|1.||The murder of Yvonne Tuohy|
|5.||Shane Spiller's fate|
|6.||Linked with Beaumont children and other cases|
|7.||The Simon Brook Inquest|
|8.||The evidence for Percy's involvement|
|9.||The evidence against Percy's involvement|
Derek Ernest Percy is a sadistic child-murderer, who was imprisoned for murdering Yvonne Elizabeth Tuohy on a Victorian beach in July 1969. Declared not guilty by reason of insanity, he remains imprisoned because he is considered too dangerous to be released. In December 2005 it was claimed that he had committed other murders but would not admit them for fear of harming any hope of being released in the future.
Twelve-year-old Yvonne Tuohy was at a beach in the small town of Warneet, in Westernport Bay, Victoria, on 20 July 1969. She was walking with her friend Shane Spiller, then aged 11. Percy, a 21-year-old naval rating, seized Tuohy and put a knife to her throat. He would probably have abducted Spiller as well, but Spiller was carrying a tomahawk which he waved to stop Percy approaching him. Percy abducted Tuohy and drove off with her.
Spiller was able to describe Percy, his car, and a naval sticker on the car, to police. The description led police to HMAS Cerberus, from where Percy was on weekend leave. They found him within three hours of the murder and caught him red handed. He was washing blood from his clothes.
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There was speculation that Percy had committed the crime in a frenzy, and that realisation and horror about what he had done led him to shut it out of his memory. Percy’s memory was apparently already receding, but Detective Sergeant Richard Knight took Percy through the process in reverse so that he could reveal where he had put Tuohy’s body. It was found 10km from the beach.
Percy was found to be criminally insane. Picked earlier as being naval officer material, he hadn’t been found suitable and had succumbed to a fantasy world. Charged with murder, he pleaded insanity and was sentenced to be detained "at the Governor’s pleasure." He was committed to Ararat Prison in April 1970.
Percy appears to have become quite settled in prison. According to a prison officer who knew him, "He was the chess champion, a stamp collector and one of the best tennis players in the division." 49 He smoked, but despite being imprisoned for so long he kept himself fit. Having worked in the printing industry in Ararat prison for 11 years, he had set up databases and allocated jobs to prisons. He was said to be a model prisoner.
However, he kept himself to himself, received no visitors, and the same prison officer who described him as a chess champion and stamp collector also said: "He's highly intelligent but you could never get a handle on his real feelings." More significantly, he said: "He's our Hannibal Lecter." 49
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In 1998, it was announced that Percy’s case was to be reviewed by the Victorian Supreme Court. Under the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997, prisoners serving indefinite jail terms "at the Governor's pleasure" must have their cases reviewed every five years. This led to speculation that Percy might be freed. In response to this speculation, it was said that the Victorian government was considering instructing lawyers to appear at any hearing, to oppose Percy’s release on the grounds of public safety.
Percy’s case was heard by a Supreme Court judge, Geoffrey Eames. On 30 September 1998 Eames refused to set a minimum sentence for Percy or a release date, despite Percy having served the 25 year term that was the state norm for insane criminals. Eames said that Percy had never been treated for his sadistic paedophilia and hadn't sought treatment. He said: 50
He has demonstrated no significant remorse or anxiety, at least none which I find credible, as to the circumstances which caused him to kill.
In March 2004, Percy applied to be transferred from Ararat Prison to Thomas Embling psychiatric hospital. This application was turned down by Justice Murray Kellam, who like others to have studied Percy’s case, said that he was not convinced that Percy didn’t still have dangerous sexual fantasies about killing children.
In February 2005, the Leader of the Opposition in the Victorian parliament, Robert Doyle, raised the matter of Percy’s case. He said that if his party came back into power, it would introduce "Hannibal Lector" laws to ensure that Percy and people like him would never be released. He said: 51
There should not be any chance at all that Percy can get out. And we will introduce laws which provide for 'life lock-up' of special case prisoners who are beyond help or redemption.
In reply, the Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, gave assurances that Percy would not be released while he was a danger to the community. "This state has laws to imprison people for serious violent, sexual and drug crimes for an indefinite period of time," 51 he said.
Another review of Percy's continued incarceration began in August 2009. Percy, now held at Port Phillip Prison, again applied to be tranferred to Thomas Embling psychiatric hospital. At the time of writing (August 2009) the outcome of the review was still pending.
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In June 2004, Percy began a one-to-one sex offenders’ program, in which he was said to be doing well. However, according to a report that was leaked to the Melbourne newspaper The Herald Sun, "Derek hopes that participation in the program might give him a chance at possible parole". 51
In far more detail, the report also said: 51
"Mr Percy does not suffer from a mental illness and is not detainable under the Mental Health Act. He does have a personality disorder and his ability to experience human emotions is severely restricted. The most serious aspect of his personality is his sadistic fantasy life which revolves around children, their torture and mutilation. He has no motivation to curb or control the deviant sexual fantasies. I would be pessimistic about his ability to respond to any form of treatment. Mr Percy is not suitable for transfer to hospital (Thomas Embling) even though he was found not guilty by reason of insanity."
The Adult Parole Board refused to recommend Percy’s release and psychiatriasts said that he should not be removed from a prison to a less-secure hospital.
Dr Stephens, the Pentridge Prison co-ordinator of forensic psychiatry services, had written in 1984 that Percy was "a highly dangerous, sadistic pedophile who should never be released from safe custody" 50. Dr Stephens didn't think that Percy was mad, however, writing that "he is not certifiable, neither is he psychiatrically treatable and he is totally unsuited to a mental institution." 50
An unnamed police source quoted in The Age was of the same opinion, though more blunt: 50
He's intelligent, cunning and pure evil. There is no way he is mad.
Others who had examined Percy came to similar conclusions and a report cautioned: "If Percy is ever so transferred, he will, in all probability, earn some degree of freedom as the result of reasonable and conforming behaviour. The consequences of such freedom could well prove tragic." 50
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Yvonne Tuohy's friend, Shane Spiller never quite recovered from his encounter with Percy. Speaking many years later, he said: 49
I was promised back then that he would never get out. I hope people don't forget what he was like and what he did. They always thought he'd killed others but they weren't able to prove it.
Percy had been every child’s (and indeed, every community’s) worst nightmare. However, the encounter with Percy on the beach wasn’t the last time that Spiller saw him; Spiller was the key witness. As he described it: 52
What happened stuffed me . . . In the line-up at Russell Street (police station), I had to pick him. I had to walk up and point right at his nose. The look he gave me. I can still remember it.
To the adult detectives who supervised the identification, it was both logical and necessary – Percy was surrounded by policemen and could do no more harm. Whether this was obvious to the 11-year-old Spiller is difficult to say. He appears to have remained terrified of Percy.
Spiller applied for crimes compensation in 2000, 31 years after Yvonne Tuohy had been murdered. He was awarded $5000. He appealed and received $50,000, the maximum that could be awarded under the system. By this time he was living in Wyndham, a town in south-east New South Wales. Locals who knew him said that he remained scared.
Spiller disappeared in September 2002. When police investigated they discovered that his 4WD vehicle was still parked at the front of his house, and it was speculated that he may have been murdered for his compensation payout. However, given his mental fragility, police now think it most likely that he committed suicide.
The matter of Spiller's disappearance was raised during Derek Percy's five-yearly custody review in August 2009. As the normal minimum period between a person's disappearance and their being declared dead is seven years, it was suggested that an inquest could be held into Spiller's disappearance.
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The circumstances under which Yvonne Tuohy was murdered were such that police suspected that he had committed other murders. The police opinion was reinforced by the contents of notebooks found in Percy's locker at HMAS Cerberus, which detailed ways of abducting children and then mistreating them. The defence psychiatrist, Dr Whittaker, was of the opinion that a man who had expressed himself in the way Percy had done, would probably have done more than just write about it. He believed that Percy had killed other children. He feared, however, that Percy might have wiped knowledge of other murders from his memory.
The cases for which police suspected Percy of involvement were:
Commenting in 1998, the acting head of Victorian homicide, detective inspector Paul Sheridan, said that police were checking the evidence linking Percy to the unsolved cases. He was believed to have had alibis for some of the cases, but not all.
One of the problems with investigating Percy was that police did not have a sample of his DNA. Police in Victoria can by law take DNA samples from anybody convicted of a crime, but Percy was never convicted, having been found not guilty by reason of insanity. This legal loophole meant that police could not take his DNA. In at least one of the murders for which Percy is a suspect, it is believed that DNA from the crime scene has been preserved.
