The unsolved murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock at Wanda Beach near Cronulla in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, are referred to as the Wanda Beach Murders or “Wanda.” The victims, two 15-year-old best friends and West Ryde neighborhood residents, were partially interred the next day. Due to the brutality of the murders and the fact that they took place on a deserted, windswept shoreline, the case received extensive media coverage.
By April 1966, police had conducted approximately 7,000 interviews, making this the largest investigation in Australian history. The subsequent homicide investigation was one of the longest and most puzzling in Australian history. Despite numerous leads and media attention, the case remains unsolved.
Importance of the case in Australian history
The Wanda Beach murder case was a turning point in the history of Australian police investigations. The media’s ability to find leads and make people more aware of the problem changed how the police worked with the media. People became more aware of child safety and protection, and many people became afraid of and suspicious of strangers because of what happened. It is still the oldest unsolved murder case in New South Wales and one of the most well-known murders in Australia in the 1960s.
Marianne Schmidt and her family moved from West Germany to Melbourne, Victoria, in September 1958. Helmut and Elisabeth Schmidt, along with Helmut Jr., Hans, Peter, Trixie, and Wolfgang, were her parents at the time. Norbert joined the family the following year. Before moving to Temora, New South Wales, the Schmidt family lived in a migrant hostel in Unanderra. After Helmut Schmidt was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1963, his family moved to Sydney. The family found a place to live in West Ryde. In June of the next year, Mr. Schmidt died.
Christine Sharrock’s grandparents, Jim and Jeanette Taig, lived next door to Marianne Schmidt. Her name was Marianne Schmidt’s next-door neighbor. After Sharrock’s father died in 1953, his mother, Beryl, remarried and moved to the Seven Hills neighborhood in northwest Sydney. When the Schmidts moved in next door, Sharrock and Marianne, who was the same age as Sharrock, became close friends. Sharrock made the decision to live with her grandparents. Sharrock would have rather lived with her grandparents than with her mom and stepdad, but no one knows why.
Overview of the crime
Sharrock and Schmidt went to Cronulla Beach on January 1, 1965. This was a place where the Schmidt family liked to have picnics. After the murders, the girls’ diaries showed that they had kissed a few boys at the beach on the day of the killings. The next day, the Schmidt kids went back to the beach without Sharrock. Mrs. Schmidt had a major surgery in the hospital, so Helmut Jr. and Marianne were left in charge of the house. Schmidt and Sharrock were given permission by Mrs. Schmidt, who was still in the hospital on January 9, to take the younger children to Cronulla the next day. But the trip was called off because of rain.
On Monday, January 11, the girls and Schmidt’s four younger siblings got on a train to go to Cronulla. Around 11 a.m., they got there, but it was very windy, so the beach was closed. The group then walked to the southern end of the beach and hid among the rocks there. Wolfgang, who was 8 years old, still wanted to swim, so Schmidt took him to a shallow surf area away from the rocks. When they got back to the group, they had a picnic. Sharrock eventually broke away from the group and went her own way.
When Sharrock joined the group again, they decided to walk through the sandhills behind Wanda Beach. Around 1:00 p.m., the group got to a spot about 400 metres (430 yards) past the Wanda Surf Club. It stopped behind a sandhill to get out of the rain because the younger kids were complaining. Schmidt told her younger siblings that she and Sharrock would go back to the rocky area at the south end of the beach where they had hidden their bags, then come back to get the kids and go home. On the other hand, the girls kept going into the sandhills. Peter told them they were going in the wrong direction, but they laughed at him and kept going.
The Schmidt children waited behind the sandhill until 5 p.m., when they went back to get their bags, including Schmidt and Sharrock’s purses, and took the last train home, which got there around 8 p.m. Sharrock’s grandmother says that Schmidt and Sharrock were last seen at 8:30 p.m.
Peter Smith took his three young nephews for a walk through the Wanda Beach sandhills on Tuesday, January 12.
A short way north of the Wanda Surf Club, he found what looked like a store mannequin buried face-down in the sand.
He brushed the sand off the head and saw that it was a dead body. The surf club called the police. Smith thought at this point that he had only found one young woman. Several times, she had been stabbed. The community was shocked when the body was found, and the police did a lot of work to find the killer.
The Investigation and Its Challenges
When the scene was looked at, Schmidt was found lying on her right side with her left leg bent. Sharrock was face down with her head on the sole of Schmidt’s left foot. A 34-meter-long drag mark that led to the spot showed that Sharrock ran away, maybe while Schmidt was dying, only to be caught, knocked out, and dragged back to her friend’s body. The murder weapons, a long knife and some blunt tools, were never found, even though the police looked for them for a long time.
A lot of sand from the murder scene was sifted through, and several things were found. One of them was a bloody knife blade. Still, the police couldn’t link it to the killings. Sharrock’s BAC was found to be 0.015, but Schmidt’s did not have any alcohol in it.
Sharrock ate something different than the rest of the group, and a blow to the back of the head broke her skull. Schmidt’s throat had been cut deeply, and she had been stabbed six times. Even though their underwear was cut and they were tried to be raped, both girls’ hymens were still there. Hans, Schmidt’s brother, said after seeing photos of her body that she had been stabbed between 25 and 30 times.
While Sharrock was gone, Wolfgang saw a boy around his age looking for crabs. He said he had seen the same boy twice more, once with his sister and Sharrock and once by himself. Schmidt and Sharrock were last seen around 12:45 p.m. by local fireman Dennis Dostine. He was walking in the area with his son and saw the girls walking about 730 metres (800 yards) north of the surf club. Dostine told the police that they looked like they were in a hurry and that one of the girls kept looking back as if they were being followed. In February, a £10,000 reward was put up because several people who had been seen in the area never came forward or could not be found.
In April 1966, the coroner sent out his report. Still, the murders were solved quickly, and none of the three main suspects fit the description of the young surfer who had never been found. In 2000, the case was looked into again, and in February 2012, a small amount of weak male DNA was taken from Sharrock’s white shorts. In July 2014, the police said that a sample of Schmidt’s sperm that had been taken from his body could not be found after a long search.
In 1975, Alan Bassett gave a painting to Cec Johnson, who had been a detective and looked into the Wanda Beach murders. Johnson thought the painting showed blood trails, a broken knife blade, and the body of the person who was killed. He started to think that it was about a part of the murders that only the murderer would know about. Even though his coworkers didn’t believe him, Johnson wrote a book about the case before he died in a car accident. Bill Jenkings repeated Johnson’s claims in his memoirs, As Crime Goes By, which were written for him by a ghostwriter. Bassett then sued Jenkings for defamation in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. After a decision was made on the form and power of the imputations, the publisher used the fact that Bassett was a convicted murderer as a justification defence, and the case was over.
Bassett gave a DNA sample to clear his name after he was let out of prison. Still, we don’t know if this will work or not. Christopher Wilder and Derek Percy were both looked at as possible killers in the Wanda Beach murders. Wilder moved to the United States in 1969. In the early 1980s, he killed eight people and tried to kill more. Percy has been in jail since 1969 for killing a child on a beach in Victoria. He is also the main suspect in the deaths of several other children in Melbourne and Sydney. Percy was at the place where the murders happened on the day they happened, but no other links were found. People hoped that he would tell the truth on his deathbed, but he didn’t.