In the early morning of February 7th, 1986, a man was walking his dog in Centennial Park in Sydney, Australia. He looked over the calm pond and noticed something strange. He saw what looked like a body floating in the water and called the police. The police soon arrived and rowed out to the body to drag it out of the water. To their shock, they recognized her immediately as Sallie-Anne Huckstepp (31).
Sallie-Anne was born in December 1954 and went to school in Sydney. She got married at 17 to Bryan Huckstepp. Bryan was addicted to heroin and asked Sallie-Anne to do sexwork to pay for heroin. Eventually, Sallie-Anne developed a heroin addiction too. In 1981, she met Warren Lanfranchi, a heroin dealer who worked with Arthur ‘Neddy’ Smith. Smith was a self-confessed drug-dealer and robber, who led a gang of other criminals.
Later in 1981, Lanfranchi robbed another heroin dealer and in this process fired shots at a police officer. What Lanfranchi did not know, is that this heroin dealer was under police protection. When he and Sallie-Anne realised this fact, they feared for their lives. Lanfranchi asked Neddy Smith to make a deal with the involved police officer to get him cleared of the shooting and robbery. Neddy Smith complied and made a deal for the officer and Lanfranchi to meet. Lanfranchi went to this meeting and was shot twice by the police officer, killing him instantly.
The police officer in question, Roger Rogerson, claimed self-defence as, according to Rogerson, Lanfranchi had tried to shoot him. Rogerson was commended for his bravery in this situation. Rogerson had joined the police in 1958 and had a good reputation. He was even named as possibly being on the list for the next police commisioner. In November 1981 a police inquest concluded that Rogerson had acted in the line of duty in attempting to arrest Lanfranci and killing him when he saw the gun. However, they did not believe his claim that he shot him in self-defence. Why?
Two nearby residents had heard the shooting and testified. Rogerson claimed he had shot Lanfranchi twice, in quick succession. But… Mary McElhone and Jane Healy had both heard that there was a longer time between the first shot and the second shot. The second shot was the one that killed Lanfranci, as it was a shot to the head. Jane testified: ‘It was the first time I realised police could lie. He lied. I know he lied‘. This was the first time the public saw cracks in Rogerson’s carefully crafted professional image.
Sallie-Anne, then 26 years old, was waiting for Lanfranchi to return home from the meeting. When he did not, she already knew what had happened. Two weeks later, she went to the police headquarters with her father and a lawyer. She claimed that Rogerson had killed Lanfranchi and had stolen the money that he had brought to settle their involvement in the robbery and shooting (10,000 Aus dollars). Sallie-Anne also told them that Lanfranchi left the house unarmed as he left his gun at home. As a sexworker and heroin addict, Sallie-Anne had been aware for years that the police were firmly involved in the criminal world and that Rogerson was the one at the top. Sallie-Anne also told the police that she had been paying the police to not arrest her during her time as a sexworker. Her statement reads: ‘While operating as a prostitute, I made regular payments to members of the vice squad over 10 years. I have been involved in a number of transactions which I referred to in my statement which have involved substantial payment to members of the drug squad and other detectives relating to drug matters. I believe that the New South Wales Drug Squad and the Armed Hold-Up Squad are both totally corrupt and that they feed on the very activities which they are supposed to stop‘.
Sallie-Anne did not leave it at a statement to the police, she went to the media. She famously gave an interview to Ray Martin on the Australian tv-programme 60 Minutes, coming across as an honest and engaging woman. She said to Ray Martin about waiting for Lanfranchi: ‘I kissed him at the door and asked him what time he thought he’d be back. He said if he wasn’t home by 6 o’clock, I would know he’d been killed.‘ Sallie-Anne knew her life would be in danger after this interview. When asked about her reasons to tell her story, she quietly spoke: ‘When the police become judge, jury and executioner, then somebody has to speak. Somebody has to come forward. Somebody has to start somewhere and stop it. Everybody is entitled to justice‘.
