The bogeyman is an overused cliche. But this trite quality does not obscure the fact that he has existed in every culture at every time. There have always been things out there in the dark waiting to get us. Most of the time, insofar as the stories go, things going bump are supernatural entities like ghosts, demons, and . . . the bogeyman.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Australia was visited by a real bogeyman. This creature was made of flesh and (cold) blood. Nicknamed “Mr. Cruel,” this pedophilic predator terrorized the Melbourne suburbs with his home invasion attacks and abductions.
Multiple young girls were assaulted. One girl was murdered. Despite his infamy and two massive police operations, Mr. Cruel slunk into the shadows with his secret identity intact. His whereabouts are still unknown.
The first recorded crime of Mr. Cruel occurred on Saturday, August 22, 1987. His target was the Lower Plenty section of Melbourne. As in 1987, the 2011 census proved that Lower Plenty was home to white-collar professionals and several well-to-do families. Melbourne was a safe city, too, and the family in Lower Plenty probably felt that their house was secure that night.
Ironically, it was that supposedly safe house that Mr. Cruel violated first. Sometime around 4:00 AM, he removed a pane of glass from a living room window. Once inside, Mr. Cruel, who wielded a knife and a gun, located the sleeping family, woke them up, and then forced all of them onto their stomachs. The intruder told the family to remain calm as he was only interested in money.
The mother and father had their hands and feet bound and were shoved into a wardrobe. They were also gagged and blindfolded with surgical tape, both of which had been brought to the home by Mr. Cruel.
The family’s six-year-old son was tied to his bed and blindfolded with surgical tape as well. The 11-year-old daughter, who was never identified, was raped for two hours. During this assault, Mr. Cruel would take breaks, including making himself a meal in the family’s kitchen. Rape was obviously his motive, for the only things Mr. Cruel took from the home were some vinyl records and an old blue coat.
The investigators in this case failed to find anyone in the unnamed family’s orbit who would want to do them harm. By appearances, this was a random attack with next to no clues left behind.
The only bit of information that the daughter remembered was that the attacker had used the family’s telephone to threaten another family. Mr. Cruel warned this unknown person (whom he called “Bozo”) that his children were next. When the police reviewed the family’s phone records, they found that no call had been made during that time.
A year after the Lower Plenty attack, Mr. Cruel struck again. As before, his target was a home in a quiet Melbourne suburb. This time, it was Ringwood and the Wills family.
At approximately 5:45 AM on December 27, 1988, Mr. Cruel, dressed in dark blue overalls and wearing a dark blue or black balaclava, managed to break into the Willses’ family home. The first indication of his presence was noticed by the patriarch, John Wills. The intruder placed a gun to Mr. Wills’s temple and said to him, “Don’t be a hero.”
After getting the mother, Julie Wills, to stop screaming, Mr. Cruel tied up both of them with copper wire and left them lying facedown on their bed. He also swiped $35 dollars from the nightstand almost as an afterthought.
As ever, robbery was decidedly not Mr. Cruel’s motive. After taking care of the Wills parents and cutting all the phone lines, Mr. Cruel made his way to the bedroom where the family’s children slept. Inside were five-year-old Annette, eight-year-old twins Robyn and Linda, and 10-year-old Sharon.
The unknown man called out to Sharon by name. This fact led some investigators to believe that Mr. Cruel knew his victim personally. It could have also been that the rapist had read a newspaper story about the family, who had suffered a house fire six months earlier.
Mr. Cruel picked up Sharon, gagged her, and left the house with a few items of the girl’s clothing. By the time John and Julie escaped from their bondage, they found both the intruder and Sharon gone.
Eighteen hours after this attack, Sharon was found wrapped in green plastic garbage bags on the grounds of Bayswater High School. After being found by a passerby, Sharon was taken back to her family by police.
Sharon was described as a “brave little trooper” by her traumatized father during a press conference. She provided the police with details about her abductor—details that will be discussed shortly.
Mr. Cruel took 1989 off only to strike again in 1990. On July 3, 1990, in the usually peaceful Melbourne suburb of Canterbury, the assailant broke a window and entered the Lynas family home at around 11:30 PM. He came armed with a knife, a gun, and plenty of surgical tape.
The Lynas family were British citizens and, at the time of the attack, were planning on returning to England. The family included parents Brian and Rosemary and daughters Fiona, 15, and Nicola, 13.
Nicola was a student at Presbyterian Ladies College. Unlike in the previous crimes, the parents were away from home at a going-away party. Thus, Mr. Cruel faced little to no resistance. True to form, Mr. Cruel abducted Nicola and held her for a staggering 50 hours. She was sexually assaulted for the majority of her time in captivity.
Prior to leaving with Nicola, Mr. Cruel left behind several red herrings. For starters, after binding, blindfolding, and gagging Fiona, the assailant told her that he wanted $25,000. Therefore, Nicola’s abduction was part of a ransom plot, he told Fiona. However, Mr. Cruel did not provide Fiona or anyone else with any kind of information about how he wanted the $25,000 to be delivered.
