It was the last week of term before the winter holidays and the Lynas family was due to vacate their rented home at 10 Monomeath Avenue the very next day ahead of their imminent return to the UK.
At 7.50pm on Tuesday July 3, 1990, Price Waterhouse executive Brian Lynas and his wife Rosemary were picked up by friends to attend the latest in a string of farewell functions, leaving 13-year-old Nicola Lynas and her 15-year-old sister Fiona at home.
As on previous nights, the girls ordered takeaway – meaning any delivery driver would have known they were home alone. The pizza arrived 10.05pm and the girls went to sleep not long after at about 11pm.
Just 20 minutes later, a man wearing gloves and a dark green balaclava with cream stitching around the eyes and mouth forced open a wind-out window of the parents’ vacant bedroom and made his way to Fiona’s room, where the two girls were sleeping.
Chillingly, he woke Nicola up by tapping her head with a long serrated carving knife. “See this here, this is a really sharp knife.
In his right hand he carried a gun with a silver barrel and a brown wooden handle. “This is a real gun. It shoots real bullets. Blow your heads off.”
He was well built, with a slight beer belly. Fiona said he was about 182cm, while Nicola told police he was closer to 170cm. Police believe Nicola’s estimate is more likely to be accurate. Fiona thought he was aged in his 30s. He swore a lot, spoke in a deep or gruff Australian voice and sounded uneducated.
“Get the cash yous!” he demanded, leading the sisters to their parents’ bedroom, where he rifled through Brian’s wallet. There was $4000 in traveller’s cheques, but he didn’t take it.
“Lay down on the bed yous!” With the girls face-down on her parents’ bed, he hogtied Fiona with galvanised wire and took Nicola off to the kitchen, where he searched Rosemary’s purse, taking her driver’s licence, Medicare card and credit card.
He then cut the phone line and took the family car keys from their hook. He must have known they would be there, as his own car was parked at least 300m away, and without these keys he would not have been able to make his getaway.
Mr Cruel led Nicola to her own bedroom, told her to get dressed in her PLC school blazer and took the following items of clothing from her draws which he stuffed into a Ken Done beach bag of Nicola’s:
- A pink and white striped dress.
- A PLC summer uniform
- A pair of PLC tracksuit pants
- Several pairs of girl’s underpants
- Four pairs of white cotton socks.
- A green and white striped T-shirt.
- A Melbourne football club beanie
- A pleated white tennis skirt
- PLC school jumper.
- A pair of blue and green knee high stockings.
Mr Cruel asked the girls about Mr Lynas’ employment and told Fiona he was going to kidnap Nicola for a ransom of $25,000 and that he would call her father the following morning to claim it.
Police would later find an ‘imprint’ had been left on a letter written by Nicola to her father in the days before her abduction, but stressed it was not a ransom note. They also discovered a fingerprint on a car outside the Lynas house, which may have been left by Mr Cruel.
At 11.47pm Mr Cruel left with Nicola and put her in the front seat of the Lynas family car, which was parked in the driveway. He told her to get down under the dashboard and pulled her beanie down over her eyes.
“Crouch down on the floor. Get down low. Get your head right down.”
He apparently drove north out of the driveway and west along Mont Albert Rd, then stopped and put thick tape over Nicola’s eyes and a balaclava over her head. “If you try to see it will be very dangerous for you.”
He then drove south to Chaucer Ave, where he abandoned the car and walked with Nicola along the quiet residential street to a waiting vehicle. It was a four-door vehicle with carpeted floor, bucket seats and a floor gear shift. As it started, the car sounded oldish and the radio came on to KZFM.
The drive seemed to take just ten to fifteen minutes according to one source, with a few stops and starts at traffic lights and a continuous stretch as if they were travelling on a freeway. Other sources estimate the time at 45 minutes. It is hard to know which is more accurate. Either way, he was likely still on route to his hideout when Nicola’s parents returned home between 12 and 12.30am.
How long at it took and whether he travelled on a freeway could provide a valuable clue as to where he headed next.
If Mr Cruel was travelling north-west to an area around East Keilor, this would take him past 10 Tennyson Ave Kew where Nicola was later left and would take at least 35 minutes travelling along the Eastern Freeway. Travelling by the same route, he could reach an area like Strathmore in slightly less time – around 32 minutes.
If he was heading north towards Thomastown where Karmein Chan’s remains were later found, it would have taken him at least 30 minutes but it’s unlikely that he would have travelled via the freeway, which would make this a less likely destination if this detail of Nicola’s testimony is accurate.
If he was heading to Coburg North, though, where a witness saw a man firing a gun on the night of Karmein’s abduction, the trip would have been slightly shorter – around 28 minutes and he may have taken the Eastern Freeway to get there.
If he was heading north-east to Eltham/Lower Plenty it could have taken less time – as little as 18 minutes, though he wouldn’t have travelled along a freeway or passed Tennyson Ave on this route.
