Betty Shanks murder cracked by Ipswich author

Betty Shanks
Betty Shanks

ONE of Australia's most shocking and baffling murder mysteries is set to be solved by Ipswich historian Lyle Reed in a new book.

The brutal murder of 22-year-old Betty Shanks on September 19, 1952 at Wilston stunned a nation due to the horrific nature of her injuries, and ever since has been the source of books and much conjecture because the crime has never been solved.

Reed, who has investigated the crime for three years, will pinpoint the man he believes killed Ms Shanks, how he did it and what the murderer's motivation was.

In a stunning development, Reed has a family link to the alleged culprit who he will assert deliberately ran down Ms Shanks on a motorbike.

Her injuries were severe but did not kill her. Reed states that the murderer then returned around an hour later to strangle her.

Reed has spoken to the QT about his upcoming book on the condition that we don't reveal the alleged murderer's name, occupation or other key aspects of his theory. He wants to keep those details secret until his book's release. Ms Shanks got off a tram at The Grange terminus at 9.32pm on that fateful September, 1952 evening and was walking home to Montepelier St, but she never made it.

COLD CASE: Investigators at the crime scene on September 20, 1952, the day after the murder of Betty Shanks (pictured) in Wilston.
COLD CASE: Investigators at the crime scene on September 20, 1952, the day after the murder of Betty Shanks (pictured) in Wilston.

The next morning at 5:39am an off-duty policeman, Alex Stewart, discovered her battered body in the front garden of his neighbour's house on the corner of Thomas and Carberry St.

Ms Shanks, a University of Queensland graduate and Commonwealth public servant with the Department of Interior, was returning home from a lecture on the night of her murder.

In the manuscript Reed identifies two witness statements that he deems critical to his version of the murder, although they are by no means the only ones.

He writes that a woman who tendered a statement to investigating police at 10am on the morning after the murder stated how she had set her watch at 9.35pm and then heard "two very loud cries" and then the sound of a vehicle going up the street.

There was an inquest the following year and some people reported muffled screams followed by the sound of a motorbike.

The Sunday Truth of February 15, 1953 reported on the evidence at the inquest presented by ex-Sheffield Shield cricketer Jimmy Coats, who had just listened to a boxing bout on 4BK radio station.

The newspaper said that the main bout finished at 10.30pm and that Coats "retired about 10 minutes later and almost immediately heard a slight moan".

"It was sufficient to make him inquisitive, and he got up," the report continued.

"Just then a motorcycle passed by.

"Coats waited until it had gone, to see if he could hear anything more, but there was nothing.

"He looked through the window, but saw nothing."

Reed refers to Coats evidence in his manuscript and how it ties in with a key aspect of his theory on the murder.

He writes that "Betty was almost across the Carberry St intersection, only a metre from stepping onto the footpath", when she screamed as an oncoming motorcycle bore down on her.

"Betty was struck with such force she was thrown heavily upon the grassy area beside the asphalt footpath, landing on both knees beside the Bauhinia trees and rendered into an immediate unconscious state," he says.

Reed states the motorcyclist then "dragged Betty to the cover of the Bauhinia trees, picked up Betty's limp and bleeding body and callously threw her over the nearby fence of the Hills' residence".

He asserts that an hour later, around 10.40pm, which ties in with Coats' evidence, the panicked motorcyclist returned to make sure she was dead.

He tampered with her clothing to make the crime appear to be sexual in nature and was then startled when she let out a loud moan.

"He instantly placed both of his enormous hands around Betty's throat and proceeded to strangle the remaining life from Betty's battered body," Reed writes.

Reed is adamant that the culprit deliberately ran Betty down and came back later to complete the horrific crime.

"Excluding the eventual cause of Betty's death by forced strangulation, I have no doubt whatsoever that Betty's facial injuries were not inflicted by the hands or feet of a human being," Reed states.

"Betty's injuries were inflicted by a vehicle travelling at a moderate speed, such as a large motorcycle. During my long hours of research I discovered certain abnormalities of Betty's horrific facial injuries.

"They were definitely not inflicted by a human fist or a heavy boot, especially the most prominent laceration inflicted on Betty's right mandible.

"The specific injury was definitely inflicted by a sharp tapered metal object which penetrated and fractured Betty's mandible.

"This horrific gaping wound was not caused by a large knife or a blunt instrument.

"The gaping wound to Betty's mandible was inflicted by an elongated tapered metal object that measured approximately three or four inches long.

"The point of the metal object pierced her jaw fracturing her mandible in two separate places, then dislodged her molar and badly lacerated her tongue and palate."

Reed asserts that the motivation for the murderer was jealousy, after he was rebuffed when Ms Shanks discovered he was married. He put forward the theory that her injuries were caused possibly by a brake or clutch lever attached to the handle bars of a motorcycle.

"That has gone straight through her mandible because there is no bruising around that laceration," he told the QT.

"If that was a punch a haematoma would have developed instantly.

"She was still alive when she was thrown over the fence.

"I have shown the photos of Betty's injuries to a doctor and he determined they were caused by either a motorbike or a vehicle."

Cr Paul Tully, who is proofing Reed's manuscript and has had a long interest in the case, said the Ipswich historian's thesis is "absolutely sensational".

"This will warrant a request to the Attorney General to re-open the inquest from 1953," Cr Tully said.

"Not only did it shock people in Queensland and around Australia but the university community was in mourning.

"There was one of the most amazing man hunts ever but they never seemed to get very far.

"In 1972 I was the editor of Semper Floreat (newspaper) at the University of Queensland and I went out to the crime scene on the 20th anniversary.

"I was on my own and it was dark and the Bauhinia trees and houses were largely unchanged since 1952.

"I saw this slight fluttering in the window of the house where the body was found, and then the curtain came down.

"It was one of the eeriest feelings and just scary. I always had a lot of interest in the case and there was a lot of speculation into the who, what and why."

Cr Tully considers the evidence provided by witnesses of the sound of the motorbike and the moans, combined with the testimony of Coats, is of note.

"The story that came out in the inquest was that there were different reports from witnesses of the sound of a motorbike." Cr Tully said.

"The interesting thing is that Lyle was able to pinpoint the exact time of what Coats heard because the boxing match was being called by 4BK and had just finished when he heard the moan and the motorbike.

"What Lyle has done is hone in on that issue to identify who was riding the bike. His theory almost fits like a glove.

"I would describe this as a most sensational development which the inquest failed to uncover.

"There has been a lot of speculation in the past as to what caused the pattern on her forehead.

"At one stage they thought it was a soldier's gaiter and that she had been kicked hard in the head because of the regular speckled pattern, but what Lyle has come up with is a theory that is absolutely sensational."

Reed told the QT he had "two matching patterns that possibly caused the patterned imprint on the forehead".

There is a Police Minister-approved reward of $50,000 for information which leads to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murder, the oldest reward on offer in Queensland. Reed is sure he has cracked the case in his book, which contains several bombshells.

"There was definitely a conspiracy," Reed said.

"Detective Ted Chandler, one of the members of the taskforce who visited the murder scene, said in his memoirs that 'if ever a murderer was protected, this was one'."

Topics:  author betty shanks ipswich murder

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