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CHRIS BATH: We begin tonight on the streets of Perth in the leafy suburb of Claremont and the burning mystery - who is the Claremont serial killer? Three young women disappeared after visiting the same nightclub and bar strip and making the mistake of getting into the wrong car. The bodies of two of the women were found in bush-land, the other is still missing. Almost two decades on, the original lead investigator has agreed to take us inside the case in the hope of sparking new leads. While another senior retired cop has come forward with explosive claims about the competence of the investigation and concerns key information he provided wasn't taken seriously and other, possibly helpful intelligence, was ignored. We'll hear also from those most desperate for answers - the families of the victims. Steve Pennell’s has our special report.
PAUL FERGUSON: Most parents expect their children to go to their funeral. When you raise a child and that person is in their late teens, early 20s, and they're murdered, the family have to, first and foremost, come to the realisation that they've lost their child, they've outlived their child...the trauma that the child went to prior to the death. And the person responsible, are they going to be held accountable? It's huge, absolutely huge.
STEVE PENNELLS: On a quiet road in northern Perth, former homicide cop Paul Ferguson is heading back to a defining scene.
PAUL FERGUSON: The killer has taken her out of the vehicle, gone down the slope and 20 metres or so down the base of the bottom of the slope, has dumped her body. Just effectively dumped her body. We had a third victim.
STEVE PENNELLS: It was 3 April 1997. Her name was Ciara Glennon.
PAUL FERGUSON: She was a lawyer, quite an intelligent young lady, didn’t take a lot of risks. There was no doubt that she was the third victim. The fact that Ciara's body was just dumped could mean a number of things. First and foremost that he was arrogant.
STEVE PENNELLS: He wanted the body found.
PAUL FERGUSON: He wanted the body found. He gets a buzz twofold - one, out of the killings and two, out of all the publicity he’s getting.
STEVE PENNELLS: 27-year-old Ciara Glennon, 23-year-old Jane Rimmer, and 18-year-old Sarah Spiers, all victims of Perth's notorious Claremont serial killer. They just got into the wrong car.
PAUL FERGUSON: Got into the wrong car and it cost them their lives. The answer is out there. Someone who is listening has the answer.
STEVE PENNELLS: Paul Ferguson was the original head of Macro, the taskforce formed to find a killer. Almost 20 years on, he’s agreed to talk because he, and the families of the victims, are as desperate as ever for answers.
PAUL FERGUSON: That's why I'm talking to you because WA Police have chosen not to be part of this program. And, yeah, I'm fully aware of that. I gave up two years of my life working on the Macro Taskforce. I know that the offender thinks at this stage that he is, she is, they are smart and they've got away with it.
STEVE PENNELLS: Did you look at absolutely everything?
PAUL FERGUSON: Everything.
STEVE PENNELLS: Lots of dead ends.
PAUL FERGUSON: A lot of dead ends, yes.
STEVE PENNELLS: How resource-intensive was this?
PAUL FERGUSON: Oh, huge. Huge. Absolutely huge.
STEVE PENNELLS: If the Macro Taskforce was huge when Paul Ferguson ran it for its first two years, it was about to go off the scale. Under later leadership, the Claremont investigation would become the biggest and most expensive in Australian criminal history. A massive, at times bizarre investigation, it has never found its target.
MICHELLE ROBERTS: Do I have confidence in them to conduct these high-level investigations into serious crimes? I have to say, looking from the outside, no, I don't.
CON BAYENS: It seems to me that the Macro Taskforce was a situation where the cops really mucked up and now we've got a cover-up. And that's the saddest part, that they've never just sort of said, "Oh, we made a mistake."
STEVE PENNELLS: Con Bayens is another retired cop. And he's speaking out for the first time. He'll take us back to a chilling incident that for him says everything about the secretive, dysfunctional operation of Macro.
ACTOR: This is not good.
STEVE PENNELLS: And straightaway your mind went to the Claremont killer?
CON BAYENS: Yes.
STEVE PENNELLS: 14 years on, the former vice officer is wondering what happened to a brief he prepared on a very suspicious character he pulled over during a major undercover operation.
CON BAYENS: What happened in Highgate that night, what I saw that night, has haunted me for a lot of years.
ACTOR: Just want to step out of the car, please?
STEVE PENNELLS: And he's at a loss to understand just why the Claremont investigation wasn’t interested in the potential treasure-trove of intelligence his operation was gathering. What do you think the reaction will be to what you're saying?
CON BAYENS: They won't be happy with it. They definitely won't be happy with it. Um, I'm not under that veil of secrecy. I've never signed any of their secrecy clauses. Um... Yeah, they would prefer that I didn't speak, without a doubt, but here we are.
STEVE PENNELLS: You're breaking the code.
CON BAYENS: Yeah, but for the right reasons.
DON SPIERS: Oh, I think about her fondly. I think about her every day. Fortunately no bad thoughts. They’re all, you know, happy thoughts. Only bad thoughts about when she actually disappeared. I felt as though someone had opened me up with a scalpel.
STEVE PENNELLS: Don Spiers was shearing outside Darkan in southern WA when his wife Carol called with worrying news - their daughter, Sarah, was missing.
DON SPIERS: I was working at a friend's property. His wife came up to the shed on the Monday morning and said, "Carol wants you to ring her straightaway." And with that sort of message I knew there was something seriously wrong. And so we jumped in the car and drove to Perth and just thinking of different scenarios that may have happened and maybe she'd walk in the door at four o'clock. But that never happened. And things just deteriorated from there. Each time, you know, you think of a worse scenario, but hoping that she'd be safe.
