James Patrick TAYLOR; known as Jimmy to friends and family, was only 12
years of age when he vanished without a trace after leaving his home in
Derby WA to attend a nearby shop.
James was born on the 1st of November, 1961 and lived with
his father at 126 Knowsley Street, Derby. He was mature for his age and
was helpful and responsible; so much so he was entrusted to do the
family’s grocery shopping.
the 29th of August, 1974 James left his home to buy a soft
drink from the nearby Lwoys store. He failed to return home but this did
not raise any immediate alarm bells with his family as they assumed he
had followed through on a request he made earlier to attend Myroodah
Cattle Station with a friend.
Upon realisation that James wasn’t at the cattle station, his family
lodged a missing persons report with Police on the 16th of
September, 1974. He has not been seen or heard of since.
this day, James’ family are still haunted by his sudden disappearance in
If you can help and
have any information about James’ disappearance, make a report online or
call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, where all calls are strictly
confidential, and rewards are offered. Please quote Reference Number 5309.
Coroners Act 1996 [Section 26(1)]
RECORD OF INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH
Ref No: 37/14
I, Barry Paul King, Coroner, having investigated the suspected death of
James Patrick Taylor with an inquest held at Derby Court House, Loch Street,
Derby, on 8, 9 and 10 October 2014, find that the death has been established
beyond all reasonable doubt and that the identity of the deceased person was
James Patrick Taylor and that death occurred on an unknown date at an
unknown place from an unknown cause in the following circumstances:
Counsel Appearing : Ms C Fitzgerald assisting the Coroner Mr P Gazia and
Mr A Walters appearing on behalf of the deceased’s family Mr G Barns
appearing on behalf of L A Bridgart (also known as J R O’Neill)
1. James Patrick Taylor (the deceased) lived with his family in Derby. On
29 August 1974 when he was 12 years old he went from his home to a nearby
shop on a quick errand and did not return.
2. Following deceased’s disappearance, police conducted an investigation
into his whereabouts. Despite reported sightings of the deceased in the West
Kimberley, he was never seen again. The police investigation effectively
ended in 1979.
3. The deceased’s family heard nothing further about what might have
happened to the deceased until October 2006 when they saw a television
documentary entitled ‘The Fishermen: Journey into the mind of a killer.’The
documentary related to one Leigh Anthony Bridgart, who had taken on the name
James Ryan O’Neill (Mr O’Neill). Mr O’Neill had been convicted of the
abduction and murder of a nine year old boy in Tasmania in 1975 and had been
the subject of investigations into other abductions of boys around that
time. The documentary alleged that Mr O’Neill had been living in Derby in
1974 at the time the deceased disappeared.
4. Meanwhile, in August 2006 the WA Police Special Crime Squad began an
audit of all cases of unsolved homicides and long-term missing persons who
disappeared in suspicious circumstances. The purpose of the audit was to
identify all matters within the squad’s area of responsibility: historical
homicides. Information in the police file relating to the deceased’s
disappearance raised the possibility of foul play, so the file was
transferred to the Special Crime Squad for a review.
5. That review was completed by December 2006. The detective senior
constable who carried it out identified three persons of interest (including
Mr O’Neill), recommended that a new investigation be conducted, and
recommended that 28 investigative opportunities be pursued. However, the
detective conceded that the proposed new investigation had a low to medium
priority, predominantly because the persons of interest posed a low risk to
the community as one was dead, one (Mr O’Neill) was incarcerated and the
other was over 60 and had not committed any reported offences since 1988.
6. In early 2011 a journalist, Phillipa Prior, became interested in the
deceased’s case after she met the deceased’s eldest sister, Lynette
Henderson-Yates, on a drive to the Curtin Detention Centre to visit
detainees. Ms Prior began to research the case with the help of a colleague.
Ms Prior interviewed witnesses including the deceased’s family members.
7. In November 2011 Ms Prior and her colleague wrote an article about the
deceased’s family’s desire to learn what had happened to the deceased.
According to Ms Henderson-Yates, after the article was published in the West
Australian Newspaper, police officers in the Special Crimes Squad contacted
the deceased’s family and kept the family members up to date with the
8. In June 2013 a detective senior sergeant of the Special Crimes Squad
completed a report into the disappearance and suspected death of the
deceased. The report was provided to the Office of the State Coroner.
9. Under section 23(1) of the Act, where a person is missing and the
State Coroner has reasonable cause to suspect that the person has died and
the death was a reportable death, the State Coroner may direct that the
suspected death of the person be investigated. Where the State Coroner has
given such a direction, a coroner must hold an inquest into the
circumstances of the suspected death of the person and, if the coroner finds
that the death of the person has been established beyond all reasonable
doubt, into how the death occurred and the cause of death.
10. On 9 October 2013, Acting State Coroner Evelyn Vicker made a
direction under s 23(1) of the Coroners Act 1996 (the Act) that the
suspected death of the deceased be investigated by way of an inquest.
11. On 8, 9 and 10 October 2014, I held an inquest at the Derby Court
12. The documentary evidence adduced at the inquest comprised the Special
Crime Squad report, including more than 50 attachments.8 Oral evidence was
provided by: a. Detective Senior Constable Mark Cunningham, a member of the
Special Crime Squad who had been involved in the investigation; b. Janine
Widgery, a journalist who had conducted investigations for ‘The Fishermen’;
c. the deceased’s mother, Evelyn Handerson, his sisters Heather Taylor,
Lynette Henderson-Yates and Sharon Henderson, and his brother David Taylor;
d. Lionel Parremore, a resident of Tasmania who had been abducted by Mr
O’Neill in 1975;
e. Mr O’Neill’s ex-wife, who had lived with him in Derby in 1974 and in
Tasmania in 1975;
f. Michael Griffin, who had seen the deceased get into a four-wheel drive
vehicle in Derby with a Caucasian man at a time around the deceased’s
g. Mr O’Neill.
13. Following the hearing of the inquest, counsel provided written
submissions, for which I am grateful.
14. I have concluded that the death of the deceased has been proved
beyond all reasonable doubt, but I have found that the cause of his death is
unascertained and that the manner of his death is open.
