Book Synopsis: "I Know Who Killed Betty Shanks", Second Edition (published December 2019) and Third Edition (published March 2022), by Ted Duhs


The first edition of Ted Duhs' book, "I Know Who Killed Betty Shanks" was published by Boolarong Press in September 2014 on the 62nd anniversary of Betty's murder. Since then the author has received new information from several sources. This information has come from people who are listed in chronological order, in what follows. First, information came from Marie Patton in June 2015. Marie was on the same tram as Betty on that fateful night of Friday 19 September 1952 and she walked home under the bauhinia trees in Thomas Street minutes before Betty. Second, information came from Neale Keag, who rode his large Indian motorcycle on a test run up and down Thomas Street just after Betty's tram reached the Grange terminus at 9.32 pm that Friday night. Third, further information came from Ross Keag. In 2015, Ross not only located and interviewed Betty's younger brother, Allen, but also helped to obtain a patterned rubber sole available in those days from a rubber manufacturer. Ross cut and glued that rubber material to the sole and heel of a pair of brown brogues similar to the shoes worn by Eric Sterry that Friday night. Fourth, significant information came from Doug and Noel Carter, the sons of Dr Donald Ashley Billing Carter who committed suicide at his home at 8 Brisbane Street, Ipswich, a mere 51 hours after Betty was murdered. Dr Carter was believed by Detective Sergeant Ted Chandler, a police investigator, to have killed Betty Shanks, and Detective Chandler surmised that Betty's death may have been responsible for Dr Carter's decision to commit suicide. Fifth, information was also received from other interested parties who either knew Betty, or had worked with her, or who knew someone who was acquainted with her. All this is presented in the second edition in significant detail.

In order to help the reader get a clearer picture of the content, a brief synopsis is presented below. It is noteworthy that in 2012 interested parties called for the Attorney-General in the Newman Government to re-open the Inquests into the deaths of Betty Shanks and Dr Carter. This request was denied because DNA tests of suspects did not match male DNA which police claimed to have had from the crime scene. However, in December 2015, new calls to re-open these Inquests are now being heard. A number of unanswered questions, some concerning the police file, may make it necessary for the present Attorney-General to re-consider this question in the future.

The Second Edition

So, are we able to say who killed Betty Shanks 63 years ago, and why? The conclusion of Ted Duhs' second edition reinforces the conclusion of the first edition, although the second edition is presented with more supporting evidence. To answer this question, a suitable starting point is the mysterious phone call made to Betty Shanks at her workplace at the Department of the Interior on Wednesday 17 September 1952. Betty's boss, John Frederick Ducey, took that phone call and handed the receiver to her. We don't know who made that call but we do know that it was an outside call (not an internal work call) and that it upset her. Other evidence suggests that it was made by Eric Sterry who had got to know Betty when he changed the locks on her parent's house. If it was Eric, it is likely that he was arranging to meet her after she returned home from her Friday night class at the Central Tech. Betty Shanks' tram arrived at the Grange terminus that Friday night at 9.32 pm. Eric Sterry, dressed in his best brown suit, met her at the terminus and they walked down Thomas Street together. They had met three months before exactly like that, but on that previous occasion Eric had taken Betty back to his car. It is probable that he intended to do the same on this occasion. Eric had parked his car in Inglis Street, bordering Wilston State School. To get to the car he and Betty would have to go down Thomas Street as far as the Carberry /Thomas Street intersection, then cross the school oval which was in darkness. This diversion would take Betty well away from her shortest route home. Betty apparently did not want to do that and a serious argument took place between them as they reached the third bauhinia tree in Thomas Street outside the Hill's residence. Eric wanted Betty to continue to view him as a friend, and faced with his disintegrating marriage, he probably harboured hopes that one day Betty might agree to become his future life-partner. Betty, however, did not want a relationship with a married man, especially one with a volatile disposition, as well as a troubled marriage and two young children. So, at that moment it is likely that she told him finally that what he had in mind was impossible. She most likely made it clear that she wanted nothing more to do with him. Eric, however, was not a person who would accept such a decision and he was easily angered. Betty would not have known that Eric had been diagnosed with anxiety hysteria, and this was the catalyst which caused him to lose his temper. He lost his composure and struck her. Betty screamed, but the blow knocked her over the low wooden railing of Hill's fence and she fell heavily onto the grass in the Hill's backyard. Eric had gone too far to retreat, and he vaulted the fence and, in his volatile and uncontrollable state, bashed and strangled her.

