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The Unsolved Murder of Margaret Rosewarne

Hello, my loyal true crime readers! I am excited to present a guest post by true crime Researcher Greg Fox. In this post, Greg examines the unsolved 1976 abduction and murder of Gold Coaster Margaret Rosewarne – her life ended by a man known at the time as the “Hitchhiker Killer” – a homicide that still haunts the Gold Coast to this day. Do recent advances in DNA technology and forensic genealogy give hope in cracking this decades-old cold case?

Enjoy the guest post! ~ Christine 

Driven to Kill

Sunday May 9, 1976 – Mother’s Day: They waited … and waited. The family home on Chevron Island, Australia channelling an impending doom. As the hours passed, the dread amplified to each member of the Rosewarne family, whether near or far. Where was Margie? And why had she not come home? Missing for the past 4 days, Mrs. Nellie Rosewarne, Margie’s mum, had held out some hope that her daughter would visit to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. But she never arrived….

As the second youngest of 12 children, Margaret Rosewarne, 19, was believed to have disappeared whilst attempting to hitchhike from Broadbeach to Burleigh Heads on the evening of Wednesday May 5 to meet with friends at the Lounge Bar of the Gold Coast Hotel. 

Margaret Rosewarne Last Seen Hitchhiking

Margaret Rosewarne Disappeared Hitchhiking
Source: Greg Fox

After not returning to her parent’s home on Mother’s Day, Nellie subsequently told local newspaper The Gold Coast Bulletin of her overwhelming concern about Margie’s whereabouts. “I just know something terrible has happened… I think she has met foul play. No matter where she was, she would have contacted me last Sunday (Mother’s Day) if it was at all possible.  She is not the type of girl to run away on the spur of the moment.”

Margaret Rosewarne

Margaret Rosewarne Photo
Source: Greg Fox

Margie would be described by friends and family as a care-free person with a vivacious personality. She liked to enjoy herself and made the most of living on the Gold Coast. But where was she? It would take another gut-wrenching 12 days for her whereabouts to be established. And when this question was finally answered the superficial veneer of the Gold Coast would be in tatters.

The mid-1970s were considered the halcyon days of the Gold Coast. A growing region bathed in natural beauty with a variety of lifestyle options to indulge in – be it the endless stretch of white sandy coastline with it rolling swells or the pristine sub-tropical rainforest of the hinterland. For an easy-going girl like Margie this was a great time to be alive. As a teenager without too many responsibilities, the expanding pub and club scene looked like real fun – being a rite of passage into the mundane nine-to-five existence of adulthood.

To envision 1976 on the “glitter strip” you would bear witness to: white shoes, long lunches, meter maids, pinball parlours, milk bars, surf mats, sunbaking, silly cycles, panel vans, recently dug backyard pools, dole bludgers, big nights at the Playroom, across the Broadwater swims, and newly built high rises coming out of the ground like imposing monoliths – paying homage to an emerging economy. The movie blockbuster of the moment was Jaws and it would have an extended stay on the big screen at cinemas and drive-ins for several months. Fernando by ABBA was the number one singles hit on the Top 40 countdown of local radio station 4GG. The ongoing construction of the new Pacific Fair Shopping Centre at Broadbeach, promoted to be the largest retail outlet in the country, had created real excitement amongst the local population. To those who called the Gold Coast home, this was a kinder and simpler but exciting time for the region. Aspiration was the order of the day.

Somewhere beneath the excess of sun, surf, and fun lurked something more sinister. Someone seemingly out of tune with the welcoming external environment. It was a man who compulsively cruised the roads of the Gold Coast looking for vulnerable young women to prey upon. An evil predator who was driven to kill.

