BY AMY MCQUIRE, FEBRUARY 13, 2012
Originally published in Tracker Magazine.
MAN ON THE RUN: The search for Malcolm Naden continues
NEW SOUTH WALES: The Scholes and Morris families have lived in fear since the day the body of Kristy – a mother, daughter, niece, sister and cousin – was found in the bedroom of Malcolm John Naden.
But this Christmas brought new fears. One, that he may never be found, and two, if he is found, he won’t be alive.
Naden has been on the run since June 2005.
While he has been cast as a bush hero, a modern day Ned Kelly who eludes police at every turn, the reality is much more sinister.
Naden is wanted for the murder of Kristy Scholes, an Aboriginal mother-of-two who was in a relationship with his first cousin Reg Walker, and for questioning in relation to the disappearance of his first cousin – Lateesha Nolan – an Aboriginal mother of four.
He’s also wanted for questioning over an aggravated indecent assault on a minor.
Prior to December, Naden was a just a rumour – a local myth for communities as far spread as inner-city Redfern and the remote Barrington Tops area in the north of the state.
His suspected travels created folklore across regional New South Wales.
But mainstream media had largely forgotten him. People outside of the areas he was said to frequent struggled to remember his name.
Today, the whole country is familiar with his mug shot.
That’s because, on December 7 last year, he came face-to-face with police as they rounded in on what is believed to be his remote campsite, near Tamworth.
It was one of the largest developments in the case since 2005, when the world-famous Dubbo Zoo was locked down after Naden was spotted roaming among uncaged animals.
However, despite snipers, tactical forces, helicopters and motion-sensor equipment, Naden got away, leaving behind a wounded cop who he shot with a stolen firearm.
The media went into a frenzy; police immediately doubled the reward for any information leading to his capture. It now sits at $250,000.
Soon Naden was everywhere across our television screens.
He has barely been out of the news since then.
And he has barely been out of the minds of the families of those two lost mothers.
David, Kristy’s father, doesn’t talk often about the tragedy, while his sisters feel they have lost their own daughter.
“This consumes the family,” family spokesperson Tony Scholes says.
“These are lives that have been taken. It’s not a minor incident. For my brother David, I will do what I can to see this guy is brought to justice.”
But Tony says the one fear the family now shares is that Malcolm will be killed in the hunt.
“We are living with the fear that he’ll get shot,” Mr Scholes says.
“All we want is closure.… We need him captured, so we can find out what happened to Kristy.
“If we haven’t got closure, it’s going to continue to go on in our minds.”
The day before she was found, Kristy’s four-year-old daughter Libby had cut herself out of the house Malcolm shared with his grandparents. Crying for her mother, Libby ran next door to her grandmother’s house – Margaret Walker.
Margaret’s son Ian was home. On finding Libby, he went to the house and discovered a crying Johnny, Kristy’s 3-year-old son, next to the fridge.
Kristy and the kids had been alone in the house that week with Malcolm, while his grandparents – Jack and Florence Nolan, along with aunty Margaret Walker – were in Sydney.
Reg, Kristy’s partner, was also in Sydney.
It took a day for the family to find Kristy. Malcolm’s bedroom door was locked, and he was nowhere to be seen.
He was known for being quiet, and a loner, but courteous towards his grandparents, who he had lived with since he was a teenager.
Naden also would hang out with his male cousins, but was not known for being particularly social.
In the lead up to Kristy’s death, he had been acting strangely, leaving food untouched outside his bedroom door.
He started coming and going out of his bedroom window.
Tony Scholes was living in Coffs Harbour at the time, but remembers driving to Kempsey to see his brother after learning Kristy had disappeared.
“It was about 9 am, and people were turning up (at the family home) to find out what was going on. David went for a drive, and five minutes later he came back, and pulled up in the driveway crying.
“He said ‘She’s gone’. We said, ‘What do you mean, she’s gone?”
“He said, ‘She’s gone’, she’s dead’.”
Kristy’s family went to Dubbo that day.
“We went to the house where she was murdered. We saw the (drawn-down) blinds, and the pillows and candles.
“Most of it had been removed but you could see where it was, and the formations where she had been lying.”
Naden was still nowhere to be seen.
Six months earlier, Naden’s first cousin Lateesha Nolan had disappeared, last seen at the same house.
At the time, there was no reason to suspect Malcolm.
On the evening of January 4, 2005, Lateesha had dropped off two of her kids at her grandmother’s house, along with her smokes and purse, and said she’d be “back in a sec”.
The following day, Lateesha’s blue Ford Falcon station wagon, NSW license plate number YOU-505 was found beside Dubbo’s Macquarie River.
Lateesha’s body has never been recovered, and her family have never had closure.
Mr Scholes can understand their suffering.
“(They’ve) suffered a lot longer than us because of not knowing what happened to Lateesha. They didn’t find her, they’ve found her possessions but not her.”
When the events over Christmas broke into the headlines, Lateesha’s father Mick Peet, who lives in Innes Park near Bundaberg, stayed by the phone.
For seven years he has searched, using the internet and contacts forged through Facebook and his blog, checking his email for Google Alerts with Malcolm Naden’s name.
“It was pretty edgy around Christmas,” Mick told Tracker.
“We were more or less sitting over the phone. It was a pretty exciting time when the reports were coming through, to know he was surrounded.
“I was pretty sure they were going to get him soon. I was hoping the phones were going to ring.
“… But now we are back to waiting. There’s nothing much we can really do. And the waiting game is a hard game to play.
“I’m pretty used to it though. I’ve been doing it for 7 years.”