15. In particular, I am unable to determine to the required level of
satisfaction whether Mr O’Neill abducted or killed the deceased.
16. The deceased was, on all accounts, a healthy happygo-lucky 12 year
old growing up in a large family in Derby, a small Kimberley town. He loved
music and his clothes, about which he was quite particular. He attended
school and had friends and an extended family of cousins and other
relatives. His family identified strongly as Aboriginal though many of the
members, including the deceased, had light complexions.
17. The deceased’s family lived in a house on Knowsley Street in Derby.
At the house were the deceased’s mother, father and siblings Gordon, David,
Heather, Vicki and Peter. At the time the deceased went missing, his sister
Lynette was home from Perth for school holidays. His other older sister,
Sharon, was living with her aunt and uncle in Darwin. The children also had
a half-brother, Graham, from their father but I understand that he was not
living with them.
18. As with all the children in his family, the deceased was independent,
spirited and determined. Though the deceased was the second eldest son, his
older brother Gordon had poor health from rheumatic heart disease and could
not do anything requiring strong physical exertion, so the deceased had
become more and more responsible for the welfare of his younger siblings.
19. For fun, the deceased and his siblings would play with other children
and would often go fishing.15 He and his brother David would go into the
bush close to town to try to trap kangaroos and birds.
20. The evidence of the deceased’s relationship with his family is
21. On one hand, there seems little doubt that the family members were
extremely close-knit and inter-reliant.
22. In addition, it is clear that the deceased’s mother was loving but
strict with the children, providing a structured and supportive home
environment. She was the parent who was seen by the children to be the
disciplinarian. She required the children to be home by sundown everyday
unless permission was granted to stay somewhere else over-night, such as at
a relative’s house.
23. On the other hand, it is apparent on the evidence that the deceased’s
father was an alcoholic who could be violent, especially towards the
24. Documentary evidence from 1974 suggests that the deceased and his
father had continual rows, potentially giving the deceased the impetus to
run away from home.
25. More recent evidence from the family members relates to an incident a
few days before the deceased went missing in which the deceased’s father
punished the deceased and two younger siblings severely with a belt. Notes
taken by Ms Prior during an interview with the deceased’s mother and sisters
refer to that incident, and also suggest that the deceased’s father
regularly beat his children with a strap and that the deceased ‘got it the
26. That the deceased’s father would punish the children by hitting them
with a belt was supported to some degree by the deceased’s mother in
27. In their oral evidence at the inquest, the other family members
played down suggestions that their father was violent towards the deceased
or the other children. When asked about Ms Prior’s notes, they explained
that their father was violent towards their mother but not towards them21,
that the incident with the belt was a one-off event and that such violence
as did occur happened after the deceased’s disappearance.
28. In the end, the nature of the inconsistencies between the documentary
evidence and the family members’ testimony was not profound. As discussed
below, I find it inconceivable on the basis of the available evidence that
the deceased would have run away from home without ever contacting his
family again irrespective of whether his father had been violent towards
THE DECEASED’S DISAPPEARANCE
29. It is not uncommon for witnesses of a recent event to have different
recollections and to provide different accounts of what occurred. It is
expected, therefore, that the recollections of the relevant witnesses as to
what took place in relation to the disappearance of the deceased in 1974
vary markedly in relation to details.
30. It is relatively clear that the deceased was home on the late
afternoon of Thursday 29 August 1974. There is no evidence to suggest that
the family dynamic at the time was other than happy.
31. Before sunset the deceased went from home to Lwoy’s Deli, a shop
situated on Loch Street less than 500 metres way from the family home. He
was wearing his school uniform and was probably barefoot.He went to the shop
to buy lollies and soft drinks for his siblings and himself, using money
provided by an adult, possibly his father’s friend, Terry.
32. It was common for the deceased and his siblings to go to the local
shops on their own, but one of the golden rules in the family was that they
had to return without delay, particularly after sunset.
33. The deceased did not return home. His mother rationalised at the time
that he must have met a cousin or friend and ended up staying overnight at
the friend’s house or going to a station, but even those possibilities would
have been unusual in the absence of prior permission. The family did not
have a car, so searching for the deceased that night was not feasible given
the distances from the family home to the homes of their relatives.
34. The next day and over the weekend the deceased’s family went to
relatives’ homes to look for him. His mother went to Lwoy’s Deli and
confirmed that the deceased had been served there on the Thursday afternoon.
35. The deceased’s mother also spoke to a woman who lived near Lwoy’s
Deli, Wynne Davidson, who told her that she had seen the deceased walk past
her house on 29 August 1974 carrying a small cardboard box. She said that a
man driving a four-wheel drive vehicle with an open tray-back carrying a 44
gallon drum pulled up beside the deceased, who got into the vehicle.
36. Special Crimes Squad detectives interviewed Ms Davidson in 2012 at a
nursing home in Rockingham. She told them that she was sitting on her front
veranda on Loch Street when she observed a dusty four-wheel drive vehicle
that she had seen before stop and two scruffy men got out. She said that
they spoke to the deceased and either pushed him or persuaded him to get in
the vehicle. She was not able to remember further details.
37. Michael Griffin, currently a project manager with the Main Roads
Department in Western Australia, had worked in Derby in 1974. In 2011 he saw
an article about the deceased on television. He contacted police and
provided a statement in which he recounted how, at about 5.30 or 6.30 pm on
a day in 1974, the deceased had approached him outside a deli at the top end
of Derby, some distance from the Lowy’s Deli situated nearer to the
38. Mr Griffin stated that he knew the deceased, who in any event
identified himself. He said that the deceased asked him to go to look at a
man who was taking him somewhere in a dark coloured utility with a canvas
canopy. The deceased said that the man had insisted that someone else come
39. Mr Griffin said that he walked to where the utility was parked and
could see a 25-35 year old solidly built Caucasian man in the driver’s seat.
The man told the deceased to get in the vehicle and asked Mr Griffin if he
was coming. The deceased got in, but Mr Griffin declined and went back to
his car and drove away.
40. Mr Griffin told the inquest that he was unable to say precisely on
what day or month these events occurred but that he believed that it was
after his birthday in July, so logically was probably around August.
LATER SIGHTINGS OF THE DECEASED
41. On Thursday 5 September 1974 the deceased’s father reported to police
at the Derby police station that the deceased was missing. According to a
‘Missing Person Report’ form dated 16 September 1974, the deceased’s father
said that he did not report the deceased missing previously because he
thought that he had gone to Myroodah Station with another person, but that
proved to be incorrect.
42. The report records that during the last week of school holidays a
girl named Denise Latham saw the deceased with another boy in Broome on 6
September 1974. When interviewed shortly after that date, Ms Latham told
police that she could not be sure that it was the deceased. In December 2011
she told police that she did remember the time when the deceased went
missing but that she could not remember seeing the deceased after he
disappeared. She did recall rumours that the deceased had put his bicycle
into a car in front of the Elders store, a shop closer to the deceased’s
home than Lwoy’s Deli, and had got into the car.
43. On 18 September 1974 the deceased’s father approached police with the
information that the deceased had approached a relative of his, Dennis
Latham (not to be confused with Denise Latham), in Broome to ask for money.
Police interviewed Mr Latham on or about 20 September 1974, and he confirmed
that he had seen the deceased on 15 September 1974 but not since.
44. Evidence from the deceased’s family members at the inquest
established that Mr Latham was related to the deceased through his father
and that Mr Latham would have known the deceased to recognise him at the
time. However, during the police investigation in 1974 no evidence was found
to validate what Mr Latham had said. Mr Latham died in 1992.
45. The deceased’s father attended the Derby police station on 9 October
1974 with information that one Jack Spratt had heard that the deceased had
been at One Arm Point and had then gone to Carnarvon with Dennis Latham. On
10 October 1974 Mr Spratt told police that he had only heard in a hotel that
the deceased had gone to Carnarvon.41 Again, that rumour could not be
46. Another extant rumour was that the deceased was seen in Beagle Bay
just before Christmas 1974, but later information appeared to discount the
truth of the rumour.
47. Police in Derby in 1974 soon reached the view that the deceased had
run away from home because of arguments with his father.
48. Within a year of the deceased’s disappearance the police
investigation had all but ceased. Further investigations were not undertaken
until it had come to light that Mr O’Neill had been living in Derby at the
LEIGH ANTHONY BRIDGART/JAMES RYAN O’NEILL
49. Mr O’Neill was born Leigh Anthony Bridgart in Melbourne in 1947. The
evidence of his youth is sketchy, but it seems that he went to school until
he was 15 years old and left home when he was 18. He worked for a time at
his father’s real estate office and had a sideline in buying and selling
guns. He enjoyed hunting and fishing and was fascinated with guns.
50. In the late 60’s it seems that Mr O’Neill earned a living buying
opals in Coober Pedy and selling them in Melbourne.
51. In July 1969 Mr O’Neill was accidently shot in the head by a friend
with a handgun. As a result he went into hospital for five weeks and
underwent at least two operations, following which he contracted meningitis
and was hospitalised for another four weeks. The gunshot injury caused
damage to the right frontal lobe of his brain, loss of smell, loss of
hearing in his left ear and impaired vision in his right eye.
52. In early 1971 Mr O’Neill was charged under his name Leigh Anthony
Bridgart with 13 counts of abduction and indecent assault in relation to
four boys aged 10 to 12 in Ferntree Gully in Victoria. In at least three of
the four sets of charges, the facts alleged were that Mr O’Neill had lured
the victims into his car by asking for directions to a local railway
53. It was alleged that Mr O’Neill drove the victims to a remote site and
indecently or sexually assaulted them before they escaped or he returned
them to the abduction sites. He also allegedly took the fourth victim to a
remote site where he sexually assaulted him, but the available information
is more limited.
54. At the inquest Mr O’Neill said that he had signed a confession in
relation to the charges in Victoria only after being subjected to violence
by police. In February 1971 he signed a statement to that effect.
55. On 2 March 1971 Mr O’Neill skipped bail and fled Victoria to Western
Australia before he could be tried.47 Until this time he was still known as
Leigh Anthony Bridgart.
56. In answer to questions by Ms Fitzgerald during the inquest, Mr
O’Neill denied that he left Victoria to avoid being dealt with by the courts
for the charges. He said that he was under a great deal of stress at the
time and ‘wasn’t able to take it” despite having a good case and a confident
57. In Western Australia Mr O’Neill went to the Kimberley region where he
took on the name ‘James Ryan O’Neill’ and worked on pastoral stations. He
passed himself off as an accountant, a Vietnam War veteran and an ASIO
operative. He told people that he had sustained the gunshot wound to his
head in Vietnam; alternatively that his mother’s boyfriend was a gangster
and had shot him.
58. The timing of when and where Mr O’Neill worked in the Kimberley is
somewhat murky, but it is relatively clear that by 1973 he was working at
Fossil Downs station near Fitzroy Crossing when he met his wife to be, a
young Tasmanian woman who was working in a bar in Fitzroy Crossing. They
married in October 1973 and moved to Kalyeeda Station southeast of Derby.
They worked as caretakers there for about three months before Mr O’Neill got
a job as the manager of a Department of Agriculture station near Fitzroy
59. Mr O’Neill’s wife thought that their married relationship was strange
given that Mr O’Neill had little interest in sex.
60. In about June 1974 Mr O’Neill was sacked as the manager of the
departmental station, so he and his wife moved into Derby. By this time she
was three months pregnant.
61. According to Mr O’Neill, while in Derby he continued to do research
work for the Department of Agriculture for some time. The work involved
trips in departmental vehicles to remote areas, sometimes as far as 200
kilometres from Derby and sometimes for days at a time. Some of the vehicles
available to him were four-wheel drives with trays and canopies. The vehicle
he used mostly was a large truck.
62. After working for the department Mr O’Neill did some work for a
builder and also worked part-time at the Derby wharf.
63. While in Derby, Mr O’Neill formed a relationship with a 12 year old
boy, Michael, and spent a great deal of time with him, apparently fishing
and hunting. Mr O’Neill’s wife thought it strange that Mr O’Neill was
spending so much time with Michael, but she never saw anything sexual
64. In 2013 Michael provided a statement to police in which he said that
a man whose name he could not remember (but who was clearly Mr O’Neill) was
like a father to him and nothing untoward ever happened between them.
