by Sasha Uzunov

Australians, and humans in general and the media by extension, have had a morbid interest in controversial crimes such as the murder case of Azaria Chamberlain, the baby taken and killed by a dingo more than 30 years ago. So much so that the simple facts can easily be overlooked by focusing on elaborate conspiracy theories or allowing prejudices to rule our emotions. Another murder that has captured the public imagination is the still unsolved Karmein Chan case from 1991.

Patrick Carlyon, a Herald Sun newspaper reporter and the son of legendary newspaperman and Anzac yarn teller Les Carlyon, summed it up pretty well:


“Azaria haunts all of us, largely, because we wanted her to. She wasn’t just a little girl lost. She never lived a life, but her name will continue to blaze longer than almost all celebrities or politicians.

“She has come to be a byword for suspicion, book deals, media deals, autobiographies, prison terms, weirdo religions, wacky scientists and more conspiracy theories than Craig Thomson, Roswell and the Bermuda Triangle bundled together.”

Lindy Chamberlain, the mother of Azaria, was found guilty of her daughter’s murder in 1982 and served time before having her conviction overturned and recently a Northern Territory Coroner’s Inquest finally ruled that the baby’s death was caused by a dingo taking he child from the family’s tent near Uluru (Ayers Rock) in 1980. As Carlyon has pointed out:

“To accept that the Chamberlains did not kill their baby demands more than a simple acknowledgement. It means the “lucky country” be condemned, in this at least, as the “bastard country”. It requires that the Chamberlains be recognised as victims of ignorance and incompetence.”

So now we turn our attention to the 1991 Karmein Chan case. Thirteen year old Chinese Australian girl Karmein was taken from her home in the north-eastern Melbourne suburb of Templetowe by a masked man, later believed to be a serial child attacker dubbed Mr Cruel also involved in a spate of other attacks on young girls. Karmein was babysitting her two younger sisters as her parents ran a busy restaurant in nearby Eltham when the kidnapping (or abduction) occurred.

A year later Karmein’s decomposed body, with three bullet wounds to the back of the skull, was found in Thomastown, 15 kilometres directly north of Melbourne’s city centre. Anyone who has ever watched the television news and seen the enormous grief shown by the Chan family has been deeply moved by it.

The Karmein Chan case still remains a mystery; the alleged Mr Cruel has never been found. A number of theories have been floated but Victoria Police has discounted most of them and stuck with the Mr Cruel angle. I will touch upon this particular point further down in this story.

The interesting link from a media perspective between Karmein Chan and Azaria Chamberlain and for that matter any story relating to crime is the amount of anonymous information or tips that gets passed onto journalists in the hope of “breaking” the case.

This is where it can get tricky. A free for all could jeopardise the investigation or unnecessarily hurt relatives by raising false expectations or pervert the course of justice with conspiracy theories as in the Azaria murder.

But there are times when police investigations stall and help from the media is needed. But who can judge that accurately? Moreover, how hard is it to know the veracity of an informant’s tip?

In the space of three months in 2004, Frank Cole, a pensioner living in Melbourne, stepped forward to claim he could solve both the Azaria case and the then unsolved murder of Mersina Halvagis, the Greek Melbourne women whose body was found at Fawkner cemetery, in Melbourne’s north, in 1997.

Cole, who was interviewed by legendary TV reporter Ray Martin on the A Current Affair program, said he was a shooter in the Northern Territory in 1980 who had shot a dingo near Uluru with baby Azaria in its mouth. Cole undertook a lie detector test but Lindy Chamberlain was not convinced, namely over Cole’s description of the baby’s clothing.

In some media circles Cole was looked upon with doubt when he claimed that jailed killer Peter Dupas, free at the time, was the murderer of Mersina Halgavis.

See links on Frank Cole:

But in 2006 Victoria Police charged Dupas with her murder–and later found guilty–after a 2002 jail house confession given by Dupas to fellow inmate and disgraced lawyer Andrew Fraser.

Where does that place Cole’s tip? No one at the time was publicly aware of Dupas’s jail house confession. Was Cole’s tip simply true? A lucky guess? Deduction from reading newspaper stories? Psychic intuition?

As newspapers go into decline because of the changing technology, more and more members of the public with information to give, are turning to independent or citizen journalists or bloggers online.

In Australia we are undertaking a semi sort of serious investigation into the role of the media, especially the obligations of bloggers. However, the mainstream media’s traditional role of news breakers have been eroded by technology.

My interest in police and crime reporting began purely by accident in 1989 when I was simultaneously undertaking a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and an old fashioned newspaper cadetship with the Australian Macedonian Weekly newspaper. Out of the blue I received a phone call at work from a Detective Senior Constable Geoff Gardiner, a Victorian Police officer with an interest in ethnic related crime and counter terrorism.

