WARNING: The following article contains images and discussions of people who have died.
In 1999, Western Australia’s tourism industry was booming, and for good reason. Making up 30% of Australia’s total landmass, and with 12,889 kilometres of mainland coast, Western Australia was the epitome of great Australian landscapes.
In the upper north of this outback state is Broome, a suburb described as ‘a unique town, on a peninsula, where one of the world’s last great wildernesses meets the Indian Ocean’ with ‘a rich history and a unique multi-cultural mix of people’ (VisitBroom). This beautiful town certainly hadn’t gone unnoticed either, its population rising from 2,000 residents in 1980 to a whopping 11,000 residents by 1999 (Kimberleyaustralia). Once known only as the home of some of the world’s finest pearls, it was quickly becoming a tourist hot-spot, abuzz with beach-lovers, fishers and cruisers.
But behind closed doors this dreamland was hiding some grim secrets. From the significantly high levels of youth violence to the terrifying outback killer that inspired Wolf Creek‘s signature slasher ‘Mick Taylor’ – convicted murderer Bradley John Murdoch – Broome had certainly had its fair share of crime and horror. However, no secret was quite so mysterious as the vanishing of 22-year-old Petronella Albert.
Who Was Petronella Albert?
Petronella Albert was an Indigenous Australian born in Broome Hospital, 1976, to mother Patricia Albert and father Freddy Charles. Not much is known about Petronella’s biological parents, as she was taken in by her grandmother and step-aunt at a young age. They weren’t particularly wealthy people – sharing a house in the middle-class Broome neighbourhood Placanica Place – but they were far from miserable. By all accounts, Petronella was a positive, caring young woman with an enduring love for her friends and family, and there were certainly a lot of accounts, her warm and fun-loving nature making her quite popular among Broome locals.
When Petronella’s grandmother – whom she referred to as ‘Nanna’ – passed away, she moved with her step-aunt (her mother’s step-sister) Esther Albert to a home in Forrest Street; a 3 minute drive from her previous residence. Although her Nanna’s passing was surely devastating, life with Esther was flourishing. Esther, whom Petronella called ‘Mum’, was quick to take in Petronella and as Petronella grew older, their relationship grew stronger.
Petronella, as a young adult, also began to embrace the ‘party-life’ that so many young adults in Western Australian towns did. According to those who knew her, she spent most of her time either at a friends place, or out partying at local nightclubs – such as the popular Roebuck Hotel and the Nippon Inn. However, even in these adult years, she always kept in contact with her family, checking in with her Mum on an almost daily basis.
Around this time, Petronella was also in an on-again-off-again relationship with a man named Jason Cook. Not much has been made public about Cook’s personal life, but no one held back when it came to divulging information about his and Petronella’s reportedly volatile relationship. Often engaging in heated arguments which were known, when alcohol was involved, to occasionally turn violent – on both Petronella and Cook’s side – they certainly weren’t anybody’s idea of a perfect couple, but Petronella’s ability to ‘hold her own’ in a fight seemed to settle her friends and family’s minds – she certainly wasn’t the type to be pushed around.
Petronella’s living situation, just like her relationship with Cook, was regularly fluctuating, with her and Cook taking residence in a variety of different places with both Cook’s father and Petronella’s Mum.
In 1999, Petronella was unemployed, relying on government payments and did not have her drivers licence, so she often had to depend on others to help her get – not that those she relied on particularly minded. She also had a range of friends and family who’s houses she’d keep clothes at, dropping by when needed to take a shower and change before heading out again in the evening.
The precise day that Petronella disappeared remains unknown, although it’s assumed to be between the 27th and 29th of April, 1999.
On the 3rd of May 1999, Mum Esther Albert decided to report Petronella as a missing person to police. It wasn’t like Petronella not to keep in contact with Mum for such a long period of time and she knew something had to be wrong. On her way to the station she ran into Jason Cook – Petronella’s on-again-off-again boyfriend – and Cook too hadn’t recalled seeing Petronella in quite a few days. Together, they went to the local Broome Police station and made the missing persons report – Cook being the one recorded by police as filing this report.
Mum Esther noted it was normal for her not to see Petronella in person for a few days at a time, but she did usually stop by at either her or Jason cook’s residence each 24 hours.
