Bevan Spencer von Einem

Contents
1. The murder of Richard Kelvin
2. "The Family"
3. A witness called "Mr B"
4. Connection with the Beaumont children
5. Doubts cast on Mr B's evidence
6. Trial abandoned
7. The evidence for von Einem's involvement
8. The evidence against von Einem's involvement

Bevan Spencer von Einem is a convicted murderer, a suspected serial killer, and a named suspect in the disappearance of the Beaumont children. Currently serving a 36-year term of imprisonment for the murder of a 15-year-old boy, he is strongly suspected of involvement in a series of murders in Adelaide and the surrounding areas in the 1970s and early 1980s, known as "The Family Murders". In 1990, during the committal hearing for his trial for two of these murders, it was alleged that he had confessed to killing the Beaumont children. He refuses to cooperate with police enquiries.

Von Einem first came to prominent attention in 1972. Ironically, given later events, von Einem's actions on this occasion were heroic. A man named Roger James was attacked in a well-known homosexual meeting area on the banks of the Torrens River in Adelaide. Attacked because he was gay, Jones was bashed and thrown into the river, and would probably have died without the intervention of von Einem. Another man who was thrown into the river was drowned. 17

1. The murder of Richard Kelvin

In 1983, 15-year-old Richard Kelvin, son of Adelaide newsreader Rob Kelvin, was abducted from near his home in North Adelaide. Exactly seven weeks later his body was found close to an abandoned runway. Analysis showed that he had probably been held captive for at least five weeks before he was killed. He had been drugged but had died from physical injuries.

Bevan Spencer von Einem was known to police by this time and was questioned two days after the discovery of the body. Hairs found on Richard Kelvin's body matched von Einem and a total of 196 fibres from Kelvin’s clothes were found in von Einem’s home.

Von Einem was charged with murder, and was convicted the following year. He was sentenced to a non-parole period of 36 years, which means that he will not be eligible for release until 2020. That might have been the end of the matter, except that von Einem is suspected of involvement in at least four other murders.

The murders in question are those of Neil Muir, aged 25, in 1979; Alan Barnes, aged 17, in June 1979; Peter Strogneff, aged 14, in August 1981; and Mark Langley, aged 18, in February 1982. All were murdered in or around the Adelaide area.

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2. "The Family"

Before von Einem's arrest, police had linked the murders and speculated that there might be a small group of individuals collectively engaged in deviant practises. The suggestion was that a group of up to ten people had planned and carried out the murders together. The press dubbed this group “The Family” and so the five murders became collectively known as "The Family Murders".

The speculation about the existence of “The Family” did not diminish with the conviction of von Einem for the murder of Richard Kelvin. It seemed logical to believe that he had committed the other murders as well, possibly with help from accomplices. Unfortunately for the police and for the families of the victims, he refused to cooperate. Detective Superintendent Rob Lean, in charge of the South Australian major crime squad, said in 1987: "We still feel that Von Einem is the principal person behind the murders. But he refuses to talk to us." 18

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3. A witness called "Mr B"

Police were not able to make progress with their investigations until 1989, when two associates of von Einem went separately to police to make statements against him. Witnesses "Mr B" and Garry Wayne Place were both former associates of von Einem, and had become acquainted with him before the abduction and murder of Alan Barnes had taken place.

Place and "Mr B" had both mixed with von Einem in Adelaide’s gay community, and both said they had been threatened against giving evidence about von Einem’s association with Barnes. More significantly, Mr B, who approached police in Sydney in September 1989, said that he had left Alan Barnes in the company of von Einem and an Adelaide trader on the night that Barnes had disappeared. He had left after having heard von Einem say that they were going to video the murder of Barnes and then throw the body from a bridge.

Von Einem was formally charged with Barnes' murder, as well as that of another of the alleged victims of "The Family", Mark Langley. Mr B was granted immunity from prosecution on 27 February 1990, and on 5 March the committal hearing into the charges began at Adelaide Magistrates Court. A committal hearing is a similar to an American grand jury hearing, where the evidence is assessed to see if it warrants a full trial. It was at this committal hearing that von Einem’s possible involvement with the disappearance of the Beaumont children was revealed.

Twenty two witnesses gave evidence at the committal hearing, but Mr B’s evidence was the most significant. Giving evidence over four days, he described in detail his knowledge of Alan Barnes and of Barnes’ movements (as Mr Place also did), but also testified about a conversation he’d had with von Einem several weeks before Barnes’ murder.

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4. Connection with the Beaumont children

Mr B said that a few weeks before Barnes had been abducted, von Einem had told him that he’d abducted the Beaumont children, had "connected them up" 19 and "did some brilliant surgery on them," 19 and that one had died. The bodies had been dumped at Moana or Myponga, south of Adelaide. Mr B also said: "He also told me he picked up two children at the football." 19

This evidence from Mr B was sensational. A suppression order meant that the evidence given in the committal hearing could not be published in South Australia, but it was freely published in other Australian states. When the suppression order was lifted in South Australia the news of Mr B’s testimony was printed on the front page of the Adelaide Advertiser. It did not particularly stretch the imagination to believe that "The Family" and von Einem had murdered the Beaumont children, Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon.

Sought out for his opinion by reporters covering the committal hearings, Mr Beaumont, speaking from his home, said that police had kept him updated with what had been happening. The news of Mr B's evidence had not been any surprise. He also said: "I don't know what to believe. I don't know any more than you." 20 Mrs Beaumont, who had long since separated from her husband, was not available to comment.