Wednesday May 5, 1976 … Even though it was a weeknight, Margie was keen to meet with friends for a farewell drink. The mid-week catch-up was planned for the Gold Coast Hotel on the highway at Burleigh Heads. Her friends (a female named Judy Bond and two male acquaintances) were due to leave for Sydney the following morning to commence an overseas holiday. Margie had arranged to go to the drinks by car, driven and accompanied by her flat-mate Elaine Warr. However, in a twist of fate, Elaine was unwell and decided to stay home for the evening. After taking about an hour to get ready, Margie impulsively set out on foot at approximately 9:00PM from their residence, located near the corner of Old Burleigh Road and Wharf Street Surfers Paradise, and proceeded down Wharf Street to the Gold Coast Highway to hitch a ride. According to Elaine, Margie was in “good spirits” when she left home. With her hair worn straight, she was stylishly wearing a calf-length denim dress and slaps sandals. Margie was also in possession of her suede shoulder bag – typical of the bohemian look of the time. It was thought she had about $2 in her purse for her outing. In an eyewitness report that would in time be provided to police by a Labrador woman, it was claimed she saw an “extremely attractive girl” hitchhiking on the southbound lane of the highway near the front of the El Dorado Motel (where the Crowne Plaza Hotel is located today). This was to be the last known eyewitness sighting of Margie before her disappearance. Frustratingly, there were no confirmed sightings of Margie entering a vehicle by the side of the road. 

By Thursday night Elaine Warr started to get slightly anxious that Margie had not returned to their flat in Surfers Paradise. Then Friday, Margie’s boss called to see why she hadn’t shown up for her shift at a local fish & chip shop. It was at this time Elaine decided to go by Margie’s parents’ house to raise her concerns and see if they had been in touch with their daughter. The circumstances appeared worrisome as Margie had not taken any extra clothes or money, including her bank book, when she left for drinks on Wednesday evening. The initial theory espoused by police was that she had run away from home. Even so, after the no-show on Mother’s Day concerns grew great for the missing 19-year-old. Margie’s habits and interests were fairly typical of many teenagers of the time. She would later be described by her younger sister Brenda as a happy go lucky person with “no particular driving ambition.” Nevertheless, she was also a local girl with long-standing family, school, and community connections in the region. So, the idea that she had left the coast to “run away” did not make sense to those who knew her best.

It took police investigators about a week to become entirely convinced that Margie had likely met with foul play. During the first few days of the disappearance, police enquiries had focused almost exclusively on the theories that she had gone to Sydney after the proposed Gold Coast Hotel catch-up with friends or had absconded to live up on Tamborine Mountain. It was concluded after a thorough inquiry that this was definitely not the case. The sighting of Margie hitchhiking on the Gold Coast Highway at Surfers Paradise now looked increasingly ominous, with her disappearance being treated as an abduction scenario. Initially local police, under the direction of Senior Sergeant Pat Crotty, widely circulated a recent photo of Margie – showing her as a bridesmaid from her older sister’s recent wedding. This led to some sections of the media oddly labelling her as the “missing bridesmaid.” Doorknocking of homes in and around the Old Burleigh Road area commenced with the hope that local residents may have witnessed something untoward on the night in question.

Police had also spent critical time in the initial investigation examining whether Margie’s disappearance had “drug scene overtones.” Was this an overreaction from law enforcement in the mid-1970’s period, who were considered increasingly conservative in their policing approach under the direction of the Coalition state government led by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen? Politicians and lawmakers were viewed to be obsessively focused on a broader drug counterculture, seen to negatively influence the youth of the Sunshine State. In relation to the drug issue, Regional Superintendent Jim Voight stated that “police have no information that Miss Rosewarne used drugs. It was only one of a number of angles being checked.” Though according to Senior Sergeant Ron Redmond from the Homicide Squad, who was ultimately appointed to lead the investigation, “drugs have cropped up at every turn and we have asked for expert assistance.” Sensationally, detectives from the Brisbane Drug Squad were called in to assist with the investigation – which at this stage was still officially a missing person’s case. Regarding the night of Margie’s disappearance, Snr Sgt Redmond confirmed, “We are satisfied that she didn’t reach the (Gold Coast) hotel after leaving home to hitchhike. She disappeared somewhere between Surfers Paradise and Burleigh Heads.” Redmond, in later years, would go on to become the Acting Chief of Police in Queensland, replacing long-serving Commissioner Terry Lewis who was sensationally stood in late 1987 by then Police Minister Bill Gunn, in light of Fitzgerald Inquiry allegations.

