While the new information was from a reliable source – and the suspect nominated may end up being charged with other offences – the task-force has now ruled him out of being the long sought after Mr Cruel.
And while similarities between the Mr Cruel cases and last year’s disappearance of 13-year-old Siriyakorn “Bung” Siriboon have been examined, detectives don’t believe it was Mr Cruel who took her.
Karmein Chan’s body was found 20 years ago
Detectives involved in the Operation Spectrum taskforce which originally hunted Mr Cruel have, over the years, indicated they had a short list of about 20 suspects, of which six were stronger than the others, that they had been unable to eliminate.
They have consistently shied away from saying they think they know who Mr Cruel is.
But in a 2003 interview with the Herald Sun, former Spectrum chief David Sprague said his personal view was that there was one man above all others who he believes might be Mr Cruel – that man is still alive.
“There is a prime suspect. We interviewed him for about 14 hours. He said at the end of it that if we thought we had a good case we should charge him and if not he wanted to be let go then and there,” Commander Sprague said.
“It was a good circumstantial case, but not good enough to charge him. We have certainly kept tabs on him since and if we had another abduction he’d be the first person dragged in.”
Police traditionally hold back items of information about crimes so they can use them to eliminate suspects. One reason is that attention seekers often wrongly confess to high-profile crimes. Such people might think they know everything about a crime, having read everything that was written, but police are able to weed them out when they don’t know as much as police do about, for example, the wounds suffered by a victim.
Detectives know a number of things about Mr Cruel that have never been made public. They have used this inside knowledge to eliminate more than 27,000 suspects, including the man nominated in 2010 as possibly being Mr Cruel.
But the prime suspect nominated by Commander Sprague has not been able to be eliminated. He fits both the public and secret profiles of Mr Cruel.
Serial sexual predators like Mr Cruel don’t usually stop offending until they are caught or die. Yet there is no evidence that Mr Cruel has stepped out of line since he killed Karmein Chan in 1991.
Commander Sprague believes the reason Mr Cruel hasn’t struck again is because he was one of the thousands of men interviewed by Operation Spectrum. “I honestly think we got very, very close and scared the crap out of him. So close that he stopped,” he said.
Other former Spectrum detectives disagree with Commander Sprague that this man is above all other suspects, but they don’t disagree that he is well deserving of his place on the top 20 list of possible perpetrators.
One thing all Spectrum detectives agree on is that they don’t like the Mr Cruel tag given to the kidnapper by the media. They feared it would create the impression he was a monster when he probably conducted himself as a normal, everyday person.
Former Operation Spectrum member Steve Fontana, who took over from Commander Sprague as head of the Mr Cruel taskforce and who is now a Victoria Police assistant commissioner, said Mr Cruel would appear anything but cruel to those who know him.
“He’s very intelligent and probably comes across as being a reasonable sort of person. He is very talented and will be very meticulous in the way he goes about things,” Mr Fontana told the Herald Sun.
Operation Spectrum detectives, already working long hours, were swamped with information from a shocked public after news of Karmein’s murder broke in 1991. But none of it helped identify Mr Cruel.
“His crimes were very much premeditated,” Mr Fontana said. “He wore a balaclava, always wore gloves, he always made sure the girls were blindfolded the whole time.
“I won’t go into other things that he did, but there were certain things, like with Sharon Wills, she was wrapped in plastic garbage bags before she was dropped off. I think it gives you an indication that this person was really thinking about not leaving any traces behind.”
Mr Fontana said it was very difficult to commit the sort of crimes Mr Cruel did without leaving physical evidence – yet Mr Cruel managed it.
“You have to give it a lot of thought. He’s gone to great lengths to conceal his identity and that has been maintained for the duration of those girls being held captive,” he said.
Commander Sprague is sure Mr Cruel has been convicted of lesser offences in the past.
“We are convinced he’s been done before, probably for flashing or being a Peeping Tom or something similar,” he said.
“He has learned from being caught and that’s why he was so worried about leaving any forensic evidence and went to such extremes to ensure he didn’t leave anything that would identify him.”
Police were desperate for public help to crack the case
After many hours interviewing victims and consulting police experts – some from the FBI – Operation Spectrum detectives produced a profile of Mr Cruel.
This is what they know or suspect about Mr Cruel, his habits and the house in which he held some of his victims:
- He used the phrases Bozo, Worry Wort and Missy and had an Australian accent with no definable class or characteristic.
- Victims described him as aged between 30 and 50, from 173cm to 180cm tall, possibly with fair to sandy coloured hair and eyebrows and sometimes sporting a gingery beard. He had a slim to medium build, with a small pot belly.
Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas, and almost certainly Karmein Chan, were kept in a dwelling under the Tullamarine flight paths, probably in an area close to the airport such as Coburg, Strathmore, Keilor, Plenty, McLeod or Watsonia. This house, unit or flat had a drive on its right-hand side and a small number of steps.
The girls were occasionally able to bravely sneak a look inside the house, despite warnings not to remove their blindfolds. One described the bedroom she was kept in as having beige or cream carpet, peach full-length curtains, double bed with peach bedhead, orange lamp base, lemon lampshade with thin white vertical stripes, light walls and a white door.
A dark blanket covered a bookcase or cabinet at the opposite end of the room from the bed, possibly to hide identifiable possessions.
