Nenita "Annie" EVANS


Nenita Evans disappeared on January 8, 1987.  Coroner Iain West found: ‘‘After [Nenita Evans'] disappearance, innuendo and unsubstantiated rumours circulated, implicating her husband and Vincenzo Leonardi, who was her supervisor at work and the last known person to see her alive. There is insufficient evidence before the inquest to make a finding of contribution against either of these individuals. And I further find that the deceased met her death from foul play, however the identity of the person or persons contributing to her death cannot be determined.’’


— Dee Dicen Hunt

Annabel Sabellano Strzelecki’s husband says he has not seen his wife since she left home in the early hours of June 6, 1998 supposedly in the company of a Filipina and a man who he had not met before that night.

The couple had lived in the Clare, South Australia area since 1989. They married in the Philippines when she was 19 and Jim Strzelecki, a former opal miner, was 63.

Major Crime Detective Inspector John Peake said the missing woman’s disappearance was out of character. "The fact she has still not yet been discovered tends to show that she could have met with foul play. But that’s not to say she isn’t out there alive and well and doesn’t want to be discovered."

Annabel’s friends say she was totally devoted to her two children, Rachel 5, and Richard 7, and she would not have left the marriage without taking them with her. The children are being cared for by relatives in Adelaide.

Reporter Penelope Debelle in The Age described the church service organised by Annabel’s friends thus: "At the service of remembrance at the Clare Uniting Church, a purple cloth was draped from the cross and on to this women pinned large black tears.

"One black tear we weep upon the cloth of sorrow. One black tear for all those women who have come to this land dreaming of a better life, only to find a nightmare.

"Filipino women from all over the district came to the service. The cultural bonds are strong and the Reverend Tony Eldridge says the women support each other."

"She was very gentle and a good mum," said a close friend. "She was a very generous person. She didn’t have a lot, but what she did have she always wanted to share."

According to data collected by the Centre for Philippine Concerns–Australia (CPCA), Annabel is one of six Filipinas gone "missing" in Australia since 1980.

We still do not know the whereabouts of Azucena "Asing" Pollard who in 1987 was reported by her husband, Harry, to have run away from their home in Tumbarumba, NSW taking their baby son with her. Nenita Evans of Melbourne, Victoria also disappeared in 1987 and Jean Angela Keir of NSW was last seen in February 1988. The police investigated the possible link between Jean’s disappearance and the violent death in 1991 of Rosalina Keir, the second Filipina wife of Thomas Keir. Due to lack of evidence, he was acquitted of Rosalina’s murder and no evidence of Jean’s situation came to light.

CPCA data lists Rosalina Keir as one of sixteen Filipino women murdered in Australia since 1980 in whose cases the perpetrator or suspect was their non–Filipino spouse, de facto partner, fiance, boyfriend or employer. Three children were also killed.


The Melbourne Club murders

By John Silvester - The Age

It has taken thousands of questions, five countries, more than 30 years and a genetic trail to lead the son who didn’t know his mother to discover she has been listed as a murder victim and that the suspected killer was never charged.

It is a mystery that spreads from a tiny Filipino orphanage in Olongapo to the exclusive Melbourne Club at the top end of Collins Street. And if missing persons investigators are right the prestigious club, protected by waiting lists and a rigorous vetting process, for years unwittingly hid a serial killer behind its imposing timber door.

What is a matter of fact is that a man who worked at the club for years is a suspect in the murders of three women, all rumoured to be his lovers. Two of the bodies have never been found.

Back in the 1950s it was not unusual for a married man to strike out from war-depressed Europe on his own and migrate to Australia, set up a base and then bring his family. It was easier to feed one mouth and move around in search of a job before setting down roots.


Vincenzo Leonardi went down that path, arriving in Victoria via Fremantle and scoring a job at the posh Melbourne Club, where for more than 30 years he was as much a part of the furniture as the overstuffed leather armchairs.

The Club prides itself on discretion and Leonardi had no problems keeping secrets. Soon after arriving in Australia he began a relationship with Anna Maria Pontarollo. They had two daughters together.

Eventually Leonardi’s wife and their Italian-born child joined him in Melbourne. For a while they all lived under one roof until in 1954 - during his wife’s second pregnancy - his lover Pontarollo simply disappeared. She was 28 years old.






In the days before credit cards, mobile phones, CCTV and Medicare, it was possible for people to vanish - or for murderers to cover their tracks.


The only record found was Pontarollo's name on the birth certificates of her daughters, which were changed when they were adopted by the Leonardis.

There appears to have been no serious investigation into Pontarollo's disappearance and Leonardi continued to work quietly at the Melbourne Club, where he developed a close relationship with Filipina maid Milagros Dark, 36, who he would often drive home even though he lived in another direction. Her body was found on February 17, 1990 in Churchill Park, three days after she disappeared. She had been beaten to death.

Her husband Neville was charged with the murder, charges that were later dropped. At an inquest he named Leonardi as the killer although coroner John Murphy found "there is no basis for the allegation".

In 1987 another Melbourne Club maid of Filipino descent, Nenita ‘‘Annie’’ Evans, disappeared. The last person known to have seen her was Leonardi, her former boss and mentor.


Evans migrated from the Philippines and married her husband Greg in 1985. In a statement to the coroner, Greg Evans said: ‘‘When Annie started work at the Melbourne Club she did not like Vince [Leonardi] but after a while they became friends. Annie was promoted to housekeeper [from maid] at the club and this made a lot of other women jealous because they had been there longer and were better educated.’’

Evans said his wife had a baby boy when she was young and they planned to bring him to Australia. That boy is Matthieu Robert Heimel, who was born in Olongapo and given up for adoption by Nenita when she was 19. He was one of the lucky ones. ‘‘I was adopted by a lovely French family and grew up in the south-west of France,’’ he tells The Age.

When he was working in Barcelona and playing semi-professional rugby he became friends with Australians on the team who urged him to migrate. He eventually settled and married in Perth and now works as a French and sports teacher at a private school.

Late last year he started researching his background, finding his father was a former US serviceman now living in Washington. DNA testing with Nenita Evans' brother and sister confirmed she was Heimel’s birth mother.


‘‘According to my biological uncle in the Philippines, the Australian embassy contacted his family in 1987 because the authorities believed that Nenita Evans had been murdered in Melbourne,” Heimel, now 40, says.

After searching through migration archives, contacting detectives and reviewing the coronial inquest, Heimel got in touch with me, as I had reported on the cold case when it was reopened by detectives more than 20 years ago.

“If she is alive I want her to know I am looking for her, and if she was murdered we want to find the truth,” Heimel says. "Her family in the Philippines deserve to know what happened.’’

As in the case of Milagros Dark, Leonardi seems to have taken a shine to Nenita Evans, fast-tracking her promotion and driving her home to Altona, even though it was an hour out of his way. When she developed a migraine at work he was able to organise an appointment with a specialist for treatment - which may just mean he was a concerned supervisor.


Eventually her husband Greg received an anonymous phone call claiming his wife and her boss were having an affair. They both claimed it was untrue.

As a housekeeper, part of her duty was to buy and arrange floral displays for the club. Her interest became a passion and after enrolling in a flower-arranging course she resigned from the Melbourne Club in November 1986. She dropped in to see club staff, including Leonardi, on January 8, 1987.

She was upbeat, showing some a book of her flower arrangements and telling them she was going to a job interview with a Fitzroy florist. She has not been seen since.

One theory is that she went to the club to break off the relationship with Leonardi, who flew into a rage. But a theory is all that is, as Leonardi refused to talk to police and did not give evidence at the inquest on the grounds of avoiding self-incrimination. He retired from the Melbourne Club after 36 years' service.

Leonardi's silence should not be mistaken for indifference. Behind the scenes he was trying to manipulate the investigation. He asked a Melbourne Club staff member of Filipino descent to write to Evans’ brother. The letter, sent three months after she vanished, tried to make Greg Evans the only suspect.

‘‘I also said that the husband treated Annie badly and that he might've killed Annie and thrown her body away. I did not know this is true, it is only from what I have heard,’’ the female staff member later told police.

‘‘Vince [Leonardi] told me that Annie’s husband had mistreated her. I heard rumours that Vince had an affair with Annie and also with another woman, Mila Dark. I only heard rumours, I did not see anything.’’

Another woman hired to replace Annie told detectives she always remembered something her

supervisor once said: “I asked Vince how his weekend was. Vince replied that he went with his wife for a drive to look at a block of land. Vince said the land was big enough to bury bodies in.”

Greg Evans told police: “Annie once mentioned to me that the Filipino women were fighting at work. She said they were jealous that the manager liked her. She said that she was always working and was not lazy and he liked her.”


Senior Detective Kathryn Fairbank from Missing Persons told the inquest: “Vince Leonardi was an extremely violent father. He treated the family badly and as a result they left home as soon as they could.

“He locked all the windows, nailed them all shut so they couldn’t get out. Two of the girls were having an argument over a pair of scissors one day and he threw an axe at one of them ... He’s pointed firearms at them ... and he assaulted one so badly she was in bed for three weeks.”

Fairbank said that when the daughter recovered she told her mother she was leaving home because “next time he may kill her”.

Coroner Iain West found: ‘‘After [Nenita Evans'] disappearance, innuendo and unsubstantiated rumours circulated, implicating her husband and Vincenzo Leonardi, who was her supervisor at work and the last known person to see her alive. There is insufficient evidence before the inquest to make a finding of contribution against either of these individuals. And I further find that the deceased met her death from foul play, however the identity of the person or persons contributing to her death cannot be determined.’’

Leonardi moved more than 1000 kilometres away from the Melbourne Club and the rumours, settling in Barnsley near Newcastle, NSW. He died in January 2009, aged 84, apparently estranged from his family, who were only informed of his death after the funeral.


If Matthieu Heimel is to find answers it will not be from his mother’s violent and manipulative boss, who chose to take his secrets to the grave.