haven’t given up hope ei­ther. “I’d like to see the killer nailed,” says Ge­off, as Norma nods. “Many of our friends from Beau­maris have ei­ther moved away or died since Vic­to­ria’s mur­der.

“We never wanted to leave the town. But cer­tainly it left its mark. We can’t ever for­get what hap­pened.”

Tas­ma­nian po­lice are now re­ac­ti­vat­ing en­quiries into Vic­to­ria’s death.

There is a $100,000 re­ward for any­one pro­vid­ing po­lice with in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to the ar­rest of her killer. Words by Jac­qui Lang Pho­tos by Peter Rigby

“THE KILLER AP­PROACHED HER AS SHE LAY ON HER STOM­ACH, READ­ING HER BOOK,” SAYS GRA­HAM HICKEY

Vic­to­ria Cafasso (left) was just 20 years old when she was stabbed to death on this Tas­ma­nian beach. Ge­off Adams (right) dis­cov­ered her body.

Vic­to­ria’s par­ents Xe­nia and Giuseppe Cafasso (left) re­mem­bered their daugh­ter at a press con­fer­ence. The mur­dered girl’s fam­ily vis­ited the beach (be­low). But Vic­to­ria’s killer has never been found.

While some of Vic­to­ria’s be­long­ings were found, many re­main un­ac­counted for. Re­tired De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Gra­ham Hickey (main) de­scribes the case as one of the most puz­zling he’s been in­volved in.

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