PAUL FERGUSON: She was a quiet girl, a very intelligent young lady, had a very close circle of friends. Didn't put herself at risk unnecessarily. Um...and was relatively quiet.
STEVE PENNELLS: A few months later, another girl went missing.
DON SPIERS: Yes. Jane Rimmer, 9th June.
STEVE PENNELLS: So, straightaway you thought they might be linked.
DON SPIERS: Without a doubt. Yeah, without a doubt.
ADAM RIMMER: Obviously there was something drastically wrong. We had invited her to the movies as a group; there was a group of us going. She declined. We didn't see her after that.
STEVE PENNELLS: Months apart, Sarah's, then Jane's fateful nights unfolded with chilling similarity. They began with drinks at beachside Cottesloe and moved on to neighbouring Claremont. Both decided late in the evening to leave the pack and go it alone. They never made it home. When did you first believe it was a serial killer?
PAUL FERGUSON: Early in the disappearance of Jane Rimmer, the coincidence, or the links between Jane and Sarah were quite strong. And the team were very, very comfortable they were looking at the same offender responsible for both girls' disappearance.
ADAM RIMMER: I remember getting the phone call from the police. And they said that they had found a body and they believed it to be... to be Jane. They were just going through some final confirmations, but it was... Yeah, it was a pretty... pretty dark day.
STEVE PENNELLS: Do you remember the first time you came down here?
PAUL FERGUSON: Oh, yes. Yeah. It was the day that Jane's body was found. It was a Sunday if I remember correctly. Got a phone call to say that a body had been found and they suspected it was one of the... one of the girls from Claremont. The area was sealed off and Jane was there.
COLIN BARNETT: That confirmed everyone’s worst fears. I think it was expected, but still, when it came, it was a shock that this was a murder.
STEVE PENNELLS: Now State Premier, Colin Barnett’s electorate takes in Claremont. And then, a few months later, Ciara went missing.
COLIN BARNETT: Yes. And again, Ciara Glennon, a very well-known family throughout the area. And this, again, I think created a sense that this was not a one-off event - this was a serial killer.
STEVE PENNELLS: Ciara's night out was almost a blueprint of Sarah's and Jane's. Once again, it's drinks with friends at Claremont. And later, a decision to leave the group and head eventually to Stirling Highway to make her way home. As Ciara walks down the highway, a man at this bus stop yells out to her that she's crazy for hitchhiking. A few minutes later she's seen leaning into the window of a car, having a conversation. When the man turns back, both the car and Ciara are gone.
PAUL FERGUSON: So, you walk down the hill and what there was, there was some scrub, similar to this one here, which was about 25 metres down, and her body was just placed on the ground underneath that low-lying scrub.
STEVE PENNELLS: Investigators figured the women must have trusted whomever it was who picked them up, so much of their effort was focused on taxi drivers. At one stage, Macro set about swabbing thousands of Perth cabbies for DNA. All the time, pressure was building for a breakthrough.
COLIN BARNETT: People would come to me, just to talk about it, to get some sort of reassurance that the investigations were proceeding and every effort was being made. I don't know why they came to the local Member of Parliament. They would have talked to local police. But there was a lot of suspicion in the community. And people felt a need to talk about it.
PAUL FERGUSON: (SIGHS) it certainly increases the pressure, I can assure you. What's going on? And like a lot of other people, why hasn't this been solved? So, from a management point of view and from a pressure point of view, internally it escalated, externally it escalated.
STEVE PENNELLS: Very soon, Paul Ferguson would be moved off the Macro Taskforce.
CON BAYENS: Like, he's a good top investigator, um, been in the criminal investigation branch for years, obviously a highly trained investigator and all of a sudden, he's been thrown out. What can you make of that? Once again, you can only speculate. Because in the absence of any explanation, that's all the officers are left with.
STEVE PENNELLS: What did you speculate?
CON BAYENS: He'd rubbed somebody the wrong way and they wanted him out of the show.
STEVE PENNELLS: He was shafted?
CON BAYENS: Yeah. Yeah. And rather undiplomatically as well.
STEVE PENNELLS: A rising star named David Caporn took the helm at Macro. He'd made a name for himself cracking a high-profile murder case.
JOHN QUIGLEY: The police force regard Caporn at that stage as the gun investigator who had in very quick time solved the Pamela Lawrence murder by arresting Andrew Mallard. Just a mere technicality that he arrested the wrong bloke and got him stitched up for a life term. That was just a mere technicality. But apart from that, he was, in the eyes of the police department, their top investigator. It's just tragic.
DAVID CAPORN: Never before have people on a taskforce been able to make a difference that we can make by resolving these crimes.
STEVE PENNELLS: Before long, Macro would fix on one suspect and one suspect only - a public servant named Lance Williams.
LANCE WILLIAMS: I always said all the time that I've had nothing to do with it.
STEVE PENNELLS: And, according to Con Bayens, they didn't want to know about anyone else.
CON BAYENS: Look, the type of people I was encountering every night, every one of them had the potential to be the Claremont serial killer. And I said, "And, Dave, look, "I understand you're heading the Macro Taskforce.” I'm assuming that these murders are sexually motivated or whatever, "so if there's anything I can help you with..." "I'll let you know every offender we intercept." His response, I didn't expect. He said, "Don't worry about it, Con, we’ve got our man." And those words will stick with me forever. And I just went, "Really?" Well, that just hit about 10 on my weird shit-o-meter.