BY AMY MCQUIRE, AUGUST 18, 2011
Originally published in Tracker Magazine.
NEW SOUTH WALES: : Malcolm John Naden has been one of Australia’s most wanted men for six years. He holds the clues to what happened to two Aboriginal mothers in Dubbo in 2005. But despite a $100,000 bounty, police still can’t catch him. And the families of his alleged victims can’t move on. AMY MCQUIRE reports.
LOST IN TIME: Where on Earth is Malcolm Naden?
He’s almost an urban legend, a media myth who has terrorised regional New South Wales for six years.
He’s the man who roamed free amongst the uncaged animals of Dubbo’s Western Plains zoo, prompting a police stakeout followed by headlines that flashed around the world.
He’s the man who so alarmed the community of Bellbrook in Northern NSW that when its lone police officer took holidays, locals reportedly began taking their guns to bed.
He’s the man who lived in a roof at Barrington Tops.
He’s the man who incited a riot in West Kempsey, after he was apparently seen peering through a local’s window.
There are rumours he was dressed in female clothing at Redfern station. Claims have also surfaced that he worked as a public servant in Canberra.
In March this year, rumours surfaced he was seen at the Big W store in Inverell, in Northern NSW. The town has been talking about him ever since.
He is an elusive figure with a $100,000 bounty on his head, and the unenviable title of one Australia’s Most Wanted men.
He is Malcolm John Naden, wanted for one murder and the chief suspect in another.
Malcolm John Naden.
Some of the tales that surround Naden have been substantiated. Most of them have not. They are simply rumours that run as wild as the man himself, stoked by local gossip and fanned by an irresistible urge on the part of media to sensationalise.
Naden has been on the run for more than half a decade now, wanted over the June 22, 2005 murder of Kristy Scholes, a mother of two and the fiancé of his cousin.
He is also wanted for questioning over the disappearance of his first cousin, Lateesha Nolan, a mother of four who vanished about five months before Kristy’s body was discovered.
NSW police say there is no reason to believe Naden is dead. He can still, they believe, provide answers to the fates of two Aboriginal women who left behind six children between them. Why was Kristy’s body discovered in his bedroom? Why did Naden disappear at the same time?
And what happened to Lateesha, whose body has never been found?
It’s these unanswered questions that still haunt the families of Kristy and Lateesha, whose relatives stretch from Dubbo in the central west of the state, to Kempsey in the north, and even beyond the border into central Queensland.
While mums, dads, aunts, uncles and cousins struggle to cope with the loss, the pain of not knowing lingers. And with every new media report about an unsubstantiated sighting, it’s becoming harder and harder for them to separate fact from fiction.
Even now, the facts are hazy.
Margaret Walker is an aunty to both Malcolm and Lateesha, and is the grandmother of Kristy’s two children. She not only mourns the loss of her niece and future daughter-in-law, but also lives every day without knowing what has become of her nephew, a man she describes as quiet and nice, and who she once believed would never hurt a soul.
Margaret’s memories of Naden are inconsistent with his public profile, which pits him as a wild, dangerous man.
“The Malcolm we knew was nice,” says Margaret. “He would never hurt anybody.”
“…He used to read a lot. He used to read the bible and go to bible studies… but he wasn’t the sort who would preach.
“He was just very quiet.”
She says he had a strong connection to his grandparents, and would do anything to help them. He had lived with them since his mid-teens.
“He’d wash up for mum. He’d wipe up, clean the house, hang the clothes on the line. He wasn’t worried about what sort of job it was,” she recalls.
“He’d just do all of that.”
Not only was Naden quiet, but he was also painfully shy. He didn’t have many outside friends, but would hang around his male cousins, often visiting Margaret.
He also loved playing with the children in his extended family.
Contrary to media reports claiming he is an expert bushman, adept at hiding and renowned for his survival skills, Margaret says he never showed any special aptitude in that direction.
This was the Malcolm Naden – a quiet loner, unexceptional – who lived with his grandparents next door to Kristy Scholes, her fiancé Reg Walker and Margaret in 2005, on Bunglegumbie Road, a street in Dubbo’s Gordon Estate.
