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Raymond John BAILEY





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: December 5, 1957
Date of arrest: January 21, 1958
Date of birth: December 3, 1932
Victims profile: Sally (Thyra) Bowman (43), her daughter Wendy Bowman (14), and family friend Thomas Whelan (22)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: South Australia, Australia
Status: Executed by hanging in Adelaide Gaol on June 24, 1958

The Sundown Murders refer to the murder of Sally (Thyra) Bowman (43), her daughter Wendy Bowman (14), and family friend Thomas Whelan (22) on Sundown Station in northern South Australia outback in December 1957. The search for their killer was one of the biggest manhunts in South Australian history.

The murders

Pete and Sally Bowman with their two daughters Wendy and Marion managed Glen Helen station in the Northern Territory, In November 1957, a family friend named Thomas Whelan travelled north to visit the family while on holiday. The Bowmans agreed to travel with Whelan back to Adelaide via Alice Springs by car. After arriving in Alice Springs on 4 December 1957, Pete and Marion took a plane and flew to Adelaide.

The remaining three travelled by car, with two family dogs. They had ₤85 in cash and were last spotted at Kulgera Homestead near the South Australian border, where the party purchased petrol. They then continued south towards Adelaide, but never arrived.

A huge ground search was launched, bosses and workers from nearby properties joining in.  Eight days later, the vehicle was spotted by a Royal Australian Air Force aircrew under a clump of trees at the deserted Sundown Station.

Reaching the car some hours later, Aboriginal trackers found the bodies. All three victims had been beaten about the head and then shot. The trackers also found the spot were the killer had parked his car. They noted that the car was towing a two wheel trailer. First reports announced that witnesses had seen a grey Ford Zephyr towing a green trailer travelling north to Alice Springs in the area around the time of the slayings. The car was later sighted east of Tennant Creek.

The accused

Raymond John Bailey was born at Gilgandra on 3 December 1932. He had four brothers and a sister. Raymond left school at 14 and got work as a carpenter. He married young and for a time was itinerant worker. He purchased a Desoto in Renmark in September 1957 and took a rifle he had agree to buy but never paid for in Wirrulla.

Bailey was travelling north in the Desoto car and caravan. Bailey had his wife and young son with him. Bailey had told another traveller on the Alice Springs road that he was heading north looking for work.

He was working at Mt Isa Hospital when the law caught up with him. Bailey was subsequently arrested in Mount Isa in Queensland. He was arrested on Tuesday 21 January 1958 on charges of false pretences in relation of a motor vehicle and being in possession of a unlicenced weapon. Two days later he was charged with the murder of Thyra Bowman. He was extradited to Adelaide where he stood trial.


The trial took place in Adelaide.

David Iles met Bailey when both men came to working around Wirrulla, South Australia in September 1957. Bailey and Iles struck up a friendship and the men went rabbit shooting. Iles later agree to sell to Bailey his huntsman rifle but Bailey skipped town without paying for it. Iles took Constable Grope to the spot were the men fired the rifle and Grope recovered used cartridge cases, The cartridges later matched cartridges found at the murder scene.

He was tried, convicted and executed in Adelaide Gaol. Bailey was hanged on 24 June 1958, his two brothers had visited him the day before.

Stay of execution

Bailey managed to get a stay of execution of one week by claiming that he wasn't the trio's killer but he himself killed the real killer in self defence. The State Cabinet made a decision to test the accuracy of Bailey's new statement. The Police flew Bailey back to the scene of the crime to see if Bailey could produce a body. Bailey and a fourteen man team of Police trackers, lawyers and gaol wardens flew to Alice Spring then drove south to the crime scene at Sundown station. Bailey's story was that on the night of the murders he came across a man removing Mrs Bowman's shoes and after a fight he stabbed the man to death and then buried the man four miles north of where the victims bodies were found. After a three and a half hour search found no body, Bailey stated I have nothing more to say.


Sundown murders

Sally (Thyra) Bowman, her daughter Wendy Bowman aged 14 and a family friend Thomas Wheelan aged 22 were murdered on Sundown Station in December 1957. All three people had been beaten about the head and shot.

Sally and her husband Pete lived at Glen Helen Station in the NT and were travelling by Standard Vanguard sedan to Adelaide via Alice Springs with Whelan and the two family dogs. Peter and their other daughter Marion had taken a plane from Alice Springs. They had been last seen at Kulgera near the SA border where they purchased petrol. The road to Adelaide was little more than a unsealed track at the time.

When the group did not arrive in Adelaide after 3 days and had not made contact a search was launched resulting in a RAAF Lincoln Bomber aircrew from Woomera spotting the vehicle under a clump of trees at deserted Sundown Station about 40 miles south of Kulgera on December 13. The bodies were under blankets and canvas a mile away from the car after Noel Coulthard (son of Kulgera Station manager Roy Coulthard) found tire tracks while riding his motorcycle.

