Anita Cobby was the young beautiful nurse at the centre of a crime, so horrific that it changed the nations attitude towards justice, punishment and parole forever. And 30 years ago today, Anita Cobby’s five brutal killers were each sentenced to life in prison, never to be released.
The story of Anita Cobby has been remembered as one of the most horrifying and violent crimes ever perpetrated in Australia’s history. The violent nature of the crime shocked most Australians, united in public outrage. Through public opinion , this case had a nation pushing for the death penalty to be introduced into the Australian Justice System. As a compromise the judge passed five life sentences, all certified “never to be released”.
Anita Lorraine Lynch was born 2 November 1959. A former beauty pageant winner, Lynch decided to spend the rest of her life caring for others as an Australian Registered Nurse. She met her future husband John Cobby whilst studying for her nursing degree. They married in 1982, though at the time of her disappearance, she the couple were separated and Cobby was living with her parents in Blacktown, NSW.
At the age of 13, he was caught using marijuana and by 14 years old, was a uncontrollable alcoholic. He often carried an knife for protection, and had many altercations with the police over the years for various criminal activities. His parents had little or no control over him and often feared for their own lives.
Travers was expelled from High School (year 10) for being continually disruptive in class and fighting with other students. Beyond school, he secured various jobs, but never held onto them. He preferred to claim unemployment benefits as a means of getting by.
His mother found it increasingly difficult to handle her son, so she had him committed to a Boys Town Juvenile detention facility. In 1981, Travers father Ken, whom he never had a close relationship with, decided to pack up and leave the family, leaving his son Travers as head of the family. Finding it increasingly difficult to care for the whole family on his own, he turned to crime as a means of survival.
His mothers health began to deteriorate quite rapidly, so whilst she was hospitalized, he and his siblings were all sent to live with foster families.
Travers was also known to display extreme cruelty to animals from an early age, a common trait of serial killers. It was a known fact that Travers would get a huge high from having sex with animals he stole from peoples backyards, before slitting their throats.
Anita had just completed her shift at a Sydney Hospital around 3.00pm on the afternoon of 2 February 1967, when she darted off to meet up with friends for dinner. After dinner she caught a train from Central Station to Blacktown station. Aside from her killers, only two other people can verify seeing her as she got off the train. These two people, a brother and a sister were about to become key witnesses as they watched the abduction take place.
Anita was walking alone along Newton Road, Blacktown around 10pm, when the gang of five youths drove up alongside her and stopped their stolen Holden Kingswood. Two men leaped from the car, dragging Anita kicking and screaming into the car. The young boy who witnessed all, attempted to chase after the car.
She was ordered to strip off her clothes but refused, begging her attackers to let her go, saying she was married and that she was menstruating. Her attackers continued to punch Anita repeatedly, then drove to a service station to purchase fuel using money stolen from Anita’s purse. She was then driven to a secluded paddock, while being held down in the car and raped and beaten by her five attackers.
When Anita didn’t come home, Garry and Grace Lynch assumed that Anita had decided to stay at one of her girlfriends after dinner when she had not called to be picked up at Blacktown Station by 10.30pm so they retired to bed.
The following morning however, changed their lives forever. Sister Jolly from Anita’s work called looking for her as she had failed to turn up for work. After many frantic calls to her friends, her anxious parents quickly drove to the Blacktown Police Station and filled out a missing persons report.
Early Tuesday morning, Anita’s sister Kathryn and her husband Ray arrived at the family home to lend support. John Cobby, Anita’s estranged husband also did his part, in calling all her known girlfriends to see if they had seen or heard from her.
At the same time, Det. Sgt, Graham Rosette and Snr. Const. Hugh Dundas were on there way to meet with 3 uniformed police, cordoning off an area down a dirt backroad. The two men were immediately briefed on a gruesome discovery. A young woman had been found dead in a paddock. She was between 18 – 30 and there was incredible loss of blood. The only item they had to use for identification was a Russian wedding ring still attached to her finger.
Farmer Reen sees his cows gathering around an object in his paddock in Prospect. He goes to investigate the object to be shocked to see it is a female body. Reen calls the police and they arrive shortly
The woman’s brutalized body lay stomach and face down on the ground. Her left arm was under her body and her right arm under her head. Her eyes were still open, vacant and staring. The cuts to her throat were clearly visible even though she was face down.
Det. Sgt. Ian Kennedy removed the ring and placed it into a plastic bag, taking particular care not to damage any evidence that can be found on the body or the ring. He was sure the body they had found, belonged to Anita.
Det. Sgt. Kennedy then proceeded to the Lynch house to see if they could verify the ring. As he held up the bag containing the ring, Kathryn said it looked like one Anita wore.
At around the same time, the story had just broke on the news. John Cobby immediately called the family and the Det. Sgt. Broke the news to him too.
It would be Anita’s father Gary Lynch who would have to brave the Westmead Hospital Mortuary, enduring the agony of identifying his daughters brutalized body.
A media frenzy erupted, with both press and locals parking themselves on the steps of the Blacktown Police Station. Here they demanded answers and called for the police to act swiftly in an attempt to stop them re-offending.
A week after Anita’s murder, the police set up a re-enactment of Anita’s last known movements as she boarded the train from Central to Blacktown. The media filmed the event and it was televised in the hope witnesses would come forward with vital information, which would lead to the apprehension of these murderers.
The police then received a call from someone following up on a call they had made the night of Anita’s abduction. A male named Paul and his female companion had witnessed a woman being dragged into a white and grey Holden Commodore at around 9.50pm. Paul chose to run up to the car to offer help to the young woman, but the car sped off. When he returned home that night, he told his older brother John McGaughey. McGaughey decided to drive around to see if they could spot the car in question and then they would ring the police. They drove down the desolate road where Anita would later be found, oblivious to what had just transpired in the area. They saw an empty vehicle and stopped next to it, however on a closer inspection, saw it did not match the model his younger brother described in great detail, so they continued on.