Lateesha lived with her mother just a couple of blocks away. The street nowadays is quiet, a typical urban housing commission area in a country NSW town. But what happened on that street, six years ago, was anything but.
On the night of January 4, 2005, Lateesha pulled up at the house Naden shared with his grandparents and dropped off two of her children.
Her other two kids were already inside.
She told her grandmother that she would be “back in a sec”, leaving her children, cigarettes and wallet behind.
“When she left, she wasn’t planning on going very long,” Margaret says.
She remembers peering through her window to see the headlights of her niece’s car.
“My other daughter-in-law and I were in the house next door and we heard the horn beep. I looked out the window and said ‘Gee, Lateesha’s picking up the kids late tonight.’”
She believes that there was someone else in that car with Lateesha. “I never went out because I thought she was just beeping the horn for the kids. But she was already inside getting the kids (when the horn beeped). Someone else in the car was beeping the horn.”
Margaret says another witness saw a person in the car with Lateesha.
“Our cousin down the road had her friend out the front, who was a bit drunk. They said ‘Look, there’s Teesh’s car down there’, she said. ‘The lights are on too, go down there and Teesh will give you a lift to town.’”
“We think someone was in that car beeping that horn for Teesh, but they were trying to get away when they saw this girl [approaching]. It’s like they didn’t want anyone to know [they] were in the car.
Just who was in the car, Margaret still doesn’t know.
Lateesha never returned to pick up her children.
It was highly unusual behaviour from a dutiful mother who always let someone know where she was going, and who never left her children for long periods of time.
“We didn’t know that she was missing until Joan (Lateesha’s mother) got a bit worried,” Margaret says.
“We also thought we’d have to wait at least 24 hours to ring the police. But then the police came around and said they found a car.”
Lateesha’s blue Ford Falcon station wagon, NSW license plate number YOU-505, was found the following day, at 5:30 pm, abandoned near the banks of the Macquarie River, which flows through the centre of Dubbo.
Its doors were unlocked and the driver’s side window was wound down. But there were no traces of its owner.
An aerial search was launched, and police scoured nearby bushland. Two police divers crisscrossed the riverbed, but found nothing.
It was an unsolved mystery that began slowly eating away at the family. There were no clues, no sign of foul play, no suspect. What was left were four children, desperately missing their mother.
The disappearance also devastated Lateesha’s father, Mick Peet, who was living in Poona, near Maryborough in Queensland, and was only connected to his daughter through phone calls. When he first heard of Lateesha’s disappearance, he immediately packed his suitcase.
“All I wanted to do was go (to Dubbo). But everyone was holding me back. They kept saying there’s nothing I can do, there’s nothing I can do,” he told Tracker from his new home in Innes Park, near Bundaberg.
“No-one wanted me to go, especially my wife and kids. They didn’t want me to leave.
“But I thought, I’ll see what happens tomorrow.
“I didn’t unpack my suitcase for a month until it started getting all mouldy.”
Mick says that he had spoken to Lateesha a few days before she disappeared. She had been worried about strange phone calls, and had also mentioned Naden’s behaviour.
“She did mention Malcolm was a bit strange, that she was a bit worried for him.
“I knew him about 20 years beforehand. I knew him as a quiet sort of kid that went to work and came home and went to his room.
“… It was really strange from when she went missing to when the information started to flow through about what happened. They found a car down the river… and then from there, the hours seemed to really quickly turn to days, and days really quickly turned to months, and months really quickly turned to years.
“But it still seems like it happened yesterday.”
Mick is glad now that he didn’t make the trip to Dubbo.
“… I think I made the right move. I don’t know what would have happened if I went to Dubbo. I probably would have accused someone else.”
At the time, there was no reason to link Naden in any way to his cousin’s disappearance. But in the five months between Lateesha’s disappearance, and Kristy’s murder, his behavior became increasingly erratic.
He was spending even more time locked in his room, not even surfacing to eat. Food left by his door by his grandparents often went untouched.
Naden would leave the house through his bedroom window, and sometimes bolted his door from the inside. He withdrew from society and covered his windows with blankets.
“Most of the time he was in his room, we wouldn’t see him for days,” Margaret says. “He’d just go out through his window. It was strange, but we never put a thought to it.
