Bonnie’s murder went unsolved for two decades... until Detective Iddles took it on.
Here, Ron Iddles, 65, tells the story in his own words.
A￼s I sat across the kitchen table from the broken father, he lit another cigarette.
‘I don’t have long to live, detective,’ he said, gravely. ‘I’d like to see it solved before I die.’
The man, Denis, picked up an old photo frame, his fingers gently brushing the face of a smiling little girl.
Her name was Bonnie Clarke – Denis’ six-year-old daughter who was brutally murdered in 1982.
Raped and stabbed to death in her bed, Bonnie had been found in a pool of blood by her horrified mother, Marion. The clues were scant but distinctive.
Bonnie’s body had been clumsily washed after her death and her pyjamas had been stuffed between the bed frame and the wall.
Original investigators whittled down a list of suspects – including Bonnie’s mother but the case went cold.
That was until late 2000, when I was part of Victoria’s first cold case squad.
Denis, Bonnie’s ageing father, had called me in 2001 after seeing an article about the squad in the newspaper.
Now, I looked the dying man in the eyes and vowed to help.‘I’m going to look at the file,’ I promised, shaking his hand.
A homicide detective for 20 years, I’d solved dozens of cases. So I decided that failure was not an option.
At home, I told my wife Colleen about my conversation with Denis.
‘He can’t rest until he knows who did this to his little girl,’ I said.
In the office, I dusted off the old box, the case number printed on the front.
This represents a life, I thought, picturing my own three children. Bonnie was just a little girl.
My colleague, Detective Tim Day and I flicked through the pages of the old file, poring over every detail.
‘The answer is always in the file,’ I told him.
Cold cases are hugely different to your average homicide investigation.
Without a crime scene or fresh evidence, I could only rely on photographs.
In order to find out more about Bonnie’s murder, I had to travel back in time to 1982. I closely examined every lead the original detectives had followed.
First, the investigators had eliminated Denis as a suspect, as he lived separately and had an alibi.
Secondly, they looked closely at Bonnie’s mother, Marion. Whoever killed Bonnie had found a way inside the house without disturbing the family dogs.
But without any more evidence, no arrests were made and Marion suffered years of torment under suspicion of murder. Denis rang me every week for an update.
‘We’re going in the right direction,’ I’d tell him.
Shortly after I met with Denis, the Herald Sun printed a story about Bonnie.
A woman named Kylie contacted the journalist, claiming she knew Bonnie, so we organised for her to come to the police station.
‘After school, I would go to Bonnie’s house,’ she said. ‘There was a man who lived there who was a boarder.’
She explained the man would get Bonnie to sit on his knee and he’d fondle her.
We had a lead for the first time in 20 years.
After combing through the file, Tim found the name of the boarder. Malcolm Clarke.
Malcolm, then 28, who was no relation to the family, worked at a cinema.
His alibi was that he’d been working that night, but police never checked to see if it was true.
Tim managed to track down the shift records from December 21, 1982. And we were shocked to find Malcolm hadn’t worked that evening. Then, there was another light-bulb moment.
In 1983, Malcolm had raped his neighbour.
While investigating, police discovered he’d killed a 22-year-old woman called Theresa Crowe in 1980.
He was convicted of rape and manslaughter in 1984, before being released from prison in 1995.
Now, he was working at a steam railway, Puffing Billy.
The next three months were a delicate operation.
We had an undercover officer befriend Malcolm at his job, slowly gaining his trust.
Eventually, he announced he’d murdered Bonnie.
‘I killed her... I walked in through the back door and stabbed her,’ he admitted.
Soon after, we arrested Malcolm and he was charged with the death of Bonnie Clarke.
At the Homicide Squad office he made a full confession.
‘I really didn’t mean it,’ he kept repeating. Relief ran through my veins.
Detective Day called Marion and I spoke to Denis. ‘We’ve made an arrest,’ I told him.
In 2005, Malcolm Joseph Thomas Clarke, 50, was sentenced to life with a minimum of 25 years behind bars. Only two months later, Denis lost his battle with cancer.
Last year, Bonnie’s mother passed away from pneumonia.
I was so happy to have cleared her name after all she’d been through.
There was nothing I could do to bring Bonnie back, but it was finally solved.
I was right – the answer was right there in the file.
Now, 37 years after joining the police force, I am happily retired. With a 99 per cent success rate and 320 solved murders in my career, I am proud of the work I’ve done.
I’ve now passed the baton over to the next generation of detectives.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.
Ron Iddles: The Good Cop airs on Foxtel: Crime + Investigation, every Thursday at 7.30pm.
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