Michael was not called to give evidence.
65. None of the deceased’s family knew of Mr O’Neill or his wife while
they lived in Derby.
66. Near the end of 1974 Mr O’Neill and his wife moved to Tasmania, at
least partly because she was pregnant and wanted to go home.
JAMES RYAN O’NEILL IN TASMANIA
67. When they first arrived in Tasmania, Mr O’Neill and his wife lived
with her mother in Warrane for three weeks.
68. In mid-December 1974 Mr O’Neill starting working as the bar manager
of the Lufra Hotel in Eaglehawk Neck. His wife went into hospital from 15 to
20 January 1975 because of high blood pressure. She was readmitted on 23
January 1975 and was discharged with her newborn baby son on 4 February
69. On 4 February 1975 Mr O’Neill picked up his wife and son at the
hospital and took them back to Eaglehawk Neck. They stayed at the Lufra
Hotel for four days, then moved back to Warrane and then to Mangalore where
he started a job at a chicken farm on Good Friday, 28 March 1975.
70. On the same day that Mr O’Neill picked up his wife and new son from
hospital, a nine year old boy disappeared from Eaglehawk Neck after going to
a shop to buy a carton of cigarettes for his father.
71. It was later revealed that Mr O’Neill had abducted the boy by
offering him a lift in his car. He drove the boy to bush country near Koonya
where he killed him by striking him repeatedly to the head with rock.
72. Mr O’Neill was charged and was convicted of the murder of the boy
following a trial held in November 1975. He was sentenced to life
imprisonment. The report of the decision of the Tasmanian Court of Criminal
Appeal relating to Mr O’Neill’s appeal against conviction provides the
following insights into Mr O’Neill:
a. Three psychiatrists and one psychologist called by the defence at the
trial all assumed that Mr O’Neill had homosexual paedophilic tendencies and
that immediately before he killed the boy he was subjected to some kind of
immediate stress brought on by panic or resistance by the boy.
b. Complicity in the boy’s death was not conceded at trial though an
adverse finding in this regard by the jury must have been regarded as
c. Two psychiatrists called by the prosecution considered that Mr O’Neill
had a longstanding personality disorder.
d. It was common ground that Mr O’Neill was a liar. The defence case was
that he was a pathological liar
73. Following Mr O’Neill’s abduction and murder of the nine year old boy
on 4 February 1975, a second nine year old boy went missing on 26 April 1975
after going to a local shop in Warrane to purchase a carton of milk for his
mother. The boy’s body was found in the Grasstree Hill area.
74. Tasmanian Police prepared a brief of evidence in relation to the
death of the second boy. The evidence, if it were accepted, made clear that
Mr O’Neill was responsible for the death.67 The most damning single piece of
evidence was a signed record of interview purportedly obtained from Mr
O’Neill on 1 May 1975 in which he said that he hit the boy repeatedly in the
head with a rock to shut him up.68 At the inquest, Mr O’Neill said that he
had signed the record of interview because he was placed under duress by
75. Mr O’Neill was charged with the murder of the second boy. He was
remanded in custody but was not tried for the offence because of a
prosecution policy in Tasmania at the time whereby persons who had been
charged with multiple murders would only be tried on one of the charges.
76. Ms Fitzgerald submitted that, given the available evidence, it was
highly likely that Mr O’Neill killed the second boy.
77. Mr Barns, who represented Mr O’Neill at the inquest, submitted that
it would be dangerous to find that Mr O’Neill killed the second boy because,
firstly, confessions in the signed record of interview obtained by police
were highly likely to have been extracted under physical and mental duress
and, secondly, none of the other evidence has been forensically tested.
78. In my view, even without the record of interview, there is a
considerable amount of evidence to support the conclusion that Mr O’Neill
had killed the second boy.71 In addition to the documentary evidence, when
asked at the inquest whether he killed the second boy, Mr O’Neill said that
it was possible, but that he had no direct memory of doing so.72 I
understand that Mr O’Neill had previously admitted the possibility that he
may have been responsible.
79. Moreover, the likelihood that Mr O’Neill killed the second boy was
accepted by Spicer J of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Tasmania in
proceedings related to Mr O’Neill’s application for an interim injunction to
stop the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from broadcasting ‘The
Fishermen’ nationally on 28 April 2005. Justice Spicer said that it was open
on the evidence to conclude that there was a high likelihood that the ABC
would be able to prove Mr O’Neill’s guilt of the second murder.
80. I note in passing that I have no jurisdiction under the Western
Australian Coroners Act 1996 to investigate the second Tasmanian boy’s death
or to make findings as to the cause or manner of his death. In my view, I
can have regard to the evidence surrounding his death in order to
investigate the death of the deceased.
81. However, as I have come to the conclusion that, even if I were to
find that Mr O’Neill killed the second boy, I am unable to find whether Mr
O’Neill abducted or killed the deceased, it is not necessary for me to
conclude whether or not he killed the second boy in Tasmania in 1975.
82. As well as the evidence of the abductions and murders of the two
boys, there is cogent evidence to indicate that Mr O’Neill abducted two
other boys in Tasmania and attempted to abduct at least one more.
83. On 18 April 1975, 12 days before the killing of the second boy, Mr
O’Neill abducted 10 year old Lionel Parremore. Mr Parremore provided oral
evidence at the inquest, as noted earlier.
84. In a statement provided to police on 30 April 1975, Mr Parremore
stated that he was walking near the old church in Sorrell when Mr O’Neill
drove up beside him in his car and stopped. Mr O’Neill told Mr Parremore
that he was a policeman and needed directions to the police station in order
to drop off some important papers. He told Mr Parremore to get in to show
him how to get there. Mr Parremore eventually complied.
85. When Mr O’Neill turned away from the direction indicated by Mr
Parremore to be the location of the police station, Mr Parremore attempted
to get out of the car. Mr O’Neill grabbed him by the arm and pulled him
toward the middle of the seat. Mr Parremore put his foot on the brake and
pressed it hard enough to stop the car. Mr O’Neill then let him get out.
86. On 3 May 1975 Mr Parremore identified Mr O’Neill in an identification
parade as the man who abducted him. He told the inquest how frightened he
was to go up to Mr O’Neill in the line-up and touch him on the hand.
87. Mr Barns submitted that Mr Parremore’s evidence was not reliable
given the passage of time and his current emotion regarding the events. Mr
Barns pointed out that Mr O’Neill unequivocally denied knowing anything
about Mr Parremore or the other boys he allegedly abducted.
88. I have no hesitation in accepting Mr Parremore as a credible witness
and I found his evidence reliable. While his memory would necessarily be
affected by the passage of time, I have no reason to doubt the veracity of
the contents of documents signed by him more contemporaneously with the
relevant events, and statements of police officers, including a detective
inspector, support his testimony as to the identification parade.
89. Prior to Mr Parremore’s abduction by Mr O’Neill, on 31 March 1975, a
14 year old boy was walking from Granton to New Norfolk when Mr O’Neill
drove up beside him and offered him a lift. The boy got in. Mr O’Neill did
not stop at New Norfolk so the boy asked to be let out, but they kept going.
90. Mr O’Neill asked the boy if he would like to earn ten dollars and
demanded that he sit closer. Mr O’Neill touched the boy’s leg and genitals,
so the boy moved away. The boy repeatedly said he was worried and started
crying. Mr O’Neill said that they would turn back, but did not.
91. Mr O’Neill drove them to a National Park turnoff and turned onto a
dirt road. The boy said that he had to go to the toilet, so Mr O’Neill
stopped the car. The boy jumped out and slammed the door on Mr O’Neill’s leg
when he tried to follow. The boy ran back up the road and then over a fence
and down a hill in order to escape.
92. The boy got back to New Norfolk by walking and hitchhiking. At 7.00
pm that evening he made a statement about his ordeal to a detective sergeant
at the New Norfolk CIB office.83 According to a statement by a detective
inspector of police, on 5 May 1975 the boy picked Mr O’Neill out of an
identification parade as the man who abducted and indecently assaulted him.
93. On 23 April 1975 a twelve year old boy and his two brothers went to a
shop in Bridgewater to cash in milk bottles for the deposit. A man pulled up
beside them and asked them where the Bridgewater Saleyards were. He drove
off and returned a short time later. He offered five dollars to any one of
the boys to go with him to show him where the saleyards were.
94. None of the boys got into his car, but they obtained the car’s
registration number. The twelve year old boy identified a man other than Mr
O’Neill in an identification parade on 5 May 1975, but said that he was ‘not
real certain’ because when he saw him in Bridgewater ‘it was dark and the
man was sitting in a motor car’. The registration number of the car was that
of Mr O’Neill’s car.86
95. I accept that the evidence of the statements of the boys in Tasmania
as to their abduction and attempted abduction by Mr O’Neill is true. I am
unable to see how each of those boys would have independently fabricated the
statements and then identified Mr O’Neill, a stranger to them beforehand who
was later revealed to be a disturbed homosexual paedophile. I note the
similar circumstances of each of the instances, including the use of the car
and the abducting of the boys to remote locations.
96. Mr O’Neill’s denials were unconvincing in the face of his history of
lies and his claims to have been unwell psychiatrically with periods of
memory blackouts around the relevant time.
97. In addition to the evidence of the abduction and attempted abduction
of boys in Tasmania by Mr O’Neill only months after the deceased was last
seen in Derby, Mr O’Neill’s ex-wife provided evidence that her younger
brother had told her years after 1974 that Mr O’Neill had ‘interfered with
him whilst he was staying in Derby.’ He was 14 years old at the time.
98. Mr O’Neill’s ex-wife told the inquest that her brother had not told
her anything else about Mr O’Neill interfering with him and that he was
upset and blamed her for it.
99. In oral evidence Mr O’Neill remembered his wife’s brother coming to
stay with them briefly in Derby but denied the allegations of sexually
interfering with him as errant nonsense.
100. While I discount Mr O’Neill’s denials for reasons expressed above,
his ex-wife’s evidence about what her brother told her is untestable hearsay
so is inherently less reliable than first hand evidence. That said, the
nature of the allegation and the circumstances in which it was made leave me
with little doubt that it could be based in truth. I can accord the
allegation no greater weight than that.
HAS THE DEATH OF THE DECEASED BEEN ESTABLISHED?
101. I am satisfied that the death of the deceased has been established
beyond all reasonable doubt. The evidence upon which I base that conclusion
a. the testimony of the deceased’s family members to the effect that a
scenario involving the deceased intentionally leaving the family and not
getting in touch at some stage is inconceivable given the closeness of the
family members and the deceased’s responsibility for his younger siblings;
b. the evidence of the early police investigation into the deceased’s
disappearance in which no confirmed sign of the deceased was found; and
c. the evidence of the Special Crime Squad investigation and report,
including further inquiries into government agencies such as Centrelink, the
Australian Tax Office and Medicare.
WAS THE DECEASED ABDUCTED?
102. Home life was all the deceased knew. His eldest sister, Lynette
Henderson-Yates put it this way: ‘ … (running away from home was) not
something that any of us had in our psyche. … It was a very close knit
community. We had never heard of anyone running away. And I could not see
anyone in our family doing that because we were so close together. …’
103. Ms Henderson-Yates’ evidence must be qualified to some extent
because her sister Sharon had left Derby at 16 years of age without telling
their mother. She had gone to live in Darwin with their aunt and uncle, but
Ms Henderson testified that she did not run away from violence. She said
that she was doing a trainee nurse’s assistance course and living in nurses’
quarters. She thought she was ‘all grown up’ and wanted to go to the city.
She told her cousin what she was doing and asked her not to tell her mother
and father that she was going until the plane had left.
104. The evidence of the members of the deceased’s family paints a
picture of a small-statured 12 year old boy going from his home to the
nearby shop near dusk with a small amount of money to buy snacks for himself
and his siblings, dressed in school clothing and bare feet. He was served at
105. In my view, a scenario in which the deceased deliberately did not
return home from the shop and did not ever contact his family again is too
unlikely on the evidence to have been a real possibility.
