Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
More than 20 years after a young nanny was bashed and left for dead beside a road in north-western NSW, police have identified a new person of interest in her death and are appealing for information about a vehicle that could help solve the mystery.
Detectives seized a blue Datsun Stanza in Sydney on Monday and are forensically examining the vehicle following the death of Penny Hill, who was beaten unconscious and found slumped against a paddock gate on the side of a road in the tiny town of Coolah on July 8, 1991.
The 20-year-old was taken to hospital in Newcastle but never regained consciousness. She died two weeks later.
Now, nearly 22 years after her death, police have received new information about a car seen at the Black Stump Motor Inn in Coolah where Ms Hill was staying on the night she was assaulted.
Police initially were told that the vehicle seen at the motel was a Commodore, but they now believe it was a dark blue Datsun Stanza, which was also seen driving around Coolah in the early hours of the morning that Ms Hill was assaulted.
Detective Sergeant Jason Darcy, from the Western Region Unsolved Homicide Squad, said the new information had come to light in the past month.
Police had scoured vehicle registration records from the time and had narrowed down their list to ‘‘a handful’’ of vehicles, which would be forensically examined in the coming weeks.
‘‘It’s new information, we believe it has got some weight and we’ve identified a new person of interest,’’ Detective Sergeant Darcy said.
He said the vehicle that was examined in Sydney on Monday had changed ownership many times since the early 1990s.
‘‘That car had been spray painted since 1991, from a dark blue to a light blue, but we’re more interested in the interior of the car because it was in original condition,’’ he said.
‘‘Being so long ago, there’s not too many Datsun Stanzas left in existence, or registered. It’s making it hard to locate, and we’re obviously doing a wide search.’’
Ms Hill had moved from her home in Narrabri to Coolah on Friday, July 5, 1991 after she was offered a job as a nanny to the three boys of Col and Barbara Baigent, the new owners of the Black Stump Motor Inn.
Mr Baigent had been the drummer for the rock group Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs in the 1960s, before he and his wife moved to the country to raise their family.
However, after one day Mrs Baigent decided Ms Hill was too young and not responsible enough to care for her children and planned to let her stay the week before sending her home with a reference.
It was a busy weekend in Coolah on the night Ms Hill was assaulted, with a golf tournament, tennis competition and rugby league game all major events in the town.
Police believe Ms Hill was probably bashed in her room at the motel, although there were no obvious signs of struggle, before her body was dumped 800 metres down the road.
She was discovered early the next morning, fully clothed, bleeding from the head and with a cord from an electric jug clenched in her left hand.
In the weeks after her killing, police suspected the restaurant chef, a loner and firearms enthusiast, might have been the killer. He died in a car crash in November that year and police no longer believe he was the murderer.
A second inquest into Ms Hill’s death last year returned an open finding.
The inquest heard that DNA samples were found in a secret compartment last year in the Black Stump Motel. A rifle butt and a used condom were in the compartment which police can date to the time of the death of Miss Hill.
Police have collected DNA from hundreds of men who were in Coolah on the weekend of Ms Hill’s death in a bid to track down anyone connected to her death.
Detective Sergeant Darcy said the new information about the Datsun was separate to the DNA analysis, which was still taking place.
Anyone with information has been urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page.
The car at the centre of police investigations.