Tuesday 17 July 2018

'The most wanted man in Australia' - Irish emigrant still hunted by police almost 50 years after brutal murders

Manhunt continues for Irish man suspected of killing his wife and three children - almost 50 years ago

A picture of Elmer Crawford that has been digitally aged by Victoria Police (Image via Victoria Police)
A picture of Elmer Crawford that has been digitally aged by Victoria Police (Image via Victoria Police)

Sean Nolan

Almost 50 years after the brutal murder of his pregnant wife and three children, Australian police have still not given up hope of finding Derry-native Elmer Crawford to quiz him about the killings.

Crawford's name may not be very well known in Ireland but he remains a notorious figure in Australia, where he is still the chief suspect in the gruesome murder of his wife Therese Crawford (35) and children Kathryn (13), James (8) and Karen (6).

He disappeared a day after their bodies were discovered in a car in July 1970 and has never been seen since.

Elmer Crawford was born in Canada to a woman from Derry in 1930 and grew up with his grandparents in Derry before emigrating to Australia in 1951.

And because of the gruesome events of July 1, 1970 Crawford is still a person of interest all across Australia.

When the police broke in to the Crawford family home in a suburb of Melbourne on that day, they found evidence of a particularly cruel killing.

What they found included a long electrical cord with 'alligator' clips attached.

Police now believe that the murderer attached these clips to the ears of Therese, electrocuting her while she slept. Kathryn, James and Karen were then beaten to death with a blunt instrument, probably a hammer.

Waves crash into the base of natural limestone structures known as the Loch Ard Gorge off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park, by the Great Ocean road in Victoria. Picture: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
Waves crash into the base of natural limestone structures known as the Loch Ard Gorge off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park, by the Great Ocean road in Victoria. Picture: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images

However the four bodies were not found in the house. Instead the killer wrapped the bodies in bedsheets, placed them into the family's car and drove it hundreds of kilometres away to a cliff-top called Loch Ard Gorge.

A hose was placed from the car's exhaust through the driver's side window before it was pushed over the cliff in what police believe was a bid by the killer to make it look like a murder-suicide by Therese.

However, the car failed to plunge into the sea. Instead it lodged on a ledge 20m from the clifftop. The police, identifying the car, went to Crawford's home but there was no answer when they knocked on the door.

Police believe that the killer was in the process of cleaning up the murder scene when they arrived, because when detectives returned later and broke in to the home they found evidence of attempts to clear up blood stains, but no sign of Elmer Crawford.

The then 41-year old was never seen again, despite numerous reported sightings in Australia and elsewhere over the last 48 years.

However, police in Victoria are still hopeful they will find him alive so he can be quizzed about the deaths.

In a statement to Independent.ie this week, a Victoria Poilce spokesperson said: "The investigation into the deaths of Therese, Kathryn, James and Karen Crawford in July 1970 remains open.

"Police also continue to seek information on the current whereabouts of Elmer Crawford."

Picture of Elmer Crawford (Image via Victoria Police)
Picture of Elmer Crawford (Image via Victoria Police)

A 1971 inquest concluded that Crawford was likely responsible for the deaths of his wife and three children and he remains one of Australia's most wanted men.

A reported sighting in western Australia in 1994 was deemed credible by police but they never managed to track the man down and in 2005 it was thought that a body in a morgue in Texas was in fact Crawford.

Facial recognition technology was used and it identified the man as a possible match for Crawford. Hopes were further raised when it was reported that the dead man in Texas had removed his fingerprints in what looked like a concerted effort to conceal his identity.

However, five years later, a blood relative of Crawford was discovered in New South Wales and her DNA evidence proved that the man in the Texas morgue was not in fact Crawford.

Just last year, detectives from Victoria visited a remote, sparsely populated part of north western Australia after a tip off regarding a possible sighting but again it proved fruitless.

Speaking to Seven News in Australia last year, one of the officers who was involved in the case in 1970 said that he still held out hope of catching the killer.

"It's definitely solvable, if you get the right information," said retired detective Adrian Donehue.

"We've got everything else - all we need is a body."

Victoria Police have asked that anyone with information in relation to the murders or the disappearance of Crawford to contact Crime Stoppers International on +31 (0)88 -5543240.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News