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A Mr Cruel Story — The Unsolved Australian Case

Mr. Cruel australian serial killer
Mr Cruel was certainly an Australian boogeyman

In the streets of Melbourne’s northern and eastern suburbs, during the waning years of the 1980s and the dawn of the 1990s, a phantom predator known as Mr Cruel cast a long shadow of terror. This mysterious figure became the embodiment of nightmarish horror as he preyed upon young girls, leaving a legacy of sorrow and unanswered questions. Mr Cruel’s sinister nickname was born from the print of a Melbourne newspaper headline, a name that would come to symbolize the profound cruelty and calculating malice of an unidentified assailant. His reign of terror, marked by three confirmed assaults and the harrowing abduction and suspected murder of Karmein Chan in 1991, remains a series of cold cases that haunt the corridors of Victoria Police to this day. Despite the passage of time, the specter of Mr Cruel looms large, an ever-present reminder of the fragility of safety and the depths of human malevolence.

In April of 2016, a quarter-century after the tragic loss of Karmein Chan, authorities sought to rekindle the dying embers of the investigation by increasing the reward for information leading to Mr Cruel’s capture and conviction. The sum, a staggering A$1,000,000, underscored the desperate need for closure and justice in a community still reeling from the impact of his crimes. Described by law enforcement as a master of manipulation and deceit, Mr Cruel was no ordinary foe. He orchestrated his attacks with chilling precision, conducting extensive surveillance on his victims and their families, ensuring that each step was shrouded in layers of anonymity and misdirection. Always masked, his presence was an insidious whisper, a soft-spoken specter that moved with deliberate, unhurried intent through the lives of those he targeted.

His methods were methodical and coldly efficient, leaving no trace for investigators to follow, a ghost slipping through the cracks of the criminal justice system. Even in the midst of his vile acts, he displayed a disconcerting normalcy, pausing to partake in the most mundane of human activities—eating a meal in the very homes he desecrated with his presence. Armed with threats of violence, wielding knives and handguns, he instilled paralyzing fear in his victims, a psychological weapon as potent as any physical restraint.

The Horrific Crimes of Mr. Cruel

Over a ten-year span, Mr. Cruel is suspected by police of being behind at least a dozen horrifying crimes on children. His final known victim, Karmein Chan, was kidnapped in April 1991. A year later, her body was discovered.  Investigators assume that he would have spent years committing infractions before moving on to kidnapping, rape, and eventually murder.  These offenses most likely included sitting outside of homes and staring through windows, as well as taking underwear from laundry lines to masturbate over.  Although boys and adult women are among his probable targets, schoolgirls between the ages of 10 and 14 make up the majority. A 14-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her Hampton home in Melbourne’s southern suburbs in 1985 was the victim of one of these alleged attacks. After being bound, muzzled, and blinded, she was driven to an empty construction site and attacked. A few hours after being abducted, the terrified and traumatized teenager was abandoned at the Moorabbin Bowl, which is located near the Nepean Highway.

Police have long established that Mr. Cruel assaulted an 11-year-old girl in 1987, who was the first confirmed victim. About four in the morning, he took out a window pane in her Lower Plenty home’s living room.  Mr. Cruel, donning a mask and bearing a big hunting knife and a tiny pistol, startled the girl’s parents into lying on their stomachs as he skillfully bound their hands and ankles with knots typically used by sailors and other people experienced in securing loads.  After covering their eyes with surgical tape and giving them a gag, he locked them in their bedroom closet. Their six-year-old boy was restrained to his bed, gagged, and blindfolded. Mr. Cruel then focused on the 11-year-old girl, who was the true motivation for his break-in. He spent almost two hours in the residence and showed no signs of haste. He was so cool during the attack that he stopped raping the victim to cook himself some food.  In addition, he searched the house and took a dark blue parka coat with a faux fur collar and a box of classical recordings. The girl later informed law enforcement authorities that the perpetrator had allegedly initiated a phone conversation from the premises, issuing menacing threats of physical harm to another household. She recounted how he cautioned the family to relocate their children immediately to evade potential danger, labeling the individual on the receiving end of the call as “Bozo.” Upon investigation, authorities scrutinized telephone records only to find no evidence of such a communication. This incident epitomized his calculated strategy — employing deceptive tactics to divert law enforcement attention and evade apprehension.

