ALL unsolved murders across the state have been re-opened with the Unsolved Homicide Unit introducing new strategies to increase their capability to revisit and reinvestigate more than 40 years of ‘cold cases’.
The State Crime Command’s Homicide Squad first introduced a dedicated Unsolved Homicide Unit in 2004 to centralise the bulk of NSW’s unsolved murders and unexplained disappearances.
Over the years, the unit has undergone regular reviews and changes to enhance their capabilities, which has seen the resolution of more than 30 matters; with a further five matters currently before the courts.
In addition, there are currently 17 cases undergoing re-investigation.
NSW Police is not naming which cases are currently under review. Among the hundreds that do remain unsolved is the 2003 death of Harmony Bryant after an incident at Bonny Hills.
The 26-year-old was badly burned in a fire that started some time after her car ran off the road and into bushland near Bonny Hills in the early hours of Saturday, August 16, 2003.
Less than five weeks later, Harmony died from her injuries while receiving treatment at Royal North Shore Hospital.
Eight years on, in 2011, a Coroner would find that it was likely the young woman met with ‘foul play’. Deputy State Coroner Mal McPherson recommended it be referred to the Homicide Squad as a cold case.
The inquest heard Ms Bryant's car was found smouldering in dense scrubland, but it appeared to have been driven off the road under some control, even managing to avoid a tree.
Her handbag, car keys, cigarettes and blood traces were found 600 metres away.
In intensive care Ms Bryant was unable to speak but had tried to ''mouth'' what had happened to her, her mother Karen Bryant said.
''The fear in her eyes is something that will never ever leave us,” Mrs Bryant said at the inquest.
Mr MacPherson agreed with medical evidence that Ms Bryant's serious arm and pelvic injuries occurred in the area of rocks where her blood was found, hours before the vehicle caught fire.
Her injuries were so bad she could not have walked unaided back to her car.
A $100,000 reward was offered for information at the time.
While not considered a cold case, the investigation into William Tyrrell, who went missing from his grandmother’s front yard at Kendall in September 2014 continues.
The magnitude of the investigation has included 2800 reports to Crimestoppers, 196 reports directly to Strike Force Rosann, and 1078 sightings of William.
The Strike Force has collected 11,000 pieces of information and 628 exhibits, canvassed 450 addresses and interviewed 690 persons of interest.
The Strike Force, led by the State Crime Command’s Homicide Squad, has been boosted by a secondary contingent - Strike Force Rosann 2 - drawing in recruitments from the Armed Hold up Squad, Sex Crimes and Fraud Squad and officers from local area commands across the state.
A person will only have a legitimate claim on the $1 million reward if the information they provide leads to the recovery of William.
Strike Force Rosann is one of the largest investigations ever undertaken by the NSW Police Force, and involves a team of full time investigators and analysts.
In addition, they regularly consult with the NSW Police Force’s Senior Forensic Psychologist.
State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Mal Lanyon, said recent re-engineering of the command was designed to enhance the capabilities of each of the squads.
“The priority of re-engineering is to implement a structure that addresses current and future crime challenges, and deliver the best outcomes for the people of NSW,” Assistant Commissioner Mal Lanyon said.
“We are continuing to build on previous successes in all areas of investigation, and the latest evolution of the Unsolved Homicide Unit ensures our diligent approach to cold case investigations.”
In recent months, the Homicide Squad has conducted an extensive review of their processes and approaches to assessing and prioritising unsolved matters.
As a result, the squad consolidated all matters and reclassified their investigations dating back to 1972 into four categories: ‘unsolved’, ‘unresolved’, ‘undetermined’, and ‘resolved’.
The matters in the first three categories are being assessed under a new framework, which then provides clear guidelines for triaging and prioritising to undergo the new review process.
This allows for a bi-annual follow-up and indefinite monitoring for developments in the case, new lines of inquiry, and partial and full re-investigations.
Homicide Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Scott Cook, said the new process will draw on the expertise of specialist detectives from across the Force to conduct formal case reviews.
All matters, including new matters as referred by the Coroner, are classified into the respective category for prioritisation and triaged on a database, before being referred to a reviewing officer.Detective Superintendent Scott Cook
“While the Unsolved Homicide Unit is a finite resource, the NSW Police Force has a wealth of investigators whose skills can be harnessed to increase our capacity to put fresh eyes on cold cases,” Det Supt Cook said.
“All matters, including new matters as referred by the Coroner, are classified into the respective category for prioritisation and triaged on a database, before being referred to a reviewing officer.
“The formal reviews will be conducted by – or under ongoing liaison with – the Homicide Squad.”
A complete review package has been developed to ensure consistency and comparability between cases, enabling an appropriate rating and priority system for allocation for reinvestigation.
“The rolling reviews will allow us to continually strengthen relationships with victim families through regular and informed communication,” Det Supt Cook said.
“It also allows the Unsolved Homicide Unit to initiate re-investigations while all other cases continue to be reviewed.
“We are committed to ensuring the most effective and efficient allocation of resources in order to maximise our capability to provide justice for victims and answers to their families,” Det Supt Cook said.
- Tracey Fairhurst