– The constant visitor to the terminally ill patient now just hours from death gently asked: “Do you know who I am?”
“Yes,” came the weak response.
“You’re my buddy.”
Although they had known each other for years and spent those last few weeks in each other’s company, they were anything but friends. The dying man was child killer Derek Ernest Percy, and his visitor was Detective Senior Sergeant Wayne Newman, the policeman who spent nearly a decade delving into the suspect’s murky past.
Perhaps it was natural that at the end Percy, 64, would claim his pursuer as a friend, for it had been years since anyone had even visited him in prison. Alone, hated, feared, rejected and frightened, Percy was Australia’s longest-serving inmate until he succumbed to lung cancer on Wednesday in the St Augustine’s secure ward of St Vincent’s Hospital.
For weeks Newman would arrive daily for a chat, sometimes for 30 minutes and often for hours, in the hope that Percy would, for the first time since his arrest 44 years ago, finally open up. The policeman would arrive in full uniform because Percy, a former sailor,snowed interest in the ribbons and insignia.
Their conversations would range from the cricket, football to the Royal family. As Percy’s pain increased, the policeman would do most of the talking. “He was too polite to ask me to leave.”
Subtly, Newman would seed their conversations with questions relating to the unsolved murders, but Percy’s standard response was that he could not recall.
Even now the policeman does not know if he was lying or had purged his mind of what he did not want to confront.
It was the same with serial killer Peter Norris Dupas (convicted of three murders and suspected of three more). Interviewed, he would sweat and shake, then withdrew into himself. “We tried everything, and he would get to the point where he was about to talk,” an investigator said. “Then something would snap, and he would go blank, then deny everything.”
What is known of the secretive Percy is that he was arrested hours after he murdered Yvonne Tuohy, 12, whom he grabbed on Warneet Beach on July 20th, 1969, the same day that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. He was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity and remained in custody until his death.
He is a suspect in the murders of Christine Sharrock, 15, and Marianne Schmidt, 15, on Sydney’s Wanda Beach in January 1965; the disappearance of the Beaumont children – Jane, 9, Arnna, 7, and Grant, 4 – in Adelaide in January 1966; Allen Redston, 6, grabbed in Canberra in September 1966; Simon Brook, 3, in Sydney in May 1968; and Linda Stilwell, 7, abducted from the St Kilda foreshore in August 1968.
Over the years different investigators have asked him about these child abductions, and his answers have been the same: that he simply could not remember. In some cases he would go as far as admit he was in the area at the time, but then he would draw a blank.
Just after he was arrested for the Tuohy murder, he confirmed that he had driven past the St Kilda beach on the day Linda Stilwell disappeared. Asked by a policeman if he was the killer, he responded, “Possibly, I don’t remember a thing about it.”
But just days before he died he was asked a series of questions at his hospital before coroner Iain West over the Stilwell disappearance. And for the first time in four decades he denied any involvement.
Percy had spent more than three years fighting moves to have him appear at the inquest, until he was effectively forced to testify when the Court of Appeal ruled he had no choice.
So if he was not involved, why did he initially refuse to give evidence on the grounds of self-incrimination?
Percy was introverted, quietly spoken and unfailingly polite. Over his life he collected stamps and Test match statistics, sailed, played carpet bowls and table tennis and was a bit of a computer nerd.
Those who spent time in his company talk of his eyes: deep, almost black and impenetrable.
When word filtered out that Australia’s longest-serving inmate was dying, a retired Pentridge prison governor rang a Brisbane radio station to say he remembered those eyes, declaring Percy to be “one of the three most evil people” he had ever seen.
A policeman who served with Percy in the navy, former inspector Tim Attrill, described him as “one of the most intelligent people I’ve met. He is cold, without emotion, and looks straight through you with his crazy eyes.”
From the moment homicide investigator Dick Knight saw the Tuohy crime scene and read some of Percy’s handwritten, sexually explicit diaries found in his navy locker, the detective believed they were dealing with a serial killer.
It was a most terrible crime that could have been worse.
When he grabbed Yvonne Tuohy he also tried to abduct her friend, Shane Spiller, 12, who escaped by threatening Percy with a tomahawk before running away.
He described Percy’s Datsun station wagon and a small navy insignia on the back window, which led police to arrest the suspect at the nearby HMAS Cerberus naval base.
Spiller identified Percy in a line-up and was photographed in the newspaper as a hero holding up his little tomahawk.
The bright little boy grew into a troubled man who fought a losing battle against drugs and alcohol. He disappeared in unexplained circumstances in 2002.
Another Warneet child could also have been taken. Sue Williams, then just 10, was invited by Touhy and Spiller to join them that Sunday but said she would have lunch first, then catch up. “It probably saved my life,” she says. The Percy diaries showed he wanted to abduct two or three children at a time.
The jury’s verdict of not guilty on the grounds of insanity was a blessing. Had he been convicted he would have inevitably been released after serving between 12 and 20 years, to almost certainly reoffend. The insanity finding resulted in an indefinite term (Governor’s pleasure), which would allow him to be released when he was no longer a danger.
Many Governor’s pleasure inmates (including one who killed a policeman) blended harmlessly back into the community after their illnesses were treated, but Percy was never going to be one of those.
This was because not one expert ever found he was suffering from a treatable psychological condition. In lay terms, he was more bad than mad.
The best detectives and the brightest medical experts have examined Percy, and none could work out what went on behind those black eyes.
A veteran prison psychiatrist, Dr Allen Bartholomew, once described him as “the nearest thing to a robot I have ever met”, saying: “His behaviour is above reproach, but what goes on in his mind I have no idea.”
So was his routine response, that he could not recall, an elaborate hoax, or did he have the capacity to lock his secrets away from even himself?
His prison file notes: “He presents as cold and emotionless, meticulous and methodical. His lack of remorse is consistently noted.”
Another expert said: “He volunteered nothing, and extracting information was like pulling teeth.”
After Percy was more than 10 years in jail, his supervisor wrote: “One can’t help but feel that there is, in fact, much under the surface that he chooses not to reveal.”
One of the homicide investigators who charged Percy over the Tuohy murder, Bernie Delaney, has no doubt Percy’s withdrawal was fake. “When we first interviewed him he denied it, then he said he could have done it but couldn’t remember, and then he eventually took us to the scene in the dark on a drizzly July night.
“His ‘I can’t remember’ line was the perfect ploy, and so he never changed it.”
The head of the investigation, Dick Knight, had completed a hypnotism course, and rather than aggressively interrogate the suspect he calmly talked to him in a low monotone. “I still think he half hypnotised him,” Delaney says.
Every year Percy was interviewed by a battery of experts, and every year the conclusion would be the same – that he was model prisoner inside who could never be trusted on the outside.
Indeed, he was considered too dangerous to be housed even in a secure psychiatric facility, and spent his years inside a prison.
One found: “He is not certifiable, neither is he psychiatrically treatable, and he is totally unsuited to a mental institution.”
In 1983 a forensic psychiatrist found he was “not mentally sick in the accepted sense. Percy is sexually grossly disturbed and should never be released from prison.”
Another confronted him with the awful details of the Tuohy murder to observe his reactions. “He did not appear distressed in any way…I might simply have been talking about the kinds of cheese one eats.”
After 17 years, the mask finally slipped, not from guilt or remorse but a fear that his daily routine might change. His prison file noted: “Percy, whose face was inscrutable, the eyes cold and mesmeric, suddenly displayed emotion. His lips trembled convulsively as he emotionally stated that he did not want to move from J division because he had ‘his computers there’.”
In 1994 he was taken from one jail to another in a private prison van with a window. A prison officer recorded: “He was clearly elated by this experience, as it is perhaps the first time Percy has viewed open countryside in almost 25 years.”
In the end, Percy was a victim of obsessions he could not control.
Now we shall never know how many children were caught in that same web – John Silvester

Derek Ernest Percy


About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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