(left) an image of the police sketch of Mr Cruel (right) the missing children poster

(left) an image of the police sketch of Mr Cruel (right) the missing children poster

This pattern persisted in subsequent abductions, with the perpetrator deliberately planting misleading clues. In one instance, he endeavored to fabricate the illusion of accomplices, engaging in audible dialogue with an imaginary entity while his victim remained blindfolded in an adjacent room. However, the victim later informed authorities that she had not heard any responses. In various other assaults, he attempted to suggest motives such as robbery or extortion, all in an effort to mislead investigators into believing that monetary gain was his primary objective. Law enforcement authorities have been reticent to disclose comprehensive details regarding most of the victims targeted by the perpetrator known as “Mr. Cruel,” including the precise timeline of his attacks. However, documented cases confirm his involvement in the abduction and assault of 10-year-old Sharon Wills in 1988, followed by Nicola Lynas, aged 13, in 1990, and Karmein Chan, also 13, in 1991. The revelation of Mr. Cruel’s responsibility for these abductions, coupled with the rape of an 11-year-old in Lower Plenty in 1987, emerged only after Nicola Lynas was discovered—50 harrowing hours subsequent to her abduction. Clad in a blue ski mask and dark blue overalls, Mr. Cruel forcibly entered the Wills’ residence, a modest weatherboard home in Ringwood, around 5:45 am on December 27, 1988. Upon gaining entry, he proceeded to the bedroom occupied by John and Julie Wills, brandishing a firearm and pressing it against Mr. Wills’ temple. In a chilling exchange, he instructed Mrs. Wills to stifle her screams and questioned Mr. Wills about his willingness to act as a hero. Subsequently, he compelled the couple to assume a prone position on their bed, securing them with copper wire before absconding with a meager sum of $35. After severing the telephone connection, Mr. Cruel ventured into the bedroom where Sharon and her siblings—Annette, aged 5, and twins Robyn and Linda, aged 8—lay sleeping. Approaching Sharon, he uttered her name, a detail potentially gleaned from a newspaper article six months prior, which featured the Wills family following a house fire.

Mr. Cruel executed his sinister plan with precision, lifting young Sharon from her bunk, ensnaring her in darkness by blindfolding her and muffling any outcry by forcibly inserting a small object into her mouth, securing it with tape. Pausing only momentarily to collect a few of Sharon’s garments, he departed the premises with his captive cradled under his arm. It was a harrowing 15 minutes before Mr. and Mrs. Wills managed to free themselves from their restraints. With hearts pounding and dread clutching at their souls, they hurried to their daughters’ bedroom, confronting the nightmarish reality every parent dreads. Recalling the frantic moments following Sharon’s disappearance, Mr. Wills recounted to the Herald Sun years later, “When I first discovered Sharon missing, I was gripped by panic.” He immediately sought aid from a neighbor, having realized that the telephone line had been sabotaged. Urgently requesting assistance from the authorities, he embarked on a desperate search through the neighborhood in a desperate attempt to locate his missing daughter.

For the Wills family, the ensuing 18-hour ordeal was excruciating as they grappled with uncertainty and fear. Their anguish finally subsided when Mr. Cruel callously abandoned Sharon near Bayswater High School, six kilometers away from her home. Discovered by a concerned woman standing on a street corner shortly after midnight, Sharon appeared disheveled, clad only in a man’s shirt and wrapped in green garbage bags. Despite the ordeal, Sharon displayed remarkable composure, calmly informing her rescuer, “My name’s Sharon Wills, and I was taken from home early this morning. A man left me here and told me to go and ring home.” Impressed by Sharon’s resilience, the woman remarked, “She was incredibly brave. I was quite taken aback. I had expected her to be more distressed, but she remained composed. I escorted her home, provided her with some comfort, and promptly alerted the authorities.” Thanks to the swift action of the woman and the police, Sharon was swiftly reunited with her anguished parents. Reflecting on the ordeal, Mr. Wills conveyed the indescribable anguish of having a child abducted, juxtaposed with the overwhelming relief of her safe return.

Mr cruel susoect

Mr Cruel bathroom as described

Despite enduring the harrowing ordeal of captivity, Sharon displayed remarkable resilience, promptly providing law enforcement with detailed accounts of her experiences. However, her ability to identify her captor was hindered by the fact that she remained blindfolded throughout the 18-hour ordeal. Sharon recounted to authorities how the perpetrator drove her around before eventually taking her to a residence, where he subjected her to assault. She described him as intermittently gruff, yet predominantly soft-spoken. Amidst the terror, he offered her sustenance—a glass of milk and a Vegemite sandwich, followed by lemonade. One particularly chilling detail Sharon shared was the perpetrator’s method of confinement: encasing her in a large plastic garbage bag, cinched tightly around her shoulders and taped in place, with an additional bag covering her head, save for a small hole for breathing. After callously abandoning her near Bayswater High School, the assailant directed Sharon towards safety, instructing her to head towards a nearby illuminated residence. Left alone in the darkness, Sharon heard the receding sound of his car as she began her uncertain journey. The trauma inflicted upon the Wills family was profound, resulting in weeks of restless nights spent together in the lounge room of their home. In response to the ordeal, Mr. Wills took proactive measures to enhance their security, installing a comprehensive security system and graciously accepting the addition of a golden retriever, providing a sense of protection and comfort amidst their lingering fear and trauma.

Mr. Cruel’s reign of terror continued with the abduction of 13-year-old Nicola Lynas on July 3, 1990, from her family’s residence on the prestigious Monomeath Avenue in Canterbury, one of Melbourne’s most esteemed areas. Previously inhabited by notable figures such as former Victorian premier Sir Rupert Hamer and federal Liberal leader Andrew Peacock, Monomeath Avenue stood as a symbol of affluence and prestige. The tranquility of the Lynas household was shattered when Nicola and her older sister Fiona, aged 15, were abruptly roused from sleep by the masked intruder, Mr. Cruel, who forcibly entered their home around 11:40 pm. Their parents, Brian and Rosemary, were absent, attending a farewell gathering in anticipation of their imminent return to England. While Fiona was bound and confined to her bed, Nicola was coerced into another room, instructed by Mr. Cruel to retrieve her school attire—a Presbyterian Ladies College blazer, tunic, and runners. Armed with both a long knife and a handgun, Mr. Cruel conveyed to Fiona his demand for a ransom of $25,000, assuring her that Nicola’s safety hinged upon their compliance.

Guiding Nicola out of the premises, Mr. Cruel maintained physical proximity, his arm draped over her shoulder, and his whispered threats resonating in her ears. Nicola later recounted to authorities how she deduced his approximate height, roughly 175 centimeters, during their unsettling journey. Utilizing the Lynas family’s Holden Berlina as his getaway vehicle, Mr. Cruel abandoned the car approximately one kilometer away in Chaucer Crescent. Upon returning home roughly 20 minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Lynas were met with a scene of utter devastation—the front door ajar, their vehicle vanished, and Fiona bound on her bed, bearing witness to her sister’s inexplicable disappearance.

