During Operation Spectrum, which wrapped up in 1994, detectives interviewed over 27,000 people in their search for Mr Cruel, including doctors, teachers, journalists, photographers, priests, policemen, solicitors and bus drivers.
Amongst these 27,000 people were 32 men who were unable to be eliminated, including one Pentridge prisoner^ and seven men nominated to the FBI who, it was believed, were each capable of committing the types of sex offences ascribed to Mr Cruel.
Between 2010 and 2011, Taskforce Apollo reviewed the case and investigated new suspects. At the time of its disbanding, police had still been unable to eliminate ‘more than 20 suspects’.
Norman “Normie” Leung Lee
In 2020, retired homicide detective Ron Iddles revealed to the Australian True Crime podcast who he believed to be Mr Cruel. According to Iddles, a ‘well-known crook’ who was dying of cancer told Iddles in around 2003 that Mr Cruel had lived in a house under the flight path in Eltham with a layout the same as described by victims, and was by that time deceased. According to Iddles, this person of interest was a successful businessman who frequented the Chan family restaurant and “cross-dressed from time to time”.!
On 31 April 2022 Herald Sun journalist Andrew Rule named Ron Iddles’ informant as Alfred Hugh Gay and his suspect as Norman “Normie” Leung Lee. Lee (pictured above in Michael Jackson mask) was a notorious armed robber who was shot dead by police during a botched robbery at Melbourne Airport in July 1992, just three months after the discovery of Karmein Chan’s bodyA .
According to Rule, Lee confessed to his associate Gay that he had murdered Karmein Chan. Gay also told Iddles that Lee had a collection of school dresses and owned a house in Napoleon St Eltham with a converted garage that matched the description given by Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas.
Iddles says he passed on the information to police, who showed a photograph of Lee to Phyllis Chan, but when she was unable to recognise him it appears police did not investigate further.
Lee had first gained notoriety after being charged then discharged of the 1976 Great Bookie Robbery. Interestingly, the first words of the masked bandits during the Bookie Robbery were: “We’ll blow your heads off!”, a phrase also used by Mr Cruel during the Lynas abduction.
Retired head of the armed robbery squad Paul Delianis was quoted in The Age in 1995 saying Lee always appeared ‘quiet and cool.’
‘The question is whether he was quiet between the bookie robbery and the incident at Tullamarine of whether he was always too clever to come under notice. I think it was probably the latter.”
Reddit user u/elocra has also pointed out that Lee’s partner in crime during the botched airport heist in July 1992 was Stephen Asling, who later used the same patch of wasteland beside Edgar’s Creek in Thomastown where Karmein Chan’s body was found in April 1992, to bury Terrence Blewitt in 2004. Coincidence?
The Sierra Files
In April 2016 journalist Keith Moor revealed the existence of the Sierra Files, a Victoria Police dossier on the top seven suspects who could not be eliminated by Operation Spectrum.1
Mr Cruel Prime Suspect Dr. Brian Alan Elkner
Amongst these seven suspects is former university lecturer and convicted sex offender Dr. Brian Alan Elkner, who admitted to Keith Moor in an interview in early 2016 that he is the prime suspect.
After brief stints teaching at Yallourn High and University of NSW, Elkner moved to Hampton with his young family and secured a position as lecturer of French Literature at the University of Melbourne in 1972. Between April 1972 and May 1974, he attacked six girls in their homes in Brighton, Carnegie, Elsternwick and Murrumbeena. All his victims – five teenage girls and one young married woman – were tied up, threatened with a knife and assaulted. In three cases he cut their clothes with scissors.
Elkner was jailed for a period of ten years in 1974 for committing an act of rape, 3 counts of indecent assault, one of assault with attempt to rape, and one of assault. His court heard he had had a fantasy about tying up and raping girls and that psychiatrists did not hold out hopes for curing his ‘gross psychiatric distrubance.’2
However he was released from prison in 1979 and moved back to Hampton, where two of Mr Cruel’s earliest suspected attacks took place in 1985. In mid 1985 he moved to Thornbury. Throughout the 80s Elkner participated in several marathons and made a career for himself as a freelance writer. Some of the themes in his writing include references to ‘freedom’ and the criminal as ‘hero’.
