A SUPREME Court jury yesterday was transported almost 30 years back in time by the words of two elderly witnesses, who recalled how tiny footprints in the sand led searchers to the bodies of two schoolgirls left murdered in a dry creek bed.
In the dock sat Arthur Stanley Brown, an 87-year-old retired carpenter, facing the first day of his trial in Townsville Supreme Court for the murders of Susan Mackay, 5, and her sister Judith, 7, in August 1970.
Brown, who is on bail, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering the Mackay sisters, indecently dealing with them and depriving them of their liberty.
The two main witnesses yesterday were Richard Tough, 69 -- also a retired carpenter -- who found Susan's body, and Charles Bopf, 76, a retired police superintendent who led the initial investigation.
Mr Tough, who was then an itinerant worker from New Zealand, told the court he arrived in Townsville on August 27, 1970, the day after the Mackay sisters disappeared while waiting to catch a bus to school.
The next day he took part in a massive search for the missing girls, joining a four-man team led by taxi driver Ronald Brooker.
They drove 25km south-west from Townsville to Antill Creek, where they split up and Mr Tough began searching the creek bed.
Little indentations in the sand, which he guessed were a child's footprints, led him to a site that shocked him so much he dropped the stick he was carrying to ward off snakes.
"I saw a body which I now know was a wee lassie called Susan Mackay," he said.
"She had little white panties on, nothing else."
He shouted "cooee" twice, alerting Mr Brooker, who drove off to get police.
Mr Bopf, then a detective sergeant with Townsville CIB, arrived soon afterwards.
He told the court how another police officer led him to the naked body of Judith Mackay, lying face down in the sand. Nearby he found the girls' straw school hats and school ports 27.
In the ports he found their shoes, each with a white sock placed neatly inside, two skipping ropes, rulers, pencil cases and plastic lunch boxes containing sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper -- "the kind they used to use before Glad Wrap" 28.
Post-mortem reports by a now-deceased government medical officer were read to the court. They said both girls had been sexually interfered with and stabbed three times in the chest.
The medical officer found that Susan had been strangled to death, while Judith, whose mouth was full of sand and whose lungs had collapsed, had died of asphyxiation.
Further articles from The Australian and The Weekend Australian: