IT was a massive manhunt to capture the imagination of Australia. Dozens of police, including marksmen, were suddenly involved in the hunt for two desperadoes cornered near Dunmore Bridge at Woodville, out of Maitland.
And it happened 46 years ago next Wednesday, on November 13, 1973. It was a hot, humid, cloudy day. Anxious armed police combed the bamboo thickets along the Paterson River after an earlier car chase from Stanford Merthyr, near Kurri, to flood plains around Maitland with shots fired at police from a stolen car. The sweep by police of the rich alluvial farmland followed an initial police radio description of a stolen car and two men being sought. Nothing unusual really. The car was then spotted heading towards Kurri. Soon the pursuit was on, with one police car rammed and possibly five shots from a .308 calibre rifle then fired at a second pursuing vehicle.
In it, Senior Constable John Millward heard a shot, saw his windscreen shatter and felt a searing pain to his forehead. Blood poured onto his shirt, but he managed to stop his vehicle. Fortunately, the bullet came out above his right ear. He survived.
Soon the two fugitives - later identified as Allan Baker and Kevin Crump - abandoned their stolen car after swerving to avoid a roadblock and spearing into a lucerne field to become bogged. But police were puzzled. Why were the pair so desperate to escape?
One witness who still remembers the day is former Newcastle Sun newspaper reporter Keith Powell, of Lake Macquarie.
"It was a very tense situation. You could almost feel it in the air," Powell said.
"Feelings were running very high. The police had guns drawn and were all along the riverbank, knowing they were after two apparently desperate criminals.
"I was then a young police roundsman. I think I was with photographer Greg Noakes. We'd got to Woodville by following the police cars. When we got there, we were kept well back. Police officers were very active searching along the river or sitting waiting in the reeds there. I think Crump and Baker had tried to drive across a field (near the bridge) but may have been caught in a fence.
"I can't be absolutely sure as it was so many years ago. Police with rifles and shotguns were proceeding with extreme caution to apprehend them.
"Later, a helicopter and a light plane were involved in the search, but Baker and Crump couldn't be found. By then they were underwater, breathing through reeds, to escape capture. Then the pair were discovered, cold and wet, and were brought up from the river and over a rise with police on either side of them. The whole episode became front page news with about 70 heavily armed police hunting this two extremely dangerous pair and also with the emergency surgery on Constable Millward, who'd earlier been shot in the forehead. It was one of the biggest stories of the decade in Newcastle. I soon also covered the story in Maitland Court and had to be very, very careful what I wrote because the full facts why the pair didn't want to be caught hadn't yet emerged.
"I had to dictate my article over the telephone to a copytaker back at the Sun office. This was 1973, remember, when there were no mobile phones around."
After their capture, the two fugitives were taken under heavy guard in separate trucks to Maitland police station. Baker had thrown his rifle, a .222, into the river. One policeman later said Baker came quietly as he "wasn't very brave without a gun".
Det Sgt Jack Winney of Newcastle CIB said no one spoke in the truck carrying Baker. The fugitive just looked at his captors and appeared "arrogant and without remorse".
The reasons Baker and Crump didn't want to be questioned by police over their stolen car and its items gradually became apparent. In 1974, the pair were convicted and jailed for the shooting murder of motorist Ian Lamb while sleeping in his car at Narrabri and for the rape, torture and conspiracy to murder housewife and mother of three Virginia Morse after she was abducted from her family's Collarenebri property and then subjected to 22 hours of atrocities. Details of her ordeal have never been released. One report stated she'd been shot in both eyes before her body was dumped in a billabong.
Another media man who remembered the Crump/Baker capture at Woodville in 1973 and later wrote about it is Barry Nancarrow.
A former news cameraman with NBN channel 3 from 1967 to 1982, a personal highlight was receiving a Logie award for his coverage of the 1979 Star Riot.
Over the years on assignment, by his own admission, he's been bitten by a monkey, dodged flying beer cans, ducked punches and once even got hit by an aeroplane while filming, only saying: "I just got too close."
The Woodville manhunt remains starkly in his memory as he recounts in his 2010 biography, The World is Only 16mm Big.
"Armed police were everywhere scouring the undergrowth in hope of flushing out the two men," he writes. With police marksmen now staking out strategic positions, Nancarrow, frustrated at not seeing enough action made his way to the top of a grassy bank to film a panoramic shot of the scene.
"But my raised profile sparked a shark rebuke from some police officer on the bridge threatening to shoot me if I didn't get back down behind the bank," Nancarrow writes.
Soon, his patience was rewarded by police dragging the two fugitives from hiding.
"Dishevelled and dripping ooze they were a disconsolate pair but they were no ordinary criminals as we were later to learn. Confronting me was Allan Baker and Kevin Crump, two of Australia's most sadistic killers ... I had long considered such criminals as ogres but the two former fugitives who passed in front of my lens looked uncomfortably ordinary, indistinguishable in life's passing parade," Nancarrow writes.
"At their trial, the judge described Baker and Crump as 'obscene criminals' who should spend the rest of their lives in jail and die there. Truth in sentencing legislation was born of such convictions."
That's because Crump's sentence was re-determined in 1997 to be a minimum of 30 years (with a maximum of life imprisonment), to expire in November 2003 as a judge felt he would no longer represent a danger to the community.
But in 2001, the NSW government under public and media pressure, changed the law to ensure Crump and nine others of the state's worst prisoners would never be released. A former police minister described the group (including the Anita Cobby killers) as "pure evil". Then NSW Premier Bob Carr said the legislation would ensure the killers "remained cemented in their cells".
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