Sydney’s recent history features two gutsy women from opposite ends of the social spectrum who stood up for what they believed in, and met a sticky end for their troubles.
Juanita Nielsen, a modestly wealthy heiress and the prime defender of Kings Cross, was murdered in 1975 following her vocal opposition to the wholesale redevelopment of historic Victoria Street. Her body has never been found.
Sallie-Anne Huckstepp, another Kings Cross habitué, was a prostitute, heroin addict, and a whistle-blower on corruption in the NSW police force. She was brutally killed in Centennial Park on the night of 6 February 1986. No one has ever been charged for her murder.
But Sallie-Anne Huckstepp’s life is much more than her grisly death. She was born in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney and grew up in Bondi as part of an unconventional Jewish family. Sallie-Anne married young, and entered prostitution to support her partner’s heroin addiction. She later developed a drug habit of her own, and began to mix with Sydney’s criminal underbelly. In early 1981, she met and fell in love with drug dealer and standover man Warren Lanfranchi.
In June 1981, Lanfranchi was shot dead in broad daylight in back lane in Chippendale by Roger Rogerson, who was then a Detective Sergeant with the NSW police. Rogerson was never charged with Lanfranchi’s murder, maintaining that he had acted in self-defence. Indeed, he was awarded with a bravery award for his act, although he was later dismissed from the police force.
Immediately following Lanfranchi’s murder, Sallie-Anne went into hiding, but a month later she went to Police Internal Affairs Branch with her father and a legal aid lawyer, alleging extensive corruption in the NSW police force.
Thus began Huckstepp’s emergence in the public eye. Her flawed beauty, cheeky wit and intelligence endeared her to the media. She gave extensive interviews, including with Sixty Minutes and the National Times, and began to write a regular column for Penthousemagazine. But despite this media courtship and trying to turn her life around, Sallie-Anne’s love of the needle lived on. She was murdered five years after Lanfranchi was killed.
The inquest into Huckstepp’s murder, which lasted from 1987 through to 1991, was one of the longest-running inquests to be conducted in NSW. No finding was made.
Later, underworld figure Neddy Smithadmitted to murdering Huckstepp to a fellow prisoner while both were locked up in Long Bay. Unhappily for Smith, his cellmate was wired. On the basis of this taped confession, Smith was charged with murder in September 1996, but was acquitted three years later.
Sallie-Anne Huckstepp’s testimony to the Police Internal Affairs Branch on 15 July 1981 would later play an important role in the Wood Royal Commission, which led to an overhaul of the NSW police force, and the formation of the Independent Commission into Corruption (ICAC).
Huckstepp is remembered in a song by Spy Vs Spy, in a book about her life by John Dale, by some curious performance art, and in a forthcoming movie to be produced by her daughter. The criminal milieu of Sydney in the 1970s and 80s is colourfully depicted in the TV series Blue Murder, although the part she played in uncovering police corruption is downplayed.