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King Parrot Creek Skeleton Women

This post is the final part of my three-part writeup on the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman, who was discovered buried in the banks of a creek in rural Victoria, Australia almost seventy years ago to the day. Despite massive public interest, intensive media coverage, and an enormous police investigation, the woman was never identified and her case gradually slipped into obscurity. However, the wealth of newspaper coverage gives us an amazing level of detail about a case which is so forgotten that there is zero searchable information about it online. My goal with this writeup is to compile and summarise these archival sources about the unidentified woman, in the hopes that her case and story will once again be known.

If you haven’t read Part 1 (available at this link) and Part 2 (available at this link), I would recommend starting with those. Part 1 provides an overview of the discovery of the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman’s remains and the initial investigation into her death. Part 2 surveys the range of evidence which was recovered over the course of the investigation into the unknown woman.

In Part 3 (you are here), we will examine the theories surrounding the woman’s identity and the circumstances of her murder. Firstly, we will review a couple of theories which were quickly dismissed, because this story has some intriguing connections with another sensational true crime story from 1950s Australia. Secondly, we will review the various theories proposed about the woman’s identity and the circumstances of her death, with a focus on how these theories evolved over time as new evidence emerged. Finally, we will conclude this write-up with some conclusions about what we have learnt about the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman, as well as the unresolved questions which cast long shadows over her case.

Summary of Key Information

The remains of an unidentified woman aged between 40 and 50 were found buried in the banks of King Parrot Creek near the small town of Strath Creek, Victoria, Australia on 6 April, 1954. Her skeleton was almost complete except for some missing components of her facial structure and a portion of her breastbone, and part of her skull was found downstream from the rest of her body. Victorian police immediately launched a massive search of the crime scene, recovering some small bones and fragments of the woman’s clothing which were used to reconstruct her outfit. Further investigation revealed a single pellet of #10 shot embedded in the woman’s jaw and numerous other pellets around the site of her body which may have ended up in the soil as she decomposed. Her full scalp of hair was also discovered upstream, tangled in a bush above the height of the creek’s waterline. These clues seemed to indicate that the woman was killed by a gunshot before her body entered the creek further upstream from where she was found. Additionally, her body may have been covered by the accumulation of silt from successive floods, rather than having been buried in a grave which was intentionally excavated at the site.

Dismissed Theories

Before diving into our analysis of theories about who the woman was and how she died, we will discuss two dismissed theories which offer interesting insights into the social climate and policing conventions of 1950s Australia.

Matching to Known Missing Persons

One of the first lines of enquiry pursued by investigators was whether the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman’s remains matched the description of any known missing persons. Early on, the files of 111 women reported missing between 1947 and 1950 were listed as possible matches to the remains. By August of 1954, four months after the skeleton’s discovery, the number of women who were investigated as potential matches exceeded 200.

A noteworthy feature of these efforts is the number of women still listed as missing who were discovered alive during the investigation. Detective Grace Brebner, Victoria’s only female detective at the time, was called in to assist with the tracing of women who had been reported missing. In the first twelve open missing persons cases which police followed up on, six of the missing women had already returned home. By five days after the discovery of the woman’s remains, more than a hundred missing persons casefiles had been dismissed as matches, and more than twenty women who were still listed as missing had been traced. Within a few months Detective Brebner and her team had already traced more than sixty missing women, many of whom still lived in various parts of Victoria despite being long believed dead by their relatives!

However, despite extensive publicity, requests for information by police, and the high rate of closed missing persons cases which stemmed from the investigation, enquiries into known missing persons cases never seemed to go anywhere. Notably, no women from the Broadford area (local to the site of the discovery of the skeleton) had been reported missing, and no locals came forward to make a report even after repeated requests by police. Ultimately, police believed it was ‘more than likely that this woman has never been reported missing’.

These attempts to match the woman’s remains to known missing persons cases highlight how much public attitudes and police procedure regarding missing persons have changed since the 1950s. The fact that many women listed as long-term missing in police records had already returned home indicates a lack of routine follow-up, so perhaps Detective Brebner’s appointment to the case occurred because male detectives considered the task of tracing missing women to be beneath them. Conversely, perhaps Detective Brebner was so successful in her task because women who had intentionally gone missing to escape domestic abuse were more comfortable talking to her.

