The man believed responsible for the murder of Rex Keen was described as someone ‘you would look at’.
The man believed responsible for the murder of Rex Keen was described as someone ‘you would look at’.

Was the killer a man or a woman?

IT WAS a killing that was simply sadistic.

The victim was savagely bashed and bludgeoned and his skull was severely fractured.

He was left to die alone in a hotel room in the heart of Brisbane's CBD - his heartless killer slipped out of the hotel without a trace.

In the 40-plus years since, police have been unable to catch the elusive murderer.

Who this person is and the motivation behind their attack has never been clear.

There have been far-flung theories, false confessions and some frightening revelations.

Interestingly, police believe the man responsible was able to elude them by concealing his gender and dressing as a woman.

The man believed responsible for the murder of Rex Keen was described as someone ‘you would look at’.
The man believed responsible for the murder of Rex Keen was described as someone ‘you would look at’.

THE DAY OF THE MURDER

It was August 14, 1976 and a waitress was delivering breakfast to a customer at the Lennons Plaza Hotel in Queen Street.

By that time, it was probably best known as the place where US President Lyndon Johnson stayed during his 1966 tour of Australia.

The Beatles also checked in when they visited Brisbane in 1964.

What should have been a routine morning for this waitress soon turned into a nightmare when she was greeted by a pool of blood in a 12-floor hotel room.

Lennons Plaza Hotel in Queen Street in 1976.
Lennons Plaza Hotel in Queen Street in 1976.

"I don't think she realised at the time what had happened but she reported what she had seen to the management when she left the room."

There was a suspicious lump hiding under the covers of the bed and it was up to the hotel's assistant manager and night porter to find out what it was.

What they found was the body of a badly beaten Rex Keen.

The unmarried 46-year-old was a hotel-motel manager from Bowen who had travelled to Brisbane to receive treatment for a bad liver and to attend the Royal Queensland Show.

He was known as a man with impeccable taste in clothes, manners, food, wine and theatre.

He had a remarkable memory for names and faces and would pay great attention to the many commercial travellers who stayed at his hotel-motel.

Visiting the Ekka was an annual tradition for Mr Keen, who would only stay at the Lennons Plaza.

A barmaid at the hotel, who said she had served Mr Keen on the night he was killed, thought he was a "lovely fellow".

"It's a shock to come to work and learn that one of your customers has been killed," she said.

"I knew him well because he would come down to the show each year and stay.

"He'd been here about four days and … he told me he was looking forward to going home."

Police had a mammoth task ahead as they began to retrace Mr Keen's final hours.

 

WHO WAS THE MAN WITH REX KEEN?

The last time Mr Keen was seen alive was on Black Friday at 10.35pm when a waitress delivered a hot meal to his room.

Murder victim Rex Keen.
Murder victim Rex Keen.

At the time, he was in the company of another man, who police now believe was the person responsible for the gruesome attack.

Scouring the crime scene for clues must have been a messy task - Mr Keen had been punched and stabbed up to 12 times and blood was spattered across the walls.

When his body was found, Mr Keen was wearing only a dressing gown and police believe the killer took off with his blood-soaked clothes.

Also missing from the room was $1200 cash and what was thought to be the item responsible for the murder - Mr Keen's camera.

Believed to have contained "incriminating film", police searched far and wide for the camera and even dug through the Virginia rubbish dump in a bid to find it.

Every person who had stayed on the 12th floor was also interviewed, including one man who claimed to have heard loud noises about midnight.

The noise was so loud that the man was on the verge of calling room service before it suddenly stopped.

Police believe this was the moment Mr Keen was attacked.

Investigators also began to canvas the local bars to retrace Mr Keen's final hours.

After speaking to a number of witnesses, police established that the bachelor had met with a man at the Crest International Hotel.

It's believed he was the same man who was in the hotel room with Mr Keen on the night he was murdered.

Remarkably, when police asked witnesses to assist a sketch artist to draw up a caricature of the man, all of the images looked similar.

His distinct appearance reassured police that they would make a quick arrest.

He was characterised as having a slim build, fair skin and long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail.

Witnesses said he was also carrying a black shoulder bag and used mannerisms which suggested femininity.

Dozens of phone calls and leads poured in, but none led to an arrest.

The State Government offered a $50,000 reward to lure possible informants, but no one came forward.

The lack of movement on the case frustrated police and a month on from the murder, Superintendent Jack McSporran made a renewed plea for information.

"Hundreds of people know this man," Mr McSporran said.

"I find it difficult to understand why they haven't come forward.

"He was most distinctive in his dress.

"He was a man you would look at, and he must have been seen by many when drinking with the victim…"

Senior Constable L. Jones examines a vehicle parked behind the Lennons Plaza Hotel on Burnett Lane. He’s dusting for fingerprints. Picture: The Courier-Mail
Senior Constable L. Jones examines a vehicle parked behind the Lennons Plaza Hotel on Burnett Lane. He’s dusting for fingerprints. Picture: The Courier-Mail

 

WHY IS THE KILLER SO HARD TO FIND?

TO THIS day, it's understood no one has come forward.

The theory behind how this man managed to escape police is perhaps most interesting.

Early in the investigation, police investigated the possibility that he may have taken on the identity of a woman.

Superintendent McSporran said the theory was certainly possible.

"It certainly is within the bounds of possibility that our suspect, with his effeminate characteristics, could have assumed the identity of a woman," Mr McSporran said.

"It is not the first time a male fugitive has attempted to hide that way.

"The possibility bears investigation."

According to an article printed less than a month after the killing, a senior detective said police were "sure the suspect is homosexual".

In a time when homosexuality was a crime, it was hardly surprising none of the man's associates came forward.

Police still want this man and a reward of $250,000 is on offer to anyone who can help authorities track down Rex Keen's killer.

If you have information on this crime, contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.



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