In the wake of Nicola’s abduction, Mr. Lynas faced a throng of reporters at a press conference convened a mere 36 hours after the harrowing event. In a display of desperation and anguish, he disclosed that his daughters had been left unattended due to Fiona’s request, who, coincidentally, was on the cusp of her 16th birthday just three days following Nicola’s abduction. Mr. Lynas candidly admitted to acceding to this request, firmly believing in the perceived safety and security of Australia compared to their native England. Reflecting on their time in Australia, Mr. Lynas remarked on the sense of security prevalent in the neighborhood—a stark contrast to the apprehension felt in London. He extolled the freedom afforded to his daughters, particularly on the streets, trams, and public transport, a privilege he and his wife deemed unimaginable in their homeland.

With a heartrending plea, Mr. Lynas implored for Nicola’s safe return, expressing his willingness to engage with the kidnapper to negotiate the $25,000 ransom demand—a sum he was prepared to meet. However, it soon became apparent that Mr. Cruel’s motivations extended beyond mere monetary gain. Contrary to expectations, Mr. Cruel abandoned Nicola the following day, without any further communication or demands for ransom. She was discovered beside an electricity substation in Kew, approximately 5 kilometers from her residence, mere hours before her 14th birthday. Despite the ordeal, Nicola was found fully clothed and wrapped in a blanket, spared from further harm.

Nicola’s ordeal reached a haunting climax as Mr. Cruel escorted her to the designated area, where he briefly walked her around before orchestrating her release. With her eyes still shrouded in darkness by the tape, Nicola complied, assuming a submissive position as Mr. Cruel made his escape. It was only when she dared to remove the blindfold, worn for an agonizing 50 hours, that she realized her captor had vanished. Disoriented and undoubtedly overwhelmed by a flood of emotions, Nicola wandered in a haze for several moments before mustering the courage to approach a residence on Tennyson Street. Summoning her remaining strength, she rang the doorbell, setting into motion the long-awaited moment her father had fervently prayed for—the news of her safe return. In her debrief with law enforcement, Nicola recounted her experience of being masked and bound throughout the ordeal, yet spared from physical violence. Despite the captivity, she acknowledged being provided with sustenance and refreshments. Strikingly, she described her captor as exhibiting an odd blend of affection and camaraderie, even addressing her with the endearment “Missy” during the macabre fantasy games he coerced her into playing.

The sadistic Mr Cruel

Mr Cruel bedroom as described

Nicola’s account shed further light on the night of her abduction, revealing the meticulous planning and execution by Mr. Cruel. Transported in the Lynas family car, she endured a brief interlude of mobility before being transferred to another vehicle, her senses overwhelmed as she was concealed beneath a blanket and thrust under the dashboard during a nerve-wracking journey. The Lynas family, understandably traumatized by the ordeal, departed Australia a mere six days after Nicola’s release, seeking solace and respite from the nightmare that had befallen them.

Months later, Victorian detectives journeyed to London to conduct further interviews with Nicola and Fiona. Their testimonies provided crucial insights, including Nicola’s recollection of low-flying planes—a detail echoed by Sharon Wills—a potential clue linking Mr. Cruel to a residence within the flight path to Tullamarine Airport. While Mr. Cruel refrained from inflicting physical harm on Sharon Wills and Nicola Lynas, the scars left upon their psyche endure as a testament to the lasting trauma inflicted by his depraved actions.

Mr. Cruel’s sinister trajectory took a dark and tragic turn with his final assault, culminating in the tragic death of Karmein Chan. Unlike his previous abductions where his victims were spared physical harm, this time his modus operandi veered towards lethal consequences—a stark departure from his established pattern. The catalyst for this fatal deviation appears to lie in Karmein’s potential glimpse of Mr. Cruel—an unprecedented breach in his meticulously crafted facade of anonymity. With previous victims strictly prohibited from beholding his visage, Mr. Cruel’s reaction to Karmein’s defiance was swift and brutal, leading to a chilling escalation from captor to killer. Phyllis Chan, Karmein’s grieving mother, offered insights into her daughter’s character, portraying her as spirited and defiant—a young girl unwilling to succumb to captivity without a struggle. Speculation arose that Karmein, in a bold act of defiance, may have defiantly ripped off her blindfold, confronting her captor and sealing her tragic fate.

