The Family Murders
From 1979 to 1983, the bodies of five young men were found in the area around Adelaide. All of them showed signs of sexual wounds, and led police to the doorstep of one man: Bevan Spencer von Einem. However, evidence only linked von Einem to one crime, leading the world to believe that he didn't act alone.
Part One: The Murders
March 18th, 2017 Micheal Whelan
When people think of Adelaide, they think of it as it is now: the burgeoning capital of South Australia, known for its beautiful landscape as much as its vibrant community. The city was formed because of its stellar location: wedged in between the Adelaide Foothills to the east, the coastline that runs along the west and down into the southern cape, and the expanse of vast Australia that lies to the north. The Torrens River runs throughout Central Adelaide, splitting the city into primarily two halves.
Adelaide is seen as a very liberal, shining beacon of progressivism in the modern era, but back in the 1960s and 1970s, was going through a period of growing pains. Once known as "the City of Churches," Adelaide was beginning to go through a cultural renaissance. Arts festivals were popping up left and right, and the once-conservative nature of the town was beginning to fall prey to what some called "the hippie movement."
Because of this wave of progressivism, the 1970s saw many more homosexuals become comfortable in their skin. They began to embrace their sexuality, even though it was still technically illegal under Australian law.
This reached a boiling point when, in 1972, two men were thrown into the Torrens River. Members of the city's Vice Squad - a police unit primarily aimed at targeting drug users and offenders of "moral" laws - were tasked with rooting out homosexuals. Believe it or not, this was a practice of Southern Australia's law enforcement. Most of time, instead of actually arresting gay men for their perceived crimes, they would simply rough them up, as much as it pains me to say.
George Duncan and Roger James were two men that had been picked up by the Vice Squad on this evening, May 10th. Instead of facing any charges for being gay, the handful of police officers present decided that the best course of action would be to throw both men into the nearby Torrens River itself.
Both men hit the water, and one didn't come back out alive. George Duncan would drown in the river that evening, and the other, Roger James, would escape the Torrens with a broken ankle.
While the members of the Vice Squad began to panic, and news cameras rushed to capture video of Duncan's body being pulled from the river, Roger James was helped out of the water by a stranger. This stranger's name was as peculiar as the man it belonged to: Bevan Spencer von Einem. von Einem helped James from the water, and actually drove him to the nearby Royal Adelaide Hospital.
This story would become historic, in more ways than one. The death of George Duncan would serve as a catalyst, ultimately leading to repeals of Southern Australia's harsh anti-homosexuality laws. Homosexuality would become decriminalized in South Australia in 1975, with the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, becoming the first Australian state or territory to do so.
However, this evening would also see the name "Bevan Spencer von Einem" first scratched into the history books. He had been present for this dark moment in Australian history, but he would go on add many more miserable chapters of his own.
Following the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1975, Adelaide continued its ascent of progressive ideals. Gay people began to finally embrace their identities, no longer having to hide the shame of their sexuality under threat of imprisonment or police harassment.
This saw the creation of gay clubs, such as the Mars Bar; along with other bars and nightlife scenes where homosexuals were welcome, such as the Duke of York or Buckingham Arms, also known as "The Buck."
Alan Barnes was a teenager that seemed to live in this bubble between being a child and an adult. He was seventeen, with a youthful, good-looking appearance and a care-free, fun-loving attitude.
He lived with his parents, both English immigrants, in Salisbury, a northern suburb of Adelaide. His mother, Judy, described him as being incredibly witty: "cheeky," as she tells it in a documentary about the case. She goes on to describe him as being the type of person who was quick on his feet, and would respond to any type of comment with something incredibly funny.
Alan was beginning to enter the phase of life where he was experimenting with drugs. With friends, Alan had begun smoking weed and pushing himself to the threshold of his comfort zone, trying to find out who he was in a burgeoning social scene.
On Saturday, June 16th, 1979, Alan spent the night at a friend's house. What the two were up to is anyone's guess, but rumors and theories have cropped up in the decades since. Witnesses recall seeing them at some of those local hot-spots, such as the bars and clubs I previously mentioned.
On Sunday, June 17th, Alan and his friend woke up, and tried their luck at hitchhiking home. They were trying to hitch a ride on Grand Junction Road, before realizing that the both of them were going to have no luck together. Who would have the patience to pick up TWO hitchhikers, let alone one? Alan's friend headed back home, figuring that Alan would be okay: Grand Junction Road was always busy, and there were plenty of people around them hitting up the shops. And that was, sadly, the last that anyone remembers seeing of Alan Barnes while he was alive.
Alan wouldn't return home that Sunday. On Monday morning, his parents hadn't seen him in a matter of days, and felt that it was time to contact the police. Alan was nearly an adult, at this point in his life, but even this was a bit drastic for him. He had never disappeared before, so this was a cause for concern.
Alan's friend told police the story: that they had been hanging out together throughout Saturday and the first part of Sunday, but that they had split up. Alan was supposed to find a ride back home, and was taking his luck hitchhiking, hoping that someone was travelling north near his family's community of Salisbury.
Witnesses remembered seeing Alan on Grand Junction Road that Sunday. He was a good-looking young man with long, blonde hair; even in that day and age, he'd stick in your memory somewhat. But one witness recalled something very disconcerting: this witness told police that they saw Alan get into a vehicle. They remembered the vehicle as looking like a white sedan, which may have been a Holden, and that there were a couple of occupants inside the car, other than the driver.
For the next week, police would have to chew upon that information. And most unfortunately, the resolution they'd get the following weekend would be hard to swallow for everyone involved.
The following Sunday, June 24th, a couple of hikers were "bushwalking" up in the area known as the Adelaide Foothills. Just east of Adelaide, the area is well-known to Southern Australians, and serves as a primary destination for day-hikers and campers.
These two hikers were right next to the South Para Reservoir, when they noticed something on the ground. Whatever it was, it looked like a body, but was somehow twisted and contorted in an inhuman nature.
Police were called, and before long, Alan's father and grandfather found themselves on their way to identify the body as their teenage relative.
The news was heart-breaking. The Barnes family had been bracing themselves for the worst, but this was confirmation of their worst fears. Alan had been murdered, and the extent of his injuries would reveal that he had suffered a worse fate beforehand.
When police arrived to the scene, they made the immediate assumption that whoever had tried to dump the body of Alan Barnes had failed, in some way. The bridge, up above, had a clearing of about a meter, meaning that whomever had tried to catapult Alan into the water below had missed the mark.
His body had fallen to the dirt below, but had twisted and contorted in such a way that if he was still alive, it would have surely resulted in death or serious injury.
However, the Adelaide medical examiners would come to the conclusion that Alan had died at least a day or two before being dumped near the South Para Reservoir. And his cause of death is where the story begins to take a drastically dark turn.
Police believed that Alan had been held for days, tortured and beaten by a sexual sadist. They identified his cause of death as blood loss from an anal injury, caused by an item that would have torn apart his insides.
What's more is that the medical examiners also found trace amounts of chloral hydrate in his blood stream, leading police to believe that he had been drugged. They quickly surmised that the drug Noctec, which was a non-prescription pharmaceutical used to aid people with sleep issues, had been given to Alan some time before his death. Whether it was in a laced drink was a serious question for them, because they also discovered alcohol in his blood stream, making it a real possibility that Alan had been given a Mickey.
The medical examiners also discovered that Alan's body had been extensively washed, his captor wanting to scrub away any evidence that could link the two together. The clothes that Alan had been wearing when he disappeared were also gone, and he was found wearing clothes that were not his.
Police immediately began investigating the crime as a personal one; the idea of a random killer hadn't even crossed their mind. This seemed like the type of murder beset by personal issues, or committed by someone with an ax to grind against Alan.
