Denise McGregor was a 12-year-old girl who lived in Melbourne, Australia, in a suburb called Pascoe Vale. She seemed to be a normal schoolgirl who was nice and liked by everyone in her neighborhood. However, her life was cut short much too soon.
On March 20, 1978, Denise and her sister were walking home along Bell Street, a few blocks from their house. She wanted to buy a soft drink and an Easter egg, so she went back to a milk bar on the corner of Westgate and Anderson Streets, which was about 200m (220 yards) away. Her sister went on ahead, carrying fish and chips that they had bought for dinner and ate on the way. This was later found in Denise’s stomach when her postmortem was performed. Denise made her purchase around 7:30 pm, but she never came back home.
The next morning, around 11:30, workers from the Country Roads Board were in the area when they found Denise’s body along a country road called Mariang Road in Wallan East. This was about 45 km (28 miles) from where she was last seen. The scene itself was horrible. She had been raped, left half-naked, and severely beaten. Her injuries were so bad that the coroner who did her autopsy said they were similar to those of people who had been in a plane crash.
She got a single blow to the head that broke her skull, which may have been what killed her in the end. Her killer had also effort to strangle her with her shoelaces at one point, although this attempt did not seem to be successful. Detectives think a big rock may have been used at some point, even though no murder weapon was ever found. The Easter egg and soft drink were never found either.
The person who killed her has never been found, which is sad. A little while after Denise was found, detectives aired a dramatic reenactment over the course of three nights to find more clues. It was said that this re-enactment was too graphic for TV, but investigator Paul Delianis, who is now retired, said that it was necessary to show how horrible Denise’s death was. Also, the re-enactment wasn’t as bad as the real thing, and it seemed to blow up Denise’s case in the media. I’m not sure if this reenactment is available anywhere, but Denise was beaten with a crowbar at some point. If you look for videos about her case, you can only find one relevant one on YouTube. It has a creepy thumbnail that looks like someone had a lot of plastic surgery to make them look like a wide-eyed Billy the Puppet with bad clown makeup. I’m embarrassed to say that the thumbnail scared the crap out of me, so I haven’t clicked on it. (I checked for the video again on June 19 and found that it had been taken down.) If anyone wants to know, the name of the channel was Alex Casanas.)
On June 23, 1978, a reward of $50,000 (250,000AUD/200,000USD) was offered for information. I don’t know, though, if this led to any good leads. Robert Arthur Selby Lowe, a murderer and paedophile who raped children, was a suspect for a while, but DNA evidence cleared him in 2001.
There isn’t much else about Denise’s case that you can find online. I looked in online Australian archives for articles or reports about her case, but all I found were things I already knew. If I have time, I might look for records in some libraries, but I don’t know if they will have Victorian records. There is, however, a record of the investigation into her death for those who can pay to see it.
Most detectives think she was taken away by someone instead of going to Wallan (or somewhere along the way) on her own and being killed there. If she was taken from near the milk bar she went to, Denise wouldn’t have been far from home or out of her neighbourhood. This would have been a stupid place to take someone without being seen, so I think she was tricked into going with her killer so as not to make a fuss, since I don’t see any details in eyewitness accounts that would show she was taken. But it would have been dark when she was taken, so I’m not sure what to think about the fact that someone saw her being taken. In March, it starts to get dark in Melbourne around 7 p.m.
I also think that the person who killed her knew her or followed her in some way. Since I couldn’t find any eyewitness accounts of how she was taken, I think her kidnapper followed her around to get used to her routine or the area where she lived before making a calculated move to avoid a fuss – or got her to come with them.
Here’s how she got to the milk bar when she walked. If these roads haven’t changed much since 1978, this would put her somewhere around 629 Bell Street (Google maps says it’s 200m from the corner where the milk bar was said to be).
Assuming she was taken from this area, the person who killed her probably did most of it on the Hume Freeway. Most sources say she was left “south of Wandong,” “12 km south of Wandong,” or on “Mariang Road” or “a country road” in Wallan, so I’ve decided to end the route there. I can’t figure out for the life of me where Mariang Road is. Edit: Thanks to /u/ailurosly for pointing out that Mariang Road is probably Merriang Road. I’m going to go back and check the sources that say C729 was put in place in 1990, since Merriang Road is on the C729 stretch. Since nothing comes up when I search for it, I think it’s been renamed or torn down. Since the Country Roads Board was working on Mariang Road when Denise was found, I thought it might be possible to find it by looking at their records. I was able to find a document from them from 1978. It was long, so I only looked at what I thought was important (the projects they worked on are listed starting on page 19 of the pdf link), but Mariang Road isn’t mentioned. I would look at the document from 1979, but I can’t find it. I also found a record of the agreements they made between 1963 and 1986, but you have to order it.
I don’t know a lot about Melbourne’s roads, but I do know that the Hume Freeway has been there for a long time. Google Maps’ route through C729 isn’t good enough because that stretch of highway didn’t open until 1999. Keep in mind that the route I’m suggesting uses part of the C272 highway, which was also built in 1991, near the end. I’m sorry I didn’t move the route around and fix it. I can’t do it because Google Maps will mess up the whole route and tell me to go to Sydney.
Recent articles from 2013 and 2015 say that the police think her case is “highly solvable” and are still looking into it, but there’s no sign of new information and “highly solvable” has been going on since 1998.
No matter who killed her, the fact that they got away with it is crazy. Denise was so young, and some horrible monster was after her. I’m very sad to see that she’s never gotten what was right. I don’t think the murderer would still be alive at this point, but I do hope we could at least find out who they were, for poor Denise’s sake, and other young children her killer may have targeted. This kind of murder seems very likely to happen again and again.