TRANSCRIPT 1

Prelude to Capital Crime Files


It’s a scenario urban legends are built upon: a young woman drives alone along a deserted, darkened stretch of road under a moonless sky. Suddenly, unexpectedly, her car stutters to a halt. She allows it to coast off the bitumen onto the verge. Close by, she can make out the gentle ebb of murky water where it touches the lake shore.

 

Otherwise, all is still.  

 

No phones, no petrol station and literally, nobody.

 

Turning off George Harrison warbling from the radio that he really wants to see you, Lord, she can't quite fathom how she could be out of fuel. 

 

Sitting there in gloom broken only by two small orbs feebly projected from the front of her Mini Minor, she ponders her limited options. 

 

Seemingly in response, lights appear through the rear window. They blink as they draw nearer - until she realises she’s closing her eyes each time she exhales. 

 

A dark, bulky vehicle she finds difficult to identify, glides past. It’s strangely quiet for the size. At first she thinks it’s not going to stop. Then, jerkily, it pulls over. She’s sure the slight tremor creeping from the tiny hairs at the base of her neck down her spine is relief.

 

As the car idles in front of her, the solitary silhouette she can just make out sitting in the driver’s seat is unmoved.

 

Squinting through her windscreen into the distance beyond, a faint, sunrise-like tinge indicates the city centre. She feels it might be near enough for her to walk. The darkness is close now though; heavily settled. The absence of street lights conceals the way forward and back. 

 

It might not be safe to remain out here.

 

She takes a deep breath, surprised at the slight tang of pine needles that greets her, given huddled to the right of this road are an assortment of primarily gum trees with their peppermint scent.

 

Noticing her own headlights are still aglow, she kills them. Hesitantly reaches for her handbag from the otherwise empty passenger's side.

 

Stepping out of the car, she self-consciously pulls down the hem of her above-the knee, patterned dress; draws her cardigan more tightly about her. Pats her up-styled hair for which she'd given two hours of her day for a hairdresser to fuss over. Over-dressed only if not on your way to a party.

 

Fumbling with the keys - her shivering must be the dampness of the night air even though autumn is a month away - eventually she hears the soft click of the button locks popping into place. 

 

Tentatively approaching the other vehicle, hunched in the inkiness like some monsterish spider, its only illumination, the faint reddish sheen of a dashboard light. 

 

Startled by a sudden movement within, she wonders if it's a second figure - or only shadows jumping.

 

Almost there, she thinks she can faintly hear the tail-end of that song by the ex-Beatle, at the top of the charts for almost four weeks now, that she was listening to before. Surely it's been more than three minutes.

 

Catching what seems the faintest whiff of tobacco – menthol perhaps, but she's no expert. A twinge of concern that in her condition she shouldn't be in a confined space filled with cigarette smoke.

 

Before she can decide, another set of headlights flicker behind. 

 

Like a nocturnal animal, she's caught.

 

The couple in this latest arrival can’t be sure if the hazy figure they think they spot turns back towards them or not. 

 

By the time they’re close enough to illuminate the scene more fully, there’s no one and nothing there.  

 

And this is no urban legend.

 

****

I’m Nichole Overall, social history investigator and author, and this is Capital Crime Files - exploring the unsolved & unexplained at the heart of a nation.

 

 

“The Australian capital is beautiful and is largely without problems that blight most other cities”.

Canberra Past, Present and Future.

Australian Government Publishing Services, 1972.

 

Canberra, heart of the Australian Commonwealth, the seat of government and a postcard-perfect capital.

 

A mindfully crafted, artfully constructed, modernist city of manicured streets and suburban serenity nestled in a bushland setting.

 

Its 2,280 kilometre squared radius – described by some as a misshapen ear – carved out of the south-eastern corner of First State, NSW; deliberately positioned some three hours from Sydney, seven hours from Melbourne and less than two to make the South Coast.

 

With a population of less than half-a-million in the year 2020, since its 1913 inception, violent crime has remained relatively uncommon.

 

Not though, unknown. 

 

The first murder ever tried in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was in 1932: a 25-year-old unemployed sheet metal worker, Bertram Porter, accused of poisoning his 11-month old son after his wife left him for another man. 

 

By the middle of its sixth decade, the capital was rudely awakened with potentially its most shocking: the still unsolved abduction and heinously cruel murder of six-year-old Allan Redston in 1966. 

 

There’s also been at least one local case of rape where the perpetrator, an ex-serviceman, was sentenced to hang. [link]

 

And then there’s the string of unsolved disappearances and deaths of young women within the orbit of the capital. 

 

In its overall history, and sadly in line with other telling statistics, female victims of violent crime outnumber males.

 

Of the ten individuals on the current ACT Missing Persons list, seven are women who fit a quite distinct profile.

 

Of its six unsolved homicides nominated as under investigation, three involve women also of a particular demographic.

 

One of those so listed ranks as close to Canberra's most enduring unsolved mystery.

 

On a fine February evening in a Canberra within living memory, Keren Rowland, a 20-year-old receptionist, is on her way to meet up with friends.

 

She doesn’t arrive.

 

Her white Mini Minor is found abandoned - though locked -  by the edge of the Lake around which the city is set.

 

She is never seen alive again.

 

Almost 50 years on, the who, what and why remain unanswered.

 

The chillingly similar hallmarks it bears to other regional cases that have occurred since heightens the gnawing dread.

 

Is there a possibility any of them might be linked in the most insidious fashion?

 

Among those on this unenviable list, 28-year-old “attractive” mother of three, Mary Bertram. On a Sunday afternoon in 1974, Mary left home never to return. Her naked, strangled body would be found in scrub on the capital's outskirts. No one has ever been charged.

 

A decade later, 17-year-old Megan Mulquiney vanished in broad daylight after her shift at a busy suburban shopping plaza. Her fate is still unknown.

 

And there are others.

 

What follows is an in-depth, original investigation into each of these disturbing situations.

 

My long-held interest is one of concern, empathy and maddening questions. 

 

In a still relatively small place, many of those connected are personally known to me. In the same vein though more disturbing, what are the chances of having crossed paths with a faceless, nameless perpetrator – or perpetrators? 

 

Theories, conjecture and various urban myths have inevitably arisen. Unsurprisingly, most stray widely from the often much harsher facts.

 

I’ve interviewed still grieving families and friends, their tragic losses and the lack of a resolution a never-ending, soul-burdening hurt.

 

I’ve tracked down witnesses and located those with memories of the times and events as they unfolded.

 

I’ve obtained court records, police statements, autopsy reports and coronial inquests.

 

I’ve combed historical articles and archival material. 

 

And of course, I’ve compared it all to the speculation that’s proliferated with the arrival of an online, often anonymous world.

 

Jigsaw puzzles with pieces scattered by the passing of not just years but decades. Assembled to provide a more complete, accurate picture, for the first time.

 

Some names have been omitted or changed in the interests of privacy and to avoid any opportunity for the potential to prejudice a case should justice be served.

 

While my aim is to hopefully unearth a memory, a clue or a link that might reinvigorate and encourage reinvestigation, at the least, it’s also to honour the memories of those so lost and to fully impart the stories of lives and promise cut short.

 

Each of the tragedies has weighed heavily on the generally wholesome capital over all this time. 

 

Someone out there knows the truth. This is the chance to discover it.

©Nichole Overall 2021

TRANSCRIPT 2

Episode 1 - End of the Road

Season 1 
Keren Rowland: The 50 year Mystery


It’s a heartbreaking tale tinged by fading memories, skewed recollections and warped re-imaginings.

So mysteriously sinister was the incident that came to pass on a fine, moonless summer evening in a Canberra of half a century ago, it continues to haunt the Australian capital.

Friday, February 26, 1971: the opening of the 42nd annual Canberra Show. The place is abuzz with locals and thousands of visitors descending on the modestly-sized city for the occasion.

One resident, an attractive, 20-year-old once Sunday school teacher and Scout mistress, having made the rounds of the rides and Sideshow Alley a few hours earlier, is on her way to join her sister and some friends at a popular hotel on the other side of town.

She never meets up with them.

Just past midnight, her increasingly worried father contacts the authorities. It won’t take them long to locate her abandoned - though locked - white Mini-Minor on Parkes Way, a thoroughfare running alongside the northern edge of Lake Burley Griffin, the central body of water around which Canberra is set. 

Later, a lone, single-strap wooden sandal similar to a pair she was wearing is discovered nearby an historic stone cottage perched on the edge of the Lake, for decades the home of the pioneering Blundells. Many a year though has it been since anyone living has, at that time of night, looked out the unblinking eyes that are its shutterless windows and who may have given witness to what transpired on that fateful night.

Keren Ellen Rowland, a vibrant young woman at the cusp of life, is never seen alive again.

 

****

Fifty years on in 2021, along with what happened to Keren ranking as close to Canberra’s most enduring unresolved mystery, it’s one of a number of chillingly similar cases to have occurred in the Australian capital in the time since.

I’m Nichole Overall, journalist, social historian and author, and this is Capital Crime Files, exploring the unsolved and unexplained at the heart of a nation.

The following original investigation has been researched and written by me based on in-depth interviews as well as a range of other sources, all listed on my website, capitalcrimefiles.com.au. In the interests of privacy and to avoid prejudicing a potential trial, some names have been omitted or changed.

 

****

 

“Keren would have turned 70 on December 9 in 2020.”

Keren’s brother, the youngest of three Rowland kids, is a warm, down-to-earth man who’s fashioned a successful life - a business owner for more than a quarter of a century, a dad and grandfather who’s looking forward to some deserved leisure years adventuring with his wife in their newly acquired caravan.

A faint guardedness in his blue eyes is the only hint of the tragedy which has weighed so heavily upon his family for so long; a residual effect of loss in circumstances almost impossible to fathom. An inescapable burden interspersed with sudden jolts of hope and potential discovery, like the existential press of a tongue on a sore tooth.

He was 16 when he said goodbye to his oldest sister that final morning.

“We were exceptionally close. Got into more than a bit of trouble together too,” he chuckles before becoming sombre once more.

Not once in 50 years has he previously commented publicly on the impact of a seemingly random event - although he’s spent most of his own life still searching for answers.

“People are never quite sure how to address it”.

“I have absolutely no problem in talking about Keren - I want to talk about her - but most shy away from the topic.”

“It’s only by discussing it openly and candidly that we might uncover the truth, even after so long.”

 

****

Sound Effect: Radio being tuned.

[Young woman's voice]

 

The cherubic young woman smiles broadly at the camera, her shimmery blue eye shadow dramatically framing her almond-shaped, dusky blue eyes. A long, darkish fringe bobbing over the tops of her eyebrows and soft curls bunched gently on her shoulders.

It’s the youthful, hopeful face of someone with much to look forward to, celebrating a christmas that she cannot know will be her last.

 

****

 

Keren’s disappearance that Friday night, sparks an intensive though fruitless search. Weeks stretching into months. Summer fading to autumn.

News coverage changing from a local plague of “long-horned” grasshoppers swarming street lights and infesting office buildings, to preparations for Anzac Day.

And young people’s attention turning from one of their own to the upcoming "Aquarius Festival of University Arts”, a major cultural event for the capital.

Then, on a crisp Tuesday morning in May, clothed remains are stumbled across in a lonely, forested area beyond the Canberra airport on the capital’s north-eastern outskirts.

A woman’s body near the bottom of a gully, partially obscured with “debris and branches”, almost hidden by a row of pine trees.

Decomposition makes identification virtually impossible. Equally is it difficult for the cause of death to be determined.

Suicide, or something more frighteningly malevolent?

 

****

 

Australia in 1971 is a shifting landscape: “knock-about” Liberal Prime Minister John Gorton will be replaced by his former Treasurer, the polarising William McMahon; Evonne Goolagong, winner of the French Open and Wimbledon and the first Aboriginal person to represent the country in tennis, is awarded Australian of the Year; the confronting local film Wake In Fright hits the big screen while Young Talent Time gains good ratings on the small; the “Big 3” of Australian car manufacturing - Holden, Ford and Chrysler - release their most popular “muscle cars”; and come the end of the year, the first McDonald’s opens in Sydney.

Canberra in 1971 is still essentially an over-sized country town, its population hovering around 150,000. Routinely - and often disparagingly - referred to as the “Bush Capital” for its rural environs.

Australia’s only fully planned creation, it’s then not even 60 years old.

Architects Walter and Marion Griffin, of Chicago extraction, had secured the title of designers in a 1911 competition.

The location was a political compromise that ensured the new Australian centrepiece was closer to Sydney - almost 300 kilometres south-west of the NSW capital - than the capital of the state of Victoria, Melbourne, 660-odd kilometres away.

In addition, far enough inland from the continent’s eastern coastline to be protected in the event of an invasion. Still though, within a relatively easy drive to those sparkling beaches that remain a lifestyle drawcard, aiding in the offset of complaints that the city that rose up from a vast, sheltered flood plain was little more than “a good sheep paddock spoiled”.

After decades struggling to attain its proper place as the heart of the Australian Commonwealth, as well as some degree of street credibility - speaking of which, even its roads are generally named for those famous in the development of the country and “thoroughly characteristic of Australia”, as well as incorporating Aboriginal words - as nonetheless intended, Canberra had increasingly become “Washingtonian” in style and demographics, if not size.

-

Over the weekend the “happy-go-lucky” Keren Rowland vanishes, stories vying for space on front pages of The Canberra Times are the ongoing war in Vietnam and the inquiry into the tragic flash-flood in the capital a month before on January 26, the date marked as Australia Day.

“one-in-100 year” natural disaster, almost 100mm of rain in an hour left devastation in its wake. Creeks and waterways swelled rapidly and so forceful was it, cars were washed into storm water drains and even a bus was swept away.