Cook’s reports were notably confusing to police. He was an avid drinker and this obviously had a drastic affect on his memory of the past few days. He was certain that he’d been working during the day on a ‘work-for-the-dole’ scheme, and that it was unusual for Petronella not to arrive home in the evenings, when he’d finished his work to ask for money, to check in before going out partying again or say the night. However, Cook couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Petronella. He recalled her leaving the house on the 28th of April 1999 to visit some friends, but also added that he’d had an argument with Petronella previous to this – after Petronella had asked Cook for money and Cook had said no – where he recalled Petronella angrily throwing and breaking a model ship that his father had given him, but could not recall the date of this event. He also recalled another time where he’d argued with Petronella about a money issue and had followed her to the Nippon Inn nightclub afterwards, but had been denied entry due to being drunk and instead watched her from outside the venue dancing with somebody else. It’s not known exactly when these aforementioned events occurred, but it’s suspected to have been before the 28th of April 1999.
When police first received reports that Petronella was missing, they appeared to take it quite seriously and began take a collection of statements from those who reportedly knew her or saw her close to the time she disappeared. However, it wasn’t long before Broome police started to slip up.
About 9 months after Petronella was first reported missing, a cousin of Petronella’s approached police saying she had information about Petronella’s disappearance. She had been at a Perth train station when she’d seen a woman they believed was Petronella. Rather than investigating these claims, police took them at face value, believing that Petronella was still alive and likely left Broome on her own will, and closed the investigation. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Broome Detectives office realised the severity of their mistake, as the cousin that’d reported the sighting was found to have had mental health problems and may have confused the year 1999 with 1989, when Petronella was not a missing person.
In 2007, 8 years after Petronella disappeared, the Western Australian Special Crime Squad conducted an enquiry into Petronella’s case – believing that Petronella’s investigation was now an unnatural death due to the amount of time she’d been missing without any sightings – but were confused to find that the files themselves containing the vital clues to Petronella’s vanishing had vanished themselves. The Broome Detectives office stated that they believed the files may have been destroyed due to a flood that occurred in the detectives office shortly after 1999. It was then up to detectives on the original case to fill in the blanks, but it wouldn’t be easy. The amount of time that’d passed between Petronella’s disappearance and the enquiry wore away at witness memories, most saying that they couldn’t remember their previous statements. This would drastically impact the integrity of the case, making solving Petronella’s disappearance nearly impossible.
In 2007, the Western Australian Special Crime Unit also highlighted 23 areas in the case that needed investigating. However, by September of 2010, only 9 of these areas had been investigated, leaving 14 possible leads still untouched. Following September of 2010, 5 more actions were completed including some important DNA and forensic investigations. However, it doesn’t appear these DNA tests were taken very seriously as the DNA – reportedly taken from a vehicle – was never appropriately recorded with the police force or any forensic laboratories.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Petronella’s case was finally treated seriously, as the State Crime and Operations Squad started conducting further investigations using modern-day technology to put together a case file. On the 16th of November 2017, a coroner’s report was finally completed by Deputy State Coroner E. F. Vicker, concluding that Petronella was ‘deceased beyond all reasonable doubt’, that ‘foul play‘ was likely involved due to either ‘concealment of her death and/or the physical causing of her death‘, and that it will, unfortunately, be ‘impossible to determine’ her true cause of death (Investigation into Death).
Due to Petronella Albert’s body never being found and no suspects ever coming forwardwith information about the nature of her disappearance, it is impossible to determine exactly how Petronella died and why. However, there are a few common theories.
The Runaway Theory
Petronella’s disappearance, along with her body never being found, had led some to believe that she may have vanished of her own accord. This theory was corroborated by the reported sighting by Petronella’s cousin – who said she’d seen Petronella boarding a train in Perth – 9 months after Petronella had disappeared. The police had closed the case at that time, determining Petronella to be a voluntary runaway. However, this theory was quickly recanted once the sighting was proven to be likely false.
