As an administrator of a true crime/dark history blog, I have seen some sh*t over the years, believe me. However, despite being subjected to the dark side of the world for years, there are some cases that still get under my skin and give me nightmares. One such case is the Family Murders of Adelaide, Australia. I first heard of the murders in an episode of an Australian television program called “Crime Investigation Australia“; the episode in question is titled “Butchered Boys“.
Below is my interview with author and homicide detective Bob O’Brien, one of the police investigators who worked this shockingly brutal case when it was happening. Bob has authored an excellent book on the case, entitled Young Blood, which I highly recommend to all readers.
Thank you Mr. O’Brien for taking the time to talk to ForenSeek!
Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!
Teemu, congratulations on what you are doing. I was born and still live in Adelaide, Australia. It is an attractive city of 1.5 million people. Australia’s population is now 25 million people. Our oldest ethnic population are aborigines who existed across the Australian continent 50,000 years ago. Now, Australians originate from many different countries across the world.
Overall, Europeans like Australia but it is a long way to get here.
How did you end up working as a homicide detective?
My father was a police officer and I want to be a police officer like Dad. As a child, I lived in small, suburban police stations. The police stations had two cells and Mum would feed the prisoners. This has all changed with larger, centralized police buildings.
I worked in patrols, on motorcycles and then moved into plain clothes, serving in local detective branches, the Drug Squad and then homicide.
What was the job actually like? Most people only know the work through movies and television, et cetera. Give us a taste of the real, day-to-day life of a homicide detective in Australia!
Police officers learn their craft walking the beat, talking to people and arresting people for relatively minor crimes. Then, you work in patrol cars. As your experience and knowledge grows, police officers apply to serve in specialist roles.
Investigating homicides is challenging. A detective must know the law to prove a case. Knowing the law gives you an understanding of what police call ‘the elements of a crime’ that need to be proven in court e.g., an intention to kill. Also, a detective also must understand people to get the most information from them for a witness statement or from an interrogation.
Most murders are committed by a person the victim knows. For example, when a husband murders his wife. Obviously, they know each other but when the murderer is a stranger, cases are more difficult to solve. Receiving tips from the public become more important.
Serial killers are harder to find. Their crimes are more difficult to solve because a serial killer normally works alone. The ‘Family Murders’ described in Young Blood were different. Other people were involved directly or indirectly. Interestingly, both men and women were involved in these murders.
In your own words: what were the “family murders”?
My partner described the murderers as ‘…one big family’ in a television interview. My partner was the lead detective in the case. He referred to the murder of three young men and two boys who were drugged, sexually abusing, mutilated, and then killed. The word ‘Family’ in the title refers to the group of men and women involved. They associated with each other in the gay scene and came together socially and committed crimes together. The leader of the pack, von Einem, is a suspect for 10 murders. Young Blood refers to the age of the victims who were brutally murdered.
The last victim was the son of our local television newsreader. The son was fifteen when he was snatched from the street and held captive for five weeks before he was murdered. It was a sensational case which dominated the media for many, many weeks.
How did you become involved in the investigation?
I worked in the same team as the lead Detective. His partner moved on and I came to work with him for two years. We investigated the Family Murders and another double murder while waiting for the trial to commence.
What was the “victimology” of this case? In other words: what was the victim profile?
Young boys and young men who were hitchhiking and interested in going to parties. They were drugged and then ‘The Family’ could do what they liked – and they did.
The final murder was different. Early one Sunday evening, the son of a prominent television news reader was saying goodbye to a friend at a bus stop when he was seen by members of The Family. He was snatched from the street and put in a car when he was walking home from the bus stop. His cries for help were heard by people living in the street.
(question from a reader) When and how did it become clear that there were more than one people involved in this series of murders?
There were cries for help and a car speeding away. This indicated more than one person was involved. Also, the forensic evidence showed that the son of the television newsreader was kept alive for five weeks! More than one person is normally needed to keep some one captive for that period of time. These facts meant that more than one person was involved.
In your opinion, what drove the killers to do something like this? It just seems like pure evil to me…
The main offenders were young adults growing up in the swinging sixties and seventies. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were popular, and homosexuality was becoming more open. The stars aligned with a diverse group of people coming together. They started drugging young men and having sex with them. Then, several started drugging and abusing the young men. Finally, some enjoyed killing the abused boys. Two of the bodies were cut into pieces for disposal.
You were the detective who actually arrested Bevan Spencer von Einem for the murder of Richard Kelvin, one of the victims in this series.
Detective Sergeant Trevor Kipling arrested von Einem. He was the lead detective. I was his partner and the corroborating detective. Trevor Kipling continued to investigate the murders after I left homicide to become an Inspector of police. He continued with the investigation for number of years and re-arrested von Einem for two more murders. Unfortunately, the government prosecutors dropped the charges after the Judge ruled much of the evidence inadmissible.