The case was investigated by NT and SA Police. Detectives Charles Hopkins and Kevin Moran from the SA Homicide Squad worked on the case from the outset under the oversight of Detective Inspector Gil Gully and traveled to the crime scene which was just on the SA side of the border. They traveled by a Holden vehicle accompanied by two Port Augusta detectives in a Ford 1-ton utility and took 30 hours to reach the crime scene. Police Officers from Oodnadatta and Finke (in the NT) also assisted along with local residents and six Aboriginal Trackers from local stations.

In the NT Bill McKinnon, Pat Grant, Ron Hughes and Jim Conmee worked on the case. Charles Hopkins described it as the 'longest, most arduous and most testing' investigation that he had experienced.

A witness mentioned a grey Zephyr towing a green trailer travelling north to Alice Springs.

Raymond John Bailey was an itinerant worker travelling north in a Grey DeSoto (similar in appearance to a Zephyr) in search of work with his wife and young son. Bailey was arrested in Mt Isa on 21 January 1958 for false pretenses and possession of an unlicensed weapon. He was later charged with the Sundown murders and extradited to Adelaide. He was convicted and executed in Adelaide Gaol by hanging on 24 June 1958.

The weapon used in the killing had been taken from a Wirrulla man several months before the murder when he skipped town without paying for it. Ballistic tests showed it to be the same rifle used in the murder.

Bailey sought a stay of execution stating that he had killed the real killer and he was flown to the crime scene to attempt to locate a body. None was located and his story discredited.

NT Police Museum and Historical Society Inc.


Bailey found guilty of Sundown murder

The Canberra Times

May 21, 1958

ADELAIDE, Tuesday.óRaymond John Bailey, 24, was sentenced to death by Mr. Justice Reed in the Criminal Court tonight after a jury found him guilty of the murder of Mrs. Thyra Bowman near Sundown Station in the far north of South Australia on December 5.

The jury took 96 minutes to reach, its verdict.

Bailey stood calmly when the jury, entered and announced the verdict and while sentence was passed.

He left the dock without any sign of emotion.

Although the public seats were filled, there was no demonstration.

Bailey's counsel, Mr., A. L. Pickering, Q.C., stated afterwards that an appeal would be lodged to the State Court of Criminal Appeal based largely on objection for the admission of certain evidence as to the confession.

The trial occupied seven days.

The body of Mrs. Bow man and those of her daughter, Wendy, 14, and a family friend, Thomas Whelan, 22, were found on December 13..

This morning, the Crown called two witnesses to deny Bailey's statement yesterday that he signed a confession because he could hear his wife weeping in another room and he wanted police to stop questioning her.

Bailey's remarks were made in the course of an unaworn statement from the dock. He did not give sworn evidence and called no witnesses.

Det. G. Hallahan, of Adelaide, and Inspector N. W. Bauer, of Queensland, said that Bailey could not bear his wife crying.. The only time she cried was after the questioning and when Bailey told her he had kill-, ed the three people.

In his address to the jury, the Crown Prosecutor, Mr. E. B. Scarfe, said the evidence had proved; that Bailey was guilty of "a particularly brutal and callous murder."


Mr. Scarfe stud that what really happened might never be known. He suggested, however, that bailey held up the Bowman party at gunpoint and demanded money for petrol for the journey to Mt. Isa, 1,000 miles away.

Whelan went for his g"n and was shot in the back. Bailey then. clubbed the women with Whelan'g gun (a Remington), put , the bodies in the : Bowman'8 Vanguard, and drove to: the opposite side of the. road to hide them.

He helped himself to Whelan's wallet before, he hid the bodies.

"Petrol is dear up in that neck of the woods and Bailey's old car and caravan would not be doing more than 10 or 12 miles to the gallon," Mr. Scarfe said.

Bailey's confession was the clearest confirmation of what had already been found at the scene. However, the Crown's case did not rest on the confession alone. There was a body of evidence about his movements, whereabouts and traces at the scene which were sufficient, for a verdict of guilty.

Evidence of the, tracks was given by men who would not last five minutes without their ability to say track horses which might stray overnight,

"If Bailey wasn't the killer, what a series of fantastic, amazing and incredible coincidences," Mr Scarfe said.

He suggested that Bailey's story about the confession was "the last desperate throw to save his neck."


Mr, A. L. Pickering, Q.C. (for Bailey) told the jury that circumstantial evidence was like a circle. Whenever the circle was not closed the accused was entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

Bailey did not deny having been at the scene, so that evidence on the search and tracks and on seeing him along the road did not become of consequence.

The cartridges did' not prove anything against Bailey unless the evidence satisfied the jury he had he rifle at the time of the killings.

The murder weapon had not been produced and police had not searched thoroughly for it. He asked how a stranger could have approached the camp at night without rousing the two dogs, one of whick was reported to be fierce.

He warned the jury that circumstantial evidence could lie and lead to false conclusions.



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