An Air Disaster Memorial site photo c1970s provided by the AFP.

NEW information has come to light on a potential 1973 confession in the five-decades-old, unsolved Canberra cold-case murder of Keren Rowland.

Nichole Overall.

As May 13 approaches, marking 50 years ago since the skeletal remains of the 20-year-old were stumbled across in the Fairbairn pine plantation in 1971, the revelation has emerged as part of the ongoing exploration for my Capital Crime Files podcast. 

A convicted killer serving a life sentence in Goulburn, who was living in Canberra in 1971, is said to have made the startling admissions. 

Neither a name nor an arrest were then forthcoming but sources involved have confirmed there were a variety of elements that warrant closer scrutiny in a modern investigation.

What was described as a “new lead” had become public in June, 1972, close to a year-and-a-half after the almost five-month pregnant Keren’s disappearance on February 26. Her body was found nearly 11 weeks later in the forested area next to the Canberra airport.

ACT police said they’d spoken with a local woman who could potentially assist in establishing the identity of a man possibly involved.

In the absence of anything more, as the year drew to a close, a small front-page article made mention that the reward for anything leading to a conviction was raised from $2000 to $10,000.

A portrait of Keren Rowland commissioned by her family.

It would be almost another year before any of it was again addressed. In October 1973, "The Canberra Times" reported that the head of the Canberra Criminal Investigation Division, Det-Insp Reg Kennedy, attested he’d twice questioned a man “aged about 30… thought to be involved in the death of Miss Rowland”.

He's also reported as saying: "There is a distinct possibility we’ve found our man.”

According to Insp Kennedy: “Police are reasonably satisfied the person we have interviewed has some very definite knowledge of the girl's disappearance and subsequent death. 

"But there is insufficient evidence at this stage, and because of certain circumstances, no charges are being proffered.”

Nothing further eventuated, at least in the public domain. What gave the appearance of one of the most concrete leads in the saga seemed to vanish into yet another black hole.

Now it’s been acknowledged by the AFP and others close to the investigation that the party in question – or someone known to him – may have crossed paths with Keren either when she was at the Canberra Show on the evening she went missing or when she was stranded on Parkes Way after her car ran out of fuel. 

Just over a year later, the alleged informant was charged with beating another man to death with a log and found guilty in 1973. On asking if he had anything to say before his sentence was handed down, the labourer claimed: “I didn't mean to kill him, your honour”.

In accordance with Insp Kennedy’s statements of the time, the details said to have been offered in relation to Keren’s unexplained death were seemingly quite in-depth. In addition, it appeared to include particulars not previously made public.

Unpicking the finer points remains frustrating with a reliance predominantly on ageing memories and often inexact media coverage from the day, but there’s also a suggestion a second person-of-interest connected to the prisoner might similarly be deserving of follow-up.

All of this also comes in the wake of a recent television presentation on the prospect of serial-killer Ivan Milat’s involvement in unsolved disappearances and murders in the capital region. 

The fresh information continuing to emerge potentially throws a whole tool kit in the spokes of that ever-turning wheel.

Certainly many, both those with a general interest and professionals in the field, believe it’s a “long bow to draw” in trying to link Milat to various local cases, particularly Keren Rowland. And in the 1973 instance, Milat has definitely been ruled out as the person in the spotlight. 

Keren’s is one of the investigations currently under review by the AFP. 

When questioned about these earlier happenings, the response is that preliminary re-examinations of all related material suggest that at least one of the persons-of-interest to feature in this development had “two pretty strong alibis”. 

The only revealed specifics at this juncture is that they involved others who “stuck to it saying we were with him all night”.

It’s also suggested that the man at the centre of it may have wanted nothing more than “a few days out of prison” – sources state he’d been released to the custody of Canberra police to allow for formal interviews to be conducted.

Nonetheless, AFP detectives have confirmed that despite being unable to produce anything that could be acted upon back then, given the chance of involvement of someone who “ticks quite a few boxes”, current enquiries are underway and he remains on the “list of people we would like to speak with in time”.

On my following up with many of those well acquainted with proceedings, it’s felt there’s more than enough gaps in relation to this aspect of the case to be deserving of a longer and harder look. 

It may also be a last opportunity to do so given that “time is running out” for real answers to be uncovered in this ongoing mystery.

 

For more on this and other informed details on Keren Rowland’s case, see capitalcrimefiles.com.au. If you have any information or knowledge please contact Crime Stoppers or reach out to me directly.

 

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