(question from a reader) What do you think the exceptionally brutal violence says about the perpetrator(s)?
I believe that von Einem is a cunning psychopath who likes to control and abuse people.
Did von Einem open up about the other culprits? Did he “crack”, in other words, and spill names?
One of von Einem’s ‘family’ members did speak on the record implicating von Einem for drugging and sexually assaulting boys and young men. However, the associate was proven liar and his evidence unreliable. Also, his evidence relied on ‘similar fact’ evidence to prove the case. Similar fact evidence shows the offender committed similar crimes. However, drugging and sexually assaulting a victim is not the same as murdering someone. The ‘similar fact’ evidence was tossed out.
Do you think von Einem was involved in more of the killings? All of them, perhaps?
von Einem is a serial killer. I can say that even though there are defamation laws in Australia. Once he was convicted of murder, he lost his ability to claim he was being defamed. His ‘good’ reputation was gone. vn Einem was charged with three murders, convicted of one. He remains a suspect for additional murders.
It is suspected that some of the culprits were “high profile” people. What does this mean? How was this conclusion reached?
Adelaide is in the State of South Australia. Our Premier at the time was a homosexual who legislated many popular, needed reforms. He promoted the arts and overall, his contribution to the future of Adelaide was very positive. He also promoted his university lecturer in law to Chief Justice. The new Chief Justice was very intelligent and reputed to be homosexual. The Premier’s reforms as well as his appointments promoted Adelaide’s new liberal lifestyle, but these changes were happening across the world and not just in Adelaide. Anyway, any high-profile person who was homosexual was rumored to be involved in the activities of ‘The Family’. I tried to answer these rumors in the book.
Do you think the other perpetrators are still alive?
Some have died. Some are still alive. I still need to be careful about defamation, so I will leave my response at that.
What is the current status of the case? Is it still actively investigated?
The matter is still open but little work is done on it unless new information is received. Although, new detectives posted to homicide will be asked to do ‘cold case reviews’ on older murders. The Family Murders have been reviewed several times.
(question from a reader) What would it take to solve the case?
One of the co-offenders close to von Einem has to talk. As the main offender, von Einem is unlikely to say more because he will be implicated in more murders.
You wrote an excellent book on this subject, Young Blood. Tell us about your book!
I wrote the book because von Einem kept getting publicity in the media about his innocence, how he picked up the son of our television newsreader but let him go. Two judicial reviews found that his conviction was sound. It was an interesting, important story that needed to be told.
Also, I left policing to finish my PhD. One of my PhD examiners complimented my writing style. This gave me confidence to write the book. It was nominated for ‘Best True Crime’ at the Melbourne Writers Festival.
Do you still get clues from the public?
The police receive calls every now and again.
Since your work on this case, you’ve gone on to write about water. Tell us about this work you’re doing!
I wrote my second book, Water Barons: money, politics and the control of water in Australia as a result of my time in business. I wanted to explain what is happening with water markets in my country.
I left policing after thirty years to finish my PhD in business and management before starting my own business. My company bought and sold water licences in Australia. Water is controlled by government but can be owned by individuals. The trade mainly involves irrigation water at this time, but it will expand into the cities in the future. It is a new and emerging business because Australia is a dry continent and water is valuable.
I am about to publish a paper entitled, Ripped Off by a state owned water utility. It is a case study explained how a state-owned water utility ripped off its customers over several years. The amount involved was over one billion Australian dollars. The case study is aimed at academics who want to provide a case study to students about government abuse of an important commodity.
Currently, I am writing a fiction novel which is due to be published next year. Its working title is Ephesus. It is a political thriller about an attack on New York’s water supply. The attack corresponds with the arrival of Palestinian engineer, Nasir Shehadeh, who is seeking support from the USA to deliver clean water into Gaza and the West Bank. The back story outlines what is happening in the Middle East with China’s increasing influence in the region.
Where can people keep up with your projects?
My website is www.bobobrien.com.au
Teemu, it was an amazing, crazy time in Adelaide. People would watch the evening television news and see the newsreader who’s fifteen-year-old son was snatched from an Adelaide street. Then we learned that he was held captive for five weeks before being murdered and his body dumped. It was very moving television.
Parents always told their daughters to be careful when they went out a night but now, they were telling their sons to be careful. The murders affected the social fabric of Adelaide.
Quite a few people in the film industry have wanted to tell the story of the Family Murders but it is a difficult one to tell. My book tells the story of the brutal murders that occurred in the usually normal, pretty city of Adelaide, Australia.