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,
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
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."
The Oval Abduction
On Saturday 25 August 1973, a South Australian National Football League
game was in progress at Adelaide Oval. North Adelaide was playing Norwood.
Joanne Ratcliffe, aged 11, was at the match with her parents. Kirste Gordon,
aged 4, was there with her grandmother.
The Ratcliffes were regular visitors to the Adelaide Oval. So too was
Kirste Gordon's grandmother, who knew the Ratcliffes, but Kirste never been
there before. She was being looked after by her grandmother while her parents
had a weekend away. The Ratcliffes, Kirste and her grandmother were all sitting
in the Sir Edwin Smith stand.
Joanne was the motherly type and when Kirste needed to go to the toilet,
Joanne offered to take her. The toilets were about 300 metres away on the other
side of the ground. They went and came back without any problems. Later in the
match, the two girls went out of the stand to get some straws for their drinks.
Kirste needed to go to the toilet again during the third quarter, at about
3:45pm. This time they did not return and at 4:06pm Mrs Ratcliffe left the stand
and went to the secretary's office, to report them missing. She asked if an
announcement could be made.
The request was refused. The explanation given later was that nothing
would have been heard over the crowd noise. This may have been true, however Mrs
Ratcliffe was given the distinct impression that the staff in the office did not
want the match interrupted. Mrs Ratcliffe was advised to return to her seat and
report the matter to the police if the girls didn't turn up.
The Ratcliffes and Kirste Gordon's grandmother spent the remainder of the
match searching for the missing girls. Mr Ratcliffe searched the back of the
stands, the carpark, the bowling area and the tennis courts. His wife searched
the female toilets. Mr Ratcliffe was convinced that his daughter would not have
left the oval "on her own steam."
At match end Mr Ratcliffe spoke with Mr Blundell, secretary of the South
Australia cricket association, and told him that the children were missing. Mr
Blundell had an announcement made immediately.
The girls were reported missing at police headquarters at 5:12pm. Police
began an immediate search of the area.
Several eyewitnesses were located. Anthony Kilmartin was a
thirteen-year-old who'd been selling lollies in the Sir Edwin Smith stand. He'd
had to move over for two girls who came walking down the stairs. He'd also seen
a man, who'd been watching the girls, go "running or trotting"
81 after them towards the gate.
In the statement he gave to police, Kilmartin said the man had caught up
with the girls, had lifted the little one up, and had carried her to the gate.
The bigger girl looked frightened and had grabbed at the man.
"He told her to 'take off' or something, and I thought he must have been a
friend and they had just had an argument," Kilmartin said
81. He assumed the man was the girls' father.
The man had grabbed the bigger girl and gone towards the corner of the
tennis courts near a pine tree. After that he hadn't seen anything more.
The assistant curator of the oval, Ken Wohling, saw two girls trying to
lure some kittens out from under a car. There were plenty of cats at the oval
and children were always trying to play with them. However, Wohling then heard a
man's voice say "I'll try and get him out for you."
83. Joanne's father later commented that his daughter was a
"terror for cats and dogs"
Wohling saw a man walk towards the southern gate, the two girls following
a few metres behind. They then rounded the corner and were gone. Wohling only
saw the back of the man but noticed he was slightly stooped.
"Not long afterward the father came looking in the shed," Wohling said
later. "I assumed he was looking for the two girls. I said to him, 'they're not
82 Unfortunately neither man realised the
significance of the conversation until much too late.
Over the next 90 minutes there were four different sightings believed to
be of the man and the two girls. In three of these sightings the older girl
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.
The girls were last seen with the man about three kilometres from the
Oval, 90 minutes after they'd left. Neither they nor the man have been seen
It needs little imagination to suggest that the Beaumont disappearance and
the Oval abduction were the work of the same man. The artist pictures of the men
are very similar. The modi operandi, or what was known of them, were
similar. And in both cases the suspect and the children vanished, as though into
thin air. Months of intense investigation produced no identity for the suspect
and nothing to go on.
The Age (Melbourne), 10, 13 July 1979; HALL, Timothy, Wanted;
WHITICKER, Alan J., Searching for the Beaumont children
Sunday July 8, 2001
THE disappearance of Judith Mackay, 7, and her sister Susan, 5, shocked
the city of Townsville.
When their bodies were found in a creek bed on August 27, 1970 the day
after they vanished on their way to school it was discovered they had been raped
and stabbed in the chest.
