Karmein Chan – 29 years on

Please note: This article has been written by a guest writer.

April 13 marks 29 years since 13-year-old Karmein Chan was abducted from her Templestowe home in 1991 and ultimately murdered. Victoria’s most notorious paedophile, Mr Cruel, is still considered Victoria Police’s prime suspect.

Image: Karmein Chan

In Victoria,  Mr Cruel and his spate of horrendous crimes against children continues to frustrate Police to this day. In the late 1980s and 90s, this monster was responsible for at least four known kidnappings and sexual assaults, along with suspected attacks on up to 12 other children throughout his reign of terror.  His last victim was believed to be 13-year-old Karmein Chan, a schoolgirl he abducted in 1991.

Taken from her leafy Templestowe home in the middle of the night/early morning Karmein’s deteriorated body was discovered a year later in Edgars Creek Thomastown, stumbled upon by a dog walker. 

For police, the discovery of her body posed a new dilemma. The man, the media had dubbed Mr Cruel, had assured all his past victims that they would not be harmed and had even been described by victims as “weirdly” friendly with them. Now, this time, he had killed.

One young female victim told police, “He appeared to be acting out a fantasy like he was married to me.  He showed this by the affection he showed to me and how chummy he was to me.”

According to FBI profilers assisting in the case, it is extremely rare for serial paedophiles to kill their victims.

Police believe Karmein may have been killed after removing her own blindfold or possibly her captor’s mask, seeing the molesters face.  For a man so meticulous in covering his tracks it would be an act that would only end one way. 

Whatever the reason, Karmein was murdered execution style with three bullet holes in her skull, Mr Cruel suddenly disappeared off the radar. To this day, police are no closer to making an arrest.

For nearly three years after this grisly discovery, 40 investigators—collectively named the Spectrum Taskforce—followed 10,000 tip-offs, searched 30,000 houses and interviewed over 27,000 people. It was Victoria Police’s largest ever investigation.

There are also many who question whether Mr Cruel was actually responsible for the Chan abduction and murder. Rumours circulated at the time of soured business dealings and Asian mafia groups being involved. Regardless, Police openly named  Mr Cruel as the prime suspect, and all avenues of enquiry and the investigation of other possible suspects needed to be exhausted.

Possible Suspects

While Police questioned tens of thousands of known sex offenders, Victorians were quickly coming to terms with just how many vile sex offenders were living among them.

Victims of Mr Cruel

Only two of Mr Cruel’s victims have ever been formally identified.

In December 1988, 10-year-old Sharon Wills, who was released after 18 hours, was dumped at a school in Bayswater dressed in plastic bags. Then in 1990, 13-year-old Nicola Lynas—who went to Presbyterian Ladies College like Karmein—was abducted from her home in Canterbury and held for 50 hours.

Image: Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas (Victims of Mr Cruel)

In 1987, it is suspected he attacked an 11-year-old girl after breaking into her Lower Plenty home on the 22nd August 1987 at 4.am.  Armed with a knife and a gun he tied the hands and feet of both parents and locked them in a wardrobe. The victim’s brother was tied to a bed during the attack.

Similar crimes in Australian history

These are episodes in Australia’s criminal history which ignited terror not only in everyday citizens, but also police who worked on these cases.

When 13-year-old Siriyakorn “Bung” Siriboon vanished the morning of June 2, 2011, police and the public immediately drew obvious comparisons to the Karmein Chan abduction, concerned that Australia’s most vile and elusive paedophile may be back.

At the time -Victoria Police Chief Insp John Potter admitted police were looking at several past cases, including those of Mr Cruel. “There are aspects in this case that happened with Mr Cruel 20 years ago,” he said.

“We are looking at the replications with Karmein Chan. Bung is Asian, the same age and it happened in the eastern suburbs. At this stage there is no direct link, but we continue to look at persons of interest.”

For police, the thought of Mr Cruel re-emerging was a frightening prospect.  A sex predator who planned his crimes so methodically that many believe he may have a background in law enforcement or forensic procedures, making his detection and capture all the more difficult.

Despite the police  Spectrum Taskforce that ran for nearly three years in the early 90’s, at a cost of just under 4 million dollars, Mr Cruel has never been identified.

Investigating new leads

Late in 2010 the Victoria police revealed that a covert police operation named Apollo had been investigating new evidence and possible suspects after detectives working on the case unearthed fresh intelligence. The information was uncovered after a review of the original Spectrum files and further information gathered since its closure in 1994.

