The Australian Women's Weekly
On the trail of a serial killer
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the unsolved Claremont serial killings. Yet, as an FBI-trained criminal profiler tells Debi Marshall, these murders are solvable – and the key is in some grainy TV footage.
HER NAKED, BADLY decomposed body, exposed to nature’s vagaries for 54 long days, was pitiful in death. Dumped in a lonely roadside verge 40 kilometres south of Perth, police immediately knew the identity of this young, blonde woman: 23-year-old childcare worker Jane Rimmer, who had disappeared on June 9, 1996, from an upmarket nightclub in the salubrious suburb of Claremont.
Five months before Jane’s abduction, on Australia Day, 18-year-old Sarah Spiers had also disappeared from the same area, after partying in Claremont. The nightmare would continue when the body of vivacious 27-year-old lawyer Ciara Glennon, who also disappeared from Claremont, on March 15, 1997, was found 18 days later hidden in bushland north of Perth.
For 20 years, the Claremont serial killer has remained an enigma, his motives and identity unknown. Despite an avalanche of information from members of the public terri ed he would strike again and the spotlight beamed on some wellpublicised suspects, police have failed to make any breakthroughs. The investigation has earned a reputation as being the longest, most expensive and unsolved murder enquiry in Australian history.
Yet while criminal pro lers have examined the cases, their ndings have mostly been kept from the public; a fact, according to former NSW police detective Kris Illingsworth, who has extensive FBI training in criminal pro ling, that is one of the key reasons why the murders remain unsolved.
“On stalled investigations, you rely on the public’s help,” she says. “I hope someone will come forward now if they recognise anyone from this pro le.”
Tall and softly spoken, Kris, who retired in 2008 and now runs her own company, Behavioural Trace Investigations, has seen the worst of humanity. An analyst on the notorious Milat backpacker serial killings, she was also a detective on the Granny Killer serial murders. In her 25-year career, she worked on around 300 murders and 500 sexual assaults.
Kris went to the abduction and disposal sites in Perth and is blunt in her assessment of the time it took police to release CCTV footage of Jane Rimmer standing outside the Continental Hotel the night she was abducted. “They waited 12 years after her murder to show it to the public,” she says, with dismay. “That vision should have been released at the time. It’s Jane’s last sighting and she is meeting an unidenti ed man. Without a doubt, this footage of Jane Rimmer is the key to it all.”
A sensitive, fun-loving dreamer who lacked self-esteem, Jane was desperate to nd love, friends say. On that fateful Queen’s Birthday long weekend, she was out drinking with friends, starting at the trendy Ocean Beach Hotel (OBH) in Cottesloe, before moving to the Continental Hotel.
“About 11.40pm, the group left the Conti to go home,” Kris says. “But Jane suddenly announced she wanted to hang around the hotel a bit longer. Her friends assumed she wanted to meet someone for the night. It appears the meeting with the man in the CCTV footage was prearranged – but when and with whom? And why did she choose to keep this rendezvous a secret?”
Kris runs through the haunting black and white CCTV footage of Jane taken as she waited outside the Continental. “The rst we see of Jane is at 11.58pm, standing alone and facing the street,” she says. “She is obviously waiting for someone. Then, right on midnight, a man walks straight up to her. We only see the back of him for a second, but that brief vision tells us volumes about him. He has straight, short, dark brown or black hair. He is taller than Jane, well dressed with a medium build and muscular upper torso, which suggests tness. He probably presents similarly today, although perhaps now he has greying hair. He would be [aged] around 47 to 55 now.
“When he is about a metre from her, he raises both palms upward in a friendly gesture and Jane raises her head and gives him a radiant smile. She is clearly delighted to see him.”
Kris says their mutual body language strongly indicates that they were not strangers. “When the camera changes to Jane 28 seconds later, the man is no longer there,” she says. “But Jane is, for another three minutes. Now, she has turned to face oncoming traf c. It is more than probable that he has gone to get his car and she is now waiting for a lift from him.”
At 12.04am, Jane looks at her watch. When the camera changes back to her a minute later, she is gone. Eight weeks later, horri ed passers-by discovered Jane – who had dreamed only of marrying and having children – when they were strolling to pick wild owers.
In the days after Jane’s disappearance, police identi ed all 700 patrons who were at the Continental Hotel that night, all, that is, except one person.
