The tragic story of the murder of 16-year-old Michelle Buckingham in 1983, and the identification of her killer nearly 30 years later, is a classic homicide cold case. It was cracked through the dogged persistence of a local reporter – and her decision to take the case to Detective Ron Iddles – the best in the business.
His investigations lifted a rock that resulted in the identification and subsequent charging of the murderer, Stephen James Bradley.
For the case file: Five things learned
- No Case is Too cold
Michelle Buckingham was stabbed to death in October 1983, and some 29 years passed before the unsolved crime file made its way across Ron Iddles’ desk. To many it seemed that the trail was too cold and that nothing would come of the new investigation.
However it turned out to be a textbook cold case. After all those years there were still people out there that knew the story, and Ron Iddles was just the man to locate them.
“In any homicide investigation failure is not an option” – Detective Ron Iddles.
- The Power of the Press
The persistence and courage shown by Tammy Mills, a young reporter on the Shepparton News were the catalysts that ended up cracking the case wide open. She began digging back into the past after she contacted Michelle’s mother seeking her permission to bring the case back into the public eye.
She also persuaded Ron Iddles, the head of the Victorian Police Cold Case Division to begin a new investigation and the case opened up dramatically from there.
She wrote a series of articles about Michelle – and her murder – in the local newspaper and within one week this produced several leads.
“Michelle was 16 years old. She was left by the side of the road like an animal and it also felt like most of the town had forgotten about her…” – Tammy Mills from the Shepparton News.
- Somebody Else Knows
One of Rod Iddles fundamental beliefs is that in nearly all homicide cases, the murderer will tell someone else about the crime. And this other person is often the link in the chain that leads back to the killer.
This philosophy was to be a game changer in the Michelle Buckingham case. As it turned out the murderer had done just that, and admitted his guilt to his brother – in-law soon after the crime.
As Iddles and his team untangled this mystery they were well on the way to identifying the killer.
“I don’t think that I’ve ever investigated a homicide where the person responsible has not told someone” – Detective Ron Iddles.
- A Conscience Can Help
Some murderers – and those that know about the crime – have a conscience and this can constantly nag away at them as the days turn to months and even years. The atrocious actions surrounding the murder, although hidden from public view, still lurk in their sub-conscience, looking for a way out.
A future investigator can be the trigger that releases this reservoir of shame and regret. The murderer himself may crack or perhaps someone he has confided in has gradually been overcome with guilt and remorse.
In this case it was the murderer’s brother-in-law, Norm, who alerted the police to his suspicions and led them on the trail back to Stephen James Bradley. Norm had kept the awful secret to himself for nearly 30 years but had finally come forward after reading one of Tammy Mills articles in the Shepparton News.
“I look at it and think- I can’t keep this a secret any longer” – Norm in his interview with Detective Ron Iddles.
- When Only the Best Will Do
With a cold case of this age, when the chances of success are dim, only the best will do when it comes to the investigative team. And in this case the best were there – Ron Iddles backed up by the Victorian Police Cold Case Division.
In 2012 they located 52-year-old Stephen Bradley in Brisbane and Iddles met with him. In a textbook police interview Iddles gradually broke him down and Bradley admitted to his involvement – albeit in an indirect way. He was arrested and charged.
In 2015 Stephen Bradley was tried, found guilty and sentenced to 27 years in gaol.
“I should have told someone a long time ago and I would have been out” – Stephen Bradley to Detective Rod Iddles before his trial.