On 7 July 1988, the Sun newspaper carried an article titled ‘Mother battles blanket blaze’ featuring a photo of Julie Wills and her four daughters in the girls’ bedroom after a fire caused by a faulty electric blanket. It is possible that this photo led to Mr Cruel targeting Sharon. If it did, he was able to sit on his urges for almost six months.
On Boxing Day, Monday, December 26, 1988, the Wills family had returned to their home at 11 Hillcrest Ave, Ringwood at 10pm. John and Julie Wills put their four daughters to bed, with 10-year-old Sharon in the top bunk. But it wasn’t until 4.50am – an hour before sunrise – that John finally turned out the lights and went to bed. If Mr Cruel had been outside watching since the family returned home at 10pm, he had now been waiting for seven hours. Even then Mr Cruel didn’t rush. Around 30 minutes later, he pushed the key from the inside of the lock onto a piece of newspaper he had pushed through under the door and gained entry via the back door*.
He noisily burst into John and Julie Wills’ bedroom and turned the light on.
He was wearing dark blue full-length overalls, like those worn by painters, mechanics, factory workers, gloves and a black balaclava with white and possibly red stitching around the eye and mouth holes. The Wills family estimated his height between 173cm to 180cms, his build as thin to medium and his age as mid-20s to 30s. Contemporary newspaper reports put his age even younger – late teens to early 20s based on the sound of his voice.^
He was carrying a bag and a torch and was armed with a knife* and dark coloured hand gun with a square grip, a squarish barrel with a silver bit at the end, possibly a pistol.
When Julie Wills started to scream for her kids to get out of the house, Mr Cruel told her to stop and held the gun against John Wills’ head: “You’re not going to be a hero are you?”
Mr Cruel forced the parents onto their stomachs and bound their feet and hands with copper electrical wire, demanding money.
He took $35 from John’s wallet, then demanded to know where the telephone was and left to cut the phone cord with pliers he found in the house^. To the working-class Wills he sounded well-spoken, with no discernable accent.
Sharon had woken up when she heard her mother screaming and heard a man’s voice. She lay frozen in bed. She heard the bedroom door open and saw a man with a torch. ‘Sharon’ he called her by name*, turned her over and shone the torch in her eyes, asking if she was awake. When she pretended to be asleep, he left the room, but soon returned and made her get up: “Wake up, get up.”
Mr Cruel went through Sharon’s wardrobe, selecting items of Sharon’s clothing:
- A pair of girl’s cream coloured panties
- A girl’s cotton knee length nightie
- A pair of children’s blue thongs.
- A girl’s red tartan skirt with pleats around the waistband.
- A Bonds white singlet.
Then he led Sharon out.
In the hallway he stopped to take John Wills’ brown and black checked lumber jacket from the hat stand and told Sharon to put it on over her nightie. He picked up a shirt from the washing basket and wrapped the other clothes inside. He had been in the house around eight minutes.^
He carried Sharon outside to the back porch where she bravely started to scream. He shoved a red ball in her mouth, but took it out when she agreed not to scream again. He told her he wasn’t going to hurt her and would return her in the morning as soon as he got his ransom. He blindfolded her, then picked her up again, put her down and changed direction before putting her into the floor of the passenger seat of a car.
The vehicle smelt clean but sounded old. It had bucket seats, a low glove box and a hump in the middle of the floor with a gear stick. The floor carpet, front door, arm rest and press down lock were all cream coloured.
By this time it have been getting light. When Mr Cruel realised Sharon could see he stopped and taped the blindfold to her head and put a blanket over her.
After travelling for some time the car stopped in a driveway. Mr Cruel carried Sharon into a house and placed her on a bed, replacing her blindfold with eye pads secured to her head with adhesive tape.
A radio in the bedroom was tuned to 3TT.
She was carried to the bathroom and made to clean her teeth and bathe. “Brush your teeth.”
Mr Cruel then carried Sharon back to the bedroom where he assaulted her; she heard the 7am news and two planes flying low overhead. Although she was blindfolded, Sharon sensed he had a hairy chest, either moustache or whiskers, possibly an early beard growth.
When he was finished he gave her a glass of milk and a stale vegemite sandwich, leashed her to the bed by her neck then told he was going out. While he was gone, she lifted her blindfold and observed the layout of the room and noticed a wooden tripod and camera at the end of the bed set up for filming.
When Mr Cruel returned he removed the leash, forced her to bathe again before taking her to assault her in another room and then making her bathe and reattaching the leash. He left her that way, leashed to the bed for some time, during which Mr Cruel repeatedly checked on her, carried her to the toilet and gave her a sandwich and lemonade.
Finally he told Sharon she needed to take a shower. “You’re going to have a shower. You have to wash yourself really good.” He made her clip her fingernails and toenails and brush and floss her teeth.
Mr Cruel dressed Sharon in the shirt he’d taken from the family washing basket, then taped a garbage bag around her body and another around her head, making a hole for her to breathe.
He carried her to the car but had trouble starting it, telling Sharon that stolen vehicles do not always start properly.
He reversed out of the driveway and drove for a long time, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. At around 11.15pm, a White Commodore Vacationer sedan with three blue stripes along the side with its lights off was almost collided with another vehicle as it turned from Jersey Rd into Mountain Highway in Bayswater. The car’s driver turned his head away and edged forward as the angry witness stopped next to him at the lights and looked into the car. The car then turned right 1.5 km along the road into Church St.
Eventually Mr Cruel stopped and lifted Sharon out of the car. He ran along carrying her for some distance, stopping now and then to rest. He put her down at Bayswater High School and removed the blindfold and garbage bags. He told her how to get to a nearby Food Plus store and warned Sharon not to look at him as he left.
Just after midnight a woman found Sharon standing on the corner of Orchard and Armstrong Rds. Sharon calmly told the woman: “My name’s Sharon Wills and I was taken from home early this morning. A man left me here and told me to go and ring home.” The woman took Sharon home and gave her a drink while she rang the police.
According to contemporary TV news reports, neighbours of the Wills in Hillcrest Ave had reported seeing a prowler in the area prior to the abduction. This may be the same man identified by a witness who came forward in 2022 on Under Investigation.
The witness claimed that six weeks prior to the abduction, her two brothers were playing in the vacant land behind the Wills residence when they interrupted a strange man filming the Wills’ house with a JVC video camera. He left quickly when disturbed, packing his video camera into the boot of his gold Ford before departing. The man was described as 30-35, balding, with brown hair and a pot belly.
‘Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking Mr Cruel child attacks’ Herald Sun Keith Moor, April 8, 2016
‘Mother battles blanket blaze’, The Sun , 7 July 1988
The Age, 5 Jan 1989
Horrifying True Crime Stories 3, Danielle Tyning
*Cold Case Investigations, Xanthe Miller
^ Ringwood schoolgirl found – Police still hunting for abduction suspect, The Age, December 28, 1988