Claremont prosecutors reveal DNA was taken from 17,000 suspects at height of serial killings probe

Perth 6000

Up to 17,000 people suspected by police of involvement in the Claremont serial killings had their DNA taken over a 20-year period until the arrest of Bradley Robert Edwards for the crimes in 2016, his Supreme Court trial has been told.

Key points:

  • DNA has become a key element of the triple-murder trial of Edwards
  • Police tested thousands of people over years to try to find a suspect
  • New DNA revelations have forced a delay to the marathon trial

Edwards, a 51-year-old former Telstra technician, is accused of murdering 18-year-old Sarah Spiers, 23-year-old Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon, 27, in 1996 and 1997.

His trial, set down for six months, has been examining DNA evidence supposedly linking Edwards to the crimes, but it has been delayed this week after the prosecution revealed the existence of the new material on Monday.

The trial was delayed by a further day today after the judge allowed more time for lawyers on both sides to examine a raft of documents relating to DNA evidence that were uncovered on the weekend.

The 400 pages of new documents were uncovered by state pathology laboratory PathWest, which handled all the crucial exhibits relevant to the trial and performed DNA tests on them.

The Claremont serial killings
A timeline of the key events and the subsequent investigation by police — a murder inquiry spanning two decades and hundreds of potential suspects.

Today Justice Stephen Hall granted a request from state prosecutor Carmel Barbagallo SC for a further delay to allow PathWest scientist Aleksander Bagdonavicius to check through a 35-page summary document that detailed the relevant new material and put it into chronological order with existing evidence.

Ms Barbagallo said the material included 62 exhibits.

It was not made clear how important the new tranche of material was, but its discovery part-way through the marathon trial could serve to boost the defence’s argument that PathWest did not follow correct procedures and protocols when handling vital evidence.


Carmel Barbagallo said up to 17,000 people had their DNA taken as part of the police investigation into the murders. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Justice Hall said he was keen to ensure there would be no repeat of the late revelation of material.

“I take it there has been a check to make sure there are no other documents lurking away somewhere?’ he asked Ms Barbagallo.

“There are no other documents Your Honour,” she said.

Thousands had DNA taken

Ms Barbagallo did reveal the existence of DNA test results for between 16,000 and 17,000 people whom police suspected of possible involvement in the case over the years the Macro Task Force was active.

Macro was the name given to the specialised police unit set up to investigate the case after Ms Rimmer disappeared from the streets of Claremont in June 1996.

The high-profile case put pressure on police, who initially suspected a taxi driver might have been involved because each of the young women had been trying to get home when they went missing.

Thousands of taxi drivers had their cabs searched and swabs taken from their mouths for DNA testing.

The men accused of the Claremont killings
A number of men were in the frame for the shocking crimes, including one who was relentlessly pursued as the prime suspect.

But the massive scope of the investigation has never previously been revealed.

Ms Barbagallo said the thousands of DNA results “haven’t been disclosed to anybody”, but the defence was welcome to ask for them if they wanted them.

Mr Bagdonavicius is due to resume his evidence tomorrow but defence counsel Paul Yovich SC said he might not be in a position to cross-examine him when he finishes being questioned by the prosecution.

Justice Hall said he would not require him to do so tomorrow and would sanction a further delay until Monday if necessary.

Video: A timeline of the Claremont serial killings

(ABC News)

Next week a number of witnesses who handled key DNA evidence found on Ms Glennon’s fingernails at laboratories in the UK are due to give evidence via video-link.

Special late sittings of the court had been scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, but Ms Barbagallo said she would need to reassess the order in which the next witnesses would be called because of the delays.

The trial is expected to run for at least another four months.