Clad in his customary mask, Mr. Cruel breached the sanctity of the Chan family’s opulent abode on Serpells Road in Templestowe, shattering the tranquility of their home at approximately 8:40 pm on Saturday, April 13, 1991. With Karmein assuming the role of caregiver to her younger sisters, Karly and Karen, her parents John and Phyllis were absent, attending to their duties at one of the family’s acclaimed Chinese restaurants. Investigators surmised that Mr. Cruel meticulously surveilled his targets for weeks prior to the assault, meticulously plotting his strike. Aware of the Chans’ routine, he seized upon the opportunity presented by their absence, exploiting the vulnerability of Karmein and her siblings left unguarded while her parents tended to their bustling restaurant in Eltham.

The tranquility of the Chan household was abruptly shattered during a seemingly innocuous moment as the girls gathered in Karmein’s room to watch television. Interrupted by an ad break, Karmein and Karly ventured to the kitchen, oblivious to the impending horror awaiting them. It was there that they encountered the knife-wielding specter of Mr. Cruel, who, with calculated precision, seized the sisters and forcibly ushered them back into the confines of the bedroom. Unbeknownst to the intruder, Karen, the youngest sibling, cowered behind the door, bearing witness to the terrifying ordeal unfolding before her. Sensing her presence, Mr. Cruel instructed Karen to join her sisters in the cupboard, assuring them with hollow promises of safety—”Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you, I only want your money.” With a vice-like grip on Karmein’s hair, he callously declared his intention to return for them before callously dragging Karmein from the room, her fate sealed in that chilling moment. As Mr. Cruel barricaded the cupboard with a bed, imprisoning Karly and Karen within, they desperately called out to their sister, clad in nothing but a white, short-sleeved nightie and barefoot, as she was forcibly removed from their midst. Tragically, they would never see her alive again.

Mr Cruel remains at large

Police searching for clues in the hunt for Mr Cruel.

The subsequent search, aided by sniffer dogs, traced Karmein’s scent to Church Road, a haunting reminder of the path Mr. Cruel traversed in his sinister mission. In a final, taunting act, Mr. Cruel left his signature mark—a graffiti-covered Toyota Camry belonging to Mrs. Chan, emblazoned with cryptic messages: “More, and more to come” along the driver’s side, and “Pay back, Asian Drug Dealer” adorning the bonnet and front windscreen. This deliberate attempt to divert suspicion towards Mr. Chan, sparking a thorough investigation into his life. However, exhaustive inquiries revealed Mr. Chan’s innocence and exposed the ploy as yet another one of Mr. Cruel’s cunning deceptions, leading investigators back to the chilling reality of Karmein’s abduction and the elusive perpetrator responsible.

This stark deviation spawned a wave of speculation and doubt among law enforcement and the public alike. Was this brutal act the work of the same shadowy figure who had instilled fear across Melbourne’s suburbs? The question lingered, heavy with the implications of either answer. In 2013, Detective Chris O’Connor candidly addressed these doubts in response to a journalist’s inquiry about Mr Cruel’s involvement in Karmein Chan’s murder. His words, “We just don’t know if it was Mr. Cruel who murdered Karmein … we just can’t be sure because there isn’t enough evidence to make a value judgment about whether it was or wasn’t him in the Karmein case,” underscored the perplexing nature of the investigation.

The Investigation into the Mr Cruel Case

The enigma of Mr Cruel presents a narrative filled with meticulously executed crimes, a haunting level of care towards his victims, and a use of technology that suggests a deeply entrenched compulsion. The belief among detectives that Mr. Cruel documented his heinous acts through video recordings or still photographs adds a particularly disturbing dimension to his profile. This inclination towards creating a tangible record of his crimes suggests not only a desire to relive these moments but also points to a deeply rooted pathology. Authorities speculate that if he is still alive, his collection of these dark trophies will remain in his possession, potentially expanding through the acquisition and exchange of child pornography in the dark web, potentially. Mr Cruel’s operational precision was evident in his promise to release one of his victims exactly fifty hours after her abduction, a promise he chillingly fulfilled. This level of calculated planning extended to the care he took in bathing his victims, described by one as reminiscent of “a mother washing a baby”, and his method of dressing them in a second set of clothes taken from their homes before their release. These acts, paradoxically nurturing and violating, underscore the complexity and contradiction at the heart of Mr Cruel’s psyche.