Taskforce Apollo uncovered ”more than one suspect” not identified in the original investigation, cross-referencing any new leads with more than 12,000 pieces of information gathered by the original Spectrum taskforce.

There have been many theories floated over the years as to why Mr Cruel suddenly stopped offending.  Some believe that he may have been riddled with remorse and killed himself, while others believe he fled back to his possible homeland of New Zealand. It was also possible that he may have been imprisoned on separate offences but as  more time passes  this scenario seems less likely.

The fact of the matter is that there is only one man who knows if Mr Cruel is dead or alive or whether he will or has struck again and that is the man himself.

Description of Mr Cruel

Detectives working the case constructed a fairly detailed profile of the man they believed was Mr Cruel. The profile suggests he is aged between 35 and late 40s, slightly built, with sandy or ginger-coloured hair, clean shaven, softly spoken and “quite caring in his own monstrous way”.

Some of his victims told police he used terms such as “bozo”, “worry wart” and “missy” while carrying out his crimes, terms more likely to be of New Zealander origin than Australian according to police profilers.

Some of his victims were able to describe in detail the layout of his house and provided police with a detailed sketch of his bedroom.  Another reported seeing a camera on a tripod through a gap underneath her blindfold.

Image: Layout of Mr Cruel’s bedroom as described by his victims

Two of the young girls both told police that they had been chained to a bed with a rough neck brace and one reported hearing planes landing and taking off in close proximity to the house.

In all cases Mr Cruel left virtually no trace evidence.  He was meticulous in hiding any forensic matter that may lead police to his identity. And for the most part he was largely successful.  Police have admitted however, that some evidence has been lost over the years, meaning modern DNA methods can’t be used.

For example, Mr Cruel completely washed and bathed his victims carefully before releasing them, with one victim describing the act as “like a mother washing a baby”

On one occasion he thoroughly cleaned his bathroom before laying down a sheet over the lino-covered floor to avoid leaving any forensic evidence or footprints.

Image: Layout of Mr Cruel’s bathroom as described by his victims
Image: The only Photofit of Mr Cruel released by Police

He took a second set of clothes from one of the girl’s home to dress her in before she was freed and with another, she was dumped wearing only garbage bags to prevent police testing her original clothes.

Police and profilers believe that Mr Cruel almost certainly would have kept photos and video he took of his victims.  They believe if he is still alive he would be active in swapping child pornography over the internet and may be grooming and talking with children online.

FBI profiles were critical of the nickname given to the sex predator.  The name Mr Cruel suggests an evil looking man when the opposite is more likely to be true.

”He is a functional individual, one with steady employment, is generally regarded as a good neighbour, polite, quiet, somewhat introverted, and may even  be involved in certain community-minded projects.”

The profile also indicated ”the offender has an intense interest in children, especially children in the age group he is assaulting. He will spend a great deal of time with these children in what appears to be selfless dedication to students.”

Ironically for a man so hunted he is very likely to have been right under our noses. The thought is a haunting one and if alive he will surely attack again, if he has not already.

Do you have information that could help solve any of the cases covered in this article? Contact CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000.

7 thoughts on “Karmein Chan – 29 years on

  1. redacted Reply

    Hello, I believe I know who Mr Cruel is and would like someone to help me with my investigations. Initially, when I suspected this person I wrote a long letter that my husband took to the police. They contacted the person I suspected and questioned him outside the police station. He lied to them telling them that I was just his jealous ex. This person was completely obsessed with me and I was definitely not his jealous ex. So he lied to the police. Not long after a detective came to my home and questioned me. At the time I just wanted to hear that the person I suspected was not Mr Cruel. The person I suspected was a very close friend and the father of my first child. I had agonised over suspecting him but the fact was that he completely fit the description and used all the expressions that Mr Cruel used. I hoped that after talking to me that she could assure me that it wasn’t him. She said ” I don’t think that it’s him” I was rapt but as I started to remember things from our past I was still suspecting him. I remembered so many things that led me to be even more suspicious of him. This man was the father of my first child and a very close friend so it killed me to suspect him but the more I remembered, the more I came to suspect him. After all these years I don’t suspect him of being Mr Cruel, I believe he is Mr Cruel.

  2. Aryan Raj Sharma Reply

    So sorry to hear about tragedy. When you say you spoke to police and they didn’t listen…. I am not a police or detective but I am very interested in this case as a student detective as part of my history lesson. And if you can give me any or sufficient information, after completing my assignment I will write to the victorian police and together we may be able to get the case reopened, who knows
    Aryan Sharma

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