With seven dead, all aged between 6 and 20 years old and including three siblings, and millions to be spent on infrastructure repair, another potential run-away may initially have been dismissed by many.

By the end of April, 1971, as many as 104 missing persons cases will be lodged with the Australian Capital Territory - the ACT - Police. Most are teenagers, and almost all are returned safely to their families inside 72 hours.

In the course of the year, there will be just two murders investigated.

Three days after Keren has failed to return home, on Monday, March 1, a small lead article on the front page of the local paper acknowledges a few alleged sightings, but in the face of extensive police inquiries, having found no trace of her, they hold serious “fears for her safety”.

 

****

 

[Sound Effect: Radio tuning.

Young woman's voice]

 

She’d been looking forward to the end of the week and spent it with her friend, shopping, going to the hairdressers, and after work, wandering through the crowds at the Canberra Show.

As they’re preparing to leave, she spots a small bracelet she thinks is a lovely birthday gift for the 11-year-old sister of another girlfriend - it’s not expensive, but she knows she’ll like it. She even asks the vendor to engrave it with her name: “Lynette”. Safely tucking it in her handbag, they make their way back through the crammed carpark.

Having dropped her companion at home, she’s feeling a little drained, glad their plans to go to the pictures fell through. She thinks it’s best if she has an early night.

Fate it seems, will have other plans.

 

****

 

Keren had spent most of that day with a female friend, Maureen*.

A widow with a young child, the two had become close over the previous few months.

Picking the older woman up just after 9am from the old southern, upmarket suburb of Red Hill, that outcrop a central feature of the Canberra design, where she’d been working as a “live-in housekeeper”.

Around 20 minutes drive from where the Rowlands lived in Downer to the north, an area formerly devoted to agricultural research for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and used during WWII as an opium poppy plantation to produce medications. Named for a two-term Premier of South Australia and member of the first Australian Senate of 1901.

Back to Hackett - its denomination courtesy of a West Australian newspaper proprietor - and not far from the Rowland residence, to leave Maureen’s daughter in the care of her grandparents.

The two women then retraced some of their route along the primary north-south running Northbourne Avenue, the four-and-a-half kilometre long thoroughfare into the Civic Centre, intending to indulge in a little retail therapy.

The Central Business District is immediately recognisable for the landmark Sydney and Melbourne buildings on opposite sides of Northbourne’s southern tip.

The imposing, two-story “inter-war Mediterranean style” constructions with their multiple colonnades topped with graceful arches, near replicas of each other and for years the only commercial buildings in the capital.

-

Delighted to get a normally hard-to-find park on inner Alinga Street - its name, an Aboriginal word for “sun”.

Right outside the Blue Moon Cafe, the popular, long-standing milkbar with its Greek owners, American-style booths and glass-fronted counters. Opposite, the double-storied, art deco Hotel Civic of 1935, preferred watering hole of construction workers, racing identities, students and civil servants alike.

The women on time for their appointment at the nearby Vienna Salon; having their hair done in preparation for their planned evening outing to the Capitol Cinema with some other friends.

Once done, some shopping on the first floor of the less than decade-old Monaro Mall, Australia’s first fully enclosed, three level, air-conditioned plaza. Then downstairs for a few items in the department store that was a regional icon - JB Young.

On dropping Keren at her workplace at 1pm, in the southerly Deakin, the suburb that hosts the official residence of the Australian Prime Minister, Maureen kept the car.

In the process of moving back into her parent’s house, she’d use it for a few of her own trips during the course of the afternoon, including taking her younger brother to the Canberra Show over on the northern edge of town following its official opening at 2.30 that day.

Just before 6pm, Maureen, her brother still with her, collected Keren at the end of her shift.

A last-minute change that undid the plans to see Richard Burton as King Henry VIII and Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn in “Anne of the Thousand Days”, saw the women decide to instead take a look round the Show together - even with its entry fee increasing from 60c to 80c, it was still the cheaper option.

An almost straight route through the middle of Canberra, a distance of about 13 kilometres, they’d stop in at Hackett again for a quick cup of tea. Then it was off to the Show’s first evening session at 7pm.

Everything from wood-chopping to kite-flying, stalls manned by slick salesmen, and dancing girl performances.

Not missing one of the great drawcards, a visit to the Agricultural Pavilion, filled to the brim with prize-winning dahlias, pumpkin’s as big as a man’s head and as impressive an array of bottled fruits and jams as they’d seen, including 29 winners for a Mrs Buckmaster.

Some of the best sheep, cattle and horse-flesh in Australia on display as well.

As The Canberra Times headline the very next morning would boast, the country had come to the city.

Of a less rural nature, the police marquee leaving eyes widened and minds whirring, particularly in relation to the rather “gruesome” exhibition by the Drugs Squad on the effects of taking illegal substances.

Aside from bumping into Keren’s younger brother, who tried to wheedle an extra few dollars from her, the only other person they’d chat with briefly, a fellow who’d been a patient at a dental surgery where Keren used to work.

-

Done by mid-evening with the garish carnival rides, thumping music and the jostling of cowboy-hat wearing visitors, toffee-smeared toddlers and excitable teenagers, Keren returned her friend to Hackett before making for her own home at about 8.50pm.

Although a little fatigued, she sparked up again after walking into the kitchen to find her mum on the phone with her sister asking Keren to come and meet up with her, her fiancé and another male friend.

According to her dad, Keren taking up the invitation seemed to have been “on the spur of the moment”.

 

That apparently spontaneous decision, in conjunction with, in her sister’s words, “about six pieces of fate, coincidences”, will forever change a family and a city.

 

****

[Sound effect: Radio tuning

Young woman's voice]

 

She knows she needs to take care. Although she’s not showing, she’s far enough along that she tires quite quickly. 

It was good though, to do things that kept her mind elsewhere. A catch-up with her sister and a few friends couldn’t hurt.

Things might have been a bit up and down between them in the year or so they’d been together, but she was devastated when he broke off their engagement after finding out the news. She even hoped they might be able to get things back on track but she didn’t want to dwell on it. She’d already struggled enough in that regard. 

As it is, her parents are very supportive and she’s been busy preparing for it all.

She was getting back into the swing of things, too. She had plans for next weekend, and she’d just today agreed to get together with a male friend on Monday night. It wasn’t anything serious, but they’d been talking during the course of the week and she was looking forward to it.

Things were going to work out for the best, she was sure.

 

****

 

When she vanished, Keren was still living at home with her family. Father, Geoff, a 43-year-old former ambulance officer and mortuary assistant, by then in the security game, her 41-year-old mum, Hazel, and her younger sister and brother.

They’d moved about a bit.

Born in St Leonard’s, Sydney, Keren’s earliest years were spent in the city’s northern suburbs.

With two new siblings, according to Steve Rowland, their father was provided a flat in the historic CBD area of The Rocks as part of his job.

“We were brought up above the now old Coroner’s Court and City Morgue in George Street”.

“After dad went into the security business, in 1966 we moved to Wingham on the Mid North Coast near Taree”.