Again, it was all a ruse. The masked attacker escaped by driving off in a rental car that the Lynas family had been using. He ditched the car about 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) away. In all likelihood, Mr. Cruel used another vehicle to take Nicola to his house of horrors.
Both Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas provided police with information about Mr. Cruel. Sharon said that he spoke in a blunt, terse manner. However, she also described him as “kind” and “gentle.” She described his voice as “soft.”
One of the more tantalizing clues that Sharon (and later Nicola) provided to detectives was that Mr. Cruel lived close to an airport. Both girls remembered hearing the sound of planes arriving and departing. Investigators pieced together that Mr. Cruel lived somewhere near the flight path of Tullamarine Airport.
While neither girl managed to actually see Mr. Cruel, Nicola did say that he had reddish-brown hair and stood somewhere near 173 centimeters (5’8″) tall. Nicola even managed to get a peek at the attacker’s bedroom and bathroom, both of which were described as clean and well maintained. Both Sharon and Nicola had been bathed, had their toenails clipped, and had their teeth brushed by their captor.
The most troubling and enduring image of Mr. Cruel was provided by both girls. They described him as wearing a dark blue or black balaclava with white stitching around the eyes and mouth.
Mr. Cruel went quiet for almost a year. But on April 13, 1991, the masked monster carried out his most infamous crime. Australian police also believe that it was Mr. Cruel’s last crime.
On that night, in a house located in Templestowe, Victoria (another Melbourne suburb), Karmein Chan, 13, was busy babysitting her younger sisters, Karly and Karen. Their parents, who ran several Chinese restaurants in Victoria, were away that night at their restaurant in Eltham.
Before the attack, all the girls were in Karmein’s room watching a documentary on Marilyn Monroe. Karmein, dressed in a white nightgown sprinkled with blue flowers, was recovering after a case of glandular fever.
At approximately 9:00 PM, one of the younger sisters went into the family’s kitchen to make herself a snack. There, she found Mr. Cruel is his usual dark tracksuit and balaclava. He carried a large knife.
Mr. Cruel grabbed both Karly and Karen by the hair and forced them into a cupboard. By the time that the young girls managed to free themselves, Karmein and the masked man were gone. The only remaining clue was the family’s Toyota Camry, which had been spray-painted with the words “payback” and “more to come.”
Days later at an emotional press conference, John and Phyllis Chan, who had migrated to Australia from Hong Kong in 1976, pleaded for Karmein to come home and wear her favorite shirt. By this point, detectives had already looked into the Chans’ background and concluded that the spray-painted message was a ruse. The Chans had no serious business rivals or anyone who wanted to do them harm.
For police, the capture of Karmein Chan convinced them that Mr. Cruel had a working knowledge of forensic science. Also, by all appearances, the intruder knew how to move around in the house, thus indicating that he had watched the Chan family for some time. Inspector Sprague of the Victoria Police could not rule out the idea that Mr. Cruel was a former police officer.
Not long after Karmein’s abduction, the FBI sent a letter to the Victoria Police. The letter outlined a profile of Mr. Cruel, noting that “the offender has an intense interest in children . . . will have own homemade pornography [and] would typically live in a single-family residence.”
All of this could not save Karmein Chan. On April 9, her body was found at Edgars Creek in Thomastown. An autopsy revealed that Karmein’s killer had shot her to death.
Phyllis Chan unwittingly provided detectives with an explanation for Karmein’s murder. Phyllis told them that Karmein was a stubborn girl who would not have gone quietly into the night with Mr. Cruel. Detectives seized on the idea that she had been killed because she managed to either pull off Mr. Cruel’s mask or somehow figured out his identity.
Mr. Cruel was a cold and calculating monster who planned all his crimes in advance. This fact convinced Victoria officers that Mr. Cruel was guilty of much more than three sexual assaults and one murder.
In 2016, the Australian press announced that a suspect named “John” (not his real name) had links to another unsolved murder. According to the authorities, John became a suspect sometime around 2011 when his partner told Taskforce Apollo, a massive Victoria Police operation designed to nab Mr. Cruel, that John had sadistic tendencies in the bedroom.
This aligned with the 1991 FBI letter, which indicated that Mr. Cruel likely had a partner who was aware of his psycho-sadistic fantasies. This unnamed witness also said that John would talk about Karmein Chan during sex and would become visibly nervous whenever television stations ran stories on Mr. Cruel.
More to the point, John owned a gun, had a job that allowed him to travel all around Melbourne, and reportedly had a pornography collection at home that featured indecent images of children.
Since 1991, the Victoria Police have proposed the idea that Mr. Cruel was responsible for 12 unsolved abductions of children in the Melbourne area between 1985 and 1995. Some of these cases include the 1985 abduction of a 14-year-old girl from her Hampton home. This unidentified girl was bound and gagged by her assailant. Then, after several hours, the girl was dropped off near the Moorabbin Bowl.
