5 September 2022

Bodies, knives, a pyramid of cars and other things on the bottom of Lake Burley Griffin

| James Coleman
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Sunset and cloud formations over Lake Burley Griffin

There’s more to Lake Burley Griffin than meets the eye. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

All might look well when the balloons are wafting gracefully overhead and the rays of the morning sun are hitting the surface just so, but there’s a world beneath Lake Burley Griffin and not all of it is pretty.

We know about shopping trolleys, blue-green algae and carp.

We also know about the eight-metre deep cave just off Acton Foreshore; Canberra’s first horse-racing course (also near Acton); tragically, fragments of the old Canberra Hospital; and during Lifeline’s Winter Solstice Nude Charity Swim, tens of bare bottoms.

But it gets a lot more gruesome, starting with a report in the Queanbeyan Age newspaper on 4 September 1974.

READ ALSO Tunnels under Lake Burley Griffin more like Swiss cheese

“Reports circulating late yesterday that the lid of a coffin had been found in the west basin of Lake Burley Griffin, near the ANU, were confirmed today,” the article reads.

This was less than a week after a flood had ripped into the side of the Queanbeyan cemetery, washing out graves and leaving human remains strewn along the Molonglo River. The authorities deemed it unlikely any made it the winding 12 kilometres into Lake Burley Griffin, but a day after the newspaper report, three bodies were reportedly found in the Central Basin.

At its deepest, Canberra’s jewel in the crown measures 18 metres. The average depth is four metres. Enough to hide evidence, or so many criminals have thought over the decades. But be warned, the police are onto you.

Lake Burley Griffin

Lake Burley Griffin has an average depth of four metres. Photo: James Coleman.

The Maritime division of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) provides a water-based police response for patrols, incidents, search and rescue efforts, and recovery operations. Much of this training is done on Canberra’s waterways, chiefly Lake Burley Griffin.

“Common items recovered by the AFP Maritime team in the ACT include shopping trollies, bikes and scooters,” a spokesperson says.

“Other objects including sunken maritime vessels and cars (some of which have been submerged for decades), drug paraphernalia, weapons and fireworks have also been retrieved.”

It’s no longer in police records, but some of the first cars were retrieved from Lotus Bay, near the Canberra Yacht Club, on 20 November 1989, during a routine training exercise. A 25-year-old woman’s body was found still strapped into the driver’s seat of a Ford Cortina.

READ ALSO What happened to Walter Burley Griffin’s grand railway plans? Meet the man who’s finding out

The icy temperature and lack of movement in the water had preserved the clothes and some of the body, so police could identify the woman as Irene Catherine Angley. She had gone missing from her Spence home 14 years earlier. She was believed to have been in the lake for over a decade.

Over the past three years, the AFP Maritime Team has retrieved two more deceased people from Lake Burley Griffin. And in the past five years, a total of 14 bodies from all ACT waterways, including the lake, have been found. Many of these investigations are ongoing.

Divers walking

AFP Maritime divers are adept at finding items discarded in the lake. Photo: AFP.

In October 1997, two Bega schoolgirls, Lauren Barry, 14, and Nichole Collins, 16, were abducted, raped and murdered by Leslie Camilleri and Lindsay Beckett. During their murder trial, police were tipped off about the location of weapons they used.

The two men were passing through Canberra when they stopped on the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and dumped weapons into the lake. In the subsequent search of the area, one of the knives was found and became key evidence in putting Camilleri and Beckett behind bars for life.

During the 2008 murder trial for 23-year-old Glen Porritt, who stabbed his mother 75 times with a kitchen knife in the family’s Chapman home in 2005, evidence also came to light about the location of the murder weapon in Lake Burley Griffin. AFP divers conducted a targeted search and located the knife within half an hour.

In November 2015, investigators were testing new equipment in the lake when they discovered four cars near Black Mountain Peninsula. The cars were submerged under 10 metres of water and are believed to have been there for more than 15 years.

READ ALSO This hidden concrete ‘pool’ is all that’s left of Canberra’s WWI ‘concentration’ camp

A year later, during a period of drought, watercraft began striking something under the water near the Monaro Highway underpass.

“The dive team conducted a search and located five submerged cars stacked in a pyramid shape,” the AFP spokesperson says.

“Investigations revealed they were all stolen cars that had been pushed off a nearby boat ramp and had drifted to the same location before sinking.”

These cases are just scratching the surface. Other divers have recovered tools, jewellery, safes, wallets, clothing, even floorboards and amber construction lights.

But the AFP reminds Canberrans that dumping rubbish in a public place, including lakes, is an offence that can attract fines of up to $200,000 for individuals.

Illegal dumping in the ACT can be reported to Access Canberra on 13 22 81.

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I walked across the bed of the lake a few weeks before it was due to be flooded -there were many willows along the Molonglo then!

Let’s not forget about 25yr old Irene Angley who went missing and was found at the bottom of LBG in her car 14 yrs later in 1980! Not to mention her missing husband who disappeared overseas at the time of her disappearance. There was a lot of circumstantial evidence and the belief of foul play. The site of her discovery was treated as a crime scene. And guess what? Police have lost all records of the case!! If there is anyone out there who has information and I believe there is come forward. After all these years it’s not too late!

She was still strapped into the driver’s seat according to this article, which is pretty strange. You’d think the first thing you’d do if you couldn’t avoid your car going into the lake is to undo the seat-belt so you could get out, unless you were unconscious or dead.

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