True Crime

Wanda beach murders: Hans Schmidt breaks silence over his heartache

'Mum knew in her heart the girls were dead'

A day at the beach ended in a horrific tragedy for the Schmidt family.

Here, Hans Schmidt, 66 tells the story in his own words.

As my sister Marianne, 15, headed out of the door, she gave me a smile. ‘See you later,’ she said. She was taking our four younger siblings, Peter, 10, Trixie, nine, Wolfgang, eight, and Norbert, six, to the beach with her friend Christine, also 15.

Our parents, Elisabeth and Helmut, had moved to Australia from Germany seven years earlier. Two years older than me, Marianne had struck up a close friendship with Christine Sharrock, who lived next door with her grandparents. Sadly, our father had died from an illness six months earlier, leaving Mum with seven children to look after. And that week, she herself was sick in hospital.

Around 8am, Marianne, Christine and the excited youngsters bundled out the door with their bags and a picnic.They were going down the coast to Cronulla, around two hours away on the train. Along with my older brother Helmut Jr, 17, I stayed home to clean. That day – January 11, 1965 – felt just like any other day. But what happened next left my family traumatised and sparked a 52-year search for answers.

Marianne and me at church for our First Communion
Marianne and me at church for our First Communion

Around 7pm that evening, Peter, Trixie, Wolfgang and Norbert came home without Marianne and Christine. They said the beach had been closed due to high winds so they’d all walked to some rocks at the end of the beach.

After a picnic they explored the sandhills near Wanda Surf Life Saving Club. Hiding their bags on the beach to lighten the load, they walked into the dunes. Soon, the wind was too strong. The smaller children took shelter while Marianne and Christine went to fetch their bags to go home. Seeing the girls heading off in the wrong direction, the youngsters called after them, but the two friends carried on walking.

Four hours went by but they didn’t return. By 5pm, Peter decided they should go home alone. They found the bags untouched on the beach and caught a train back.

Christine and Marianne
Christine and Marianne were close friends

Confused and concerned, I went to see Mum in hospital. ‘The girls didn’t come back from the beach,’ I told her. A huge sadness came over her. ‘They’re gone,’ she cried.

Mum never believed they were missing – she knew in her heart the girls were dead. Their bodies were found the next day by a man out walking with his children. He thought he’d stumbled across a mannequin buried in the sand, but soon realised the terrible truth. The girls had been stabbed multiple times in a brutal, sexually motivated attack. Their lives had been callously taken, and our childhood innocence destroyed.

When Mum was out of hospital I went with her to Cronulla police station, where I asked to see photos of how my sister was found.‘I need to know what he did,’ I explained. Nowadays, people are shocked a 13-year-old was shown those images, but they would have been horrifying at any age.

Marianne had been mutilated by up to 30 stab wounds and her throat cut so savagely, she’d nearly been decapitated. What sort of monster could do that to a schoolgirl? Then we visited the scene of the killing. What struck me was how the sandhills muffled sounds. It was so silent. No-one would have heard their screams, I realised.

Saying goodbye to Marianne was incredibly heartbreaking and back then there was no counselling. We tried to get on with our lives. When my younger siblings were called to give evidence at the inquest, we were ushered through the back door to avoid the press.

Investigators discovered Christine had eaten different food to the others that day, and had also drunk alcohol. Did she meet someone on the beach who gave her food and drink?

The children recalled seeing a young man hunting for crabs. Was he linked to the attack or an innocent passer-by?

Police questioned thousands of people, but months passed without an arrest and the case became infamously known as the Wanda Beach Murders. Life, however difficult, had to go on. In time I married, moved to Queensland and had three children. A keen photographer, I found comfort in getting out into nature and taking landscape photos.

hans and his wife
Me and my wife Kerry

In 2007, police reopened the cold case investigation, but still no-one was arrested. Two years later, Mum died without knowing who had taken her precious girl.Then in 2012, blood from a possible knife wipe mark found on jeans worn by one of the girls was tested. A weak DNA profile was found. Police admitted that while current technology couldn’t provide more information, they were hopeful it would in the future.

But in 2014, we were dealt a blow when it was revealed a sample of semen taken from Marianne’s clothes had been lost in storage in the decades since her death.It was disappointing, but I still believe someone out there knows what happened to my sister.

Shocking as they are, I want the photos of her body released. If everyone knew the true evil that happened that day, someone would come forward.Nothing can bring back my sister or Christine, but it would mean so much to get justice. Perhaps the killer is already dead. I hope he is – I don’t think he deserves to live after the pain he caused. But we need to know the truth.

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