Hi. I am an Australian historian and just discovered your fascinating website on Wilson family history and wonder if anyone can help me with regards to a famous unsolved Australian crime, the 1979 murder of a West Australian girl, Felicia Wilson, 19 of Kwinana which continues to fascinate Australia. Her parents Bevis & Colleen emigrated from the UK in 1967, they had a very large family which I cannot locate which leads me to believe they may have returned to the UK in 1979.
I have taken the liberty of attaching, here following, a copy of an article I wrote on the subject and if anyone has any info on the case or family I would be very grateful.
The Murder of Felicia Wilson
On Wednesday the10th of January 1979 Bevis & Colleen Wilson from the southern Perth suburb of Orelia, Western Australia, experienced every parents worst nightmare, their 19 year old daughter Felicia Marie failed to return home.
Having recently started a new job at the nearby 'Kwinana Community Health Centre' it should only have taken her a few minuets to reach her Dargin Place home after finishing at 4pm, however when she failed to materialize by 6pm her anxious parents started making calls. Nursing staff told them she had clocked off two hours earlier and intended to post letters on her way home. Knowing the route she traversed, her fiancÃ©e James Bryce went looking for her but found no trace. By 9pm, with still no sign or word of Felicia, her now frantic parents phoned the police for help, their nightmare just beginning.
After a sleepless night there was still no sign of Felicia. At 8am the secretary of the 'Kwinana Community Health Centre', Mrs. Joy Carter, accompanied by two nursing sisters, decided to undertake a search of their own. Although Felicia had only worked with them a few days her sprightly personality had endeared her to them. The nurses followed the 300m bitumen path she had trod the previous day. The region had an bad reputation with locals due to the fact in 1972 the battered body of local school girl, Gina Merrifield, had been found there. The path the nurses followed linked the Community Health Centre with Council Offices, passing over a hillock through stony scrubland. After a few minutes the nurses found a hand bag and shoe just off the path, following the debris they stumbled on Felicia's lifeless body, curled in a fetal position and ran for help. Within minutes of the discovery the area was crawling with uniformed and plain clothed police as the highly industrialized town around them went about its day. Officers quarantined the crime scene bounded by Sulphur Road & Gilmour Avenue as forensic officers arrived and spent two hours scouring every inch for evidence.
Felicia was found naked, her strewn clothing and personal effects testament to the fact she fought valiantly for her life. Her body had several cuts, possibly resulting from the attacker cutting her clothing off with a pocket knife. A subsequent autopsy showed she died c4:30pm of massive head injuries resultant from a limestone boulder weighing at least 27kg which the killer lifted out of the ground [leaving a recess in the earth] and dropped on her head. The autopsy also revealed that although the murderer had removed her clothing she had not been sexually assaulted. Criminal profilers believe the frenzied savagery resulted from the assailant venting frustration, perhaps from being unable to perform sexually. Although there's a possibility her clothing was removed to throw investigators off, an attempt to make the crime appear motivated by something it wasn't. Australia's foremost criminal profiler, Professor Dr. Paul Wilson (no relation) said the manner in which she was killed, "denotes extreme hate and anger â€“ though this does not necessarily mean that the offender knew the victim".
Curious Last Movements
Felicia's last movements continue to baffle police and historians. Why did she run into scrubland when she was just 150m from the bustling Kwinana Recreation Centre where16 people were still working and 300m from the Health Centre?. From her position the Council Chambers were in sight, just down a slope, detectives were also stunned that such an assault happened in broad daylight so close to community facilities and no one heard or saw anything untoward. Baffled police resorted to calling in outback trackers in hope their examination of the pathway and scrubland would provide clues rationalizing her movements, tracks suggested that the girl had panicked when accosted by her killer; her footprints and those of a man zigzagged through the low scrub to the spot her battered body was found. There was also evidence suggestion the assailant tripped and fell on a stony outcrop, injuring his head.
Witnesses Come Forward
Locals were stunned and outraged by the crime and police received hundreds of calls along with statements from two important witnesses: one said that at 3:30pm she was near the bitumen track leading from the Council Chambers in Sulphur Road to the Community Health Centre where the girl was last seen alive, she saw a man coming towards her from the direction of the shire offices, he passed her traversing off the main bitumen track along a sandy path towards the Health Centre, the same route believed to have been taken by Felicia.
About 5pm another woman saw a man whose description tallied with that given by the first but now he walked with a limp, held his left hand to his forehead as if in pain, his shirt was open at the front and as he drew closer she noticed he was covered with dust and dirt. He was walking in Sulphur Road towards Gilmore Avenue, on the footpath on the north side. Sulphur Road flanks one end of the block where the girl was found. However the most important witness to come forward was a Kwinana local who was driving up Sulphur Road and turning into Meares Avenue at around 4:45pm and almost collided with a man bolting out of the area where Felicia's body was found, he had to break heavily to avoid impact. Chief Superintendent Don Hancock, then head of the WA CIB, said the suspect turned in a menacing manner towards the car and driver. Who was able to give the police a very strong description of the man, the police are confident this was the killer making his escape. He was described by witnesses as:
"A clean shaven Caucasian 19 or 20 years of age, medium height and solid build, had a protruding stomach, perhaps a beer belly, dark fairly thick unruly curly hair which grew to the bottom of his ears. He was wearing light blue jeans, things, a light green checked shirt with long sleeves rolled up to the elbows and covering a tee-shirt. A conspicuous characteristic of the suspect was the singular peculiarity of his gait, he walked with a distinctive limp. The killer was wearing scuffs or thongs with little squares on the bottom, he would have had plenty of poison-bush prickles in his shoes and in his skin like the girl did, they would have festered and bothered him after a couple of days"
A Curious Fact: Was there a witness?