106. Given the evidence obtained from Mrs Davidson, the most likely
alternative is that the deceased was abducted, and the most likely
circumstances were those described by Mrs Davidson to Mrs Handerson in the
1970’s; that is, the deceased entered a vehicle outside the Lwoy’s Deli near
her home and was driven off. It is also possible that he was driven from the
Lwoy’s Deli to the shop near the top end of Derby where he spoke to Mr
Griffin before getting back into the vehicle.
107. However, the evidence of the sightings of the deceased after he went
missing, particularly the evidence of an interview by police of Dennis
Latham, is inconsistent with a conclusion that the deceased was abducted.
While the sightings were not confirmed, neither were they definitively
108. I am forced to conclude that, though abduction may be the most
likely explanation for the deceased’s disappearance, a lack of cogent
evidence means that an alternative explanation remains reasonably possible.
DID JAMES RYAN O’NEILL ABDUCT AND KILL THE DECEASED?
109. In the present circumstances, I must apply the wellknown principle
from Briginshaw v Briginshaw  HCA 34; (1938) 60 CLR 336, roughly to
the effect that the more serious the issue, the higher the level of
satisfaction required by the fact-finder: Anderson v Blashki  2 VR 89.
As both of the issues of whether Mr O’Neill firstly abducted the deceased
and secondly whether he killed the deceased are extremely serious, the level
of satisfaction required would approach ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ in
relation to each issue.
110. There is no direct evidence that Mr O’Neill abducted the deceased.
There is, however, circumstantial evidence to indicate that he could have
done so and, perhaps, was likely to have done so.
111. It is clear to me that Mr O’Neill had the propensity to have
abducted the deceased. Mr Barns pointed out the unlikelihood that every
allegation made against Mr O’Neill was true, but in my view the nature of
the evidence of Mr O’Neill’s propensity to abduct boys as described above is
so overwhelming that I need not rely on all the ‘allegations’ to arrive at
112. It is also clear that Mr O’Neill had the propensity to kill boys he
abducted. It was proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he did so some six
months after the deceased went missing, and the evidence that he did so
again two months later is compelling.
113. As to opportunity, Mr O’Neill was living in the Derby area at the
time of the deceased’s disappearance. He had access to a vehicle similar to
one in which the deceased was seen to have entered before he disappeared.
The technique of luring boys into his car in order to abduct them was one
employed by Mr O’Neill in each known occasion in Tasmania and was alleged to
have been used by him in Victoria in 1971.
114. It is tempting to conclude that Mr O’Neill must have been
responsible for the deceased’s disappearance. After all, as I have found, he
had the propensity and the opportunity to abduct the deceased, the use of a
vehicle was the same method that he had employed with other victims, and
there was no other known person in his position.
115. However, abducting children with the use of a vehicle is hardly an
unusual method, as we are only too aware nowadays, so the fact that Mr
O’Neill may have used that method elsewhere does not necessarily implicate
him in the deceased’s disappearance.
116. More importantly, as noted above, the evidence of sightings of the
deceased after he went missing cast doubt on the conclusion that he was
abducted by anyone, including Mr O’Neill.
117. In addition, an insurmountable hurdle in concluding to the required
standard that Mr O’Neill was responsible for the deceased’s disappearance is
the need to be satisfied that the deceased could not have been abducted by
anyone else, known or otherwise.
118. While Derby was a small town where it might be expected that child
abduction was virtually unknown, there was evidence of a high transient
population in the Derby area at the relevant time, many of whom were
119. We are also more aware nowadays of the prevalence of abduction and
sexual abuse of children than we were in the 1970s.
120. In the absence of further evidence, I am unable to conclude that
someone other than Mr O’Neill did not abduct the deceased.
121. By way of example, after the inquest had been held, the Coroners
Court received an email through the Attorney General’s Department feedback
system from a man who stated that about 1975 in Wyndham, when he was six
years old he was approached while walking home from school by a man matching
Mr O’Neill’s description in a white Holden HQ model panel van. The man told
him that his father had asked him to take him home, but he did not get in
the vehicle and the man drove away.
122. Wyndham is a considerable distance from Derby. There is no evidence
before me to suggest that Mr O’Neill was ever in Wyndham or that he drove a
white panel van. Nor is there evidence that he abducted boys as young as
six. The email reinforces the possibility that, if the deceased were
abducted, the abductor may have been someone other than Mr O’Neill.
123. In the circumstances, if I cannot be satisfied that Mr O’Neill
abducted the deceased, I cannot be satisfied that he killed him.
124. Furthermore, even if I could conclude that Mr O’Neill abducted the
deceased from outside the Lwoy’s shop on 29 August 1974, it would not be
possible for me to find that he killed him. There are other possibilities
that could explain the death; for example, the deceased could have escaped
from Mr O’Neill in a remote location and not have survived the harsh
125. For those reasons, on the basis of the evidence available to me, I
am unable to conclude to the required level of satisfaction whether Mr
O’Neill either abducted or killed the deceased.
CONCLUSION AS TO HOW DEATH OCCURRED AND THE CAUSE OF THE DEATH
126. Regrettably, it is not possible on the evidence to find either how
death occurred or the cause of death, though it is possible that these
issues may be determined in future if further evidence comes to light.
127. In formal terms, I make an open finding as to how death occurred and
I find that the cause of death is unascertained.
B P King Coroner
15 December 2014
Missing boy's case
linked to Tassie child killer
Flip Prior and Sean Cowan, The West Australian
Updated November 26, 2011, 3:00 am
The family of a Kimberley boy who went missing almost 40 years
ago believe one of Australia's most notorious child killers is
responsible for his abduction and murder.
Jimmy Taylor was last seen leaving a shop in Derby on August
29, 1974, and was reported to have climbed into a car with a white
His family reported him missing one week later.
The mystery has baffled police but the family's recent
discovery of a documentary covering the life of Tasmanian child
killer James Ryan O'Neill has convinced them he is responsible for
O'Neill, who was born Leigh Anthony Bridgart, left a trail of
sexual assault allegations in his wake as he moved across Australia
in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1971, he was arrested and charged with 12 counts of
abducting and indecently assaulting four boys in separate incidents
He was released on bail and fled to the Kimberley, where he
called himself O'Neill.
