Killing Juanita by Peter Rees

Killing Juanita is about another murder case from the 1970s that has stuck in my memory.

I became familiar with some of the locations associated with it a decade after the events, when I occasionally visited Teen Challenge, a Christian group working in the Kings Cross area of Sydney.

Juanita Nielsen was last seen alive when she attended a meeting at the Carousel Cabaret to supposedly discuss advertising for one of their events in NOW, the local newspaper she owned. That meeting seems to have been arranged as bait to draw her to her death.

I remember the venue still being there at the time of my visits in the early 1980s. I don’t recall whether it still had the same name but its purpose hadn’t changed much, remaining the home of the Les Girls “all male revue”.

Juanita Nielsen was a prominent campaigner against planned redevelopment along Victoria Street, Kings Cross and became an expensive irritant to powerful people, like businessman Frank Theeman, who were losing a lot of money because of the resistance to their plans. Despite her disappearance being so obviously linked to a particular small group of people, no one was ever seriously investigated for her murder. Instead lesser charges of conspiracy to kidnap, relating to events a few days before her disappearance, led to the imprisonment of bar manager Eddie Trigg, the man she met at the Carousel – the last man known to see her alive.

Peter Rees places Nielsen’s story within its context of organised crime, and police and political corruption. within a similar time frame to the events I’ve referred to recently in The Griffith Wars and Crims in Grass Castles.

In an interesting parallel, the only convictions made in the Donald Mackay murder examined in those two books were also “conspiracy” charges, which included  the man alleged to have killed him. To this day no one has been charged with either of the Mackay or Nielsen murders, and there were indications that investigations into both cases were not a vigorous as they could have been. Of the Nielsen case, Peter Rees notes:

…it is now clear that in the critical early weeks the enquiry was hamstrung from above – with, at least, the knowledge of [NSW Police] Commissioner Fred Hanson – when they took the first steps to explore the Frank Theeman Victoria Street connection.

Frank Theeman had connections to Jim Anderson, the manager of the Carousel nightclub where Juanita Nielsen was last seen. Anderson’s subordinates were those convicted and jailed on “conspiracy to kidnap” charges and they had also been the last known to have been with Nielsen.

Of Jim Anderson, Rees writes:

At the time of Juanita’s murder, few people in Kings Cross were in a more dominant position than Jim Anderson. While to [investigating police] he was a prime suspect in Juanita’s disappearance, they never reached the stage where they contemplated an arrest. The evidence was considered, but there was just not enough there to charge Jim with any offence. Jim’s history shows he has always managed to stay Teflon clean. By various means, he has beaten counterfeiting, receiving and manslaughter charges, as well as suspicion of arson and conspiracy…He has no convictions despite a lifetime among Sydney’s underworld. As Eddie Trigg puts it “Jim was a great one for keeping his hands clean and letting others do the dirty work”.

Many years after the disappearance, a witness came forward claiming to have seen a man with a gun standing over Nielsen’s dead body in one of the club’s storerooms. By the time of that testimony, there had been major changes to the club building so there was no likelihood of any corroborating evidence being found.

The case remains officially unsolved.

The following video gives a highly recommended overview of Nielsen and her murder.

The Other Anzacs, by Peter Rees

Other AnzacsThe Other Anzacs is the story of some of the ANZAC heroes of World War 1, who weren’t given the official recognition they deserved.

They are the nurses who travelled across half the world to do what they could for the “British” war effort. Unable to take up arms, they dedicated themselves to saving the lives of the victims of battle and disease, and were confronted daily by countless deaths and unspeakable battle wounds.

The book draws heavily on the personal accounts of the nurses, using their diaries and letters to find a way into their experiences and their emotions.

The book was adapted into a recent TV series Anzac Girls, and a paperback edition of the book was released under that new title. I bought the paperback edition and then watched the series before reading the book. Before I was able to get around to the book I found a hardcover edition, signed by the author, in an antiques and collectables shop. I bought it and gave the unread paperback to my mum.
anzac girls
The series chose to concentrate on only five of the nurses from the book, but they gave a good representation of the general nursing experience throughout the war. Watching the series didn’t detract at all from the later reading experience.

One aspect of the book that interested me was finding out the many local references. I found several of the nurses had links to nearby places I know. That gives me some interesting possibilities for further study. I even found that one of them lived nearby after the war and is now buried in the cemetery less than half a kilometre from my home.

While the men they nursed recognised the worth of their work, from the beginning the nurses had to contend with a bureaucracy that didn’t want women involved in that kind of war work. And yet the women soon had an effect, at times having to literally build up hospital facilities from scratch with very limited supplies.

Grace Wilson's medals

Grace Wilson’s medals

Matron Grace Wilson (see photo on book cover) found patients having to lie out in the open on the Island of Lemnos when she and her nurses were transferred there to establish the closest hospital to the Gallipoli battle front. The nurses even had to resort to tearing up clothing to provide bandages.

Peter Rees writes that on Lemnos “The conditions were probably the worst experienced by any nurses during the war.” But despite that Wilson and her nurses were able to create a hospital that was able to keep death rates to a minimum.

Despite their essential work the sacrifices they made and the dangers they faced, the nurses (considered officers in rank) were only paid a fraction of what the orderlies working for them received. Likewise, after the war they were denied any of the entitlements that were offered to returned servicemen which included financial help with housing loans. Rees writes ” Authorities in Australia saw the nurses’ role as secondary to that of the soldier.” He later adds “Australia was slow to acknowledge the nurses who served in the war. This was belatedly rectified in October 1999 when a memorial to Australian nurses who served in all wars was unveiled on Anzac Parade in Canberra.

nurses memorial, Canberra

nurses memorial, Canberra