News Archive




Did Arthur Brown Kill All These Girls

Sun Herald

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 Towers.

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 girls."

Mr White alerted police who interviewed Mr Brown but found nothing suspicious.

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 body.

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 folk.

In 1982 a tearful teenager told her parents Mr Brown had molested her as a small girl.

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."


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 verdict.

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 Appeal.

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.


Susan Mackay

The five-year-old was abducted with her sister, Judith, and raped and murdered near Townsville on August 26, 1970.

Judith Mackay

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.

Joanne Ratcliffe

The 11-year-old vanished at a football game at the Adelaide Oval, believed abducted, on August 26, 1973.

Kirste Gordon

The four-year-old was believed to have been abducted from the same football game as Joanne Ratcliffe.

Hester Brown

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.

© 2001 Sun Herald

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