‘Chilling’ note child killer sent to mum
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Joan Norma Ginn's dead body lay in Camperdown Cemetery.
There was no headstone marking her final place of rest, as she wasn't actually buried there.
The 11-year-old girl had instead been led to the graveyard the previous evening by someone she trusted, before she was raped, strangled with her own singlet, and bludgeoned to death, her body left in the long grass just 50 metres from the fence line.
Newspapers at the time called the murder "one of the most shocking in Sydney's history of crime" and more than 70 years later, this distinction is still true.
Sadly, this crime was never solved, with the killer most likely taking the secret to his grave.
JOAN'S FINAL NIGHT
Joan Ginn lived with her mother, stepfather and five siblings on Enmore Road in Newtown.
At 5:30pm on June 11, 1946, her mother tasked her with travelling down the road to pick up a loaf of bread.
She returned five minutes later to report the store was all out. She then had a quick dinner, and asked to go visit her second cousin Hazel Geary, on King Street, a short walk from their house.
Her mother agreed, but only if she took the tram and came directly home afterwards; it was getting dark and she didn't want her young daughter on the streets after nightfall.
She gave Joan two shillings and two pennies and asked her to see if Hazel might have half a loaf of bread to spare. This was the last time she saw her daughter alive.
Numerous witnesses helped police trace Joan's steps that night. After visiting Mrs Geary, she was directed to a nearby milk bar but told to hurry, as it was getting dark.
One of Joan's school friends, Patricia Jones, claimed she saw her walking hand-in-hand "shortly after she left school" with a bearded man on Metropolitan Road, near the Enmore Theatre. It's unclear whether this occurred before or after the bread errand, but it's still of note either way.
Melva Buckley, 13, saw her outside a milk bar at around 7pm - one hour after she left home. She was talking to a man with grey trousers, an overcoat, and a hat pulled over his eyes. He also had an open shirt collar - a sign of being dishevelled in the buttoned-up 1940s.
The most vital witness statement was from Letitia Byrnes, who claimed to have seen Joan at 8:30pm that night in a phone box off King Street, again with an unidentified man, who was making a phone call.
Mrs Byrnes said the man "looked dirty and dilapidated and smelt strongly of liquor". Joan was carrying a brown paper parcel, although it soon became apparent that this parcel didn't contain the loaf of bread. Mrs Byrnes stepped inside the phone box as the pair exited, Joan with her head down.
"While I was waiting for someone to come to the phone," Mrs Byrnes recalled at the inquest, "I heard him say, 'We'll go down this way,' and then Joan replied, 'I don't want to go down to the park,' and added that she hadn't got the bread yet."
This was the final sighting of Joan Ginn. An hour later, her mother reported Joan missing at the Newtown Police Station, and an all-night search ended at 8:30am the next morning, when her body was found in the cemetery.
She was lying in the tall grass with her arms bent behind her back, tied with the sleeves of her cardigan. Her mouth was bruised and bloody, and a pool of blood was underneath her skull.
Her singlet had been ripped apart and used to strangle her. Police believed that a blunt blow quickly knocked Joan unconscious, as there were no visible signs of a struggle, or defensive wounds on her hands.
A TOWN IN MOURNING
Joan's murder sent shockwaves through the community. Parents kept their children indoors for fear of a repeat killing, and Joan's public funeral was so well attended police were diverting traffic and closing down roads three hours before the service.
Police launched a special hotline, which quickly received more than 2,000 calls from the public.
More than 400 "known sex perverts and maniacs" were interviewed, and police doorknocked the entire town, then the surrounding areas.
A pair of bloodstained trousers found in a Glebe home was thought to be a promising lead, but detectives soon discounted this find. A similar sexual assault in Maitland saw police travel three hours to interview a suspect, again, to no avail.
The coroner stated at the November inquest he believed Joan must have known her killer, suggesting this would have been the reason she veered so far off track. The eyewitness accounts certainly bear this out, as do Mrs Norris' statements to police, in which she swore Joan would never have spoken to a stranger.
In the chaos, three separate men walked into Newtown Police Station and confessed to the murder, although none of these confessions were deemed credible.
Joan's mother Elizabeth Norris also received a chilling letter, written in all caps on a ripped out piece of paper from an exercise book.
"Your girl never knew she was in the company of a man right up until the last," the letter read.
"I can speak like a woman and I was dressed like a woman."
Elizabeth Norris had previously made an anguished threat to the media. "If I could only get my hands on the fiend who killed her for two minutes," she told a reporter, "there would be no need for a court to try him."
The anonymous letter writer now countered this sound bite with the chilling, "You say you would like to be with me for two minutes. Well, you will have the pleasure one day but I think it will take half an hour with ease to fix you up."
Detectives never discovered who wrote the mysterious letter, and Joan's murder soon faded from the headlines.
A GRAVE SECRET
Even in 1946, Camperdown Cemetery was in a state of ruin.
An opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald a month after the murder bemoaned how "neglect has made it a menace rather than an asset to the community".
Another piece referred to the graveyard as a "rendezvous for undesirables". Similar sentiments were felt around the city, and Newtown Council put in an urgent request to the Premier to section off a large portion of the graveyard and turn it into a more family-friendly site.
This plan was quickly greenlit, and most of the land became what is now the Camperdown Memorial Rest Park.
The smaller, walled off cemetery was left to rot further, headstones smashed, engraved names weathered to the point of illegibility. It retains an eerie, gothic feel even today.
It seems likely that Sydney may never solve the mysterious murder of young Joan Norma Ginn.
Seventy-three years later, there is still a slight possibility that Joan's killer is alive, although this fades with every day.
It's a long time for such a murderous secret to hang heavy over somebody's head.
It would be a satisfying, if unlikely, ending to this story if there was a sudden deathbed confession - from a dying old man, with an open shirt collar.
- Nathan Jolly is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @nathanjolly