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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Police hunt forest for bracelet, missing link in unsolved murder

Nearly 50 years since her murder, ACT Policing are conducting a fresh search of the Fairbairn pine plantation, minutes away from Canberra Airport, where 20-year-old Keren Rowland’s body was found in 1971.

The announcement comes one day before what would have been the former dental nurse’s 70th birthday, and ACT Policing Detective Senior Constable Emma Beere said investigators were still in contact with the victim’s family.

She said police were using modern equipment that was unavailable when the body was first discovered to hunt for a silver or gold friendship bracelet engraved with the name Lynette.

“For us, it’s a very important piece of evidence that we would like to recover,” she said.

police searching in a field
Police use technology unavailable at the time of the murder, like metal detectors. Image: Kerrie Brewer

A missing link in one of Canberra’s oldest unsolved mysteries, the bracelet was a gift Ms Rowland purchased at the Canberra Show on the night of her death.

During the initial investigation, detectives suspected the victim’s killer took the bracelet, which was the only item her family knew she had on her person that was never accounted for.

Detective Senior Constable Beere said ACT Policing wanted to determine whether there was meaning attached to its absence.

Keren Rowland. Image: ACT Policing.

She said police publicised the search for the bracelet in 1971, something that probably wouldn’t have happened under modern protocols.

Forensics at the time conducted a line search but they lacked the modern metal detectors now in use.

Detective Senior Constable Beere said although police took samples of the soil at the crime scene, testing was not up to today’s standards.

“If it was 1970 and we were conducting the search on the day, we would find it I would say.”

Detective Senior Constable Beere asked anyone in the community who was aware of a bracelet engraved with ‘Lynette’ to get in touch if they were unsure where it came from.

She said it could be within a family, or something that was passed along.

“Then we can make a judgement from there what value that item will have to the investigation.”

ACT Policing Detective Senior Constable Emma Beere. Image: Kerrie Brewer

Ms Rowland was reported missing by family members after she failed to arrive at a party at The Statesman Hotel in Curtin on the night of Friday 26 February 1971, the same night she attended the Royal Canberra Show.

That evening she drove to Civic to pick up her sister, however, her sister decided to travel to the party with her fiancé and Ms Rowland followed alone in her car, a white Mini Morris 850 sedan.

The vehicle was later found abandoned with an empty petrol tank on Parkes Way, Campbell.

Three months later, on 13 May 1971, Ms Rowland’s remains were discovered at the Air Disaster Memorial, and the cause of her death was never established.

“The detectives who first arrived on scene were very surprised that Keren was not found earlier, as it was an area that was frequented by many walkers,” Detective Senior Constable Beere said.

Ms Rowland, a former dental nurse, was five months pregnant when she disappeared.

The search announced today comes just over a year since the death of serial killer Ivan Milat, who some suspect murdered Ms Rowland.  

In 2019, The Australian reported NSW Police interviewed Mr Milat extensively on his deathbed, and urged him to confess to other murders, including that of Ms Rowland. 

Detective Senior Constable Beere said ACT Policing was in contact with NSW Police to obtain information about the Milat investigation from them.

“We don’t rule out any avenue of enquiry until it’s been exhausted and that is one avenue that we’ll have a look at, along with many other persons of interest that have been nominated for this particular case.”

In addition to Ms Rowland’s case, ACT Policing Criminal Investigations detectives are publicly investigating five unsolved homicides: Frank Campbell, Kathryn Grosvenor, Irma Palasics, Allen Redston, and Susan Winburn.

Police are urging anyone with any information, no matter how small, to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. Information can be provided anonymously.

Keren Rowland’s body was found near the Air Disaster Memorial between Canberra and Queanbeyan. Image: Kerrie Brewer

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