“Dad had a few health issues and decided the Canberra climate might help his asthma, so that became home in 1969”.

Finishing school while in the small Wingham, Keren had trained as a dental nurse. On arrival in the capital, she found work as a receptionist at the busy Prosser Pool in Deakin.

Set behind the small shopping centre of the upper class suburb, the facility was a popular place.

Described at the time of its 1966 construction as “the most modern in Australia”, for years it was the only heated pool in the Canberra area.

The brainchild of former Olympic swimming coach, Sep Prosser, it also boasted celebrity staff - the first manager, John Konrads considered “one of the all-time greats of Australian swimming”; his assistant, Pat Hay, a squad member in the 1960 Olympics.

Inevitably, it attracted a diverse array of Canberrans from all over the city.

-

Content in her job and home life and with a good social circle, Keren had also been in a relationship for around a year with a raffish young bloke who was almost a neighbour; he lived with his parents only a few minutes drive from the Rowlands, in the suburb next door, Watson - named for Australia’s third Prime Minister.

In the lead up to her boyfriend’s 21st birthday in October, 1970 - for which Keren would note her affections in the “Family Notices” of The Canberra Times, on August 29 of that year, the handsome couple announced their engagement.

With the ink barely dry on the public notice of that event also in the newspaper classifieds, the break-up would occur in November after Keren learned she was unexpectedly pregnant.

Between that time and this, despite reconciliation with her once fiancé a possibility in Keren’s mind, he’d apparently already moved on.

According to some who knew the good-looking young man, he inevitably attracted the attention of admirers.

For one still local, a former nurse, although she hadn’t known him personally, when she was around 17, she recalled seeing him at the swimming pool in the also northern suburb of Dickson. He was usually talking with young women - perhaps it may even have been where he first met Keren.

As an onlooker only, in the nurse’s recollection, he’d caught her attention because of his confident swagger and tousled, blonde looks.

-

Unsurprisingly, the effect of the end of the relationship on the normally bubbly Keren was pronounced; well might 1970s women be striving for liberation but the status of single mother was one that continued to largely be frowned upon.

She was shaken enough to be briefly admitted to the Canberra Hospital to address what her doctor termed a “nervous disorder”.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long to regain her equilibrium, bolstered by the bonds of a family who continued to make it clear they knew “she was a good girl” and were “not ashamed” she was expecting a child out of wedlock.

Her brother agrees unequivocally.

“We were all really excited she was going to become a mum, that we were going to have another family member”.

Her friend Maureen also confirmed that along with having already attended prenatal classes, just that day they’d been looking for baby items. During their time together that morning Keren had also visited her solicitor to discuss the matter of her ex-partner’s financial responsibilities for their child.

“I am 100% certain there is no way Keren was preparing for anything other than to be a mother”.

 

****

For some years and despite escalating demands from Trade Unions for trading hours to be restricted to 9am to 5pm five days a week, Fridays for Canberrans offered the opportunity to shop until 9pm.

On that cool February evening, shortly after closing time, Keren pulled up in her white Mini outside the Central Pharmacy, on Alinga Street back in the City Centre, where her sister had just finished work.

The two spoke together for a few moments while their male companions waited nearby.

The intention was for Keren to follow them in her car, first to the friend’s place in the Woden Valley, southside of the Lake, and from there on to the nearby Statesman Hotel in the suburb named for a war-time Prime Minister, Curtin.

Although supposed to wait for the blue Fiat the other three were travelling in to exit the carpark at the rear, according to Steve, “Keren went whizzing off like she normally did, heading south through the city”.

In the meantime, the trio in the other car had a change of heart, deciding the Dickson Hotel, just a suburb over from the Rowland home, would be a better venue.

Having to catch Keren up to try to flag her down, they overtook her, attempting to telegraph the change in plan.

Already across the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, the Fiat took a left to double-back over the parallel-running Kings Avenue Bridge about three kilometres to the east.

With Keren unaware of what was going on, she followed them nonetheless.

The two cars re-crossed the Lake before merging left at the bridge’s end onto Parkes Way.

Just a handful of kilometres on, the lead vehicle slowed to enter one of the many large traffic roundabouts for which Canberra has earned a reputation. Onwards for access to the western suburbs and another round-about, to the right of which is the Civic Centre again; second exit right at this juncture to Anzac Parade, at the top of which rises the imposing central dome of the Australian War Memorial of 1941.

Taking this route, having passed through the first set of traffic lights, the three in front realised that somehow, somewhere within that short distance, they’d lost sight of Keren in the rearview mirror.

Parking by the side of the otherwise deserted road, almost directly outside the gate opening onto the graveyard and church of the Anglican St John’s of 1844, they’d waited for her to catch up.

Craning for a glimpse behind, to their surprise, what they thought looked like her Mini-Minor rounded the same concrete circle with its central, French-inspired water feature, Rond Pond, before heading back along Parkes Way in the opposite direction - towards the NSW border town of Queanbeyan.

Wondering if her sister might be “in a huff” because of the last-minute alterations and the lateness of the hour, they agreed it was probably best to make their way back to Downer to meet her there.

And so, onwards they drove.

They didn’t look back.

 

****

She drives over the city’s second bridge. Although she’s a Sydney girl, she’s lived here long enough to know it’s named in honour of George V, monarch when Canberra came into being in 1913. 

 She’s confused about why they’ve changed direction but, still trailing the sportscar, she duly exits left; merges onto the Lake-hugging thoroughfare.

Its shore is encumbered by parkland, the angled three-columned musical monument to Canberra’s 50th anniversary opened by Queen Elizabeth II just the year before, and an empty old house only accessed by history buffs and sightseers.

As she nears this, she realises something else is wrong - she seems to be falling too far behind. 

Her sister, sitting in the lead vehicle’s back seat, doesn’t turn around. Visible through the rear window, her head becomes smaller and smaller as the distance between the two cars increases.  

 Now she can only make out the tail-lights as they disappear right into the Parade which marches on to meet the forecourt of the War Memorial where it keeps an almost solitary vigil against its bush backdrop.

As her Mini sputters to a stall, she coasts off the bitumen, closer to the edge of the ornamental watercourse and close enough to tears. 

Somewhere in the distance behind her, she thinks she can just make out the sound of another car approaching.

 

****

Parkes Way then was a somewhat different affair to now.

From Kings Avenue Bridge to the round-about leading to Anzac Parade - the memorial avenue opened Anzac Day 1965, the 50th anniversary of the nation-altering WWI Gallipoli landing - is a distance of less than three kilometres. Between the same Bridge and the Civic centre is approximately five.

Nonetheless, the area as it extends eastwards has always been the city’s nether regions.

Named for Sir Henry Parkes, long-serving NSW Premier and one of the primary agitators for the Australian colonies to unite as a Federation, the first stage of the four-lane arterial road opened at the end of 1961, according to the attendant newspaper report, “sweeping” along the northern shore of a “future lake” that wouldn’t appear for another three years.

To the north-west is Civic. Winding east, morphing into different sections over some 15 kilometres, it’s out to the now regional city of Queanbeyan.

Before meeting the NSW border, at various points along both sides you’ll find the 140 acre Mount Pleasant Nature Reserve - at its base, the Duntroon Military College spread over 370 acres; more than 180 acres of the Jerrabomberra Wetlands; the semi-rural Pialligo Estate covering 110 acres almost opposite the large area taken up by the Canberra Airport and the industrial suburb of Fyshwick.

Close by where Keren’s Mini-Minor came to a standstill, the Lake side is still overseen by only the inanimate: the National Carillon with its 57 bells, its three column design representing the British Government, from whom it was a gift, the Australian Government and the City of Canberra; standing 50 metres tall on the small water-bound outcrop ambitiously declared “Aspen Island”.

Also the tiny stone then 113-year-old farmhouse built for a local ploughman back when the structure was itself an island in a sea of paddocks.

It was pre-1963 when any would have last gazed out its timber-framed windows after hours, its occupation from that point as daytime tourist attraction for the “Canberra & District Historical Society”.

On the furthest side of the roadway, today there’s growing outcrops of high-rise apartments, some with a vista over the open expanse of water; on its opposite shore, various cultural and political institutions including the old Parliament House of 1927 and the one built to replace it in the year of the country’s Bicentenary, 1988.

Some of those apartments offer an eagle’s nest view of any would-be act of nefariousness.

In 1971, the area was predominantly undeveloped, populated by little more than partial office constructions, parking spaces and open grassland interspersed with yet to establish scrubby trees and low bushes.

There was no lighting along the roadway - in fact, in May 1972, Geoff Rowland wrote a “Letter to the Editor” of The Canberra Times expressing his concern at the serious safety issue that continued to pose.

At the Rond Pond round-about exit onto Anzac Parade, flanking each side of the dual carriageway with its wide, red gravel centre, stood the low-rise concrete-box “gateway buildings” of Anzac Park East and West; home during business hours to the Bureau of Mineral Resources and the Department of Defence respectively.

From the late 1960s they’d stood sentinel for the city-side boundary of the “Defence” suburb of Russell; one of Canberra’s smallest, eventually hosting numerous government offices but no private residences.

By 2018, the years-long deserted and boarded up eastern block of the pair would be demolished to make way for the modern lifestyle towers and a shining new piece of modernity housing the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation - ASIO.

Deeper behind, in the shadow of Mount Ainslie, an 843-metre high hill with panoramic views of the city below and named for one of the first arriving Europeans to the area, is the suburb of Campbell. So designated for its role between 1825 and 1911 as the estate of overseer James Ainslie’s boss, the merchant, politician and pastoralist, Robert Campbell.

Permanent suburban occupation there came as late as 1958.

Initially, large though few houses on large and few blocks. Much area reserved as Reserves; evidence of the capital’s commitment to nurturing nature and the preservation of civilised neighbourhood life.

In other words, relatively sparsely inhabited, close and yet far enough, with not much going on in the late hours of a Friday night.

No street lights, no glow of office fluorescents, and apparently, virtually no one to either see or render assistance.

 

****

It was mere minutes, barely a few kilometres between them.

She tries to quell the fluttering panic welling in the same part of her body her baby is now growing.

How was the tank on empty and why hadn’t she noticed? 

 What on earth is she to do now, out here by herself, close enough to the middle of the night?

Turning off the radio and the headlights, the dark presses in upon her. Taking a few calming breaths, she weighs up the possibilities.

In the unlikely event the others come back for her, they’ll have to go all the way to the top of Anzac Parade to circle the round-about there and head back - a few kilometres in total.

Then they’ll be on the eastern side of the divided carriageway. Nowhere for a u-turn until some distance on: the round-about at the turn-off into the Russell Defence Offices. 

It would be natural for them to re-think such an idea because there’d be a greater chance the cars would pass each other by in opposite directions.

Perhaps they’ll instead pull over and wait for her to catch them up?

For either option, first they’d have to know they’d lost her. 

And how long would they wait before thinking she might have driven straight on to take the next round-about back into Civic?

What then, is the likelihood she can walk to find help? 

Houses in Campbell were possibly near enough, but she baulks at the thought of wandering alone through the darkened areas, mainly carparks and scrub, that separate her from the affluent suburb.

The city proper is still a way off, though she might catch the others up somewhere along the way if she heads in that direction. 

Or, is there any chance she might secure a lift from a friendly passerby?

Should she stay or should she go?

 

****

When it was found quite quickly at 1.30am on the Saturday morning, inexplicably, Keren’s car was out of petrol.

It had been refuelled just the day before, as close as it could be to full.

Its petrol cap also remained secured.

The police were “very bothered” about how Keren wouldn’t have noticed her gauge on empty.

So too, her mother, described as being “on the verge of a breakdown”.

She couldn’t account for any use that may have resulted in such a rapid depletion.

Almost everywhere in Canberra is close - the longest distance between the far north of the city and the furthest point south, no more than 50-odd kilometres at the outside.

The car had done a number of trips during the course of that day, approximately 120 kilometres all told - including the five hours it was in the possession of Keren’s friend, Maureen.

In addition, Keren probably covered another 30 kilometres on the Thursday after filling it up.

An early Mini’s fuel tank capacity is just over 27 litres, equating to around 300 kilometres of usage.

Keren’s brother, who owned the vehicle, agrees it was very economical: “you would have had to drive to Sydney for it to have run out”.

If there was any chance the Mini may have been tampered with, they’d never know.

“We had to go and collect the car that morning”.

“We had spare keys for the car itself, but not the petrol cap, so we had to break that off. Then we refilled it and drove it home.”

“There was no indication that there was anything else wrong with the car - there weren’t any leaks or anything like that”.

“Even if it had been driven more than we realised, or, if someone had helped themselves to some fuel from it at some point, how would Keren not have noticed that?”

“Running out of petrol wasn’t something she - or any of us - had ever done before, and she’d had opportunity to fuel up again if she’d needed”.

Is there any possibility then, there was more to it than mere unfortunate serendipity?

 

****

If you drive the route Keren took that night, a few things become distressingly clear.

One is just how close her sister and friends were in the first vehicle: from where they pulled over on Anzac Parade after exiting the round-about, past the first set of traffic lights, looking back diagonally, they could almost have seen Keren from their position if it wasn’t for the Anzac East building then still standing, blocking their line of sight.

On Parkes Way, there’s a marking on the kerbside that indicates the approximate position Keren’s car came to a halt - almost equidistant between the exit point of the Kings Avenue Bridge and the Rond Pond round-about; the Carillon behind, Blundell’s Cottage a little further along.

Almost directly opposite on the northern verge, a former blankness now filled with the curved glass ASIO building glaring down over most of that stretch.

Of the many what-if’s, one of the most stomach-churning: with just a few more millilitres of petrol, a couple of hundred at the outside, Keren would have made that round-about where there were lights, a clearer view - and potentially, people to save her. 