This scenario, which is spelt out in the first edition, is reinforced in the second edition. The synopsis which follows gives a precis of the second edition in an attempt to guide website readers.

The second edition begins with the extra information that was received after the first edition was published. As mentioned, the first person to provide additional information was Marie Patton. Marie Patton (who now goes by her married name of Billie Lake) is now aged 87, but still lives in Brisbane. Marie (or Billie) told the author in June 2015 that she saw “the man in the brown suit” on her walk home from the tram that Friday night. She said that she saw him standing on the north-eastern corner of the Carberry/Thomas Street intersection. He was clearly illuminated by the overhead streetlight and was looking up the hill towards the tram terminus. At that moment Marie was about 30 yards away as she hurried down Thomas Street. Betty, on the other hand, was either still at the terminus or about to walk down Thomas Street. Marie Patton said the man she saw was wearing a brown suit. “It wasn't a black suit and it wasn't a grey suit. It was definitely a brown suit.”

The author then showed her the photo of Eric Sterry in his brown suit from page 140 of the first edition. Marie said that the man she saw that Friday night 19 September 1952 ‘had a similar build'. Thus, Marie is the only person still alive who saw the “man in the brown suit” and, not only that, she saw him minutes before Betty Shanks was attacked and less than 30 yards from where the attack took place. The other witnesses who saw the “man in the brown suit” at the tram terminus that evening have since died. Marie's sighting therefore has great significance if this cold case is ever to be solved.

Consider now what Ross Keag contributed. The patterned rubber sheet that Ross cut and glued to a pair of brown brogues has circular nodules one sixteenth of an inch in diameter separated by one sixteenth of an inch of normal rubber. This patterned rubber sole creates the same patterned mark that appears in autopsy photographs of Betty's forehead. Photographs in the second edition show this clearly. Such shoes fitted with patterned soles would appear to solve the mystery of the mark on Betty's forehead. In other words, the patterned mark on Betty's forehead visible in the autopsy photographs was caused by the murderer stomping on her forehead to hasten her demise, allowing him time to escape the crime scene.

Both contributions by Marie and Ross are significant, yet the most intriguing information in the second edition was volunteered by the sons of Dr Donald Ashley Billing Carter. Noel Carter, the younger son, a medical doctor like his father, attended a talk on the Betty Shanks' murder given by the author at the Queensland Police Museum. He subsequently provided interesting information via email. Additional information came from the elder son, Doug Carter, at a later meeting with the author in October 2015.

Both Noel and Doug Carter did not believe the rumour that their father killed Betty Shanks. Noel, in particular, also believed that his father did not commit suicide, but was murdered. In an attempt to prove that their father did not murder Betty Shanks, both sons gave DNA samples to the Queensland Police in 2006. The police had these DNA samples tested, and compared the profiles with male DNA the police had from Betty Shanks' clothing. The result was a non-match between Carter family DNA and the male DNA that the police had obtained from the clothing that Betty Shanks wore that Friday when she was killed. Notices were subsequently published in The Queensland Times as well as in The Courier Mail stating that Dr Donald Ashley Billing Carter did not kill Betty Shanks.

