The Sundown Murders refer to the murder of Sally (Thyra) Bowman (43), her daughter Wendy Bowman (14), and family friend Thomas Whelan (22) on Sundown Station in northern South Australia outback in December 1957. The search for their killer was one of the biggest manhunts in South Australian history.
Pete and Sally Bowman with their two daughters Wendy and Marion managed Glen Helen station in the Northern Territory, In November 1957, a family friend named Thomas Whelan (22) travelled north to visit the family while on holiday. The Bowmans agreed to travel with Whelan back to Adelaide via Alice Springs by car. After arriving in Alice Springs on 4 December 1957, Pete and Marion took a plane and flew to Adelaide.
The remaining three travelled by car, with two family dogs. They had ₤85 in cash and were last spotted at Kulgera Homestead near the South Australian border, where the party purchased petrol. They then continued south towards Adelaide, but never arrived.
A huge ground search was launched, bosses and workers from nearby properties joining in. Eight days later, the vehicle was spotted by a Royal Australian Air Force aircrew under a clump of trees at the deserted Sundown Station.
Reaching the car some hours later, Aboriginal trackers found the bodies. All three victims had been beaten about the head and then shot. The trackers also found the spot were the killer had parked his car. They noted that the car was towing a two wheel trailer. First reports announced that witnesses had seen a Grey Zephur towing a green trailer travelling north to Alice Springs in the area around the time of the slayings. The car was later sighted east of Tennant Creek.
Raymond John Bailey was born at Gilgandra on 3 December 1932. He had four brothers and a sister. Raymond left school at 14 and got work as a carpenter. He married young and for a time was itinerant worker. He purchased the Desoto in Renmark in September 1957 and took a rifle he had agree to buy but never paid for in Wirrulla.
Bailey was travelling north in a Desoto car and caravan. Bailey had his wife and young son with him. Bailey had told another traveller on the Alice Springs road that he was heading north looking for work.
He was working at Mt Isa Hospital when the law caught up with him. Bailey was subsequently arrested in Mount Isa in Queensland. He was arrested on Tuesday 21 January 1958 on charges of false pretences in relation of a motor vehicle and being in possession of a unlicenced weapon . Two days later he was charged with the murder of Thyra Bowman. He was extradited to Adelaide where he stood trial.
The trial took place in Adelaide.
David Iles met Bailey when both men came to working around Wirrulla, South Australia in September 1957. Bailey and Iles struck up a friendship and the men went rabbit shooting. Iles later agree to sell to Bailey his huntsman rifle but Bailey skipped town without paying for it. Iles took Constable Grope to the spot were the men fired the rifle and Grope recovered used cartridge cases, The cartridges later matched cartridges found at the murder scene.
He was tried, convicted and executed in Adelaide Gaol. Bailey was hanged on 24 June 1958, his two brothers had visited him the day before.
Bailey managed to get a stay of execution of one week by claiming that he wasn't the trio's killer but he himself killed the real killer in self defence. The State Cabinet made a decision to test the accuracy of Bailey's new statement. The Police flew Bailey back to the scene of the crime to see if Bailey could produce a body. Bailey and a fourteen man team of Police trackers, lawyers and gaol wardens flew to Alice Spring then drove south to the crime scene at Sundown station. Bailey's story was that on the night of the murders he came across a man removing Mrs Bowman's shoes and after a fight he stabbed the man to death and then buried the man four miles north of where the victims bodies were found. After a three and a half hour search found no body, Bailey stated I have nothing more to say.
33 R.J.B. 24.6.58