Detectives searched Elkner’s Thornbury home during their investigation and found a knife and balaclava hidden in the roof, though he claims he was at his brother’s wedding during one of the attacks. Elkner was questioned for 12 hours by detectives during Operation Spectrum (1991-1994) and is considered by former Spectrum taskforce head David Sprague, more likely than any other suspect, to be Mr Cruel.
The remaining 6 suspects have not been publicly identified, but certain aspects of their identities were revealed in the aforementioned series of articles by Keith Moor published in the Herald Sun in April 2016.
Mr Cruel Suspect 2
Aged 41* and living in Eltham during Mr Cruel attacks. Has since lived in Box Hill, Surrey Hills and run businesses in Balwyn and Mont Albert North. He married a Canadian woman and moved to Lake Cathie before moving to Canada in June 2014.
Mr Cruel Suspect 3
Aged 43* and living in Musk during Mr Cruel attacks. Changed his name by deed poll in 1988 and at least once more since then. Angrily ordered Herald Sun journalist to leave his property when confronted in April 2016.
Mr Cruel Suspect 4
Aged 32* and living in Harcourt at the time of the Mr Cruel attacks. According to his neighbours spends most of his time in Melbourne and occasionally returns to Harcourt.
Mr Cruel Suspect 5
Aged approximately 42* and living in Knoxfield at the time of the Mr Cruel attacks. Worked as a self-employed tradesman and was married with children when he died in 2015.
Mr Cruel Suspect 6
Aged 36* and living in Balwyn at the time of the Mr Cruel attacks. Confirmed to the Herald Sun when they tracked him down at his Mt Waverley home in 2016 that he was aware he was a suspect, but denied involvement: “I’ve never had any charges laid against me. I’ve been interviewed, yes, along with 27,000 other people. I was interviewed, that was it.”
Mr Cruel Suspect 7
Aged 42* and living in Glen Iris at the time of the Mr Cruel attacks. He isn’t on the electoral roll, in the phone book or on social media. Could the reason he’s not on the electoral role be because he is dead? Melbourne Marvels has pointed out that dead paedophile Christopher Crowther matches the age of Mr Cruel Suspect 7 and was living in High St Glen Iris in 1992.
*All ages at time of Karmein Chan abduction unless otherwise specified
Other Mr Cruel persons of interest
At various stages of the investigation, the following individuals have been named in the media as persons of interest to police – though some have since been eliminated and none is formally considered a suspect:
Maurice ‘Maurie’ Marion (pictured above in action) is a convicted rapist and serial bank-robber known as ‘Bank enemy number one’, who was known for using women as human shields. He was at one time a person of interest in the 1992 abduction and murder of 13-year-old Prue Bird, had close ties to Westmeadows (under the East-West Tullamarine flight path), and possessed weapons including a .22 calibre handgun and home-made pornography. In May 1975, he assaulted a woman in her East Keilor home at gunpoint then locked her in the cupboard before making his escape, but was caught on fingerprint evidence. Soon after he was released from prison in 1986 he was again charged with assault and police found a balaclava in his car. According to The Age, Marion was “put high on the list of known sex offenders to be investigated” by the Spectrum taskforce, though nothing incriminating was found.3
