Unsolved murders: Nanette Ellis and Margaret and Seana Tapp

Nanette Ellis was murdered in 1984 at her Boronia home.

This week I reported on the 1984 unsolved murder of Boronia mother and newspaper manager Nanette Ellis.

I first read about this case at least two years ago when I stumbled upon a 1990 Herald Sun article called “Who murdered them?”, which detailed many unsolved murders that Victoria Police still hoped to solve.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that Mrs Ellis worked for the same company I do – Leader Community Newspapers (the Melbourne community newspaper arm of News Limited) and was manger of Free Press Leader at the time of her death.

I contacted Victoria Police late last year and came into contact with Sen-Constable Kyle Simpson, who is on the team that is re-investigating several cold cases, including that of Mrs Ellis.

Mrs Ellis’s murder on February 10, 1984 at her Manuka Drive home was brutal (she was stabbed) and disturbingly, it was thought that Mrs Ellis was the victim of a terror campaign by an unknown person in the weeks leading up to her death.

Constable Simpson told me that Victorian serial killer Peter Dupas had definitely been ruled out as a suspect in Mrs Ellis’s murder. Dupas is serving a life sentence for the frenzied stabbing murders of three women – Margaret Maher and Mersina Halvagis in 1997 and Nicole Patterson in 1999 and is a suspect in at least three other unsolved stabbing murders of women in Victoria.

1984 also saw the murders of a mother and daughter, just up the road from Boronia, in their Ferntree Gully Home. (For readers outside of Victoria, Boronia and Ferntree Gully are suburbs at the foothills of Mount Dandenong in Melbourne’s outer east.) Margaret Tapp, 35 and her nine-year-old daughter Seana were strangled in their beds late on the night of August 7, 1984 (Seana was sexually assaulted).

Melbourne crimes journalists Andrew Rule and John Silvester wrote this excellent article in 2010 about the fact that the Tapp murders had seemingly been forgotten by the public and been the victim of a lack of urgency on the part of reporters and police –

“When a woman and her little girl were strangled in their beds on a winter night in 1984, your correspondents both worked the police beat at Russell Street headquarters. It should have become one of Victoria’s biggest unsolved murder stories, but never did. Somehow, a vile crime fell through the cracks…” – Andrew Rule and John Silvester fr0m “A mother, her daughter and a murder case that got away from all” (The Age, June 19, 2010)

Interestingly, my aunt told me that Margaret and Seana Tapp had lived next door to her in Wantirna (another suburb in Melbourne’s outer east) for a while before they moved to the Kelvin Grove, Ferntree Gully home where they were murdered. My aunt said she remembered seeing Margaret Tapp zipping out and about in her little car and they would wave to each other.

The Tapp murders resurfaced in the news in 2008 when a man was charged  with their murders, however the charges were withdrawn soon after it was discovered that evidence that linked the man with the crime had been contaminated. It is thought that the contamination took place in 1999 when clothing from an unrelated offence was examined and found to contain DNA matching the man who was charged incorrectly. Some of the clothing from the Tapp murder case had been examined on the same day.

These are two unsolved crimes that I am following with particular interest as I grew up in and live in Melbourne’s outer east.

In August 1984 I was eight, almost nine.

The same age that Seana Tapp was when she was murdered…

15 comments

  1. Simon

    We were told by our retrospective teachers that a fellow student had been murdered and it was big news overshadowed by police murders and other historic inaccuracies. Seana had been in Grade 3 but upgraded to Grade 4 a fact that everyone overlooks is why the overkill of Seana compared to the mother and why was the mother totally investigated as to her prosumuity. I was in Grade 4 and remember the case since that daylikemany others t Wattle View Primary School.

  2. trena

    hi my friends mother was murdered in autralia by her border ,he cut her head off and put it in the oven and turned it on he also did this in front of her 2 little sisters ,she however was at school when this happened and he even had the cheek to pick her up and bring her home ,my friend didnt say much but im curious on what happened but i dont want to ask her anything as i dont want to upset her if you have any info on this case couls you please let me know or send me the information ,her name was lorrie austin it happened in 1980 around the same time as the dingo took the baby im not sure in what part of autralia it happened and there was a story about it but the dingo story was bigger at the time ,thankyou hope to hear from you soon

    • Heather

      Are you sure about the spelling of the Mum’s name? Was her proper name Laura or Lorraine or something similar? Either way, her death was not registered in Victoria before the end of 1985 and there is no record of an Inquest in the same period in Victoria.