Susan had been strangled. Judith choked from having her face rammed into
the sand. It looked as if she had fled while her little sister was being killed,
and was then run down.
Beside the bodies, their school uniforms were folded inside out and placed
with an awful neatness. Their shoes, socks, hats and school bags were nearby.
A senior sergeant cried when he saw it.
Another policeman said he wouldn't go home until they caught the killer.
He didn't, until he died of a heart attack two weeks later.
At 8.15am on the day the girls disappeared, road worker Bill Hankin
noticed a man in a car with two girls in school uniforms; while everyone else
was driving children towards the school ``like ants to a nest", this man was
taking children away from it.
Hankin noted automatically that the driver was thin-featured, swarthy, not
tall, and drove badly. He looked middle-aged, with a tanned complexion and dark
wavy hair, cut short.
Neil Lunney, running late for work at the army barracks, was incensed when
a car in front of him sped up and veered to block him when he tried to overtake.
Mr Lunney said: ``I did my cool. I was going to bumper roll him but, when
I got up level with him, I saw the kids in the car." The older girl, on the
passenger side, had shoulder-length hair, as Judith Mackay did.
The younger one, sitting in the middle, had shorter hair, like Susan
Mackay. Both wore green Aitkenvale school uniforms.
Mr Lunney, a Vietnam veteran who had been taught recognition in the army,
said the driver had high cheekbones, short hair, and ``Mickey Mouse" ears stuck
out from a narrow skull.
Jean Thwaite was cleaning a car in the Shell service station she and her
husband ran at Ayr, more than an hour's drive south-west of Townsville, when a
car pulled up.
The car's petrol inlet was on the left side, and she had to open a flap to
get at the screw-on cap, similar to her own 1965 EH Holden. This ruled out the
car being a 1950s Holden but, unknown to her, was a design feature shared with
the Vauxhall Victor, uncommon in country Queensland.
In the back seat, a small girl who looked as if she had been crying,
asked: ``Are we there yet?" In the front seat was an older girl, who said to the
driver: ``When are you taking us to mummy? You promised to take us to mummy."
Both wore green school uniforms.
Despite matching descriptions of the driver apart from his age there was
no sketch or photofit picture of him published. Instead, the newspapers and
television ran pictures of FJ Holdens, believed to be the model the man drove.
It put the investigation so far off course it never recovered.
In September 1970 trainee psychiatric nurse John White, 19, met a man
called Arty Brown, a carpenter, in the bar of the White Horse Tavern in Charters
White guessed the man was perhaps in his 50s, but wiry and fit. He put his
height at about 172cm and his weight at no more than 70kg.
He asked Mr White if he'd been following the murder of the Mackay sisters
a few days before. Mr White nodded, and the man stated that the police, were
``looking for the wrong sort of car". Before Mr White could ask how he knew
that, the man kept talking quickly. ``You know," he said, ``I killed those two
Mr White alerted police who interviewed Mr Brown but found nothing
In late March 1972, a cane farmer's teenage daughter, Marilyn Joy Wallman,
vanished at Eimeo on the Queensland coast near Mackay.
The Wallman mystery was as brazen as Judith and Susan Mackay's abduction
20 months earlier, but with no clues. No cars. No suspects. No leads. Not even a
Then on August 26, 1973, the third anniversary of their girls' murder,
Bill and Thelma Mackay, who had moved to Toowoomba, woke to the news two girls
had been abducted from a football game in Adelaide. In a public place, in
daylight, like the three Beaumont children seven years earlier in Adelaide, and
their own girls and Marilyn Wallman.
Joanne Ratcliffe, 11, had taken
Kirste Gordon, 4, to the women's lavatory, about 300m from the Adelaide Oval
stand where her parents were sitting with Kirste's grandmother.
A teenager selling lollies, Anthony Kilmartin, saw a man lift the younger
girl under his right arm and start walking fast. The older girl, whom he later
identified from photographs as Joanne Ratcliffe, had looked frightened and tried
to stop the man.
The older girl had kicked the man in the knee.
Sue Lawrie, her father and little sister heard the football siren as they
left the zoo, about a kilometre from the oval on the other side of the Torrens
River. Minutes later Sue, then 14, saw a middle-aged man hurrying towards them,
carrying a small girl.
Behind him was a girl about 11, running to keep up, punching him in the
back and yelling: ``We want to go back."
Merle Martin Moss was sitting alone in a flat in suburban Perth in October
1998, looking through her family ``birthday book" when a wave of revulsion
hardened her resolve to unlock a terrible secret.
On the page under May was the name of an old man who, she knew, had
molested at least five female relatives among her extended family.
After ringing police in Queensland, she poured out her story about an old
man in Townsville called Arthur Brown. Ms Moss's younger sister Christine
Millier and two cousins by marriage filled the gaps for police investigators in
a horror story played out among three generations of apparently respectable
In 1982 a tearful teenager told her parents Mr Brown had molested her as a
Arthur Stanley Brown was born at Merinda, near Bowen, on May 20, 1912.
After spending several years in Melbourne he returned to Queensland and attached
himself to the Anderson family.
Mr Brown was to marry two of the six Anderson sisters and was close to two
others. He was first married in June 1944 to Hester, then freshly divorced, with
three small children.
They lived an outwardly normal life for 34 years, but Hester's oldest
sister Milly, now dead, told relations that Hester feared him, and had once
confided to her: ``He doesn't just like big girls - he likes little girls too."
Hester, a virtual prisoner in the house Mr Brown had built in Rosslea, an
old suburb of Townsville, died on May 15, 1978.
Mr Brown told the family doctor by telephone she had fallen while trying
to get on the commode next to her bed, hitting her head and killing herself.
The doctor apparently wrote a death certificate at home without viewing
the body, which Mr Brown took to an undertaker.
Hester Brown was cremated, which meant the injuries to her skull could
never be examined. Hester's younger sister Charlotte moved in with Mr Brown and
married him the following year.
The day the Mackay sisters were murdered, Christine Miller, 20, was
staying at Mr Brown's.
The only unusual thing she remembers is that the radio, normally on, was
switched off that night and next morning. She didn't hear news of the abduction
until she reached Cairns the following evening.
Detectives came for Arthur Brown after breakfast on December 3, 1998.
When the officer in charge read the warrants, detailing allegations of
murder and sexual abuse, the old man did not seem shocked. ``Didn't raise an
eyebrow," one detective recalled.
When Mr White heard a man had been charged for the Mackay sisters' murder
he told his partner: ``I bet his name is Arty Brown."
Sue Lawrie was living in Melbourne when she saw footage of an old man in
Townsville on the television news.
The next day, talking to a friend in Adelaide, she screamed into the
phone: ``My God! It's him." The man she'd seen on television was the same one
she'd seen on the banks of the Torrens 25 years earlier.
Driving past Townsville police station in 1975 in Mr Brown's Vauxhall,
John Hill, then a 16-year-old apprentice, had remarked that the police hadn't
solved the Mackay sisters' murder.
Mr Brown replied: ``I know all about that. I did it."
MENTALLY UNFIT TO STAND TRIAL
Two charges of murder against Arthur Stanley Brown, 89, of Townsville,
have been dropped. Queensland's Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare
said on Tuesday the charges would be discontinued because Mr Brown was mentally
unfit to stand trial.
Mr Brown faced trial in October 1999 charged with the 1970 murders of
Judith Mackay, 7, and her sister Susan, 5, but the jury was unable to agree on a
He was to be re-tried in July last year, but that decision sparked a
year-long legal battle over his mental state which stretched to the Court of
The Mental Health Tribunal found Mr Brown was unfit for trial a decision
overturned on appeal by the Attorney-General over the tribunal's jurisdiction.
A psychiatrist hired by the DPP found Mr Brown had degenerative
Alzheimer's disease and was unfit for trial.
LINKED IN DEATH
The five-year-old was abducted with her sister, Judith, and raped and
murdered near Townsville on August 26, 1970.
The seven-year-old was raped and murdered with her sister, Susan. It
appeared she fled while her sister was being killed, but was then run down.
Marilyn Joy Wallman
Marilyn, aged 14, vanished at Eimeo on the Queensland coast near Mackay on
March 21, 1972.
The 11-year-old vanished at a football game at the Adelaide Oval, believed
abducted, on August 26, 1973.
The four-year-old was believed to have been abducted from the same
football game as Joanne Ratcliffe.
The wife of Arthur Brown, she died after hitting her head in a fall in her
bedroom on May 15, 1978. Her body was cremated without a medical examination.