“No one was able to identify the man who approached Jane,” Kris says. “Tellingly, he didn’t come forward to identity himself, either. It is vital to establish a timeline for Jane’s movements for the days before she disappeared. Her killer will be in there.”
WHO IS HE? Jane’s distraught mother, Jenny, now in her 60s and in very poor health, did not recognise the man, whom police describe as a “person of interest”, when she was shown the video shortly after her daughter disappeared. She is adamant the decision to withhold it from the public for so long in order to enhance the quality of the footage and because they “didn’t want to narrow the focus of the enquiry” was wrong.
“On that night, I shared a quick drink with Janie at the hotel where I worked before she went off to party with her friends. My last words to her were, ‘Be careful. Be happy. Stay safe’.”
The months following Jane’s disappearance are a blur of painful memories and the weeks following the discovery of her body so agonising that Jenny surrendered to a foetal position, silently screaming and unable to face the world. Jenny’s beloved husband of 42 years, Trevor, died in 2008, ravaged by cancer and something less de nable, unbearable heartache.
“No one can begin to imagine the grief he endured and which I continue to go through,” Jenny says. “Losing a child is like losing a part of yourself. Jane was so full of love and laughter. In my dreams, she returns to me, smiling. In my dreams, she never grows up.”
Kris believes Jane’s nakedness reveals this was de nitely a sexually motivated homicide, but that they weren’t in a close relationship.
“Jane willingly got into his vehicle and was prepared to go to another location with him, most likely for a consensual sexual encounter. But the post-mortem showed that, most likely, her throat had been cut, but there was no property found with her body. Did anyone nd items of clothing around that time that they couldn’t identify?”
Like Jane, Sarah Spiers – a familyoriented, country girl – had also been drinking with friends at the OBH before moving to Club Bayview in Claremont. Around 1.30am, Sarah told friends she was leaving to get a taxi home and walked, alone, to a public telephone box at a deserted commercial area near the intersection of Stirling Highway. “About the time Sarah made that taxi call, a car carrying three young men stopped at a red light at the intersection of Stirling Highway,” Kris says. “At the same time, they noticed car headlights travelling behind them towards the intersection, but they decided that the girl [Sarah] was all right. They drove off, but the car behind did not go through the intersection.”
This was to be the last sighting of Sarah. She had called the cab at 2.06am. When it arrived, three minutes later, she was gone. “Sarah would have known very quickly that she was in danger,” Kris says. Sarah Spiers’ body has never been found.
WHOEVER KILLED THE girls had the social and verbal skills to ingratiate himself with them. “He has the gift of the gab and the know-how to quickly assess a situation, to be able to lure the girls into his car,” Kris says. “In a social situation, he is seen, but not seen. He ts in. He belongs. Did Sarah take a calculated, ultimately tragic risk to get into the car, unsure of how long the taxi would take and perhaps nervous about seeing a carload of young men drive by? Had she seen the driver of the car earlier that evening and felt comfortable with him?”
Ciara Glennon, a feisty, intelligent beauty, had just returned to Perth after 12 months overseas. “She was a person who would assert herself and, if in danger, likely struggle and ght hard,” Kris says. Tired, Ciara also left her friends after drinking at the Continental Hotel on March 14. Sadly, she ignored a warning from witnesses to be careful as she strode along the Stirling Highway and was later seen leaning into a light-coloured car and talking to the driver.
“Did she also take a calculated risk to get in with the driver so she could get home quickly?” Kris asks. “Had she met him before, perhaps even at the Conti that night, or had he stalked her as she left alone?”
When the witnesses looked back at Ciara, the car was gone – and so had she. Her body was found almost three weeks later, fully clothed, about 60 kilometres north of Claremont – the exact opposite direction to Jane. Like Jane, Ciara’s post-mortem suggested her throat had been cut. “He may have sustained injuries that night as Ciara struggled against him. Does anyone remember seeing someone with unusual injuries at that time?”
Kris says the killer’s method of approach says a lot about him. “He conned and lured these women, and his verbal and social skills would transfer to his employment. He works with customers, such as in sales or in a bar as a shift worker. The meeting time – midnight – with Jane suggests he has asked her to wait for him as he had a prior engagement. And he has gone for type – attractive, intelligent, young blonde women.”
“Sarah would have known very quickly that she was in danger.”