In the 1940’s in Sydney Australia the director of NSW Conservatorium of Music lobbied against the government to have a large venue suitable for theatrical and musical productions to be built in the city. By 1954 support was gained and it was confirmed an Opera House was to be built. Shortly after an international design competition was held and over 233 entries were submitted by architects and designers alike. In 1957 Jorn Utzon was named as the winner and the construction of the building began just 2 years later. By the year 1960 the cost of the construction was proving to exceed original budgets. In order to raise money the NSW government created numerous ‘Opera House Lotteries’ in which people would purchase a ticket and if their unique ticket number was called they received a total of $100,000 in price money which today would be worth $2.9 million.
The Thorne family was an average Australian family consisting of father Bazil, mother Freda, and three children Cheryl, Graeme and Belinda. They rented a home in Bondi in the eastern suburbs. On the 1st July 1960 to his surprise and delight Bazil Thorne’s lottery ticket number was called and he found out he won the Opera House lottery. He was due to receive his $100,000 winnings on the 7th July. Being so topical in the community Bazil’s photo and personal details were plastered all over the front page of newspapers around the city and many knew of the Thorne’s lucky win. Back in those days there was no privacy in lottery and jackpot winners and photos as well as personal details were regularly published to the public.
Although they were due to receive their winnings that day the 7th of July was an average ordinary day for the family. 8 year old Graeme started his day like any other as he got ready for school. He left the house at 8:30am and walked up the road to his usual meeting spot to meet with neighbour and family friend Phyllis Smith who would usually pick him up and drive him and her two sons who attended the same school. That morning Phyllis arrived at the meeting spot at 8:40am but Graeme was nowhere to be seen. Thinking he was still at home she drove to the Thorne house where mother Freda told her he’d already left but could have been picked up by someone else or simply walked to school on his own. Phyllis decided to drive her sons to school and would check and see if Graeme was already there however when she got to the school she quickly found out that Graeme had never arrived. She immediately contacted Freda who was extremely worried and instantly called the police to report her son missing.
Just over an hour after Graeme left for school a phone call was made to the Thorne residence. The voice was described as having a thick foreign accent. Police Sergeant Larry O’Shea was already at the house to investigate the missing child so he took the phone call and pretended to be Graeme’s father Bazil. The perpetrator stated, “I have your boy. I want $25,000 before 5 o’clock this afternoon. I’m not fooling. If I don’t get the money before 5 o’clock, I’ll feed the boy to the sharks.” After a brief discussion of the sum of money the kidnapper said he would call back again at 5pm and then hung up. At 9:47pm that day he phoned for a second time. The call was answered by another member of police who also pretended to be Bazil Thorne. The officer tried to stall the man and stretch out the details of the delivery of the money so they could trace the call however the man stated that he wanted the money in two paper bags but then suddenly hung up the phone without giving any further instructions. The phone call was not long enough to be able to determine where the call came from.
During the first day of the kidnapping police had begun a search in the areas surrounding the family home. The same night the police and Bazil both made an appeal on public TV pleading for any news and the safe return of the little boy. In the following days Graeme’s school case and cap were both found near Seaforth, over the north side of The Harbour Bridge roughly a 45 minute drive away. After the discovery a $5,000 reward was offered for any information resulting in finding the little boy. Local newspapers also contributed a further $15,000 to the reward which led to a number of hoax calls trying to obtain the large sum of money which led to tampering the investigation.
Through investigating the kidnapping police had discovered a mysterious person of interest in the case. Leading up to the kidnapping a strange foreign man had been seen numerous times in the park opposite the Thorne’s home. The week prior they also received a call from a man with a foreign accent asking to speak to Mr Bognor and asked Freda to confirm their phone number which at the time was unlisted. Also on the morning of the kidnapping witnesses saw a blue 1955 Ford Customline double parked on the street near Graeme’s usual meeting spot for school pick up. Through registration records police confirmed there were approximately 5,000 vehicles that matched this description. During the investigation they interviewed numerous vehicle owners matching the description at the scene. Little did they know that one of the vehicle owner’s they interviewed was in fact Graeme’s kidnapper.
On the 16th August almost 6 weeks after the kidnapping a body was discovered by two children in Seaforth just 1.5km away from where Graeme’s belongings were found. Bazil Thorne was called in to identify the body and it was quickly confirmed to be Graeme Thorne. The body was wrapped in a blanket, had been gagged with a scarf and string tied around him. The body showed signs of asphyxiation and his skull was fractured. It couldn’t be determined which of the two injuries ultimately resulted in the boys death. He was found still wearing his school uniform and it is believed that he died shortly after the kidnapping. Samples taken from the body and the blanket showed soil and small fragments of pink limestone which led the police to believe the boy’s body had been stored underneath a house. There were also traces of two specific tree types that weren’t present in the area the body was placed.
The police were on the lookout for a house with pink mortar, a blue car, two certain types of trees nearby and most likely to be local to the Seaforth and surrounding areas. After a tip from a postman came in to the police they visited a house located at 28 Moore Street in Clontarf which was 1.5km away from the site of the body. Once visiting the premises the police found that it indeed had the two specific trees in the yard as well as pink limestone in the foundation. They also found the residence was previously occupied by Hungarian immigrant Stephen Bradley who they had interviewed for owning a w1955 blue Ford Customline. They discovered Bradley and his wife had quickly vacated the property on the 7th July the same day as the kipnapping. They moved to a residence in Manly also on the northern side of Sydney. Shockingly they then discovered that on the 26th September the couple boarded the vessel SS Himalaya in a bid to move to London.
Two Sydney police officers made the trip to Colombo in Ceylon where the boat was schedule to make a stop. After 5 weeks of legal disputes the policeman finally were able to extradite Bradley back into Australia. The day after his arrival he signed a written confession in regards to the kidnapping. “I went out and watched the Thorne boy leaving the house and seen him for about three mornings and I have seen where he went. And one morning I have followed him to the school at Bellevue Hill. One or two mornings I have seen a womman[sic] pick him up, and take him to the school. On the day we moved from Clontarf I went out to Edward Street. I parked the car in a street I don’t know the name of the street it is off Wellington Street. I have got out from the car, and I waited on the cornor[sic], untill[sic] the boy walked down to the car.”
Following his confession it was a shock when Bradley recanted his statements and court and pleaded not guilty to the murder of 8 year old Graeme Thorne. However he did in fact admit to kidnapping the boy for ransom. In his timeline of events he described kidnapping the boy and placing him in the boot of the car tied up and wrapped in a blanket. He stated he left him in the car all day while he made his first ransom call however at around 3pm on the day of the kidnapping he checked on the boy and found he was unresponsive and that he may have suffocated in the car. Due to being unable to determine the boy’s cause of death this theory was highly disputed in the courtroom. After a 9 day trial Stephen Bradley was sentenced to hard labour servitude for life. He was sent to the notorious Goulburn Gaol which would later house some of Australia’s most notorious criminals. In 1968 at the age of 42 Stephen Bradley died of a heart attack in jail. Following the high profile case lottery procedures were changed Australia wide. Ever since winners have been given the option to remain anonymous and withhold their details from the general public.