Two days after the body of Alan Barnes was discovered, an anonymous caller got in touch with the police investigating the crime. They told the detectives that a man named Bevan Spencer von Einem was responsible for the murder, and his name was added to the list of suspects. The police wanted to try and eliminate suspects that actually knew Alan first and foremost, but promised to check out von Einem.
Sadly, this dark and tragic story was just beginning.
Neil Muir was what you could call a transient. Now twenty-five years old, Neil had spent the better part of the last few years struggling with addictions and vices that left him moving from place-to-place pretty regularly.
At this point, in August of 1979, Neil was living alone in an apartment unit on Carrington Street, putting him right at the center of Adelaide itself. If you look up pictures of Neil, he looks like your everyday rock star, including the tattoos and long hair.
None of the research I found over the past couple of months states exactly what it is that Muir did for a living, but a common theory that has popped up that Muir was prostituting himself to support his habits.
Muir was operating in social circles that took him through various hotels and gay-friendly bars. His sexuality is also never pointed out, but many of the figures he socialized with were homosexuals, leading to the theory that he was an active member in the local gay community.
Sadly, Muir's biggest vice was his ever-evolving drug addiction. He had swung from being a heroin user to trying to get clean with methadone, only to have methadone become his next addiction, back to heroin again. He had developed a dependence upon opiates, and had recently been described Rohypnol - also known as "roofies."
On the last weekend of August, 1979, Muir was spotted multiple times at his local haunts, such as the Duke of York and the Buck. He was seen in the presence of individuals who become relevant later on.
On Monday, August 27th, Neil Muir was seen alive for the last time. He had become so topsy-turvy, due to the mix of drugs and alcohol in his system, that a bouncer had to physically drag him outside. Then, he began to stumble down the street, only to be found again the next day... in pieces.
The next day - on Tuesday, August 28th - a couple of fishermen were heading out to the Port Adelaide River, on a regular week workday. They had no idea that they were about to make one of the most gruesome discoveries in Australian history.
A couple of black trash-bags were floating on the low tide of the river's coast. They looked as if they had been dropped from the higher-up wharf, just like the body of Alan Barnes had been. But, just like Alan Barnes' body, these bags had failed to connect with the larger body of water, and instead of floating out into the sea, where they'd be lost forever, they instead rested still against the coast, a mystery waiting to be unearthed.
Upon investigating the bag, on the shores of Mutton Cove, the fishermen discovered Neil Muir. Or, sadly, what remained of the man.
Neil Muir's body had been so badly mutilated that he barely resembled a human being. His body had been dissected into parts, his internal organs carved out and missing, replaced by his lower legs and arms, which had been sawed off and put inside his chest cavity. His head had also been removed from the rest of his body, but was hanging on with a rope tie and stuffed into another black trash bag. His numerous tattoos had also been cut away from his flesh, the remains of which were stuffed into his chest cavity along with his legs.
Describing this makes me a little stick to my stomach, but I think it's important to note just how much effort was gone into mutilating the body of Neil Muir. He had gone missing just a day before, but was dumped like a science experiment-gone-wrong within 24 hours of his disappearance.
When police arrived, they cordoned off the area, and began their exhaustive efforts to find out what had happened to Neil Muir. The discovery of his remains was like a scene from a horror movie, so this was the type of story that was going to attract attention from the population at-large.
When the ME's began to examine his body, they discovered a red flag that hearkened back to the discovery of Alan Barnes' corpse.
Neil Muir had the same type of anal injuries as Alan, implying that a large, bottle-shaped object had been used to injure him, causing a large amount of blood loss. They would also find a head wound on Neil, implying that he had been struck by his killer some time before his death, but it wasn't enough to kill him. No, that had come from the blood loss due to the sexual assault, just like Alan Barnes.
Police and the medical examiners were also shocked to find out that, in addition to his limbs being sawed off, Neil's genitals had been mutilated by his killer. His penis had been cut, and he was missing a testicle. Police understood why Neil's body might have been cut up, as it would make the body easier to manage and transport in a single trash bag, but the genital mutilation implied that there was a sadistic sexual nature to the crime.
This made them think of one of the many signs of a serial killer, which are, of course, trophies of their victims.
The investigation to find Neil Muir's killer had begun, and it started with the most obvious of leads: Neil's drug problems.
Apparently, Neil had a number of drug debts throughout town, and that is where police began asking around. Their psychological profile showed that the body had either been carved up due to a psychotic killer getting pleasure out of the act, or someone that wanted to hide his identity.
Eventually, this led nowhere, so the police then began to investigate people within Neil's social circle.
Investigator Rod Hunter finally got around to interviewing Bevan Spencer von Einem, who had been implicated by an anonymous caller in the murder of Alan Barnes. While questioning him, at von Einem's home, the suspect asked about the investigation of Neil Muir, unabated. At that point, Bevan Spencer von Einem told the investigator that he was a homosexual that personally knew Neil Muir, having been a former lover of his roughly four years beforehand, and that he had seen Neil just days before his murder.
Investigator Hunter made note of this, finding it odd that von Einem would have ties to two victims that had suffered the same type of sexual assault before their deaths, but at this point, police already had another lead from Neil Muir's social circle.
Their first true suspect was named Dr. Peter Millhouse.
Two separate calls linked Dr. Peter Millhouse to the death of Neil Muir. Both callers - drug users and associates of the victim - were prepared to testify in favor of charging Dr. Millhouse for the crime.
Peter Leslie Millhouse was a doctor from Mt. Gambier, a city roughly five hours south of Adelaide. He was single, in his mid-forties, and was a known homosexual who had a bit of an alcohol issue.
Dr. Millhouse lived alone in a cottage in North Adelaide, and drove a ten-year old Holden sedan. He was a known relative of Robin Millhouse, who was the former Attorney General of the South Australian government and would become a South Australian Supreme Court Justice in 1982.
In the days after Neil Muir was murdered, Millhouse went on a bit of a self-described "bender," abusing alcohol. By the weekend following Neil's death, Millhouse had already consulted his attorney for any legal ramifications, and had checked himself into the Osmond House rehab center.
While in rehab, Millhouse refused to speak to police about Neil Muir. So police began to build their case against Millhouse without his cooperation, including witness statements that saw the suspect with Neil Muir the weekend before his untimely demise. Some of the employees that served them at their local bar haunts recalled seeing the two together multiple times, and other witnesses testified to the two being close.
Apparently, Dr. Millhouse was one of people Neil Muir would talk to for drugs, although there was never any proof that Dr. Millhouse supplied them. Just witness statements.
When a warrant was served on Dr. Millhouse's home, police found the same type of trash bags and rope that had been found with Neil Muir's remains. However, that was very circumstantial evidence. The closest thing to proof they found regarding Dr. Millhouse being the killer were trace remnants of what looked like blood on Peter Millhouse's bathroom floor, which had been cleaned multiple times over with a chemical agent.
Peter Millhouse had apparently known Neil Muir for years, but there was never any proof that the two had a sexual relationship. But, surprisingly, when Millhouse was arrested and charged with Neil's murder, he stated that he never even met the man, defying dozens of witness statements that claimed they were acqaintances - if not friends.
The trial would get postponed until the latter half of 1980, over a year after Neil Muir's body had been found. Throughout it, the prosecution relied heavily on their circumstantial evidence, failing to establish any motive for the crime or clear evidence. Dr. Peter Millhouse was acquitted of all charges, and let loose, leaving the police right where they had started years beforehand.
Over the next couple of years, the case would stagnate. No new real leads popped up, and police were shy to publicly admit that the true victims - Alan Barnes and Neil Muir - were connected. There was nothing to connect them other than the sexual assault component of the case, and as we just learned, loose threads like that fail to catch on all of the time. It would be another year before anything related to the story happened, and it would take another year after that before any resolution would be made.
Peter Stogneff was a fourteen-year old, who lived with his family in a middle-class northeastern Adelaide suburb.