Phyllis Page

A key reason that the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman’s case first captured the public imagination was that police initially believed her body belonged to Mrs Phyllis Mary Page (reported as Mary Phyllis Page in some sources). Phyllis Page was a woman whose newlywed husband was convicted of her murder in a sensational trial. Her case reportedly made legal history as Australia’s first successful ‘murder without a body’ conviction in which none of the victim’s remains were ever found. To this day, no trace of Mrs Page has ever been detected after she left on her honeymoon in February of 1950.

Phyllis Page was from Blacktown, a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, and was a middle-aged widow when she met Lionel Charles Thomas. Thomas had an extensive criminal history which began in Victoria in 1931: among innumerable other offences, he was tried for other murders on no less than four occasions(!), and once served four years in prison for blinding a man with pepper at Kings Cross, a then-seedy inner-city neighbourhood in Sydney, and robbing him of £650 (approximately $40,000AUD/$26,000USD today). He met and courted Mrs Page under the false name of ‘Fred Stephens’, promising to marry her and ultimately persuading her to transfer possessions worth more than £2000 (nearly $123,000AUD/$80,000USD today).

Phyllis Page and Lionel Thomas set off for their honeymoon from Blacktown on February 2, 1950, travelling in a panel van. They took the coast road until reaching Eden on the south coast of New South Wales, where Thomas is believed to have shot Page on or around February 19, before dumping her body in a flooded creek. Page’s disappearance was soon noted by her children, who were no longer receiving letters from her to update them about her trip.

What followed was a meticulous police investigation which tracked Thomas across several states, piecing together his movements and creating a ‘chain of circumstantial evidence’ which ‘was complete in every detail’. This process was so strenuous that after it ended, one of the lead investigators permanently retired from the police force, burnt out by the stress of the experience. Lionel Thomas was ultimately arrested thousands of kilometres away in Western Australia, shortly before celebrating his planned marriage to another woman! In spite of the absence of Phyllis Page’s body and other physical evidence, he was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to life in prison. He did not serve much of this sentence, dying by suicide in Sydney’s Long Bay Penitentiary in 1951.

Early on, Phyllis Page was considered to be a possible match for the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman. Her key descriptors lined up well: she was about 50 years old, stood at 5ft 3in (160 cm), and had brown hair. She mainly wore tailored clothes of good quality, and wore upper and lower dentures which were made by a Parramatta dentist around 15 years earlier. Melbourne detectives quickly asked their Sydney colleagues for details on what Mrs Page was wearing when last seen, and details of her teeth. While a dental technician who could identify whether the skeleton’s dentures belonged to Mrs Page had died half a decade prior, arrangements were at one point underway for samples of the woman’s clothes to be sent to Sydney for examination by Mrs Page’s daughter, Mrs June Burr.

However, this theory fell out of favour as quickly as it arose, as many things about the potential match clearly did not make sense. For instance, the skeleton was found wearing winter clothing, but Phyllis Page disappeared in summer. There is also a distance of over 600km (370mi) between King Parrot Creek and Eden, and no waterway connects the two locations. Extensive tracing of Thomas’s movements after the murder by police never placed him anywhere near King Parrot Creek, so it’s unclear how or why Mrs Page’s body would have ended up at this location. Setting aside enthusiastic speculation from the media at the time, this connection to another famous Australian true crime story is only an intriguing footnote in the story of the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman.


We will now examine a number of theories which were raised about the woman’s identity and fate over the course of the investigation. Some can be dismissed out of hand, others lack virtually any evidence to confirm or discount them, while others still connect with some of the known facts but are still frustratingly incomplete.


Newspapers originally speculated that the woman’s death might have been an accidental drowning, with her remains being buried on the bend of the creek where she was found by the gradual accumulation of silt. Although this seems unlikely given the shot found in and around the woman’s body, some commenters on Part 2 speculated that this shot may have entered her body postmortem (e.g., due to hunters firing into the rabbit warren above where her body was buried).