We developed a good working relationship which revolved around the trading of information. When I was at the RMIT city campus I would pop in for a coffee and a chat in the old Russell Street Police HQ. Geoff wanted to know if there were any trouble-makers within the Melbourne Macedonian community and I wanted to know who were the Macedonians with links to foreign intelligence organisations.

I still remember his threatening words that he “would chopper me” if I ever revealed his identity whilst he was alive. I kept my end of the bargain for over 20 years. In 2010 he sadly died after a long illness.

More on Geoff Gardiner at this link: www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=13223

In 1995, taking time out from journalism I became an Australian soldier for seven years and made some great friendships and experienced incredible adventures. Over the years I have received some incredible tip offs from ex-service personal and “civilians” alike.

One of my favourites tips was a raging battle that took place in 2006 between Australian infantry soldiers from the Townsville based unit 2RAR and Iraqi insurgents, I received a frame by frame account of the ferocious shoot out hours after it had happened whilst sitting back in the comfy armchair in my Melbourne home. The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper was quick to pick upon it:

Australian troops’ close shave in Iraq firefight
by Gerard Noonan, Craig Skehan, and Desmond O’Grady in Rome

September 29, 2006

AUSTRALIAN soldiers in southern Iraq were pinned down for at least an hour in a fierce firefight with insurgents two days ago, the Department of Defence has confirmed.

A report from a former Australian soldier and now freelance journalist, Sasha Uzunov, first raised the alert about the incident.

Mr Uzunov said soldiers from the Townsville unit 2RAR had contacted him to tell their story “in case it was ignored and to highlight inadequate equipment”.

Air Chief Marshall Houston said Defence was concerned that emails purporting to be from soldiers involved in the incident were being mailed to the media.

But there are times when you have to take a bullet for your sources, if you pardon the pun. In 2008 two angry Vietnam War veterans contacted me with a story about well known The Age newspaper writer and anti-Vietnam War activist Garrie Hutchinson being in charge of government funded student trips to Gallipoli. When I broke the story all hell broke loose, so much so that soon to be defunct The Age newspaper interrupted its front page coverage of Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Georgia and the Beijing Olympics to do a takedown. But you know you have arrived when you hit page 1.

One lesson learnt is the mainstream media are very protective of their own, in this case Garrie Hutchinson. But as independent or civilian journalists or bloggers we learn to take a punch and develop a thick hide to do our job.

The Age however did not let that stop it from picking up another story of mine in 2009, this time by Suzanne Carbone:

“But [Tim Holding then Victorian Water minister] moment to shine may have arrived. Former Australian soldier Sasha Uzunov, now a photo-journalist, writes in his blog that Holding (below) could be destined for Afghanistan as Kevin Rudd’s “eyes and ears” on the ground. You see, Holding is well credentialled as a former member of the Army Reserve in the 1st Commando Regiment – and he’s Tourism Minister. A “prominent Canberra strategic analyst” told Uzunov: “Mr Holding is an intelligent young politician with links to special forces. The Australian media underestimate his ability, which is why he would be ideal for the mission: he would slip under the media radar.”

This now brings me to two bits of information I have received from sources which still stick in my mind. Both have never been published before. One I have discounted simply because it is not true and the other I do not know what to make of it. I have inclduded them to give you the reader an idea of what is sent unfiltered to me. People’s motive in giving information might be genuine, well intentioned or has a ring of truth to it. But that does not make it necessarily true.

The first was a tip from a woman who claimed that Victoria Police had used a psychic, a Turkish woman, to locate the body of dead toddler Jaidyn Leski from a country dam in 1998. I know that Victoria Police does not use psychics or clairvoyants. So we can discount this one.

In 2011, I bumped into someone who I had met before and spoken to about on a wide variety of issues. As we sat down to lunch the person, the source, mentioned to me that he had been to a barbecue sometime ago in a suburb close to Templestowe. As the barbecue progressed the source had been involved in a marathon drinking session with two unnamed “nasty looking blokes” belonging to a, let’s just say, recreational/ alleged crime association. These two, unprompted, boasted of being hired to kill Karmein Chan. But no reason was given. The informant said he believed every word that these two had said by their menacing body language. But is that enough to go on?

We know that this recreational/alleged crime association has a code of conduct, an honour amongst thieves so to speak, where children are not to be harmed in any criminal activity. Was it a freelance job, unbeknownst to the recreational/alleged crime association’s hierarchy?

Are these two simply making up a story and mischief making? Police will tell you of many who falsely claim responsibility for acts of crime they never committed.

If you don’t believe the Mr Cruel angle, perhaps this would make an excellent conspiracy theory!

The girls previously taken by Mr Cruel were assaulted but returned alive, whilst Karmein was murdered, execution style with three bullets in the back of the head. Was it the same person? We still wait for answers, as does the long suffering family of Karmein Chan.

When also fails then psychics are seen as the last resort. Australian/New Zealand paranormal franchise television show Sensing Murder ran an episode on Karmein Chan but without finding the killer or killers.

Youtube clip of Sensing Murder – Mr Cruel case / Karmein Chan