Crime of Hard Knocks
Faraday and Wooreen: Australian School Kidnappings | Case Closed #6
Australian man kidnaps, takes hostage 22 victims in two separate incidents.
On a fateful day in a rural town in Australia, an event took place which proved that even rural towns or schools there, are not exempt from crime kicking its door down. A second, similar incident following this, also demonstrated that sometimes, even criminals can sometimes fail to learn their lessons the first time around.
1) The Faraday school incident
Regarding the first incident, which took place on October 6, 1972, two plasterers by the name of Edwin John Eastwood, and his accomplice, Robert Clyde Boland, entered a one-teacher school in the rural town of Faraday, Victoria, Australia, at about 3 p.m. Armed with a sawed-off shotgun, they forced its 20-year old female teacher, Mary Gibbs, and six of her students: Robyn Howarth, 11, her sisters, Jillian, 8, and Denise, 5, Lynda Conn, 9, her sister, Helen, 6, and Christine Ellery, 10, into a red delivery van. They also left a note at the school threatening to kill all of the hostages unless a ransom of $1,000,000, to be paid in cash, was met, then drove away with the victims into a remote area in the bush.
The note read as follows:
RANSOM WILL BE ONE MILLION 500,000 — $ 20 NOTES (3 SUITCASES) 500,000 — $10 NOTES (6 SUITCASES) ALL CURRENCY MUST HAVE BEEN IN CIRCULATION AT LEAST 12 MONTHS
AT 7.25 PM WE WILL CONTACT LINDSAY THOMPSON AT RUSSELL ST. POLICE HQ AND MAKE ARRANGEMENTS WITH HIM.
WE ARE NOT GOING TO WASTE ANYONES TIME BY MAKING IDLE THREATS SO WE WILL CUT IT SHORT BY SAYING THAT ANY ATTEMPT TO TRACE US AND APPREHEND US WILL RESULT IN THE ANNIHILATION OF EVERY HOSTAGE.
The Premier of Victoria, Dick Hamer, stated publically that evening, that the ransom was to be paid by the State Government. The Victorian Education Minister and future Premiere, Lindsey Thompson, driven to the scene by Assistant Commissioner W.D. (Bill) Crowley who masqueraded as the minister’s driver while armed with a trousered derringer pistol. In addition to them, future Commissioner S.I. Miller hid under a blanket in the rear of the vehicle with a high-powered rifle. Thompson waited to deliver the ransom personally. However, the money was never collected. Early the following morning, Eastwood and Boland told Gibbs that they intended to receive the payment, before leaving her and her students to do so. After they left, Gibbs managed to kick the door panel out with her platform-heeled leather boots, thus giving her and her pupils their chance to escape. Despite their escape taking place in the dark, and struggling to find their way around, the freed group managed to find help a few kilometers away. Both Eastwood and Boland were later captured by heavily armed Victoria Police officers, following an extensive search.
Eastwood later pleaded guilty to seven counts of kidnapping on December 1972 and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment with a non-parole period of ten years; three armed robbery charges against him also got taken into consideration, in exchange for evidence against Boland.
As for Boland, he was convicted by a jury in March 1974 after three trials, and given a sentence of seventeen years imprisonment with a non-parole period of twelve years. Eastwood has maintained Boland’s innocence in the incident, adding that his real cohort was an ex-convict whom Thompson had spoken to at Woodend, and who had been detained at the scene but later released.
For her bravery, Mary Gibbs was awarded a George Medal on January 22, 1973.
It would not be the last people would hear of Eastwood and his actions. On December 16, 1976, Eastwood escaped from Geelong Prison, after stealing a car.
2) The Wooreen Primary School kidnapping
“Don’t try anything f — -ing smart or I’ll shoot you.” — one of the child victims recalled hearing a masked Eastwood say to his new instructor as he held him at gunpoint.
On February 15, 1977, Eastwood struck again. This time, he kidnapped another teacher, 20-year old Robert Hunter, and nine of his students, from Wooreen Primary School in Gippsland, Victoria. Notably, at this time, Hunter was only nine days into what was his first job since he finished three years at university, (as the new term had just started) at the time he and his students were abducted at gunpoint, with a pistol.