It would later be confirmed as the right car, and unbeknown to McGaughey at the time, Anita was only meters away being raped and murdered.
On Monday 10 February, Anita’s body was laid to rest.
Australia was outraged. Polls were done on the reintroduction of capital punishment with the majority of people in favour.
Then a break came in the case.
Following a tip-off from a police informant regarding a stolen vehicle, the police went on the hunt for John Travers, Michael Murdoch and the 3 Murphy brothers.
On 21 February, all were found and arrested. Murdoch and the Murphy brothers were charged with offences relating to stolen cars and released on bail whilst Travers who had admitted he stole a car, had made conflicting statements about the murder, so he was detained in police custody.
Whilst in custody, Travers asked that he be able to make a call to a female friend so she could bring him cigarettes. It was this simple request that would be his downfall. The phone number was handed on to a police member who then made the call on his behalf. The woman was terrified of Travers, and agreed to help with the investigation by meeting with the police officer and giving him a detailed insight into Travers sadistic and violent background.
For her own protection, the woman became Mrs X. She agreed to meet with Travers and he openly discussed the events of that fateful night.
She relayed this information to the police, but it wasn’t enough to get a conviction. They decided to wire her on her next visit and see if she could get him to talk again. He wrongly thought that Miss X admired him. Many times in the past he had confided in her, and she always made out that she was fascinated with his stories. Mrs X, due to her bravery and co-operation was able to get a detailed confession to the crime, all recorded and later used as evidence.
The circumstances that unfolded that night went something like this”-
Anita had just got of the train at Blacktown at around 10pm and proceeded to walk along Newton Road, when a gang of five men drove up alongside her and stopped their stolen Holden Kingswood. Two men jumped from the car, and grabbed Anita, dragging her kicking and screaming into the car. Once in the car, Anita was order to remove her clothes but she refused, begging her attackers to let her go, saying she was married and was menstruating.
Throughout her whole ordeal in the back of that car, Anita endured continuous punching, strangling, stabbing and sexual assault as they removed her clothing. Anita put up a courageous fight against her attackers, but sadly she was outnumbered and over powered.
Her attackers then drove to a service station to purchase fuel using money stolen from Anita’s purse. By this time she was semi conscious and they gagged her to ensure she didn’t draw attention to them. She was then driven to a secluded paddock, and dragged from the car over a barbed wire fence naked whilst her semi conscious body was spat on, tortured, kicked, punched, raped both vaginally and anally and beaten again, even breaking her knuckles and fingers.
They would talk about whether to let her go, or what should happen and it was decided that as she had heard their names, they would have to kill her.
Anita pleaded with her attackers to let her go, but she had seen them and they could be identified. They had to get rid of her for good. After all she had endured, she finally found peace in death. Her attacker Travers sat on her back and grabbed a fistful of her hair and forced her head back. As she raised he hand to stop the knife reaching her throat, Travers nearly removed he fingers with it. Still semi-conscious she pleaded for her life. Then with one fast slash to the throat, it was all over, killing Anita instantly. They then abandoned her lifeless naked body.
They then took Anita’s clothing back to Traver’s home where they set about destroying all the evidence. They burnt all her belongings and then disposed of the ashes. They then drove the stolen vehicle to bushland and dumped it.
Following a tip-off from a police informant regarding a stolen vehicle, the police started to search for John Travers, Michael Murdoch and the three Murphy brothers, Michael, Gary and Leslie. It was during their questioning of the men that the police discovered that some of them had a history of violence and Traver’s had a tendancy to carry a knife everywhere he went.
On the 21 February, the police arrested Travers, Murdoch and Les Murphy.
Murdoch and Murphy were charged with offences relating to the theft of stolen cars and allowed bail, but placed on 24 hour surveylance. Travers, who admitted to stealing a car, had also made conflicting statements about the murder, so he was detained.
It was whilst in custody, Travers asked that a female friend be contacted to bring him some cigarettes. A phone number was passed onto the police officer and he made the call. The woman later known as Mrs X, for her own protection, told the police she feared Travers. She gave them a huge insight into his background of crime and brutality. After meeting with Travers, he confessed the crime to her. She returned to the police and told them everything, but it wasn’t enough to get a conviction. They needed concrete evidence, so they asked her if she would agree to being wired with her next visit. If she would agree to try and get him to talk once again in full detail about his involvement in the Cobby case. Mrs X, very bravely agreed to assist the police one more time.
It worked, and a full confession was recorded.
After Travers confession, all five men were arrested and charged with murder. Police were praised for their quick response in capturing all suspects within a 22 day timefame.
The trial began in Sydney on 16 March, 1987, however before proceedings began, Travers changed his plea to guilty.
As they all sat in the docks awaiting the verdict, they laughed and giggled, showing no signs of remorse.
As Justice Alan Maxwell handed own sentencing, he described the crime as
“One of the most horrifying physical and sexual assaults. This was a calculated killing done in cold blood. The Executive should grant the same degree of mercy they bestowed on their victim.”
Since Anita’s death a park in Sullivan Street, Blacktown was named Anita Cobby Reserve in memory of a woman who dedicated her life, to helping the sick and injured.
Her family founded “The Victims of Homicide Support Group” a community support group that helps families deal with the aftermath of such heinous crimes. They also set about campaigning for tougher laws and sentencing for such crimes.
In Sept, 2008, Anita’s father Garry Lynch joined her at age 90, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.