The Wanda Beach Murders occurred in 1965 in Australia. Fifteen-year-old best friends Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock disappeared during a visit to the beach. Twenty-four hours later the two girls were found dead. To this day the case remains unsolved. Here Unsolved Casebook takes a look at the murders, the investigation that followed and the known suspects.
In 1958 Elisabeth and Helmut Schmidt left behind life in their native Germany. The couple made the move to Australia under a government initiative to help families after the war. Along with the couple were their six children, among them was eight-year-old Marianne.
After initially living in a migrant hostel in Unanderra, New South Wales the Schmidt family finally found a home to call there own in West Ryde, Sydney in 1963. They found themselves neighbours with Jim and Jeanette Taig, who shared there home with there granddaughter Christine Sharrock. Christine and Marianne, who were both the same age, soon became inseparable friends.
Tragedy sadly struck the Schmidt family within a year of the moving to their new home. Helmut Schmidt sadly passed away from Hodgkin’s disease. This made the bond between Marianne and Christine even stronger. Like Marianne, Christine too had lost her father at a young age.
A Trip To The Beach
By January 1965, the height of the Australian summer, the now fifteen-year-old girls spent much of there time at the Cronulla beaches. The pair were just like most teenagers of the time obsessing over music, surf culture and boys.
The 10th of January was a rare day for Marianne and Christine that summer. The rain kept the pair from a planned excursion to the beach, having to stay home instead. The following day the rain had passed. Though it was still windy and a little on the cool side, Marianne and Christine headed for the beach.
Elisabeth Schmidt had been confined to a hospital bed. She was waiting to have an operation and so Marianne found herself in charge of the younger children. With her four siblings in tow, the sextet boarded the train and made their way to the beach in Cronulla.
Upon arriving at around 11 am the duo’s plans for a day on the beach again appeared to be scuppered. The winds had grown stronger, leading to the beach been closed. Marianne and Christine, however, were determined to enjoy a day on the beach. The two fifteen-year-olds took Norbert, Wolfgang, Peter, and Trixie and made their way south.
They finally found an area of the beach which wasn’t closed. The group settled near some rocks, which gave them a small bit of protection from the howling wind. The children enjoyed a swim in the shallow waters before eating sandwiches they had taken with them.
The Crab Hunting Teen
During this time Christine Sharrock left the group and went off alone for a short while. Unfortunately, it was never determined where she went.
At the same time, Marianne’s eight-year-old brother Wolfgang also saw a teenage boy nearby. Wolfgang said the boy was crab hunting with either a spear or a fishing knife.
The discrepancy comes from Wolfgang’s description of events differing in separate accounts he gave. So too did his description of the boy. One thing that didn’t change was the teenager’s attire. He was shirtless, with a blue towel slung over his shoulder, and wore light grey bottoms.
Christina And Marianne Go For A Walk
Once Christine returned from her excursion the group decided to walk further along the beach. By the time they were near the Wanda Beach Surf Club, the young siblings had started to complain.
The high winds had constantly blown sand into their faces and their towels around. So the group again found somewhere to take a little shelter, this time behind a sand dune.
Once settled Marianne and Christine said they were going to retrieve their bags from the beach they had been at earlier that day. Marianne left her radio for her siblings to listen to and headed on her way along with Christine.
Peter spotted the girls were going in the opposite direction. He yelled out to Christine and Marianne to tell them but the girls just laughed and continued on their way.
At this point, some reports also state that Wolfgang saw the same boy who was crab hunting earlier. The teenager, according to Wolfgang, appeared to be following Marianne and Christine.
Another witness and the last known person to see the girls alive except for their killer was Dennis Dostine. Dennis Dostine was a local firefighter who was on the beach with his young son.
He witnessed the girls walking hurriedly not far from the Wanda Beach Surf Club. According to Dennis Dostine, Marianne and Christine were constantly looking back behind them as they walked. He thought maybe they were been followed. If they were Dennis Dostine didn’t see as he reported he saw no one behind the girls.
By 5 pm the four young siblings began to become worried and confused about why they had been left alone. Where was their big sister?
Eventually, they made the decision to head back to the rocky area where they had left their bags, hoping to find Marianne along the way.
They retrieved their bags and with no sign of Marianne or Christine, decided to head home. They caught the 6 pm train back to Sydney. Upon arriving home at around 8 pm the four young Schmidt children made their way to Christine’s home.
They told her grandma that Christine and Marianne had left them alone and failed to return. Knowing this was completely out of character for both young girl’s she reported them missing.
Police were equally as concerned. The girls were well behaved, had happy home lives and no history of running away.
Seventeen-year-old Peter Smith, along with his young nephews, was walking along Wanda Beach the following afternoon at around 2:30 pm. As they made their way across the sandhills they spotted something on the beach.
Peter Smith thought at first it was a mannequin. It wasn’t and he soon realized the true horror of what he had discovered. The teenager shook with panic. He quickly took his nephews and ran to the nearby Wanda Beach Surf Club. From there he reported to the police he had discovered a body on the beach.
Upon arrival, investigators began to remove the sand which had partly covered the young female victim. It was at this point they soon found there were, in fact, two dead girls in the sand.
The Crime Scene
Marianne Schmidt was found lying on her side with her bathing suit partly cut off. Christine Sharrock was found lying facedown with her head touching Marianne’s foot. Drag marks nearby led investigators to conclude she had been placed there after she was killed. Christine, like Marianne, had her bathing costume partly cut open.
The scene indicated that Marianne had been murdered first. Christine then attempted to run away and escape a similar fate. Unfortunately, the attacker caught her, killed her and then dragged her back to where Marianne had been killed.
The drag marks provided one possible clue. Along it was pools of blood caused by the killer stopping to rest whilst moving Christine. Christine was only small. The fact the killer had to stop several times whilst dragging her body pointed towards an individual who wasn’t overly strong.
The sand nearby was trawled in the hope of finding the murder weapon or other evidence. A bloody knife was discovered during the search, however, investigators were unable to link it to the Wanda Beach Murders.
Tire marks from a car were also located not far from the crime scene. Again though police were unable to prove this was related to the murder of Marianne and Christine.
The Post Mortems
The post mortems were carried out at the city morgue. Both the victims had been so brutally and savagely attacked that the full results of the post mortem were never publicly revealed.
We do know Marianne had been stabbed multiple times, including one wound puncturing her heart. Her throat had also reportedly been cut so brutally that her head had almost been severed from her body
Christine was also stabbed multiple times. The back of her head had also suffered significant trauma caused by a blunt instrument. This supported the theory she was fleeing when she was killed.
There were signs of a sexual assault and attempted rape having taken place, however, both girls hymens were still intact. A semen sample was collected from the scene. Over time the sample would sadly be lost
The toxicology report also showed that Christine had a blood alcohol level of .015. This was either left in her system from a number of drinks the night before her death or, far more likely, a bottle of beer or a little spirit shortly before her death.
Christine had also eaten a meal containing celery and cabbage shortly before her death. Neither of these items was included in the sandwiches the group had taken with them to the beach. This led police to believe she may have consumed the items when she separated from the group.
The four young Schmidt children were questioned extensively about the visit to the beach that day. Wolfgang told them about the teenage boy and Peter about the girls going the wrong way.
Trixie also said she had seen Marianne and Christine talking to a teenage boy on the train. However, it was discovered the boy in question got off the train at Redfern Station. There were no witnesses to say he got on the Cronulla bound train that the sextet was travelling on.
Although Wolfgang’s description and story kept altering when they spoke with him investigators strongly believed the crab hunting teen was the best lead they had. Unfortunately, the problem was that the description could match any number of teens. The boy in question would never be identified.
Law enforcement heard of a man who in the days previous had been sexually harassing girls on the beach. A Wanda Beach lifeguard confirmed this to be the case. The lifeguard stated that he had physically escorted him from the beach. The man was never identified.
An offer of a £10,000 reward (later converted to $20,000 when Australia changed currency) was put up in February 1965 in the hope of leading to a break in the case. This simply led to nearly every teenager in Cronulla having a phonecall made naming them.
Despite interviewing over 7,000 individuals in relation to the Wanda Beach Murders the case went cold. The killer was never identified.
Possibly Related Cases
Just over a year after The Wanda Beach Murders on January 29, 1966, Wilhelmina Kruger was murdered in the Piccadilly Arcade in Wollongong. Wilhelmina, who worked as a cleaning lady, was discovered in the footwell of the local butcher’s shop at around 6 am by a worker.
The victim was found partly stripped of her clothes. She had been savagely stabbed, strangled and mutilated in an extreme level of violence. Her killer was never identified. Police felt that the murder may well be by the person responsible for the Wanda Beach Murders. They refused to specify why exactly that was.
Less than three weeks later another murder occurred that has been linked to the murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock. On February 17, 1966, Anna Dowlingkoa vanished after visiting a Kings Cross nightclub.
The mutilated body of Anna Dowlingkoa, who was a prostitute, was discovered on the side of the road by a truck driver in Menai ten days later. Like Wilhelmina Kruger, she too was found semi-naked and had been strangled and stabbed before been mutilated.
Investigators once more believed this may be the work of the person who committed the Wanda Beach Murders. Again they did not specify the reason why. Anna Dowlingkoa’s murder remains unsolved.
In 2012 police announced that a weak male DNA sample had been extracted from Christine Sharrock’s shorts. Although too weak to prove useful yet, it is hoped that with further advancements in technology it may eventually help to identify the killer.
In 2014 it was announced that the semen sample collected from the scene of the Wanda Beach Murders had been lost. Several other items and possible evidence were also lost.
The Wanda Beach Murders Suspects – Alan Bassett
A person of interest who has come to light over the years is Alan Bassett. In 1966 Alan Bassett was convicted for the murder of twenty-year-old Carolyn Orphin.
Murder Of Carolyn Orphin
Carolyn Orphin and Alan Bassett had met during a night in Wollongong on June 10, 1966. The pair seemingly hit it off with one another and so Orphin felt no reason to be concerned for her safety when Bassett offered to take her home. Unfortunately, she put her trust in the wrong person.
Bassett drove Orphin up to Mt Ousley. He then tied her hands behind her back with stockings, beat and raped the poor woman. Sadly, this wasn’t the end of the ordeal. Bassett proceeded to drag Carolyn Orphin from the car. He then found a rock and smashed it over the young woman’s skull, killing her in the process.
In 1975 Bassett handed a painting to a former detective named Cec Johnson. Johnson became convinced that the painting, named “A Bloody Awful Thing”, was depicting the scene of the Wanda Beach Murders, a case Cec Johnson had previously worked on.
Other detectives, for the most part, weren’t as convinced. This didn’t deter Johnson, however, who continued to investigate and even wrote a book to back up his claims. Tragically Cec Johnson died in an accident before the book was published.
Alan Bassett was released from prison in 1995 after twenty-nine years inside. After constantly been linked to the Wanda Beach Murders, as well as the killings of Wilhelmina Kruger and Anna Dowlingkoa, Bassett volunteered his DNA in the hope of clearing his name. It is not known if police took him up on his offer. It’s also unknown whether he is considered a viable suspect or not by current investigators.
In 1984 Christopher Wilder accidentally shot himself dead whilst trying to avoid arrest when his gun went off during a skirmish. It is unknown what Wilder did to draw the attention of the police that day but there was a clear reason Wilder was willing to risk his life to get away.
Law enforcement soon uncovered that Wilder was responsible for at least eight murders. Known as the Beauty Queen Killer, Wilder had stabbed and shot his victims. All were women from several different states in the USA.
It was discovered that Christopher Wilder had emigrated to the United States in 1969 after the failure of his first marriage (the marriage only lasted one week). Further research revealed that in 1963 Wilder had been convicted for taking part in a gang rape in Sydney. Interestingly the rape took place on a beach.
In 1968 his wife allegedly reported her concerns about her husband to the authorities. The police, however, failed to act quickly on the information. By the time they attempted to speak with him Wilder had already left the country. At the time of the Wanda Beach Murders, Christopher Wilder would have been nineteen-years-old.
After been deemed unfit to plead due to insanity Derek Percy was ordered to remain in custody indefinitely in 1969 for killing Yvonne Tuohy on a Victoria Beach. Yvonne Tuohy was just twelve-years-old.
Yvonne Tuohy And Other Possible Victims
Because of the way in which Yvonne Tuohy was killed and other items found to be in Percy’s possession it was believed that Derek Percy was possibly responsible for other murders. These included:
- Simon Brooks – Aged just three, he was found in a cubbyhole not far from his home. Percy stated he had driven down the same street the day Simon was killed but he couldn’t recall if he committed the murder.
- The Beaumont Children – The three siblings vanished from the beach and were never seen again. Police apparently could show Percy was in the area at the time.
- Linda Stillwell – eight-year-old Linda vanished whilst playing with her siblings and friends near the seashore. Percy again admitted to being in the area that day. Linda Stillwell has never been found.
- Alan Redston – The six-year-old was found dead in a muddy creek not far from his home. Percy said he was in the area during the period Alan was murdered and also resembled an identikit image which was released.
- The Wanda Beach Murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock – Once more Derek Percy was known to be in the area. He also shows a resemblence to an identikit image of the teenager seen on the beach the day of the murders.
“I Could Have”
During his initial arrest for the murder of Yvonne Tuohy, Derek Percy was also asked about the murders of Simon Brook, Christine Sharrock and Marianne Schmidt, to which Percy simply answered:
“I could have done it, but I can’t remember”
In June 2013, aged 64, Derek Percy died from cancer whilst still incarcerated. Any hope that Derek Percy would make a deathbed confession to any of the crimes he was suspected of committing was not to be forthcoming. If Derek Percy had any secrets he sadly took them to his grave.