‘A scream I’ll never forget’: Moment family’s life torn apart


MANDY Smith takes a deep breath amid the tears. She is reliving the worst day of her life almost 36 years ago - and that scream.

"I was 15. The phone rang, I answered it. It was my older sister Sharon. She sounded like a young child was asking to speak to mummy.

"I asked her 'what's up' and she just said 'I need to speak to mummy now'. She was 17.

"I got mum and her scream is something I will never forget. It was a scream of heartache and disbelief and horror. Mum went totally white in the face."

Mandy's older sister Vanessa Joy O'Brien - just six weeks shy of her wedding - had been murdered by a psychopath stranger. It was July 8, 1985. She was 22.

"I remember the detectives coming to the house and collecting her hairbrush and her toothbrush and that was to do DNA to identify her," Mandy says.

Her brother Ben, about 24 at the time, had to identify the body. "It has changed his life. I can't imagine what my brother goes through. It has destroyed him.

"My mum went from a vibrant person into a sad person. You shouldn't have to bury your children."



Amanda 'Mandy' Smith holds a picture of her sister Vanessa Joy O'Brien. Picture: Jerad Williams.
Amanda 'Mandy' Smith holds a picture of her sister Vanessa Joy O'Brien. Picture: Jerad Williams.



Troy James O'Meara would be given a life sentence for Vanessa's death. However, little did anyone know that another innocent, loved woman had suffered the same fate at evil's hands 18 months earlier.

In the Supreme Court in Brisbane on Monday, O'Meara admitted murdering Linda Reed near Gaven on December 13, 1983, ending one of the city's most intriguing cold cases.

Vanessa's family can speak about their daughter and sister and the Reed case for the first time. The pain Mandy, brother Ben and mother Joyce feel for Linda's family is second only to the agony surrounding Vanessa's loss and what she endured in the final hours of her life.

They shared that anguish with the Bulletin in August 2018, just days after O'Meara was arrested for Linda's murder, remembering Vanessa's strength and love and revealing a very private secret.



Vanessa Joy O'Brien was just 22 when she died. Picture: Jerad Williams
Vanessa Joy O'Brien was just 22 when she died. Picture: Jerad Williams




O'Meara said he caught a taxi to Redcliffe shops on July 8, 1985, looked around for a while and bought a chicken roll.

His sole mission was "to select a woman at random and kill her''.

He waited until a lady came out of a shop, ran up to the driver's side door with a knife and told her not to do anything silly.

O'Meara forced Vanessa to drive to Zillmere to an unofficial dump. He tied her hands together with underclothing he had bought that morning and raped her in the back of the car.

He also took money from her purse and the wedding rings she had just bought.

He punched, kicked and reversed over her in the car and then "left her for dead", driving back to Clontarf and getting a taxi home. Her car was found the following day and her body the day after.

O'Meara would escape briefly from jail and try it again at least once more during his stint behind bars.

His world came crashing down again in mid-2018 when a scrunched up packet of cigarettes found in the back of Linda's car and a fingerprint on another vehicle helped lead police to the Linda Reed murder.

Days after Linda's death, a man driving a Toyota HiAce picked up a hitchhiker in the area. He was smoking the same brand of cigarettes found in Linda's car, but didn't have the packet. The driver contacted police who took a fingerprint from the passenger-side window.

Police said the fingerprint belonged to O'Meara.



Vanessa Joy O’Brien and her siblings as children. Picture: Jerad Williams
Vanessa Joy O’Brien and her siblings as children. Picture: Jerad Williams



JULY 8, 1985

Vanessa had gone out to get a heater, pick up her wedding rings and visit the florist who was re-stitching her mother's wedding veil.

"She got to pick up the wedding rings and went to the florist. That's where he got her," Mandy says sitting at a living room table covered with photos.

"A police officer told us the second time O'Meara got in the car, he started to drive off and looked in the rear vision mirror and said 'what the hell does it take to kill this f***king whore, she's still alive'. He went back, bashed and raped her again and then ran her over with the car.