After the 60 minutes interview, Sallie-Anne became an author and worked briefly as a journalist. Unfortunately, public interest faded and Sallie-Anne dissapeared out of the public eye. She also started using heroin again. It seems that Sallie-Anne knew her time was up. She had asked her estranged husband in a letter if he would take care of their daughter if ‘things went wrong‘. Sallie-Anne was dating David Kelleher at that time (1985), he was also a drugdealer. He was then arrested for importing heroin. Follwing his arrest, Sallie-Anne started a relationship with a police officer, Peter Parker Smith. Kelleher later claimed that Sallie-Anne told him she was using Peter Parker Smith to get information that would be useful at Kelleher’s trial.
On the evening of the 6th of February 1986, five years after the murder of Lanfranchi, Sallie-Anne received a call. She then quickly left the house, telling her roommate she would be back in 10 minutes. She did not come back. Her body was found the next morning and it was concluded she had been strangled and drowned.
Neddy Smith was the prime suspect in the murder of Sallie-Anne. The police could not find evidence linking him to the murder. Rogerson had an alibi, he was drinking at a club with a police prosecutor, but the police believed that he had ordered the murder of Sallie-Anne. They just could not prove it… Rogerson reacted on television to Sallie-Anne’s murder with:’I was shocked when I learned that Sallie-Anne Huckstepp had been murdered here in Centennial Park. I think that’s because she was a very attractive and a good-looking, little bird, but she got a lot of sympathy from different people, including members of the media and the public, but she really was just a typical, common prostitute‘.
The case went cold, until, years later, Neddy Smith was in prison for the murder of tow truck driver Ronnie Flavell and the shooting of Harvey Jones, an brothel owner. Smith confessed to a cell mate to strangeling and drowning Sallie-Anne. Smith claimed that he strangled Sallie-Anne for 6 minutes and then stood on her back to make sure she drowned. He also said strangling someone is ‘the hardest thing in the world…but the most satisfying thing I ever did in my life‘. His statements were recorded on police tapes, because his cell was bugged and his cell mate instructed to chat to him. DNA-testing was done on the body of Sallie-Anne and material found under her fingernails was sent for testing.
Smith was tried for the murder of Sallie-Anne. He pleaded not guilty and claimed that he was celebrating his wedding anniversary the night she had been murdered. No evidence revealing the identity of the murderer was found at the crime scene. The DNA found under Sallie-Anne’s fingernails could belong to 3% of the population, including Smith. Smith claimed that he knew he was being recorded in his cell, and that he claimed that he killed her to generate publicity for the book that was being written about him, called Catch and Kill Your Own. Constable Peter Smith, that was having a relationship with Sallie-Anne at the time of her death, testified that she had said that she was scared that Neddy Smith and Rogerson would try to kill her. Neddy Smith was acquitted of Sallie-Anne’s murder in 1999. He later claimed in a interview with a journalist that Sallie-Anne had been murdered on the orders of Rogerson, because she kept ‘bugging him’. He also said that the man responsible for the murder had never been arrested and is not in jail.
Neddy Smith turned into a police informer when he was convicted to life in prison. He testified at the Independent Commission Against Corruption about corrupt police officers that helped him carry out robberies. However, he did not name Roger Rogerson.
Suprisingly, Rogerson was only fired from the police force 2 months AFTER the death of Sallie-Anne for police misconduct, including improper association with criminals. He denied that he had anything to do with Sallie-Anne’s murder. In 1995, a Royal Commission investigated police corruption and named Rogerson as one of the central corrupt officers. Rogerson was not convicted of any charge until 1999, earning him the very fitting nickname ‘Roger the Dodger‘. He was convicted of perverting the course of justice and lying to police commissions. In 2016, Rogerson was convicted to life in prison for the murder of another drug dealer, Jamie Gao. He lost his appeal in 2021 and is now still in prison.
Neddy Smith is also still in prison and was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease. In the Daily Telegraph, former NSW Police Assistant Commissioner John Laycock describes him as a ‘broken-down old man‘.
And so, finally, all the claims made by Sallie-Anne were offcially declared to be the full truth. No one has ever been convicted of her murder. Sacha Huckstepp, Sallie-Anne’s daughter who was 12 at the time of her murder, is an actress and a succefull casting agent in Sydney.
Did you know about this story and the bravery of Sallie-Anne?