With his medical training, Noel Carter was not convinced by the police conclusion. In an email to the author dated 9 October 2015, Noel Carter wrote,

“The male DNA evidence the police have on record could belong to any thousands of people who have handled Betty's clothing or (could have come) from secondary transfer from surfaces Betty may have touched on that day 19 September 1952.” In the same email, Noel Carter went on to say, “My brother and I gained access to the Betty Shanks' police file in 2006 in exchange for giving DNA samples. We spent 16 hours over two days going through 14 boxes of evidence and that is why we have so much information from police files. Leon Jackson as a close friend of my father's and an acquaintance of Betty Shanks is the common thread to both deaths I believe. He is also the eldest brother of David Jackson LLB, QC, a prominent member of the Judiciary in Australia.”

What the Carter brothers say they discovered in the police file is fascinating. They focussed on the evidence of a woman, Joan Violet Wagner, and her friend Ronald Weir, a solicitor from Maryborough. Joan Wagner told Police in February and also in March 1953, that she and Ronald Weir had met Betty Shanks and a 29-year-old married man named Leonard Petrie Jackson at the Sunshine Coast beach resort of Caloundra. Jackson was described as a ‘ladies' man'. Now we know that three days after Betty's murder a report in The Courier Mail claimed that Betty Shanks had been “madly in love” with a 29-year-old married man - almost certainly a reference to Leon Jackson. Joan Wagner then told police that Leon Jackson had murdered Betty Shanks. She added that she had been paid £2,000 to keep her mouth shut.

Jackson, an insurance agent, lived in Ipswich at 6 Milton Street, about 200 yards from Dr Donald Ashley Billing Carter's house. He was a close friend of Dr Carter and was advising him on the house that Dr Carter wanted to purchase for £5,000, with settlement at the end of September 1952. Dr Carter had problems raising the necessary finance and was concerned, but on Friday 19 September Dr Carter's father agreed to help out. Nevertheless Dr Carter committed suicide about 52 hours later by cutting his throat with a butcher's knife. As mentioned, Noel Carter believes that his father did not commit suicide but was in fact murdered. In an email to the author, Noel Carter wrote,

“Were the deaths of Betty Shanks and Donald Ashley Billing Carter a double murder, and was the same person (Leon Jackson) responsible for both deaths?”

Police interviewed Jackson on 5 March 1953, soon after Joan Wagner's dramatic accusation that Jackson had killed Betty Shanks. Jackson told the police that on Friday 19 September 1952, the night Betty was killed, he had left Ipswich at 5 pm, dined at his mother's house at Elouera Road, Ashgrove, before bringing her back to his Milton Street, Ipswich, home to attend a wedding starting at 8.30 am the next day. Jackson added that he had then driven to the Alpha Movie Theatre at Booval and asked the owners, Lou and Shirley Verrell if they would babysit his children while he and his wife and mother attended the wedding. Shirley Verrell told police that Jackson had been with her at the Alpha Movie Theatre that Friday night from 9.08 pm to 9.18 pm. Jackson also said that he had then driven to see Dr Carter at 8 Brisbane Street, Ipswich, where both men had been seen by RACQ man, Claude Brown. Police accepted the alibis which both Shirley Verrell and Claude Brown gave to Jackson. Clearly then Jackson was in Ipswich when Betty Shanks was killed more than 20 miles away in Brisbane. Jackson could not have killed Betty Shanks.

However, the police seemed to have reservations, because in 2009 they obtained DNA from Leon Jackson's children. They tested that against the male DNA that they had from Betty Shanks' clothing, but the result was again a non-match. When the Carter brothers in 2012 asked Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, to re-open the Inquests into the deaths of Betty Shanks and Dr Donald Carter, the Attorney-General wrote to the legal representative of the Carter brothers and said:

“I understand that DNA testing by the Queensland Police Service has ruled out Mr Leonard Petrie Jackson as a suspect in the murder of Ms Shanks...Accordingly, I do not intend to direct the re-opening of the inquests into the deaths of Ms Shanks and Dr Carter.”

