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
Filipina Still Missing in Australia
— 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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.