If true, this would leave the woman’s cause of death open, but two signs point away from this idea that the shot was introduced to the scene after the woman was buried there. Firstly, if the shot was present due to hunting in the area, why wasn’t there more evidence of this? The search of the soil was performed with amazing care: barrel upon barrel of soil from the site was sieved by hand. Cartridges and caps for shotgun shells were never found in this soil, and even though #10 shot contains approximately 850 pellets per ounce, only 14 pellets were found at the site. Many of the pellets found were also dented as though they had struck a hard object such as bone. These factors indicate that the small number of shot pellets found at the site ended up there because they fell out of the woman’s body during decomposition.

Secondly, a shotgun blast matched the pattern of damage to the woman’s skull which obliterated her upper jawbone. Despite their initial mystification at her cause of death, forensic experts agreed that this injury would have been the result of one or two shotgun blasts. Reading between the lines, it seems like the very small size of the shot was what hindered the identification of gunshot damage, rather than a pattern of injury which did not resemble that caused by a shotgun blast.


Assuming that the woman died as a result of a gunshot wound, was her death attributable to suicide or murder? Given how little we know about her, this question is impossible to answer: we can only attempt to interpret the limited information available to us. With this caveat stated, some contextual factors seem to point against suicide. For example, King Parrot Creek is still relatively remote despite its proximity to Melbourne, and it would have been even more so in the 1950s. Police did not see how the woman could have been a local, given that nobody was reported missing in the area. They also did not believe that she could have travelled to the area to enact a plan of suicide without anyone remembering her arrival: the nearest train stations (Broadford and Kerrisdale) were a considerable distance away from the creek, and there were no reports of any abandoned cars being discovered in the area. As investigators eloquently put it: ‘It is hard to believe that this woman strayed to this spot on her own and died there without her death being questioned’.

Furthermore, how would suicide by gunshot have played out such that the woman’s body ended up in the creek? Unless her body was somehow deposited into the creek from another location by heavy rain, the woman would have needed to shoot herself in such a way that she fell into the creek. This is not impossible but seems like an odd choice – did she shoot herself while sitting on the railing of a bridge, or did she shoot herself on the banks of the creek? If the latter, why wasn’t the gun ever found given that the creek was dredged and searched for miles upstream from where she was discovered

Murdered at the Site

One of the earliest theories about what had happened to the woman was that she was killed during a shooting or fishing trip at the site where she was found. An early lead led to investigators following up on reports of ‘noisy fishing parties’ at the creek during weekends ‘some years ago’. People apparently camped at the site of the woman’s discovery, and the parties they held there were ‘wild’ – indeed, police recovered a large number of empty beer and wine bottles from this area during their investigation of the scene. The landowners were clearly not pleased by these goings-on: four years prior to the woman’s discovery, a fence had been put up along the side of the property about 10 yards (9 metres) from the creek to discourage these people, and since then very few people had camped near the spot where the skeleton was found.

Police initially theorised that during one of these parties, someone picked up one of many heavy rocks nearby and killed the woman with it. This idea may have been based on the pattern of damage to her skull, but it can be discounted if you believe she was murdered by gunshot. More broadly, this theory seems to be invalid because the woman’s scalp was found upstream from the site, and other evidence suggested she had been buried by silt that accumulated over her body rather than being put in a grave which was dug at that spot. Overall, the fact that the woman was discovered at a previously notorious party location seems to be nothing more than a strange coincidence.

Murdered in Melbourne

One theory which is neither supported nor contradicted by the available evidence is that the woman was killed in Melbourne and taken to the King Parrot Creek area for disposal. One article proclaimed that detectives ‘feel sure’ this was the case, but it was rarely mentioned afterwards. There is not much more to say about this idea: although none of the available forensic evidence clearly connects the woman to Melbourne, it doesn’t connect her to anywhere else either!

Murdered Elsewhere Near the Creek

When the woman’s scalp of hair was found upstream from her body, the location of this discovery was only 100 yards (91 metres) downstream from the Kerrisdale Bridge (also called ‘Burston’s Bridge’ in some sources) near Strath Creek. Furthermore, the location of the scalp was only a short distance from a camping ground located just off the Flowerdale Road, which also seems to be where the corsets mentioned in Part 2 were found. (Note: I haven’t been able to pinpoint where the bridge and campground are – Kerrisdale is downstream from where the woman’s skeleton was found, so the ‘Kerrisdale Bridge’ can’t be located within Kerrisdale itself. The campground may possibly be at Moores Road Reserve, which is right next to a bridge, but I have no way of confirming this.) Some of the last available reporting on the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman speculated that she was killed during an argument at the campground near Kerrisdale Bridge. Her body was then thrown into the creek where it was hidden by debris, then heavy winter flooding floated it downstream where it got snagged in the wattle tree and buried by silt.