The runaway theory may explain the sudden disappearance and the lack of body found, but does not appear to make sense when compared to statements made by Petronella’s friends and family. Petronella’s Mum, along with her boyfriend Jason Cook, all stated that, although she was known to occasionally spend days out without returning home, she would always keep in contact with someone close to her every 24 hours. Petronella also spent a majority of her time at the houses of friends and family who lived in Broome, as well as at party locations within the Broome area, and it didn’t appear she had any known connections or purposes for voluntarily leaving Broome.
There has also been a severe lack of sightings of Petronella since 1999. Petronella was incredibly popular among locals and would’ve been easily recognised had she remained in or re-entered Broome. Due to authorities labeling her as a missing person and making her face visible to the general public all around Australia, it would be relatively unlikely that she would be able to live life as usual without being recognised or reported by now.
The Suicide Theory
Due to the coroner ruling Petronella Albert as deceased, some have questioned whether it may have been an act of suicide. This doesn’t seem like too far of a leap in assumptions, as the suicide rates among those aged 15 to 24 – an age bracket that Petronella herself fit – are reportedly four times higher for Indigenous Australians than non-Indigenous Australians.
This is where the theory stops, however, as according to all who knew her, Petronella certainly didn’t appear to be suicidal – or even depressed – before her disappearance. In fact, almost all accounts described her as being a happy person (apart from when she was arguing with her boyfriend of the time Jason Cook).
This theory also wouldn’t explain a relatively vital part of this mystery: the fact that Petronella’s body has never been found. Although there are undoubtedly many barren places within Western Australia, Broome itself was quite a busy town and with tourists, fishermen and nosy locals, it’s unlikely that the body of a young woman would remain unseen for very long (unless somebody had hidden her body post-death).
The Foul Play Theory
This theory is the most commonly believed in Petronella Albert’s case. The coroner themselves stated in the 2017 inquest, ‘[They are] satisfied foul play was involved’. However, the type of foul play – whether that be the hiding of the body alone, or the ‘physical causing of her death‘ – and the perpetrator of this foul play, is still unknown.
The following information will cover some of the key witnesses, suspects, and circumstantial evidence in this foul play theory.
Timeline of Sightings and Events
Although the exact time and date of many sightings can’t be confirmed, it is still useful to place them in a relative time-frame to take a look into the circumstances of Petronella Albert’s disappearance.
Note: All events below have been placed in ascending chronological order and have been recorded from the 2017 Western Australian ‘Record of Investigation into Death‘. Events that do not have a date on them will be written as ‘UNKNOWN’ and cannot be placed in the timeline with 100% accuracy.
24th April 1999 (Monday)
Alleged suspect in Petronella Albert’s disappearance, Geoffrey Nicholls, was released from Broome Prison after serving a 10-month sentence.
Suspect Geoffrey Nicholls takes some boxes to the house of John Kuiper, whose son – Andrew – was reportedly friendly with Nicholls during his time in prison. Andrew told Nicholls he could store these boxes at his father’s house once he was released.
While helping Nicholls to unpack these boxes from his car boot, Kuiper noticed some of these boxes contained a significant amount of tablets which Kuiper recognised as being used to treat schizophrenia.
Suspect Nicholls told Kuiper he had taken a woman ‘with him’ to a detention centre just outside of Broome to assist an Indonesian detainee who had escaped, bringing them water, clothing, a torch and a compass. He did not give the identity of the woman he brought with him.
Suspect Nicholls accompanied Kuiper to a bottle shop, planning to purchase alcohol for Kuiper to thank Kuiper for allowing Nicholls to store boxes at his house. During this outing, Nicholls noticed a police officer on the street and attempted to hide, believing they were after him due to the detainee incident.
Nicholls, after the incident highlighted above, went to the caravan park – where he lived – to change the tyres on his car. He returned to Kuiper’s house later and stated that he was going to New South Wales, though Nicholls did not state the the purpose of this drive. Kuiper did not believe Nicholls would be able to make it to Sydney in this car, but Nicholls didn’t appear to acknowledge this. Nicholls later made calls to Kuiper, Nicholls pretending to be driving to Sydney at the time of each call, but Kuiper did not believe him.
According to Kuiper, Nicholls left his residence late one night and arrived back early morning. He approached Kuiper, appearing ‘really shaky’, and told Kuiper that he had taken an Indigenous woman on this late-night drive with him, then stated he’d ‘kicked the crap out of this sheila and then kicked her out the car’. Kuiper believed his woman to be Petronella Albert.
