Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

A PENSIONER who believes her dad murdered his lover more than 70 years ago hopes a DNA breakthrough will eventually solve the case.

Betty Shanks, 22, was brutally murdered in Brisbane on September 19, 1952 – just 300 metres from her front door.

The last photograph taken of Betty Shanks at her cousin’s wedding

Desche BirtlesDesche Birtles believes her father Eric Sterry (pictured) killed Betty Shanks[/caption]

Queensland Police MuseumPolice investigating the crime scene on Carberry Street in Brisbane after Betty’s murder[/caption]

SuppliedDesche Birtles believes her dad Eric Sterry – an abusive ex-soldier and local locksmith – killed Betty[/caption]

Seven people reported hearing screams that night – but Betty’s body was only discovered dumped in a garden at 5.30am the next morning by an off-duty police officer.

The 22-year-old was so badly beaten that some of her teeth were found metres from her body – and her face and legs had traces of black boot polish from where she had been kicked.

Two bloody hand prints were also found on a nearby fence.

Despite a thorough investigation, no one has ever been convicted of her murder after 71 years – and cops have issued a $50,000 reward for anyone who can help convict her killer.

For decades, Desche Birtles has claimed it was her dad Eric Sterry – an abusive ex-soldier and local locksmith – who killed Betty.

On the night the young psychology student was murdered, Desche said she saw her dad burning his clothes and she was also forced to clean his shoes that were covered in “blood and tissue”.

She claims her father was having an affair with Betty and she saw him being violent towards her as she and her brother sat in the back of his car.

Desche went to the police eight times to try and speak to detectives about Betty’s murder – but she was repeatedly dismissed.

At the age of 79, she has shared her story with The Sun for what she says will be her final attempt to be heard.

Desche was 16-years-old that she first decided to tell the cops about her father’s alleged crime – eight years after Betty was killed.

She said she was groomed and sexually abused by her “violent” father and had run away from home to live with nuns after she had his baby.

When police tracked her down and asked why she had left, Desche said her father had threatened to “kill her, just like he killed Betty Shanks”.

“He used to beat me and tell me I was just like her,” she told The Sun.

“It went on for a long time after she was murdered. I knew he killed her.”

Desche has told the exact same story to police and the media in 1960, 1991 and 1999 – but she claims nobody has ever believed her.

KEY CLUES

She said there are several clues linking her father to the murder – and believes he should have been a prime suspect in the case.

At the time of her murder, Betty Shanks was responsible for dishing out jobs to handymen and workers – which is how she met Desche’s dad Eric, a carpenter by trade.

Desche believes her dad was in a relationship with Betty for the five months leading up to her death – while his marriage to her mother was crumbling.

Listening to her parents’ heated conversations at night, Desche said she remembered many fights between her parents about Eric’s affair.

Desche later discovered a photo of Betty in one of her father’s photo albums – adding to evidence of their relationship.

She thinks her dad killed Betty in a psychotic rage when she rejected him.

“I believe my father thought he was going to make a life with her,” Desche said.

“There were two things he would have murdered her over – being a Communist or not going with him to be his partner.”

Desche described how Eric would meet Betty while she was sat in the back of his car with her brother.

“He took us one evening in the car, parked near a school and picked up Betty from the tram stop and brought her back to the car,” she said.

“I think he was bringing her back to the car to meet us. But she didn’t really want to get mixed up with him that way.

“There was an argument and she got out of the car. She went one way and he went around the car and grabbed her and lifted his arm to hit her and my brother yelled out.

“That stopped him in his tracks and she got away. I don’t know how long after that it was that we went back again to this school.”

He used to beat me and tell me I was just like her… I knew he killed her

Desche Birtles

On another occasion, they parked up at the same school and Desche assumed Eric would be collecting Betty again and bringing her back to the car.

Desche said her father left the car for a long time before returning to drive them home – without Betty.

“He was a long time away and when he came back, it was very dark,” she said. “He got in the car and we drove home. He told us to go to bed.”

That night, Desche saw her dad standing naked in the garden of their home and burning his clothes.

He made Desche scrub the “mud” from his leather boots the next day, she said.

It was only years later that she realised she was scrubbing “blood and tissue” from the shoes.

“I could smell the fire. He had started a fire in the drum out the back,” Desche said.

“He came through the house and he had nothing on… I believe he was burning his clothes. The next morning he had a migraine.

“He said I had to go and clean the car, the driver’s side of the car… and clean his shoes.

“When I was cleaning the shoes, I thought I was picking off mud. I used black polish to cover up what I couldn’t get off the sole.”

The marks on Betty’s face and body are believed to have come from the leather boots that Desche cleaned on the night of the murder.

POLICE ‘MISTAKES’

Desche believes police missed these key clues in their investigation into Betty’s murder.

“I think the Queensland Police made a dreadful disservice to Betty by covering up what they’ve done,” she said.

“They’ve covered up their mistakes. They didn’t take into consideration that the murderer owned a car.

“They kept talking about people on trams and taxis and supposed army blokes… they made all these other people suspects.

“Why didn’t they think about someone in a car? My father had a car, and not many people did in those days.

“The detective that interviewed me tried to tell me my father didn’t have a driver’s licence – which wasn’t true.”

In 2014, Desche obtained her father’s war service medical records – where she found out he was discharged as “medically unfit” before the war ended.

A psychiatrist recorded Eric was a potential psychotic in November 1944, according to the documents.

Desche said some form of closure came for her when her father “died ashamed of himself” in 1997.