Robert Keith Knight is a notorious paedophile who police were unable to rule out as Mr Cruel. In 1996 he was charged with abducting and sexually assaulting two 12-year-old girls, in 1980 and in 1996. There were a few notable similarities between these crimes and the Mr Cruel attacks: he held his 1996 victim at a house for 16 hours, took photos with a camera and tripod, and gave her a bath. Mr Cruel used elastoplast while Knight taught first. He was a youth worker and active in the scouts. He had close ties to the Eastern Suburbs, as well as Broadmeadows (under the Tullamarine flight path) where he taught in the early 80s. There were also some differences: Knight drugged his victim and let her see his face. He used a hessian bag on both his victims, gave them money and made them take questionnaires. Police are certain he committed many other crimes, though Det-Sen-Sgt Chris O’Connor from the Spectrum taskforce doesn’t believe he was Mr Cruel. Knight committed suicide in 2013.4
‘John’ nominated by a former partner to police in 2011. Like Marion, ‘John’ had links to an unsolved killing and was a violent sex offender. He apparently spoke about Karmein Chan during sex and became nervous when stories about her appeared on the news. He lived in the Eastern suburbs and he also had access to a gun and a house near the airport. However the house in Moonee Ponds he had access to did not match the description given by victims.5
Jamie Warwick Hall was considered a suspect in 90s. He was a serial sex offender who lived in Heidelberg and stalked children. He was sentenced to 4 years in 1983 for the abduction and attempted rape of an 8 year old girl and the rape of an 11 year old boy and then to 6 months jail in 1986. Like Mr Cruel, he took a keen interest in news coverage of his crimes. In a road rage incident he also threatened a woman’s children. He complained about “being linked by the media to the Karmein Chan murder case” 7
Ashley Mervyn Coulston who murdered three people in Burwood near PLC in 1992 was considered a suspect due to some similarities in MO with Mr Cruel, including hog-tying his known victims and shooting them in the head – though Coulston was apparently on a yacht in the Tasman sea during the attack on Sharon Wills.8
US kidnapper Richard Starrett bore so many similarities to Mr Cruel that when Spectrum detectives first learned about Sterrett they believed he may have been Mr Cruel. Like Mr Cruel, Sterrett kidnapped girls from their homes, took them to his house, then released them near where he’d abducted them. He also shot his last victim dead. 9
Rapist Steven Greenwood was interviewed by Spectrum detectives in 1993 in relation to the violent rape of a woman in Kew in 1984, which police thought at the time could be one of Mr Cruel’s early attacks. Greenwood was convicted of the 1984 rape in 2014 on DNA evidence after Taskforce Apollo reopened the investigation.10
!. Mr Cruel Scoop – Interview by Matt Dunlop Media with retired detective Ron Iddles (November 2020). Melbourne Marvels
A. ‘After Three Decades- Have we finally found Mr Cruel?’ Herald Sun, 31 April 2022, Andrew Rule
^ ‘Prisoners interviewed in Chan murder hung’ The Age’ 15 May 1992 Bruce Tobin
1. ‘Mr Cruel: Victoria Police and FBI dossier on shocking Mr Cruel child attacks’ Herald Sun; 8 April 2016
2. ‘Lecturer had sex fantasies, gaoled’ The Age, 19 Oct 1974; ‘Uni man had sex fantasy, court told’ The Herald, 18 Oct 1974
3. ‘Public Enemy No. 1 Gets 20 years’ Jail’ The Age; 11 Oct 1975, ‘Who Killed Prudence?’ The Age; 26 Sep 1999 Andrew Rule and John Silvester.
4. ‘Robert Keith Knight was behind sick abduction and sex attacks on young girls and cannot be ruled out as Mr Cruel suspect’ Herald Sun; 4 May 2014, Keith Moor
5. ‘Mr Cruel suspect linked to another unsolved murder, a violent sex offender: former partner’ The Age, 13 Apr 2016, Nino Bucci
7. ‘Sex offender claims police stalked him’ The Age, 12 Mar 1997
8. ‘Cruel Legacy’ The Age; 13 April 1996
9. ‘Mr Cruel probe – US link’ The Age, 13 Dec 1992
10. ‘Guilty plea in rape case solved after 30 years through DNA from cigarette butt’, Herald Sun, 18 Feb 2014