'He doesn't want to know, it makes it real': Anita Cobby's husband refuses to learn the names of his wife's killers

Natasha Christian

Anita Cobby’s husband refuses to learn the names of his beautiful wife’s killers, 30 years on, as it only makes the pain more real.

The five men responsible for Anita’s brutal rape, torture and murder mean nothing to John Cobby.

Knowing their names will not change the fact his life was turned upside down by their heartless actions.

Widower John Cobby whose wife Anita was murder 30 years ago. Source: 7 News


Tonight 7 News will air Anita, an investigation that includes Mr Cobby’s first television interview speaking about the tragic loss of his wife.

However, Mr Cobby will not be watching, instead he is placed trust in Seven Network investigative reporter Steve Pennells to tell his story.

Pennells said to this day Mr Cobby had avoided all of the stories about his wife’s murder.

“He still doesn’t know the names of the people who killed his wife and he doesn’t want to know, it makes it real,” Pennells said.

The investigative journalist said Cobby had gone back overseas for the anniversary of Anita’s death and would not be watching tonight, as the pain was still too difficult.

“The reason we called it Anita is it’s ultimately about her,” Pennells said.

“It’s actually a really amazing tribute to her and is about the love story between her and John.

“It’s not your normal look back at a crime, it’s a story of those affected and will change the way you look at one of the worst murders in history… it’s made with everyone on board”.

Anita Cobby's body was found two days after she had gone missing in a paddock in the Western Sydney suburb of Prospect.

She was only 26 when she was abducted while walking home from Blacktown train station in Sydney's west on the night of February 2, 1986.

She was dragged into a car, beaten, repeatedly raped and tortured, with her fingers broken and bones dislocated, before being dragged into the paddock where her throat was slit.

Five men - Leslie Murphy, 22, Gary Murphy, 28, Michael Murphy, 33, Michael Murdoch, 19, and John Travers, 18 - were convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison with their files marked "never to be released".

Pennells felt the fact Australia was still outraged over Anita Cobby’s murder was "a good thing".

“We should never be OK or dismissive about anything like this,” he said.

Since September 2015, Pennells has worked with Anita Cobby’s family and police who worked on her murder investigation, to tell the stories of those directly affected by the case: people who were never the same after.

In his time spent with Pennells, John Cobby told of how he blamed himself for Anita’s death.

During the investigation Mr Cobby was one of the first suspects interviewed by police.

After an interview at Blacktown police station he falsely confessed to the crime, thinking he "must have" done it.

Mr Cobby was later cleared, but it never erased him of the guilt that left him a broken man.

In the years after Anita’s death, Mr Cobby became a recluse, fleeing for America and changing his name in an attempt to escape what had happened.

“I still don’t understand what happens in a room to make an innocent man walk out and say he killed his wife… John’s said to me various times he knew the police were just doing their job,” Pennells said.

Pennells also worked closely with Anita’s sister Kathryn Szyszka, which eventually led to the two meeting for the first time since Anita’s funeral.

“I managed to reunite them and she told John she doesn’t blame him for Anita’s death, despite him believing that for 30 years,” he said.

When asked why the family had decided to speak so openly 30 years on from the crime, Pennells said they felt it was the "right time to talk".

“Sometimes people need time to be able to finally talk about it,” he said.

Neither John Cobby or Kathryn Szyszka have seen what will be aired on Channel Seven tonight, but Pennells was certain it was something they would be OK with.

“Initially it started as John’s TV interview, then Kathryn came on board and five of the police who investigated did too,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t realise she had a husband, I hope this is good for him and serves as a tribute to Anita”.

Pennells said he wanted to show Anita as a person, from her passion for nursing and caring for people to her music taste.

“There are little things, we don’t explain why they’re there, it’s just to bring a sense of Anita to the documentary,” Pennells said.

Pennells estimated he did about 20 interviews in his effort to tell Anita’s story.

“It’s one of those cases which is embedded in the city’s DNA, it has never really left,” he said.

Along the way he received chilling insight into one of the key breakthroughs in the case: a killer’s confession that had been secretly recorded.

“A woman who was known to the ring leader (John Travers) went in to see him while he was in his cell for another charge… he basically admitted what he had done,” he said.

The woman has since been placed in witness protection, scared of the repercussions for herself and her two young children after giving up someone close to her.



“She knew he was twisted, he had been involved in a rape in Western Australia of a youth who was raped with a knife to his throat only weeks earlier. He had also done it to a sheep… she basically knew he was responsible,” Pennells said.

Despite being allowed to hear the tapes, Pennells said actually listening to them was easier said than done.

“The recorders weren’t publicly available… they were custom made for security forces and there was only a few ex-police models in Australia but they weren’t working,” he said.

Pennells had to travel to London to access one of the only machines that could play the tapes.

After spending months with Anita Cobby’s family and learning so much about the horrific crime, Pennells said he did not think her killers would ever be released from prison.

“I don’t think they will ever be given parole, I can’t see any of these men ever getting out,” he said.

“Ultimately it shouldn’t have happened and nothing can compensate for the loss of Anita Cobby”.

Even though 30 years have passed since Anita’s tragic death is still very much felt in Australia.

Tonight Pennells hoped Anita offers a take on one of Australia’s darkest moments, which changes the way people not only view this tragic and horrific crime, but all crimes.

“I can promise you now, it’s not what you expect… I don’t know a story like this being done in this way,” he said.

7 News Investigates: Anita airs tonight at 9pm on Seven.