In the mid-1990s, in Claremont, Western Australia, three young women went missing after visiting local nightclubs, and two of them turned up dead. Despite a massive public outrage and an unprecedented police investigation, no killer was arrested as the so-dubbed Claremont Serial Killer until December 2016.
So goes the tale in Bret Christian’s true crime nonfiction Stalking Claremont: Inside the hunt for a serial killer. It’s not the first book to tell the story of the elusive, threatening Claremont Killer who haunted Australia for two decades, but this January 2021 release is the first to tell the full story now the killer, Bradley Edwards, is behind bars.
I first took notice of the Claremont Serial Killings probably around 2015, somewhere around the time of a report on the case on current affair TV, and spent much time poring through the news articles and Websleuths/Big Footy forums (which it was later revealed the killer himself had an account), and had heard about the many details from Debi Marshall’s ‘The Devil’s Garden‘ recited to me by someone else interested in the then-unsolved case, before the big news was announced in late-2016. Bret Christian is a local journalist in Western Australia, and his story is the first full, respectful, comprehensive account of everything surrounding the case, dispelling myth and portraying the facts.
Christian reviews the case in insane, meticulous detail. The audiobook I listened to is almost 12 hours long, and the killer himself isn’t shown as a suspect until around the 8 hour mark. However, that’s not to say the first three-quarters were a slog; conversely, it told a fascinating tale of the ineptitude and harsh truth of the WA Police, and what it took to get the case solved. Much of the reasons the case wasn’t solved back in the day is truly riveting. Now we know all the facts, we the public and the police can claim the killer was obvious from the very beginning. Hindsight. A Telstra vehicle was constantly mentioned by eyewitnesses at the time, yet the focus for over a decade was on taxis and, specifically, innocent taxi driver Steven Ross (taxi drivers aren’t entirely innocent in this tale, but none of them ended up the killer). Old and new policing weren’t willing to work together—years and millions of dollars were wasted because the old guard refused to admit they had the wrong guy, evidence was ignored, or otherwise not followed up.
Comprehensive detail is given on the disappearance of Sarah Spiers, the murders of Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon, the abduction and rape of “Lisa”, and the many other precursor crimes committed by the Claremont Killer. We hear about all the evidence pointing to a Telstra technician, especially from the Burger Boys, a group of young men who witnessed Glennon interacting with a man in a Holden Commodore station wagon just before her disappearance. Sarah Spiers’s case, in particular, is the most harrowing, as her body to this day has never been found. I recall the Sunday Night episode I watched from roughly a year before Edwards’ arrest, and the haunted look in her father Don’s eyes hasn’t left me. Spiers was the youngest of the trio. Rimmer’s case is sad in her own right: as the middle victim, she tends to be forgotten, and it’s especially terrible that her father Trevor, who was an ardent critic of WA Police’s unorthodox methods, died before her killer’s sentencing.
‘Stalking Claremont’ is not what many fear from a full account of the murders and the police investigation: it is incredibly critical of the police and their seemingly botched investigation, clearly outlining where WA Police got it right, what it got wrong, and how future cases should be handled. On example is civil servant Lance Williams and Claremont Mayor Peter Weygers, who were both falsely accused of being the killer before DNA evidence in 2008 excluded them. Weygers is weaved throughout the script; of how journalists at the time and old-school coppers critical of his role as a civil libertarian, singled him out as the murderer as a way to punish him because he dared critique their sacred band of brothers. Weygers’ association with the murders appeared to be politically motivated, and it was with Weygers that we learn that journalism and policing should never be too cosy. Of course Christian shows his paper The Post in a more positive light, but as someone not from Western Australia, it all blended into one. Cops and journos appeared willing to throw innocent people under the bus to boost their ratings and show themselves in a good light, and it’s interesting in a modern context, where far too many people have become rightly critical of the legacy media and its inability to do its job where it matters, instead preferring to pillory the new media who is doing what they cannot (for example, the recent Friendlyjordies case). Too many newspapers and TV stations appeared willing to report wrong or tabloidy information just to boost their ratings, and cops were only too happy to agree, since it made it look like they were doing something. These cops of the old guard, old-school police officers who hated the modern fandangled science approach favoured by their UK and US equivalents, were all-too-willing to pin the blame on innocent people because they “looked” guilty and their gut instinct was clearly more trustworthy than the swathes of evidence that proved exactly the opposite. It was only when massive police corruption was revealed full scale, an investigation—the Schram Review (sp?)—was announced, and the team was replaced with fresh eyes, that crucial information which had been looked over in 1996-1997 could show that the real killer was still out there, just waiting for the right moment for the police to catch him. It didn’t need to be an either-or situation: both science and good policing could help catch a killer who brutalised young women in an affluent suburb in Australia.
Both times massive breaks came in the case—2008 and 2016—were times when the Macro Taskforce were whittled down in numbers, and only a handful of cops and experts were left to reveal glaring errors on the killer’s behalf. Both the DNA evidence (science) and the look into precursor crimes [i.e. crimes a serial killer committed before they ramped up to murder] (policing) worked in tandem to save the day, exonerated three innocent suspects, and caught the real killer before he killed again. Around the time of the Claremont Killer’s arrest in 2016, he’d separated from his second wife, and we learn that his murder spree in the ’90s correlated with stressful periods in his life. It makes this part of the story more dramatic, with police determined to catch him, albeit with way less invasive methods than the cops who harassed and traumatised Williams, Weygers, and Ross back in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
A small thing that distracted me while listening to the audiobook is Ant Neate’s, the narrator, pronunciation of the word “unknown”, in which I kept a loose tally of every time he said “know-en”, “unknow-en” and “show-en”. Also, count every time he says the people of Claremont were “agog” at shocking news. I feel like “agog” has radically increased its appearance in my everyday vocabulary, albeit ironically.
I was surprised Edwards is only referenced in the last three-quarters of the book, but it’s fine: it puts more focus on the three women who were murdered and their family, the three who were attacked, and other subsequent encounters and victims, with the last part of the book focused on the trial and conviction. There is more humanity in them and their grief-stricken families, and how the people of Claremont reacted to the events that forever changed their middle-class suburbia. Since the Claremont Killer himself has never admitted to the murders of Spiers, Rimmer, and Glennon, and only the precursor rapes and attacks, not much time is spent on his personality, except a few chapters on his life, his experiences with his former lovers, and psychological conjectured based on short interviews with psychological experts. What we learn though is a stark, haunting reminder: killers hang around in plain sight. Christian references Ted Bundy’s dramatic normalcy and contrasts it with Edwards: he was a Telstra technician who (unawares) played footy with investigating officers, loved his footy and video games and other very average hobbies, he had a great relationship with his stepdaughter, he was a life member of the Little Athletics group and its web administrator, but behind all that lurked a dirty, dark secret.
Despite the seeming tunnel vision and old boys’ guard of the Western Australian police, the actions of a few good eggs as well as the joint efforts of modern advances in DNA and good police work means one more monstrous person is behind bars. Bret Christian’s ‘Stalking Claremont is a comprehensive, chilling, haunting, stark story about a serial killer who haunted Australia for two decades. Sometimes the narration lapses into overdramatic journalism, but that only adds to the story. Maybe Christian could have made it a bit less obvious his positive praise of his own paper and negativity of his rivals, but it was overall an emotional ride.