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How a crime writer became a suspected serial killer in Australia's longest-running murder investigation

How a crime writer became a suspected serial killer in Australia's longest-running murder investigation

Twenty years after publishing his 1995 debut crime novel, City of Light, rock musician and writer Dave Warner answered the door of his Sydney home to find two suited men standing outside.

The men introduced themselves as cold case detectives. They were working on the most expensive and longest-running cold case investigation in Australia’s history: the Claremont serial killings.

‘They said, “Six people have named you as a suspect,”’ says Dave. ‘“Can we have a chat?”’

The infamous crimes occurred in 1996 and ’97. Two women in their twenties were murdered after they were kidnapped from the Perth suburb of Claremont. Another woman, 18, disappeared from the same area and was never found.

Given that young women were targeted, and all were taken from a similar location, police concluded that the disappearances were the work of a serial killer.

The Claremont murders were spookily similar to a crime event Dave wrote about in his novel City of Light, which won the 1996 WA Premier’s Book Award for Fiction.

Crime novels often borrow from real events and famous murders for their plotlines. But in this case, the book was published several months before the real crime occurred.

‘I gave them a DNA sample, and [the detectives] said, “Why do you think people have nominated you?”’ Dave told the Good Reading Podcast. ‘I said, “I guess it’s because I wrote City of Light, in which girls went missing from the area pretty much where the Claremont serial killer girls went missing.”

‘I had three girls missing in the book, and three girls went missing in real life.’ 

After being quizzed by the detectives, Dave couldn’t shake the memory of the impact the Claremont killings had on the Perth community.

‘In relation to Western Australia, it was a really big deal,’ he says. ‘It was something that impinged on the whole consciousness of people.’

Dave’s latest book, Clear to the Horizon, brings back the detective featured in City of Light, Snowy Lane. The book isn’t strictly based on the Claremont murders, but Dave says he ‘uses the emotional power of the Claremont serial killings as a touchstone … I’ve simply worked at transferring the emotional impact I felt about the real crimes to my fictional world.’

The strange connections between Dave’s writing and the real Claremont case continued as he wrote Clear to the Horizon.

‘There was a pre-existing crime in Perth, not far from where the girls went missing. About two years before [the Claremont killings], a young woman was raped in Karrakatta Cemetery, which is only five minutes’ drive from where the girls were abducted.

‘I thought, that seems like a really obvious precursor crime. So Snowy Lane started to investigate,’ says Dave.

Three months into writing this plotline, a DNA link was discovered between the Karrakatta crime and the bodies of one of the women abducted in the Claremont murders.

The alleged perpetrator of the crimes, Bradley Robert Edwards, has pleaded not guilty to the Claremont murders and the Karrakatta attack. He will face trial from July this year.

To find out more about Dave’s writing and his experience with the Claremont murders, listen to our interview with Dave and Alan Carter on the Good Reading Podcast, on Soundcloud or Apple Podcasts.