Guilia Benaldi witnessed Petronella Albert enter Kinney’s store, appearing distressed. She told Benaldi that she was about to be ‘beaten up’, although Benaldi was unsure of whom Petronella was about to be beaten by. Benaldi let Petronella through the store and out the back door.
Unknown/On a Thursday, Friday or Monday
Frances Johnson witnessed Petronella Albert waiting outside the Commonwealth Bank. An hour later, Petronella was standing by the telephone booths and Johnson offered to take Petronella to see her father, but Petronella refused the offer. Johnson also noticed a white man sitting in a small blue car beside these booths – a car which looked similar to one Geoffrey Nicholls had reportedly stolen around that time.
27/28th April 1999 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
At around 10:30pm, Quenten Bruce saw Petronella with a man he believed to be Geoffrey Nicholls at the Pearlers Bar at the Roebuck Bay Hotel in Carnarvon Street. He briefly spoke to Petronella, then left.
Bruce then saw Nicholls and Petronella again at the Nippon Inn nightclub later that night or early the next morning. Bruce went outside with Petronella and the man (Nicholls?) to smoke marijuana. He later told Petronella that he didn’t like the man she was with (Nicholls?) as he found him ”creepy’, partially because of the things he said he had said about what he wanted to do to Petronella‘.
Petronella had dropped by her step sister, Veronica Majella Albert’s, home in a taxi at around 8:30pm or 9:00pm and asked for some money. Veronica gave her $10 and Petronella left in the taxi again.
Christine Hunter had seen Petronella at the Pearlers Bar playing pool with a couple of ‘white fellas’ – neither of which she recognised as Nicholls. Hunter told Petronella that she would catch up with her at the Nippon Inn later that night and Petronella agreed, but Hunter never saw Petronella again and stated that she believed she would’ve remembered if she had. However, Hunter did admit she had been drinking a lot at the time.
28th April 1999 (Wednesday)
Petronella leaves the home of her boyfriend Jason Cook, telling him she was going to visit some friends. This was Cook’s last reported sighting of Petronella.
Kuiper asked Nicholls to remove the boxes that Nicholls had stored at Kuiper’s house, as Kuiper no longer felt comfortable with the boxes being in his home.
Nicholls came to Kuiper’s house to remove the boxes, but behaved strangely and would not allow Kuiper – or his children, who had offered to help him load the boxes into his car – to open or see into the boot of the car.
Kuiper’s daughter, Anna, had seen into the back seat of Nicholls’ car as he’d been telling them not to open the boot. She noticed some dark brown-stained rags wrapped around something that looked like a shovel. Nicholls was allegedly a painter, but only had white paint cans in his car, leading Anna to believe the stains on the rags were not paint stains, but possibly dried blood.
Nicholls, immediately after refusing to open the boot, ‘got in the car and drove off’ leaving behind the rest of the boxes he hadn’t yet packed into his car.
3rd May 1999 (Monday)
Petronella was reported to police as a missing person by her Mum, Esther Albert, and her boyfriend, Jason Cook. Cook had been the one recorded by police as making the report.
Unknown/Unsure of before or after disappearance
A taxi driver, Raymond Ramirez, recalls driving Petronella to the house of Philip Bickley. He did not remember the exact date he drove Petronella or the name of the man he drove Petronella to, but was able to identify Bickley later when interviewed by police.
4th May 1999 (Tuesday)
Philip Bickley alleged that Petronella had dropped by his home on this date for a shower and a change of clothes before she headed out to a nightclub. Petronella left, telling Bickley ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’, but Bickley never saw Petronella again. This story was supported by a diary entry allegedly written by Bickley at the time, describing the day’s events.
Jason Cook, boyfriend of Petronella, installed a new barbecue in his residence shortly after Petronella’s disappearance, causing Petronella’s family to become suspicious.
25th June 1999 (Friday)
Western Australian police got information that Geoffrey Nicholls was a Person of Interest in Petronella’s disappearance.
Unknown/9 months after disappearance
A cousin of Petronella reported having seen Petronella boarding a train at the Perth train station. This report resulted in the closing of Petronella’s case but was later proven to be unsubstantiated and the witness statement was disregarded.
