one of Australia's most enduring murder mysteries may be a step closer to being solved because of new evidence about the disappearance 30 years ago of a department store heiress who campaigned against development in a bohemian Sydney neighbourhood.
Juanita Nielsen vanished in July 1975 after visiting the Carousel Cabaret, a local club, for a business meeting. Two of the Carousel's staff were subsequently jailed for conspiracy to abduct her but although an inquest indicated that she had been murdered, no one was ever charged with her death.
Nearly three decades on, police are examining fresh leads after an Australian author, Peter Rees, unearthed two witnesses with new information about the case. Loretta Crawford, a transsexual who was a receptionist at the club, told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television that Nielsen was shot in the head in the Carousel's basement.
Monet King, another witness interviewed by the ABC, who is a former girlfriend of the club's night manager, Eddie Trigg, said that he came home that night with a swollen fist and blood on his shirt.
Nielsen, the grand-daughter of a businessman, Mark Foy, published a community newspaper in which she vociferously opposed high-rise development in Kings Cross, an inner-city red-light area that was a magnet for writers and artists. The quaint terraced houses of Kings Cross, described by the National Trust as Sydney's Montmartre, were fast disappearing as developers built flats and offices.
A glamorous figure who was well-known in the district, Nielsen, 38, was especially loathed by one property developer, Frank Theeman, whose apartment project she halted by persuading Water Board workers to down tools. Theeman was friendly with Jim Anderson, a notorious underworld figure who owned the Carousel. The Sydney inquest was told that he gave Anderson $25,000 six weeks before Nielsen vanished.
Anderson was not present when she was lured to the club on the pretext of discussing the prospects of advertising in her newspaper. She met Trigg, a barman called Shane Simmonds and a third, unidentified man. Ms Crawford, who also worked as a drag queen, says that after Nielsen went downstairs to talk to the men, she saw her lying on the floor with a bullet wound in her head.
Ms Crawford told the ABC this week that she lied to police to protect Anderson, but his death six months ago had freed her to speak out. "It played on my conscience for a lot of years and it has done to this day," she said.
In Rees's new book about the case, Killing Juanita, Ms Crawford alleges she heard "a whole lot of shouting and yelling" after Nielsen arrived at the club. She then heard one man say: "Troublemakers deserve what they get." When she went down to the storeroom, she saw the "third man" standing over Nielsen's body.
Mr King, who was formerly called Marilyn, was a cocktail waitress at the Carousel who lived with Trigg for 10 years. He has since changed sex, moved to Auckland and become a community health worker and born-again Christian. He told the ABC: "I want the people who did this to be brought to justice."
Mr King is now claiming that he helped Trigg to track Nielsen's movements in the month before she was killed and, on the day of her death, pointed out the blood on Trigg's shirt when he came home from work. "He took off his shirt to change it," he said.`
According to Mr King, the piece of paper - a receipt for a deposit on an advertisement - also had a bloodstain on it. It later became a police exhibit.
After a lengthy inquest in 1983, Trigg was sentenced to three years in jail for conspiracy to abduct Nielsen. Simmonds received a two-year sentence after confessing to police that the advertising story had been a ruse. He said Carousel staff had visited her house the previous week, intending to kidnap her, but she was not at home.
Trigg, now 63 and living in Sydney, has refused to comment. Simmonds is still alive, as is the "third man", Rees says.
Nielsen's body has never been found, although some of her belongings were discovered by a highway that leads to the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Anderson's apartment block was eventually built and still stands today, a scar on the harbour skyline.
- More about:
- ABC TV
- Dwelling Houses And Apartments
- King's Cross
- King's Cross Station
- Newspapers And Magazines