If the police were now satisfied that neither Dr Carter nor Leonard Petrie Jackson were involved in the murder of Betty Shanks, the Carter brothers were not. They pointed out that on 28 January 1953 at the inquest into Dr Carter's death Leon Jackson had said “The last occasion I had a conversation with the deceased was on Thursday 18 September.” This means that Jackson had issued two contradictory statements a little over one month apart. And, given the serious doubt about the police DNA testing (see earlier), was it safe to conclude on that basis that neither Dr Carter nor Leon Jackson killed Betty Shanks? Only a re-opening of the Inquests is likely to resolve such questions.

The Third Edition

After the 2nd edition was published, a man who introduced himself as George Cowin, contacted the author, Ted Duhs, with new and unexpected information about Betty's short life. George Cowin revealed that his aunt, Winifred Cowin, had been Betty's best friend during schooldays at Brisbane Girls Grammar School as well as during their years at the University of Queensland, where they both graduated with Honours in 1950. George Cowin also revealed that his aunt Winifred Cowin had been employed by ASIO for almost a decade before pressure of her secret work caused her to take her own life in 1958.

This information supplied by George Cowin, allowed Ted Duhs to access a 35 folio ASIO file which detailed the secret life of Winifred and Betty. The ASIO file also contained a two page 'Top Secret' Minute headed 'Betty Shanks'. This Minute revealed that Betty was in an 'intimate association' with a young married man who was a member of the Communist Party of Australia. As a result, ASIO sent an officer to recruit Betty as a 'Q' source. This officer arrived in Brisbane on Sunday 21 September 1952, only to be told that Betty had been murdered the previous Friday night.

The third edition can be purchased from Boolarong Press, selected book stores, or by following the 'buy the book' link on this website.

Can We Say Who Killed Betty Shanks

Ken Blanch believed that Betty's murder was a random killing carried out by a soldier. He based this belief on the pattern a military gaiter might leave as a result of a kick to a person's head. But Ken Blanch wasn't able to identify any soldier in the vicinity of the crime scene and no soldier was seen by the witnesses involved. Much more recently, in a post on The Queensland Times website dated 27 December 2015, Jack Sim names Jim Coates as the murderer. Jack Sim adds “Jimmy Coates went to the Korean War.” But there doesn't appear to be any evidence against him.

Ipswich historian, Lyle Reed, has apparently just finished a Betty Shanks manuscript and claims that the murderer “struck Betty on a motorbike, threw her over a nearby Wilston fence and then came back an hour later to complete the heinous murder.” This is mentioned in the same Queensland Times post of 27 December 2015. Reed is yet to name the motorbike rider. However, this theory seems implausible because Betty's injuries were not consistent with being struck by a motorbike. Jack Sim also disagrees with Reed on this point, saying that the “distinctive patterned mark on Betty's head was almost certainly caused by an object striking her, not an impact from a non-object.” (sic)

Police seem to have ruled out both Dr Carter and Leon Petrie Jackson, but relying on the police DNA evidence is unsafe. Betty's clothing is certain to have been contaminated by handling over the years, and by someone coughing or sneezing on the clothing when it was on display. If that is accepted then the police are comparing DNA from suspects with an arbitrary and unknown DNA source. On that basis it is perhaps unwise to rule them out, pending further evidence.

This leaves Eric Sterry. His daughter Desche believes he was in some sort of a relationship with Betty Shanks and killed her when she rebuffed him that fateful night. Eric fits the description of witnesses that night and was almost certainly the “man in the brown suit” at the Grange terminus. Marie Patton also saw him near the crime scene minutes before the attack occurred. Eric's medical history shows he was violent at home and was diagnosed as a psychotic as early as 1944. He was also diagnosed as having anxiety hysteria two years before Betty was killed. So, he had the mental make-up usually associated with violent personal crime. Plus, he kept a photograph of Betty Shanks in his album for 45 years before he died in 1997.