Senior Sergeant Ron Redmond

Photo of Ron Redmond
Source: Greg Fox

Speculation continued to intensify into the second week of the investigation that Rosewarne had been abducted, raped, and murdered by a motorist – with her body dumped in the hinterland of the Gold Coast. On Wednesday May 19 the mystery deepened as police announced they had come into the possession of Rosewarne’s shoulder-bag. The distinctive tan suede leather bag, with a hand-painted rising sun on the flap, was found empty by a school-boy in the gutter of Broadbeach Boulevard, close by Armrick Avenue, on Saturday May 8. Following the discovery of the bag (found no more than 800 metres from Margie’s flat on Wharf Street) the police launched into further extensive doorknocking of local residences in the vicinity of Chelsea Avenue and Old Burleigh Road. It was thought that the bag had been tossed from a moving motor vehicle. Examination of the bag for fingerprints proved fruitless due to the nature of its suede material. Dt Sgt Redmond proposed that “it would appear the girl’s abductor picked her up (on the Gold Coast Highway) and travelled south or west and later returned on that route with the handbag.” However, Redmond would concede that the bag could have been discarded initially at another spot and later disposed of on Broadbeach Boulevard.

Margaret Rosewarne’s Handbag Found

Margaret Rosewarne Handbag Found
Source: Greg Fox

She was found in the long grass. In bushland, just 10 metres off Newcastle Street at West Burleigh. The discovery of Margie’s body was made on Friday May 21 by a young couple inspecting land within the newly formed industrial area cul-de-sac, not far from Reedy Creek Road. Margie was naked – found lying on her back. Partially covered by branches cut from grounded trees in the immediate area. Almost unrecognisable due to the injuries she had suffered about her head. Blunt force trauma was evident. Specifically, forehead indentations, likely causing her death, were due to the powerful blows from her assailant. Police believed these blows were caused by a heavy instrument of some sort, but the murder weapon was unable to be recovered at the scene. Her jawbone was broken in several places and the top row of teeth was extensively damaged, underlying the ferocity of the crazed assault.

As it was believed by police that the body may have been left exposed in the bush for up to a period of 16 days, it would be difficult to ascertain if Margie had been sexually assaulted. Her denim dress was found near the body, but her underwear was missing as were her slaps shoes and other personal items from her shoulder bag – including a green wallet, lipstick, and a perfume atomiser. To assist in a more thorough survey of the body dump site, a 600-square-metre zone was cleared with a slasher to remove any long grass. Loose coins were found on the road adjacent to where the body was located. Police thought this indicated some sort of struggle had occurred close to where a car may have been parked. No shoeprints or footprints were found in the immediate area of Margie’s remains. 

Margaret Rosewarne’s Body Found

Margaret Rosewarne Body Found
Source: Greg Fox

Snr Sgt Redmond would say that “the killer would have been splattered with blood … and possibly injured because there is little doubt the girl (Margie) put up a violent struggle. If he (the assailant) lives with anybody they might have noticed his clothes were ripped or bloodstained when he returned home.” In coming days police would continue to focus on the hitchhiking angle of the crime and identify local motorists known to pick-up teenage hitchhikers and track their known routes along Gold Coast roads.

Investigators commenced interviews of residents within the Reedy Creek area and immediately came upon some interesting information. A local man told police that he had heard “blood curdling” screams around 3:00AM on the morning of Saturday May 8 (2 days after the disappearance of Margie). This resident lived approximately 800 metres from where Margie’s body was found on Newcastle Street. Were the screams heard in the middle of the night the sound of Margie’s life been taken from her? It was now being suggested that she could have been held captive for a 48-hour period before being bludgeoned to death in the bushland at Reedy Creek. Had Margie been held captive at a farm shed nearby or perhaps at her murderer’s abode, speculated to be in a rural location of the Hinterland – enduring her last hours being tortured by a sexual psychopath for his warped pleasure? 

Margaret Rosewarne Crime Scene

Margaret Rosewarne Crime Scene
Source: Greg Fox

Local and regional media outlets immediately went into a frenzy about the likelihood of a psychopathic “Hitchhiker Killer” cruising the roads of south-east Queensland. Rumours ensued that one man may be responsible for any number of local unsolved murders, including the October 1973 double slaying of hitchhiking Brisbane teenagers Gabriel Jahnke and Michelle Riley. Snr Sgt Redmond believed the crimes were perpetrated by the same assailant. He told the Gold Coast Bulletin of the similarity between the murders, “All three girls died of massive head injuries, all had been hitchhiking and the murders tie in geographically. Jahnke and Riley were last seen alive at the Mudgeeraba Hotel (sic) and the latest slaying (Rosewarne) took place … not far from the township,” theorised Redmond. The geographic connection looked to be a coincidence too stark to ignore. Margie’s body was found at Reedy Creek, a distance no more than 7km from Mudgeeraba.

As fast friends, Gabriel Jahnke, 19, and Michelle Riley, 16, enjoyed visiting pubs and clubs in and around Brisbane. The upcoming weekend was going to be a special one as the pair had planned to visit the Gold Coast to check out the expanding nightlife of Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta. Both girls were blond and attractive with outgoing personalities. Although they had only known each other for just two months, they were excited to spend the weekend away in each other’s company. Recently Jahnke had moved from Goodna into the Riley family home at Annerley, as both girls worked together in the canteen of the Princess Alexandra Hospital at Woolloongabba. 

Gabriel Jahnke & Michelle Riley

Gabriel Jahnke and Michelle Riley
Source: Greg Fox

Media reports confirmed that Jahnke and Riley left from the Emperor Street residence at Annerley on Friday October 5, 1973 at about 5:00PM for their weekend jaunt. Family members believed that the pair would hitchhike to the south coast in an effort to save money on transport. Instead, eyewitnesses say the girls spent the Friday evening partying in Brisbane. They were then observed at Petrie Bight, near the Brisbane CBD, around 10:00AM on Saturday morning – stepping from a Black and White taxi. Around midday it was believed they hitched a ride from nearby the Story Bridge at Kangaroo Point heading south. What happened on their journey to the Gold Coast would be a matter open to speculation across the next four decades. An unconfirmed sighting had the girls visiting the Wallaby Hotel at Mudgeeraba early that Saturday afternoon. At the Coroner’s Inquest held in 1974 to investigate their demise it was claimed that Jahnke and Riley were sighted by a tick gate operator near Coraki, NSW late on the Saturday afternoon. The man stated he witnessed the girls riding as passengers in a white Holden Panel van. In what was a sensational piece of evidence at the inquest, he said that one of the girls yelled to him out of the window of the vehicle that they were going to be taken to be raped. What is known is that at some stage over weekend of October 6-7, 1973 the girls had disappeared, and no further communication was had between the pair and their families or their friends back in Brisbane. 

Exactly one week later on Saturday October 13, the body of Gabriele Jahnke was discovered down an 8-metre embankment, in long grass, on the southbound side of the Pacific Highway (M1) at Ormeau. Her decomposed remains were found by two children and it appeared the body was most likely thrown from the roadside. It was thought that Jahnke had been deceased for a week. She was wearing a black caftan-style dress with a flowery Asian design across the top and a black bra. Jahnke was naked from the waist down – with her underwear missing. It looked likely she had been sexually assaulted. Her cause of death was skull fractures and trauma due to a blunt force instrument. 

Then on Tuesday October 23, Michelle Riley’s remains were found 12 metres off the northbound lane of the Mount Tamborine Highway (today Waterford-Tamborine Road) – approximately 6km south of Logan Village. The cause of death was determined to be a fractured skull. Newspaper reports stated that her skivvy had been pulled up around her neck exposing a floral bra, with the lower half of her body completely naked.  Branches were placed over Riley’s body in a makeshift fashion in an attempt to conceal her remains. The area in which the body was discovered was considered to be rural without any homes within the immediate vicinity. The distance between the Jahnke and Riley body dump sites was a mere 20 kilometres. Chief of the South Brisbane CIB Inspector Jack Ryan was quick to propose that both girls were killed by a lone assailant who had detailed knowledge of some of the less-travelled roads of the Gold Coast Hinterland. 