 

****

The slim silhouette walking by the road’s edge is caught only in the glare of passing headlights.

There’s a small white car behind her, and she’s heading in the direction of the just visible glow of Civic.  

Idling a short distance in front, “a dark, medium-sized NSW registered car”.

Whether she accepts a lift, those brief flashes don’t provide enough illumination for certainty.

 

**** 

Next time on Capital Crime Files: 

As the wind whispers through the rustling pines, it’s a place that makes you feel you’re miles from anywhere - and yet, just beyond a rise to the west are the bright lights of the heart of the Australian Commonwealth.

The haunting - and potentially haunted - nature of the lonely location has become deeply embedded in local folklore. 

This latest disturbing discovery does much to perpetuate that.

 

****

My heartfelt thanks to those involved in this podcast, including Keren’s family and the small team who helped me bring it together.

Thanks to Dana Milde for additional voice-over, Nick Overall socials, Ed Reading for the original music with Lindsay Heffernan on guitar, and promotional photography by Greg Nelson.

If you have any information you think may be even remotely relevant, please contact Crimestoppers, or reach out to me directly at capitalcrimefiles.com.au.

 -

* Indicates where names have been changed in the interests of privacy and/or in order not to prejudice or impede a potential trial.

 

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:

Witness statements

Coronial Inquest documentation

ACT/NSW Police Archives

“Wanted” by Timothy Hall, 1976, Angus & Robertson.

Trove

newspapers.com

NSW State Library e-resources

ACT Electoral Rolls

ancestry.com

Interviews with friends, witnesses, police, journalists, and those with information and knowledge of both Canberra and the events of the time.

TRANSCRIPT 3

Case File Fragments I - What if it were you?

SEASON 1
Keren Rowland: The 50 year mystery


 A small experiment: drive along a dark, semi-rural road, absent of houses or occupied offices, street lights or even moon to talk of, at around 65 kilometres per hour, that’s close to 40mph - perhaps even drop your speed to 40k’s or 25mph. 

 

See how much detail you can take in about another car or maybe even a person that you spot unexpectedly as you go by.

 

It can be difficult to absorb a great deal in such circumstances and to be able to recall much when it comes to the specifics.

 

I’m Nichole Overall, creator and host of the Capital Crime Files podcast.

 

While undertaking my investigation into the 50 year mystery of what happened to 20-year-old Keren Rowland one night in 1971 in the national capital of Australia, Canberra, I had the opportunity to test my own powers of observation in a similar scenario. 

 

Taking an after-hours look at one of the Canberra locations relevant to the investigation - the outcrop known as Mt Ainslie, about six or so kilometres from the centre of the city along a secondary thoroughfare that leads on to the Airport to the east.

 

Marginally remote, though a popular spot for the panoramic views it offers of the metropolis laid out below and the picturesque mountain ranges that encircle it.

 

A single, winding road up and back down, the hill is decently wooded. While no lighting, on this occasion, there was a full moon with numerous other vehicles passing by.

 

Around half way up, I was startled to see two young women, girls really as they looked to be teenagers, walking along the unpaved edge of the road to the left of my car.

 

I instinctively slowed, but they just as quickly disappeared from my view as I drove by, even in the rearview mirror.  

 

Their presence in that location at maybe somewhere around 9.30pm surprised me because it’s not a safe place for night-time wandering in relation to the geography alone. It also wasn’t the sort of spot I could stop to ask if everything was okay. 

 

When I made the return trip along the same thoroughfare probably less than 10 minutes later, I was actually looking for them this time. I saw both further down towards the base of the hill and then on the opposite side of the road.

 

In the face of those two sightings, the most I could tell you of what I thought I saw? And perhaps three weeks after it happened because I can’t remember the precise night? 

 

One girl was slightly smaller than the other, both height and weight. One girl definitely had long, dark hair - which of the pair it was though, I can’t be sure. I think one was wearing a red cap, one was wearing a pink t-shirt and one was wearing denim shorts. I think. And which of the two was wearing either or all, I absolutely could not say with any certainty.

 

The relevance of all this? 

 

As part of the next episode in the case of Keren Rowland, along with what happens after her car was found abandoned though locked alongside Lake Burley Griffin, I’m exploring what people thought they saw and knew on the night she was last seen alive, the distortion of events and facts, and the inevitable urban myths that have arisen to further cloud the situation over five decades.

 

Sorting the jigsaw puzzle pieces in an effort to discover the truth and perhaps even, unravel the mystery.

 

Since the release of Episode 1, I’ve already been contacted by people with additional information, further recollections and stories and I’ve been conducting more interviews with relevant parties. 

 

All of this will be incorporated in forthcoming episodes and in follow-up podcasts at the conclusion of the first Season.

 

Episode 2 is now currently in production to be released as soon as possible.

 

In the meantime, you might want to take a drive under the cover of darkness to see what I’m on about.

©Nichole Overall 2021




TRANSCRIPT 4

Case File Fragments II - Could you detect a mystery?

SEASON 1
Keren Rowland: The 50 year mystery

 

Are you able to recall what you were doing last Tuesday at around 4.30pm? 

 

Where you were, who you spoke with, what they were wearing?

 

What if I asked you for such a recollection from five years ago? Or maybe even 10?

 

If there’s a chance you were about five decades ago, how sharp are your memories viewed over that distance when it comes to a single event?

 

These are just some of the difficulties facing a renewed focus on the disappearance and death of 20 year old, pregnant Keren Rowland on a summer evening 50 years ago in the usually sedate national capital of Australia, Canberra.

 

I’m Nichole Overall, creator and host of the Capital Crime Files podcast in which I explore this still open-ended mystery, these Case File Fragments providing updates and extra information pertaining to the investigation.

 

As time slips away - with memories fading, people moving on or dying - the need to try to tap into as many recollections as possible is ever more pressing.

 

If you are old enough and were in the region between February 26, 1971, when Keren vanished and May 13 of that year when her remains were found, do you remember anything at all that could be even remotely connected? 

 

Or, do you know anyone who might? 

 

Alternatively, have you heard something subsequently that could assist unlock the confounding case?

 

There’s even the chance for a connection or link further afield - to be looked at further in future episodes.

 

On that basis, could you have heard, been told, or noticed something that might relate, even after so long?

 

Indeed, is there anything about this situation you’d like to get off your chest, because the one thing we know with certainty is that someone out there knows the truth.

 

Can you help uncover it?

 

****

 

I’m here at the Winchester Police Centre in the western Canberra suburb of Belconnen. 

 

The well-secured, somewhat bunker-like concrete building sits not far from the area’s large shopping plaza, within walking distance to another of Canberra’s artificially created waterways, Lake Ginninderra, constructed in 1974.

 

It’s the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) headquarters of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), named for one of its former Assistant Commissioners, Colin Winchester. In 1989, the dedicated policeman was gunned down in his own driveway by two bullets from an assassin’s silenced Ruger semi-automatic rifle. 

