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Australia, 1960: Shocking Kidnapping-Murder Leads To Law Keeping Lottery Winners Anonymous

Culture | September 13, 2019

Source: nfsa.gov.au

In 1960 Graeme Thorne, an eight-year-old Australian boy was abducted and murdered after his parents, Bazil and Freda Thorne, won the Sydney Opera House lottery. The crime shook the country and completely reformed its lottery system, and it played a significant role in the widespread use of forensics in Australia.

This awful crime gripped the nation and made everyone a little more paranoid than they were before. This is an awful crime, but it completely changed the country for the better. The murder of Graeme Thorne is one of the great forgotten, and most upsetting true crime stories of the 20th century,

Bazil Thorne Won The First Sydney Opera Lottery 

source: herald sun

The Sydney Opera House is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. Its white curves have jutted themselves into the imaginations of travelers and performers since its construction, but in 1960 the city was having trouble finishing the structure. A plan was hatched by the New South Wales government to host a lottery to make some extra money to pay for the construction.

On June 1, 1960, Bazil Thorne and his wife Freda walked away with a cool A£100,000 prize (that’s somewhere around $3 million today), and while this should have been a boon for the Thorne family it turned out to be a curse. 

Graeme Thorn Went Missing Five Weeks After The Lottery Win

source: pinterest

Five weeks after the Thorne family won the lottery their world came crashing down. On the morning of July 7 Graeme Thorne, Bazil’s eight-year-old son, left for school. There's still no official timeline, but it's believed that he was kidnapped between 8:30 and 8:40 in the morning, before arriving at his classes. The family, unsure of what happened to the boy, thought he was just lollygagging, but after going to his school in Bellevue Hill they realized he was missing,

Around 9:40 AM the kidnapper reacher out to the Thorne family to demand a ransom for the boy. Sergeant Larry O'Shea of Bondi Police was already on the scene at the Thorne home and pretended to be Bazil so he could speak to the suspect. The kidnapper stated

I have your boy. I want £25,000 before 5 o’clock this afternoon. I’m not fooling. If I don’t get the money before 5 o’clock, I’ll feed the boy to the sharks.

Officer O’Shea said that he was unsure about how to get that much money together at once, and the kidnapper hung up. The kidnapper called 12 hours later and spoke to a different officer pretending to be Thorne, this time he told the man to put the money in two different paper bags but hung up before telling the officer where to place the loot. 

Sydney Went On The Hunt For The Kidnapper

source: sydney morning herald

Everyone in Sydney was on edge as soon as the kidnapping leaked to the press. This was the first major kidnapping case in Australia, and no one felt safe. A public plea went out for the return of the boy on the TV from Bondi Police Station on July 7, the following night the police combed through Sydney's north-eastern suburbs when they discovered Graeme’s school effects near Seaforth.

The same day, the police received information that Graeme was seen with two men in Pennant Hills, an area that’s about a 35-minute drive from Sydney. Hoping to find the boy alive a reward was offered for information about his whereabouts but nothing substantial came from the police's call for help.

The Kidnapper Had Been Watching The Family For Weeks

source: herald sun

During the investigation into Graeme’s disappearance, it was revealed that his kidnappers were planning to take someone from the family for a few weeks, initially, they wanted to kidnap Graeme's younger daughter, but she was never alone. Prior to the boy’s kidnapping, someone with a foreign accent claiming to be an investigator called the family and asked the family to confirm that they were the Thorne family. You know, the family that just won all that money?  Clearly something was amiss.

Along with the phone calls, neighbors claim that they saw the same blue car drive by the Thorne residence multiple times, it’s clear that someone was casing the home, looking for an in. After an exhaustive investigation, the local authorities found that there were too many blue cars in the area to trace. Even so, the kidnapper's car would play a part in his undoing.

Graeme Died Long Before His Body Was Found

source: herald sun

On August 16, 1960, the body of Graeme Thorne was found in an empty lot in Grandview Grove, near Sydney. The body was still clad in his school uniform and wrapped in a picnic blanket. Due to the amount of decomposition on the body Australian authorities surmised that he passed away from a brain injury within 24 hours of his kidnapping.

Even though the Australian police at the time didn't have the same forensic advancements as law enforcement does today, they were still able to use quite a bit of information from the scene to determine how long the body had been out in the open, and even where he was done away with.

 The blanket wrapped around the body was identified as pattern No. 0639, 3,000, manufactured at the Onkaparinga Mills in South Australia, between May 1955 and January 1956, and caught in the fibers were pieces of pink limestone mortar, dog hair, and a woman's hair. Add all of that to the blue car and the police had a lot to go on. 

Through evidence from the site, the police were able to track the boy’s killer to Clontarf, a suburb in New South Wales. The police found the home of a Stephen Bradley, a Hungarian immigrant, and his wife Magda. The family happened to own a blue 1955 Ford Customline and lived in a house built on pink limestone. Before the police were able to apprehend Bradley he disappeared from the country. However as this was 1960, Bradley left Australia by boat which gave the police ample time to meet him at his destination, Colombo, Sri Lanka on October 10.  

The Kidnapper Claimed That The Boy's Death Was An Accident

source: sydney morning herald

Bradley was brought back to Australia on November 18 where he wrote out a confession stating that he kidnapped the boy, but never planned to kill him. He just wanted to hold the child until he extracted money from the family, but the boy suffocated while he was in the trunk of his car. Bradley says he panicked and ditched the boy's body in a field, but the boy's injuries didn't match Bradley's claim, it was clear that he suffered blunt force trauma. 

To prove that Bradley was full of it, investigators actually locked themselves in the trunk of his car with a breathing apparatus to see how long someone could last in a confined space, they made it seven hours and determined there was more than enough air for a boy the size of Graeme Thorne. The trial carried on for nine days with testimonies from medical authorities and a statement by Bradley himself, but at the end of everything, Bradley was sentenced to life in a penal colony.

The Boy's Death Changed The Law Forever

source: sydney morning herald

Thorne's disappearance and subsequent death threw Australia into a state of shock. Not simply because this story concerns the death of a young boy, but Australians didn't think that they were the kind of people who carried out this kind of crime. Kidnapping, they believed, was for Americans. Following the trial the Sydney lottery changed its rules, making it so winners were able to remain anonymous. 

It's hard to admit that there were positive outcomes from such a grisly case, but the silver lining of Thorne's death was the advancement of forensic science in Australian law enforcement. While the techniques were rudimentary at the time, police were able to use science to crack a case that otherwise would have been gone unsolved had they never tracked that pink limestone to Bradley's house. 

Tags: Australia | Crime in the 1960s | Kidnapping

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.