Did Milat kill on North Coast ?
by Megan Kinninment
A new twist in an old murder mystery:
NINETEEN-year-old Anneke Adriaansen proudly showed off her new sapphire engagement ring to her school friend, Marcelle Willemsen, in the Kempsey gift shop in which Marcelle worked.
As the two friends discussed what type of dress Anneke would wear, and who was on the wedding guest list, there was no indication this casual conversation would become one of the most vital clues in a double-murder mystery.
There was nothing to suggest Anneke's disappearance would baffle homicide investigators for 27 years, or that notorious serial killer Ivan Milat would be linked with her death.
In January, 1979, Anneke and 21-year-old Alan 'Marty' Fox were high school sweethearts on the cusp of a new life, following the North Coast hippy trail forged by the 1973 Aquarius Festival at Nimbin.
While both still lived with their parents in Berowra, Sydney, the young couple had planned their wedding, sent out invitations and applied for a bank loan to buy their dream home on 3.7ha at Upper Burringbar where they would begin their life as newlyweds.
But a hitchhiking trip to Byron Bay in the New Year of 1979 tragically cut short their dreams when the couple mysteriously disappeared.
Despite extensive searches along hundreds of bushland trails from Kempsey to Byron Bay, their bodies were never found.
In August this year, 27 years after the pair Sydney media dubbed the 'Bridal Couple' disappeared, NSW Coroner Carl Milovanovich formally concluded the young lovers were dead.
While delivering an open finding, which means he could not say for certain how they died, he did conclude that the evidence pointed 'overwhelmingly that this is most likely an unsolved homicide'.
And, Australia's most notorious murderer ? serial killer Ivan Milat ? was named as a possible suspect, although no charges have been laid.
"There are avenues still open to the police," Mr Milovanovich said.
"There is always a question mark concerning Strike Force Air investigations with Ivan Milat, and unfortunately whenever we have missing persons in the Berowra or North Coast area Ivan Milat's name surfaces, and rightly so."
While the belated inquest into the couple's disappearance has paved the way for a renewed homicide investigation, it has also exposed a series of witness bungles and missed leads that marred the murder mystery from the very start.
Anneke and Marty initially travelled from their homes in Sydney's North Shore to Murwillumbah on Boxing Day, 1978, in search of land, finding a farm at Burringbar which they visited on January 2, 1979.
Keen to close the deal on the $11,000 farm, they returned to Sydney in early January and applied to the Commonwealth Bank for a home loan.
With over two weeks still left of their summer holidays, the couple decided to hitchhike back up to Byron Bay, via Kempsey, using a hand-made sign with the word Kempsey painted on it.
When the couple failed to return to their homes and jobs in Sydney's North Shore by January 17, the day Marty was due back at his job as a fitter in a Hornsby construction equipment company, the Fox and Adriaansen families began to panic.
The search for the pair was centred largely in Byron Bay where the couple were believed to have been last sighted on January 12 by another former school friend at the bus stop on Jonson Street.
The Northern Star reported on February 13, 1979, that two homicide detectives from Sydney had arrived in Byron Bay to investigate, and shop owners along Jonson street were being interviewed.
The detectives advertised a special hotline number in the media and within days received more than 30 reported sightings.
One of the leads detectives followed was that the pair might have joined the stream of city dwellers who were 'dropping out' of mainstream society and settling in the alternative hippy communes springing up along the North Coast ? two decades before the current seachange trend.
Witnesses said Anneke liked to smoke indian hemp and the couple had indulged in hallucinogenic magic mushrooms, however their friends and families insisted it was highly out of character for this couple to 'drop out' without any contact ? they were so happy and had so many plans for the future.
Still, detectives at the time inquired at communes from the Tweed to Nimbin, and the Fox and Adriaansen families scoured bushtracks and visited multiple occupancies in a vain search for their children.
In February 1979 the search widened to Kempsey when Anneke's school friend Marcelle informed police she had seen theouple in her shop on January 15, later than the reported Byron Bay sighting.
However, while Marcelle's report pinpointed Kempsey as the last known sighting, it was assumed they were headed back to Byron Bay.
The search remained largely focused on the Northern Rivers.
With no bodies found, and no leads in their homicide investigation, by the end of February, 1979, it was reported in The Northern Star that the police had cancelled their search.
A distressed Lex Adriaansen, Anneke's father, began to desperately scour Byron Bay's streets himself, armed with a photograph of the pair and offering a $25,000 reward for information that would lead to their return.
Marty's father, Harry Fox, did the same in Byron Bay and Kempsey for many years, on the anni- versary of the couple's disappearance.
Mr Fox was also scathing of detectives being withdrawn from the case.
He called for a special crime squad to be set up on the North Coast.
"With drugs, murders and people disappearing you would think something would be done to set up a special squad to handle these cases," Mr Adriaansen told Northern Star reporters in February, 1979.
Mr Adriaansen would have to wait for another 24 years before such a unit appeared.
In 2003 police established an unsolved murder investigation team, known as the Cold Case unit.
More than 80 police area commands were told to re-examine their old homicide cases that had not been solved.
In 2004, after the Fox and Adriaansen case had lain dormant for two decades, a Hornsby detective began to sift through the evidence.
Detective Dennis Ellis was working with what he described as 'scant' records from the police investigation 20 years earlier, trying to re-locate and re-interview witnesses, some of whom had died and others, like Marcelle, who had changed their stories over the years, and more crucially, the dates they remember seeing the couple.
Through Det Ellis's investigation it has been revealed, 27 years later, that police may have been focussing their search for the missing couple in the wrong area altogether.
Instead of January 15, Marcelle in fact saw the couple in Kempsey on January 12, the morning before they arrived in Byron Bay -? a date Det Ellis confirmed through the diary kept by the owner of the shop where Marcelle was employed.
Crucially, Det Ellis also discovered another witness who had come forward in 1979, but whose statement had been lost, who saw the couple after they had alighted from a truck in which they'd hitched a ride to Kempsey on the evening of January 15, 1979, as they headed back to Sydney.
This witness, Dale Davison, said he had informed the earlier detectives of the sighting, but the information had gone missing and had never filtered through to the Fox or Adriaansen families.
Mr Davison said he particularly recalled the 'amazing blue eyes' of Marty Fox, a description that Marty's father Harry Fox would later recognise instantly as his son.
In the Coroner's Court the Fox and Adriaansen families emotionally relayed their disappointment at the original police investigation, asking that police now look into leads that were never followed at the time -? such as a report of a Gold Coast taxi driver who had finished his shift and may have picked up the couple.
On August 3 Coroner Milovanovich concluded it was indeed Kempsey, not Byron Bay, where the couple were last seen, on their way back south -? changing the dimension of over two decades of investigations.
Coroner Milovanovich recommended the reactivation of a reward for information regarding the couple, but beyond that he could offer no solution to the families' ongoing pain.
"I hope that some day in the future there may be some answers for the family," he said. "Unfortunately I cannot give these answers today."
To solve the mystery, Mr Milovanovich concluded, forensic evidence would be needed and only the remains of the missing couple would give closure to the case.
Until then, the only new sightings of Anneke Adriaansen and Alan 'Marty' Fox occur when their faces flash onto the screen of a missing persons website. What do you think?
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