He was the youngest of the boys involved with this story, and his face showed it: he still had the youthful appearance of a child, and by all means, seemed to be your typical adolescent young man. His parents recalled that he loved music, both listening and playing, and he had a good rapport with his friends.
On Thursday, August 27th, 1981, Peter made the decision to skip school. He obviously didn't tell his parents his plans, but set off in the morning as if he was going to school. He took his backpack with him, and walked off, just like any other morning.
Over time, investigators have theorized that instead of going to school, he instead went to Tea Tree Plaza, which was a local haunt for youths. At some point, Peter returned home and hid his backpack in the garage, presumably so his parents wouldn't find it if they returned home before him.
Then, Peter set off towards the distant Rundle Mall, where he was due to meet up with his friend, Daniel, next to a silver sculpture.
Peter never showed up. He had simply disappeared into thin air. When Peter didn't return home that evening, his family began to look around for him, finding his school bag in the garage, where Peter had hidden it to avoid detection. After calling around to his friends and their families, they discovered the secret plot to skip school, and immediately contacted the police.
The police began asking around, but no sign of Peter would be found for some time. A witness recalled seeing a youth that resembled Peter at Tea Tree Plaza, in the company of an adult male. However, this was never verified by police, and led to no resolution regarding Peter's fate.
Peter's fate would remain unknown over the next year, at which point, another victim would unwittingly join the fray.
Mark Langley was a young man, athletic and good-looking. He was eighteen, a hard-working young man with the entire world in front of him.
It was Saturday, February 27th of 1982, and Mark was attending the 18th birthday party of a friend of his in Windsor Gardens, in northeastern Adelaide. He had driven there with his family, who attended the party with him, but left with a couple of friends afterwards to drive around the city.
Mark was cruising around with his buddy, Ian, and Ian's girlfriend, Paula, when an argument broke out. Ian recalled it being about cigarettes, but it could have been about anything; I think we all know how teenagers are.
However, at some point, while they were parked along the Torrens River on War Memorial Drive, the argument got to a point where Mark decided to get out and walk off into the night. Ian and Paula drove off, returning just a few minutes later, but at that point, Mark was gone.
Mark's family was concerned when, the next day - Sunday - Mark had still not returned home. They phoned the police that evening, hoping that any trace of their son could be found, but the police were stumped.
They reached out to Mark's friends, hoping that he had simple wandered off and been staying with a friend. But the last recorded sighting of Mark was him wandering off from Ian's car, and he was never seen alive after that.
Mark Langley's body was discovered in the Adelaide Foothills, close to Mount Lofty, the summit after whom the local mountain range is named after. The area was known as Summertown, and it had been nine days since Mark disappeared.
Mark Langley was found wearing most of the clothes he had been wearing on the night he disappeared, minus his undershirt and without a chain he had been wearing, which contained his zodiac sign - that of Cancer.
Like the other victims, police quickly learned a lot from Langley's body. He had been killed elsewhere and then transported to his dumping ground afterwards, implying that the killer had a base of operations for his dark deeds.
Also, like the other victims, Langley showed the same cause of death: blood loss from an anal injury, caused by an unknown item. He had also been washed before being dumped, just like Alan Barnes had been.
However, unlike the other victims, Mark Langley's body showed an odd sign of surgical precision. A few inches about his groin, below his navel, there was a small surgical scar that had been sealed shut with staples and a specific type of Johnson & Johnson surgical tape. The area around the scar had even been shaved away, implying that this wasn't just an impromptu form of torture, but perhaps the actual work of a surgeon trying to fix a mistake.
Medical examiners and police began to theorize about the rationale for the surgical scar, and the most plausible explanation is one of the worst, as far as mental images are concerned. That theory was that whatever item had been used to sexually assault Mark with had gotten caught up in his intestines, requiring a quick surgical reaction on behalf of the killer to retrieve the item.
Because Mark's body had been dumped in the Australian summer months of February, and was exposed to the intense heat of the outback sun, the exposed skin of his face and neck had already begun to wither away.
However, this led police to think that he had been killed shortly after his abduction, meaning that he had probably been sitting out in the wilderness for about a week before his discovery. Just like Neil Muir, whoever had taken him had killed him and dumped him pretty quickly, within a matter of a day or two.
While police began to investigate who might be responsible, medical examiners tested the system of Mark Langley and made a pretty vital discovery: the existence of drugs in his system.
As you recall, the chemical chloral hydrate was found in the system of Alan Barnes, and he had an above average level of alcohol in his system: roughly four times the legal limit, which was incredibly high for a teenager. However, when Neil Muir's body was discovered, his internal organs had been removed and were missing, meaning that police weren't able to test his blood for any drugs.
With Mark Langley, medical examiners discovered the drug Mandrax in his system. Referred to as a "Randy Mandy" among perverts and other deviants, Mandrax was a sedative that had just recently become popular worldwide with the branding "Quaalude." This popularity brought with it a poor reputation, however, and by the late 1970s, Mandax had become a regulated prescription drug throughout Australia.
The emergence of Mandax as a lead would become interesting later on, but at this point in the investigation, the police were still struggling to connect all of the dots.
Just a few months later, in June of 1982, fourteen-year old Peter Stogneff's family would get some resolution.
A farmer who lived nearby Middle Beach and Two Wells, towns roughly an hour north of Adelaide, had been cleansing his farmland during the winter months. This meant doing away with large swathes of land in a prescribed burn, to prepare for the upcoming spring months.
As the farmer's land burned, so did the remains of Peter Stogneff.
After doing away with his old crops, the farmer was looking over his land when he came across the now-charred remains of young Peter. He contacted the police, and when they looked over the burned corpse, they quickly came to the realization that it was Peter.
Sadly, almost all evidence that may have been recovered with his body were now gone. Police and medical examiners wouldn't be able to identify his cause of death, or even find out approximately when he had been killed.
The only piece of evidence that police were able to uncover from his body was the knowledge that, just like Neil Muir, his body had been cut into parts with a saw. His body hadn't been cut up exactly like Neil Muir's, but the M.E.s were able to identify points in the bones above his knees and along his back where a saw had carved his body into pieces.
Needless to say, over the past few months, this investigation had become a new beast entirely. The body count had doubled. The trial of Dr. Peter Millhouse had been concluded for years at this point, and with his acquittal, the police were nowhere closer to finding their suspect.
Richard Kelvin was fifteen years old, on the precipice of turning sixteen, in June of 1983. He was the son of Channel 9 News host Rob Kelvin, who had recently taken over the host gig after over a decade of reporting through the station and a radio affiliate.
Like most of the victims targeted by this unknown killer, Richard was young, athletic, good-looking, and had the entire world ripe for the taking. He played soccer for a local Lockley club on the weekends, and on the day in question - Sunday, June 5th, 1983 - was kicking around the ball with his father, Rob, and his friend, Boris, at a park nearby their home.
After they finished, Rob walked home, and Richard was going to walk Boris down to the nearby O'Connell Street bus stop, where he'd be able to catch a ride home.
As a weird joke, Richard had been wearing the family dog's collar while they were at the park. It was apparently a joke he had just started that day, and his family thought it was odd, but it made sense for Richard's sense of humor. They didn't seem to have an issue with it.
The Kelvin family home, on Ward Street, was just a few blocks away from War Memorial Drive, where Mark Langley had gone missing over a year prior.
Richard and Boris made it down to O'Connell street without incident, and the two were talking for a short bit before Boris' bus showed up to take him home. He got on, and Richard set off on the walk back to his home - a trip no more than four-hundred meters.
Boris was the last person that remembered seeing Richard alive, because he never made it home.
Richard Kelvin's disappearance was a slightly higher profile than the others. Having the son of the region's top newscaster disappear doesn't happen all of the time, so it was bound to make waves.
The police first investigated Richard's disappearance as that of a runaway, even though the Kelvins vigorously denied it. Richard had had some problems with kids at his school, but he was a relatively happy kid who had just recently gotten a serious girlfriend. The two had been dating for a month, and Richard had told his mother that he planned on proposing to her when they were both nineteen years old.
