Anita Lorraine Cobby (2 November 1959 – 2 February 1986) was a 26-year-old Australian registered nurse and beauty pageant winner. She was abducted from Blacktown, and raped and murdered at nearby Prospect, on the evening of 2 February 1986. Five men, including three brothers, were convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, never to be released.
On the day of the murder, Cobby finished work at Sydney Hospital at 3pm and met friends for dinner in Redfern, Sydney. She then caught a train from Central Station to Blacktown Station. Aside from her killers, only two witnesses saw her after she left the train – a young brother and sister who witnessed the abduction taking place. Their older brother upon return home was told and unsuccessfully attempted to chase after the car.
Cobby was walking alone along Newton Road, Blacktown around 10pm, when the gang of five youths drove up alongside her and stopped their stolen Holden Kingswood. Two men leaped from the car, dragging her kicking and screaming into the car. She was ordered to strip off her clothes but refused, begging her attackers to let her go, saying she was married and that she was menstruating. Her attackers continued to punch Cobby repeatedly, then drove to a service station to purchase fuel using money stolen from Anita’s purse. She was then driven to a secluded paddock, while being held down in the car and raped and beaten by her five attackers. Cobby was reported missing by her family on 3 February. Her body was found in a farmer’s field on 4 February.
Hunt for the killers
On 6 February, the NSW State Government posted a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of her killers. On 9 February, police re-enacted Cobby’s movements on the night of her disappearance in the hope of jogging the memories of travellers or others who may have witnessed her movements. Constable Debbie Wallace wore similar clothing to Cobby and travelled the 9:12 p.m. train to Blacktown. Detectives interviewed the passengers and showed them photos of Cobby whilst Constable Wallace walked the length of the train during the journey.
Following a tip-off from a police informant regarding a stolen vehicle, police started searching for John Travers, Michael Murdoch and Les, Michael, and Gary Murphy after they discovered that some of them had a history of violence and Travers had a reputation for carrying a knife. On 21 February, police found and arrested Travers and Murdoch at Travers’ uncle’s house and Les Murphy at Travers’ house. Murdoch and Murphy were charged with offences relating to stolen cars and released on police bail. Travers, who admitted that he had stolen a car, had also made conflicting statements about the murder. He was detained in police custody.
While in custody, John Travers requested that a friend be called so she could bring him cigarettes. The phone number was handed to the investigating police who contacted the friend, a woman. The woman agreed to help with the investigation, met with an officer, and gave him details of Travers’ background. The woman, who became known as Mrs. X, talked to Travers and he confessed the crime to her. Mrs. X was subsequently sent back in to talk to him with a recording device, with which she was able to obtain a confession.
Eventually, five men were arrested and charged with the murder. Police were praised for their quick response in capturing all suspects involved. In total, 22 days had elapsed from the time of the murder to the time all suspects were taken into custody.
The five accused suspects had over fifty prior convictions for offences including armed robbery, assault, larceny, car theft, breaking and entering, drug use, escaping lawful custody, receiving stolen goods and rape.
John Raymond Travers, the eldest of eight children, was considered the ring-leader of the gang of attackers.
Michael Murdoch was a childhood friend and criminal associate of Travers. Murdoch had also spent a great part of his childhood in juvenile prisons where he experienced sexual assaults. He was known to write to politicians during this period of imprisonment seeking protection from such assaults.
Les, Michael and Gary Murphy, brothers from an Irish family of nine children, were also accused of the crime.
Murphy was 33 at the time of the murder. He was the eldest of the nine Murphy children. Murphy was sent to live with his grandmother when 12 years of age.
Gary Murphy was five years younger than Michael Murphy. Hearing impairment affected Gary Murphy’s schooling and he left early to seek work. He was noted as being an able and willing worker before the crimes. His strong interest in cars led to him facing several car theft related charges in the years before the murder. Gary was also known to have a very violent temper.
Leslie Joseph Murphy
Les Murphy was the youngest of the Murphy children, but was known as having the worst temperament. He had faced Children’s Court on many occasions for a number of theft-related offences before being accused of the Anita Cobby murder. He was 24 years old at the time of the murder.
The trial began in Sydney on 16 March, 1987. Before proceedings began, Travers changed his plea to guilty. Sydney newspaper The Sun published a front page story on the day the trial began, carrying the headline “ANITA MURDER MAN GUILTY” alongside a large image of Travers. A follow-up story in the same paper detailed Michael Murphy’s recent escape from Silverwater Correctional Centre, where he was serving a 25 year sentence for a string of burglaries and thefts, and his criminal convictions. The jury was discharged.
The trial for the remaining members of the gang lasted 54 days, with the men’s defence relying on convincing the jury of their minimal involvement in the beating and murder. On 10 June 1987, all five men accused of the murder were found guilty of murder. On 16 June, 1987, they were sentenced in the Supreme Court of New South Wales to life imprisonment plus additional time, never to be released. Justice Alan Maxwell described the crime as “One of the most horrifying physical and sexual assaults. This was a calculated killing done in cold blood. The Executive should grant the same degree of mercy they bestowed on their victim.”
Cobby’s parents were the founders of the Victims of Homicide Support Group, a community support group that helps families deal with heinous crimes. They also campaigned in seeking tougher sentencing and truth in sentencing laws which eventuated after Anita Cobby’s murder. Cobby’s father Garry Lynch died on 14 September 2008, aged 90, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
A September 2006 episode of Australian television series Crime Investigation Australia featured the Anita Cobby murder. A July 2010 T.V episode of Australian Families Of Crime, titled, Blood Brothers ,Murpheys, Murdoch And Travers also featured the Anita Cobby murder.
A park in Sullivan Street, Blacktown was named Anita Cobby Reserve in memory of Cobby.