“We never thought about him having anything to do with Teesh’s disappearance.
“We had no idea about what happened to her at all.”
Margaret believes Naden’s strange behaviour was due to a warrant that had been served over an “aggravated indecent assault” against a minor, allegedly committed one year earlier, in 2004. NSW Police issued the warrant after Naden failed to appear in court over the incident.
He’s still wanted over the incident today, although it’s unrelated to the cases of Kristy and Lateesha.
“After that, he sort of went to his room, and wouldn’t talk to anyone. He got quieter,” says Margaret. “… I think he was a bit worried about what people would think of him after that.”
Even so, Margaret believes he began slowly returning to his old self.
“After a while, before Kristy went missing, he would come out. He used to mow the lawn for dad and he’d started coming over home again,” Margaret says.
Naden was never formally interviewed over Lateesha’s disappearance. He was never even regarded as a person of interest. And then, six months later, Kristy Scholes was found beside her bed, her lifeless body surrounded by pillows.
On the 21st June that year, Kristy’s daughter Libby, at that time only four-years-old, cut through the window gauze of her grandparents home and escaped outside.
Libby and her brother Johnny, aged three at the time, had been trapped in there for a day, the front doors locked and the back door jammed shut.
“[After she got out] she went next door (to Margaret’s house) looking for her mother first, and then she began looking for (her uncle) Ian (Walker),” Margaret says.
“Ian was there. She told him she was looking for her mother.”
Ian walked next door, entered the house, and found Johnny crying by the fridge.
“They looked everywhere for Kristy, they checked all her friends. They couldn’t find her, never thinking she might be dead. That was the Wednesday and they searched for her all day”.
Later that night, they finally called police.
Kristy, her kids, and fiance Reg Walker had been staying with Naden and Naden’s grandparents while their own house next door was being painted. It was a natural fit – Reg Walker was Naden’s first cousin.
But that particular week, Naden’s grandparents – Jack and Florence Nolan was in Sydney. Jack was having triple bypass heart surgery. Margaret, their daughter, went along as well. And at the same time, Reg had to go to Sydney for a TAFE course.
“I said to Reg, ‘You shouldn’t go away and leave your little kids. But he said to Kristy ‘You’ll be right, Malcolm is here, and Ian is next door. You’ll be right here’,” she says.
The upshot is that by a quirk of fate, Kristy and her kids ended up living alone in the house with Naden.
Margaret’s son Jaime had seen Naden the Monday before Kristy went missing. She says it may have been the last time family members saw him.
“He was having a fight with his girlfriend and Malcolm came out for a cup of tea. Malcolm told him that there was plenty of rooms for him to stay in at the house, because only Kristy was there.”
Jaime declined the offer.
On Thursday, police found Kristy’s body lying in a pile of pillows beside Naden’s bed.
She had been strangled.
Naden was nowhere to be seen.
Margaret claims that the police first treated the death as a suicide.
NSW police refused to confirm or deny the statement, telling Trackerthat after a post mortem examination, it was determined she had died by strangulation.
“We told (the police) it wouldn’t be suicide. Not Kristy,” Margaret says.
“What would she do that for? And then when we got home and found out what room she was in, we said ‘No. No-one went in that room. The door wasn’t even open’.
“She wouldn’t go in that room to suicide. If you were going to suicide, there were other rooms.”
Up in Kempsey, Kristy’s uncle Tony Scholes was shocked and devastated.
“The Scholes family, the Donovan family, the Morris family… we were all stunned,” he told Tracker.
“We were all reeling over this. We’re still trying to come to terms with it. Why it happened to her? How come it happened to our baby?
“She was loved by all her aunties and uncles and her father. It’s sad to think about it… when we laid her to rest she had a great following of people at her funeral.
“It was a sad time then and it is a sad time now.”
The two houses were quickly abandoned. Jack and Florence couldn’t return, and Margaret and her family moved out that same day.
Meanwhile, the search began for Malcolm Naden, wanted for questioning in relation to Kristy’s murder.
Police at the time said it was only logical to now consider him a prime suspect in the disappearance of Lateesha. At a press conference, Ian fronted the media, pleading with Naden to “come forward and let me know if you’re alright”.
