If there is an afterlife Juanita Nielsen will know that 35 years after her gruesome murder I’m still campaigning to expose the hired thugs of the Sydney Establishment who plotted her death, to see justice done, perhaps to bring peace to her tortured soul.
She may be aware, even though our association was journalistic and fleeting, that in all those years few days have passed when I haven’t thought of her. I hope she knows of the half a million or so words I’ve written about her death, of the demands for a judicial inquiry into it and of the questions all this has prompted in the Parliament of New South Wales. Sadly, it’s all been to no avail.
Because trying to expose corruption in Sydney, Australia, is akin to swimming in treacle: it is impossible to make waves or progress. Nobody wants to know. Here, in a city where hedonism has been elevated to an art form, where only the pub and the beach are more important than “footie”, horse racing and cricket, apathy is endemic, as is corruption, its by-product.
The consequence is organised crime on a massive scale. Corrupt coppers and bent politicians are ten a penny. Everybody knows this; almost nobody cares. Once in a while a courageous author will expose the machinations of those ostensibly in charge of the State, but few will notice or care. No one will sue because this would simply replicate a judicial inquiry and expose the facts to public gaze.
The bullet is frequently the preferred solution, a disappearance the end result. Silence is golden; it’s also all-pervading, as in the Nielsen case, although in this instance the knife was the weapon of choice.
The 38 year old heiress was a campaigning newspaper publisher who lived and worked in Kings Cross, Sydney’s Soho. With an open mind, an ever-open door and her finger on the pulse of the community there was little she didn’t hear about, nothing she wouldn’t editorialise or campaign against.
Her acerbic pen defended the local environment and community traditions, railing against outsiders who threatened established standards for short term gain; the fly-by-night operators of blue movie clubs, clip joints, massage parlours and brothels, all felt the sting of her journalistic lash.
And when a voracious developer drew a bead on the locality with plans to build two monstrous tower blocks, one with an illegal casino, she launched a protest campaign and began by investigating him. It took minimal effort to establish that he had some most influential partners, the politicians and organised criminals to whom the city was a personal fiefdom to run as they wished. They were known in VIP circles as the Board.
Courageously, she put them under the microscope, too, with devastating discoveries and consequences. She was about to publish her findings when a leak, or a betrayal, alerted the mobsters and sealed her fate. Within days she was dead.
The murder scene: the Lido Motel, Roslyn Street, a short walk from her home. The time: just after 1pm on Friday 4 July 1975. The killer: a notorious former detective sergeant of the NSW Police, assisted by two night club bouncers. I named all three in a cover story in a national news magazine, but the investigating officers ignored my claims to the point where they never bothered to interview me, at the time a well-known sportswriter.
Instead, and at the behest of their former colleague, the killer, they released an official version of events that proved to be an exercise in obfuscation, designed to confuse anyone who might have seen Juanita on her final walk, en route to her date with death.
But their cover-up had all the substance of a stripper’s veil. Within weeks a colleague and I had pulled it apart as a preamble to more than three years of digging into the case, of following Juanita’s trail. In time we identified the minutia of the murder; who, when, where, how and why: eventually there was little we didn’t know about the plot and the people behind it.
We traced witnesses who disproved the police version of events; others who knew what had really happened to Juanita and why. We heard of other murder victims associated with the case, of kidnappings and disappearances, of beatings and bloodshed. The Nielsen scenario was akin to a war zone and we were bang in the centre of it.
The allegations we broacast should have brought national headlines but, even though we had the support of the NSW Attorney General, they were ignored by the NSW Parliament and the city’s print media. The then Premier refused to authorise the judicial enquiry our allegations demanded. The political implications, we deduced, were simply too dangerous, too far-reaching. The media, their crime and court reporters orchestrated by the PR department of the NSW Police, also refused our demands for exposure.
Incredible, I hear you say? Consider this.
Three months into our investigation my colleague and I traced the last person said by police to have spoken to Juanita, a criminal we suspected of being a central figure in the plot and its cover-up. We attempted an interview at his place of employment, a night club with similar provenance to the Lido Motel and many other odious establishments owned by the Sydney crime boss known to one and all as Mr Sin.
Within minutes of introducing ourselves we had been beaten up and thrown into the back of a limousine. We both thought our time had come, that we were about to follow Juanita to her unknown grave. Instead, though, we were driven at breakneck speed to the local police station. Once there, the driver slipped inside and reappeared moments later with a police sergeant.
“Get out,” he barked. “You’re under arrest.”
And with that we were charged with drunkenness and thrown into the cells, where we stayed the night.
