The unsolved case of a 1978 triple homicide in the Australian outback
June 04, 2019
In October of 1978 three friends planned the Australian road trip of their dreams that would eventually turn into a nightmare. Gordon Twaddle, Timothy Thomson, his girlfriend Karen Edwards and their dog, Tristie, planned to ride from Alice Springs to Melbourne through the Australian outback. From the remote town of Alice Springs in the arid Northern territory the three friends and their animal companion, who was riding in a makeshift sidecar with Timothy and Karen on their pricy new red and gold BMW R100S, planned to ride to Cairns, a tropical city in Queensland, most often visited by those looking to dive at the Great Barrier Reef. The first segment of the trip spanned over 2000KM and the group planned to camp out along the way. Once they reached Cairns they planned to drive along the coast and the Great Ocean road, finishing up in Melbourne in New South Wales by Christmas.
The three friends would never make it to Cairns. After less than a week into the trip, they disappeared.
They were last sighted on the 5th of October at Moondarra Caravan Park on Moondarra Drive in Lanskey, nearby a small and rural outback mining town called Mount. Isa. A photograph of the group shows the three sitting on their bikes in front of a wall of dusty orange rocks and boulders. 21 year old Gordon Twaddle approaches his blue 1977 GS750 Suzuki, Karen and Timothy sit on their new BMW R100S with Tristie perched enthusiastically upon the custom sidecar they made for her. Other travelers were likely few and far between as the group rode through the outback, but anyone who was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the motorcycle enthusiasts and their dog probably got a kick out of it.
The following day Tristie was discovered alone. She had been left at a dump site in the area.
Two and a half weeks later three decomposed bodies were found dumped in scrub land at Spear creek near Mount. Isa. A couple out walking their dogs discovered the bodies in long grass and quickly reported it to the local police. Each victim had died from close range gunshot wounds to the head from a .22 caliber rifle and their identification had been removed from their bodies. The female victim was half concealed by a thin sheet of metal. Tragically the trio was later identified as Edwards, Thompson and Twaddle. Their backpacks and pitched tent suggested that they had been executed while camping for the night, either by an opportunistic passerby or someone who had joined their group mid-trip.
Police got to work interviewing people in the area and collected witness statements. One witness informed officers that they had saw another person riding with the group and provided a description of the unidentified male. They claimed to see the three bikers climb into a Toyota Land cruiser with the other party and drive off.
Soon after the bodies were found police discovered Timothy Thomson’s motorcycle in the possession of a local man named Bruce John Preston. The bike was so distinctive in custom and color that there was no doubt it was Thomson’s, even after the wheels had been swapped out and the saddle bags removed. Bruce Preston was unemployed at the time, but a mechanic by trade. He would later go on to work as a prison warden at Goldburn Supermax prison in New South Wales. Goldburn Supermax is home to some of Australia’s most notorious convicts, including the Bateau Bay spree killer, Malcolm George Baker, who shot and killed seven people in Terrigal in the early nineties and the “backpacker killer” Ivan Milat who inspired the character of Mick Taylor in the movie “Wolf Creek”. Preston also did a stint in the Australian military as a corporal.
Although inevitably an instant suspect in the case, Preston claimed to have found the motorcycle and was charged with theft and fined. It was later discovered that the suspect’s father even owned a Toyota Land cruiser that Preston had access to. He adamantly denied being in the area at the time and denied ever meeting the three travelers.
Still, the case went unsolved for over 4 decades, until last month, when Bruce John Preston, who is now 63 years old and has since retired from his position at Goldburn Correctional Centre, was arrested in connection with the triple homicide. Although he sought bail, he was denied as he had hinted that he would commit suicide and was considered a flight risk.
Preston’s story had changed a couple of times over the years, including the details his whereabouts at the time of the killings. Initially he denied being in the area, however he later slipped up and admitted that he was also on a motorcycle trip near Mount. Isa at the time of the crime. Police believe that Preston met his three victims at Frewena rest stop on Barkly Highway in Warumungu and joined them for a segment of the journey before eventually killing and robbing them.
"I am not going to prison. I'd rather walk out into the street and blow my head off before I go to jail." He said in a secretly recorded phone call to a family member.
The case has, predictably, been dubbed the “real life wolf creek murders” in the media and a now eerie selfie of Preston with a Joker filter over his face has been making the rounds on news sites. He still denies his role in the 1978 triple homicide and is currently being held in custody. There is a $250,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction.