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Mother holds on to her hope for justice

Pictures of the vibrant, young Annette Mason during happier times
Pictures of the vibrant, young Annette Mason during happier times Contributed

SHE was meant to experience camping for the first time, become a florist and finish school.

After leaving high school at 15 to enter the workforce to help support her family, she was looking forward to rejoining her classmates after her mother secured a stable job.

She hoped she would one day reignite the flame with her high school crush.

But as her friends progressed to graduating high school, finding love and leaving Toowoomba, Annette Jane Mason unwillingly stayed.

She remains in the country town unable to experience the fruits of her life because she was brutally murdered 23 years ago.

Annette's badly beaten body was found in the bedroom of her Anzac Ave home on November 19, 1989.

Police believe a non-metallic object was used to kill the young, blonde-haired girl and the injuries were such that she would have been unconscious during most of the attack.

Detective Mick Bianchi looks over the crime scene in the long-running Annette Jane Mason murder case.
Detective Mick Bianchi looks over the crime scene in the long-running Annette Jane Mason murder case. Bev Lacey

A thorough police investigation, $250,000 reward and constant family pleas for help have not sufficed to find Annette's killer.

The perjury trial of a former neighbour, Karen Leslie Symonds, accused of lying to a secretive Crime Commission closed hearing about what she knew of Annette's death, has brought the murder mystery to light again.

Symonds was found not guilty on one count of perjury and will face trial next year on another perjury charge.

The case has also seen Annette's mother, Judy Clarke, relive the horror for another time and recount in excruciating detail, Annette's last steps.

Annette was born in Toowoomba and went through school on the Gold Coast and lived in NSW before moving back to Toowoomba to finish Grade 10.

But financial struggles tormented her tight-knit family and prompted Annette to drop out of Grade 10 at St Ursula's College to take up an apprenticeship at a florist.

Mrs Clarke later moved to the Gold Coast where the work was and Annette stayed in Toowoomba, on the proviso Mrs Clarke would return to stay with Annette on the weekends.

Mrs Clarke helped Annette move in with a few girls at 131 Anzac Ave, but the move did not sit well with her.

"I said to her, 'Let's not do this'," Mrs Clarke said.

"She said 'Oh mum, I promise I will look out for cars when I cross the road and I promise to be careful when I use the hairdryer'."

Within the first week she began mingling with a new crowd, drinkers and socialisers, and featuring on a scene contrary to her quiet, reserved personality.

"There was a lot of drinking that sort of stuff, whereas Annette was not really into a crowd like that before, ever," Mrs Clarke said.

"When she died she got this horrible reputation through the newspaper that she was out going to nightclubs, whereas she wasn't.

"We just think that she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and she should not have been living in that house."

On the weekend of the November 18-19, 1989, Annette planned to go camping with her boyfriend's family friends, but owing to bad weather, the trip was called off at the last minute.

Twenty-four hours later, Annette was dead.

For the past two decades police have worked to piece together Annette's final moments.

Police search for clues in the Annette Jane Mason murder case.
Police search for clues in the Annette Jane Mason murder case. The Chronicle Archives

Based on statements from friends, a taxi driver and motorists, police know Annette went to a party at Groom Park on Saturday, November 18, before heading to the Norville Hotel.

As some of her friends pushed on, Annette called it a night and caught a cab home with her uncle's friend.

The friend got out early in the journey before Annette was let out at Anzac Ave.

The taxi driver was one of the last people to see Annette alive as she walked down the street at 3:30am.

A woman gave chilling evidence at the recent perjury trial in Brisbane District Court about seeing a blonde girl in a white shirt running across the road with a man in tow.

The motorist was driving to the Gold Coast at 4am on November 19 and remembers the girl putting her hands on her car before continuing on and looking over her shoulder at the man behind her.

It was not until about 12 hours later that friend Leisa Jane Robertson discovered Annette.

Ms Robertson went to drop off something at Annette's on the afternoon of November 19, 1989, and walked into the share house to find Annette.

"She was lying on her bed with her doona over her and her feet out," she said.

"...I said something to her and she did not respond and I touched her and that's when I noticed something was wrong."

Ms Robertson ran screaming to Ms Symonds's house and alerted her to the frightful discovery.

Ms Symonds went up to Annette's house with Ms Robertson and stood back from the body, "quiet and unemotional", Ms Robertson claimed, before waving down police nearby.

Mrs Clarke remembers the trauma that followed.

"We virtually had to wait around for a few days because I wanted to be sure it was Annette. It was so hard to believe," she said.

"We waited until we could view her body, and from there on it was hell for years."

Six months later the family was dealt another tragedy, when 17-year-old son Steven died in a car accident near Toowoomba.

Overwhelmed with grief and malicious rumours about Annette's murder, Mrs Clarke fled to South Australia where she sought comfort and understanding with a victims-of-crime group.

Coming back to Toowoomba and subsequently closer to her two children's graves, Mrs Clarke waited patiently for a breakthrough.

In 2009, Queensland police set a $250,000 reward for anybody with information leading to the murderer's conviction.

The case stalled again before regaining prominence this year when Mrs Clarke, carrying a photo of Annette in her handbag, sat through days of haunting evidence in the perjury trial.

The family may not be closer to finding out who caused Annette's death, but they will continue to be patient, as they have for 23 years.

"I want it to be brought to justice and I want the people that did this to actually be brought to justice over it," she said.

"But as far as what happens after that, I just think nothing that ever happens to these people could ever make up for what we lost.

"Sometimes I get fearful it won't happen, but I am always looking, thinking, something eventually will go Annette's way and it will get sorted. "

In the meantime, Annette continues to rest in Toowoomba as the life she should have experienced continues on without her.

 

Timeline

1989, November - Annette Mason moves into a share house at 131 Anzac Avenue

1989, November 1989 - Friend finds Annette's body in her bedroom

1990 - Annette's murder re-enacted on television show Australia's Most Wanted

1991 - Coronial inquiry into Annette's death draws open finding

1998 - Queensland Crime Commission takes hold of the case

1999 - Witnesses give evidence before Crime Commission

2009 - Queensland Government offer $250,000 reward for conviction

2011 - Karen Leslie Symonds charged with perjury for allegedly lying to Crime Commission

2012 - Symonds found not guilty of perjury

Topics:  annette mason, investigation, murder, toowoomba


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