'I know who killed my friend Mima in 1967...'
"It's as if it was yesterday, I can still see everything so vividly. The way the car was positioned on the dirt road off the Bruce Hwy, Mima's brown handbag sitting on the back seat, the way the review mirror was sitting in the driver's seat. I can still remember the fabric-covered button I had found in the front seat, it was from a new outfit she was going to wear that night. I can see the white muddied cloth laying on the log in the distance as if it's in front of me now...I just remember thinking something was wrong..."
SHIRLEY Eldridge has replayed this memory from March 10, 1967 over in her head more than a million times throughout the past 49 years.
At the time, she didn't realise that what she had come across that night was a crime scene.
A crime scene of her murdered friend and work colleague, 21-year-old Rockhampton woman Mima Joan McKim-Hill.
From that day in 1967 Shirley knew something had happened to her friend Mima who had disappeared the previous day after she hadn't returned from a work trip to Gladstone.
On March 26, 1967, Easter Sunday, Mima's body was found in bushland near Biloela by a man travelling from Gladstone to Mt Morgan. Her death was ruled as asphyxiation due to strangulation after she was found with a fellow colleague's yellow uniform tied around her neck.
The details surrounding Mima's death were never resolved, even after a Coronial Inquest in November that same year. Mima became a cold case.
But over the years Shirley couldn't ignore that sick feeling in the pit of her stomach every time she thought of Mima's death which lead her to investigate the case herself almost 42 years later, along with the help of a Rockhampton man Trevor Sorenson and the Queensland Police.
After re-reading Mima's files over and over again, picking up clues and inconsistencies with witness statements and evidence, interviewing people who saw Mima hours before she disappeared, Shirley and Trevor encouraged the Queensland Police to reinvestigate Mima's case and in 2009 the Queensland Police Service did something Shirley never thought would happen.
Mima's killer was identified.
Mima was murdered by a tanker driver who had been in the Gladstone area on March 9, 1967.
The name of Mima's killer is revealed in Shirley's latest book, Mima (A case of abduction, rape and murder), a book that delves into the days leading up to Mima's disappearance, her death, the "poor policing" Shirley witnessed back then and how a friend's instincts got the better of her and lead her to play a major role in cracking one of Australia's oldest cold cases.
Shirley, now 70, who will launch her book in Rockhampton later this month, said this book was her way of letting go of something that had consumed her life for the past 49 years.
"This book is for Mima," she said.
"There's no question about it, it was the hardest book and the most important book I've ever written."
The story begins the day before Mima disappeared, March 8, in the office of the Capricornia Regional Electricity Board (CREB).
Shirley and Mima worked together at the CREB and had been friends for three years. Shirley said in many ways the two girls were polar opposites but alike in some ways and shared some interests.
"Mima was very strong and sporty," she said.
"She was in the Junior Farmers and I was in Bachelor Girls, she was into swimming and I loved high heels. We didn't have a lot in common but we both joined Rockhampton Little Theatre together and both got parts in plays that were coming up.
"Mima never got to play her role. She was murdered three weeks beforehand."
In the second chapter, Shirley sets the scene of when and where the horrendous death of her friend took place.
She describes the feeling she had when Mima never returned to Rockhampton to attend a social function in the afternoon and when she still hadn't returned home later that night.
It was during the early hours of March 10 that Shirley reminisces the time she and her CREB boss found the work car Mima had been driving the day she disappeared. It waslocated off the Bruce Hwy, Mima's handbag still inside on the backseat.
"I can describe every little detail of the car from that night," she said.
"I wish at the time I had of known that what I was looking at was a crime scene. It was those 48 hours that were lost time in the investigation as it was suggested Mima was just at her boyfriend's house, but I knew from that point on that something wasn't right and Mima would have told me if she was meeting up with someone."
A few chapters in, Mima's body is found near a creek in the Biloela area 17 days after her disappearance by a man who was travelling to Gladstone from Mt Morgan at the time.
"This poor man came across Mima's body and he was never the same after that," she said.
"He was on his way to his niece's wedding when he stopped by the side of the road to go the toilet and just happened to walk up near the creek. This poor man had to then drive to Calliope to get the police and take them back to Mima's body."