Another aunty – Janette Lancaster – took to the internet, sending her personal plea out via the world wide web.
“Malcolm if you read this message or somebody tells you about the message, the family needs to hear from you,” she wrote.
But the story failed to attract any significant national media attention. While murders routinely spark widespread media interest, this story concerned the death of one – at best two – Aboriginal women from a regional community.
It went largely untouched.
That was, until a few days before Christmas, on 22 December that year, when a zoo worker spotted a man resembling Malcolm Naden roaming Dubbo’s Western Plains zoo. The next day, the zoo was shut down and guests were evacuated from the on-site lodge. Police scoured the 300 hectare open range park.
Police found Naden’s fingerprints, and confirmed he had been living alongside the zoo’s 1,000-plus wild animals.
The nation’s media descended on Dubbo, and the fate of two Aboriginal mothers, and a man on the run, became international news. But it wasn’t to last.
Despite the initial interest caused by the closure of the zoo, over the past six years the story has struggled for media coverage. The name Malcolm John Naden is not well known outside New South Wales.
Even then, his identity is shrouded in folklore, spurred on by numerous unsubstantiated sightings and given greater credibility by local media looking for a good yarn.
Naden has been described as an expert bushman, who has been seen near and far, who steals and connives his way into invisibility. He’s been labelled evil, and in 2007, a bounty was placed on his head, one of the first of its kind since the days of Ned Kelly.
Earlier this year, then Police Minister Michael Daley announced a $100,000 bounty, upgraded from the $50,000 posted in 2007. But he warned media against drawing comparisons with the famous bush ranger.
“Police will never give up on finding Naden. They will not stop investigating sightings, they will not put the file on the shelf,” Minister Daley said at the time.
“He is not a Ned Kelly-like folk hero. He is an alleged murderer and child molester – and he should face a jury of his peers.”
While they might choose different words, many of the people affected by Naden’s actions agree. Until he is found, the families of Lateesha and Kristy continue to suffer.
Margaret says she still needs to know for sure what happened to her niece and daughter-in-law.
“We can only imagine what she went through fighting for her life. Because Kristy was found in his room, we say yes, he did it,” she says. “But we don’t know if he was there by himself, or someone else was with him.
“When they catch him, or when he gives himself up, and find out if he really did it, that’s when we will know.
The family has gone looking for Lateesha, and Margaret says they constantly theorise about possible locations.
“We know where Kristy is. We don’t know where Teesh is. We’ve searched just about everywhere.
“We’ve been out to Walgett, to Coonamble, out Narromine way. The family did it ourselves. Went without the police.”
She says Kristy’s children in particular have had a hard time understanding how the man who lived next door – their cousin – could fit the man depicted in newspapers and on television.
“[Kristy’s] kids never spoke about it. They used to say, they wouldn’t believe Malcolm did it.
“They used to say there’s a good Malcolm and a bad Malcolm.
Libby and Johnny don’t speak about the day they lost their mother.
“They never said they saw anything, or heard anything,” Margaret says. They are well-adjusted in school, and doing comparatively okay.
But Lateesha’s kids are struggling, Margaret says.
They don’t know where their mother is.
Up in Queensland, their grandfather, Mick, is still living out of a suitcase, the clothes replaced by newspaper clippings, photos, and keepsakes of his daughter.
It sits in his living room, full to the brim, a constant reminder of his lost daughter.
He says that he always had a feeling something bad would befall his family.
“I just didn’t know what it was. It was a gut feeling that something was going to happen.
“I sat down in my shed one night (a few months before Lateesha disappeared) and I was nearly crying, looking at a photo of my daughter and son.
Now, his life has been consumed by her disappearance.
“I need more information. I’m living in a nightmare. I can’t stop thinking about it, every day and every night before I go to bed.
“I’ve been doing that for six years… if anyone could just sit down and think what it would be like for them if their daughter went missing – and was murdered – then you’ve got a rough idea of what I’m going through.
“It’s a horrible feeling, but you have to be strong for the rest of your family.
“I hope everyday that some news will come, that someone will come forward and let me know what’s happening.
