Have Bondi attackers run free?
He also agreed that it was unusual to find hair on the hands of a person who had jumped to their death. But Morgan agreed that in his view the most likely cause of death was an accidental fall from poisoning.
“Personally, I still feel like it was an accident. But I understand it’s very subjective, and I understand if others see it differently,” Morgan said.
A Mother’s Requests
Kay Warren wrote a request to NSW Police in July 1998. Their son Ross, a TV news anchor, was reported missing in July 1989 at the age of 25. His friends found his car in Bondi, near Marks Park, and his keys lying nearby on rocks near the water’s edge.
A police officer coordinating the investigation into Warren’s disappearance said within days that police “believe the missing person somehow fell into the sea.” Warren’s presumed death was not reported to the coroner.
“Now that it has been nine years since Ross disappeared, we believe it is time for a coroner’s investigation to close the case,” Kay Warren wrote. She was looking for a death certificate rather than an inquest, the inquest said.
She received no answer. In April 2000 she wrote her sixth letter, this time to the NSW Police Commissioner. “Eleven years have passed this July since my son went missing,” it began.
A new investigation
It wasn’t until Stephen Page, then Detective Sergeant, came across Warren’s letters that the wheels of the investigation started turning again.
“He sent a report, I believe Paddington first [police]to try to get it checked out,” Morgan told the inquest.
In June 2001, Page was appointed commander of Operation Taradale, an investigation into the death of Russell, the disappearance and alleged death of Warren, and later the disappearance and alleged death of a third man, French national Gilles Mattaini, in the same area.
Mattaini – who was gay like Russell and Warren – was last seen in September 1985 walking the coast from Bondi to Tamarama around Marks Park. He was 27 years old.
Two murder finds
The work of Taradale and Page, who left the force in 2004, was commended in 2005 by then Assistant Medical Examiner Jacqueline Milledge as “thorough” and “impeccable.”
Milledge found that Russell and Warren had died after meeting foul play. Mattaini had died, she noted, and while his manner and cause of death were undetermined, there was a “strong possibility” that he died in circumstances similar to those of Russell and Warren.
Milledge said that threats to throw victims off the cliff was “a modus operandi by some gay-hate attackers” in the area around Marks Park at the time of the men’s disappearance and deaths, and this “strongly confirms the likelihood” that all three Men died this way.
Despite Milledge’s findings, in 2015 NSW Police set up the secretive Strike Force Neiwand to re-investigate the three Bondi cases, the inquiry said. In 2017, Neiwand effectively reversed the coroner’s findings without speaking to dozens of prospects.
Neiwand had claimed in internal police documents that Taradale was infected with “tunnel vision” and “relyed on investigative confirmation bias, which was a major factor that ultimately limited the validity of the coroner’s findings.”
Morgan, Neiwand’s 2016 investigator, agreed at the inquest that those allegations were unfounded. He said investigators began with an open mind, but agreed that responders ultimately put more effort into finding evidence that might point to suicide or adversity than homicide.
Page, who now works in private industry, told the inquiry, “I think my reputation has been absolutely professionally destroyed in these reports.”
The Case of “Zero Solvability”
In 2012, a NSW Police officer from the unsolved homicide team conducted a review of another cold case, the 1988 death of US citizen Scott Johnson. She concluded that the case’s “solvability” was zero.
The naked body of 27-year-old Johnson was found on December 10, 1988 at the base of a cliff near Manly’s North Head. A first inquest in 1989 found he had died by suicide, while a second inquest in 2012 returned an open finding.
Page, who was a former police officer at the time, visited Manly Police Station with Johnson’s brother Steve in March 2006 to seek a re-inquiry into Scott’s death in 1988 over possible parallels to the Bondi cases.
In 2017, after a third inquest, then-Coroner Michael Barnes concluded that Scott died “as a result of a gay hate attack.” The inquiry found that the NSW Police submitted to this inquiry that suicide was the most likely cause of death.
Sydney man Scott Phillip White was charged with murder in May 2020 in Scott’s death. White pleaded guilty to manslaughter last month and will be sentenced later this year.
A police check
The inquiry has found evidence that in 2014 senior NSW police officers found claims about the number of homophobic killings and beatings in the 1980s and 1990s to be exaggerated and unfounded. With this in mind, in 2015 NSW Police set up Strike Force Parrabell to investigate 88 deaths between 1976 and 2000 that were reported in the media and elsewhere as possibly involving gay hatred motives.
Parrabell’s 2018 report found evidence of a bias crime in just eight cases. A further 19 cases involved suspected bias offences. Insufficient information was available in 25 cases and no evidence of bias crimes was found in 34 cases. Two cases were excluded from the review.
A team from Flinders University was hired to review police work, and tender documents told academics that they needed to take a “collaborative approach”.
The academic team said in the final report that it would “reject” the bias crime indicators used by the police.
dr Derek Dalton, who helped with the academic review, told the inquiry that in his experience, Parrabell was a “poisoned chalice.”
“I am not an apologist for the police. I’ve spent years of my life documenting hatred of gay people.”
The investigation will continue later this month.
The Morning Edition Newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Login here.
https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/john-russell-had-big-plans-but-he-ended-up-dead-at-the-bottom-of-a-bondi-cliff-20230301-p5cojs.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_national_nsw Have Bondi attackers run free?