“Not a bad yarn,” we agreed when the adrenalin had stopped pumping, knowing that the night’s events had also proved our thesis on the murder plot, that the cops were in it up to their ear lobes. But it didn’t end there.
Naturally, when our court case came around we pleaded not guilty to the charges and, with the help of two pro bono barristers, challenged the platoon of police who paraded to endorse their story that we had been drunk and aggressive in a public place, to wit, outside their police station.
Such a charge would normally occupy the court for five minutes and result in a minimal fine after a plea of guilty. Our case lasted eight days over as many months during which we took the prosecution case to pieces and exposed their evidence as a farrago comparable to the cover-up that had started it all.
It was on the fifth day that the magistrate realised that he had a judicial tiger by the tail. He by now recognised we had been “fitted” with the charge, as police parlance has it, but he couldn’t find us not guilty because that would entail charges of perjury against the dozen or so cops who gave evidence. This would have been a major embarrassment, a political scandal that would also have thrown an unwanted spotlight on the Nielsen murder.
Cleverly, his worship dismissed the case on the grounds of aeo invito, that we shouldn’t have been charged as shown because we had been taken to the police station against our will. In other words, he agreed we had been abducted. The verdict set a legal precedent that, our abduction and frequent mention of Juanita’s name aside, should have made headlines.
Fat chance: the case transcript ran to 570 pages and almost 180,000 words but not one of those words appeared in the city’s newspapers. They totally ignored the case, just as they later ignored my 6,000 word cover story in Newsweek Bulletin, the national news magazine, in which I outlined the plot and identified the killers. Nor was there a flicker of response from the killers and the others I had named. But I was not flavour of the month around Kings Cross.
The Mob, true to form, scattered death threats, just as expected: the first arrived shortly after our court case when we began ruffling feathers and treading on some well-connected toes. It came from the deputy of Mr Sin, a man whose name had not even been mentioned in the case, although he was highly suspect. Our response to his messenger was succinct and colourful, much to the confusion of the Mob and their police chums. They couldn’t understand us at all, couldn’t predict what we would do next. So the cops put a daily tail on us, recording our hourly movements as well as tapping our ‘phones.
Thanks to a campaigning radio commentator we became highly public about our activities and let it be known that our evidence had been recorded in statutory declarations and lodged with various friends and legal associates. It was gilt edged insurance as we followed Juanita’s trail of investigation into the darker corners of humanity.
It helped, too, that we had a back-up of a more physical nature in the form of an old friend, a Commonwealth Police officer. He acted as our armed body guard and security advisor. As a federal officer, he had no official brief for local crime but for long periods he quite literally was riding shot-gun when we ventured into dangerous areas. Each day we gave him a list of our appointments and a resume of our clothing, just in case…. He was also au fait with our findings and in no doubt about the implications.
“You guys are onto the big one,“ was his verdict. “At the Compols we knew this had to come one day. The State force is rotten to the core. They almost certainly knew about this murder before it happened and there’s no doubt they’re covering it up for their old mate and the people who contracted him for the killing.”
We took the investigation as far as we could, even to the extent of threatening to emulate Bertrand Russell and stage a people’s court, to get the case into the public domain and affect some form of justice. But it was all to no avail. As non-mainstream journalists we lacked the clout of the city media and without publicity we were banging our heads against a wall.
Frustration reigned. That’s when an underworld rumour reached us that the death threats were about to be activated. So, chiefly for the safety of our loved ones and in desperation born of impotence, we both left Sydney. My chum moved elsewhere in Australia “to get the stench of corruption out of my nostrils;” I returned to London and resumed my career in sports writing.
That was in 1979. Since then I’ve spent much of my spare time writing the book on the Nielsen murder and campaigning via the internet (Google “Juanita Nielsen + Sydney” for details) to keep the case in the public eye, hoping beyond hope, with persistence beyond obsession….
Nothing of consequence has resulted. My book received a minor review in a Sydney newspaper but it has brought no response, except from caring friends who still live there and remember….
There was a coroner’s inquest some years ago, mainly for purposes of Juanita’s estate, when she was officially declared dead.
Shortly afterwards a white wooden cross was erected near her family crypt in a Sydney graveyard. It bears the name Juanita Joan Nielsen, nee Smith, and an inscription which reads: “A courageous journalist who fought for the rights of others and the preservation of heritage. She mysteriously disappeared on 4 July 1975, aged 38 years.”
It’s a simple memorial: there’s no coffin beneath the cross, no urn of ashes. Her remains were never found, nor will they be. I know what happened to her but it is too awful to recount. It would impoverish outrage and I’d rather not subscribe to that…...
Such is life and death in the land they call The Lucky Country…. Barry's book, for legal reasons written as a novel, is available via http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/65301