The bathroom had a bath, a triple-sliding door to the shower and a washbasin adjacent to the shower door. You had to get past the basin to get into the shower. The dual flush toilet was very near the bathroom.
Mr Cruel had access to firearms and was sometimes armed with a 35cm kitchen knife.
The profile suggests Mr Cruel was probably in steady employment, possibly in a management job or self-employed, with freedom of movement.
Those who know him would not regard him as a monster. He would probably be considered a good neighbour and may be involved in community projects.
He has an obsessive, compulsive character – the type who would immediately wipe his hands if soiled. He took a great deal of interest in media coverage, though he probably tried to disguise it. He goes for unexplained drives or walks.
He has expressed sexual fantasies or shown sexually dysfunctional behaviour. His sexual arousal and gratification is probably dependent on his partner playing specific roles, such as dressing like a schoolgirl in uniform.
Mr Cruel could be married or living with a woman who goes away around school holidays, when some of the attacks occurred. He is intelligent and well-organised. He will seem genuinely interested in and dedicated to children. He gets satisfaction from the way things look, rather than their use.
He will have displayed behavioural changes about the time of the offences and on anniversaries or when publicity is renewed. Changes such as sleeping disorders, reluctance to go to work, distraction or different eating and drinking habits. He would disguise his stress with abnormally rigid behaviour. He told some of his victims he was a victim of sexual assault as a child.
Police stress that profiling is not an exact science and anybody who suspects somebody they know might by Mr Cruel should not discount him just because he doesn’t fit the profile – they should pick up the phone and contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
The man is wanted over the murder of Karmein Chan and attacks on other girls.
The Herald Sun can reveal a covert police operation codenamed Taskforce Apollo has been closing in on the man, who was identified as a result of new intelligence unearthed by detectives working on the case.
The information was uncovered during a review of the original Operation Spectrum – the largest investigation in Victoria’s history – and intelligence gathered since it closed in 1994.
Mr Cruel – considered a serial paedophile – terrorised Melbourne families in the late 1980s and early ’90s. His last suspected crime was the killing of Karmein Chan, who was abducted from her Templestowe home as she babysat her sisters on April 13, 1991.
Her remains were found at Edgars Creek, Thomastown, a year later. She had been shot three times in the head.
Karmein’s mother, Phyllis, has kept in regular contact with police during the 20-year hunt for her daughter’s killer.
“I really want the case solved,” she said last night.
Mr Cruel is wanted over attacks on at least three other girls, and is believed to have attacked up to 12 children over 10 years dating back to 1985.
Victoria Police Supt Doug Fryer last night told the Herald Sun: “We do have people of interest who were not previously identified.
“All avenues of investigation from 20 years ago are being followed as well as new information.””We are not forecasting an imminent arrest but we are investigating and will continue to do so,” Supt Fryer said.
“We still have not finished.”
After having interviewed 27,000 people in the biggest investigation in Victoria’s history, investigators revisited a huge stockpile of evidence.
Superintendent Fryer said substantial new intelligence had warranted the establishment of a new taskforce to explore “every avenue” of inquiry he told ABC Radio.
While Supt Fryer would not give details he said a covert investigation had been running for some time.
Today he revealed more than 12,000 separate pieces of information had been reviewed and cross-referenced with new details as part of the investigation.
And retired detective Colin McLaren, who led the original Spectrum taskforce investigation into Mr Cruel, said the case was the one that still lingered two decades later.
“I probably don’t know of any other more important case that I’ve worked on that still is unsolved,” he said.
“This strikes at the heart of most parents if not everybody in the community.”
Police have not ruled out the possibility Mr Cruel had since fled the country, died or committed suicide.
The profile of Mr Cruel that investigators narrowed down was of a man with few distinguishing features.
Police have not revealed whether the new suspect fits a different description to that issued in the early 90s.
But at that time detectives built a picture of a man aged between 35 and late 40s, slightly built, with sandy or ginger-coloured hair, clean shaven, softly spoken and “quite caring in his own monstrous way”.
The man would now be close to 60 years of age.
“He was very much like a man in the street, that was the most difficult thing about it,” Mr McLaren said.
“We weren’t looking for someone who was six foot six or someone who perhaps had a peculiar smell about him.
“He was just very normal.”
Police believe there are still people in the community with information that could help them solve the case.
“This is one of the most horrendous crimes in Victoria’s history and all new information will be investigated.”
It is not known if Mr Cruel’s other victims or their families have been told of the new probe.
Mr Cruel, who was initially labelled Mr Cool, struck fear into families across the nation because of his meticulous approach to crime.
He was dubbed Mr Cruel by a journalist.
Police believe he would film or photograph his abductees after one of the victims told detectives she could recall a camera mounted on a tripod at the end of the bed to which she was shackled by a neck brace.
Victims told investigators he would bathe them and was careful not to leave behind any DNA or fingerprints.
More than 30,000 houses were examined as part of Operation Spectrum.
Police believe Mr Cruel attacked 12 children over 10 years, dating back to 1985.
He often used the terms “Bozo”, “Worry Wart” and “Missy” to his victims.
It was thought he may have taken his victims to a house that was on a flight path after one recalled the sound of jet planes flying overhead.
Profiling in the 1990s suggested Mr Cruel was intelligent, well organised, steadily employed and potentially involved in community projects.
One suspect was interviewed for 14 hours before being released.
A $300,000 reward exists for information that leads to a conviction.
Crime Stoppers 1800 333 000