Despite going underground for the better part of two decades, Australia detectives believe that Mr. Cruel is still alive and living in the Melbourne area.
One of the more common and popular theories about Mr. Cruel is that he worked as a schoolteacher during his crime spree. The circumstantial evidence supporting this theory includes the fact that he called out Sharon Wills by her first name during the attack on the Wills family. This presumably indicated some kind of intimacy with the young girl.
Furthermore, one of the most tantalizing clues in the whole case is that both Nicola Lynas and Karmein Chan were students at Presbyterian Ladies College. During the abduction of Nicola, Mr. Cruel had told her to take her school uniform with her.
Another fact noted by investigators is that all of Mr. Cruel’s attacks occurred during school breaks and holidays. Was Mr. Cruel a teacher at Presbyterian? It cannot be ruled out.
The FBI said in their April 1991 letter that Mr. Cruel was a collector of homemade pornography. The accounts of Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas suggested that Mr. Cruel also made his own pornography.
Specifically, both girls remember waking up in Mr. Cruel’s house and seeing a camera and tripod at the foot of the bed. Decades later, the Victoria Police would publicize their belief that Mr. Cruel filmed all his sexual assaults.
This idea runs in conjunction with the theory that Mr. Cruel may have been involved in the shady child pornography forums that already existed during the early days of the Internet. While officially the police have only stated that Mr. Cruel filmed his rapes to relive them later on, they have never ruled out the idea that Mr. Cruel may have been a one-man creator and distributor of child pornography.
For years since 1991, the Australia police and media have leaked out bits and pieces of information regarding suspects in the Mr. Cruel case. In April 2016, the Herald Sun newspaper revealed that the Victoria Police had a total of seven suspects in the case. One of them turned out to be a 75-year-old former lecturer at Melbourne University who was also a convicted sex offender.
This suspect was unmasked by the media as Brian Alan Elkner. Between 1972 and 1974, Elkner attacked and sexually assaulted six women (including one of his students) in the Melbourne suburbs. At that time, Elkner was a lecturer in French literature.
Since Elkner was named as the primary suspect in the case, attention has been paid to a 1973 essay that he published in an academic book entitled French Aesthetic Thought in the XVIIIth Century. The essay, “Diderot and the Sublime: The Artist as Hero,” makes the case for the “sublime criminal.”
Elkner wrote, “If society establishes a new ‘level’ above the amoral and determined world of nature, the sublime individual, artist or criminal, stands above both, affirming his value in the face of an indifferent nature, a mediocre society.”
Elkner maintains his innocence and has yet to be charged with any crimes related to Mr. Cruel.
The crimes of Mr. Cruel have eerie similarities to two other crimes, both of which took place around the same time but on opposite ends of the Atlantic Ocean.
On October 18, 1974, in the university city of Cambridge, England, a 20-year-old student was settling down to view some television when she found a man with a scarf around his mouth watching her. The man threatened the woman with a knife. She was eventually sexually assaulted by the criminal, who would first be called the “hooded rapist” before earning the nickname the “Cambridge Rapist.”
For nine months, the Cambridge Rapist broke into the homes of coeds and other women who lived in the city. In total, he pulled off 10 attacks on young women.
The Cambridge Rapist clearly loved the sensationalism attached to his crimes. During one of his final assaults, he struck while wearing a black zipper-mouth mask with the word “Rapist” written on it.
This mask would later become a fashion accessory when Malcolm McLaren, the man responsible for forming the Sex Pistols, made a T-shirt featuring the mask in 1977. The Cambridge Rapist was ultimately unmasked as Peter Samuel Cook, a career criminal with prior convictions for burglary and escaping from custody.
Between 1976 and 1986, the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer/Original Night Stalker committed over 50 rapes and 13 murders in Northern and Southern California. As the East Area Rapist (EAR), this balaclava-wearing attacker would tie up women and rape them for extended periods of time.
In some instances, the EAR would stack plates on the back of his victims and warn them that he would kill them if he heard the plates move. On several occasions, the EAR would make himself a meal in the house after sexually assaulting women.
Much like Mr. Cruel, the EAR/GSK spent hours watching his victims before he carried out his crimes. He also displayed a knowledge of military and police tactics and seemed to have an understanding of forensic evidence.
The idea that this monster was a police officer was proven correct when California police revealed in 2018 that they had arrested and charged Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer in the California towns of Auburn and Exeter, with being the Original Night Stalker.
The arrest of DeAngelo has put a serious damper on the idea that the EAR/GSK was the man responsible for the Mr. Cruel crimes. The FBI and Victoria Police took this idea seriously and communicated back and forth about the possibility that the California serial rapist–turned–serial killer had migrated to Australia sometime after 1986.
Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston.