National

Growing up in the shadow of the Claremont serial killings

Growing up in the shadow of the Claremont serial killings
I distinctly remember when I got my first mobile phone. 
It was 1997 and my parents pressed the big brick of a thing in my hand as a parting gift when I moved to Perth to attend university. 
This clunky piece of technology didn't fit in my sparkly gold nightclubbing clutch, and I hated it, but I dutifully lugged it around with me anyway. 
Lawyer Ciara Glennon's body was discovered in bushland weeks after she disappeared. (Supplied)
It wasn't a graduation present, a coming of age gift or even a 'just because' gesture – it had a single, chilling purpose. I was growing up in the shadow of the crimes that became known as the Claremont Serial Killings – a series of murders that terrified a generation of women.  This phone was to be used in an emergency.
Mobile phones weren't what they are now; they certainly weren't a necessity. I didn't even know many people who had one, and even if I had I wouldn't have contemplated calling them, because back then, a 10 second phone call would have cost my weekly wage at my casual bakery job. But even looking through the optimistic, overconfident lens of a 17-year-old, I could see the fear in my parents' eyes as they impressed upon me the importance of having a phone, so that if I needed help, it was there. 
This was during the height of serial killer hysteria. Posters of missing women were everywhere, and you couldn't turn on the news without seeing a development in the case.  My parents had a very real reason to be afraid.
Sarah Spiers, 18, was the first victim of the Claremont serial killer. (AAP)
It's been almost a quarter of a century since the crimes that rocked Perth, when three young women vanished from Claremont's streets over 14 months.  Eighteen-year-old secretary Sarah Spiers in January 1996, Jane Rimmer, a 23-year-old childcare worker five months later, and 27-year-old lawyer Ciara Glennon in March 1997. 
Jane and Ciara's bodies were later discovered in bushland – Sarah's remains have never been found. But together, their names, their faces, are forever etched in a dark chapter in Western Australian history. 
All three young women were in the prime of their lives. They had been out with friends, flitting between the bars that dotted Claremont's entertainment strip, like thousands of others did every weekend.  By day, it was a quaint shopping area lined with boutiques and cafes, and by night, it came alive with the sound of music pumping from Club Bayview and the Continental Hotel.  For professional 20-somethings and university students, leafy Claremont felt safe; a world away from the gritty streets of Northbridge.  
The Claremont, formerly known as The Continental Hotel. (AAP)
But as fears of a serial killer grew, Claremont's entertainment precinct became a ghost-town, a state it would take years to recover from. The police Macro Taskforce was formed to find the killer, and there were a string of high profile suspects.
Perth's taxi industry also fell in the spotlight.  But as the years went by with no arrests, the case appeared to go cold.  The fear that lingered over the city eventually dissolved, but the uneasy feeling was never forgotten.
Jane Rimmer, 23, the second victim of the Claremont serial killer. (AAP)
The arrest of Bradley Robert Edwards in 2016, who was later charged with the murders, thrust the crimes firmly back in the spotlight.  The unassuming Telstra technician and Little Athletics timekeeper had apparently been living a quiet life in Perth's southern suburbs before his arrest.
Bradley Robert Edwards' trial starts on Monday. (Supplied)
Now, just a few days away of Bradley Robert Edwards trial, where the onus will be on prosecutors to prove the 50-year-old is the Claremont Serial Killer, it's almost impossible to overstate how significant this court case is for Western Australia. 
In the 1990s, in the pre-mining boom era, Perth was still a big country town.  Many people know someone who knew one of the victims, and most who grew up during that terrifying time still feel a strong connection to the case that been shrouded in mystery for two decades. 
A court sketch of Bradley Robert Edwards at a final directions hearing ahead of his lengthy trial in October, 2019. (AAP)
I don't know what ended up happening to the clunky mobile phone my parents gave me.  It was permanently sticky with the remnants of spilled Illusions Shaker and I only used it a handful of times before it died and was replaced. 
But now as I contemplate when I should be buying a phone for my own children, I'm reminded what this basic piece of technology represented for 17-year-old me and my parents, in what were truly frightening times. 
When I take my seat in court 72 to report on the first day of the trial, and the facts of the case are laid bare, it won't be easy to listen to.  But at last, many of the questions the public has been asking for more than 20 years – may finally be answered.