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Juanita Joan Nielsen (née Smith; 22 April 1937 – disappeared 4 July 1975) was an Australian newspaper publisher, journalist and activist, and heiress of the Mark Foy family. She was notable for her advocacy against the urban development on heritage Victoria Street, Kings Cross, Sydney, and her support for the Builders Labourers' Federation's Green Bans. Nielsen disappeared in Kings Cross in July 1975. The people responsible for her disappearance have never been identified, and her remains have never been found.
Juanita Joan Smith
22 April 1937
New Lambton, New South Wales, Australia
|Disappeared||4 July 1975 (aged 38)|
Kings Cross, Sydney
|Status||Missing for 46 years, 4 months and 25 days|
|Spouse(s)||Jorgen Fritz Nielsen (1962–1965)|
It is generally believed that Neilsen was killed because of her activism, and there have been strong suspicions of the involvement of organised crime and corrupt police officers. In the early 1980s, two men associated with Kings Cross crime boss Abe Saffron were jailed for conspiracy to kidnap Neilsen based on incidents leading up to her disappearance. A coronial inquest in 1983 determined that Nielsen had been murdered but failed to identify who killed her.
The unsolved mystery has continued to be a concern for the Australian community and has inspired several documentaries and films.
Early life and careerEdit
Juanita Nielsen was born Juanita Joan Smith in New Lambton, New South Wales, to Neil Donovan Smith and Vilma Grace Smith (née Meares) (1905–1978). Her parents separated soon after her birth and she was raised by her maternal grandmother at Killara, Sydney. Her father, Neil, was an English-born heir to the Mark Foy's retail fortune via his parents, John Joseph Smith (1862–1921), who was chairman and managing director of Mark Foy's Ltd, and his wife, Kathleen Sophie Foy (1870–1919). Kathleen was a sister of Mark and Francis Foy.
Nielsen was educated at Ravenswood School for Girls, Gordon. She worked at Mark Foy's as a glove model from 1953 until she travelled overseas in 1959. In 1962, she married a Danish merchant seaman Jorgen Fritz Nielsen at Japan, although the marriage only lasted for around three years. Nielsen returned to Sydney in 1965 and ran a fashion boutique at Mark Foy's for about five years.
In the early 1970s, financed by her father, Neilsen took ownership of an alternative newspaper, NOW, in the Sydney locality of Kings Cross. She published NOW fortnightly from her home at 202 Victoria Street with the assistance of her business partner, David Farrell. Nielsen modelled fashions and hairstyles for the newspaper.
Victoria Street developmentEdit
In the early 1970s, property developer Frank Theeman (1913–1989) planned to construct a A$40 million apartment complex in Kings Cross. Theeman, who had initially made his fortune in lingerie, moved into property development in 1972 after he sold his Osti company to Dunlop for A$3.5 million. Theeman's plan for Kings Cross involved evicting dozens of people from their houses in Victoria Street, an area which the National Trust compared to Montmartre in Paris. Built along a steep sandstone escarpment east of the city centre and lined with rows of large 19th-century terrace houses, Victoria Street had commanding views of the city, the harbour and The Domain. The houses were to be demolished and replaced with three high-rise apartment towers.
The Kings Cross community campaigned against the development, and successfully lobbied the Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF) to impose a green ban on the site in 1972. Supported by the BLF, the residents of Victoria Street refused to leave their houses. Nielsen used NOW to publicise the issue. As a member of the Victoria Street Ratepayers Association, Nielsen also lodged an objection to the development proposal with the local council. BLF leader and prominent Communist Party figure Jack Mundey described Nielsen as an "upper class" person who was initially disapproving of unionism, communism, and squatting, but became more sympathetic.
In July 1973, Kings Cross resident Arthur King was kidnapped by two unidentified men, who put him in the boot of their car. King was driven to a motel outside the city and held for three days before being released near the Venus Room in Kings Cross. King quit as the head of the residents' action group and immediately moved out of the area. Distrustful of police because of recent harassment, he did not tell the truth about his disappearance until 1977. Other residents on Victoria street were regularly harassed by men employed by Theeman as he attempted to have them evicted from their houses. The men were led by Fred Krahe, a former detective with the New South Wales Police. Krahe was reputed to be involved in organised crime, and he was suspected of murdering prostitute Shirley Brifman after she had accused him of corruption.
Kings Cross residents would move into each other's houses so that no house was left unattended. In 1973, when merchant seaman, jazz musician, and Communist activist Mick Fowler returned from a period working at sea, he found that his rented house boarded up. Repossessing his home, Fowler fought and, in 1976, lost a court battle to stay there. The strain of the struggle reputedly led to his early death in 1979 at age 50. Residents who had squatted in the houses were evicted by police on 3 January 1974.
Eventually the green ban was broken in late 1974 when the federal leadership of the BLF, bribed by developers, dismissed the leaders of the New South Wales branch. Nielsen and the residents were left as the only significant opposition to Theeman. Nielsen then convinced the Water Board Union to impose their own green ban. By June 1975, interest charges on money borrowed by Theeman's company were accruing at a rate of $16,800 a week.
Development in WoolloomoolooEdit
In the nearby suburb of Woolloomooloo, in 1975, the NSW and Federal governments reached an agreement with Theeman for the development of the Woolloomooloo basin. Nielsen was a member of the Woolloomooloo Residents Action Group, which was receiving threats in 1975.
The Carousel ClubEdit
The Carousel Club in Kings Cross (called "Les Girls" at other times) was one of a number of bars and nightclubs controlled by Abe Saffron, who was a major figure in Sydney organised crime. The club was managed by James Anderson, who, as a later investigation revealed, owed A$260,000 (about A$1.6 million in 2011 money[update]) to Theeman. According to Saffron's son Alan, Saffron lent large sums of money to several prominent Sydney businessmen including Theeman.
The Carousel had had no dealings with Neilsen previously, but on 13 June 1975 Anderson had initiated contact by sending Nielsen an invitation to attend a press night at the club. She would not normally have been invited because her newspaper, NOW, did not give free publicity to commercial ventures. Nielsen did not attend the event, and Anderson was reported to have been furious. On 29 June, the Carousel's PR man Lloyd Marshall invited Nielsen to a meeting at the Camperdown Travelodge, supposedly to discuss advertising related to landscaping, but her partner David Farrell later recounted that Nielsen became suspicious and refused to attend.
On 30 June, Edward Frederick "Eddie" Trigg and Shayne Martin-Simmonds, both employees at The Carousel, went to Nielsen's house ostensibly to discuss advertising in NOW. It was later revealed that they intended to seize Nielsen when she opened the door, but their plan was foiled when Farrell answered the door instead. The two men played out their cover story, but Nielsen was listening in an adjoining room and after they left complimented Farrell on his handling of the query, teasing him by saying she might send him out on the road to sell advertising in NOW. According to Farrell, Nielsen was by then seriously concerned that her activism was putting her in danger. She mentioned her fears to Farrell about two weeks before her disappearance and she arranged to keep him regularly informed of her whereabouts.
The Carousel's receptionist, Loretta Crawford, stated that Trigg had instructed her to call Nielsen on the night of Thursday 3 July to set up a meeting at the club to discuss the advertising proposal the following morning. Crawford later claimed that she knew that the advertising story was "bullshit", since the club did not advertise in "local rags", and that she was surprised that Nielsen kept the appointment.
On Friday, 4 July 1975, Nielsen went to the Carousel Club in Kings Cross for a meeting with Trigg as had been arranged the previous night. At 10:30am, she telephoned Farrell to tell him that she was running late for the meeting. According to Crawford, when Nielsen arrived she proceeded to the landing on the first floor where Crawford's reception desk was located. Crawford offered her a seat and a cup of coffee, after Nielsen remarked that she had had a "hard night" (i.e. she was hung over), but Nielsen didn't get to drink the coffee because Trigg had arrived for the meeting. Crawford said that she noted that he was on time, which she thought was unusual since he was often late for appointments. Nielsen and Trigg exchanged greetings on the landing and went upstairs to Trigg's office.
In her account given to The Sydney Morning Herald in 2001, Crawford made a new claim: that she then made a phone call to Jim Anderson at his home in Vaucluse, told him that Nielsen had arrived and that he was "quite pleased" by the news. Crawford was adamant that Anderson was at his home in Vaucluse—not in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, as he always claimed. In original statements given to police, Trigg and Crawford claimed that Nielsen then left the club alone, although in 1976 Crawford changed her story to say that Nielsen and Trigg left together. A local real estate agent told police that he saw Nielsen getting into a yellow car outside the club; there were two men in the car.
In late 1977, Trigg, Shayne Martin-Simmonds, and Lloyd Marshall, all one-time employees of the Carousel Club, were charged with conspiring to kidnap Nielsen. When interviewed by police on 6 November 1977, Martin-Simmonds confirmed that the advertising story was a ruse and that their actual intention was to kidnap Nielsen if she was alone and take her to see "people who wanted to talk to her". He said that he and Trigg intended to:
- "... Just grab her arms and stop her calling out, no real rough stuff, no gangster stuff. We thought that just two guys telling her to come would be enough to make her think if she didn't come she might get hurt ... we talked about when she came into the room, one of us would be standing there and the other one would come up behind her and just quietly grab her by the arms and maybe put a hand over her mouth or a pillowslip over the head."
Martin-Simmonds told police he didn't know the identity of the people who wanted to talk to Nielsen.
A trial commenced in 1980. The judge ordered the jury to acquit Marshall as there was no evidence linking him to the plan to use force against Nielsen. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on Trigg and Martin-Simmonds, and a retrial was ordered. In 1981, Martin-Simmonds was retried, convicted, and sentenced to two years jail. The judge questioned him about the identity of the people who had hired him for the kidnapping, but he provided no information.
