Paul Luckman & Robin Reid:Australian Child Killers

An Astonishing Story

Australia map showing Brisbane
Australia map showing Brisbane

On the night of May 4, 1982, 13-year-old Terry Ryan rushed into his family home in Marsden, a suburb of Brisbane, the capital of the state of Queensland in northeastern Australia, and told his mother an astonishing story. Terry said that he had been forced by two men to participate in the sexual assault and prolonged torture and murder of his best friend. He said his friend's body had been buried in a shallow grave in scrubland about 60 kilometers south, over the New South Wales border, near the seaside hamlet of Kingscliff. Belita Ryan immediately rang police, and then accompanied her son to the nearby Beenleigh Police Station.

In the early hours of May 5, Terry retold his story to Sergeant Wayne King and Detective Senior Constable Robert Guteridge of the Queensland Criminal Investigation Branch. At approximately 4:45 that morning, the detectives drove Terry and his mother over the border into New South Wales to Tweed Heads Police Station, where they were joined by Senior Constable Mark Ferguson, a local detective. On the boy's instructions, they first drove to and examined the contents of a garbage bin in nearby Foux Park. Then, they examined the sink, walls, urinal and cubicle of a local public toilet. From there, they proceeded south along the Coast Road and about three kilometers past Kingscliff until the boy told them to stop the car at a bush track leading east toward the ocean.

Terry led his mother and the detectives along the sandy track into the scrub, but the trail petered out to nothing. There was no bush grave as he had described. If this was a teenage prank, it was quite an elaborate one. By the time the detectives had explored another three bush trails with no result, their patience was wearing thin. The fourth track they investigated seemed more promising, with fresh tire tracks on the sandy surface. Terry became excited and led the way, pointing enthusiastically at the tread marks. After about 200 meters, the track opened onto a roughly cleared area and the tire tracks disappeared into bushland on the other side of it. "There ... in there," Terry Ryan said as he pointed into the foliage. "It's in there."

The detectives led the way, and as they entered the track, they came across a grave-sized mound of earth off to the north-east. It was covered with small tree branches and twigs obviously broken from the nearby trees. Terry stepped back into his mother's arms and began to cry as the police officers approached the ominous mound and examined the freshly turned earth. In the dawn light, they saw spots of blood in the sand and a large, wet, blood-soaked section in the center of the raised soil. Lying in the sand at the head of the bush grave was a dark sock and a knife in a sheaf. There were also numerous chewed matchsticks lying about the gravesite.

What the police officers found beneath the mound almost defied their comprehension. Nearly every part of 13-year-old Peter Aston's naked body had been defiled. The fact that the boy was tall, more than 6 feet, made the discovery even more grotesque as he had been bent to fit into the hastily dug hole that was not long enough for his gangly frame. A chewed matchstick was caught up in his pubic hair.


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