Who killed Juanita? Part three: the wash up – and Juanita’s place in popular culture

Since her disappearance, Juanita Nielsen (pictured) has entered the lexicon of Australian popular culture. Photo: credit unknown via New Corp Australia.

On 4 July, 1975, activist, journalist and Kings Cross local Juanita Nielsen disappeared, never to be seen again. Almost certainly murdered for standing up to developers, her story symbolises a time when Sydney was awash with corruption.

Following on from part two, this is the final instalment in a three-part series of articles by John Moyle exploring the topic. In this piece, Moyle explores the various machinations in the years after Nielsen’s disappearance, including her entry into the lexicon of popular culture.

READ: Who killed Juanita? Part two: the heiress goes missing

READ: Who killed Juanita? Part one: the wild days and wicked ways of Kings Cross

With Labor coming to power in NSW in 1976, then Attorney General Frank Walker’s efforts to examine the Nielsen case led to a submission for a judicial inquiry which went nowhere, when premier Neville Wran refused to advance the issue.

Two-and-a-half years after Nielsen’s disappearance, in 1977, things would get a lot hotter for the Three Stooges when Trigg, Martin-Simmonds and Marshall were arrested on conspiracy to abduct the journalist.

Trigg and Martin-Simmonds were found guilty and sentenced to three and two years, respectively, with Marshall being acquitted.

Amazingly, while on bail and using false documents, Trigg would escape to the US, where he was on the run until being caught in San Francisco in 1982 and deported back to Sydney to serve his sentence.

Trigg told Detective John Payne of the San Franciso Police Department: “They’re making all this noise over a woman who was nothing but an out and out Communist. No loss to society at all.”

After almost 50 years, the theories abound and keep coming.

In the recent ABC Radio podcast series, Unravel True Crime – Juanita, union secretary and Nielsen’s ex-boyfriend, John Glebe, claims that Nielsen was in contact with a prisoner at Long Bay via a walkie talkie radio – the only problem being that in the 1970s, walkie talkies were large and cumbersome units, difficult to smuggle and hard to operate.

The podcast also contains an interview with John Innes, a Sydney lawyer, who reveals that he extracted a jail confession from Trigg while acting as an unsworn undercover operative for a section of the NSW Police.

After almost 50 years of silence, these incredible claims raise more questions than they do answers, including: Why wasn’t the information extracted acted on? Where are the police records of these claims? Was the informant under any credible threat not to reveal the information sooner? Why has the informant not made an attempt to claim the $1 million reward now on offer?

Giving evidence at his 1983 coronial inquest, Anderson fingered corrupt cop Fred Krahe and organiser of Theeman’s standover men as the killer, but Krahe was unable to respond as he had died in 1981.

In 1983, a coronial inquiry would eventually declare Nielsen deceased, finding that she had probably been murdered – but ruled that there was insufficient evidence to determine who did it or how.

The inquiry also found that the investigation was limited by police corruption.

The tiny terrace at 202 Victoria Street, Potts Point, where Nilsen lived. Photo: John Moyle.

The Cross hardly noticed Juanita’s disappearance: it had other business to deal with.

Anderson and his Praetorian Guard of Tongans would continue to run the clubs and, for a short while in the early ‘80s, would even take over the Chelsea restaurant, once considered the height of silver service in the Cross.

But in the blizzard of malfeasance, changes were happening that would turn the Glittering Mile into the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

Things were not going well for Anderson’s relationship with Saffron, and Saffron had found a new crew of Serbians under Todor ‘Tosha The Torch’ Maksimovic to protect his interests.

Out of sheer malice, after a joint National Crime Authority and Australian Tax Office investigation in 1987, Anderson would give evidence that Saffron regularly kept two sets of books for his clubs, which led to him doing 17 months in prison for tax evasion.

Anderson would also name police, including an Assistant Commissioner, who he said were taking bribes, but nothing would come of this.

As Anderson kept snitching, he would receive police protection and was now spending a large part of his time in the Philippines.

After doing his time, Saffron would set about divesting much of his club portfolio to concentrate on legitimate property assets.

With the glue that held the Darlinghurst Road strip together now effectively gone, the area opened up to a new set of entrepreneurs who were often so lacking in business skills their only resource was to sell drugs – lots of them.

The glamour, illusionary as it was, had been stripped away and the Cross was now set in a free-fall that would lead to the lockouts and its eventual decline as an entertainment precinct.

Theeman would eventually get to build part of his dystopian dream, which still blights the western ridge of Victoria Street and claimed that he “made good money” from the project.

While some of the streetscape was saved, much of the western side of Victoria Street was razed for Theeman’s apartments, including those pictured. Photo: Domain.com.au.

However, his once great legacy as a Jewish immigrant who had escaped the Nazis penniless and made good in post-war Australia would be in tatters forever.

Frank Theeman died in 1989.

Today, Victoria Street holds some of the most valuable and visually elegant real estate in Sydney – and this is due to the efforts of Nielsen, an alliance of unions and a previously unorganised group of residents, squatters and activists.

Nielsen would enter popular Australian culture as a heroic figure, becoming the subject of numerous books, countless articles and the inspiration for two feature films, Don Crombie’s The Killing of Angel Street in 1981 and Phil Noyce’s Heatwave in 1982.

Theatrical trailer for The Killing of Angel Street (1981), which was based on the disappearance of Juanita Nielsen. Video: Screenbound Pictures/YouTube.

In the early 2000s, film director Jon Hewitt produced a series of clips titled ‘Stations of the X’ based around Juanita’s disappearance.

More recently, artist and academic Zanny Begg’s non-linear documentary The Beehive presented 1,344 possible versions of Nielsen’s narrative.

“What I found, as I started to dig deeper, was that Juanita herself was a very fascinating person who was incredibly charismatic and an enigma in her way, and I wanted to reveal the different sides to her personality,” Begg said.

In 1983, the City of Sydney recognised Nielsen’s efforts as an activist for both Victoria Street and Woolloomooloo by commemorating the Juanita Nielsen Community Centre in the ‘Loo.

Since 2001, the Greens have presented the annual Juanita Nielsen Memorial Lecture to recognise the role of women in public life.

Peter Farrugia, one of Saffron’s closest friends, was shot dead on a south-west Queensland property in 1992.

Anderson died in 2003, aged 73, after catching avian pneumonia from feeding rosellas.

“A parrot is what landed the killer blow. Avian pneumonia, don’t you know? He caught it from flock of rosellas. Hardy, wild little fellas. A merciful death, in the end for someone I called my friend,” said an unknown person who gave the first eulogy at Anderson’s funeral at Leura in the Blue Mountains.

Abe Saffron died at St Vincent’s Hospital in 2006, aged 86.

In 2013, Eddie Trigg died in his single room at the Abbotts Hotel in Waterloo, and despite efforts by police to gain a confession, to the end he claimed not to know anything about Nielsen’s disappearance.

Shayne Martin-Simmonds was reported to have died in 2020 in his homeland of New Zealand.

After this year’s ABC podcasts about Nielsen by family members, the broadcaster is currently screening a television documentary series on her disappearance.

Later this month, Peter Rees will re-release his book Killing Juanita, regarded as the best book on the case.

On 15 September, Killing Juanita by Peter Rees will be re-released. Photo: HarperCollins Publishers Australia.

Kings Cross heritage expert Andrew Woodhouse is currently waiting for the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to bring down its findings on his bid to open the police files relating to Nielsen’s disappearance.

Forty-six years after the Juanita Nielsen disappearance, in June, 2021, the NSW Police announced a $1 million reward for information about her suspected murder.

When, or whether, anyone collects the reward remains to be seen.

This is the third and final instalment of John Moyle’s special investigation into the disappearance of Juanita Nielsen.

The first instalment, originally published on Tuesday, 7 September, can be accessed at https://sydneysentinel.com.au/2021/09/who-killed-juanita-part-one-the-wild-days-and-wicked-ways-of-the-cross/.

The second instalment, originally published on Thursday, 9 September, can be accessed at https://sydneysentinel.com.au/2021/09/who-killed-juanita-part-two-the-heiress-goes-missing/.

At 8.30pm Tuesday, 7 September, the first episode of a two-part documentary television series into the affair, titled Juanita: A Family Mystery, premiered on ABC TV and ABC iview. Episode two will screen on ABC TV and ABC iview at 8.30pm Tuesday, 14 September. The program follows Nielsen’s family’s search for answers and comes off the back of the recent ABC Radio podcast Unravel True Crime – Juanita.

John Moyle is the associate editor and special writer for the Sydney Sentinel.