“I need to get some closure… It is breaking my heart, and I’m breaking everybody else’s heart the way I am.”
Mick is constantly on the computer, checking Facebook, checking Google News, searching for any clues that could explain what happened.
When he hears about a Malcolm Naden sighting, he scours social network websites, tracking down locals who might know anything about Naden’s whereabouts.
“It’s the only tool I’ve got. I’ve got nothing else. I go to the media and try and get as much as possible out.
“I just want someone to come up and say ‘Yes, we know where he is’, and at the moment the media is the only thing that can help me do that, through Facebook as well, through my website I’ve got going.” (If you search the phrase ‘Lateesha Nolan’ on Facebook, you’ll find Mick’s page – Ed).
Lateesha’s disappearance, and the lack of closure, is still hurting the Peet family.
“I probably drink too much. I drink to get rid of the pain. I think about it all the time and I know it makes it worse. Unless it happens to you, I don’t think anyone would know.”
And Mick’s constantly seized by regret. He wonders what would have happened if Lateesha had been in Queensland with him, away from Dubbo.
He is seeing a counsellor and admits he’s become overprotective of his children.
“I don’t want to go through it all again. I don’t want anything to happen to them. I have to walk them to the school bus everyday and make sure they get off the bus.
“I’m afraid someone might grab them, or something will happen to them. I’ve always got a feeling it will happen again.”
Further south, Tony Scholes and his family are also hurting. And Tony is angry that this man, who he describes as having “evil eyes” hasn’t been brought before the courts.
He’s even thought about tracking down Naden himself.
“I thought about going out there and looking for him myself, with family. But what are we going to achieve?
“…If we went out there, we’d hurt him before he gets to the station. We become vigilantes….
“We don’t want him killed. We’d like him to be brought in to face the law. And eventually when he gets caught and starts to sing, anyone that’s aiding and abetting him in any way will go down with him.
“We’ll see they are also held accountable.”
Tony firmly believes Naden can’t simply be surviving on his own wits.
“To get from one place to another, from Dubbo to Barrington Tops, it’s a fair hike, and he’s not going to walk that far, somebody has to take him there.
“The fella’s face has been in the paper so many times, people should know what he looks like.
“But unless they have looked at that paper, or see the television reports, they are not going to know that this fella is one of Australia’s most wanted.”
Tony is not overly confident Naden will ever be found, and he’s not convinced all the sightings are genuine.
“[Malcolm] has been seen all over, even as far up as Queensland, as far south as Sydney, even to the west of Alice Springs,” Tony says.
“If he is in all those places, he must be a miracle man; he must know how to walk the wire.
“It seems to me people are making up these sightings.”
In Barrington Tops, for example, an anonymous pig hunter made headlines in October last year after he stumbled across a bush lair.
The Newcastle Herald claimed that the “discovery of the crude, but effective, campsite on top of a rugged hill is more proof that Naden, an expert bushman is living the life of a nomad across vast distances of wilderness between the Barringtons and Kempsey”.
The story, complete with a mug shot of Malcolm Naden against the backdrop of bushland, was never properly confirmed. Police still do not know if there is any truth to the anonymous pig hunter’s claims.
In fact, officer-in-charge of the investigation, Detective Inspector Mark Newham told Tracker in a written statement that police had only confirmed two instances of Malcolm in Barrington Tops.
The pig hunter’s lair was not one of them.
“Evidence has previously been obtained which confirmed Naden had been in the Barrington Tops area,” Det Insp Newham said.
“Confirmation of his presence was established on two separate previous occasions, the first being in May 2007 at Stewarts Brook (Barrington Tops) in relation to a reported break, enter and steal offence. The second incident occurred in November 2008 at Misty Mountains (Barrington Tops) in relation to another break, enter and steal offence.”
There have not been any confirmed sightings since, although that hasn’t stopped media chasing phantoms.
In 2009, media widely reported Naden had stood over a sleeping woman near Bellbrook, west of Kempsey wearing camouflage gear and a mask. The Coffs Coast Advocate was still reporting the story as recently as February this year.