      I’ve got a vague recollection of hearing a story similar to the one you’ve told; I remember the Azaria Chamberlain case of course. I was 17/18 at the time and doing my HSC/Form 6 in Victoria.

      If your friend’s mum was a Lorraine Austin, there is a record of a death in NSW in 1980 of a Lorraine Edith Austin, the daughter of Reginald Ernest ?? & Alice Evans ?? [The NSW Death index does not normally provide the age at death nor the parents’ surnames, which is nothing short of stupid].

      That Lorraine appears to have married Marvyn Jack Davey Austin in the Bathurst district of NSW in 1960. If this is the right person, her maiden name was Bowen.

      Certainly the marriage and the death fit within the time-frame you’ve outlined.

      Discreetly ask your friend about her mother’s family, or her dad’s given names, and if they match the records I’ve found, you can then start searching for other information on that family.

      You may find microfilm of some of the more widespread Australian newspapers in your country (you don’t say where you are and I assume you are not in Australia). If you are in Australia, go to your State Library and search the microfilms of the Sydney Morning Herald, for starters, and the Sun-Herald, of 1979/1980 onwards.

      The “Trove” digital newspaper site currently only covers papers up to the 1940s, and there are large gaps in the coverage of individual newspapers and the dates for them. It is an on-going project. You can also try the Ryerson Index – http://ryersonindex.net/search.php – for more recent Death notices, and you may also find some Funeral, Obituaries &/or Probate notices of interest on the site. [I tried searching it for you today, but the site is busy – it’s probably being updated – so you’ll have to have a go at it yourself].

      Hope this helps,

      Heather.

  3. Tash

    I just googled Margaret Tapp and found your article – I lived next door to Seana and Margaret while they lived in Wantirna also and my brother and I were good friends with Seana and her brother, Justin. I remember the shock when we saw it on the news that they had been murdered as we had recently had a sleepover at their house in Ferntree Gully. I still often wonder who did it and why and was so happy when they announced on the news that the killer was found, only to hear later it was cross-contaminated. I will keep following your post now to see if there are any updates.

  4. kim

    I note cold case is now closed no links on crimestoppers website nor vic police unsolved murders for the Ellis case. there was information the boss of the leader would have known Nanette was looking into. I wonder if the detective you spoke with had all the information that has ever been recovered in relation to her case…it could have been deliberately destroyed/disappeared. Police protection withdrawn within days of her being murdered and work colleague checking she got home did not prove good methods of safety for any citizen in the community. Hope her murderer has rotted for his/her/their crime(s) Interesting comment by riga which building was referred to?

  5. Fiora

    What is it about these outer Eastern suburbs that seems to attract bad men ? I am so glad I grew up in Surrey Hills and not Boronia, Croydon, F.Gully. Bad place for single mums I reckon.

  6. Pingback: Margaret and Seana Tapp murders – more tragedy | True Crime Reader
  7. Charlotte A Kirby

    This is a terrible and tragic story. Justin Tapp was the son of Magaret and brother to Seana Tapp. He was 14 when his mum and sister were murdered. There is no mention of the father. Where was he during all this? http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/11490554.Decomposed_body_of_a_man_who_was_haunted_by_his__traumatic__childhood_discovered_at_Wycombe_flat__inquest_hears/?ref=var_0

    The above article is about the sad death of Justin Tapp. I lived next door to him for a year, and found him to be a very quiet and private man. I suspected there were reasons behind his departure from Australia and even asked him why he had left. All he told me was he had grown tired of Australia, but not why. He moved from the flat to another side of town in 2011 and then I moved too. I knew nothing of his history, till today, as its front page news on our local newspaper, as the coroner’s report has just been released. The article details his tragic family past – the murder of his mother and sister, which seems to be a famous unsolved case in Auss. I just wanted to let you know of his death. It is very sad that this man was not helped more here in the UK. He was just left to his own devices in a crap one bedroom flat. He was on benefits and had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress. I think that this system failed him. Just pray he rests in peace and that he has a decent funeral and resting place.
    Many thanks
    Charlotte Kirby

    • Natasha

      I am so saddened to read of Justin’s death. We were good friends as children. We were their next door neighbor before they moved to Boronia and I’ve tried looking Justin up many times over the years. I wish the case of his beautiful mother and sister could be solved. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Reens Nehr

    I was wondering if you have any information on the murder of Shawn Golding who was gunned down in Harwell Road, Ferntree Gully around the same year? It is not far from Kelvin Drive.

    He had a brother Darren.

    I’ve been doing some research but have not been able to come up with very much.

    Would there be anyone who has information on Shawn?

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