 

Still something of a thorny issue to a degree - a local man who served almost 20 years for the murder was found not guilty in a 2018 re-trial - I’ll be discussing more on Assistant Commissioner Winchester’s history in relation to his involvement in Keren’s case in future episodes.

 

ACT Policing is the portfolio of the AFP responsible for Canberra, following a 1979 of merger of the ACT Police of 1927 with the Commonwealth Police.

 

I’m at police headquarters to talk with the current lead investigator, Detective-Sergeant Adam Rhynehart, for some of his insights on what remains one of the oldest unresolved criminal mysteries in Canberra’s history.

 

Ushered into the Media Room - just a table and small raised platform hosting a lectern emblazoned with the AFP badge: upon a silver wreath - the symbol of victory - the seven-pointed “Commonwealth Star” representing the united states and territories of the Australian Federation formed on January 1, 1901; topped by the “Queen’s Crown” - such placement in military and police badges a tradition reaching back to 1751; and bearing the national Coat of Arms of 1912 - a shield with the emblems of the six states, flanked by a kangaroo and an emu. 

 

The room cocooned with a backdrop of a heavy, navy curtain - almost a physical representation of what’s referred to as the “thin blue line”: the men and women in uniform who serve and protect.

 

Taking a seat across from the dark-haired detective who might potentially be in his mid-30s - as is often the situation, a well-trimmed beard making that a difficult judgement.

 

He is though, open and forthcoming - at least as much as he can be in the face of an ongoing investigation. 

 

Some of his answers are by needs off the record, but helpful for me regardless in order to ensure that the most accurate picture possible becomes public record.

 

“I joined the AFP in 2005 and my first foray into the Criminal Investigations was in about 2008, properly joining in 2010, so about 10 years within CI and I think seven of those have been in homicide-related investigations”.

 

As with many a resident of the ACT - and not only those old enough to remember the actual circumstances - Keren’s name wasn’t unknown to Detective Rhynehart.

 

“It’s a job where being a Canberra local, I knew of the job, of the investigation into Keren Rowland, but never knew much about it”.

 

In late 2020, he was appointed to review local unsolved homicides and long-time missing persons.

 

Despite the fact the official Coronial Inquest findings into Keren’s death were inconclusive in virtually all respects, including the very nature of how she died - details of which are to be explored at length in upcoming Episodes - her case remains open, police continuing to probe for a more conclusive outcome.

 

The current undertaking involves a re-examination of everything previously known as well as pursuing newly emerging aspects. 

 

“We spent a considerable amount of time searching the National Archives, forensics, exhibit offices, looking to get as much information about the job as possible”.

 

“We’ve even spoken with former members to get their recall about the investigation. So things that weren’t written down or recorded or obtained, we’ve tried to get their view of what the investigation was back in the 1970s.”

 

“I’ve found it a fascinating investigation and quite a privilege to be involved and I think as we go, we’re finding more questions than answers”.

 

According to Detective Rhynehart, public contributions in such circumstances can be of considerable value.

 

“I think if one thing hasn’t changed between 1971 and today is the investigation’s reliance on the public”.

 

“They needed the information 50 years ago from the public about what they might have seen or heard and the same thing exists today”.

 

“We are relying on someone that saw something or heard something or that final bit of the jigsaw that we just don’t have, that part hasn’t changed.”

 

My own earlier articles in publications such as Canberra City News about Keren and other local women who have disappeared without trace, died in suspicious circumstances or been murdered has also produced encouraging community interaction. 

 

So too, this podcast, launched on December 9, 2020 - the date that marked what would have been Keren’s 70th birthday.

 

Along with attempting to provide the most comprehensive and historically accurate coverage of the case to this point, the interviews with some of those directly involved and impacted, including Keren’s younger brother, Steve, who had never before spoken publicly, has generated much response.

 

Detective Rhynehart’s view of the benefit of such initiatives is positive.

 

"In the short time that we’ve been reviewing this investigation, I’ve spoken to people saying ‘well, I’ve heard the podcast and I’ve spoken to Nichole’ …they’re aware of the podcast and they’re aware that Keren’s investigation is still running, we’re still looking for information that could help us.”

 

“Even the smallest, little bit of media, people are still remembering what they’ve got on their chest and want to tell us, so things like this podcast … if it helps generate a bit of information that might assist us get some answers, then I’m very happy for it.”

 

The explanation as to why people might have anything new to share now compared to then may range from perceived significance, to concerns for the potential repercussions.

 

“In fact, there was an elderly lady who rang up who for 50 years has held onto fear. She’s held onto a story that she thought her ex-partner may have been involved in Keren’s disappearance and for so long she’s been holding onto that and finally got it off her chest and said ‘well, I need to tell you about my situation, what happened to me way back when and I feel that could be related to Keren Rowland’s death and disappearance”.

 

“So it could be someone holding onto something for 50 years through their own fear”.

 

For others it may be encountering a distortion of what actually occurred, including some of the more outlandish stories to have circulated over the years - just one, the false assertion that Keren was in a relationship with a married man - that could lead to people questioning or dismissing their own accounts.

 

“That’s an issue with that false information. If a potential witness has correct information and they’re being fed a story, that might make them reluctant to come forward and tell us”.   

 

Even in the face of the heightened activity and interest, the search remains a challenge for a multitude of reasons, as acknowledged by Detective Rhynehart.

 

“I think sometimes we don’t know exactly what we are looking for or what exists, so we might be searching for a long time for something that might have been either disappeared or destroyed a long time ago or never existed”.

 

“So we’ve got to ask the questions, ask people tough questions and look in areas that we might not think there’ll be something to find but we need to say with our hand on our heart that we’ve looked for everything and obtained as much as we can”.

 

In addition to evidence that may no longer be accessible or even able to be located, the quality and variance of recollections as well as the opportunity to re-verify them after so long poses problems of its own.

 

“Some people have approached us 50 years later saying ‘I gave this information back in the 70’s and this is my information again today’ and some of the information is exactly the same as they remember it”. 

 

“And that information in the 70’s was investigated and looked into, it’s just a little bit harder now to go back and find records to corroborate what they’re saying. So things like Motor Registry details - they’re very hard to find, if you can find them at all”.

 

Something generations born after the mid-1990s can scarce imagine is a time when mobile phones were only the stuff of imagination - think Secret Agent Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone in the ‘60s or the 1946 appearance of cartoon crime-fighter Dick Tracy’s “wristwatch radio”.

 

From the late 60’s, Canberrans were early adopters of telephones in the home. Should though, a need to call arise when out back in that day, it required finding a public telephone or a service station that had one - not forgetting that you’d have to have handy the coins to use it.

 

In 1971, along with these options not being overly in abundance in the capital, neither truly offered the chance for someone to track your final movements in the event that all other trace of you vanishes. 

 

“Major difference between ’71 and today is our reliance on things like CCTV, mobile phones, that digital footprint that we all leave without realising it - that didn’t exist 50 years ago, so we were relying purely on witness details, someone to remember a rego, someone to remember a make and model of a car or a description of someone they saw, whereas today, we’ve got a little device in our hip pocket that follows us and tells us everything”.