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5. Doubts cast on Mr B's evidence

Mr B gave no more evidence about von Einem’s involvement with the Beaumont children’s disappearance or the Oval abduction. Nor did any other witness. Instead, evidence was given about the murders of Alan Barnes and Mark Langley. Mr B’s evidence was attacked as being weak and inconsistent and he admitted to having been a drug user and having a poor memory. He had refused to sign the statement he made to detectives in Sydney, saying: 20

There were a few reasons. Nerves, concern about my own safety and there was no legal obligation to sign, so I didn't.

His evidence about Barnes was contradicted by his sister, Claire. She said that Mr B had arrived at her house and said "I've just seen a murder" 21, claiming to have witnessed Barnes being thrown from a bridge. Mr B, in turn, said that his sister, who had been 17 at the time, was "just a little bit dizzy" 21.

It was pointed out that Mr B had failed to mention the Beaumont children when he'd spoken to police in 1979 and 1983 and the magistrate, Mr Gurry, said: 20

As I sit here I still have, ringing in my ears, Mr B's admission in court that in terms of his obligations in this matter "the court comes last", and the fact that much of what he says may be inherently improbable, given normal expectations of human behaviour.

Questioned by Mr Mark Griffin, defense counsel for von Einem, Mr B also admitted that the reward money was a part incentive for coming forward: 22

You're not wrong. You haven't had to carry this shit around for 10 years. You have got no idea what I have been going through. It's not funny not being able to walk out of your own front door and go to the shop on your own, sit here and face crap like [name suppressed] sitting in the body of the court. The mental torture I am going through, not being able to sleep at night, getting two or three hours sleep a night and having to come in here and face you every day. It's not fun. It has been like this for me for 11 years. I have given a lot of consideration to the relatives of the families; they deserve to know what really happened.

Eventually, on Thursday, 10 May 1990, von Einem was committed to stand trial.

Meanwhile, based on Mr B’s testimony, a search was made of the Myponga Reservoir. Nothing was found.

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6. Trial abandoned

Bevan Spencer von Einem was never tried for the murders of Alan Barnes and Mark Langley. The case against von Einem depended on showing that the two murders could be connected with that of Richard Kelvin, for which von Einem had already been convicted. A legal ruling barred the used of evidence from the earlier murder trial and so it became impossible to establish this connection. This greatly weakened the case and reduced the prospect of a conviction. Without the realistic prospect of a conviction the charges were abandoned. The murders of Alan Barnes and Mark Langley remain unsolved.

Despite having used him as a witness at the committal hearing, police later decided that they couldn’t rely on the word of Mr B. Eventually, they described his evidence as "extremely fanciful" 23.

Von Einem has never been tried for any murder other than than of Richard Kelvin. No other member of "The Family", if that group existed, has been publicly identified.

So how likely is it that Bevan Spencer von Einem was responsible for the disappearance of the Beaumont children? Below are the arguments for and against:

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7. The evidence for von Einem's involvement

Von Einem is a known paedophile, a convicted murderer and a prime suspect in four unsolved murders. He was in Adelaide when the Beaumont children disappeared and he roughly matches the description of the suspect. The witness, Mr B, said that von Einem admitted visiting Glenelg Beach to "perv" around the changing rooms, so he is obviously familiar with the area from which the children disappeared.

Most critically of all, Mr B said that von Einem confessed to murdering the Beaumont children. He said that von Einem told him (Mr B) that he had "connected them up" 19 and "did some brilliant surgery on them" 19 and that one of the children had died.

Von Einem may have had the protection of "The Family", which according to rumour was an influential group that could protect him from police enquiries. Both Mr B and Mr Place gave evidence of phone calls and other intimidations to dissuade them from talking to the police, which on the face of it suggests that somebody wanted them to keep quiet.

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8. The evidence against von Einem's involvement

There is no evidence that "The Family" actually existed, beyond police and press speculation. It was always said that "The Family" were very well connected to powerful people in the establishment, who could protect it from the law. This sounds more like a conspiracy theory than a conjecture based on fact. There is no logical way that a group of powerful establishment figures could have obstructed the investigation into five murders, let alone the Beaumont children disappearance. Police have said more recently that they doubt "The Family" ever existed.

To put it another way: While there is no doubt that the five murders attributed to "The Family" actually occurred, they could all have been committed by a single person or a pair of killers. Adelaide at the time was a conservative city in which a homosexual man 69 had been bashed and drowned 17 without the crime being prevented or solved. Also, despite the apparently influential "Family", police had been able to arrest and convict von Einem for the murder of Richard Kelvin.

It seems unlikely, therefore, that "The Family" could have blocked the investigation into the disappearance of the Beaumont children. The disappearance was the biggest, the most publicised and the most infamous crime of the era, and simply too big to obstruct. The idea that a "Family" could do so is ridiculous.

The pattern of murders is also odd. If von Einem was responsible then we have to assume that he committed a triple abduction in 1966, a double abduction in 1973, then waited another six years before committing murders, fairly consistently, one at a time. All the later murder victims were adolescent boys or men; the eldest of the Beaumont children was nine and of the Beaumont and the Oval abduction cases (if they are related), only one child, Grant Beaumont (aged 4) was a boy. Von Einem was also younger than the suspect in the Beaumont children and Oval abduction cases, and no bodies were found in the Myponga Reservoir.

Mr B is the only person to have said that von Einem claimed credit for killing the Beaumont children, and said this ten years after the remark was allegedly made, despite his poor memory. In the previous ten years he had spoken to police twice and had never mentioned it. No other acquaintances of von Einem have said that von Einem confessed to them. His sister, police and the magistrate all concluded that he was an unreliable witness.

Lastly, there are at least three other suspects for the disappearance of the Beaumont children, and they can’t all have done it.

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Other possible suspects:


Derek Ernest Percy | Arthur Stanley Brown James Ryan O'Neill



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