In late 1974, he moved to Tasmania with his new wife and
within months he was arrested over the murders of two young boys.
Police believe he tried to abduct at least two other children in the
weeks between the separate disappearances.
O'Neill was convicted of murdering the first boy and was not
tried for the second after being given a life sentence.
In a statement given to police after O'Neill's arrest, his
wife Carol said they had lived in Derby for just a few months from
June to November in 1974.
The revelation prompted Jimmy's sister Lynette
Henderson-Yates, now deputy vice-chancellor at the Broome campus of
the University of Notre Dame, to contact police. She claims they
have told her the case is too old to investigate.
"I don't believe he ran away," she said. "The fact that
O'Neill arrived in Derby and Jimmy went missing in August is too
"The police told Mum that Jimmy had just gone walkabout and
they weren't too concerned. That was the attitude in 1974.
"I spoke to the special crime squad about three years ago
because they had just been formed to look at special cases.
"They said it was too long ago, but a month later in the
newspaper there was a story about them investigating a 19-year-old
girl who went missing from Nanutarra Roadhouse the year after Jimmy
"I thought, 'Why is that case OK to investigate and Jimmy's
case is too old?' There was never even a coronial inquiry. That
should have at least been done."
Det-Insp. Casey Prinns, from the special crime squad, said the
case had been reviewed and was an ongoing investigation.
He asked anyone with information to contact police or Crime
Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
'The police told Mum that Jimmy had just gone walkabout and they
weren't too concerned.' "Sister *Lynette Henderson-Yates *
Coroner set to investigate cold case of missing boy Jimmy
A CORONIAL inquiry is set to be held into the 40-year-old cold case
of James Patrick Taylor, a 12-year-old boy who vanished from the
streets of Derby in 1974.
Known as “Jimmy” to his family, the young indigenous boy vanished
from the Kimberley town on August 29, 1974 as he walked home from
He had reportedly got into a car with a man.
His body has never been found and no one has ever been charged in
connection with his disappearance and suspected murder.
The coronial inquiry is scheduled for October 8 to 10.
The unsolved case made the news several years ago when an ABC
documentary claimed convicted child killer James Ryan O’Neill was in
the Kimberley around the time of Jimmy’s disappearance.
O’Neill, who was born Leigh Anthony Bridgart, was convicted of
murdering a young boy in Tasmania in 1975.
He is still serving a life sentence in a Tasmanian prison for that
It is not clear at this stage if O’Neill will give evidence at the
A Coroners Court spokeswoman told The
Sunday Times the witness list was still being finalised.
Attempts to contact Jimmy Taylor’s family this week were
In 2011, Jimmy’s sister Lynette
Henderson-Yates told the ABC her brother’s disappearance had
devastated her family.
“We do have a 12-year-old boy who is lying somewhere, I believe out
there … it’s affected the whole family,” she said at the time.
“We don’t talk about it very often because it’s very emotional.
“We are hopeful that people will find the courage to be able to come
forward, knowing that we do understand what emotions they might be
going through as well.”
The WA Police Special Crime Squad, which investigates long term
unsolved murders and missing persons cases, said it was still
investigating Jimmy’s disappearance.
“The disappearance of James Patrick Taylor is an ongoing
investigation,” Detective Inspector Casey Prins said this week.
Det-Insp Prins urged anyone who has information about the case to
call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
JIMMY Patrick Taylor was just 12-years-old when he went missing.
He was known to iron and wash his own clothes and comb his hair
According to the Crime Stoppers WA website, which lists Jimmy’s
disappearance as an “unsolved homicide”, he lived with his father on
Knowsley St in Derby.
“He was mature for his age and was helpful and responsible, so much
so he was entrusted to do the family’s grocery shopping,” the Crime
Stoppers website says.
On the day he went missing, August 29 1974, Jimmy left the family
home to buy soft drink from the local shops.
“He failed to return home but this did not raise any immediate alarm
bells with his family as they assumed he had
followed through on a request he made earlier to attend Myroodah
Cattle Station with a friend,” reads the Crime Stoppers site.
“Upon realisation that James wasn’t at the cattle station, his
family lodged a missing persons report with police on the 16th of
September, 1974. He has not been seen or heard of since.”
In an interview with the ABC in November 2011, Jimmy’s sister
Lynette Henderson-Yates, a former deputy vice-chancellor at Notre
Dame University in Broome, described her brother as a “strong and
determined” young boy.
“Jimmy was a pretty lively young 12-year-old … he used to wash his
own clothes, he used to iron his own clothes to the point where he
had creases down the front of his trousers,” she said.
“He was always combing his hair.
“He was a very meticulous personality and certainly very spirited.”
Ms Henderson-Yates said she’d be surprised if her brother had got
into a car with someone he did not know.
“It’s quite puzzling that he would jump into a car voluntarily
unless he knew that person,” she said.
“I guess maybe there was some sort of contact at some point with
that person, perhaps the person said ‘would you like a lift down the
street or something?’
Jimmy Taylor disappearance: Coronial inquest into Derby boy missing
since 1974 begins; police thought boy ran away
A coronial inquest into the disappearance of a 12-year-old boy from
the West Australian town of Derby almost 40 years ago has heard
police did not believe foul play was involved.
James 'Jimmy' Patrick Taylor was last seen buying a soft drink from
a local shop in the Kimberley town on 29 August, 1974.
His body was never found and no-one was charged over his
The three-day inquest before coroner Barry Paul King is
investigating a possible link between his disappearance and
convicted child killer Leigh Anthony Bridgart.
Bridgart changed his name to James Ryan O'Neill when he left
Victoria in the 1970s.
Jimmy was not reported missing by his father until seven days after
his disappearance, as it was thought the boy had accompanied his
friend to a family station.
In the opening address, the court heard today there was no thought
of foul play by police who originally investigated the
The court heard police presumed the boy had run away from an unhappy
home environment and an alcoholic father who sometimes beat family
After several unconfirmed sightings across the Kimberley, Derby
police advised the Taylor family in 1979 there were no further
inquiries that could be made.
