The crime that shocked our nation 1

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Over the years since white settlement, there have been some especially heinous crimes, but the abduction and murder of Graeme Thorne maintains a special place in Australian legal history.

I read Kidnapped by Mark Tedeschi over a couple of nights. Yes, the very same Mark Tedeschi, AM, QC, LLB, MA, who is NSW Senior Crown Prosecutor, law professor, photographer and, now, author. His is a factual account of a sickening tale of greed and personal ambition, one that reads better than many a fictional crime-thriller.

The older among us will likely recall where they were and what they were doing at the time, such was the impact of the crime. It was then, and remains now, the only case of child kidnap for financial reward. I was 20 in 1960 and recall my initial disbelief at a crime of this character, ear to the radio, hoping against hope in the early days for a good outcome, that the eight-year-old might be returned safely to the heart of his family. It was not to be.

KidnappedBazil and Freda Thorne were a ‘normal’ Sydney family with three children, a car, a home, a mortgage and great pride in the family unit. Bazil worked – he and his father were sales people who travelled the state – and Freda, as was pretty much the norm at the time, maintained the home. Post-World War II income for travelling salesmen had reduced from what was the case pre-war, so the Thornes had to budget with care to make ends meet.

In July 1960, Bazil won £100,000 in the Sydney Opera House Lottery and was photographed holding the winning ticket; the photo and the Thorne family address were published the following day. Sadly, it was to change their life for all time. As Tedeschi writes:

“Stephen Bradley stared with disdain at the photograph … Bazil Thorne holding his winning lottery ticket … What had Bazil Thorne done to warrant a windfall that would ensure his financial security and comfort…?” To his way of thinking, Thorne had never suffered the indignity of Nazi occupation of his (Bradley’s) native Hungary, “…the political turmoil, disempowerment and poverty of post-war communism and Soviet domination…”

Thus did Stephen Leslie Bradley – who’d changed his name by deed poll from Istvan Baranyay – begin to scheme. He set out to perpetrate a crime that would shatter not only the targeted family but his own, and change Australian law.

Despite its tragic circumstances, there is much to like about Kidnapped.  The case and its outcome have been well publicised over the years but Tedeschi plays a major role in putting everything in order. The book defines Bradley’s narcissistic personality and “… his callous disregard, his reckless indifference to human life.” There were serious flaws in the police investigation, some due to the unique nature of the crime and others procedural. Overall, though, the police did a good job, proven by the ultimate arrest and conviction of the culprit.

One part of the book is especially poignant. At first, the Thornes tried to let their three-year-old daughter Belinda think her brother might one day return home. When, finally, they admitted to her this might not be, she responded, “Has he gone to be with Jesus? Didn’t he want to live with us? Can he come back one day? Is he sad? Are you sad? Am I sad?” Gut-wrenching.

Kidnapped by Mark Tedeschi is available now from Dymocks

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John Reid

  1. I remember it like it was yesterday – it was terrifying for me as a 14 yr old girl. Eventually I became friends in later years when I was a mother, with a girl whose husband worked with Bradley. I can’t say for sure, but after this terrible, heinous crime happened, was when “NFP” Not for publication was included on all lottery ticket applications.

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