Rosewarne, Jahnke & Riley Body Dump Sites

Rosewarne Jahnke Riley Body Dump Sites
Source: Greg Fox

In what had been a nightmarish past few weeks for the Rosewarne family, Margie was finally laid to rest on Thursday May 28, 1976 at Allambe Garden of Memories at Nerang (now Allambe Memorial Park) after a Requiem Mass at St. Vincent’s Roman Catholic Church in Surfers Paradise. Plainclothes police were in attendance at the Mass interacting with mourners on the off-chance that the killer may have attended the service. It is believed police filmed the 300-strong gathering as they departed the Mass, which could be potentially used at a later time to identify persons of interest in the investigation. Outside of the church, whilst maintaining a low profile, police surveyed passing motor vehicles on the Gold Coast Highway and recorded the number plates of cars that slowed to rubberneck the service.

Inside the church, the tragic passing of Margie had left emotions raw. In delivering his eulogy Reverend Father J. Shannon asked those in attendance to pray for “divine intervention” to assist law enforcement in finding Margie’s killer. He spoke passionately about the circumstances of Margie’s untimely death and being “plucked from this life in all her youthful womanly beauty.” He went further in his praise for Margie, as a former student of St. Vincent’s Convent School, and said that she had fought her attacker prior to her premature death – rather than become a victim of sexual assault. Father Shannon added assuredly that Margie was “willing to surrender her life into the hands of God … rather than sully her soul into immorality. We are all very proud of her.”

For the Gold Coast community, this was no longer just an unsolved homicide. The trauma of Margaret Rosewarne’s murder evolved into a dark cloud hanging over the growing region – filling it with anxiety and fear. Would police be able to catch the “Hitchhiker Killer” before he struck again? In theorising about the background of the unidentified assailant, the police were quick to call him a “sadistic maniac” and “a modern-day Jack the Ripper.” One senior officer proposed that the murderer had “a very twisted mind – probably bent with hard drugs.” Snr Sgt Redmond seemed to agree with this possibility, stating that Rosewarne’s killer may be a “crazed dope fiend who could snap at any time and kill again.” By today’s standards of homicide inquiries, these types of broad, emotive descriptions of an unknown offender are thought to only create hysteria in the populace – and at worst, misdirect the investigation.

So, who was the Hitchhiker Killer? From what we know today about offender profiling the following characteristics of the killer could be surmised:

  • He has a “type” of victim – female, blond, attractive – aged late teens to early 20s;
  • Cruises local roads and highways from the Gold Coast to Brisbane – extensively hunting for potential victims. Has good local knowledge of Gold Coast roads;
  • Drives a van or station wagon with tinted windows or curtains – with a “kill kit” on-board to render his victim(s) compliant;
  • Experiences a psycho-sexual thrill from abducting his victims;
  • Over time his sadomasochistic fantasy would evolve and become more detailed. For instance, he may have hoped to keep victims complying and alive for longer periods of time post-abduction – as his modus operandi (MO) becomes more refined with greater experience;
  • May of kept “trophies” (items) from his victims so as to be able repeatedly re-live his fantasy.

Laid-back and trusting would best describe the Gold Coast of the 1970s. Of course, hitchhiking would appear to be a behaviour that relies on the trust and best intentions of total strangers. It was a commonplace activity on the roads and highways of Australia’s east coast. For the most part, drivers were happy to oblige those who were “thumbing” a ride – particularly if the potential passengers were female. Mums regularly warned their daughters about the perils involved in the activity. Nonetheless young adults full of confidence saw it as a cheap and efficient way to navigate to a variety of destinations, which fit their social schedules. For many it was almost a rite of passage – a way to express your individual freedom and non-conformity to social mores. By 1973, following the Jahnke-Riley slayings, the Queensland Government State Parliamentary Committee recommended that fines be adopted into law as a deterrent to hitchhiking. The penalties would target those persons hitchhiking and those drivers offering lifts. These recommendations were not passed within parliament due to bans of this type not being able to be practically policed.