Police didn't arrange a door-to-door canvas of the area until Tuesday, nearly two days after Richard had disappeared. The Kelvins, though somber at the prospect of their son returning safe and sound, understood the process and why it took time.
However, during that door-to-door canvas, the runaway questions soon came to an end. The people living in the area quickly dispelled that with new information.
According to some of the witnesses, they had heard screams and shouts on Sunday evening, as early as 5:30, but as late as 6:30, which is closer to the time that Richard went missing.
One witness: a security guard that lived just down the street from the Kelvins, recalled some of the details succinctly. He remembers hearing a young voice shouting out - who we can only assume was Richard - and a group of voices screaming, almost in unison. Among those voices, he described, was a higher-pitched voice, which may have belonged to a woman. Police didn't believe that it was Richard, as his voice had already cracked, and he had a relatively low-pitched voice for a boy his age.
However, this supposed witness also recalled the sound of a loud exhaust system, as the shouting came to a close and the car containing the loud voices sped off.
Police had been theorizing about the prior victims, whether they were all connected and killed by the same killer. But now this abduction - the most high-profile by far - brought to light a new idea: what if there was a GROUP of killers, all working together with the purpose of sexually assaulting and murdering these young men?
Sadly, the police would have weeks to chew on these questions, as poor Richard Kelvin's fate hung in the balance.
Following the supposed abduction of Richard Kelvin, the police unit known as Major Crimes was put in charge of the investigation. Major Crimes was primarily responsible for serial killings, mass killings, and any other high-profile crimes that the local government wanted handled by the top dogs in the department.
Bob O'Brian was an investigator for Major Crimes, who had just started the prior year. He would literally go on to write the book about these abductions and murders decades later, with his true story "Young Blood." The book is a treasure trove of information regarding the case, and where I picked up most of the details for this episode. I'd recommend it if you want to learn more about the story.
O'Brian was working when Major Crimes received an anonymous tip that stated Richard Kelvin was being held in a caravan in the Adelaide Foothills. This was as good of a tip as they were going to get, and since the most recent victim, Mark Langley, had been found in the Adelaide foothills, they decided to follow through with it. They organized a helicopter search of the Foothills, which O'Brian was present for, but unfortunately the police found nothing worthwhile.
They would receive a few more anonymous calls in the coming weeks. Most were bollocks, but a few piqued the curiosity of Detective O'Brian. The first of which was a very specific call that alleged two men - named Doug and Mark - were responsible for the abduction of Richard Kelvin. This caller alleged that these two men had been driving a 1963 EJ Holden Sedan. While investigators had been keeping some information close to the chest, they decided to publicize this information in the hopes it got somewhere. Sadly, it did not.
Another caller claimed that they had seen Richard Kelvin in a snuff film, filmed very recently. How, why, or where they had seen this tape escaped the caller, but it was enough to send detectives down the rabbit hole of snuff tapes: which, if you're happily unaware, are videos made of people dying.
However, while they were still operating under the assumption that Richard Kelvin was alive, police noticed that this would be the third young man abducted on a Sunday. Alan Barnes, Mark Langley, and now Richard Kelvin had all been taken at different times on a Sunday, establishing at the very least a loose link between the three.
While police theorized about what this meant for the killer - or killers - the life of Richard Kelvin was coming to a close. He would suffer in anguish for weeks before meeting his end, over a month after his abduction.
On July 24th, 1983, a family was looking for moss rocks outside of Kersbrooke, up in the vast northeast reaches of the Mount Crawford Forest. They certainly found more than they bargained for when they stumbled upon the body of Richard Kelvin, nearly two months after he had disappeared.
Police were called, and an extensive search of the area commenced. Detective O'Brian was put in charge of notifying the Kelvins about Richard's body, a heartbreaking task for him, as well.
Richard was found wearing the clothes he had been wearing on the day of his disappearance, along with the family dog's collar, which had disappeared with him.
Just like the previously discovered victims, Richard had been drugged and suffered the same, extensive anal injuries. And just like the others, it was ruled as his cause of death.
However, unlike the others, Richard had been held for an extended period of time. Investigators surmised that Richard had been held captive for close to five weeks before being dumped in the woods north of the Adelaide Foothills. He had likely been sexually assaulted and beaten throughout that time, enduring agony that I can't even imagine.
Just like the victims before him, Richard's blood stream was tested for drugs, trying to find a link to any of the prior victims. Surprisingly, investigators found an insane combination of sedatives in his system, including Noctec, Mandrax, valium, rohypnol, and amytal.
With these results, they were able to tie Richard's disappearance to both Alan Barnes and Mark Langley. No drugs had been detected in Neil Muir's system, because of his body's mutilation, but because of the wounds suffered by him, police linked him to the crime spree. And then there was Peter Spogneff, whose body was too burned to find any evidence, but had suffered the same type of saw wounds as Muir.
Police had finally linked all of the crimes together. Five bodies, five victims, and now five families pushing for answers. But now they had to find a suspect. And what better place to start than with their biggest piece of evidence so far: the drugs used to incapacitate at least three of the victims.
In the latter half of the 1970s, South Australia had begun regulating drugs such as Mandrax, also known as Quaaludes. They were becoming pretty notorious as "date-rape" drugs throughout the world, and the government decided that they should have a solid record of which people had them, or for what purpose.
In October of 1982, a boy - who we'll call George - had been picked up by a passing car. George, who was a teenage hitchhiker, was enticed by the older stranger's offer of a good time. He promised to know some girls in the area, and they would be having a party that evening. George got in the car with the stranger, who offered him a beer from a cooler in the backseat. George happily accepted, hoping that this good time would result in a story to be told later, at the least.
This stranger, a man with artificially-dyed hair, did take George to a house where two girls were living. He didn't bother telling George that both of them were transsexuals, transitioning from men to women, just let them do the talking. One of the trans-women began to seduce and woo George, promising a good time. The young man kept finding fresh beers being handed to him by the stranger that had driven him to the house, and when George began to get sleepy, he was offered a couple of pills called "No-Doz."
At this point, George's memory began to blur. He remembered going back with one of the woman to have sex, unaware that he was being hoodwinked, and shortly thereafter lost consciousness. He woke up the next day, and was surprised to find himself at the home with extensive pain in his backside.
George would go on to report the incident to the police, and consented to analysis and tests. Police discovered a tear in his anus - implying that he had been sexually assaulted - and that there were trace amounts of drugs in his system. Medical examiners were quite sure that he had been dosed with Mandrax - aka "Mandy Randys" - that resulted in him losing consciousness and passing out. He gave the police a description of the man that had picked him up, but couldn't remember his name - nor the names of the girls at the house he had been taken to, or even exactly where it was.
Unfortunately, George's story would remain buried under layers of mystery for close to a year. Then, the discovery of similar chemical agents that had been used to dose George - Noctec and Mandrax, namely - appeared in the test results of Richard Kelvin, the fifth murder victim to experience sexual assault before his death.
Noctec, the drug that had been found in the blood stream of Alan Barnes, was an over-the-counter sleep agent, and almost impossible to track. But Mandrax? That was a serious drug, and police just needed to pull up records of who had a prescription to find a match.
As they began to pour through the list of South Australian patients who had been prescribed Mandrax, one name popped out at them in particular.
Bevan Spencer von Einem.
Part Two: The Family
April 10th, 2017 Micheal Whelan
In the years since pulling Roger James from the Torrens River back in 1972, Bevan Spencer von Einem had lived a relatively mundane life... at least, from the outside looking in.
He was now an accountant for a supplies company, edging closer to forty years old, and he lived with his mother in a small house in northeastern Adelaide.
