Little Child Lost: reporting on a child abduction

July 13, 2016

I can think of very few more pathetic sights than that of a child’s parents searching for their little one day after day

The anniversary of the death of twice convicted child murderer, Barry Gordon Hadlow, is worth marking to highlight the terrible circumstances that allowed him to kill twice and to reinforce the words of Mr Justice Shepherdson when he said the Hadlow’s case is a salutary reminder for those members of the community who believe that rather than committing a convicted person to prison, a better course is to require them to attend some sort of therapy course.


Stacey-Ann Tracy would have been 35 this year– she might have had a career, been a mother, a wife, a good friend to many. But on Tuesday 22 May 1990, nine-year-old Stacey-Ann Tracy went missing while she was on her way to school. She was walking there on her own, as she apparently did every day, but didn’t arrive.

This week marks the anniversary of the death of her murderer and one of Queensland’s worst killers, Barry Gordon Hadlow.

I was a younger man then, and sent to cover the story for Seven News. It was one of several child abduction or child-gone-missing cases on which I had reported. In one respect they are all the same. All bloody horrible. There’s not a lot you can say to parents and relatives while the search is on… a search that may well find their child… but in too many cases finds them dead.

A community rallies

There is very little that motivates Australians to help more than the story of a little child lost. And so it was in Roma – gateway to the rich pastoral and wheat growing Maranoa district and a pretty sleepy place. And that’s the way the locals liked it. But in May of 1990 all that changed when Roma became the focus of the entire nation and the townsfolk knew their place would never be the same again.

Hundreds turned out to help police and SES volunteers scour the streets, sporting grounds, outlying paddocks and the banks of Bungil Creek that sweeps through the town.

I can think of very few more pathetic sights than that of a child’s parents searching for their little one day after day, only to return home at the end of another fruitless day to face yet another sleepless night, knowing that tomorrow the numbers searching would be a few less than today as the conclusion the volunteers believed inevitable drew closer.

A town with a suspect

And after almost a week of no result there was a sense of anger and frustration around the town. It took me a while to realise that it wasn’t only because the search had been fruitless… there were some who believed more should be happening to find who was responsible.

At first it was just a couple of comments from locals that made me think that maybe they knew something I didn’t. The first was a man with his kids in the street who reckoned I should have a chat with anyone who worked at the local supermarket… and “they’d let me know what was going on”.

The second was a man in a car driving past us as we stood in the main street who yelled out: “Why we hadn’t asked the coppers why they hadn’t confiscated his car?” No more than that. But who was “he”?

The car – the evidence

In the early 90s there were still a few journos who started our careers when you still could actually talk to real coppers… and in fact we went out of our ways to make sure we kept contact with individual officers. Almost always it was better coming from the horse’s mouth than being filtered and sanitised by the police Media Unit as happens these days.

And it was timely that one of the officers I had become friendly with overs the years was in Roma and on the job. I saw her in the local watering hole that night and asked her what the comments from locals may have meant. I didn’t get much from her except that she said police had taken in a car of interest and I should check with the boss… and use her name if I needed to.

Next morning I phoned the Inspector in charge of the case who I didn’t know and asked him straight out what he believed they would find in the car. “We don’t have a car” was his reply.

I said to him that my contact had said otherwise. At that his hand went over the phone mouthpiece and I heard him say “did you tell a bloke from Channel Seven that we got a car?” After a couple of seconds his hand came off the phone and he said… “Well, we do have a car”.

Days of waiting

But still the search continued. We spent our days just waiting, talking with searchers, police and SES volunteers… hoping for the best but having seen the pattern before realising there was little chance of finding Stacey-Ann alive. Filing stories that didn’t seem that different to last night’s.

Then one morning that had so far been like the last week of mornings, while we were waiting near a SES station not far from Bungil Creek there was a sudden burst of activity and chatter on the two-way. Something was on. We could see police activity by the water not far from where we were and the immediate erection of police barricades across access roads signalled the dreadful news… a body had been found… and Roma went into shock.

A man charged

Police would eventually arrest and charge one Barry Gordon Hadlow with the murder of Stacey Ann Tracey. When he was asked why he killed her he said he was bored.

But there was more to this story…. plenty more and none of it good. This wasn’t his first child murder. When he was just 20-years-old, Barry Gordon Hadlow saw five-year-old Sandra Bacon walking past the front of the house in which he was staying in South Townsville. He sexually assaulted and murdered her.

The similarities between the deaths of Sandra Bacon and Stacey-Ann Tracy are almost identical. Both bodies were placed in bags and then hidden in motor vehicles and in both cases Hadlow helped in the search for the missing girls, and apparently offered condolences to his victims’ parents.

Barry Gordon Hadlow was sent to prison for life for the murder of Sandra Bacon. He spent 20 years in maximum security prison and the last two and a half years of his sentence at the low-security Palen Creek prison farm behind the Gold Coast. He was released on parole in 1985.

After he got out of prison he met and married a woman who had eight children from a previous marriage. He and his wife and the children lived in Toowoomba for a while before moving to Roma where Hadlow got a job as a packer in a supermarket. Roma, where he committed his second child murder.

What should a life sentence be?

It’s easy to be wise in hindsight and much has been written and said about what a “life” sentence should really mean and who should be barred forever from obtaining parole.

But in the case of Barry Gordon Hadlow the following was read to the court from a psychiatrist’s report in the Sandra Bacon trial; “There is no treatment for Hadlow’s condition and further aggressive sexual offences will occur if he is not kept in a place of safety”.

Barry Gordon Hadlow was sent to jail, again, for the murder of Stacey-Ann Tracy with Mr Justice Shepherdson, the trial Judge, expressing disbelief that anyone having seen the psychiatric report following the Townsville murder could have allowed Hadlow to be released in 1985. The Judge recommended the Hadlow never be released from custody. He wasn’t.

Barry Gordon Hadlow died in custody, in the PA hospital on July 14, 2007. He was 65.

This is an extract from Chris Adams’s pending autobiography of a life in the media.

Newsclipping references:

Sex murderer jailed for life (1991, March 16). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), , p. 16. Retrieved July 13, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122349537

Accused ‘could not be guilty’ (1991, March 12). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), , p. 4. Retrieved July 13, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122348787

Jury retires in Roma case (1991, March 13). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), , p. 16. Retrieved July 13, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122348905

Jury told paper is ‘anchor’ of case (1991, March 9). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), , p. 4. Retrieved July 13, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122348229

Chris Adams
Chris Adams spent over thirty years in broadcast current affairs including working as a journalist and producer for Channel Nine’s Today Tonight, Producer of Channel Seven’s State Affair, worked as a War Correspondent for the Persian Gulf War and the Civil War of Somalia, and News and Program Director of Fairfax radio, 4BC.

He is a keen golfer, and an avid consumer of media news.