A jogger is believed to have stumbled on the parkland murder of Felicia Wilson and fled, according to aboriginal tracker Kevin Cameron, who was called in by police hours after the murder, "he saw her being killed", Mr. Cameron said.
"He had sand shoes - he was probably a jogger" he said, "I tracked the girl as she ran through the bush, where she dropped her handbag and where they had a scuffle. She broke away and lost her shoes and then ran to a small clearing where he grabbed her and killed her. The other blokes tracks came in from the other side at the same time, they came in at a certain place and they came out twice as fast, he veered off, he increased his stride, he obviously saw what happened and didn't want to be part of it".
Mr. Cameron said he tracked the witnesses retreating footsteps to a road, he said, "I could have tracked where the murderer went too - but by the time I was called hundreds of police had walked all over the place".
Both witnesses described the suspect as 'wearing a light green shirt with long sleeves rolled up to the elbows', this fact is noteworthy due to January and February being the two hottest months of the year in Kwinana, the average temperature 31 degrees. On the day of the murder (10.1.79) it was hot and humid, over 30 degrees at midday, 26 degrees with 51% humidity at the time of the murder. Not a time of year to be wearing winter clothing, the suspect may have worn a long sleeve shirt as an act of concealment, it being common for men with tattoos on the upper arms to wear long sleeve shirts (rolled to the elbow) on even the hottest day to hide the unsightly body graffiti when in civil society. Tattoos being the tribal tag of the miscreant class, the sight of which is distinguishing, alarming, even prejudicious to the general public.
Police Investigation Fails
Kwinana had never seen anything like it before or since, the district was descended on by legions of police and detectives from Perth and surrounding suburbs who went door to door looking for information. Detectives investigating other violent homicides arrived on the scene to ascertain if there was a possible link, most notably those investigating the murder of 16 year old Caroline Joan Fountain of Esperance who was murdered a month prior in the same manner. Special group briefing sessions for police were held in the Kwinana Council Hall, where films of the crime scene were shown to protect the actual location and any remaining evidence from needless further trampling. Students at Felicia Wilson's old school, 'Kwinana Senior High', were shocked by the senseless murder of one of the schools most popular former students and did what they could to help the investigation. Students creating a detailed and professional model of the crime scene, which helped detectives get a feel for the complex geography of the site.
The homicide received national attention, the investigation lasted years and although the police had a compelling suspect they couldn't prove guilt and were unable to lay charges. The investigation was scaled back and remains unsolved, a folder on an ever growing mound of unsolved homicides which cry out for justice.
Many perplexing questions remain unanswered; was it blind terror which sent Felicia running to her doom in scrubland and not to nearby sanctuary or did she know her killer. Did she walk with him not perceiving a threat until it was too late, does this explain why she never cried out for help or was she just the victim of a predator who saw his chance and took it?
The Wilson Family
The Wilson's emigrated to Australia from England in 1967 settling originally in Victoria. Bevis & Colleen Wilson relocated with their five daughters and two sons to Orelia in 1976 for brighter career prospects. Kwinana - aboriginal for Pretty Maiden - then a dynamic, up and coming industrial town attracting workers from across Australia and the world. The family prospered, like her sisters Felicia grew into an accomplished and attractive young lady with a bright future ahead. Her parents encouraged their children to be active and excel, Felicia was an avid tennis player and popular at her tennis club. The good looks and charm inherited from her mother saw her consider modeling as a career, she entered beauty pageants and was a finalist in the 1977 'Miss West Coast Beauty Quest'.
Completing high school she got her first full time job at the Rockingham branch of the Commonwealth Bank, where she was highly regarded. In the months prior to her death she left to follow her dream of being a flight attendant, unfortunately due to liquor laws at the time she was considered too young by the airline industry and told to reapply at 21, which she intended to do after settling into married life. Had events not taken the path they had Felicia would have married 19 year old factory laborer James Bryce, on the 3rd of February 1979. At the time of her murder, wedding plans were set invitations sent, RSVP's received.
The Wilson family were devastated by the murder, which occurred on their sons eleventh birthday, and the passage of more than two decades hasn't alleviated the sense of loss. Felicia's fiancÃ©e moved on, like the Wilson's relocated from Kwinana to escape bad memories, becoming a bartender at the Spiniflex Hotel in Perth. He died several months later in a freak alcohol related accident, toppling off a balcony with his new girlfriend. The police and detectives who participated in the investigation, now retired, never forgot the case. The senseless brutality, the snuffing out of a young life brimming with vitality on the eve of matrimonial happiness haunts them, as it does journalists who covered the case. However there is hope the case may soon be solved after 24 years, forensic evidence recently rediscovered will soon be put through DNA analysis and compared with the profile of the lead suspect in the case which may yet result in justice for Felicia and her long suffering family.
John Godl is an internationally respected writer and researcher, a member of the Independent Scholars Association and RAHS. He has contributed material to numerous historical books, encyclopedia, TV documentaries and has written radio plays. He lives in Sydney, Australia.