However, it turns out, that on the side of his everyday "good 'ol boy" demeanor who endeared himself to his mother's older friends and played it nice at work, he was a sexual sadist that liked to abduct, drug, sexually assault, and occasionally murder young men between the ages of thirteen and twenty-five.
When one looked at Bevan von Einem, they didn't see a monster. Very few violent offenders actually look like a monster. Most people saw a man who wasn't terrible-looking, despite having a very particular look: his chin was very large, and his hair had been prematurely graying since he was sixteen years old. He needed to frequent a hairdresser - a friend of his named Denis St. Denis - at least once a month in order to bring it back to the darkened shade of his youth. One word I've seen used to describe Bevan Spencer von Einem is: soft. I think that's a pretty apt description of him, because he looks exactly like what you'd imagine an accountant from the 1980s to look like.
Bevan von Einem apparently suffered from insomnia and other sleep issues, which had forced him to resort to late night, alcohol-fueled drives around Adelaide to comfort himself. Later, it resulted in him having prescriptions to multiple sleep agents, such as Mandrax and Rohypnol. This is what put him on the map of police, now investigating the high-profile murder of Richard Kelvin.
Police began to dig in further to investigate von Einem, and the allegations regarding him. An anonymous caller - who would later become known to detectives - had called just two days after the murder of Alan Barnes, alleging that von Einem was responsible. When he'd been questioned about it, he'd admitted to being gay, and admitted to a prior relationship with Neil Muir, the second victim. Then, apparently, after the discovery of the fourth victim Mark Langley's body, von Einem had been investigated again, when it cropped up that he may or may not have sexually assaulted two young men down by the Torrens River in the preceding weeks. When questioned about Langley, he denied any involvement, but admitted that he had been in the area on the night in-question, and had been both drinking and driving.
Now, police had a direct link between him and the crimes: a prescription to Mandrax, the sedative that had been used to drug at least two of the victims. Investigators were now not only linking him to the sexual assault of a teenage boy named George, but also the murders of Mark Langley and Richard Kelvin.
Police were now eager to question von Einem, doing so surprisingly. They questioned his whereabouts on the night of Richard Kelvin's disappearance, and he quickly responded with an alibi: that he'd been sick.
Apparently, he'd contracted the flu in the early weeks of June, and had actually taken an entire week off of work to recover.
Of course, this wasn't much of an alibi at all, it just served as an admittance of having an excess of time to himself. He had a doctor's note, but the appointment had been a quick one, in which he was prescribed more drugs to sleep and recover.
During this same bout of questioning, he revealed to investigators that he had been prescribed Mandrax for his insomnia, which he also treated by driving around for countless hours during the night and drinking. He also spilled that he had been prescribed Rohypnol in the past - "roofies" for short.
Police inquired if he'd consent to a search of his property: not only his home, but both of his vehicles. He responded by telling the investigators that he no longer owned two cars, just the one. His other vehicle, a Ford Falcon, had been sold just a month beforehand, in June. This also happened to be roughly a week after Richard Kelvin's body had been dumped in the Mount Crawford Forest, and he had gone through the effort of repainting the trunk before selling it to a family friend. He had not repainted the entire car - just the trunk.
When police inquired about his connections to the victims, von Einem had quick answers that seemed prepared. In a prior interview, he had made a small quip about being held up by a man of either Italian or Greek heritage; and in this interview, he told a similar story about a different incident involving a man of Lebanese descent. He seemed to deflect questions by attacking minority groups, detectives thought. Then, when asked if he would ever commit an act such as murder, he responded by saying that it was "unethical," which detectives viewed as a very odd response to the free-form question.
Needless to say, investigators quickly realized that they had found their man. Now, they just needed to prove it.
After the first victim, Alan Barnes, had disappeared, Adelaide police had received a phone call. This was back in 1979, before they would learn about the depths of this unknown killer's depravity. They still believed that Barnes had been killed by someone known to him, making the crime a personal one, and not the act of a sexual sadist.
The phone call, made by an anonymous caller two days after Alan Barnes' body had been found, alleged that the young man had been murdered by Bevan Spencer von Einem. Now with von Einem in their sights, Investigator O'Brian and his colleagues wanted to get back to that original caller, to find out all that they knew.
Surprisingly, they were able to track down the caller. I'll simply refer to him as Investigator O'Brian does in his nonfiction book about the case, as "Mr. B."
When police spoke to Mr. B, they were surprised by a number of things. First of all, he was a younger bisexual man, who was barely a shade over twenty years old. He claimed to have befriended Bevan Spencer von Einem in June of 1979, at around the same time that Alan Barnes disappeared.
In order to avoid being spotted speaking to police, Mr. B went through a series of hoops to meet up with Investigator O'Brian. But he did, and told the police more than they had bargained for.
Mr. B described, in detail, how he had befriended von Einem, and how the two had become partners-in-crime. Mr. B told investigators about the cooler von Einem had in the backseat of his car at all times, full of beer which he would then try to ply on young-looking men that were walking on the side of the road.
Apparently, the two were successful in many of their endeavors. They preyed upon young men that were hitchhiking, and they would play themselves up as party-goers on their way to a fun function. Mr. B told investigators about the drugs von Einem would encourage his passengers to take, which he described to them as "No Doz," but was actually drugs such as rohypnol or Mandrax.
In the first part of this story, I told you about a young man named George, who claimed to have been picked up by a stranger and taken to the home of a transgendered woman. Mr. B, who we can only assume knew nothing of George or his statement to police, informed police about Bevan von Einem's trans-gendered friend, named Pru Firman, who would host him and any guests in exchange for drugs.
Mr. B also told police about how von Einem's mother would leave for a relative's house every other weekend, allowing him free reign. And he also described how von Einem's old home had had a very particular driveway, allowing him to abduct young men and teenage boys from driveway to his bedroom without being seen by any neighbors.
Mr. B also claimed to have been present during several of these abductions, but insisted that he always left before things got sketchy. He described one incident in detail, about how von Einem had drugged a pair of boys and begun sexually assaulting one in a way that was reminiscent to how the four victims had been found, before he decided to get out of dodge.
Despite this hiccup in his testimony, alleging fact but avoiding any repercussion, this was a huge get for the investigators. Not only was Mr. B filling in the gaps in the investigation where they had nothing, he was connected von Einem to the actions of a serial predator operating in the area.
Police finally had all that they needed, to at the very least build a case against Bevan Spencer von Einem. They had eyewitness testimony, they had von Einem implicating himself in multiple statements, they had statements claiming that he was a sexual predator of sorts, and now it was time to find the physical evidence.
They arranged to search his home in the Fall of 1983. The search went off without a hitch. In fact, it went a little TOO well for detectives to believe it was real.
Police searched his home and his vehicles. Sure enough, in the back seat of his car was a cooler, just as Mr. B had stated.
Inside, things looked like a regular home. There was no apparent evidence of a crime scene; no blood spatter on the walls, or a torture chamber. But von Einem openly admitted to having the drug rohypnol in the bathroom's medicine cabinet, which he had apparently obtained for sleep reasons.
Inside von Einem's bedroom, he had a large harp, which he was apparently quite good at playing. This is random, but would become a part of von Einem's defense later on.
However, when police searched his bedroom, they discovered a "hidden ledge" on the inside of his closet. There, still in the bottles that they had come in, were the drugs valium, Mandrax, and Noctec.
When he had been asked about the drugs, he had claimed to have had Mandrax in the past, but allegedly ran out in the preceding months. He had remained ignorant of both valium and Noctec, and trace amounts of all of these drugs were found in the blood stream of Richard Kelvin.
Police had long-believed that their killer - or killers - would have been a sort of high-intellect type, with the way that the bodies had been cleansed of evidence and meticulously abducted. However, von Einem appeared to be inept, a buffoon who had trouble simply covering his tracks. He had hid the evidence linking him to a high-profile murder case like a Scooby Doo villain would have.
