Circumstances of Disappearance
On the 25th of August, 1973, a South Australian National Football League game was in progress at Adelaide Oval. Joanne Ratcliffe was at the match with her parents. Kirste Gordon was there with her grandmother. The two families had season tickets to the football and always sat next to one another every week. When Joanne went to the toilet, Kirste Gordon's grandmother asked her to take Kirste. They returned after a few minutes. A little over half an hour later, Kirste again wanted to go to the toilet. Again, Joanne took her, but this time they did not return.
Fifteen minutes later, after a discussion between the families they all went looking for the girls, with most areas of the football stadium being searched and Kirste's grandmother staying at the seats in case the girls found their way back. The girls were not at the toilet. Mr and Mrs Ratcliffe, and Kirste's grandmother, spent the rest of the football match searching for the girls. The Assistant Curator of the oval, Ken Wohling, saw the girls leaving the Oval with a man. Over the next 90 minutes, four different sightings of the man and the two girls were made. In three of these sightings, Joanne appeared distressed. In one case a man driving past went so far as to stop his car, but then decided that it was none of his business, and drove on. Kirste Gordon and Joanne Ratcliffe were seen with the man about 3 kilometres from the Oval, 90 minutes after they had left it. This was the last sighting. Neither they nor the man were ever seen nor heard from again.
In 1998, a joint inquiry was started to look into any possible connections between the 1966 abductions of Jane, Arnna and Grant Beaumont, the disappearance of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon.
Arthur Brown was arrested in 1998 for the murders of 2 young girls. Brown closely resembles the suspect sketch in the disappearance of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon. He also resembles the suspect sketch in the the abductions of Jane, Arnna and Grant Beaumont.
**Sketch on this page is the image of the man seen with the girls as they left the oval
Now no one will ever know if an old man called Arthur Stanley Brown was Australia's worst serial child killer. The retired Townsville carpenter, charged in 1998 with a notorious double murder - and suspected of others - has died, aged 90.
His death ends any chance of proving he was guilty, as police firmly believe he was, of the rape-murder of Mackay sisters Judith, 7, and Susan, 5, in Townsville in 1970.
But it also leaves unanswered questions hanging over other families robbed of their children.
Did Brown, subject of a Sunday Age investigation in July last year, abduct and kill other children over several decades - and not just in Queensland, where several cases remain unsolved?
Is it just a coincidence that he matched the descriptions of a thin-faced, middle-aged man who abducted Kirste Gordon and Joanne Ratcliffe from an Adelaide football game in August, 1973? Was he the same thin-faced man seen with the Beaumont children before they vanished from an Adelaide beach in 1966?
Brown not only took his secrets to the grave - he ensured his own death was kept quiet. He left instructions that no funeral notices be placed.
Only one of his second wife's daughters knows any details of his funeral, but when The Age reached her yesterday she wasn't talking. All that is known is that after his wife, Charlotte, died last April, he was put in a home at Malanda, north of Townsville. He died alone on July 6.
Brown has no known living blood relatives. His only kin are the children and grandchildren of two widowed sisters he married - the second one soon after the suspicious sudden death of the first.
Brown's name hit the headlines in 1998, after a woman broke a 30-year silence to tell police he had molested five children related to his first wife - often at the same spot where the Mackay sisters' bodies were found in 1970.
He had also owned a car in 1970 with one odd-coloured door, matching a description of one driven by the man who had abducted the Mackay girls. Relatives believe he replaced the door and buried it days after the murders.
Brown's first wife, Hester, crippled by arthritis, became a virtual prisoner in their neat fibro and timber house in Rosslea, an old suburb of Townsville. She died suddenly in May, 1978, from injuries Brown claimed she suffered in a fall.
Police believe the family doctor wrote out a death certificate without examining the body, which Brown had cremated immediately. Already close to Hester's younger sister Charlotte, a mother of five, he married her soon after.
Brown, a fit, wiry man, was unusually strong and obsessively neat, wearing pressed clothes to work as a maintenance carpenter on state government buildings. The Mackay sisters' clothes were found neatly folded near their bodies.
The evidence against Brown was strong but circumstantial. He twice blurted cryptic confessions to the Mackay girls' murders, once to a workmate and once to a stranger in a pub.
A Queensland jury could not reach a verdict in 1999, and a new trial was blocked on the ground that he was too senile to be tried again.
If Brown was a monster, what made him so? A stepson, Robert Neilsen, says Brown talked incessantly - but rarely mentioned children. "Except once, when the subject of little kids came up and he started to cry and said we had to look after the little children."
But Neilsen has no sympathy for the man his mother stuck with to the end of her life. "I can't believe such an insignificant little arsehole had such a profound effect on so many people's lives."
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