Queensland Police MuseumBetty Shanks was killed on September 19, 1952 – just 300 metres from her front door[/caption]

Queensland Police MuseumHer body was dumped in a back garden on Carberry Street[/caption]

SuppliedDesche believes Eric killed Betty in a psychotic rage when she rejected him[/caption]

SuppliedDesche and her brother – who both experienced a traumatic childhood[/caption]

SuppliedDesche remembers sitting in the back of her father’s car when he met up with Betty[/caption]

“It still wakes me at night sometimes,” she said.

“Someone asked me how I survived it all. I don’t know how – but I thought someone would come along on a horse and take me away.

“I’ve now learned to find happiness in things people wouldn’t even look twice at.”

Desche hopes breakthroughs in DNA and science will one day prove it was her dad who killed Betty – and finally get justice for the young woman.

“Betty Shanks has been tapping me on the shoulder so many times and telling me ‘give it another go’,” she said.

“The times I’ve spoken about it, nothing has ever come of it.

“But she keeps coming back to me. I hope there will be something in the future – as science and DNA improves – that means eventually someone will find out the truth.

“Someone will find something. They don’t leave nothing. Murderers always leave something – a bit of themselves.” 

Queensland Police told The Sun: “As with all unsolved homicides, the case remains open and police will investigate all new information received.

“Police continue to review the case and would encourage anyone with new information to come forward and contact police or Crime Stoppers.

“There is a reward of $50,000 for information which leads to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murder of Betty Shanks.”

Ted Duhs, author of I Know Who Killed Betty Shanks, spent 18 months with Desche – retracing the steps of her father.

I hope there will be something in the future – as science and DNA improves – that means eventually someone will find out the truth

Desche Birtles

He’s calling for a fresh inquest into Betty’s death to probe new clues.

“Desche had photographs from that time,” he told The Sun.

“The most useful photograph was Eric in his brown suit. Three witnesses had given testimony to the police that they had seen a ‘man in a brown suit’ at the Grange tram terminus before the tram carrying Betty Shanks arrived.”

Ted said the photo of Eric in his brown suit matches the descriptions of three eyewitnesses who saw a man in a brown suit on the night Betty was killed.

Three people from the tram said they saw a man with brown hair brushed back, wearing a brown suit, red striped tie and polished shoes.

“I am certain that Eric Sterry was the ‘man in the brown suit’ seen at the Grange tram terminus,” Ted said.

“Even the police believe that it was the ‘man in the brown suit’ who killed Betty Shanks.”

He added: “The other useful information that Desche gave me came from Eric’s photograph album. This contained a studio photograph of Betty Shanks. 

“Eric had been given this photograph by Betty and he had kept it in his album for 45 years. It was the only non-family photograph in his album.”

Eric died in 1997 – and the photo albums were left to Desche.

After the publication of his book, Ted said he was contacted by a number of people with potential leads on the cold case.

And through Freedom of Information requests, Ted discovered that Betty’s case file contained a total of 20,400 documents.

A possible new break-through in the case came when a man named George Cowin came to one of Ted’s talks.

It turned out Betty might have had links to Australia’s secret service – and a long-time friend was planning to recruit her.

The secret service files also revealed she had been in an “intimate” relationship with a “married man” – but he is not named.

Ted said: “George told me his aunt, Winifred Cowin, had been Betty’s best friend at Brisbane Girls Grammar School and that friendship had continued through their Arts degree at University of Queensland.

“George told me that Winifred had been recruited by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in 1949 and had worked for ASIO for nine years before she committed suicide in 1958.

“I managed to get Winifred’s ASIO file and that contained important references to Betty Shanks.

“This two-page minute said that ASIO had intended to recruit Betty as a ‘Q’ source but had been informed that Betty had been murdered two days beforehand.

“It also said that Betty had been in an intimate association with a young married man, but did not name him.”

Despite the passage of time, decades-old cold cases – like the murder of Betty Shanks – can still be solved

Mike King

Ted believes Eric killed Betty because she was seeing another married man.

Outlining his theory, he said: “When Eric finally understood that Betty was serious about wanting him out of her life and anger overwhelmed him.

“He struck her, she fell over the low fence, he realised he had gone too far, so he jumped the fence and killed her.

“Desche always said that if Eric couldn’t get his own way, he would become suddenly angry and violent.”

After the publication of his book, Ted claimed he received an email from the police saying: “You may have potentially solved the case of Betty Shanks murder.”

But many other theories have emerged over the last seven decades over what happened to Betty.

Mike King – behind the Mapping Evil with Mike King Podcast – outlined the key theories.

In the days following Betty’s murder, a doctor working in the same area took his own life – sparking rumours he was connected to the killing.

And on the evening she was killed, a number of soldiers were at a nearby venue for an event.

Many believed one of them was responsible for Betty’s murder given the unusual marking on her face being similar to the boots soldiers wore at the time.

Another theory suggested a cop hit Betty with his motorbike – and returned later to strangle her and make sure she was dead.

Others theorised that a handyman – understood to be Eric – visited Betty’s home a few months before her death and might have been responsible.

Mike said the location of blood splatter indicated that the attack took place in the back garden – meaning her killer threw or pushed Betty over the fence before assaulting her.

And the killer removed her underwear but didn’t sexually assault her – suggesting he may have been interrupted.

Mike said: “Despite the passage of time, decades-old cold cases – like the murder of Betty Shanks – can still be solved.

“Advancements in crime-fighting technology, and importantly, tips and information from the public, allow law enforcement to re-open investigations and hopefully find justice for the victim’s families.”

By

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.