On the night of that first search, Investigator O'Brian remembered circling by von Einem's home that evening.
He remembers staying for a good amount of time, parked down the street, just sitting and watching. In von Einem's driveway was a car, which O'Brian would later discover belonged to a local businessman, whom I'll refer to as "Mr. R." Investigators would later go on to finger Mr. R as being an associate of von Einem's, and a potential suspect, but never had enough evidence to move forward. However, on the night where von Einem was officially searched as a suspect in the murder of Richard Kelvin, this acquaintance was there until the very early hours providing some sort of counsel or support.
A short time after this, on November 3rd, police arrested Bevan Spencer von Einem for the murder of Richard Kelvin. They wanted to try and link the other three murders - four if you included Peter Stogneff - at a later date, but wanted to move forward with Kelvin's murder case now.
Over the next few months, as von Einem awaited trial, police began to tear his house upside down, looking for any forensic evidence that could link him to Kelvin or any of the other young men.
They took a good amount of hair fibers from his clothing and furniture to the labs, where it would take some time to test against the DNA of the victims.
In the meantime, as police began to dig around von Einem's life, they discovered a few odd things.
Many of his coworkers, who had worked with him for months or years, described him as being very tame. He was a pretty quiet guy, but he also had bouts of being odd. Sometimes, when someone asked him mundane small-talk questions, such as how his weekend had been, he would respond inappropriately in the guise of a joke, suggesting that he had murdered someone. Or, in one occasion, had been seen acting inappropriately with young men in front of a coworker.
von Einem's associates also had a little bit screwy with their personal lives. His acquaintance, who I referred to as Mr. R, owned a local two-story business. When police did a search of the building, they discovered that almost all business was done on the bottom floor; the top floor was reserved for management, and one of the closed doors revealed an empty room that contained just a mattress.
This man was also spotted by police scouring the local areas where gay men met up, and was seen hitting on younger-looking men whenever he could. He would apparently close his business almost every day at lunch to walk around some of the nearby hot-spots, and police found this to be very odd for a man that seemed so professional from the outside.
Mr. R also had a roommate, who was allegedly involved with these murders in some capacity. His name was Stephen George Woodards, and he was an Adelaide-area doctor who would be surrounded in claims of sexual assault for decades, until facing charges in 2011 for crimes he allegedly committed in 1981 and 1982.
Ties linked these three men - von Einem, Woodards, and Mr. R - to other alleged group-members, including Derrance Stevenson, a high-profile lawyer murdered by his teenage lover in 1979 - a case that made international news when his body was discovered in his own freezer - and Gino "Luigi" Gambardella, one of Stevenson's associates who fled Australia in 1980 after multiple allegations tied him to sexual assaults of young men in the Adelaide area.
This searches led to no conclusive evidence, unfortunately. However, this was showing police the circles that Bevan Spencer von Einem ran in: a group of older men that preyed upon younger men. If what they were doing wasn't illegal, it was definitely unethical, and bordered somewhere between the two at the very least.
However, when the forensics returned from von Einem's home, they discovered a clear link to prosecute their guy.
Up until this point in the story, von Einem had denied any wrongdoing. He had been spotted with Alan Barnes in the days before his murder, had admitted to not only knowing Neil Muir - but carrying on a sexual relationship with him, and had admitted to driving in the exact area Mark Langley was murdered at the exact time he was abducted. But he had claimed to have had nothing to do with the disappearance of Richard Kelvin.
However, forensics proved otherwise. The clothes that Richard Kelvin went missing and was later discovered in contained fibers that linked directly to von Einem's bedroom and clothing. They found fibers from one of his cardigans on Richard's clothing, as well as fibers from his bed and floor.
Now that he had supposedly been pinned, von Einem chose to change his statement. Of course, this was totally unrelated to this burgeoning evidence, as von Einem toiled in a local jail. But nonetheless, von Einem chose to admit that on the night of Richard Kelvin's disappearance, he HAD encountered the youth. In his amended statement, he said that he had been driving in the area to pick up some food, and was driving around Richard's neighborhood, looking for parking.
And then, this is where von Einem's story crosses over into disbelief. He claims that he had encountered Richard, who wanted to come along with him that evening willingly. He stated facts that the newspaper reports had: that Richard had been going through some issues at school, that sort of thing - and said that he had talked to Richard as a friend. This took place at von Einem's home, of course, where they simply talked and hugged and played von Einem's harp for a couple of hours, before von Einem dropped him off at a bus stop and gave him twenty bucks to get back home.
However, this goes against three points: the fact that Kelvin had not gone willingly with whoever picked him up, based on the testimony of multiple witnesses that heard screams and shouts, and that von Einem had apparently been sick and bedridden all week long. Also, the fibers that examiners had found on Richard Kelvin's clothing implied that they were recent additions to his clothing; and since he had been held for over five weeks, it would have had to have been closer in time related to his discovery than his initial disappearance.
This meant that the fibers would NOT have been present if he had been at von Einem's in June, but rather if his clothes had been at von Einem's closer to Richard Kelvin's discovery in July.
Needless to say, police and prosecutors didn't believe von Einem's statement whatsoever. It was just further proof to them that he was no criminal genius, just a sicko trying to stay afloat as he began to drown.
Now, by his own statement, he was the last person to see Richard Kelvin alive. Prosecutors called for his trial immediately, and by the Fall of 1984, von Einem was pleading not guilty in the murder of Richard Kelvin.
The trial of Bevan Spencer von Einem took place in 1984, and was a relatively tame affair.
After leaning on circumstantial evidence in the trial against Dr. Peter Millhouse in 1980, the police and prosecution wanted to go with a more heavy-handed approach, linking von Einem with not only the drugs found in Richard Kelvin's system, but also the fibers linking Kelvin to von Einem's home, and von Einem's own sketchy alibi and excuses.
von Einem's defense was flimsy at best. He had already claimed to have taken Richard Kelvin back to his house on the night that he disappeared, but claimed to have been sick the entire week afterwards. Then, on the night that medical examiners believed that Richard Kelvin's body had been dumped, he claimed to have been at a family friend's birthday party, along with his mother.
von Einem also claimed that, in the conversations he had had with Richard Kelvin on the night he disappeared, that the young man was struggling with his bisexuality. His family vehemently denied this, stating that he was heterosexual and had a girlfriend. Furthermore, there was no proof of this being the truth other than von Einem's say-so.
On November 5th, 1984, the jury deliberated for seven-and-a-half hours, ultimately leaning in the direction of guilt. Bevan Spencer von Einem was found guilty of Richard Kelvin's murder, and sentenced to a punishment of life in Yatala Labour Prison.
One of the first guests that would visit von Einem in prison would be none other than Mr. R, the business owner that had been tied to von Einem's nefarious activities.
As he began his sentence, police looked forward. They were already chomping at the bit to try and pin him for any of the other murders, but were still absent the necessary proof.
Justice had been found for one victim, but the police still had four related unsolved murders. Sadly, over thirty years later, the same thing can still be said.
Over the next few years, things were relatively quiet on the investigative front. Police were trying to find a link between von Einem and the other murders, to at least extract some kind of information out of him or his associates.
All that they had was the circumstantial evidence of the drugs found in von Einem's possession, which was much more of a slam-dunk case in Richard Kelvin's case than any of the others. Kelvin had been held and tortured for weeks, meaning that almost all of the drugs found in his system had been found at Bevan Spencer von Einem's home. Meanwhile, Alan Barnes and Mark Langley showed trace amounts of some drugs, but not all. And unlike Richard Kelvin, there was no forensic or physical evidence linking von Einem to their disappearances.
As the years passed, and the four unsolved murders languished in cold case hell, people began to speculate about two questions. The first was: did Bevan Spencer von Einem commit the crimes? And if he did, did he do it alone?
