How Arthur Brown got away with murder
Merle "Mim" Moss grew up in Bowen and is related through marriage to notorious suspected serial killer Arthur Stanley Brown.
Brown was charged but never convicted of the murders of Judith and Susan Mackay in Townsville in 1970.
Mim suspects his involvement in eleven other murders of young women and girls in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland.
She and her sister Christine believe Brown could have been part of a paedophile ring but the arresting officer in the Mackay case says Brown acted alone in that matter and was a loner.
It was not until late 1998 that Brown was charged.
Then in 2001, after his first trial resulted in a hung jury, where it is understood just one of the panel of 12 could not agree to his guilt, he was found mentally unfit to stand trial, suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Now, with the help of some of Brown's family members and one of the investigating officers, the Bulletin can provide some fresh perspective on what went wrong.
On 26 August, 1970, all hell broke loose in Townsville.
Two beautiful, little girls, Judith Mackay, 7, and her sister, Susan, 5, were abducted from a Ross River Rd bus stop on their way to Aitkenvale State School.
Two days later in the midst of a search involving countless numbers of people, probably the entire town of then 40,000 people, and under the scrutiny of the nation's media, they were found in a barren creekbed on Antill Plains about 25km southwest of the city.
Judith had been raped, strangled and left wearing only a pair of pink underwear.
Susan's naked body was found face down in the sand a short distance away.
She had been sexually assaulted and smothered by her attacker. Both had been stabbed in the chest multiple times.
The murderer neatly folded their school uniforms, inside-out, and placed them next to the bodies.
It was 28 years before one woman, with a gut feeling Brown was the culprit, picked up the phone and called Crimestoppers.
Merle "Mim" Moss, who through her family and marriage was related to Brown, feared police would think she was mad.
"I tried to talk to my family about my suspicions but no one seemed to be interested," Mim says.
"They told me he wasn't that type of person. It seemed to me that people thought it was okay for dirty old men to interfere with little girls."
Mim has written a manuscript for a book, as yet unpublished, about her early family life, her involvement with Brown and his unsuccessful trial for murder in 1999.
I have confirmed her version of events, with some changes, mostly with her sister, Christine, who agrees that she thinks there was a cover up by authorities and that Brown was part of a paedophile ring.
One of the investigators into the Mackay murders, now Detective Inspector David Hickey, is adamant Brown acted alone in the murders of the Mackay girls, and rejects entirely any suggestion of a cover-up.
He says a seemingly minor thing - in this case that police in the 1970s were looking for the wrong make of car, a Holden instead of a Vauxhall - led to a catastrophe in the direction of the investigation.
"You can't tell me any cop in 1970 was going to protect any bastard that had done this to children. This changed Australia. It was unheard of back then that innocent children would be abducted from a bus stop. It changed North Queensland and Queensland," Hickey says.
Mim says she was a child when she realised there was something not quite right about Brown.
"I clearly remember being at my grandparent's house in Bowen, when Arthur Brown, his wife, who was my Aunty Hester, and her sister, Aunty Nellie Berry, called in on route to Picnic Beach for a few days camping and fishing," Mim says.
"The purpose of the call was to visit Aunty Hester's and Aunty Nellie's father, Charles Andersen, who lived with my grandparents.
"I do remember wondering to myself which of these women was Brown's wife because he was putting his arms around both of them and at the same time squeezing both of their bottoms.
"I was horrified at that as no one in my family would behave in that way and I couldn't help but think that this jovial man's actions were quite out of order."
Mim says Aunty Hester's older sister, Millie, told her Brown was a womaniser and a "no good mongrel".
"I was to learn that things were very strained between Hester and Nellie and the reason for this was that Nellie had a child to Brown," she says.
Brown also had a child with another of Hester's sisters, Charlotte, who Brown married shortly after Hester's death in Townsville in 1978.
Brown also had an affair with the wife of a relative. The relative found out his wife was paying Brown with sexual favours for helping to build their house. That marriage did not last.
Mim says Hester first came in contact with Brown when Hester and her first husband, Norman, and their three children, were living in Richmond. The family was told Norman "just up and left" but Mim does not believe this.
Whatever the case, Brown was ready and waiting for Hester and they were married in Townsville in 1944, living in Brown's house in 23 Lowth Street, Rosslea.
When Mim and Christine were growing up they visited the Browns and stayed with them in Lowth St.
"It was cold and impersonal and so orderly that it could be described as clinical or even sterile. There was no warm, homey feel about it. Brown was meticulous, in his own dress and in the house. For example, he washed out plastic bags and folded them before he would put them in the bin. The same with his clothes, he would systematically go through the pockets, then neatly fold them and place them in the linen hamper."
Christine thinks Brown suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder.
The Browns would take Hester's granddaughters on holidays. It horrified Mim's family to hear that Brown was giving the girls wine. Brown claimed it made "them feel special and they are learning social graces into the bargain".
Brown was employed as a carpenter with the State Government's Public Works Department and worked around all the government buildings including the Townsville Police Station, the Aitkenvale State School, which the Mackay sisters attended, and the Carramar Children's Home in North Ward.
Mim says Brown was an extremely inattentive and reckless driver who was always acting as a tour guide and pointing to buildings and places of interest.
She says he had no regard for the road rules, would speed, cut corners, drive up one-way streets and generally flout the law.
Brown bragged that he was "mates" with Townsville Detective Charles Bopf, the very same officer who led the Mackay sisters murder investigation in the 1970s.
Bopf, who was later awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his services to the community and died in 2012, called Christine in 2002 and denied this was the case when this association was mentioned in a Melbourne newspaper article.
Even so, both Mim and Christine say they accompanied Brown on Saturday mornings to go shopping when he would park in the Townsville Police Station car park, including Bopf's own car park. On one occasion they say they met Bopf and Brown introduced them to him.
Detective Hickey, who would investigate the cold case in 1998, said it was possible Bopf knew Brown as the "maintenance guy" but he very much doubted Bopf would remember Brown some 30 years later.
"Brown was a name dropper," Hickey says.
Mim says after marrying and having a child of her own she grew closer to Hester when she had to spend time in Townsville to have a series of operations after a miscarriage.
"One day, I was sitting in my pyjamas and brunch coat on the back steps of Brown's house, crying because I was missing my little boy so much and feeling that I had let him down because he so wanted a sister or a brother," Mim says.
"As I sat there crying, Brown came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. I thought that it was just a comfort thing until he moved his hands down and cupped my breasts. I got the shock of my life and I yelled at him."
Any trust she had in Brown was gone and her suspicions began to fester.
Mim says Brown possessed the strangest compulsion for reading books about unsolved, gruesome murders against women and girls. Brown had a private room in his house which she and Hester investigated when Brown was out.
They found a stepdaughter's debutante photo, bottles of port wine, murder and crime related books, newspaper clippings, jars of vaseline, a change of clothes in a plastic bag and some face washers and towels.
"All of this was strange, but we had no idea what he was really up to _ or at least I didn't," Mim says.
The abduction of the Mackay sisters from a bus stop near the girl's home and the terrible find of their bodies some two days later, caused an absolute outrage, not just in Townsville but around Australia.
Brisbane's top investigators, including the then "caretaker" police commissioner Nonvin Bauer and a then Detective Syd Atkinson _ who would later become Deputy Commissioner _ flew in to help the case. That they failed to resolve it continues to raise questions. The significance of vital evidence was missed and police involved in the investigation later complained that they were not made aware of key witness statements.
About two weeks after the murders Brown offered to take Mim, Christine and Hester for a drive to Antill Creek to see where the bodies had been found.
"We declined in shock that he could think of such a thing. Once we were on our own, we talked about this weird behaviour and decided that it must have been his morbid interest in unsolved crimes that made him this way," Mim says
Hester died in 1978 after a battle with arthritis which in her later years had kept her bedridden.
Brown told family members of Hester's death. He said she had fallen in the home, hitting her head, but Mim believes he may have killed her. There are also claims the family doctor, who Mim can only remember as "Doctor Mac", wrote a death certificate without seeing the body and that Brown took Hester's body to the crematorium himself.
About 12 months after Hester's death, Brown married her sister Charlotte.
It was not until 1982 that family members discovered Brown had been abusing a child known to the family. They found out through one of the girl's friends.
Brown had taken the girl to Antill Creek to show her a book containing gruesome pictures of women and girls who had been raped and murdered.
Mim says the girl's parents confronted Brown.
He did not deny the abuse, which had occurred some years previous, but charges were never pressed, at least not at that time.
Mim says it was thought that raising the matters in court could do more harm than good.
Later, when Detective Hickey, was reinvestigating the Mackay sisters' murder cold case and charged Brown with the murders in 1998, the girl and another four women came forward to say they had been abused by Brown when they were young.
One of the women said Brown had threatened her that if she told anybody, the police would come and take her away from her mother and father.
Mim says she spent many sleepless nights thinking that she needed to do something about Brown, believing he could be the culprit for the Mackay sisters' murders.
She says she tried to talk family members into coming forward and telling police of the abuse at the hands of Brown, this time with the suggestion he could also be responsible for the Mackay sisters' murders. But they were reluctant.
Time passed. Her husband Ron died in 1986, and after about a year, Mim moved from Bowen to Western Australia to be closer to her son.
It was to be more than 10 years later, while working in Port Hedland, when she decided to call Crimestoppers and tell police of her suspicions.
After a few days the then Detective Sergeant David Hickey called and Mim provided much of the family history that enabled detectives to build the case against Brown.
At the committal hearing in Townsville in 1999 Mim shook hands with the father of the Mackay sisters and apologised for "raking all of this up again".
He told her not to worry, that it was all right with him if the family could finally have some closure.
Sadly, that closure, if you can call it that, was more heartache and unanswered questions.
A $50,000 reward for information which leads to the conviction of a person or persons for the murder of the Mackay sisters remains on the Queensland Police website to this day.
Mim and the now Detective Superintendent David Hickey are in no doubt that person is Arthur Stanley Brown.
"It something that eats at you. I felt that he should have paid for what he did," Mim says.
She believes he might be involved in the deaths of at least another 11 women and girls.
Circumstances place Brown in the vicinity at the time of some of the murders.
But with the passing of time, we might never really know.
Family members suspect Arthur Brown of being involved in 13 murders.
Those murders are:
- Grant, Arnna and Jane Beaumont, 1966, Adelaide
- Judith and Susan Mackay, 1970, Townsville
- Marilyn Joy Wallman, 1972, Mackay
- Robin Jeanne Hoinville Bartram and Anita Cunningham, 1972, Charters Towers
- Joanne Radcliffe and Kirste Gordon, 1973, Adelaide
- Catherine Graham, 1975, Townsville
- Eloise Worledge, 1976, Beaumaris, Victoria
- Hester Brown, 1978, Townsville