In the days before advanced DNA technology, it was a lot harder for law enforcement to bring criminals and murderers to justice as they often lacked the evidence to do so. That’s why many cold cases where DNA was preserved running back decades are solved years later.
When Linda Reed went on her lunch break in December 1983, she assumed she would catch a quick sandwich and perhaps a coffee before she headed back to her job. However, Reed was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for that, she paid with her life.
Pacific Fair Shopping Centre
The Pacific Fair Shopping Centre is situated in Broadbeach Waters on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. Until 2006, it was Queensland’s largest shopping mall and was developed in 1977 on swampland. Featuring 96 retail outlets at the time, it has grown to more than 300 stores and was redeveloped in 2014. Reed loved her job as a retail assistant and was known to be friendly and warm to customers and colleagues alike.
Back in 1983, Reed was just 21 years old. She enjoyed her job as a retail assistant at a jewelry store and even had aspirations to become the manager of the store one day. She worked hard, was seldom late for work, and always took her lunch break at around the same time every day. She would often escape the hustle and bustle of the shopping mall and eat a sandwich in her car while she listened to the radio.
While Reed had no enemies that she knew of, she did have some bad luck on that day in December. While the precise details were unclear for decades, what is known is that she was abducted that day and never returned to work. Tragically, Linda Reed would never be seen again, and she was found bound, half-naked and dead near to her Mazda sedan in the nearby Gaven Forest Estate three days after she went missing.
In 1986, three years after her brutal abduction and murder, Craig Andrew McConnell was arrested and charged with the crime but was later acquitted due to insufficient evidence. During his trial, pathologist Tony Ansford testified that Reed had been drowned in the creek where her body was found after being sexually abused. But the police reopened the case in 2009 after receiving a tip-off.
Numerous witnesses contacted Crime Stoppers and claimed they had seen a “baby-faced teenager” in the Pacific Fair Center car park on the day Reed was abducted. And while the case had been under scrutiny for many years, most of the investigations had been carried out outside the public domain. The main development here was DNA that was found in Reed’s car at the time.
It may have happened retroactively, but Australian police surmised that McConnell should never have been arrested or charged with the murder of Reed. Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Knight, who headed up the fresh investigation, spoke to reporters about the case, explaining that the new investigation doesn’t veer into the legal minefield of double jeopardy as it is a fresh investigation in its own right.
As Sgt. Knight explained, according to a report in The Australian: “This is definitely not a double jeopardy or any exercise of double jeopardy legislation. This is a new court process which we will be commencing today.” He added, “During the initial investigation, as you can imagine for the early 80s there was a significant amount of investigation surrounding Linda’s homicide. The gentleman that’s in custody at the moment was not subject of those early investigations.”
Due to numerous tip-offs from Crime Stoppers and elsewhere, the new suspect in the cold case has been known to police for a good few years. “His name did not come up in the earlier investigation. It’s been relatively recent past when it’s come up,” explained Knight. “I’m not talking in the last six months or anything; I’m talking in recent years.” Nevertheless, police found no connection between the alleged killer and Reed before her abduction suggesting it was an opportunistic and random act.
Knight explained that there likely isn’t a cop on the Gold Coast who wasn’t familiar with the tragic case of Linda Reed. “If you talk to any police that have worked on the Gold Coast in the past 30 years they all have knowledge of this investigation,” he said. But Knight also pointed to the fact that it was only thanks to advanced DNA technology that Reed’s killer was eventually brought to justice.
There are a large number of decades-old cold cases which have been revisited thanks to advances in DNA technology. As Sgt. Knight explained: “In the early 80s DNA was not being used. It was simply not available to investigators.” However, “Conventional DNA became available in the mid to late 90s and started becoming important in criminal trials. But since then DNA testing has increased significantly in terms of its capacity and ability to detect and find DNA profiles that perhaps even in the early DNA stages were simply not available.”
Knight went on to explain that advancements in DNA forensic technology are opening many new avenues of investigation for cold cases. “There has been a progressive evolution of technology. I’ve no doubt it will only get better in the future,” he said. “We are looking for these opportunities in a whole range of other unsolved homicides. We hope that that passage of time is no comfort to anybody. If anything the next knock on their door could be from a police officer.”
It may have taken more than three decades, but Queensland police were finally able to locate Reed’s killer and offer some closure to her poor family who has suffered through years of not knowing. When Linda’s husband Robert Reed was told that a man whose DNA was found on the victim at the time, he was emotional but thrilled.
51-Year-old Troy James O’Meara was led into court to be tried for the murder of Linda Reed 35 years ago. He wore a green tracksuit and sported long grey hair and a goatee beard to match. His preliminary hearing lasted only two minutes before O’Meara was remanded in custody pending his trial.
At the time when O’Meary was accused of abducting and murdering Reed, he was just a 17-year-old, baby-faced lad. To date, no one even knows why he did what he did on that December afternoon, nor the circumstances surrounding Reed’s murder. But the DNA evidence is so compelling that it almost guarantees a conviction against this man.
Appeal for Witnesses
For now, cold case detectives in Queensland have appealed for witnesses. They want to hear from anyone who recalls seeing a man behaving suspiciously at that shopping center between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. that day. They also want to hear from people who may have seen the new suspect on Gaven Way, now called the Pacific Highway, to come forward with information.
Reed’s husband was thankful for all the authorities’ hard work. Speaking at a media conference held at Brisbane’s police headquarters, Reed said, “It’s been 35 years since my wife was taken from me, from Nancy and Oscar, her parents, from Philip, her brother,” he said. “We just want to thank the police for never giving up in trying to find Linda’s murderer. We cannot thank the Queensland police enough.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Knight also spoke to the press at the event, saying: “Linda’s abduction and murder is a completely random attack that has had devastating effects, not only on Linda’s family but on the Gold Coast community generally.” He also confirmed that his officers had been backed up by a “broad spectrum of forensic officers who have played a significant role in the advancement of this investigation.”
Sgt. Knight also commended the officers who worked this difficult cold case. “I commend the work of the officers who were involved in this case from the outset and thank the detectives and forensic officers who worked so diligently to bring this case to a resolution.” He also thanked the Reed family for their support and understanding over the years. “We thank the family for their support throughout the investigation, and it is our privilege to bring them the answers they deserve after all this time.”
It’s DNA testing advances, like the ones that were used in this cold case, which help put more and more criminals and murderers behind bars. However, it’s also noteworthy that the determination and persistence of law enforcement is another factor here. There’s also shows like Crime Stoppers that receive hundreds of tips and leads on cold cases.
New advancements in DNA testing means that families like the Reeds can have closure in their lives, even if it comes many years later. For murderers, the long arm of the law has never been so far-reaching as it is today, and even if they do find a way to live with themselves for what they did, they will never stop looking over their shoulder for fear of being caught one day.