Mr. R, one of von Einem's closest associates, visited him multiple times in prison. Police still suspected him as being one of their main suspects. He seemingly scoured the local gay hot-spots for young-looking men, in an daily repetition that seemed as well-rehearsed as any. The upstairs office, which contained only a mattress and kept private, still stumped investigators and left them wanting to charge him with anything.
But, unfortunately, there was nothing to connect him to the crimes other than his association with von Einem and his sketchy behavior. However, most surprising was that an anonymous caller would call in and suggest that Mr. R has something to do with the unsolved murders, which gave police extra ammunition to observe him for anything out-of-the-ordinary.
Police continued to use Mr. B as an informant, trying to use the information he had about von Einem and link it to any acquaintances or accomplices that may have been present. Unfortunately, in an effort to extradite himself from any of the crimes, police had no specifics to go on.
Mr. B would claim that he had seen Alan Barnes with von Einem before his death, but that was the same type of circumstantial evidence that police wanted to avoid.
In an effort to go even further than that, Mr. B would then claim that he had personally overheard a discussion between von Einem and Mr. R. Apparently, during this conversation, Mr. B alleged that von Einem expressed interest in making a "snuff film" of Alan Barnes. This would actually fit into what another anonymous caller had stated years beforehand, about there being a snuff film made of Alan Barnes, but was unfortunately impossible to prove.
Mr. B would also sensationally state that von Einem had confessed to having involvement in the abduction of the Beaumont Children in 1966 and the Adelaide Oval abductions of Kristy Gordon and Jeanne Ratcliffe in 1973. There was no proof of these statements, sadly, but Mr. B's statements regarding them seemed convincing to police at the time.
Even as the months began to melt into years, police were happy to have Mr. B to fall back on, to learn more about von Einem's secrets. Unfortunately, they kept getting road-blocked by Mr. B's unreliable instances, when he would lead police down the dark avenue of von Einem's crimes, but remove himself entirely and escape all responsibility. It was a survival mechanism, of course, but it made police wary of trusting anything he said.
That was further proven when the sister of Mr. B was contacted by police, and gave conflicting testimony. She stated that Mr. B had told her of an occasion where he had participated in the abduction and murder of a young man, which resulted in him throwing a body off of a bridge. To investigators, this meant that Mr. B might have had more involvement in the murder of Alan Barnes than originally thought, but after almost a decade since the crime was committed, was a dead end.
In 1988, police created a reward for information. $250,000, if someone was able to bring forth information that led to any resolution regarding the murders of Alan Barnes, Neil Muir, Peter Stogneff, or Mark Langley.
This renewed interest led to a revival in cries for justice, and police began working on a case against von Einem for the murders of Alan Barnes and Mark Langley. Those two, at least, had been found with drugs in their system, tentatively tying them to the murder of Richard Kelvin.
In 1989, the reward for information leading to an arrest was then doubled, and was now $500,000.
In 1990, von Einem was preparing to stand trial for these two additional crimes, police figuring that if they pinned two more murders to von Einem, it would make it easier to convict him for the separate murders of Neil Muir and Peter Stogneff. Unfortunately, before the case could even go to trial, the prosecution began to fall apart under the weight of Mr. B's testimony.
It was too sensational, too unrealistic, to stand up to scrutiny. And the fact that his own sister was testifying against him, stating that he was the type to make up stories to get himself out of a pickle, put police on edge. If they messed up this trial against von Einem, they would not be able to try him again, even if new evidence came to light in the future.
So, swallowing their pride, the prosecution pulled the case, hoping for more evidence to be unearthed in the future.
Over the years, the story of these murders would become a bit of an urban legend. Not only in Australia, but around the world.
When one police officer was interviewed regarding the case, he made the quip of "breaking up the happy family," in regards to an alleged conspiracy involving von Einem and other suspects. This would go on to be how the case was referred to: "the Family Murders," a collection of crimes committed by gay men in Adelaide that conspired to rape, torture, and murder young men.
And, you have to admit, the urban legend had some legs.
It's easy to point out a conspiracy theory and find flaws with it, but it's also harder to figure out how a buffoon like Bevan Spencer von Einem could escape justice if he was the sole perpetrator of the acts. He wasn't particularly smart - he worked as a middling accountant for a mid-end supply company - and lived at home with his mother. His idea of "hiding evidence" was to put it on the inside ledge of his closet, where police were able to easily find. And that's not even including his alibis, which shifted based on what he thought the police knew.
He wasn't some genius criminal. Police didn't think that he was smart enough to commit the crimes and get away with it - especially since the other related crimes showed signs of medical how-to.
Neil Muir's body was mutilated beyond recognition, but was done so by at least an amateur surgeon. The same could be said of Mark Langley, whose corpse showed the signs of being operated on, with the surgical cut below his bellybutton. von Einem showed no signs of any medical expertise, and most likely would not have been able to perform such a surgery.
This leads to two possibilities: the first of which is that there was a criminal similar to von Einem operated in the area at around the same time. Which is possible. If anything, the last few years have shown us that a good amount of sickos were in the same area at the same time.
But the more likely possibility is that these deviants were somehow connected, perhaps working together or conspiring to achieve the same disgusting goals.
I personally lean towards the latter, not out of an effort to be a conspiracy nut. But rather, I just think that Bevan Spencer von Einem was too much of an idiot to commit all of the crimes on his own. I think he may have been a gopher of sorts for the group, and maybe was responsible for abducting the young men, but I don't believe he was the only person involved. At the very least, someone else performed the surgical procedure on Mark Langley.
Over the past few decades, police have agreed.
After the 1990 case against von Einem fell apart, the story started to flounder. Police had suspects, but no evidence to lob against them.
In 2008, the investigation into "the Family Murders" was finally re-opened, as police began to re-examine some of the long-forgotten evidence. This time, they were able to test it for DNA and forensics, but unfortunately, none of it came back with any matches.
The police had narrowed down the description of three suspects, who they allege may have worked with Bevan Spencer von Einem to commit the four unsolved murders.
The description of three suspects is as follows:
Suspect #1. An eastern suburbs businessman. Visited von Einem after his 1984 conviction. Interviewed in late 1983 and denied involvement in the Kelvin murder. Has also denied knowledge of the other murders, despite an informant telling police he saw him with von Einem and an unconscious Alan Barnes on the night Barnes was abducted in June 1979. Refused to answer questions when approached as part of the cold case review.
This is the suspect that I have been identifying as "Mr. R" throughout this episode. For legal reasons, I won't disclose this suspect's real name, but let me just say that you'll be able to find it easily enough with a Google search.
This is the suspect that police have had the most interest in, regarding the four unsolved murders. Apparently, police planned on charging him in the failed 1989 case against von Einem, before it fell apart in prosecution months later.
Suspect #2. A former Adelaide doctor who is well known in gay circles. Former lover of a well-known Adelaide lawyer. The pair used to pick up, drug and abuse young men. Known to have supplied drugs to von Einem and suspect #1, which were used to incapacitate hitch-hikers. Lives in Sydney and refused to answer questions as part of the cold case review.
This suspect was publicly outed in 2011, in regards to a different investigation. His name was Stephen George Woodards, and he appeared in court to defend himself against five charges of sexual assault against young men. The incidents he defended against ranged from January of 1982 to August of 1984.
Online theorists have speculated that the "well-known Adelaide lawyer" that Woodards had a love affair with was none other than Derrance Stevenson, the well-known gay lawyer who was murdered by his teenage lover, David Szach, in 1979.
I also don't find it a coincidence that Alan Barnes - the first Family victim - was abducted just thirteen days after the death of Stevenson. Rumors have long circulated that Stevenson had had an interest in Alan Barnes in the weeks before his death, and that all of these men ran in the same clique that included Bevan Spencer von Einem and Woodards himself.
I assume that the case against him failed, or the charges were dropped, as the last I could find of Woodards puts him in Bondi, a suburb of Sydney, Australia.
