It was the 7th of July, 1960, when Freda Thorne kissed her son, 8-year-old Graeme Thorne, goodbye and sent him off to school. Graeme lived in a two-bedroom ground floor flat in Edward St., Bondi, Australia, with his mother, his father, Bazil, and his 3-year-old sister, Belinda.
Tragically, this was the last time Freda would ever see her son alive. Moments after leaving their home, he would become the very first victim of kidnap for ransom in Australia’s history.
That morning, Graeme walked the short distance to Wellington and O’Brien Streets to wait for family friend, Phyllis Smith, who would routinely collect him from this spot to take him to school along with her own two sons. When she arrived as the designated spot, Graeme wasn’t there. Phyllis drove to the Thorne residence to check if Graeme was there. He wasn’t. Freda immediately called police to report her son missing.
At around 9:40AM, Freda received a phone call. “I have your boy,” said the voice down the line. He demanded £25,000 before 5PM, adding that if she didn’t get the money, he would “feed the boy to the sharks.” Sergeant Larry O’Shea, who was with Freda when she received the call, took the phone and pretended to be Bazil Thorne, Freda’s husband. He told the kidnapper that he didn’t have enough money to pay the ransom. Larry was clearly unaware that just the previous month, Bazil had won £100,000 in the Opera House Lottery.
Back in those days, winners of the lottery became overnight celebrities. The Thorne family winning the lottery forced them into the limelight and they received extensive media coverage. The kidnapper had clearly watched the family on television with great interest. In fact, he concocted a grim plan and soon started to watch the family to work out the young boy’s daily routine.
The kidnapper rang again around 10 minutes later. He gave instructions to put the money in two paper bags before abruptly hanging up. He never called back.
Around 40 investigators scoured the area in search of clues. They searched every house and apartment in the vicinity. It became one of the largest police operations in Australian history. The first lead came the following day when Graeme’s empty school case was found in a bush near where he was to meet Phyllis Smith. Several days afterwards, investigators found Graeme’s school cap, raincoat, and lunchbox approximately 1.5km from his school case.
A reward of £5000 was announced on the 8th of July and missing person posters showing Graeme’s smiling face, frozen in time, were plastered up across the city.
Then came the grim discovery that his family dreaded from day one. On the 16th of August, the body of Graeme was found on a vacant land in Grandview Grove, Seaforth in Sydney. He was wrapped in a tartan blanket and tied up with a string. He had been gagged with a scarf and his body had been wedged beneath a rock. An autopsy concluded that he had been dead within 24 hours of his abduction. The pathologist could not determine if he had died from asphyxiation or a skull fracture of a combination of the both.
Forensic analysis at the crime scene found two types of cypress foliage, three varieties of human hair including dyed blonde hair, and some Pekinese dog hair. Soil samples also showed minute fragments of a pink-coloured substance identified as limestock mortar. An investigation into these findings combined with an eyewitness sighting of Graeme and his kidnapper led police to the home of Hungarian migrant, Stephen Leslie Bradley. He had two cypress plants and pink mortar had been used in the building of the house. His wife, Magda Bradley, had dyed blonde hair and they also had a Pekinese dog… By the time police went to arrest him, he had fled the country.
In fact, Bradley had already been questioned by investigators in regards to the kidnapping of Graeme. A witness had spotted Graeme climbing into a blue Ford that morning. Investigators had followed this lead and questioned many people who owned such a car – one of which was Bradley. He provided an alibi when they came to question him but it spooked him out so much that following his routine questioning, he decided to flee with his wife and children.
Investigators uncovered that the Bradley family had purchased sea liner tickets to England via Colombo, Sri Lanka. When he stepped foot off the ship, investigators were already there to arrest him.
After his apprehension, Bradley confessed that on the day he abducted Graeme, he had been waiting at the spot where Graeme got picked up for school in his Ford 1955 Customline car. Bradley said he had tricked Graeme into getting into his car by telling him that he had to drive him to school that day. The boy believed him and jumped into his car with no qualms.1
He said that after he abducted the boy, he drove to a secluded corner of Centennial Park where he tied a scarf around Graeme’s mouth to prevent him from screaming or crying. He then locked him in the trunk of the car and drove to his home at Clontarf. En route to his home, he stopped at a payphone to make the ransom demand.
When they arrived at Bradley’s home, he opened up the trunk to find that Graeme had almost suffocated to death. He took the scarf from his mouth and strangled the young boy before bludgeoning him across the head with a billet of wood. He then tied Graeme’s hands and feet and wrapped his body in a rug and threw him back in the trunk. Bradley drove Graeme’s corpse to nearby Seaforth where he stopped at a vacant block of land that he had once looked at with the intention of purchasing. He hid his body underneath an overhanging ledge of rock where it remained for the next five weeks.
On the 20th of March, 1961, Bradley’s trial began. The public gallery was packed out; some people even camped out the front of the court overnight to make sure they didn’t miss the trial of the century. While the case focused on a lot of circumstantial evidence, the forensic evidence against Bradley was damning and on the 29th of March, he was sentenced to life in prison. He died from a heart attack on the 6th of October, 1968, at the age of 45.
The tragic case led to a change in lottery winning procedures in Australia with winners are now getting the opportunity to remain anonymous.