Looking back: Crimes that shocked Tweed
THE region has been home to some horrific and bizarre crimes over the years. We take a look back at some of the more memorable offences which gripped the community.
1. The Balaclava Killer
IT BEGAN with a string of rapes, more often than not committed while the victim's male companion watched in horror.
Then it escalated to murder. And not even a $50,000 reward could help police solve the mystery of the masked man who terrorised the Tweed and Gold Coast in 1979 and 1980.
The Balaclava Killer started his spree with a string of rapes before his violence turned to cold-blooded murder.
On December 25, 1979, the masked man ambushed a Cabarita couple in their parked car.
The woman was indecently assaulted after the attacker restrained her partner's hands by winding up the car windows.
Three days later, a man and woman were attacked at their isolated farmhouse at Cudgen.
The woman, ordered to tape her partner's hands, was raped while again the man was forced to watch.
On February 2, 1980, the rapist targeted Jeff Parkinson, 33, who had been to Twin Towns with his girlfriend to celebrate their new relationship.
About 1.30am, Parkinson opened the passenger door for his girlfriend when the rapist jumped into the backseat with a rifle and demanded they drive to a secluded location at Cobaki Creek.
But Parkinson fought back, pouncing on the armed man which allowed his partner to flee and flag down a passing car.
Parkinson was then gunned down by three shots and the murderer disappeared.
A further three women were also raped on the Gold Coast, with police believing the killer was either a tradie or factory worker.
Every victim reported a chemical smell on his clothing.
Despite mass investigations, strong leads and a solid reward for information, no one was ever charged.
2. 'They got the lot'
IN AN infamous bank heist which arguably put Murwillumbah on the map, on November 23, 1978, $1.7 million was stolen from the Bank of NSW Murwillumbah Branch.
The robbery is the biggest in Australia's history with the cash stolen worth $8.8m today.
When a bank official poked his head into the looted safe and declared "They got the lot”, the robbery slogan was printed on T-shirts, reported globally, and garnered as much attention as the man thought to be behind it.
Crime history books all point to Graham "The Munster” Kinniburgh as the chief safe-breaker of the Magnetic Drill Gang, thought to be behind the robbery.
It's been claimed the "perfectionist” mobster practised cracking safes in warehouses before the raid and shot well-known crook Steve Sellers, for trying to claim a slice of the bounty afterwards.
The Munster was shot dead in 2003 by Lewis Moran and was never charged, but was suspected of at least another 14 raids using the gang's signature diamond-tipped drill.
It's assumed that after breaking in through the back door, thieves used the tool to make a small hole in the safe, to feed through a medical cystoscope with an attachment to it, to open the lock's tumblers.
With one thief working on the lock, and another cutting a hole in the ceiling of the bank for an emergency escape route, it's thought the robbery took several hours and up to five men.
At 7.30am the next day, a security guard found a back door to the bank ajar, and the vault inside locked.
Locksmiths tried to break the safe but failed, so Tweed Shire Council workmen broke through the vault wall instead, where police found $1.7m in $50 and $1 notes missing.
Questions arose over whether the robbery was an inside job, and despite a $250,000 reward, the case was never solved.
3. Brothel murder
THE $500,000 contract killing of a Tweed radiographer and brothel owner who was gunned down by two former soldiers armed with AK-47s remains one the shire's murkiest murders.
Tweed Heads Hospital radiographer Dr Elliott was preparing to open his brothel, The Sanctum, at Chinderah when tragedy struck.
As Dr Elliott left the brothel about 5.30pm on May 26, 2000, his black Mercedes was blocked by a green 4WD driven by two men wearing balaclavas.
He tried to flee but was ambushed and gunned down. Dr Elliott was shot at least 14 times by three different guns, according to police ballistics reports.
Police investigations centred on theories that Dr Elliott may have upset rivals in the Tweed's sex industry by starting up a new brothel.
The two main suspects in the murder later turned on each other, with one shooting the other dead.
It was not until 2006 that former soldier Mike Grupe was charged with the murder, and in 2007 he pleaded guilty to the murder and was jailed for 19-and-a-half years.
He will be eligible for parole next year.
4. Swamp beer
A MORE light-hearted crime, in April 2001, a semi-trailer carrying more than 40,000 bottles of Toohey's beer crashed into the Tweed River at Murwillumbah.
Due to heavy Easter holiday traffic, a salvage operation was delayed until after after the weekend.
But before the goods could be recovered, Murwillumbah residents armed with snorkels, flippers, boats and even jet skis took to the river and stole 1000 cartons of what later became known as "Murwillumbah Swamp Beer”.
The locals involved in the incident told national news outlets the event was "a dream come true”, and a small documentary was later made on the fiasco.