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Living In The Shadow Of The Claremont Killings

We've all been waiting more than twenty years for a breakthrough.

23/12/2016 12:15 AM AEDT | Updated 23/12/2016 8:47 AM AEDT
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A dreadful cloud of fear settled over the city of Perth when three young women were killed, one by one. And despite the passage of 20 years, it has never quite lifted.

The Claremont murders are some of Australia's most enduring cold case files, and now reports suggest a man has been arrested in connection with them, some 20 years later.

Regardless of this latest development, these killings changed Perth forever.

Ciara Glennon, aged 27, Jane Rimmer, 23 and Sarah Spiers, 18 disappeared from Claremont in 1996 and 1997. The bodies of Ciara and Jane were later found but Sarah's body has never been recovered.

What made it so frightening is that it happened in a 'safe suburb.' It happened to girls who could have been anybody's daughter, sister or best friend.

The murders changed people's social habits and it made people feel unsafe. As young women, we were told not to go out in pairs, only go out in a group of at least three. Do not catch a taxi. Do not hitchhike. Women were scared to go to pubs and nightclubs. The fear was quite palpable. And what made it even worse is that nearly 20 years later the killer hadn't been caught.

How could it be that even with CCTV cameras and DNA, a killer had seemingly gotten away with the crime of snuffing out the lives of three beautiful young women?

All three girls had been socialising in the 'nice, safe suburb' of affluent Claremont. Yet the killer found a way to kidnap them, kill them and leave two of their bodies in bushland, without a trace of evidence. It was like the killer vanished into thin air. Along with the body of victim Sarah Spiers, which is yet to be found.

There are few West Australians who don't immediately recognise the girls' faces, which have been plastered on posters and across newspapers and TV reports for the last twenty years. The phrase 'Claremont Serial Killer' was a constant on everybody's lips. Even today, many in Perth who had been teenagers at the time the girls went missing have a story to tell.

Urban myths are stones that still gather moss, no matter how many years have rolled passed.

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Jane Rimmer

Even this journalist, (who hails from Perth), has a connection; my friend's boyfriend had dated one of the victims. And the father of my family friend had worked with a victim's father. She told of the unspeakable horror of the girl's parents when police broke the news that that their beloved daughter's body had been discovered.

My friends and I had walked home from the Claremont pub many times. Sometimes we would stupidly hitch-hike. But never again. Task Force Macro, Australia's longest-running murder investigation, has investigated more than 3,000 people over the years. That's why a breakthrough, for the people of Perth, is a long time coming.

Journalist Ros Thomas was working as a reporter for the Seven Network's Today Tonight at the time of the killings and she was invited to spend a night with Taskforce Macro.

"All of a sudden, one of the cops turned to me and said, 'You'd be the killer's perfect victim. You're a size 12, fair-haired and curvy,'" Thomas told The Huffington Post Australia.

(Another journalist told me, when I repeated what Thomas had said; "That's something only a Perth cop would say.")

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Ciara Glennon

"It was a strange night following the taskforce around at night. They'd sit in cars, waiting outside the Claremont pub and making sure any women leaving would be safely getting in cars with friends. But most people stayed well away from Claremont. And, of course nobody dared to catch a taxi," Thomas said.

The first suspect in the killings was a taxi driver. That's because Jane, Ciara and Sarah had told friends they were catching a taxi home. The phrase, "Don't get a taxi!" was thrown at anybody going out for a drink in the affluent western suburbs.

"We all had our theories. There was a well-known local politician I interviewed on an unrelated story and he had an employee who was a taxi driver. There were stories going around about the politician's possible connection with the crimes. One theory is that the politician used the taxi driver to get his victims, then he could have his way with them," Thomas told The Huffington Post Australia.

"That's another thing the cops told me. That most serial killers practice a lot before they get their 'perfect murder' and there were a string of crimes that had similarities to the Claremont killings. Then the killer got good at what he was doing and that the three Claremont murders were finally his perfect murders.

"On a personal note: the photograph the police used of Jane Rimmer showed her in a dress that was identical to a dress I'd recently worn to a friend's wedding. That always freaked me out -- that Jane and I had the same dress and that dress was all over the news. Also there was so many stories swirling around Perth: stories that a man was driving around Claremont with an axe, masking tape and black plastic. Stories that a 13-year-old girl who was murdered years ago was his first victim."

As recently as 2008, police released previously unseen CCTV footage, showing Jane Rimmer exchanging a greeting with an unidentified man outside the Continental Hotel in Claremont at midnight on June 9, the night she disappeared.

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CCTV footage showing Jane Rimmer outside the Continental Hotel in Claremont in 1996. This footage wasn't released until 2008.

The hotel had closed for the night and a man approaches Jane; she seems to acknowledge him. Then he walks out of view while Jane remains on the footpath for several minutes. When the rotating camera moves away from Jane, then returns -- she is gone.

For now, the people of Perth are desperately waiting for closure. And, of course, the family of Sarah Spiers, will be living in hope that they might finally be able to bury their beloved daughter.

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