Trigg had fled to the US on a fake passport and was arrested in San Francisco in 1982. He told police: "They’re making all this noise over a woman who was nothing but an out-and-out Communist. No loss to society at all". Extradited back to Australia, he pleaded guilty and in 1983 was imprisoned for three years.
A coronial inquest with a jury was held in 1983. There were several witnesses. Theeman denied that Nielsen was a threat to his development plans. Saffron said that he had heard the disappearance in the newspapers and hadn't enquired further.
The inquest heard that Anderson had numerous personal and business links with the Theeman family. Anderson agreed he was an obvious suspect, but denied any involvement, directly or indirectly. The counsel assisting the inquest described him as a "stranger to the truth". Anderson blamed Detective Fred Krahe for Nielsen's death.
Counsel for the Nielsen estate said that Trigg and Martin-Simmonds had to be involved in the disappearance, arguing that having two groups plotting against Nielsen at the same time would be a "very, very, unbelievable coincidence".
Neither the coroner nor any counsel appearing at the inquest argued that there was enough evidence to make an case against any known person. The jury determined that Nielsen had died "'on or shortly after 4 July 1975", although there was not enough evidence to show how she died or who killed her. The jury found there was "evidence to show that the police inquiries were inhibited by an atmosphere of corruption, real or imagined, that existed at the time".
Federal parliamentary committeeEdit
In 1994 the Commonwealth Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority criticised police failings and linked the disappearance to property developers and the King Cross criminal underworld. The committee questioned the National Crime Authority's use of Jim Anderson as a protected informer as he was a suspect in the Neilsen disappearance and other criminal activity.
Subsequent media claimsEdit
New Zealand-born transgender woman Marilyn King (also known as Monet King), the former girlfriend of Edward Trigg, told one journalist that Trigg had returned home on 4 July with blood on his clothes. A piece of paper in his pocket also had blood on it. This was supposedly a receipt signed by Nielsen for advertising money paid by Trigg. King said that Trigg threw out the shirt, and the portion of the paper with blood on it. King never gave testimony to the police or the coronial inquiry.
In 2004 ABC-TV's The 7:30 Report broadcast a new interview with Crawford in which she claimed her previous testimony regarding Nielsen was false and had been concocted to protect her former boss, James Anderson, but that Anderson's recent death meant she was now free to reveal the truth. Crawford's new claim was that Nielsen had indeed been killed in the basement of the club in the presence of Trigg and Martin-Simmonds, and that she had seen Nielsen's body on the floor, bearing a single small gunshot wound, and that she saw a third man, whom she did not name, standing over Nielsen's body, holding a pistol.
The obvious motive for Nielsen's murder was her opposition to the Victoria Street development. However, there have also been claims that she was working on an exposé about vice, corruption and illegal gambling in the Cross. Her then boyfriend John Glebe gave evidence that Nielsen had told him about receiving telephone threats and he also testified that she carried cassette tapes in her handbag. According to Glebe, Nielsen had told him that the tapes could "blow the top off" an issue she was working on. An article in The Bulletin in 2005 ran claims by journalist Barry Ward that Nielsen had been given dossiers on "prominent Sydney identities" by private detective Allan Honeysett, and speculated that these documents would reputedly have exposed the principals involved in Sydney's illegal gaming industry.
In 2013 The Australian newspaper reported that, prior to his death, Trigg had written an account of his involvement in the case, which "named names" of those involved and revealed the resting place of Nielsen's remains. NSW police spokesperson confirmed that police had searched Trigg's residence after his death, but they refused to comment on the outcome. The report also said that the account was to be published after his death to provide an inheritance for his descendants.
In 2021, the reward for information about the disappearance of Juanita Nielsen was doubled to $1 million. Her family and the police expressed hope that they might be able to find Neilsen's remains.
In Australian cultureEdit
We researched it pretty thoroughly and we got fairly close to the beast, I think. We were peculiarly warned off by none other a person than John Dowd, who's a judge now, I believe. He rang Tony Buckley and said that this film was a bit close to the bone and - talking about me - he said, "He's got young children and he should be thinking a bit about what he's doing." It didn't put us off, but you did look under the car for about two days afterwards because you thought, hang on a minute, what's all this about... And the nexus between government and big business and crime. They're very comfortable together.
- Morris, Richard. "Nielsen, Juanita Joan (1937–1975)" Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition
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- "Interview with Donald Crombie", Signet, 18 December 1998 Archived 9 December 2012 at archive.today accessed 16 November 2012
- Dow, Steve (21 December 2018). "The lady vanishes: 'The Beehive' at Sydney Festival". The Monthly. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
- McGuinness, P. P. (3 March 2004). "Juanita Nielsen, casualty of ideological war". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- "The Disappearance of Juanita Nielsen". Nine Network – Sunday. Archived from the original on 30 September 2005. Retrieved 3 September 2005.
- "Unsolved". Persons Missing. Retrieved 3 September 2005.