Who killed Juanita? Part two: the heiress goes missing

Juanita Nielsen (pictured) disappeared on 4 July, 1975. Photo: NSW Police/supplied.

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 one, this is the second instalment in a three-part series of articles by John Moyle exploring the topic. In this piece, Moyle explores the lead-up to her disappearance and its immediate aftermath.

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

The early signs of just how far Theeman’s goons would go came in 1973 when teacher, Sydney Push member and secretary of the Victoria Street Residents’ Action Group, Arthur King, was kidnapped from his flat at 97a Victoria Street by a couple of thugs, who bundled him into the boot of his car where he was held for three days.

On his return to Victoria Street, King packed his belongings and left the Cross, never to live there again.

Kings suspects that he had been targeted because he was the first to approach the BLF.

Next to receive a threat was John Glebe, secretary of the Water and Sewage Employees’ Union and Juanita’s lover at the time.

Arguably one of the most progressive unions, in the mid-’70s the BLF was overthrown by Norm Gallagher of the Melbourne branch, effectively locking them out of the Victoria Street protest.

Gallagher would later be jailed for corruption, and BLF members Jack Mundey, Joe Owens and Bob Pringle would continue to lead public protests.

Theeman now saw Anderson as his best chance of getting what he wanted – his $40million development – and was being drawn into ‘Big Jim’s’ web of lies, deceit and violence.

It just so happened that in 1974 one of Theeman’s sons, Timothy, who had recently returned from a drug rehabilitation program in Israel, was employed as an assistant manager at the Carousel Club, where he quickly formed a friendship with Grant Anderson, ‘Big Jim’s’ adopted son.

The Carousel was located in the same building as Les Girls and was later one of the clubs the National Crime Authority successfully prosecuted that Saffron ran two sets of accounting books.

The Carousel Club pictured in the 1970s. Image: screenshot from a 16 February, 2004 episode of ABC TV’s The 7.30 Report.

Also employed at the Carousel was an ill-matched bunch of misfits, transvestites and grifters – including the psychopath Eddie Trigg, whose ambition was to run a string of girls; ex-jeans cutter Shayne Martin-Simmonds; and 19-year-old club PR man, Lloyd Marshall – all eager to make it in this petri dish of crime.

In this world, if Saffron, Farrugia and Anderson were the Three Amigos, then Trigg, Martin-Simmonds and Marshall were the Three Stooges.

Around this time, just two months before Nielsen’s disappearance, Theeman gave Anderson a cheque for $25,000, supposedly to buy his son into a Bondi nightclub, the Fondue Here.

Twenty-five thousand dollars was also about the going rate for a hit. 

Saffron and business partner Peter Farrugia, who much preferred to live in the shadows, had extended their club, brothel and hotel operations into Adelaide, where they came up against local hard man Clive Illich, who had to go.

“In March ’75 Eddie Trigg was sent to Adelaide with the instructions that he was to kill Clive,” Peter Rees, author, Killing Juanita said.

“Eddie drove over the Hay Plain with his girlfriend Marilyn King, who told me all about it.”

King was a New Zealand-born transvestite, also known as Monet King, who would live with Trigg for 10 years, and was a regular fixture at the Carousel.

Once in the City of Churches, Trigg planted dynamite under Clive’s car and he and King began the long drive back to Kings Cross.

The next morning Clive came out and on seeing the bomb, called the police and the story quickly exploded across the front page of the Adelaide Advertiser.

“Eddie had failed to assassinate Clive Illich and he was on his last chance to make it in the Cross,” Rees said.

The focus now was firmly on Juanita Nielsen and Trigg resolved to make a better impression on his bosses.

In 29 June, 1975, Nielsen was invited to a meeting at a Sydney motel by Lloyd Marshall, the Carousel’s PR.

Smelling a rat, Nielsen did not attend.

On hearing the news, Anderson apparently went white with rage and the next day Trigg and Shayne Martin-Simmonds both visited Nielsen’s house at 202 Victoria Street, with the intention of abducting her to deliver her to unknown persons for a talking to.

Peter Rees quotes Martin-Simmonds as later explaining the mission was to “just grab her arms and stop her calling out, no real rough stuff, no gangster stuff. We thought that just two guys telling her to come would be enough to make her think if she didn’t come she might get hurt.”

The plan was thwarted when Nielsen’s business partner David Farrell opened the door instead.

On Thursday, 3 July, the Carousel’s receptionist, a transexual by the name of Loretta Crawford, also known as Lawrence Dudley Rollo, claimed that that night Trigg ordered her to call Nielsen to a meeting at club for the next morning.

Crawford also claims she was at the reception desk when Nielsen arrived the Friday morning, with Trigg arriving shortly afterwards.

According to Crawford, the two then proceeded up the stairs to Trigg’s office, and from that moment onwards the mystery of Juanita Nielsen’s disappearance begins, obfuscated by lies, corruption, false witnesses and police inaction. But one thing is certain – Nielsen was never seen again.

Loretta Crawford, pictured, has made numerous claims relating to the disappearance of Juanita Nielsen. Image: screenshot from a 16 February, 2004 episode of ABC TV’s The 7.30 Report.

“On the Saturday night after Juanita disappeared, I went to the Darlinghurst Police Station with one other person and reported her as a missing person,” David Farrell said.

“We more or less got the brush off.

“I then rang the Homicide Squad and said that this is likely to blow up, this lady is an heiress and she is involved in opposition to a major development.”

Within an hour, the Homicide Squad arrived at 202 Victoria Street, but this gave David Farrell little reassurance.

“I wasn’t aware of the level of corruption amongst the police, and I trusted them initially, but now, I think I was very naive,” Farrell said.

The Criminal Investigation Branch advised Farrell not to go to the press until they had released their own press statement, on 8 July.

What followed was a web of misinformation and police bungles that still amazes today.

During this time, the police failed to isolate the Carousel as a crime scene and the premises kept operating throughout the investigation.

Conflicting eyewitness reports, whether deliberately offered to confuse, or – as is often the case – genuinely mistaken, were compounded by outright lies from the police.

One report that was given credence for a while was real estate agent Glenn Williams’ statement that he saw Nielsen getting into a yellow Ford on Darlinghurst Road.

It eventuated that Williams was an associate of Anderson.

This 1976 report on Nielsen’s disappearance by ABC TV’s This Day Tonight gave credence to the story that she got into a yellow sedan on Darlinghurst Road. Video: bjmjdh/YouTube.

Perhaps nothing added more to the lies and confusion than statements from Loretta Crawford, which kept changing from that day to this.

In an ABC interview with Emma Alberici on 16 February, 2004, Crawford claimed Jim Anderson was not in the club on that 4 July morning – but that Eddie Trigg, Shayne Martin-Simmonds and an unnamed third man were.

Loretta Crawford: “As I sort of turned to down the last stairs to the storeroom, she was laying there and this third person was standing there with gun in his hand.

“The bullet wound was only very, very tiny,” Crawford claimed.

“If you look at Loretta Crawford her version of truth changed everyday,” Duncan McNab, former police officer and journalist said.

In the recent well-meaning podcast that foreshadowed the new ABC TV series on Nielsen’s disappearance, Crawford keeps playing ‘chase the rabbit’ again when she names Abe Saffron as the person behind the killing, due to Nielsen keeping a file on him.

“They also said that she had dossiers on high profile politicians and there was no such thing,” Farrell said.

“She might have had some gossip but no more than that.

”Trying to run Abe Saffron in on this was really discredited at the inquest.”

As for Anderson, he claimed that he was not there as he was on the Gold Coast with his then wife Neathia, whom he usually spent as little time with as possible.

“There were a lot of people resisting an investigation looking at Jim Anderson as the prime suspect, as he was a long standing police informant,” McNab said.

Nielsen’s  disappearance was now reduced to a whodunnit parlour game, with seemingly everyone in Sydney harbouring a theory on how she had met her end.

A couple of hard, knockabout journos were certain she was shot and disposed of through a meat grinder located next door in the Lido Hotel, a rent a room by the hour premises.

The only problem there is that the Lido did not have a restaurant and getting rid of a body through a meat grinder has lots of problems.

“Dismembering a human body requires a degree of expertise and there is a lot of blood flowing around, so I think that this is very unlikely,” McNab said.

The UNO Hotel in Kings Cross – formerly known as the Lido, where, some say, Juanita Nielsen met her fate. Photo: Trip.com.

On the 14 July, 1975, police found a purse, cheque book and clothing items belonging to Nielsen on the Great Western Highway near Penrith.

Whether Nielsen had thrown these out of a vehicle as a trail or that they were a deliberate decoy has never been ascertained.

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

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

This article was subsequently updated to include links to parts two and three of this series. 

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