Bonnie Clarke: The Answer is in the file
In a particularly brutal and horrific crime, six-year old Bonnie Clarke was raped and stabbed to death at her Northcote home in Melbourne on 20 December 1982. Despite intensive police investigations at the time the murderer was not identified but following a reopening of the case 19 years later a man was arrested. He was Malcolm Clarke, (no relation) who had been a boarder in Bonnie’s home not long before the murder, but had not been living there at the time.
For the case file: Five things learned
1. From little things big things grow
With most murder cases, time is the enemy. As each day passes the chances of finding the culprit begin to fade. It is a law enforcement rule of thumb that the chances of solving the crime are cut in half if no credible lead is received within the first 48 hours.
But there are exceptions to this rule and we saw a classic example in the Bonnie Clarke case. A school friend of Bonnie’s, Kylie Ward, who was also six years old at the time of the murder, came to the police in 1999, remembering that the house boarder had seemed strange and should be investigated.
At the time, as a little girl, she thought nothing of it, but as an adult the boarder’s behaviour, as she remembered it, became a significant issue. This apparently minor development turned out to be the breakthrough the police had been waiting for.
“There was a man who lived at the house who was a boarder. He was strange “ – Kylie Ward to police investigators in 1999.
2. The answer is in the file
With the reopening of the case, detectives, poring through the original case file, could not understand why the boarder had not been more fully investigated. Instead it was believed at the time that Bonnie’s mother Marion, was the prime suspect and this became the main driver of the investigation.
Ron Iddles and his team, after re-examining the file and mulling over Kylie Ward’s new evidence, thought otherwise and began concentrating on the boarder as a person of interest. Ron’s mantra in such cases is that the original file often contains the identity of the killer – if the investigators look hard enough.
“I’ve always said – the answer is in the original file” – Ron Iddles
3. Fresh eyes, different ideas
After closely looking at the original evidence Iddles came up with a different idea to the first police investigation and worked at finding the identity of the boarder. In going through the available records the homicide team discovered that his name was Malcolm Clarke and that he had been a projectionist at the Greater Union Theatre. Far more significantly he had a particularly serious criminal history, including the rape and manslaughter of a young woman in 1980 – in circumstances very similar to Bonnie Clarke’s murder.
“Ron you wont believe this. Malcolm Clarke was convicted of killing a young woman… in 1980” – Detective Tim Day to Ron Iddles after doing a criminal history check on Malcolm Clarke
4. Undercover can be very useful
Clarke was put under covert surveillance by the Victorian Police when, at the time, he was a volunteer worker on the Puffing Billy tourist railway.
“Maybe I can use an undercover operative – so we had an undercover operative become a guard – he did the course. He became a guard on the Puffing Billy and he worked with Malcolm” – Ron Iddles recalls the start of the surveillance operation.
This led to a full confession that resulted in Clarke’s arrest in 2002. He went on trial soon after, charged with the murder of Bonnie Clarke.
On 31 December 2004, Clarke was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum period of 25 years.
5. Not New Evidence but a Re-interpretation Of The Old
Just as Ron Iddles had predicted the murderer – Malcolm Clarke – had been mentioned in the original file. He had been interviewed but discounted as a suspect when he produced an alibi – that turned out to be false.
“The investigators that do the original investigation will have spoken to the killer – the answer is in the file” – Ron Iddles