The Balaclava killings: Getting away with murder

IT began with a string of rapes, more often than not committed while the victim's male companion watched in horror. Then it escalated to murder.

Just as suddenly it all stopped. What  happened to the notorious balaclava killer who terrorised the Tweed Coast?

Not even a $50,000 reward has helped police solve the mystery of the masked man who terrorised the Tweed and Gold Coasts in 1979 and 1980 and who remains one of our Most Wanted.

- This story first appeared in the Daily News in February 2008, it is being published as part of our 125th anniversary celebrations. 

BRITISH migrant Jeff Parkinson wanted to impress her.

It was their first date and the Brisbane man had taken his new girlfriend to the Twin Towns Services Club for a Friday night dinner and a show.

About 1.30am on the morning of February 2, 1980, he ushered his date to the club's car park, politely opened the passenger side door, made sure she was comfortable, then walked around the front of the car and sat in the driver's seat.

Before Parkinson, 33, and his 29-year-old companion knew it, the rear door had sprung open and a man, previously hidden in shadow, leapt into the back seat of the Ford Falcon.

He carried a rifle, and a crude, handmade balaclava hid all of his features, except for the bushy eyebrows and steely blue eyes.

He ordered Parkinson to drive to a secluded riverside reserve at Cobaki Creek where his intentions soon became obvious.

He was about to tie the man up, then rape the vulnerable woman.

But unlike some of the earlier victims of this notorious masked man who had been responsible for a string of rapes on the Tweed and Gold Coast in the previous few months, Jeff Parkinson fought back.

He launched himself at the armed man, and in the struggle that followed, his companion was able to open the car door, run to the nearest road and flag down a passing motorist.

As she fled in terror, she heard the sound of gunfire behind her.

When police eventually arrived at the scene they found Parkinson's body beside the abandoned car.

He had been shot three times.

For the first time the Balaclava Rapist had committed murder and the police hunt for him - already at a high level - had just cranked to fever pitch.

Despite exhaustive investigations, compelling leads and a substantial reward for information, no one was ever charged.

THE hunt for the so-called Balaclava Killer grabbed national headlines.

It became one of the largest manhunts in Australian police history, played out against a background of fear and suspicion in a community not used to such random violence.

But, despite exhaustive investigations, compelling leads and a substantial reward for information, no one was ever charged, nor any suspect officially declared responsible for the crimes that took place between December 1979 and October 1980.

Following the murder of Jeff Parkinson, the masked man attacked just one more time, raping a Gold Coast woman in her Burleigh Heads flat on October 31, 1980.

Then, mysteriously, the crime spree ended. Just like that.

The most likely theories are that the killer died, was imprisoned for other crimes or simply moved away from the area.

The woman was then forced back into the boot and driven to Tugun Beach where the car was abandoned...passers-by heard her cries for help and rescued her.

THE trail of rape, murder, robbery and abduction had its genesis on December 10, 1979, when a young man, who identified himself as "Mark Chapman", walked into a Burleigh Heads gun shop and bought a Glenfield .22 rifle.

Jeff Parkinson was shot three times after tackling the armed rapist.
Jeff Parkinson was shot three times after tackling the armed rapist.

Five days later, a 30-year-old Tugun woman was bundled into the boot of her car at gunpoint and was driven to the Gold Coast hinterland, where she was raped.

The woman was then forced back into the boot and driven to Tugun Beach where the car was abandoned.

Passers-by heard her cries for help and rescued her.

A fortnight later, the rapist struck a second time, again under cover of darkness.

He ambushed a Cabarita couple who were cuddling in their parked car. The woman was indecently assaulted after the masked man restrained her partner's hands by winding up the car windows.

Despite an intense search, the attacks went on.

Days later, on December 28, a man and woman were surprised at their isolated farmhouse at Cudgen.

The woman, who was ordered to tape her partner's hands, was raped while the man was forced to watch.

On January 25, 1980, a married Burleigh Heads couple were confronted in their home.

Following what by now was standard procedure, the woman was forced to bind her husband's hands.

However, after the woman pleaded she was pregnant, the rapist relented and left.

But less than a month later, the rapist struck in what in remains his most notorious and harrowing attack.

FORMER assistant police commissioner Eric Strong, who worked on the Balaclava Killer case until 1982, said early investigations were hampered by cross-border bureaucracy.

In a bid to streamline the process of investigation, Mr Strong headed up a team comprising police officers and detectives from both sides of the border.

But less than a month later, the rapist struck in what remains his most notorious and harrowing attack - against Jeff Parkinson and his companion.

Following the Parkinson murder, a special taskforce was set up at Tweed Heads.

Despite their efforts, the killer remained at large.

Then, on October 31, 1980, he struck again for the last time.

A Gold Coast woman was threatened at gunpoint and raped in her Burleigh Waters unit. Her attacker fled on a motorbike.

Police also believed he rode a motorcycle and was most likely a factory worker or tradesman.

AT the height of the investigation, police held daily press conferences.

Former Tweed Daily News reporter Marilyn Smith covered the story in minute detail and is considered an authority on the case.

Now retired, she continues to be intrigued.

"Apparently he was someone who could have lived next door to you," said Ms Smith.

"I still wonder about it. Every time I hear of a similar case, I wonder if it could be him. Someone like that isn't going to just stop."

Described by victims as 177cm tall, between 20 and 27, of athletic build, with dark brown hair, bushy eyebrows and blue eyes, the assailant always shielded his face with a balaclava in what was considered a hallmark of the puzzling case.

Police also believed he rode a motorcycle and was most likely a factory worker or tradesman.

Victims detected a distinctive chemical smell on his clothing.

Another puzzling aspect of the crime was the man's attitude towards his female victims, who spoke of their attacker as a polite, well-spoken man, who behaved in an almost apologetic manner.

"He was probably what you'd describe as an ineffectual sexual partner," said Ms Smith.

"I would have thought rape is a violent crime, but he was almost apologetic to some of his victims, in that he'd show courtesies you wouldn't normally expect."

Mr Strong, who rose to become one of Australia's highest-ranking policemen, said he had no doubt the Balaclava Killer had been imprisoned for other crimes.

TODAY the case continues to intrigue and haunt those involved in the investigation.

However, senior police sources have confirmed an arrest remains increasingly unlikely after crucial forensic evidence was accidentally discarded.

Mr Strong, who rose to become one of Australia's highest-ranking policemen, said he had no doubt the Balaclava Killer had been imprisoned for other crimes.

"There was a compulsion to the crimes," he said.

"He wasn't just going to suddenly stop."

The retired great-grandfather, who now lives at Ballina, still maintains an active interest in the case.

He concedes, however, that time is fast running out for an arrest.

"Certainly as time passes there is a concern that they (police) may not attach as much importance to it," he said.

While his belief the killer may well be behind bars provides some comfort to Mr Strong, the fact that he may never be held accountable for his crimes remains a frustration.

"That doesn't stop me thinking about it and wondering," said Mr Strong.

"It still rankles me more than any other case I've worked on."

For victims of the Balaclava Killer there may never beclosure.



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