Whichever way he went, Mr Cruel pulled into a driveway on the right-hand side of a house after midnight and – apparently unconcerned about being seen by neighbours – led Nicola barefoot from the car off the concrete driveway, up three to seven steps (sources vary), through a kitchen and into a bedroom, where a radio was playing.
He took the tape from her eyes and replaced it with cotton eye pads. “Keep your eyes shut if you want to stay alive.” He then took her to the bathroom and made her brush her teeth and take a bath so there would be no evidence linking him to her. “You’ve got to clean yourself thoroughly. Clean your teeth thoroughly.”
Mr Cruel took Nicola back to the bedroom where he leashed her to the bed by her neck or ankle (sources vary) before turning off the radio and falling asleep next to her. According to Nicola he didn’t smell of alcohol or cigarettes. His arms were solid and stocky and his hands felt rough and sort of hairy. He had fine hair on his chest and arms.
She lay awake all evening and apparently heard nothing until early in the morning, when she heard nine jets pass over her from right to left, then turn 90 degrees towards her toes and fade away. Investigations into flights operating that day determined the likely location as under flight path 2, which approaches Tullamarine from east over Eltham and Coburg, then turns north over East Keilor.
From the fact that there was no traffic, trams, trains, street noise or birdsong we can further assume the house was not close to any major roads, train stations, parkland or highways.
At 10am Mr Cruel woke and turned the radio back on, then throughout the day took her between the bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen. He dressed her in her school dress, telling her he had a schoolgirl fantasy and had followed her home from school. This seems likely, though he must have known she would relay to police everything he said to her. “When you get back the police will ask you a lot of questions.”
This was a Wednesday in the final week of the school term, indicating that he was not required at any place of employment that day or the next. He told her he was going to dress her in her tennis skirt the following day. He seemed to have everything planned in his mind. “You will get home. You will be home by late Thursday evening, early Friday morning.”
The next morning he made her have a bath again, before dressing her in her tennis skirt as promised. He played various fantasy games with her, chatted and called her “Missy”. The rest of the time he called her “Nicky”, as did her friends and family. It seems likely he had heard her being called this before.
At about 2pm he leashed Nicola to the bed again and gave her some bread and water. “I’m just going to tie your feet up now.” He tied her legs together with wire and left. When he returned at around 5pm, he claimed he’d been out with a friend looking for a suitable place to release her. “I’ll drop you off at a place and change of clothes and you have to wait for 10 minutes and then you can walk to a police station. I’ll give you directions to the police station.”
He made out that the friend was there with him, and made a show of speaking to him, though no one responded. He had the Sun newspaper with him and seemed to enjoy the stories about his crimes and the parallels being drawn to other abductions, claiming he’d been out of the state 18 months ago when Sharon Wills was abducted. He also tuned in to the Lynas family press conference and spoke to Nicola about it. “Think you’re worth $25,000?”
He told Nicola he was about to pack away the food. It’s unclear why he would announce this – perhaps he like to keep the kitchen tidy, or perhaps he was tidying up in anticipation of someone else’s return. In preparation for her release, he took Nicola to the bathroom and made her stand on a sheet so she wouldn’t leave any evidence. He made her shower and dress, and replaced her eye patches with tape.
He seemed to know exactly how the police would commence their investigation. “You will be taken to a hospital and they will test you. You will be examined by a police surgeon. They’ll be looking for evidence to link me to you and they won’t find anything.”
He then led her to his car, wrapping her in a sheet first and forcing her down onto the floor of the passenger’s seat. He had trouble starting the car and nervously explained to Nicola that it had been stolen by his friend. It’s possible he was worried that Nicola would know he drove an old car and was seeking to explain this away.
When he eventually arrived at his destination, he took the sheet off her and walked with Nicola for about five minutes along the footpath – again apparently in full view of any passers-by. Then he removed her eye tape and gave her a change of clothes to put on, and started to walk away, before suddenly changing his mind and saying the location was no good. It’s hard to understand his reason for dithering and taking so much time with her release when he had apparently planned everything so meticulously. Possibly he thought the spot wasn’t secluded enough and he didn’t want her to be found until he had made good his escape.
After walking her around for a further three minutes he finally left her in bushes in front of an SEC substation in Tennyson St, Kew just before 2am on Friday morning. He told her to count for a while and then go and ring police.
50 hours after her ordeal began, she knocked on a door and rang her father. .
: ‘Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking Mr Cruel child attacks’ Herald Sun Keith Moor, April 8, 2016
‘Letter imprint clue on missing girl’, The Age, Paul Conroy, Jacqui MacDonald and Peter Schwab, 6 July, 1990
‘Infiltration: The True Story of the Man Who Cracked the Mafia’, Colin McLaren
‘Chasing the Mr Cruel connection’ The Age John Silvester 14 August 1994
‘Phone-call clue in kidnap of schoolgirl’ The Age, Jacqui Macdonald 9 Jul 1990