"Even if they would have found her alive, there would have been nothing left, she wouldn't have been our sister.



"For her to be out in the bush by herself crawling around, probably thinking to herself 'I want the pain to stop and I just want my family', that really does get to me. That night it was cold. It was raining, the weather was crap and she had to be out there, trying to save herself and she couldn't.

"Ben actually saw her car that day. It was raining heavily and he blames himself for not turning that car around and chasing her. He blames himself for her not being alive. He's been carrying that burden for all these years and hasn't said one word to us.

"Her funeral was massive. There were cars everywhere. People everywhere.

"This has destroyed our family. There was a time when we would have family barbecues, big family Christmas. There's none of that now. It was like the aunties and uncles couldn't face each other anymore. There was pain."

The top cop was family friend Jim O'Sullivan. He was a fishing mate of Vanessa's father when she was aged seven or eight and would later become Police Commissioner.

"He couldn't believe it when he took over the case," Mandy says. "He recognised Vanessa's name, but he couldn't put my mum's name with Vanessa's name because she had remarried.

"When he walked into the room and saw Mum he said 'not my Nessie'. He told my mum 'give me 48 hours and I'll have the bastard'.

"He had him 24 hours later."



Troy James O'Meara is driven under arrest by police to the Police Watch House in Brisbane after being arrested for the 1983 murder of Linda Reed on the Gold Coast. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Troy James O'Meara is driven under arrest by police to the Police Watch House in Brisbane after being arrested for the 1983 murder of Linda Reed on the Gold Coast. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)




Mandy remembers seeing an article about the arrest in August 2018 and thinking 'great another piece of garbage is going to jail'.

"We went to the Pink concert and there was a band on before her that we didn't recognise, so we went for a drink and I looked at my phone. I had two missed calls from my mum.

"I had this overwhelming feeling that something was desperately wrong. I rang Mum and she said 'he's done it again, Linda Reed'. I don't know how I didn't faint.

"Then it kicked in. What if they had caught him when he killed Linda? I give the police all the credit in the world, but sometimes they need to follow up on leads. If they had taken a full description of the young man that got picked up in the van that day, with the loose cigarettes, it could be a different story. They could have got a description, a mugshot of him, a sketch, anything, my sister might still be alive.


"But because of Vanessa, they caught him and there is no one else out there like us. It still brings up a lot of what ifs still.

"The cases are so similar, the tying of the bra, how he tied her up, where they got picked up from. He raped them both and then killed them.

"I had this recurring dream for a long time: I would see Vanessa, she would turn into a coffin and then back to Vanessa in a wedding dress and then blood would pour out of her body. I hadn't had that dream for 15 years until the night after I heard about Linda Reed. I wake up, I can't breathe.

"I came back to the Gold Coast because there were really happy memories here from when we were little kids. They're gone now. For the last five years, I have been driving past that spot (at Gaven), where that mongrel took a life before my sister's life.

"They reckon time heals. It doesn't. It's still as raw as yesterday. You learn to deal with it as best you can.

Vanessa Joy O'Brien. Picture: Jerad Williams
Vanessa Joy O'Brien. Picture: Jerad Williams



Ben is naturally angry with O'Meara, although he says he tries not to think about it: "It's pretty much f***ed up my life.

"It's made me very protective, that's what it's done. It's a heavy burden to carry, but only when it gets brought up. There's stuff you just don't want to think about."

Mandy says she would like to confront him. "I know I wouldn't get an answer, he'd sit there stupidly, but I want to ask him why he killed my sister.

"Yeah, he got a life sentence, but we're the ones who are really living the life sentence.





"For the two murders to be exactly the same. It's too much."

Joyce says she worked with other victims of crime on the rewriting of the criminal code and compensation laws.

