Spear Creek Triple Homicide:
At 6.55pm on 24 October 1978 the bodies of Karen Edwards, Gordon Twaddle and Timothy Thomson were found by a couple walking their greyhounds. The three had all been shot in the head at close range by a .22 calibre rifle, and were stripped of identification – with their pockets turned inside out. They were all clothed, and had been left in the open to decompose near a bush track just 12kms west of Mount Isa. Edwards had been partially covered by a sheet of tin. There were no defensive wounds on the victims, indicating that they had not been expecting the attack.
Photo: A playing card seeking information from the public about the triple homicide.
Investigators were able to identify the trio through the finding of a woman’s watch in the dirt nearby, which was sent to a jewellers in Melbourne for information. Edwards was a 27 year old trainee medical psychologist from Dandenong, Victoria. Thomson, aged 31, and Twaddle, aged 21, were school teachers from New Zealand that had arrived together in Australia just 18 months before. Thomson met Edwards and the couple fell in love. Early 1978 they moved in with Thomson’s brother in Adelaide and they began planning their adventure together.
Photo: Karen Edwards, was the only victim covered by a tin sheet.
Thomson and Twaddle planned to work for three months in Alice Springs – Thomson on an Aboriginal Mission as a teacher, and Twaddle in a local bakery, while Edwards would work in Victoria. In October, Edwards would fly to Alice Springs where they would all three travel north together to Mount Isa, Townsville and Cairns on two motorbikes – one of which had a sidecar. The trio would then ride back down the coast to Victoria.
On 16 September, Thomson and Twaddle test drove their motorbikes, riding up to the Aileron Hotel – 135kms north of Alice Springs. One witness briefly discussed buying Aboriginal Languages Tape off Thomson, and Thomson talked about a rifle he owned. At around 9:30pm the witness said goodbye, and Thomson asked whether there was anywhere that he could buy some weed before parting ways. Later, the two men were seen talking in the pub with another man – it is unknown whether this is someone that was setting them up with drugs, or just a friendly face that they had gotten chatting to. This same man visited Thomson on the mission site around this time period, spending a few hours with him in his hut – another indication that the two men were friendly and possibly smoked weed together. The man returned again two weeks later, just before Thomson left his job to go travelling.
Edwards flew to meet Thomson and Twaddle in Alice Springs, and they set off on 2 October.
The trio were booked into Moondarra Caravan Park in Mount Isa on 4 October. The following morning a man, fitting the same description as the man Thomson had previously been seen with, picked the three up in a brown and cream, 1977 Landcruiser. Witnesses noted that the numberplate was green on white – which were the colours chosen by Victoria and Queensland that year. Before leaving, Edwards tied her young dog up – indicating that she expected to return soon. That was the last time the three were never seen alive. Witnesses recall the car returning sometime later to pack up the camping equipment and personal belongings – including the dog – into the car.
Police concluded early that the suspect must have been known to the trio, or at least Thomson, from Victoria. From then, the police focussed on this, and seemingly stopped entertaining any other possibilities – including whether that the individual could have been from Queensland, or hadn’t been known to the trio for very long. This tunnel-vision from the police meant that witnesses may have disregarded information about the potential suspect if he did not match the police description as being from Victoria.
A Fourth Victim:
John Tzelaidis (41) was found deceased 7 August from a gunshot wound to the head. The body was discovered in bushland at Seven Mile Creek, 6kms from Karratha Town. Coroners determined that the victim had been killed one month prior to the finding of the body.
Photo: The 41 year-old Greek man, John Tzelaidis.
In early July Tzelaidis had left his job with his earnings – around $600 ($3,000 nowadays) – and been driven to the Dampier Shopping Centre. Here witnesses saw him talking to a well-dressed, confident man, that had spoken with a thick Greek accent. The two men had begun travelling from Dampier to Tom Price, seemingly to get Tzelaidis a job, in a brown HR Holden Utility with this unknown man, but Tzelaidis was never seen alive again.
Photo: The car that Tzelaidis was last seen in with an unknown man, before being found deceased on month later.
Money was withdrawn from Tzelaidis’ bank account in Port Hedland on 5 July, Darwin on 13 July and Hughenden on 18 July. Interestingly this is where Tony Jones is presumed to have been murdered just four years later.
Links Between the Two Cases:
Perth investigators were able to track the suspect down through the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Due to his distinctive personality and clothing the communities often remembered the man passing though, however the police were always 3-4 weeks behind, and their trail was lost in Hughenden. Interestingly, the investigators agree that their suspect would have been in the Alice Springs area at the time of the triple homicide, and people have been quick to point out similarities between the two cases:
- In both cases the shells from the bullets were gathered and removed.
- All victims were shot by a .22 calibre rifle at close range.
- Witnesses saw a person of interest getting to know them leading up to the crime.
- There was no attempt to move or bury any of the victims – except Edwards, who was covered by a sheet of tin.
- The pockets were all turned out and all the victims identification were taken. Their money and valuables were all taken.
Photo: Newspaper clipping that suggests that the two cold cases are linked.
The MO of both crimes would suggest an organised killer, where the focus was on robbing the victims as opposed to a sexual crime or a crime of passion. It is unusual that a killer like this would want to get to know their victims, unless finding out their monetary value. This doesn’t appear to be a personal crime, but one of opportunity, the organised nature of bringing the gun, clearing up the gun shells and taking their identifications, suggests that the killer would be intelligent and would have been calm and coherent at the time of the killings. By not attempting to cover the bodies it would suggest that the killer is confident in what he is doing, perhaps having done it many times before.
Photo: Showing newspaper clipping with composite sketch of the suspect during the Mount Isa triple homicide and the WA murder months prior.
The Perth investigators were able to get a good description of the suspect’s appearance and character while chasing him around Australia. Witnesses described him as having a Greek or Middle-Eastern appearance, between his mid-20s and mid-30s, 180cm tall with a stocky build. The man drove a brown and cream two-tone Toyota Landcruiser with green on white plates, which he will have travelled long distances around Australia in. The man loved to gamble and was described as being a ‘snappy dresser’ – something that was distinctive in the Australian heat. He liked mining towns, and cheap boarding houses, and was quietly spoken with a heavy accent.
After the murder in Karratha, the suspect spent the next few weeks visiting casinos across Western Australia and Northern Territory before disappearing in Queensland.
Decades later and there has been over 10,000 witnesses reporting information, which is more than the Daniel Morcombe case, and yet the investigation is still far from being solved. With the right witness description being released people may be able to come forward with information that could point to a new lead and get closure for the family.
Are these two cases of opportunistic robbery, or are the two cases only linked through coincidence? Are there other murders that the suspect has committed and gotten away with?
There is currently a $250,000 reward for any information about the Spears Creek triple homicide. Hopefully the families will find closure and justice soon.