Now NSW Police is offering a $1 million reward for information, and the journalists’ union – the MEAA – has joined their call to finally solve one of Sydney’s most perplexing and enduring mysteries.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the suspected murder of Nielsen in 1975 serves as a historical reminder of the dangers journalists face in their line of work.
“This is a terrible example of impunity that surrounds the murder of Australia’s journalists,” Adam Portelli, the MEAA Media Director, told Central News.
Her case has long been treated as a homicide, one that has perplexed Sydney for over four decades
“Juanita was a fierce campaigner for her local community and the violence that took place to silence her public interest journalism should have been met with a vigorous and thorough investigation.”
As well as an independent journalist, the 38-year-old was a glamorous public figure, anti-development campaigner, and heiress to the Foy family department store fortune who was last seen entering the Carousel Club in Kings Cross on July 4, 1975.
Though her body was never discovered, her case has long been treated as a homicide, one that has perplexed Sydney for over four decades.
Most of the key figures in the Nielsen case are now dead, making a conviction look even more unlikely as the years slip away. However, NSW Police is determined that despite the passage of time, this cold case remains under investigation.
“We acknowledge that this matter occurred more than four decades ago and that there is very limited opportunity for police to gather further forensic evidence and witness statements,” Homicide Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Doherty said on Monday, as the reward was announced.
“However, it is our hope that someone in the community may have information about Juanita’s disappearance, or the location of her remains.”
What happend to Juanita Nielsen?
Born into the affluent Sydney Foy family – founders of the Mark Foy’s Department Store – Juanita was vivacious, bold and precocious.
Founding her own alternative newspaper, NOW, from her terrace house in Potts Point, Nielsen used her influence to fervently protest a $60 million high-rise development project on her street proposed by businessman Frank Theeman.
She marshalled support from local tenants as she spearheaded the anti-development campaign. Using NOW as a mouthpiece to advocate for urban conservation, Nielsen won the backing of Jack Mundey’s Builders Labourers Federation, which placed a Green Ban on the site and effectively barred any development projects from going ahead.
As the Green Ban pushed the development company into heavy debt from weekly interest payments, Nielsen and her advocacy rapidly became an outspoken, powerful thorn in Theeman’s side.
In an era of mass corruption, rampant crime, and crooked cops, the harassment of local campaigners – and the prior kidnapping of one – was largely ignored by authorities, and Nielsen’s fear for her safety mounted.
Nevertheless, she visited the Carousel Club in Kings Cross unaccompanied on the morning of July 4, 1975, under the assumption it would be placing ads for the club in the upcoming edition of NOW. The lively Kings Cross venue, owned by notorious underworld boss, Abe Saffron, was a hub of inscrutable dealings and shady activity, and so it is not surprising that many conspiracies sprang up around Nielsen’s final moments in this supposed ‘business meeting’.
Nielsen’s belongings were found eight days later strewn across a freeway in Western Sydney
Investigations later revealed the club’s manager and Saffron’s associate, James Anderson, received $25,000 from Theeman just days before Nielsen’s disappearance, supposedly to open a new Bondi club. Carousel Club employee and petty criminal, Eddie Trigg was also allegedly involved, confessing to a conspiracy to kidnap Nielsen just days before she vanished, but later pleading innocent.
Although her body has never been discovered, Nielsen’s belongings were found eight days later strewn across a freeway in Western Sydney, and a coronial inquest in 1983 concluded she was likely to have been murdered on or around the July 4, 1975.
Despite continuous appeals for information there has never been sufficient evidence to convict anyone.
As several Australian journalists have been murdered while working overseas without the prosecution of those responsible, Nielsen’s unsolved case remains the only known domestic murder of a journalist in the course of their job.
“We support every effort to ensure that Juanita’s killers do not get away with murder,” Mr Portelli said.
“They have enjoyed impunity for decades. The truth must come out and justice must be done. It is never too late to bring those responsible to account”.