News reports of the time were replete with vague tidbits and innuendo: for example, one report stated that ‘a woman aged about 30 disappeared from her home in Melbourne in 1952 and has not been seen or heard of since’, while another proclaimed that ‘detectives will question a man whose wife has been missing for several years’. Ultimately, only two rumours were detailed enough to offer a theory about what had actually happened to the woman.

The first of these stories was provided by a truck driver: in late 1951, he gave a man and a woman a lift from Holbrook, New South Wales, to Broadford, Victoria. These towns were located about 300km (186mi) from each other on the Hume Highway, the main route between Sydney and Melbourne; Broadford is the nearest town to the site of the woman’s discovery with a population of over 1,000. This man and woman gave the driver the impression that they had just been released from jail: detectives believed that if the woman had been in jail, she was unlikely to have been reported missing. The woman was wearing clothing similar to that worn by the skeleton woman, but her blouse had an open neck, while the clothing found at King Parrot Creek included a blouse with a high collar. Additionally, it’s unclear how late in the year these events transpired: if it was already summer, it is unlikely that the woman would have been wearing heavier winter clothing.

The second story was provided by a farmer from Broadford, who said he attended a local dance during Easter of 1948 (which occurred over March 26-29 in that year), where he danced with a strange woman who seemed on the point of hysteria. She told him she’d been travelling around in a truck with another woman and two men for 10 days, and during the night the men had killed the other woman and buried her near a creek. This detail matched police’s theories that the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman’s body was buried on the creek banks for a time, causing her to decompose enough that her scalp easily detached when flooding washed her body out of the grave and her hair became tangled in the branches of a shrub overhanging the creek. Conversely, this story does not match the post-mortem interval of 2-3 years which police eventually settled on, and a case could be made either way about whether it was cold enough locally at that time of year to justify the clothing that the woman was found wearing.


More questions than I can do justice to here surround the mystery of the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman, but I’ll try to cover some core ones below. Keen to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Where was the woman from?

I think the woman was not part of the local community, as I can’t see why an entire rural community in 1950s Victoria would band together to keep her identity a secret. It’s most likely that she was from elsewhere and was never reported missing. We also can’t rule out interstate connections: while I don’t think the woman is the same person who received a lift from the truck driver in 1951, the proximity of the creek to the Hume Highway, one of Australia’s most important interstate routes, is notable.

What was the woman’s cause of death?

For the reasons discussed above, I definitely believe that the woman’s death was not the result of an accident, and I am inclined to believe that she did not die by suicide. But if the woman was murdered, was this a premeditated act by her killer? I am inclined to think not: #10 shot, used to kill small birds like quails and pest animals like rabbits, does not seem like an ideal first choice for killing a human. If this was a crime, it appears to have been committed with whatever the killer had on hand, possibly pointing to someone on a shooting holiday or a country resident as the perpetrator.

Where did the woman die?

One of the big problems with solving this case is that the woman could have died anywhere and been disposed of in creek – there was little hope of finding the murder site or weapon when the investigation begun, and that hope is virtually non-existent now. Although Melbourne was proposed as a possible murder site, as discussed above it is impossible to evaluate this idea using the available evidence. However, the idea that she was killed a popular campsite near a bridge is more intriguing. Even if the sound of gunshots was normal in the area due to hunting, surely the leadup to a murder by gunshot would have been noticed at a popular and busy campsite?

How did the woman enter the creek?

If we dismiss the idea that the woman was intentionally buried at the site where she was found, we must assume that she was washed down the creek. However, the fact that the woman’s scalp detached from her head in one piece when her hair became entangled in overhanging branches indicates a considerable level of decomposition. Was her body dumped in the creek while it was flooded, resulting in her hair getting tangled? This could have trapped her body and placed considerable tension on the scalp, causing it to detach. Or (as one investigator suggested) was the woman originally buried in the banks of the creek upstream, with the decomposition process beginning during burial? Her body may have subsequently been washed out of its grave during flooding, which transported it down the creek to the place where the scalp detached. As discussed below, these different accounts have implications for determining when the woman died.

