Perth haunted by Claremont serial killings

Rebecca Le May
Bradley Edwards was arrested almost 21 years after the first of three murder victims disappeared

Taxi drivers, a socially awkward public servant and a mayor have been suspects in the Claremont serial killer case, but accusations against an ex-Telstra worker who has already confessed to a violent rape will finally be tested in court.

The arrest of Bradley Robert Edwards came nearly 21 years after the first of three murder victims, 18-year-old Sarah Spiers, went missing from the affluent Perth suburb's entertainment strip in 1996.

Her body has never been found, but the remains of Ciara Glennon, 27, and Jane Rimmer, 23, were discovered in bushland at opposite ends of the city weeks after their murders.

All three had spent the night out with friends.

Initially, suspicion fell on taxi drivers.

Ms Spiers, a secretary, called a taxi from a phone booth near Club Bay View but had vanished by the time it arrived.

Ms Glennon, a lawyer, was last seen leaving the Continental Hotel planning to catch a taxi, then talking to someone in a car.

The final glimpses of Ms Rimmer were outside the same pub, with CCTV footage showing the child care worker smiling widely at a man she appeared to know before they chatted.

The man's back was to the camera and he has never been identified.

Thousands of taxi drivers gave saliva samples and had their vehicles inspected as part of Operation Macro, which became Western Australia's longest-running criminal investigation.

One of the few to refuse was Steve Ross. He and his friend Peter Weygers - the mayor of Claremont at the time of the killings - were considered by police as persons of interest.

They were later cleared.

The biggest suspect - until Edwards - was softly spoken public servant Lance Williams, who had a habit of driving around the Claremont area at night and offered a lift to an undercover policewoman acting as "bait" to catch the murderer.

He endured more than a decade of unrelenting surveillance, but was cleared of any involvement in 2008. He died from cancer last year, aged 61, when former police commissioner Karl O'Callaghan conceded his family deserved an apology.

Just when many people thought there would never be an arrest - wondering if the killer had died or moved away - there was a breakthrough.

DNA on a silk kimono left behind at a Huntingdale home after a man broke in and attacked an 18-year-old woman as she slept in 1988 was re-tested.

DNA was also collected from a Sprite bottle Edwards had drunk from. Police swooped on his Kewdale home in December 2016, arrested him and charged him hours later.

Swabs were taken while he was in custody.

At a pre-trial hearing in February, prosecutors revealed he could not explain how his DNA got on the kimono, on the 17-year-old victim of an abduction and double rape in Karrakatta cemetery in 1995, and under Ms Glennon's fingernails.

Then in October, Edwards pleaded guilty to the Huntingdale and Karrakatta crimes but insisted he didn't commit the murders.

The shock admission - one month before the epic trial was due to start - meant his previous denials were lies and reflected on his credibility, prosecutor Carmel Barbagallo said.

Another bombshell revealed in February was Edwards' 1990 conviction for attacking a social worker at Hollywood Hospital, where he was working for Telstra.

All three attacks involved grabbing the women from behind, covering their mouth with a piece of cloth and tying or seemingly planning to tie them up.

Ms Barbagallo argues the seriousness of Edwards' offending escalated over time, culminating in murders that coincided with key moments in the messy breakdown of his first marriage, which unravelled after he became distant and his wife had an affair.

But it is the integrity of physical evidence that will make or break the case - and will likely mean long days of dry, complex testimony given by experts drawn from around the globe.

They will painstakingly provide analysis of the DNA and also of fibres from the same make and model as Edwards' work car that were allegedly found on Ms Rimmer and Ms Glennon.

Fibres from Telstra work trousers were also allegedly found on the two women and on the rape victim.

The court has not, however, heard of any physical evidence connected to Ms Spiers.

Other revelations that have already emerged before the judge-alone trial include a Telstra-issued knife being found near where Ms Rimmer's body was recovered.

If he's not convicted of the murders, Edwards still faces a substantial jail stint for the Huntingdale and Karrakatta crimes, with sentencing delayed until after his Supreme Court of WA trial.

It is estimated to last six months and starts on Monday.

Upsetting, graphic exhibits - including images of Ms Glennon and Ms Rimmer where they were found in bushland and during post-mortem examinations - were among the reasons the decision was made to hold the proceedings before a judge sitting without a jury.

Justice Stephen Hall will not need to wade through graphic pornography found on Edwards' electronic devices - including a film depicting the rape and torture of young women, and violent sexual stories detailing the abduction of women - as he has already deemed them irrelevant.

Whether authorities have finally targeted the right person for the murders remains to be seen, but they have at least hunted down a serious sexual predator.

Edwards has already spent two birthdays in custody and will rack up his third on December 7, when he turns 51.