Given the arguments expressed above, and assuming the aim is to discover the truth of what happened to Betty Shanks, the wisest course of action might be to allow access to the police file now. Even if that does not happen, the 65 year secrecy rule expires in 2017, and in the meantime pressure to re-open the Betty Shanks Inquest is mounting. Many local people still remember that murder well, and would like to see a resolution. The publication of Reed's forthcoming book, along with the forthcoming 2nd edition of my own book, and various pieces available on websites or published in The Queensland Times, will again raise public interest, and raise the clamour for a re-opened Inquest. Ipswich Councillor Paul Tully has evidently had advance access to Reed's forthcoming book, and has recently commented that “This will warrant a request to the Attorney General to re-open the Inquest from 1953.”

In summary then, the list of suspects known to have been under consideration includes the following:

(i) Dr Donald Carter: we know that some allege that his ‘suicide' was in fact a murder, but either way there is no known evidence connecting him to the Betty Shanks murder. The concern of his sons to have both the Betty Shanks Inquest and the Dr Carter Inquest re-opened can be understood. It must be noted however that the relatively recent DNA testing against a contaminated sample from Betty's clothing appears worthless.

(ii) Leon Petrie Jackson: Jackson is defended by two alibi statements. Regardless of the apparent worthlessness of recent DNA testing against male DNA samples taken from contaminated clothing, he therefore still appears to be cleared by police on the grounds of those two apparently independent alibis. DNA technology has improved at an exceptionally rapid pace, however, and it may be that with the newest techniques conclusions can be drawn that would not previously have been attainable. Before this question can finally be resolved, it would be necessary to have access to whatever material is available in the Police file.

(iii) 'A soldier' did it: Ken Blanch never named any particular soldier or suspect, however, and provides no evidence linking the murder to anyone in particular. There is no evidence in the Ken Blanch book that could send anyone to trial.

(iv) Jim Coates: named by Jack Sim in 2015. Again there is a lack of evidence to connect him to the crime. He may once have been a soldier in the Korean war, and the patterned mark on Betty's forehead may perhaps have been caused by a soldier's gaiter (if she was kicked with his ankle rather than with the toe of his boot), but that patterned mark could also have been caused by other materials/sources. Does a one-time soldier don a military gaiter and lie in wait for someone with whom he has no known connection in order to murder her at a time he somehow knew she would be present at that place? Did he do this while all the time managing to stay out of sight of others who were going past? Did he know Betty would be going past at that time, or did he just happen to murder a random passer-by? Does a court accept that even if the patterned mark could perhaps have been caused by a gaiter, it could have been caused only by a gaiter?

(v) Eric Sterry: The case against Eric Sterry is strong, and is made in the first edition of my book. In the 2nd edition that case is made even stronger. There is ample evidence to believe he could be sent to trial (if he was still alive). The case against Eric is the only case that is backed by extensive, verifiable evidence. The newly strengthened case against him is available in the forthcoming 2nd edition of my book.

A re-opened Inquest would be welcomed by many people, including me.

The additional information revealed in the 2nd and 3rd editions make it essential to re-open the Inquest into the murder of Betty Shanks. Author, Ted Duhs, alleges that Betty was killed by a man she met at the Grange tram terminus when she returned home from a night class at Brisbane's Central Tech on Friday 19 September 1952. This man, described by witnesses as 'the man in the brown suit', was seen by four people that night. Evidence suggests his name was Eric Sterry. Marie Patton, who is still alive, saw him 30 yards from the murder scene, minutes before Betty was attacked. The man's daughter, Desche Birtles, who is also still alive, tried to persuade the police on two occasions that her father killed Betty Shanks. When her attempts were unsuccessful, she gave her story to The Courier Mail in April 1999. It was published as a front-page article under the heading "My Dad Killed Betty Shanks". The Inquest into the death of Betty Shanks should be re-opened while Marie Patton and Desche Birtles are still alive. There now appears to be enough evidence to bring some finality to this matter.

Ted Duhs, 05 March 2022