Suspect #3. A former male prostitute who is a close friend of von Einem and suspect #1. Police have considerable information that implicates him in picking up, drugging and sexually abusing hitch-hikers. Believed to have been with von Einem and suspect #1 when Kelvin was abducted, but has denied this. Now a bus driver in Brisbane, he fled Adelaide shortly after the cold case review was launched.
This is the suspect that I have identified as "Mr. B" throughout this episode. It's very possible that his name was leaked by a newspaper in 1989, but I don't want to get into a guessing game and risk legal action taken against myself.
This suspect is perhaps the trickiest of the lot. Police believe - now as they do then - that this individual had more information than he was letting on. He constantly implicated Bevan Spencer von Einem to places and dates, but had an excuse for himself, or would consistently state that he was involved with von Einem's abductions "up to a certain point."
However, these are just the three main suspects that police have identified throughout the years, and felt comfortable releasing the descriptions of to the public. It's possible, if not downright likely, that there were even more individuals involved who roam free today.
The case of the Family Murders has remained in the Australian zeitgeist for years now. And for good reason.
Criminologist Allan Perry has speculated that there may be dozens of victims, perhaps up into the triple digits. After all, over 38,000 people go missing in Australia every single year, over 1,000 of which are never found. Who's to say that any of the open missing persons reports of young men from South Australia aren't related to these murdered men?
In 2014, the family members of Trevor Peters were going through his belongings in an area of eastern Adelaide known as Kensington. He had died a short time beforehand, and figured that it was about time.
Peters had been a gay man, and run around the same circles as Bevan Spencer von Einem and his associates in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
As his family members sorted through his belongings, they found a diary.
This diary, written by Peters decades before its discovery, went into detail about his relationship with von Einem, and the others that ran in their social circle. Trevor Peters' diary alleged that von Einem had discussed the abducton of Alan Barnes with his hairdresser, Denis St. Denis. And, according to Peters' diary, the pair had taken pictures of Barnes during the week he was missing.
Normally, this would just be a speculative lead: a man alleging that a convicted killer had a conversation, in public, with his hairdresser about an open crime.
But this diary had other, more important details. Such as the names of von Einem's associates, including the correct identities of the three main suspects, whose names police hadn't released. This diary also linked others to the same band of killers that Australia had called "The Family" for decades.
Another point of credibility in Trevor Peters' favor: he lived just a house away from the two trans-gendered women that Bevan Spencer von Einem allegedly used to lure young men to. The name of one has never been released, other than the fact that she was the sibling of an Olympic wrestler, but the other was publicly identified as Pru Firman, who died in 2010.
Many have theorized that one - or both - of these women were involved in the abduction and murder of the five victims. Perhaps one was the high-pitched voice that witnesses recall hearing during Richard Kelvin's abduction.
Trevor Peters' diary also alleged that von Einem, along with Denis St. Denis and perhaps another associate, rented an apartment in eastern Adelaide during the time period that the crimes occurred.
However, it has now been three years, and police seem to be no closer to solving this investigation than they were thirty years ago.
Trying to summarize this story is close to impossible for me, which is why I find this next section so hard to deal with.
Over the years, people have pointed fingers at a conspiracy of sexual offenders who perpetrated this attack. This is what we knowingly call "the Family." Others have pointed out the idea that this is ridiculous, and pointed out other such cases where these type of accusations proved fruitless.
However, I would just like to point out the following figures, who were active in the Adelaide area during the same time period that the Family Murders were taking place:
Mr. R, the #1 suspect behind Bevan Spencer von Einem, who they allege commited the Family Murders alongside the only convicted culprit.
Stephen George Woodards, the local doctor and surgeon who faced five charges of sexual assault against young men in 2011. He was revealed to be the investigation's #2 suspect, who also happened to live with Mr. R during this time period.
Mr. B, the witness that cooperated with police against von Einem, but was likely guilty of some of the same crimes. He openly admitted to being with von Einem on many occasions where he drugged young men, but police believe he was responsible for much more.
Pru Firman and her roommate, both transgender women who allegedly held "parties" in which they lured young men to their home in exchange for drugs.
Denis St. Denis, a longtime associate of von Einem's who was alleged to have been involved in the crimes.
Derrance Stevenson, a high-profile lawyer, who was murdered in 1979 by his teenage lover. He was a known associate of many of these figures, and a noted philanderer who enjoyed having sex with young men.
Gino Luigi Gambardella, a chiropractor who was close friends with both Stevenson and von Einem. He fled Australia in the early 1980s, after multiple allegations of sexual assault put him in the investigation's cross-hairs.
Robert William Symonds, also known as "Mother Goose," a bookmaker accused of dozens of sexual assaults ranging from the 1970s through the 1990s. He stood trial in 2011 of multiple accounts of sexual assault, and was acquitted only because the evidence didn't stand up, almost thirty years later. He had found a way to escape charges the entire time.
Peter Liddy was Southern Australia's longest-tenured magistrate when he was convicted in 2001 of multiple sex crimes, including the sexual assaults of young men ranging as far back as 1969. Many of the assaults he committed couldn't even be tried because the statute of limitations had expired.
Richard Dutton Brown was another of South Australia's magistrates who was accused of multiple sexual assaults in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was a gay man who prowled in the same hot-spots as the other Family Murder suspects, and he died in 2010, before police could formulate an actual case against him.
Ric Marshall, the host of children's TV programs in the 1970s and 1980s, was the ringleader of a child sex ring that focused on young boys. He was convicted of multiple offenses in 2012, but because of his old age, was sentenced to only 25 years of house arrest.
Last but not least, Donald John Storen, a well-known boxing promoter and close friend of former-South Australian Premiere Don Dunstan. Storen left Australia to live in Indonesia, where he was later convicted of sexually assaulting and raping four boys in the mid-2000s.
If you think it's crazy that one or more of these many suspects may have communicated with another, when a clear link between several has already been established, think again. We already know that several of these accused - and in some cases, convicted - sexual predators were acquaintances. That is a fact. Who's to say more aren't involved?
I think believing that Bevan Spencer von Einem acted alone is the easy answer, to help us sleep better at night. The hard answer, and in my opinion, the more realistic one, is that he had an accomplice: maybe just one, but perhaps several. And for over thirty years now, all of them have escaped justice.
While the case file on Richard Kelvin may have been closed, the abductions, rapes, and murders of Alan Barnes, Neil Muir, Peter Stogneff, and Mark Langley remain unresolved.
Sources and further reading
- "Young Blood: The Story of the Family Murders" by Bob O'Brien
- Crime Investigation Australia: The Butchered Boys
- Wikipedia: The Family Murders
- Wikipedia: Murder of George Duncan
- ABC - "The body in the freezer"
- The Age - "Lock up your sons in the world's murder capital"
- Adelaide Now - "Doctor with alleged links to The Family identified as Stephen George Woodards"
- Adelaide Now - "Focus on three key suspects"
- Adelaide Now - "Sex-case doctor Stephen George Woodards free to practise"
- Daily Mail - "Will $13million reward solve the murders of 18 children? Australian police launch apeal to solve string of notorious killings stretching back to 1966"
- Adelaide Now - "Lost diary gives South Australia police new lead into Alan Barnes murder by The Family"
- Adelaide Now - "Doctor found not guilty of 'Family' murder of Neil Muir dies in NSW"
- ABC - "Former SA magistrate sentenced to 25 years for child sex crimes"
- Adelaide Now - "Revealed: The double life of a magistrate who sought young men"
- The Australian - "How Mother Goose ducked the pedophile net"
- ABC - "Mother Goose sex trial starts in Adelaide"
- Adelaide Now - "'Mother Goose' claims he was set up by gay ex-prostitutes"
- ABC - "'Mother Goose' acquitted of sex charges"
- ABC - "Former TV entertainer sentenced for sex offenses"
- The Sydney Morning Herald - "Aussie pedophile deported from Indonesia"