Documentary leads to case being re-opened
However in 2006, the Taylor family watched a documentary on the ABC
titled The fishermen: A journey into the mind of a killer.
It featured O'Neill who is is serving a life sentence in Tasmania
for abducting and murdering a nine-year-old boy.
The documentary alleged Bridgart was residing in or near Derby in
1974 under the name of James Ryan O'Neill.
Jimmy's sister Lyn Henderson-Yates requested the special crime squad
re-open the case.
Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Cunningham, who was part of the
review team, told the court that persons of interest included
He said the team investigated a witness report claiming to have seen
Jimmy get into an "unknown vehicle driven by an unknown Caucasian
The court was told the review Bridgart had made his way to WA in
1971 or 1972 after being charged in relation to several sexual
assault allegations against young boys.
He had been working in Fitzroy Crossing where he got married and
changed his name to James Ryan O'Neill.
Sergeant Cunningham said Bridgart told his wife the name change was
needed due to his work as a former undercover ASIO agent.
The couple eventually moved to Tasmania, the state in which O'Neill
was later convicted of the murder of a nine-year-old boy.
Sergeant Cunningham told the court that during an interview Bridgart
denied having anything to do with the disappearance of Jimmy Taylor.
The court heard Bridgart told Sergeant Cunningham: "I didn't do it,
I know you don't believe me but I didn't do it."
Sergeant Cunningham told the court the review concluded it was "most
probable Jimmy Taylor was deceased" and that it was "probable it was
a result of abduction and subsequent murder".
He also said the review was hindered by an "'extended passing of
time" and the fact that some witnesses either had "difficulty
recalling events or had died of old age".
Under cross examination, Mr Cunningham told the court police did not
have evidence that placed Bridgart in Derby on the day Jimmy went
missing; "We don't know where he was on that date," he said.
Journalist gives evidence at inquest
The journalist who made the documentary, Janine Widgery, also gave
evidence in court today.
She told the court she had left a life of crime reporting to make a
documentary about unsolved child murders.
Ms Widgery said she had wanted to follow up possible links between
O'Neill and the missing Beaumont children, and had got O'Neill to
agree to being part of the documentary under the guise of it being
about his worm farm within the prison and his trips around
The court was told a High Court injunction was sought to prevent the
documentary from airing, because O'Neill felt he had been defamed,
however the documentary was eventually broadcast.
Family endure 'great silence of 40 years' waiting for answers
Jimmy's mother, Evelyn Henderson, told the inquiry "none of her
children would ever run away".
She said she just kept thinking "you never know, something might
turn up... some new evidence".
Jimmy's sister Heather Winifred Taylor was seven-and-a-half years
old when her brother disappeared, but she told the inquest today
"that day was significant enough to stay in my mind".
She said she recalled going to Broome and Fitzroy Crossing to help
look for Jimmy.
She told the inquest after the boy's disappearance the "whole family
fell apart" and her mother, who was until then not a drinker, began
drinking and continued to "cry for years".
All family members disputed evidence that Wilfred Noel Taylor,
Jimmy's father, was a violent man.
Ms Taylor told the inquest her father "never stopped looking [for
Jimmy] right up until the time he passed away".
Lyn Henderson-Yates was 17-years-old and studying in Perth when her
brother went missing.
She too recalled the impact the boy's disappearance had on the
"I'll never forget, mum cried basically every night," she said.
Ms Henderson-Yates described her brother as an energetic boy, who
She told the inquest her family had endured "a great silence of 40
years" and said it was traumatic that there was no body to bury.
"We haven't been able to have a memorial," she said.
"We'd like to honour his life in some way. We've never been through
the healing process.
"In our hearts we know he's no longer with us ... we just want
A 12-YEAR-OLD boy "seemed worried" when he got into
a vehicle with a man on the day he disappeared 40 years ago,
an inquest has heard.
THE West Australian coroner is examining the disappearance
and suspected death of James "Jimmy" Patrick Taylor who went
missing from Derby, in the Kimberley region, in 1974.
Jimmy's disappearance has remained a mystery, but when a
television documentary revealed child killer James Ryan O'Neill
had been living in Derby at the time, police looked at the case
Michael Gary Griffin told the court on Thursday that he did not
know the Taylor family but knew their faces and was sure he had
seen a worried Jimmy outside a shop on the day he disappeared.
"He told me he was going somewhere with a white guy," Mr Griffin
Jimmy wanted him to look at the man and Mr Griffin warned him
not to go if he was concerned.
Mr Griffin said Jimmy insisted he see the man, so he walked to
The man told Jimmy "quite assertively" to get in the car, Mr
"I thought that his tone of voice was unusual," he said.
Mr Griffin declined an invitation to join them and left in his
own car before them.
He later heard Jimmy was missing and might have "gone
walkabout", Mr Griffin said.
At the time of Jimmy's disappearance, it was suggested he might
have run away due to his violent father, who the court heard had
a drinking problem.
But Jimmy's brother, David John Taylor, testified he did not
think Jimmy was unfairly treated by their father and didn't
recall any domestic violence, although his father did use a
strap on him.
Jimmy's sister, Sharon Taylor, testified on Thursday that her
father taught the family about the importance of education.
"He taught us love of learning, he used to always use phrases
like 'listen and learn, pay attention to detail'," Ms Taylor
Ms Taylor said they were a close family and she didn't believe
her brother had run away.
"I don't see how he could leave us and not return. I don't
believe that," she said.
Lionel Gordon Parremore testified via video link from Tasmania
that he was 10 years old in 1975 when he got into a car with
O'Neill in Tasmania, in between O'Neill abducting and killing
two other boys.
Mr Parremore said he reported the incident to police about
one-and-a-half weeks later because he could not keep the secret
once he learned about one of the other boys.
"I just couldn't live with it anymore," he said.
Mr Parremore said he had to pick O'Neill out of a line-up and
"You just don't forget that," he said.
O'Neill was never charged over the alleged incident and Mr
Parremore did not testify against him.
O'Neill, who was born Leigh Anthony Bridgart, was interviewed by
WA detectives in a Tasmanian prison in February 2012, but denied
any involvement in Jimmy's disappearance.
The inquest continues.