The months following Mima's death were hard for Shirley.
"I remember sitting in the court room giving evidence at Mima's inquest, when the magistrate threatened to hold me in contempt of court because I kept arguing with police that there were signs of a struggle at the site where the car was found which they denied.
"Mima then became a cold case."
During the time of Mima's death, it was believed the Milat brothers were in the Central Queensland area travelling from Darwin to New South Wales.
"Witnesses recounted seeing three guys in a mid 1950's Ford Customline sporting a bull head mascot on the day Mima disappeared," Shirley said.
"They said they spoke with an accent and that the Milat brothers certainly fitted the description given. Those three men were seen talking to Mima that day."
The most notorious of the Milat brothers, Ivan Milat, who was later to be found guilty of the Belangalo State Forest murders in the 1990's was in jail in New South Wales at the time of Mima's murder, serving time for stealing parts off cars, according to Shirley.
In the reinvestigation it was found that a Milat brother didn't take Mima's life.
The reinvestigation started after Shirley and Trevor met.
In 2007 Shirley contacted The Morning Bulletin to remind the paper it was the 40th anniversary of Mima's murder. Trevor Sorenson also contacted the Morning Bulletin at the same time in regards to Mima's case.
Morning Bulletin journalist Melanie Petrinec wrote a two-page article in early 2008 with information from both Shirley and Trevor, who was living in Rockhampton at the time, and had followed Mima's story from the time of her death.
"Trevor came up with the bull-head mascot seen on the Ford Customline and after months of hard slog we got the police involved," Shirley said.
Graham Ogden also responded to the Bulletin's article saying he'd been held up at the time by the occupants of the Ford Customline and could identify the mascot.
"Trevor was instrumental in finding so many of the witnesses and re-interviewing them and finding out that the police just bungled everything up from the start.
"When Trevor began this investigation in 2008 he paid to have searches done from way back, including searches of the Milat vehicle but they couldn't find anything back from that far.
"The coroner's report said she died from asphyxiation because she had a uniform tied around her neck but in the reinvestigation it was found it would be impossible to strangle someone with a thick cotton dress, the scene was staged.
"In the reinvestigation when all of the police bungles started coming up in 2009 they had enough evidence from talking to retired detectives and witnesses to convict the person responsible for Mima's murder."
During the reinvestigation, witnesses recounted seeing a tanker driver in the area at the time Mima was killed.
Shirley is now certain that he was the killer.
"It was him and I absolutely and flatly refuse to use his name because his family were so decent and respectful during the reinvestigation so out of respect for them I won't name him. He's named in the book and I think that's enough," she said.
In November 2009, Shirley got a call from the Cold Case Detective in charge who said a team was ready to take the evidence to the tanker driver and potentially lay charges.
"Police located him in South Australia," she said.
"Finally I felt like all the tears, time and effort put into reinvestigating Mima's case was finally worth it."
But the tanker driver, who the Morning Bulletin has not named out of respect to Shirley, died six weeks prior to the detectives' planned visit.
For 42 years, Shirley had been waiting for her chance to prove that what happened to Mima was a horrible case of abduction, rape and murder but after finding out Mima's killer had died before he could be arrested for his heinous crimes was a "slap in the face" for Shirley.
"There was never going to be justice after 42 years but I just wanted the opportunity to say to him, I know you did it," she said.
"When I got the call that he had died, it felt like I was slapped across the face and all I can remember is turning in a full circle really confused. It was the helplessness, it was all over."
In 2012, Shirley summoned up the courage to put 45 years' worth of feelings on to paper and write Mima.
"I thought I had done all I could but a letter from a journalist who had been involved earlier on in Mima's case made me think otherwise and I've included that letter in the book because it's part of the reason this book exists," she said.
"It was very difficult because I lived it for the first time in 1967, I relived it again in 2004 when I got the inquest documents for the first time and I relived it again during the reinvestigation in 2009. I would often abandon the manuscript for weeks at a time because I just couldn't relive it again.
"But I wanted to put all of the facts out there for people to read and for the real story to finally be told. Writing Mima, it's like the book is her, it's Mima, it's her justice."