The week following Margie’s disappearance, local police sought the assistance of the public and media with the lunch-time re-enactment of a female hitchhiker – close to the spot on the Gold Coast Highway where she was last sighted. Investigators were hopeful the re-enactment could refresh the memories of passers-by from the night of May 5, 1976. Local policewoman Pat Hennigan was dressed in an outfit similar to that worn by Margie and placed on the side of the road outside of the El Dorado Motel. Shockingly, within a half an hour Constable Hennigan was propositioned with 16 offers of a lift. She would tell the Gold Coast Bulletin that she was caught off-guard by the number of propositions she received from passing motorists: “The drivers who pulled up were men and they said things like ‘Hop in here darling’. One stopped and called me a stupid bitch, but the others were just eager to get me in the car. If that’s how they carry on in broad daylight, what would they be like at nine o’clock at night?” pondered Hennigan.

In the aftermath of Margie’s murder in 1976, Police Minister Max Hodges strongly lobbied for hitchhiking to be outlawed in the Sunshine State. “It is taboo and should not be tolerated,” he stated. However, when a similar ban was suggested previously (in 1973) it “raised such a hue and cry that it would be an infringement of civil liberties, that it was dropped.” Despite the pushback to changes to the law within the community, the State Education Department, in conjunction with Queensland Police, intended to launch a youth awareness campaign within schools to outline the dangers of hitchhiking. The public safety film Rule of Thumb had been purchased from the United States by the State Health Council and would be distributed widely for student viewing by the Police Crime Prevention Unit.

Dangers of Hitchhiking Youth Awareness Campaign

Dangers of Hitchhiking Youth Awareness Campaign
Source: Greg Fox

“Where there is hope … there is life.” – Anne Frank. Recent advances in DNA technologies have changed the way homicide cold cases are being investigated. The use of DNA phenotyping, as successfully developed by Parabon Nanolabs Snapshot Technology located in Reston, Virginia in the United States, is the process of predicting appearance and possible bio-geographic ancestry from an unidentified DNA sample. Previously, DNA could only be utilised to directly match a DNA sample to a person of interest or suspect already on the police’s radar. With DNA phenotyping, also known as “molecular photofitting,” the DNA sample is used to create an observable “predictive” picture or DNA sketch of the person – including key physical attributes such as eye colour, hair colour, skin colour, freckling, and to a lesser degree face shape. This computer-generated sketch allows law enforcement to generate leads in unsolved murder investigations where there are no active suspects.

An even more powerful investigative tool exists for police with the emergence of genetic genealogy. In a breakthrough for this science, genetic genealogy was utilised to apprehend Joseph James DeAngelo Jnr – aka the Golden State Killer – in April 2018. DeAngelo was a previously unknown offender who terrorised California households over a 13-year period in the 1970s and 1980s with a prolific series of unsolved burglaries, rapes, and murders. So how does genetic genealogy work? Scientists compare the DNA of an unknown suspect from a crime scene with voluntarily submitted DNA profiles (i.e. uploaded single nucleotide polymorphism “SNP” profiles) found in public genealogical databases, such as GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA. With some luck, a distant relative is found and the process of further archival investigation and forensic genealogy is undertaken to create a broad family tree – and hopefully identify a viable suspect with the use of the specific case data and information. It is thought that 30 million people have uploaded their DNA to genealogy databases worldwide in the past decade.

Foreseeably, there are some evolving privacy concerns around the use of genetic genealogy by law enforcement. In particular, the lack of formal oversight for police when uploading a DNA sample into genealogical databases and the idea that users of these databases may inadvertently involve themselves in criminal investigations dealing with serious crimes. Recently the GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA databases have required member users to tick an “opt in” function to allow police in the United States to access their genetic information for investigative purposes. Other genealogy websites such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe have gone further to protect user privacy by stating their client data would not be able to be accessed by law enforcement without an enforceable warrant. 

Even so, as of April 2019, Parabons Nanolabs genealogy tools have led to 49 suspect identifications, approximately 1000 renewed investigations, and 17 confirmed arrests. With these new crime-fighting tools great optimism exists to bring closure to the coldest of cold cases. By late 2016, when addressing the benefits of these emerging DNA technologies, Inspector Scott McLaren from the Queensland Police Service DNA Management Section was positive about its place in future investigations of serious crime: “(At) Queensland Police, we pride ourselves that we’re at the forefront of forensic science, so we are continually looking for this stuff,” he enthusiastically stated.

