THE unsolved murder of Canberra’s Keren Rowland has resonated with journalist and historian Nichole Overall in a very personal way.
Ms Overall was very young herself when Ms Rowland, 20, disappeared on the night of the Canberra Show, on February 26, 1971.
Ms Rowland’s body was found in the Fairbairn pine plantation near the ACT’s Air Disaster Memorial three months later, she was five months pregnant.
Fifty years on, the cause of her death is still unknown.
It’s a “harrowing” crime that has stayed with Ms Overall for over half a century.
“I first heard about Keren when I moved to this area, at an age similar to what she was when she disappeared that February night in 1971, only to be found in the most tragic of circumstances less than three months later,” says Ms Overall.
“Now I am at an age where Keren could be my daughter… these are the things that are on my mind as I work on all of this.”
The Queanbeyan launch of Ms Overall’s podcast, “Capital Crime Files”, coincided with what would have been Ms Rowland’s 70th birthday and the 50th year of her unborn child.
The young receptionist’s death is one of three long-standing Canberra cold cases, along with Elizabeth Herfort and Mary Bertram, featured in the podcast.
“Lost but not forgotten, my aim in all of this is to ensure that each of these women are remembered and honoured, and it’s my great privilege to be able to do so,” says Ms Overall.
Mother of three, Mary Bertram, 28, left home in 1974 and never returned. Four days later her naked, strangled body was found in bushland on Canberra’s outskirts. Like Ms Rowland, the crime remains unsolved.
In 1980, Elizabeth Herfort, 18, disappeared without trace after an evening at the ANU Union Bar. Forty years on, her fate also remains unknown.
The podcast, presented by Ms Overall, documents her own in-depth and original investigation into each of these disturbing mysteries.
Over the years, Ms Overall has conducted her own interviews with the victims’ families, police, witnesses and journalists who reported on the crimes at the time.
She obtained court records, police statements, autopsy reports and combed through historical archives in an effort to create a “complete and more accurate picture” of these three crimes, for the “first time”.
“While my aim is to hopefully unearth a memory, a clue or a link that might reinvigorate and encourage reinvestigation, at the least, it’s also to honour the memories of those so lost and to fully impart the stories of lives and promise cut short,” Ms Overall says.
“These unexplained mysteries continue to weigh heavily on the Canberra region.
“Someone out there knows the truth and this is the chance to discover it.”
Breaking a fifty year silence, Ms Rowland’s younger brother Steven Rowland, spoke publicly for the first time at the launch, about his late sister and her disappearance.
“Keren was a normal girl, we were a really close family and everything was rosy up until she died,” says Mr Rowland.
Mr Rowland says he’s never stopped searching for answers over his sister’s death.
“You can’t change what’s happened but we can do our very best to try and find out what happened,” he says.
“The police at the time did an incredibly good job and I don’t think you can take anything away from what they tried to do at the time.
“Today, some 50 years later, the police appear to be going out of their way to do everything they possibly can, so I am a little sceptical about the 40 years in between. I don’t think there’s been enough done, I believe there are some things that haven’t been fully looked at and that’s why I’m so pleased with what Nichole is doing.
“Hopefully things start to come to light, the more of us that talk about this, the more chance there is we will find out what happened.”
The podcast launch comes as ACT Policing undertook a fresh search of the site where Ms Rowland’s body was found.
Detectives searched the area with new technology, looking for a gold or silver bracelet that Ms Rowland was known to be wearing.
Walkley Award winning investigative journalist and author Estelle Blackburn says the new search demonstrates the “power” of Ms Overall’s work.
“Part of Nichole’s efforts in doing this podcast is to find fresh evidence that may jog a memory, and I think she’s had success already with the police search at Fairbairn forest,” says Ms Blackburn.
“This shows the power of the media, and the power of podcasts, that something just might happen, you never know.”
Ms Blackburn’s own research and book “Broken Lives” exposed an injustice which led to the exonerations of John Button and Darryl Beamish, who had been convicted of murder in the 1960s, that were later proved to be committed by Eric Edgar Cooke, one of Australia’s most notorious and deadliest serial killers.
Ms Blackburn’s investigations are explored in Stan’s new four-part series “After the Night”, which depicts the horrifying, true story of Cooke, the last man hanged in WA in the Fremantle Gaol.
Ms Blackburn has supported Ms Overall as she researched and put together the podcast.
“Having turned 70 this year I personally know the span of life that has been stolen from Keren and her baby and stolen from her family, friends and community,” says Ms Blackburn.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child and so when a person is taken so tragically from that village it affects the village as well, we have all lost that person.
“But as much as she is important to the community, it does get lost over time, so I think it’s wonderful what Nichole is doing to make sure these women are remembered and honoured.”
Season one of “Capital Crime Files” can be found at capitalcrimefiles.podbean.com
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