In 2002, a parliamentary law reform committee in the Victorian parliament began public hearings. One of the suggestions, tabled in the Victorian parliament in March 2004, was that the legal loophole be eliminated so that DNA samples could be taken from people like Percy. The Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, said in May 2004 it would consider making this change. However, as of February 2005 the new legislation had still not been passed.
In the meantime, a cold case review of the Linda Stilwell disappearance had been initiated by the Victorian police. Based on the findings of the review, a joint operation was set up in 2004 between the Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Australian Federal Police, codenamed Operation Heats 86. Its purpose was to investigate Percy's possible involvement with the crimes he was suspected of, with the aim of securing convictions if possible.
On 2 February 2005, detectives from Operation Heats applied for permission to interview Percy, based on new information. In a secret hearing at Melbourne Magistrates Court, permission was granted.
Commenting publicly on the investigation, The Victorian police commissioner, Christine Nixon, said: 9
I think that what we are doing is simply at the very preliminary stages. When we've got some more information, when in fact the investigators have had a chance to talk with this individual, then we'll certainly make more information available as we can.
These are very difficult issues and areas. They're old cases, the family's involved. You don't really want to raise their expectations until we're a lot clearer. We clearly have information, and that information will be put and when we've got further to say about the matter, we will.
The new information was Percy's statement to police that he'd been in St Kilda on the day that Linda Stilwell vanished, though that this was the information would not be revealed until the end of the year. 57
Percy was removed from Ararat Prison to the Victoria Police homicide offices in St Kilda Road, to be questioned about the Stilwell and other cases. He was questioned for nine hours but said that he couldn't remember anything. He made no admissions. He was then driven to the city watchhouse before being returned to Ararat Prison the next day.
Investigations continued, and on 20 July 2007 police raided a secure storage unit in South Melbourne. There they found 35 tea chests and boxes filled with Percy's belongings, which he had managed to transfer from prison over a period of at least 20 years. Most of the contents were innocuous but writings and hand-written diaries detailing Percy’s violent fantasies were also found.
In addition to the written material, reports say that police found pictures of children, newspaper clippings referring to sex crimes, and what has been described as a “rape-themed video tape” 71. Further items recovered were said to include a 1978 street directory with a hand-drawn line through St Kilda pier, from where Linda Stilwell had disappeared in 1968.
However, contrary to reports at the time, razor blades that were found were not similar to those that had been used in a violent murder. Likewise, a cartoon featuring the word "Wanda" was actually from an old Playboy magazine and referring to a "Wicked Wanda". It was in no way related to the Wanda Beach case.
On the basis of the materials that had been discovered, detectives, as they had two years previously, applied at Melbourne’s Magistrates Court for permission to question Percy. Permission was granted by Magistrate Belinda Wallington and Percy was taken once more to the Victoria Homicide Squad offices for questioning. It is believed that he neither admitted nor denied anything.
Police now doubt that Percy was involved in the abduction of the Beaumont children. The key reason is that he would have been too young to drive, and it is generally assumed that the abductor would have used a car.
Likewise, Percy is considered unlikely to have murdered Allen Redston in Canberra in September 1966. The key suspect for that crime remains an unidentified youth, not believed to have been Percy, who was seen several times in the area.
Opinion is divided as to whether Percy could be the Wanda Beach killer. While he is an obvious suspect he is not the only obvious suspect. Some police believe he is the culprit but others do not.
Percy remains the prime suspect in the Linda Stilwell disappearance and the Simon Brook murder, and as a result of the cold case review and the Operation Heats investigations an inquest into Linda Stilwell's disappearance is due to open in December 2009. However, suspicions attached to Percy are not proof, and detectives have not uncovered evidence to prove his involvement in any case other than the murder of Yvonne Tuohy.
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On 20 November 2005 it was announced that Percy would be subpoenaed to give evidence at a new inquest into the unsolved 1968 murder of Simon Brook. As detailed above, Simon Brook was three years old when he was murdered on 19 May 1968. It was hoped that the inquest, to begin on 12 December 2005, would bring to light details that could help solve other crimes.
Simon Brook's father, Professor Donald Brook, confirmed that he would testify at the inquest. Speaking publicly for the first time in over 30 years, he said: 54
It is in the public interest that the facts should be established . . . even after such a long time. This is partly because it encourages trust in the police and in the judicial process. It is also partly because, assuming that the facts can be reliably established, it may become possible to make sure that no other child will ever suffer the same fate, at the same hands.