 

Despite the lack of physical evidence that can be sourced in Keren’s case, a large volume of other material and information was retained by the police. Now again the subject of scrutiny, it is held close, but more details about it all, how much remains and what may otherwise have happened to components of it, will feature in forthcoming episodes in the first season of this podcast.

 

“Whilst we might not have the physical evidence, then we’ve still got the witness accounts, we’ve still got the statements, we’ve still got information about what they might have seen or heard. I mean, not every investigation is solved on DNA”.

 

Detective Rhynehart confirms that earlier investigators indeed spoke with literally hundreds of people, a smaller percentage providing what might be deemed more valuable contributions. Whittling down those numbers is another time-consuming element of the entire process.

 

“I can’t give you an exact number but there are plenty.

 

“I mean, you compare an occurrence sheet where they spoke to ‘Person X’ versus a witness statement, in terms of how many people they’ve spoken to, it would certainly be in three figures”.

 

“Who knows how many witness statements we have that are directly involved with Keren’s death and disappearance - hopefully one day we’ll give you an exact number - but there’s plenty of statements and plenty of pieces of information that investigators compiled over the time”.

 

Fingerprints were also recovered from what was found when Keren’s body was located in May, 1971. 

 

Regardless of what we see on crime-busting TV dramas though, this is the real world and it’s rarely as easy as depicted.

 

“Fingerprinting was a thing back then. What we have available to us has been fingerprinted, or reviewed. They’re not for a standard that we can make any identification”.

 

“Maybe it was never, ever a good enough sample or good enough print.”

 

So too, a relatively lengthy of list of persons-of-interest which Detective Rhynehart and I discussed at some length, also to later be explored more fully. 

 

“The investigation I think at last count, when I last looked, was 30 or so people nominated as potential offenders and even today, that list is growing as people are providing us with more information”. 

 

“And they investigated every single person to work out where they were, what they were doing, trying to corroborate an alibi if one existed. Some can be ruled out straight away but also there’s a smaller list of people that you can’t rule in or you can’t rule out”.

 

Keren’s ex-fiancé - their engagement called off only a few months before she vanished - and the father of her keenly expected child, was one person of interest who continues to generate much discussion.

 

Detective Rhynehart confirms the official view that her former partner was ruled out early as a serious consideration in anything untoward and his checked and corroborated alibi remains consistent. 

 

“The ex-partner was one of the first inquiries that they made, even on the night when Keren was reported missing they spoke with him, got his version of events of where he’s been and what he has done, and the investigation then went to corroborate his alibi and proved that he was where he said he was at the time”.

 

So he was eliminated as a suspect and remains that way today”.

 

****

 

Policing, detective work and the judicial process itself has also evolved over the intervening decades, as Detective Rhynehart explains.

 

“The expectation of the community and the court system about what’s required for a homicide investigation has changed quite a lot”.

 

“I know we dot the i’s and cross the t's probably more than we should but there’s a good reason for that and that makes sure our investigations and convictions withhold, are strong. Back 50 years ago, they did the same inquiries but perhaps not to the same depth or without realising what might be required 50 years later”.

 

“What the investigators did, they did a great job, in fact there’s far more material in the investigation than I realised and they were very, very committed to the investigation and it shows with the amount of work we have recovered”.

 

In answer to questions on whether cases such as Keren’s are a lost cause given the time that’s elapsed comes the successful unmasking and convictions of the American serial rapist and murderer Joseph De Angelo and closer to home, the Claremont Killer in Perth. 

 

The crime spree of DeAngelo, aka the Golden State Killer, spanned 40 years, 11 Californian counties and dozens of victims. He’d be brought undone by DNA and genetic-matching courtesy of a genealogy website - not though, without controversy around the potential ethical implications of people’s genetic information being used without their express knowledge in order to solve crimes. 

 

DNA and fibre evidence also assisted in solving the almost 25-year-old murders of two young women that traumatised residents of Perth. In late 2020, Bradley Edwards received a life sentence for both as well as a 1988 rape and another assault on an 18-year-old female two years after that.

 

However, such forensic techniques weren’t even a hypothetical consideration in 1971 - the first DNA-based case not until 1985. And for that, some physical evidence that may still bear even the tiniest traces is required.

 

In the face of all of these elements, the Canberra investigation of Keren’s perplexing case continues, no stone left unturned, no witness statement unread. 

 

“What we’re trying to do in part of this review is not only get new information or that same information provided again, but reviewing the documents from 1971 and working out what avenues of inquiry have been ticked off and what avenues of inquiry are still outstanding”.

 

“So we will identify what further work needs to be done and how we can go about achieving that work”.

 

“It’s no small job, I mean there’s boxes and boxes of material available to us, and we are going through page by page, statement by statement, trying to work out what exists and what opportunities are available to us”.

 

Detective Rhynehart is also mindful to point out that not all of the progress, findings - and dashed disappointments when it comes to red herrings - can be relayed in real time.

 

“If we advertise every step that we make, then we’re planning an opportunity for someone to create a defence in court later or for the investigation to be side-tracked in a way that it shouldn’t be”.

 

“Whilst I’d love to be able to tell everything about the investigation, there’s very good reasons why we don’t do that”.

 

With so much to cover, rediscover, and uncover, the path forward is still one filled with uncertainty, hurdles and ever more sand through that hourglass.

 

“Going through all those records and reading them, everyone’s review or view of what they saw doesn’t make it clear as to what actually happened”.

 

“And when you’re not ready to pay attention - we do it all the time, what’s the car we just drove past? - you’ll get different answers all the time from everyone, really”.

 

All involved are acutely aware of the pressures and the expectations that weigh upon them, from so many quarters.

 

“I think Keren’s case is certainly one of the more interesting ones where it’s just one of those ones you want to know what happened. I mean it’s not fair that a family lost a daughter and a sister in such unusual and quick circumstances … quick in terms of it just happened ‘like that’. It didn’t need to be long, it was just a fleeting opportunity and before you know it, a family’s life has been changed forever”.

 

The more personal nature of such a tragedy in what remains a relatively small community - as has been proven to me personally throughout the research and preparation for this podcast, it’s rarely six degrees of separation in these parts, more like two - means it has impacted many and continues to resonate down that tunnel of passing years.

 

“You know, I’ve seen those two white lines on Parkes Way and it almost gives me chills driving past it knowing what happened at that spot 50 years ago, well before I was around, but now I know all about it and want to give answers to Steve and the family".

 

Coming up in Capital Crime Files, more in-depth details of the elements discussed during this interview and additional information including the emergence of a name that will give most who hear it pause - no less than the man dubbed the “Backpacker Killer”, Ivan Milat.

 

“That is a significant part of the investigation. At the moment where we are, I can’t rule him in and I certainly can’t rule him out. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to try”.

 

For more, find us at capitalcrimefiles.com.au, subscribe wherever you download your podcasts and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

©Nichole Overall 2021