Mick feels sorry for the family of the police officer who was shot by Naden. But he feels that’s the reason police are now searching intensively for the man wanted over the disappearance of his daughter.
“When the police officer got shot it was the best thing that has happened to me. It was a bad thing to happen to him and his family, but it boosted everything up.
“I’ve been trying for the last seven years to get this high on the radar.”
Mick’s own blog jumped from 6000 visits to nearly 22,000 and he’s had more people email and Facebook him than ever before.
“People know who he is now. He hasn’t got many places he can go where people don’t know him,” he says.
Tony Scholes, has a different view.
“That’s somebody’s loved one that he shot. But it’s good (Naden)’s come out and presented himself.
“He’s opened up a whole new can of worms. Now the police can start tracking and following him.
“But its unfortunate that policeman got shot. He’s got a family.
“But that’s what I’m trying to say to people, and make them realize.
“This guy has shot another person. What’s going to stop him from shooting someone else, or hurting someone seriously, or even killing?”
Since the shooting, Naden also came face-to-face with two police officers at another remote property in the region on December 21.
Naden was able to slip away – the officers were not a part of ‘Strikeforce Durkin’, the operation launched to catch him.
Late last month, media also reported that a local may have seen Naden at Merewether, a remote property outside
Nowendoc. Police were in the area for several days after the resident reported a break-in.
So after two close calls, and unconfirmed reports of break-ins throughout the area, how far are police from finding Naden?
Carlene York is Assistant Commissioner of the Northern Region, and is leading the manhunt out of Gloucester, an hour away from Nowendoc, where Naden is still believed to be hiding.
For the NSW police, who have tracked Malcolm for seven years, finding and losing him again has been an embarrassment.
But Assistant Commissioner York says people underestimate the difficulty of the terrain, and Naden’s character.
“We’re frustrated we haven’t been able to get him,” Assistant Commissioner York told Tracker. “But there are a couple of reasons why.
“One is the nature of Malcolm Naden himself. He doesn’t seek or need contact with the outside world. He’s very much a loner.
“We do rely on people’s information, sightings and interaction, but its difficult because he stays in the bush.
“The location he is in is also very difficult, and very rugged. It’s very difficult for people to understand the rivers and valleys and it’s very mountainous as well as sparsely inhabited.
“The likelihood of a sighting is rare, and although we’ve had a lot of information, it’s not always timely.”
Assistant Commissioner York says police do not believe Naden is as bush savvy as his profile in the media suggests.
“He does do a lot of break and enters, and steals food and camping equipment.
“He is certainly skilled in remaining and living in isolated bush land, but he does come out to get food, sleeping bags or ground sheets and items like that.
“Because a lot of the houses are holiday cabins, it’s very remote and people don’t go there frequently, so we can
get information about a break and enter but it could be days or weeks on before we get that information.”
The weather has also hurt the operation, often working in Naden’s favour, she says.
“The weather hasn’t been kind to us. We weren’t able to pick up the scent with a dog. It was very misty and wet and the weather up there has been very difficult for a period of time….
“The weather can also restrict the use of our air assets….”
The December 21 incident at Niangala, where two officers came face-to-face with Naden also raised eyebrows.
Police had been alerted to a CCTV image taken by a local car dealer from Walcha, who could see Naden using his computer through security footage.
The car dealer told media that at first, police ignored his call about Naden. It wasn’t until he handed over photographic evidence that they took notice.
Currently there are between 40 and 70 police officers based at Gloucester Headquarters Rural Fire Brigade Station.
The operation was re-located from Nowendoc because of the size of the 300-plus town.
Assistant Commissioner York says that it is too early to accurately estimate how much the operation has cost. But she concedes it has been expensive.
“It’s certainly one of the costliest exercises we’ve undertaken. It’s a huge manhunt, and it has gone on over many years.”
Mr Scholes believes money is no object when it comes to finding out what happened to his niece. But he also knows information is often more valuable than money.
He believes communities, especially the Aboriginal community, should be diligent in getting any information to the authorities.
“They should think, what if this happened to their own family? It could happen. They don’t see that,” Mr Scholes says.
“We never thought it would happen to Kristy. We thought Kristy was safe. We think our children will be safe, we think our families are going to be safe all the time.”
Earlier this year, Mr Scholes received a prank call from a couple of young kids who claimed it was Malcolm Naden.
He’s also angry with a several Youtube videos put up as a tribute to Naden.
“This guy is no myth. He’s real. He’s out there. He’s destroying peoples’ lives. He’s destroyed his own life by doing what he’s doing, sitting out in the bush, waiting for someone to come and get him.
“He could take a life before he gets captured, or they’ll take his life.”
Mick Peet is also saddened by the YouTube videos, and with a number of fake Malcolm Naden profiles set up on Facebook. He logged onto one of the YouTube videos and commented.
“I couldn’t help myself. I said you better take it down. This bloke’s wanted for murdering two girls, and you’re saying he’s a hero.”
It’s clear Malcolm Naden is no hero. It’s also clear that no one yet knows his full story. But he holds the key to the stories of two Aboriginal mothers who are deeply missed by their families. That’s why the call remains to keep the information lines open.
“We always warn people of their safety, and to not approach any person they might see (and think is Naden)”, Assistant Commissioner York says.
“Obviously when police confronted Naden he shot at one officer and proved he’s dangerous. So we encourage people to ring through as soon as possible if they have any interaction or sightings.”
Tony Scholes has one last piece of advice for people who think Naden is to be admired.
“They say he’s a modern-day Robin Hood or something. Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor,” Mr Scholes said.
“He’s taken people’s lives and not given anything back in return. What we want in return is his answers to why.
“That would satisfy us.”