To further illustrate the forensic powers of genetic genealogy, one should look no further than the previously unsolved January 1980 murder of 21-year old Helene Pruszynski in the state of Colorado in the U.S. Pruszynski was a Wheaton College student, originally from Hamilton, Massachusetts. In February 2020 a Florida truck driver James Curtis Clanton, 62, pleaded guilty in a Douglas County court to the four decades’ old stabbing murder and kidnapping of Pruszynski. On the January 16, 1980, Pruszynski was on her way home from a new intern position at KHOW radio station in Denver when she was abducted by Clanton at an Engelwood bus stop in the early evening. Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Wilcox from the 18th Judicial District confirmed that Clanton had stalked and abducted Pruszynski on the night in question, and then drove her to a vacant allotment in Castle Pines, Colorado where he raped and stabbed her 9 times in the back. Pruzynski’s body was found the following day in the field with her hands bound behind her back and was nude below the waist. In the initial examination of the crime scene by investigators, a DNA sample from retrieved seminal fluid was developed but could not be matched to any persons of interest.

In 2017, Douglas County sheriff’s detectives, in concert with researchers from Parabon Nanolabs, ran the unknown offender’s DNA profile through the genetic genealogy database. What was uncovered was a complex, and at times confusing, family history, as well as a variety of aliases within the genealogical line. Ultimately, Clanton was identified by detectives as the likely suspect and was immediately tracked to Lake Butler, Florida where he had resided for the past 20 years. After being surveilled for several days, detectives looked for the opportunity to collect Clanton’s DNA. On November 30, 2017, Clanton attended a local bar, and police, with assistance from the bartender on duty, were able to secure his DNA from a secretly collected beer mug. The beer mug was tested and Clanton’s DNA perfectly matched the DNA from the Pruszynski crime scene. Whilst living in Florida he had arrests for domestic violence in 1998 and 2001. Clanton was on parole at the time of the Pruszynski murder for the 1975 rape of a woman at knifepoint in Arkansas. During the online sentencing of Clanton in July 2020, Pruszynski’s college classmate Eileen McDonough Kiley described the tragedy of her friend’s untimely death 40 years ago. In her statement read to the court she lamented, “There is no happy ending here, just the hope that no more beautiful, innocent lives will be taken by Mr Clanton for the rest of his life.” 

Clanton was not charged by Douglas County prosecutors with the sexual assault of Pruszynski due to the statute of limitations expiring for this criminal offence by the time he was arrested. He was sentenced by Douglas Count Judge Theresa Slade to life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole after 20 years, as part of his pre-sentencing agreement with the District Attorney to plead guilty to the first-degree murder and kidnapping charges.

“In Our Hearts Forever” is inscribed on the plaque at the grave of Margaret Rosetta Rosewarne at Allambe Memorial Park at Nerang. The burial plot sits in the Roman Catholic section of the cemetery, not more than 20 metres from the footpath of busy Nerang-Broadbeach Road. This modest resting place belies the unforeseeable tragedy that unfolded 44 years ago, and which brought fear to our small part of the world.

Margaret Rosewarne’s Grave Stone

Margaret Rosewarne Grave
Source: Greg Fox

Time has not healed us, nor has it provided answers. The loss of a loved one never truly leaves the mind of those left behind. Instead, it becomes a melancholy which raises its head during quiet times to remind them of the darkness that exists in the world. The 1970s was a time period when the unfettered expression of emotion and unburdening of feelings was not encouraged for most part. Attempting to make sense of why a daughter’s or a sister’s life and their limitless potential was cut short by an evil presence pushes the mind to venture to a dark place – over and over again. And within this nightmare lurks a monster who will menace until those responsible for justice bring it out into the light – so it will reveal itself to us.

Margaret Rosewarne Reward Poster
Source: Greg Fox

Greg Fox is a Gold Coast local – born and raised in Southport. He attended Musgrave Hill State School and Southport State High School. Greg is a graduate of Griffith University with a bachelor’s degree in Health Science. As a former professional basketball player with NBL franchises the Brisbane Bullets and Gold Coast Rollers, he has spent close to three decades working within the sport and recreation industry in Queensland. Greg’s interests include listening to true crime podcasts and researching lesser-known cold cases. 

Love true crime and mysteries? Listen to our Audio File on the disappearance of Clifford Sherwood and Georges Gumbley & read our article on the unsolved murder of Veronica Kaye.

Sources:

“Vanished girl murder victim?” (Bulletin Exclusive) – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 12 May 1976

“Missing girl seen hitch hiking – report” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 13 May 1976

“Girls body mystery” – The Courier Mail; 14 October 1973

“It’s officially a murder probe” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 14 May 1976

“Surfers was setting for girl murder” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 15 May 1976

“2 new theories on vanished girl” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 18 May 1976

“Woman saw missing girl” – The Courier Mail; 18 May 1976

“Two girls are now missing – murder theory” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 19 May 1976

“Handbag is only clue” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 21 May 1976

“Coast girl may be killer’s fifth victim” – The Sunday Mail; 23 May 1976

“Second missing girl’s body found” – (Jim Crawford) The Courier Mail; 24 October 1976

“Behind scenes in probe” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 25 May 1976

“Coast killer may have $100,00 on his head” – The Courier Mail; 25 May 1976

“Five girls in deaths link” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 26 May 1976

“Drugs may have made killer” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 27 May 1976

“New murder lead as funeral held” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 28 May 1976

“Catholic priest tells girls to resist” – The Gold Coast Bulletin; 29 May 1976

“Girls given death scare” – The Courier Mail; 4 June 1976

“Hitchhiker Murderer who was never caught”(Greg Stolz) – The Courier Mail;  https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/special-features/in-depth/hitchhiker-murderer-who-was-never-caught/news-story/1125e21ce121d40b7ed9454d943891ab  (online); 28 October 2014 

“Murder cold case: Who killed Gold Coaster Margaret Rosewarne” (Jessica Elder) – The Gold Coast Bulletin;  https://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/news/crime-court/murder-cold-case-who-killed-gold-coaster-margaret-rosewarne/news-story/5fa92bae2a43f2dd2b22c78ff9e06456 (online); 26 March 2016 

“Gold Coast cold case: Who killed hitchhiking friends in 1973” (Alison Marks & Lucy Kinbacher) – The Gold Coast Bulletin; https://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/news/crime-court/gold-coast-cold-case-who-killed-hitchhiking-friends-in-1973/news-story/fc45b2f8cf437d9950e8c5e11f63623d (online); 13 August 2016

“Murder of Gabriel Ingrid Jahnke & Michelle Ann Riley” (Queensland Police Service – R. Atkinson) – Reward Notice: Office of the Commissioner of Police, Brisbane;  https://www.police.qld.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-09/2_murder.pdf (online); September 2018 

“Murder of Margaret Rosetta Rosewarne” (Queensland Police Service – R. Atkinson) –  Reward Notice: Office of the Commissioner of Police, Brisbane;  https://www.police.qld.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-09/rosewarn.pdf (online); September 2018

“Snatched beer mug, genealogy website help Douglas County detectives make arrest in 1980 murder of college student” (Shelly Bradbury) – The Denver Post; https://www.denverpost.com/2019/12/16/helene-pruszynski-cold-case-murder-arrest (online);  16 December 2019

“What is DNA phenotyping?” (Reginald Davey); https://www.news-medical.net/life-sciences/-What-is-DNA-Phenotyping.aspx(online); Last updated: 10 March 2020

“Leveraging forensic genealogy to solve cold cases” (Cole Zercoe); https://www.police1.com/investigations/articles/leveraging-forensic-genetic-genealogy-to-solve-cold-cases-ZJhCeVg88jaeYyGP/  (online); 27 May 2020

“Man sentenced to life in 1980 killing Helene Pruszynski from Hamilton, Massachusetts” (Colleen Slevin) – Metro West Daily News; https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20200702/man-sentenced-to-life-in-1980-killing–helene-pruszynski-from-hamilton-massachusetts (online); 2 July 2020 

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