In March, the Wauchope Gazette reported a man matching Naden’s description was sighted near Birdwood, a tiny north coast town. Armed police swooped on the area, and took material in for forensic testing. The Gazette reported Naden had been sighted two years earlier in Wauchope.
Just last month, the Inverell Times dispelled widespread rumours that Naden had been photographed on security cameras at the local Big W store.
Despite the media excitement, police say they act on all information.
“All alleged sightings have been investigated by police,” Det Insp Newham said.
“It has proven difficult to locate and arrest Naden as he generally avoids human contact, possesses significant bush craft and survival skills and does not use mobile telephones, bank accounts or vehicles.”
But this hasn’t slowed the sightings reported in local media. Det Insp Newham told Tracker that while media had generally been helpful, these stories can sometimes be at a detriment to the investigation.
For example, stories about Malcolm being in Kempsey in 2007 caused a riot, despite police claiming there was no absolute evidence he was in the area.
“The publication of unsubstantiated stories alluding to possible sightings, or the whereabouts of Naden, can cause unfounded fear and angst among the local community,” Det Insp Newham said.
But while police have lined up media for their reporting, Mick Peet has lined up the police.
“I’ve been unable to get any information out of them as to where the case is at, and where it is going. For six years I have been trying to get information on what happened to my daughter,” he says.
“Nobody wants to say. I ask so many questions and nobody will give me any answers.
“It makes me sick to think my daughter has gone, another young girl has been murdered and Malcolm is wanted but no one can find him.”
Mick doesn’t believe police are doing enough.
“They need to get the facts out to the public,” he says.
“Where has Naden been seen? Have they got DNA or prints to say where he has been? What’s his last known place?
“There are so many people out there that can’t believe he has not been caught.”
He says that he has heard sightings are not investigated quickly enough.
“I have spoken to people that have made sightings and they say the same thing – the police have sometimes taken days to come and see them.
“This question needs to be answered.”
NSW Police say they’re doing all they can to follow up sightings. But Tony, as well, is clearly frustrated that after six long years, Naden has not been caught.
He says the fact that both victims were Aboriginal may be a possible reason why it has taken so long.
“It amazes me, because if this was a non-Indigenous person, they would have been rounded up by now. They would have been caught,” he says.
“I don’t want to say it as a true statement but I think it’s a possibility. We are Aboriginal people living in a white man’s world. We’re being governed by white rules, and policies and laws.”
Mick also agrees that Aboriginality could play a part in a lack of knowledge about the case in the general community.
But he also acknowledges that there are a large number of missing persons – white and black – throughout Australia, who also don’t draw much media attention.
Margaret agrees that racism has played a small part in the case not being picked up quickly. She points to the fact Kristy’s death was first classed as suicide. But all agree this is a case that should not be divided by race.
It’s the story of two mothers. Six children. Three families. And all of them want the same thing. For information on Naden’s whereabouts to be provided to the police. That people keep their eyes open. That they remain vigilant.
“I can plainly see families sitting around, going about their day to day business, they have their own issues, and their own cares,” says Tony.
“If they were to open their minds up to these issues, this issue with Malcolm Naden, read the news and the stories relating to him, they might be able to understand what this family is feeling and what Lateesha’s family is feeling.
“Come forward. Let the police know, take the information to the police straight away.”
Margaret echoes Tony’s calls for anyone with information to contact police.
“We just would like anyone who has any information about Lateesha or Kristy to come forward. A lot of people must have information; someone’s got to know something.
“So we just ask if anyone’s got any information, little or big, just to let the police know.”
Until then, the truth about what happened to two loved Aboriginal mothers will stay in hiding with Malcolm Naden.
• Help find Malcolm Naden
Malcolm Naden is 177 centimetres tall. When he disappeared, he weighed around 85 kilograms, and had a medium build. He has brown eyes and used to have a shaved head and a goatee.
He is, however, likely to have changed his appearance. Naden is wanted not only for the murders of two Aboriginal mothers, but on charges of child molestation. If you have urgent information about Naden’s whereabouts please phone ‘000’. Otherwise, contact CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000.
All information will be dealt with in the strictest confidence, and you can remain anonymous if you wish. A reward of up to $100,000 is payable to anyone who provides information that leads to Naden’s arrest.