Victims’ accounts provided crucial insights into the possible location of Mr Cruel’s hideout, with details suggesting proximity to Melbourne Airport due to the sound of planes landing. This information, while valuable, paints a picture of a man who took extraordinary measures to evade capture, operating from a place hidden in plain sight. The Spectrum Task Force, established in May 1991, represented a significant law enforcement effort to apprehend Mr Cruel, involving the search of 30,000 homes and the interviewing of 27,000 suspects at a considerable financial cost. Despite these efforts, and the offering of a substantial reward, the task force was ultimately disbanded in 1994 without achieving its objective. This outcome speaks to the elusive nature of Mr Cruel and the limitations faced by even the most dedicated investigative efforts.

Mr Cruel killed Karmien

Nicola Lynas was released after a horrifying ordeal, but Karmein was not so lucky

The saga took another turn with the establishment of the Apollo Task Force in 2010, spurred by new intelligence. However, this too ended in disappointment, as the leads pursued were ultimately deemed not credible. Throughout these investigations, various individuals were considered persons of interest, including Robert Keith Knight. Despite initial suspicions, Knight was ruled out as being Mr Cruel, illustrating the complexities and challenges of criminal profiling and investigative work. The publication of the Sierra Files by the Herald Sun in 2016, with details from the Spectrum Task Force’s dossiers on seven suspects, underscores the ongoing public interest and the desperate quest for closure. The increased reward on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Karmein Chan’s murder highlights both the enduring impact of these crimes on the community and the hope that justice may still be served.

The specter of Mr. Cruel cast a long and chilling shadow over the lives of countless individuals, profoundly impacting the psyche of an entire community. Journalist Leela de Kretser vividly recalls the pervasive atmosphere of fear and apprehension that gripped Melbourne in the aftermath of Karmein Chan’s abduction—a sentiment shared by many who came of age during that tumultuous time. In a poignant reflection on the 10th anniversary of Karmein’s disappearance, Leela eloquently encapsulates the collective trauma experienced by a generation haunted by the elusive figure of Mr. Cruel. As a schoolgirl residing in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs at the time of the abduction, she keenly felt the reverberations of fear and uncertainty that permeated the once-idyllic streets she called home.

The innocence of childhood was abruptly shattered as the community grappled with the grim reality of a predator lurking in their midst. The carefree days of school holidays were eclipsed by an atmosphere of vigilance and apprehension, with parents gripped by an overwhelming sense of protectiveness, reluctant to grant their children the freedom of yesteryears. For Leela and countless others, Mr. Cruel became an ever-present specter, a name whispered in hushed tones, dominating news reports and fueling nightmares. His elusive nature and brazen acts of depravity left an indelible mark on the collective consciousness, forever altering the fabric of daily life in Melbourne.

Despite the tireless efforts of law enforcement, Mr. Cruel remained at large, evading capture despite the extensive manhunt launched by Victoria Police—the largest operation in the history of the crime department. Decades may have passed since the reign of terror perpetrated by Mr. Cruel, but the wounds inflicted upon the community endure, serving as a solemn reminder of the vulnerability of innocence and the lingering specter of evil.

For those with any information regarding the Mr. Cruel case, the plea remains ever-present: contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. In the pursuit of justice and closure, every lead, no matter how small, holds the potential to bring solace to those impacted by his malevolent actions.

RIP Victims.

Next, read about the Story of the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs of Ukraine, and then, the Vikings Who Did Shrooms!

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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