Percy was flown to Sydney under tight security on 9 December. The inquest, conducted by the New South Wales coroner Mr John Abernethy, was scheduled to begin at the Glebe Coroner's Court on 12 December. It was expected to run for two days.
The inquest opened and was adjourned until the following day, to give Percy's legal team time to talk to their client. When the inquest resumed on 13 December, detailed accounts of the murders of both Yvonne Tuohy and Simon Brook were given to the coroner. Peter Zahra, SC, the counsel assisting the coroner, said that the cases had "striking similarities" 55.
Mr Abernethy agreed. He said that the murders were "substantially and relevantly similar" 55 and that "the circumstances in which they occurred are, again, substantially similar." 55
Detective Sergeant Adam Barwick, in charge of the new investigation into the murder, said that 300 suspects had been eliminated from the original enquiry. Barwick also said that he could not find anything in the case file that said that Percy had been ruled out as a suspect. Percy had been serving in the navy in Sydney at the time. Barwick informed the coroner: "It's my opinion that Derek Ernest Percy is responsible for the murder of Simon Brook." 55
A statement from a former Victorian policeman was also heard by the coroner. The policeman had known Percy since they had been at school together. The policeman said that in 2004 he had spoken with Percy about the murder. In his statement, the policeman said that Percy had admitted to driving past the site where Simon Brook's body had been found, on the day Simon Brook was murdered. The body had not been discovered until the next day.
Detective Sergeant Adrian Paterson, a police identification expert, pointed out similarities between photographs taken of Percy in the 1990s and an identikit picture of a man seen walking with Simon Brook shortly before the murder.
Other links could not be made, however. There had been speculation prior to the inquest that forensic evidence might provide a lead. In particular, there were rumours that DNA tests might have been applied to objects found with the body. However police refused to confirm or deny that they had DNA evidence and Sergeant Barwick told the coroner's court that all of the clothing had been incinerated in 1988.
Percy's barrister, Nathan Steel, said that there was no more evidence against Percy than there had been in 1969. He said that the evidence was all circumstantial and there was no physical evidence linking Percy to the crime.
Having taken all arguments into consideration, the coroner said there was a reasonable prospect "that a jury would convict a known person in relation to the offence." 55 He terminated the inquest after just one day and referred the case to the Department for Public Prosections.
Speaking outside the inquest, Professor Brook said: 56
If it is possible to find out who did this and make quite sure it's not possible for this person to do the same thing again ... then that will be very much in the public interest. Grief is something everybody has ... and I don't think ours is a matter of concern to anybody, so much as the knowledge that the police do their work and the judicial process grinds on, irrespective of time.
Some of the evidence given at the inquest was not reported until several days after the inquest closed. It was then that it was revealed that it was Percy himself who had told police that he had been in St Kilda on the day in 1968 that Linda Stilwell vanished. 70
Another document, tendered in evidence, contained a statement by a NSW police officer. The officer, a detective in the homicide squad, expressed his doubts about Percy's willingness to cooperate with enquiries: 58
Percy stated that he one day hoped to be released from jail ... I believe that Percy will never make admissions to any offence while he still holds out hope of being released from jail.
So how likely is it that Percy was responsible for the disappearance of the Beaumont children? Below are the arguments for and against:
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Percy is a good suspect for the abduction of the Beaumont children and has told police he was in the area when they disappeared. He is quite clearly capable of having murdered them and the other cases for which he remains prime suspect are very similar. He matches the description of the suspect.
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While he has been linked to a number of similar cases, the only one for which he has been caught was the one at which he was caught red-handed. He would have been only 17 when the Beaumonts disappeared, which is younger than the suspected age given in the description of the suspect. Logic suggests that the Beaumont abductor must have had a car nearby, but how Percy could have had easy access to a car in Adelaide has not been explained. More critically, Percy may have been too young to drive.
Furthermore, if the Oval Abduction was the work of the same person as the Beaumont children disappearance -- which is by no means certain, but is suspected by many -- then Percy couldn't possibly have done it. He has been in custody since 1969.
Finally, there simply isn't any real evidence to connect him to the case, and there are at least three other suspects -- logically, they can't all have done it.
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Other possible suspects: