Truro murders

The Truro murders is the name given to a series of murders uncovered with the discovery in 1978 and 1979 of the remains of two young women in bushland east of the town of Truro in South Australia. After police searches, the remains of seven women were discovered in total: five at Truro, one at Wingfield, and one at Port Gawler. The women had been murdered over a two-month period in 1976–1977.

On 25 April 1978, William ”Bill” Thomas and Valda Thomas found what they thought was the bone from the leg of a cow whilst mushrooming in bushland beside Swamp Road near the South Australian town of Truro located about 70 km northeast of Adelaide. Valda had concerns about the find and two days later convinced her husband to have another look. Upon closer inspection, they noted that the bone had a shoe attached; inside the shoe was human skin and painted toenails. Clothes, blood stains, and more bones were found nearby. The remains were later identified as those of Veronica Knight, an 18-year-old girl who had vanished from an Adelaide street around Christmas of 1976. The lack of an obvious cause of death along with the location led to a belief that Knight may have gotten lost and died of thirst so the death was not considered suspicious. Almost one year later, on 15 April 1979, police discovered the skeletal remains of 16-year-old Sylvia Pittman, about 1 km from where Veronica’s remains had been located. Pittman had disappeared around the same time as Knight.

Serial killing was a new phenomenon in Australia at the time, and police faced a difficult task of piecing together evidence. There was the strong suggestion of a link between the two dead women found in the Truro bushland and five other young women reported missing in Adelaide at the time.

Eleven days later a huge search party discovered two more skeletons in a paddock on the opposite side of Swamp Road. They were the remains of Connie Iordanides and Vicki Howell, two of the five missing girls.

Christopher Worrell aged 23, described as young, charismatic and sociopathic, and James Miller, a 40-year-old labourer, described as a drifter and homosexual partner of Worrell, are believed to have committed the murders.

Miller and Worrell met when they were in prison together, Miller for breaking and entering, Worrell for rape and breaching a two-year suspended sentence for armed robbery. After release they formed a dominant/submissive relationship and both lived and worked together. Miller was infatuated with him and Worrell would allow Miller to perform sexual acts on him while he read pornographic, and predominantly BDSM, magazines. As Worrell preferred women this later ceased and they became more like brothers.

Worrell and a female friend were killed in a car accident on 19 February 1977, thus ending the murders. Miller survived the car accident.

Miller suffered depression and became homeless after Worrell’s death. Miller’s state of mind and a chance comment were to eventually give police a breakthrough when at Worrell’s funeral meat tenderizer attachment, his former girlfriend, Amelia, told Miller that Worrell had had a suspected blood clot on the brain. This announcement prompted Miller to tell her about Worrell’s fascination with thrill killing, suggesting that the clot might possibly have been responsible for the moods that led Worrell to kill.

In May 1979, she collected a A$30,000 reward after providing the information to police leading to Miller’s arrest and capture. Amelia said that she had not come forward earlier because she had no proof the admission was true and that there was not much point in going to the police as Worrell was dead. It was only after reading of the murders in the newspaper that she came forward. It is highly likely that the murders would have gone unsolved if Amelia had not come forward.

Miller was brought in for questioning on 23 May 1979. Initially he denied knowing anything, but eventually stated that Amelia had ”done what I should have” and told detectives that there were three more bodies. Miller was driven under guard to Truro, Port Gawler and the Wingfield dump where he pointed out their locations.

James Miller continued to visit Debbie Skuse and Christopher Worrell in the cemeteries. He could never forget them. One year to the day after their death, James Miller placed a few paragraphs in the ”In Memoriam” notices in the Adelaide Advertiser which read:

”Worrell, Christopher Robin.
Memories of a very close
friend who died 12 months
ago this week, Your friendship
and thoughtfulness and kindness,
Chris, will always be
remembered by me, mate flat meat mallet.
What comes after death I can
Hope, as I pray we meet again”

All the murder victims had been strangled, although there was a strong suspicion that the last of them, Deborah Lamb, had been alive when buried.

Criminologist Professor Paul Wilson has suggested that had Worrell not been killed, the Truro murders may have become a much more devastating killing spree, as Worrell was following the ”established behaviour of some serial killers” with the time between murders getting shorter. Miller himself told Worrell’s girlfriend before his arrest that, ”It was getting worse lately. It was happening more often. It was perhaps a good thing that Chris died”.

Miller stood trial for the murders, and was found guilty of six of the seven murders (with the exception of the first murder, Veronica Knight) on 12 March 1980. Unusually, he was convicted of murder despite having never touched a victim; he was sentenced to the maximum six consecutive terms of life imprisonment.

The testimony at his trial revealed a terrifying story. Miller and Worrell would cruise the city streets every night in Worrell’s 1969 blue-and-white Chrysler Valiant, looking for women that Worrell could have sex with. Worrell was 23, charismatic and good-looking, so Worrell had no trouble in regularly ”picking up” local girls for casual sex. Miller would drive Worrell and the woman to a secluded place, where Worrell would have sex with the women, often after tying them up, while Miller waited outside the car. Miller would then drive them back into town and drop them off.

Miller described how the ”pick-ups” became more and more terrifying. First, Worrell started occasionally raping the women who refused his advances. Then he started murdering them. Miller was unaware that murder would occur prior to it happening; he stated that it only happened some times and not others

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. It appeared that as the violence increased, Miller became increasingly fearful of Worrell.

Miller maintained, ”They can give me life for knowing about the murders and not reporting them. But they charged me with murder … It’s a load of bullshit”. Following the trial one of the jurors hired a lawyer to petition the Attorney-General for a retrial. South Australian Chief Justice Len King agreed that Miller should be granted another hearing on the grounds that the judge at his trial, Mr Justice Matheson, had instructed the jury to find Miller guilty of murder. However

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, the Attorney-General, Chris Sumner, refused to grant a retrial.

Legally, Miller argued that he never engaged in any murders directly, nor did he explicitly agree prior to going out cruising for women that he would support Worrell in the murders. Nevertheless, he was found guilty of murder because he was found to be a part of a joint criminal enterprise. He was present at the crime scenes and assisted in disposing of the bodies. This created subsequent legal difficulties over the definition of a joint criminal enterprise, but these have largely been resolved on the basis that this was a special—and particularly horrifying—case.

In 1999, Miller applied to have a non-parole period set under new laws, and on 8 February 2000, Chief Justice John Doyle granted a non-parole period of 35 years, making Miller eligible for parole in 2014.

On 21 October 2008, at the age of 68, Miller died of liver failure, as a complication of having hepatitis C. He also suffered from prostate cancer and lung cancer. At that point he was one of the longest-serving prisoners in the state.

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