As a former resident, I understand the quote attributed to author Salman Rushdie which describes Adelaide, capital of South Australia, as “like something out of a Stephen King novel”. Now that I’ve left it, the only thing that will take me back is a funeral. As the unofficial ‘murder capital of Australia’ Adelaide has it’s fair share of those.
Adelaide saw a murderous gay-hate crime spree in the 70’s and 80’s that remains unsolved. The ‘poofter bashing’ murder of Dr George Duncan, law lecturer at my old alma mater the University of Adelaide, was just one of many. Duncan drowned after being bashed and dumped in the Torrens River, but in a macabre twist another bashing victim that night was rescued by Bevan Spencer von Einem, who was later convicted of abducting a young man whom he drugged, tortured, and raped for five weeks before killing him.
The fact von Einem was ‘out and about’ on the night Duncan’s was killed supports the argument that he was a member of ‘The Family’, a shadowy, well-connected group who kidnapped and sexually assaulted at least 150 young males between 1973 and 1983. Credible sources say that number is low, that there were ‘several hundred‘ victims.
But you don’t drug, kidnap, rape and torture ‘several hundred’ young men in a decade and not come to the attention of police. With so many witnesses, it beggars belief that no convictions were ever recorded. Hardly surprising the whispers about The Family including high-ranking police officers and members of the judiciary, as well as at least one surgeon.
The forensic material that unavoidably would have remained on (or in) the victims must have been preserved by crime scene examiners at the time. Modern techniques are so good that even the coldest cases are no longer unsolvable, so why not The Family murders?
Several reasonable hypotheses arise, but one in particular: the members of The Family have not been swabbed.
This means that Family members are not in gaol. Convicts are subject to DNA back-capture and end up on the national database. Assuming they were adults in 1973, some could be dead, but surviving members of The Family would now all be senior citizens. Some will be lost to dementia, memories frayed, their capacity to answer to their crimes legally questionable.
The other unavoidable hypothesis, aside from DNA, is that the police did not want the crimes solved.
I won’t touch that, except to say that the crimes will not rest. The Family murdered at least five of their victims. Only von Einem was convicted, and he never named names. He’ll take the membership of his death-cult to the grave unless a new generation of police review the cold cases.
South Australia is scary-weird, and Adelaide concentrates all that scary-weirdness. Another example: In June 2011, the original Bananas in Pyjamas costumes were stolen from ABC HQ in Adelaide during broad daylight. December 2019, a ‘Furrie’ lion costume was stolen from a home in the ‘burbs. And this month, a Big Bird costume was stolen from the Sesame Street Circus Spectacular, later returned by the bird bandits with an apology note.
Either there’s some serious yiffing going on in Yankalilla, or there are grown men dressing up as child-friendly characters for unknown purposes. What if the original Family members passed on their appetites to a younger generation? Little boys are much harder to get nowadays, given the hypervigilance of parents, but everybody relaxes when Big Bird walks into the room.
All five known murder victims of The Family were teenagers or young men. They were drugged and raped, often for days. When their captors got bored, they hammered a large blunt object into the victim’s anus, killing him. I cannot imagine their suffering. Then they were mutilated and surgically dissected before being dumped where their remains would be found.
The killers taunted the cops then, and now.
They are still out there.
There’s nothing cute, whimsical or funny about odd-happenings in Adelaide. The City of Churches is also a city of graveyards, and too many of those old, hastily-buried bones remain restless for justice to be done.