"I buried my daughter with dignity and he's still behind bars. There's so many people out there who have an empty car on the side of the highway, or an empty bedroom because their kid didn't come home from the movies … I felt lucky. I had answers, they didn't have them and that's what keeps me going."

On O'Meara's pleading guilty to Linda's death, Joyce said on Monday: "I can sleep for the first time in years knowing that he can't hurt any other person."



Vanessa Joy O'Brien. Picture: Jerad Williams
Vanessa Joy O'Brien. Picture: Jerad Williams




The O'Brien-Reed families will be forever tied. However, Mandy deeply wishes she didn't have to feel the pain they share - not just for herself, but for what Linda's family has gone through.

"It's horrible to say that there is another family out there that knows our pain.

"They're identical to ours, the only thing is Vanessa hadn't quite got married and they didn't know who killed their daughter. After all these years, we are exactly the same.

"My mum really wants to meet Linda's mum and talk to them about what's happened. It's horrible to say, but maybe they could find some comfort in each other."

Ben: "When you read what happened to Linda, he went and did pretty much the same thing to Vanessa. That poor girl copped it before she did. I feel sorry for her family."

Joyce says she would "like to meet up with the Reeds and support them".

"I could have ripped the throat out of the psychiatrist once when he said he knew how we were feeling. I walked into his office, pink chairs, pink this, pink that and I thought 'oh my God, here we go'. He said I understand how you feel Joyce and I said, 'oh yeah, you've had a daughter murdered too?' He couldn't have said no enough. I said 'well, how the bloody hell do you think I feel? You've got no clue'."



Vanessa Joy O'Brien was known for her kindness. Picture: Jerad Williams
Vanessa Joy O'Brien was known for her kindness. Picture: Jerad Williams





An example of Vanessa's kindness with a virtual stranger burns bright in Joyce's memory.

"I remember when she was working at a store. One of her customers, it was before pension day, only had a certain amount of money and he wanted a pouch of tobacco. But if he bought the tobacco, he couldn't feed his dog. So he put the tobacco away and he bought the dog food.

"It bugged Vanessa all day long, so she bought the tobacco. She knew where the old fella lived -- it was on Bribie Island -- and on her way home from work she took the tobacco to him. He sat there and cried. That's the type of person she was."

Mandy: "We had a single mum, she did her best. If mum couldn't afford milk, we would have Sunshine Milk (powdered milk), and she had this huge glass jar for it. One day mum said to us before she was heading out for the day, 'make sure the house is clean when I get back and no fighting'.

"Sharon and Vanessa started to fight and I've got between them and tried to push them away. Vanessa picked up this glass jar of Sunshine Milk, about two litres of it, and tipped it over my head. They put me in the shower, cleaned up the kitchen and made another batch of milk, like nothing ever happened.

"If someone was sad, Vanessa would always pick them up and make them happy. She was there for everyone. She was a vibrant, fun-loving. The love she had for everyone was amazing."



Vanessa was suffering from cancer when she was killed. Picture: Jerad Williams
Vanessa was suffering from cancer when she was killed. Picture: Jerad Williams




"She wasn't well before she died," Vanessa's mother Joyce remembers. "She had kidney cancer; she only had six months to live.

"She made a phone call to me on the Friday night before she died. She said 'mum, if anything happened to me, could I be buried with Larry (Joyce lost a baby boy, many years before).' I told her it was a great big slab, and I couldn't afford it. She said if she couldn't be buried with Larry, 'I'd like to be buried near Pop'.

"I remember saying to her that she was getting married in six weeks time, what the hell are you talking about dying for. She said 'I just thought I'd ask'.

"She'd been told that day about the kidney trouble. One kidney was gone and the other was on its way out. I knew she had been having back pain and a lot of trouble. We didn't know what it was until just before the trial. One of the detectives rang and told me about it. She rang me on the Friday and she was dead on the Monday afternoon.

"He took that last six months off her."

Originally published as 'A scream I'll never forget': Moment family's life torn apart

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