Lessons learned from nurses' cold-blooded murder
THE murder of Sydney nurses Lorraine Wilson and Wendy Evans at the bottom of the Toowoomba Range more than 40 years ago is part of local folklore.
It has been 44 years since skeletal remains were found in dense bushland off Stephens Rd at Murphys Creek, and 45 years since the young friends were seen alive.
Yet the profound impact the women's senseless and brutal deaths had on the Toowoomba community has never eased or been erased.
Likewise, for police and particularly those who, with a dogged determination, came as close to justice as possible for the slain friends.
"If you talk to anyone that has been around for the last four decades in policing, they remember the Evans-Wilson murders," Southern Region Assistant Commissioner Mike Condon said.
"My view is they were contributing members of the community in terms of that unique group of people that their whole lives and their profession is about helping people and saving lives.
"Nurses, fireys, ambulance, police. For that reason, it's such a tragic waste of a contributing life to keeping everybody else alive and safe, and I think that's what makes it unique.
"We have had other murders over the years that still ring in the ears of investigators, even those that have retired, but this one is unique bearing in mind that it's 40-odd years."
Toowoomba is emotionally and painfully aware of the Evans-Wilson murders.
The friends had been on a road-trip of a lifetime, having travelled up from New South Wales crossing the NSW border at Goondiwindi where their Volkswagen Beetle broke down on September 30, 1974.
Due to a wait for repairs, they hitchhiked - safely - to Brisbane and stayed with family, enjoying nights out in the Queensland capital before work demands and mechanical delays forced their plans to change.
Having done so safely once, Ms Evans and Ms Wilson decided to hitchhike again, their jobs and home back in Sydney their ultimate destination.
They left Brisbane on October 6 that year - the last time they were seen alive - and fell victim to the "forces of darkness" in Toowoomba.
"These were two nurses full of life experiences, had no doubt dealt with difficult incidents in their profession and probably had a fair bit of confidence about themselves, had got down to Brisbane safely and - tragically - probably thought it was no issue in going back," AC Condon said.
"Obviously the forces of darkness lined up and unfortunately the individuals that picked (them) up clearly had other intentions and sadly that has ended in their lives being taken."
It would be almost two years before Ms Evans and Ms Wilson were found, their skeletal remains stumbled across by an elderly courting couple in bush 30km northeast of Toowoomba at Murphys Creek on June 25, 1976.
The viciousness of the murders stunned investigators who, despite battling 20 months from the nurses' disappearance to their discovery, ran down every lead to identify those responsible.
Persons of interest were identified in those early days, but police were up against true forces of evil - men known to have terrorised women around Toowoomba, their victims too afraid to speak out for fear of something worse than the sexual abuse they had survived.
Likewise witnesses who had driven the Toowoomba Range the night of October 6, 1974 and saw two women struggling against at least two men.
Even with the clarity of hindsight it's impossible to tell if that would have changed history and AC Condon judiciously explained a culture of fear is perhaps why the violent assaults were never officially reported.
"It's fair to say if the community was aware of the alleged activities of this group then certain members of the community may not want to get involved for fear of retribution," he said.
"Could it have changed the outcome of the Evans-Wilson (murder)? It's hard to say really, isn't it?
"Certainly, it may have provided an opportunity for us to focus more on the activities of these people. Whether it would have changed history is unknown but certainly it's a reminder for us that even in 2018 we need to be vigilant on any information that comes from the public."
In 2003, then Detective Senior Sergeant Kerry Johnson was handed the Evans-Wilson file and asked to investigate.
A decade later the case went back before the State Coroner and a 1983 inquest - which had been conditionally closed - re-opened.
In those 10 years, and as he rose through the police ranks and was assigned to various departments, the now Regional Crime Coordinator Detective Superintendent Johnson came as close as possible to identifying those responsible for the senseless slaying of Ms Evans and Ms Wilson.
A group of people linked by blood and marriage, and a social undercurrent of perverse and violent behaviour, were identified by Coroner Michael Barnes as being involved in some way.
"There is persuasive evidence that during the 1970s, a group of young men, most of whom were members of the extended Laurie and Hilton families, prowled the streets of Toowoomba in various cars assaulting men and forcing young women to have sex with them," Coroner Barnes wrote in his 34-page report.
"Their violent depravity was visited randomly on whoever crossed their path, including family members and associates, male and female.
"It is more likely than not Wendy Evans and Lorraine Wilson tragically stumbled into this putrid pool of miscreants and were killed by them.
"Undoubtedly they were abducted and killed by more than one person but the identity of those responsible cannot now be established with sufficient certainty, with one exception: namely, Wayne Robert Hilton."
Hilton, known as Boogie, died before he could be hauled before the courts for his crimes.
Superintendent Johnson said the coronial findings were a credit to Ms Wilson's brother Eric Wilson, her mother Betty Wilson, and the Toowoomba community which, for decades, showed they were willing to come forward when they could.
"Toowoomba really had hung their heads in shame that something like that happened," he said.
"They were nurses who devoted their lives to helping people and it ended on (Toowoomba's) doorstep.
"I take my hat off to Toowoomba for never shying away from it, even 30 years later.
"Those that never reported (what they saw) broke down in shame but you have to consider they all have got families."
The role community plays in helping to solve crime, especially homicides, has never changed in the intervening years.
If anything, the tools at people's disposals such as mobile phones and cameras has made everyday men and women more critical to investigations.
The final missing piece of the investigation jigsaw can come from anywhere - a fact AC Condon is painstakingly aware of for every investigation he has been involved in.
"Because we have in most cases a more global perspective of what's happening, it can be that little piece of the jigsaw that we are absolutely looking for and that will break a case, or at least turn our mind to narrowing in on a particular line of inquiry and see where the evidence takes you.
"It's easy to say if those people had come forward we may have solved it earlier. That may not be the case because where are the girls?
"We had witnesses who reflected on things they saw on or before 6 October 1974 that they never thought was relevant until they started to see the media coverage and also perhaps talking to friends.
"An example of that is the people coming down the Range, saw an incident, they didn't think much of it, they thought it may have been a university prank."
As well as the modern safety message warning of the dangers hitchhiking brings, AC Condon maintains there's a message to those that perpetrate heinous crimes in all forms.
And as more high profile cold cases are closed as more forensic technology becomes available and tools available to investigators, it's as astute but profound message.
"One thing is for sure; where there is evidence, we will pursue people who commit criminal offences, particularly of this nature, until their last breath," he warned.
"They should know there is no place on Earth safe and we owe it to the families and particularly we owe it to the victims."