Jason Cook, once boyfriend of Petronella, travelled to Karratha to search for Petronella after a reported sighting of her in the area.
20th July 2001 (Friday)
Suspect Geoffrey Nicholls was shot by police after an event in Oodnadatta. At the time, Nicholls was travelling with an Indigenous woman and her 2 children.
As far as suspects go, there has only been one publicised by Western Australian police. That suspect is Geoffrey Nicholls.
Note: A majority of this information has been sourced from the 2003 coroner’s report which investigated Geoffrey Nicholls’ 2001 death.
Geoffrey Nicholls was an Indigenous Australian man born on the 19th of July 1960, making him 38 years of age at the time of Petronella’s disappearance. Nicholls had been well known to police, having committed a number of offenses over the years. Some of these offenses included:
- Escaping Prison (December 1993). Nicholls had escaped from Long Bay Gaol in New South Wales. He was later arrested and admitted into the James Nash House – the South Australian Forensic Medical Health Service Secure Care Facility – after expressing suicidal intent.
- Larceny and Reckless Endangerment (14th October 1996). Nicholls was pulled over by an officer who wanted to speak to him about the larceny of petrol. The officer asked him to step out of the vehicle, but Nicholls refused. He then grabbed a jerry can of gasoline and covered both himself and his son Troy (then 11) with gasoline, held a match and matchbox, and threatened the officer by saying ‘give me the key or I’ll set this thing on fire, I’ll kill us all’. There was a scuffle between him and the officer through the car window, Nicholls attempted to get the gun out of the officer’s holster, and Nicholls was eventually placed in a headlock by the officer until backup police vehicles arrived.
- Theft and Reckless Endangerment (4th March 2001). Nicholls left a petrol station without paying and was found 30 minutes later by police. Before he had pulled over, he’d set fire to the interior of his own car. Police were able to arrest him and his car went up in flames shortly after. Nicholls became agitated at his arrest, saying he wanted to kill himself.
- Possession of cannabis (13th July 2001). Nicholls had attended the Derby Police Station, offering to divulge information relating to the illegal drug trade. In an attempt to prove he was telling the truth, he showed police 5 small bags of marijuana, but did not divulge any more information, resulting in him being charged.
Nicholls, however, did have a number of mental and physical health issues, along with traumatic life experiences.
In January 1989, the Royal Perth Hospital admitted Nicholls as a patient due to a rare kidney disorder known as Bartters Syndrome, which caused low potassium levels and resulted in lethargy and weakness. He was also admitted into the Canterbury Hospital in Campsie New South Wales due to this same condition, but removed the IV drip nurses had placed in him and discharged himself before he could be properly treated.
He had also been admitted into several mental health institutions due to depression, suicidal tendencies and self-mutilating behaviours. He had been described by some as acting in an ‘excessively paranoid’ manner, and doctors reported he had suffered from hallucinations.
Nicholls’ son Troy was reported to have passed away in 1999 due to ‘petrol sniffing’ at the age of 14 and his niece had passed away the year after.
Nicholls had also engaged in a range of increasingly strange behaviours such as reportedly driving hours to attend his grandmother’s funeral weeks after the funeral had already been held, shooting/beating a cow to death, threatening to shoot himself in front of an Indigenous woman and her 2 young children (who were with him for these past 3 events), and eventually approaching the Oodndatta hotel with a gun – after being told to leave the hotel by a hotel staff member – which resulted in police being called and a shoot-out between police and Nicholls ensuing, resulting in Nicholls’ death.
Nicholls, of course, also allegedly had a range of potential links to Petronella Albert, though none of these have been confirmed. These links are:
- Witness Quenten Bruce had mentioned seeing Petronella with Nicholls on the 27th of April at the Pearlers Bar at 10:30pm, then again later that night or early that morning at the Nippon Inn nightclub. Bruce went outside to smoke marijuana with Petronella and the man he believed was Nicholls on the second encounter at the Nippon Inn. He later told Petronella that he found the man he believed was Nicholls ‘creepy’, partly because of the things he said he wanted to do to her.
- Witness Frances Johnson stated she’d seen Petronella waiting by telephone booths in Broome and had noticed a small blue car (similar to the one Geoffrey Nicholls had stolen during that time) and had seen a white man sitting in it (which may have been Nicholls).
- Witness John Kuiper stated that Nicholls had left his residence late one night and returned early one morning. He appeared ‘really shaky’ and told Kuiper that he driven with an Indigenous woman and then had ‘kicked the crap out of this sheila and then kicked her out the car’. Kuiper believed this woman was Petronella.
- Witness John Kuiper had been allowing Nicholls to store boxes of goods at his home, but asked Nicholls to remove them a few days later as Kuiper no longer felt comfortable storing them. When Nicholls arrived to retrieve these boxes, Kuiper and his children attempted to assist Nicholls load the boxes into the boot of Nicholls’ car, but Nicholls refused to let them open or see into the boot of the car. Kuiper’s daughter Anna saw into the back seat area of the car and noticed a series of rags wrapped around something that appeared to be a shovel. She noticed that the rags had dark brown stains on them, but were not paint stains – Nicholls alleged he was a painter – as the only paint in Nicholls’ car were tins of white paint. After Nicholls had refused to allow Kuiper and children access to the boot, he immediately ‘got in the car and drove off’, leaving the rest of the boxes that he had not packed into his car at Kuiper’s house.
- Nicholls was in the same area at the time of Petronella’s disappearance.
Although these points do make Kuiper appear suspicious, it is important to note that this is all circumstantial and that there has been no physical forensic evidence found linking Nicholls to Petronella’s disappearance in 1999. It may appear to make sense chronologically – with the loss of Nicholls’ son possibly causing a psychological ‘break’ in Nicholls’ psyche – it is possible that these events could all just highlight the tragic mental decline of a severely mentally ill man, rather than the acts of a killer. Although Nicholls was described as having a temper and clearly behaved in a way that could cause harm to others, he had never been witnessed physically harming or causing the death of another person at any point other than the shoot-out in Oodnadatta which resulted in his death in 2001, where he’d injured a police officer.
Other Possible Suspects (Theorised)
Although the following suspects have no been confirmed by law enforcement to be people of interest, and likely not have any involvement in Petronella Albert’s disappearance, it is still worth noting other possible links in this case.
Jason Cook and Petronella Albert had been described by many as having a volatile relationship; arguing many times over issues such as money. Some have even noted that their arguments would become physical if the two had been drinking, but that both Petronella and Cook had been perpetrators of this physical violence. Petronella had been reported to be a good fighter, and had been able to defend herself when need be.
Cook had, according to the Coroner’s Report, installed a barbecue in his backyard shortly after Petronella’s disappearance, causing some suspicions on the part of Petronella’s Mum Esther Albert.
Cook has, however, been cooperative with police as far as reports concerned, and Deputy State Coroner E F Vicker herself had stated there was no evidence to suggest Cook was involved in Petronella’s disappearance.
Philip Bickley was an unusual witness in this case, given that he’d allegedly seen Petronella the day after she was reported missing. He had stated that Petronella came to his house in Dann place on the 4th of May 1999 and asked if she could come in for a shower and a change of clothes. Bickley reports he had a visitor around at his home at the time. Petronella hence showered, changed clothes, and headed out to one of the local nightclubs, telling Bickley ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’, which Bickley never did. This has all been corroborated through a diary entry that Bickley had made at the time, apparently writing ‘now missing’ beneath it once he’d heard the reports of Petronella’s disappearance later on.
The peculiar part about Bickley’s sighting was that Bickley alleged that Petronella was dressing up to go clubbing for the night, but no other sightings on that day have been made public. With Petronella’s popularity, it would seem strange that nobody else had seen her on that day, especially in a place as populated as a nightclub or hotel. There had also been no other sightings of Petronella between the 28th or 29th of April and the 4th of May, which also appears strange, as Petronella would’ve had to have been staying somewhere and was an avid party-goer, making it unusual for her to have stayed indoors unseen for that period of time.
The Deputy State Coroner, however, states there is no evidence to support Bickley’s involvement in Petronella’s disappearance. Bickley is adamant that the diary entry describing the last time he saw Petronella was written on the day it occurred (May 4th 1999) and it is likely that this sighting has been corroborated by the ‘visitor’- unless this person was somehow also involved – that Bickley alleged was at his home at the time.
Bradley John Murdoch
Although there is no mention of Bradley Murdoch in the official coroner’s report, he is still questionable in the minds of many who are familiar with him.
Bradley Murdoch, aka the ‘Outback Killer’, was the perpetrator of the 2001 murder of 28-year-old backpacker Peter Falconio and kidnapping of Joanne Lees. Lees and Falconio – United Kingdom residents who were backpacking in Australia at the time – were driving along the Stewart Highway in Northern Territory when Murdoch pulled into the lane beside them, gesturing wildly at their car. The couple pulled over in front of a roadhouse in Barrow Creek and Murdoch pulled over in front of them. They got out, and began speaking to Murdoch about an issue he’d noticed with Falconio’s car’s exhaust. Lees got back in the car to rev the engine and heard a loud bang. She turned to find Murdoch standing at her window with a gun. Lees was then punched in the head and Murdoch bound her arms with cable ties and she was placed in the back of Murdoch’s vehicle. She later managed to escape the vehicle, run away and hide for 5 hours before being found by a passer-by. Falconio’s body has never been found, but it is assumed he died from a gun shot.
Due to the significant lack of evidence left at the scene, the calm demeanour of Murdoch during the crime and a series of similar possible ‘attempts’ by Murdoch, where he pulled up beside drivers and signaled to their cars, with one witness describing Murdoch making a ‘throat-slitting’ gesture as he passed them – it is difficult to believe that Falconio and Lees were Murdoch’s first victims.
Murdoch’s racism towards Indigenous Australians was well known, having shouted racist slurs many times and having grotesque white-supremacy tattoos – one of which showed a black man being hung – on his body. Murdoch was also present in the Broome area at the time of Petronella’s disappearance, making it quite possible they could’ve come across one another at some point. It’s not exactly a big leap to assume a raging racist with a proclivity towards crime could’ve been responsible for the disappearance of a young Aboriginal woman.
However, Murdoch’s victims, as well as ‘attempted’ victims, have all been notably white people who had been travelling along long stretches of highway. Not to mention, Petronella never had a driver’s licence and would have relied on others to drive her from place-to-place. This would mean someone else would have had to be driving in the car with her if it were Murdoch who’d pulled her over. There had been no reports of attacks similar to that of Murdock’s previous attacks at the time, and no other missing persons in the area have been linked to Petronella’s case.
Petronella Albert’s case continues not only to baffle, but to frustrate both those who knew her and the Indigenous community in Australia as a whole. Many feel police have failed Petronella Albert and considering the loss of Petronella’s original case files, the lack of any real investigation into witness sightings – which had led to Petronella’s case being prematurely closed – and the monumentally slow and unethical manner in which detectives approached the case following the 2007 and 2010 enquiries, it’s certainly not difficult to see why. Had this investigation been taken seriously, there’s a good chance Petronella’s case could have been solved years ago.
However, Petronella Albert is not the only missing Indigenous Australian who’s case has remained unsolved. In fact, in New South Wales, 10% of all missing females that have not been found since 2014 have been Indigenous, where as only 3% of New South Wales’ population is Indigenous.
Western Australia, the state Petronella Albert disappeared from, has a population of around 2,589,000 people, 17.5% of which are Indigenous. The percentage of missing Indigenous persons in this state is not actively being counted or recorded by authorities.
Petronella Albert was only 22-years-old when she disappeared in April of 1999. Today, in 2020, she would be 44 years old. For 21 years her family has been without answers; their minds plagued with questions that they may never get answers to. They have never been able to properly grieve, or to hold the appropriate funeral ceremonies. All they have left is hope; hope that, one day, Petronella will finally be brought home. That, some day, someone will finally know what happened to Petronella that April, 1999.
If you have any information relating to the disappearance of Petronella Albert, please contact Crime Stoppers at 1800 333 000. Reports can be made anonymously.
Together, we can bring Petronella Albert home.
If you find any information in this article to be incorrect or know of any information that has not been included in this article that you believe would assist with the publics understanding of this case, please contact me using the ‘Contact Me’ page on this website.
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