When did the woman die?

We know that the woman likely died during winter from her heavy clothing, but reviewing the evidence with more modern forensic techniques might allow us to triangulate a more accurate window of time. For example, we know that the woman’s death would most likely have occurred around the time of heavy rains and flooding, as her scalp was found tangled in bushes well above high water level. Additionally, the earliest newspaper clippings show that the woman was buried in the creek bank 10 feet (3 metres) above the height of water level. Identifying how long it would have taken for the woman’s scalp to detach under the different scenarios proposed above might give more accurate insight into when she died. On this note, would the riverside campsite even be accessible if the woman was murdered during a time when the creek was in flood?

What do the available clues tell us about the woman?

The woman’s clothing offers some clues about her identity. Firstly, her clothes were relatively plain and conservative: it’s hard to picture her going to ‘wild parties’ on the banks of the creek. There are also conflicting signs about her economic standing: her shoes were reported to be of very good quality, but her dentures were made using outdated techniques and cheap materials. Maybe the most intriguing object she was found with is her khaki jacket, variously described as being a ‘lumber’, ‘service’ or ‘army’ jacket. If this was indeed an army jacket, could it indicate that the woman had a service record during World War II? Volunteers for both the Women’s Australian National Service (WANS) and its successor, the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS), were issued with khaki jackets as part of their uniforms (see examples at this link). Alternatively, could the woman have acquired the jacket from a returned serviceman?

One other mystery relates to the woman’s dentures. Why were her bottom dentures undamaged despite an apparent facial shooting, while her top ones were missing completely? There has been speculation that she carried her bottom dentures in her coat pocket, and her top dentures may have been in the handbag which was found by a Seymour woman but apparently never recovered. If there is one clue I would love to know more about in this case, it’s what became of this handbag – if its ‘private papers’ identified its owner, it could have been the key to this whole mystery!

Is it even possible to identify this woman anymore?

There are two aspects to this question: firstly, does anyone alive remember her? It is amazing how things like vanished family members survive for several generations in families’ oral histories, but time is running out – anyone who remembers her directly would be getting old. It is an unlikely outcome, but historical missing persons reports have started to trickle in across Australia, with some cases even being solved. Secondly, is the location of the woman’s remains known, and have they been stored in favourable conditions for genetic genealogy? There must be some record of this woman which just stops without explanation or a death certificate.


My personal belief is that the woman was murdered somewhere in the region of where her body was discovered. Possibly she was on a hunting holiday from elsewhere with her husband or other acquaintance(s), and was shot following a dispute in the heat of the moment. Her body was then disposed of over a bridge upstream, or perhaps along the banks of the creek; possibly this disposal occurred while the creek was in flood. Swept away by floodwaters, her hair was then snagged in overhanging branches and her scalp detached, and her body was deposited on the creek bank where it was buried by silt. Finally, her body was revealed to Alf Sutter by further flooding which dislodged the wattle tree against which it had rested under the silt. I do want to acknowledge that the plausibility of this theory hinges on whether you think the woman died by gunshot wound – if she died by other means and the shot ended up in and around her body post-mortem, a much wider range of possibilities about her death are on the table.

However, debate about causes of death doesn’t diminish the core intrigue of the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman’s mystery. How did her body come to by buried deep in this lonely, isolated creek bank, found only because of a farmhand’s chance decision to take a tea break? Will we ever learn who she is, and is the present location of her remains even known for an attempt at genetic genealogy? I hope that making information about her case available in a public forum will bring awareness to her story: even if she cannot be identified, at least she will not be forgotten.

Note: I was hoping to release this final part on 4 April, which was the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the King Parrot Creek Skeleton Woman, but life got in the way! Thank you for reading this write-up, and a special shoutout to the people who left such supportive and interesting comments on the previous parts. I really enjoyed sharing my research with the community, and have had a few messages with requests to cover other cases which I might look into now that this write-up is complete.

About Fehmeeda Farid Khan

A freelancer, blogger, content writer, translator, tour consultant, proofreader, environmentalist, social mobilizer, poetess and novelist. As a physically challenged person, she extends advocacy on disability related issues. She's masters in Economics and Linguistics along with B.Ed.

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