This time around, Eastwood chained the children together and bound and gagged Hunter before putting them into his stolen vehicle, driving for several hours.
Moreover, before leaving with his prisoners, Eastwood left a note behind on the front door of the school, telling parents of the children that they were on a ‘nature walk study’ and would be ‘back in two hours,’ delaying the sounding of the alarm on the kidnapping taking place.
When the children failed to return after a couple of hours passed, the parents informed the police under the belief that their children and their teacher had merely gotten lost on their walk in the Hallston bush.
Meanwhile, with prisoners in tow and no one yet aware of the situation, at Mirboo North, Eastwood posted a letter to a newspaper editor, demanding a ransom. Also, at another one point, while driving around, Eastwood wound up colliding with a log truck. When the driver and his passenger stepped out to check on the occupants on the other car, Eastwood took both of them hostage. About twenty minutes later, Eastwood flagged down a second truck that was passing by and took both of its occupants’ hostage too.
By this point, now holding a total of fourteen people captive, one would be mistaken for hoping that Eastwood would come to his senses and surrender, since he was very clearly operating without any plan whatsoever, but nope. Now, I don’t know what this guy’s academic background entailed, but considering he tried the same stunt a second time, I’m going to go out on a limb and say maybe he did not put enough effort into his studies, because, had he done so, he wouldn’t have had to learn the same lesson twice. What lesson is that? Don’t commit crimes in the first place, especially when it involves kidnapping a bunch of young children and holding random, innocent people hostage. Concerning hostages crises, though 99.9% of the time it will not end in the criminal’s favor, that alone won’t deter one from trying anyway, but I digress. Surrender was just not on this guy’s mind. Why? Because not long after taking the second pair of truckers hostage, Eastwood commandeered a passing campervan and held its two female occupants captive as well.
With sixteen hostages now under his watch, including nine young children, their teacher who was still fresh on the job, two pairs of truckers who were passing by, followed by two female occupants in a campervan who were also merely passing through, Eastwood made his aforementioned demand of a ransom of US $7 million. Moreover, he also demanded guns, 100 kilograms of heroin and cocaine (which, of course, *eye roll*), as well as the release of seventeen inmates from Pentridge Prison. However, his “plan” began falling apart after one of his hostages managed to escape and alert police, after which, once he realized this, Eastwood fled with his remaining hostages in the campervan, to which police quickly disabled by way of gunfire, at Woodside. The perpetrator himself was shot below the right knee and promptly re-captured, (he later claimed that he got shot, while unarmed, after surrendering to police.)
Eastwood later pleaded guilty to 25 charges, including 16 counts of kidnapping, 3 of theft of a motor vehicle, another 3 of using a firearm with intent to avoid lawful apprehension, one of escaping legal custody, another of burglary, yet another of theft, with ten other taken into consideration. Subsequently, he was sentenced on November 8, 1977, to 21 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 18 years. Regarding the sentencing, Justice Murray ordered that it be served concurrently with the balance of the verdict from the Faraday school kidnapping incident; the resulting total active sentence imposed in respect to both events being 25 years and 11 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 22 years and 11 months.
It would still not be the last people would hear of Eastwood however as, on April 30, 1981, he fatally strangled a convicted rapist named Glen Davis in the exercise yard of Pentridge Prison and charged with murder as a result; he was consequently acquitted on the grounds of self-defense as he was stabbed a total of ten times during this incident.
After remissions later got abolished, Eastwood’s application was granted, allowing for a re-determination of his sentence, and after allowing for 17 months of reductions forfeited as a result of his 1976 escape, he was re-sentenced to 20 years and four months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 18 years and four months. In 1993, he got released, having declined the offer of parole back in 1991. As of the latest update on him, Eastwood works as a truck driver and has evidently, not gotten into legal trouble since.
As for some of the victims, Robert Hunter went on to write a book on his and his students’ ordeal, called Day 9 At Wooreen. And speaking of his students, one of them, Ray Argento, who was nine-years-old at the time, went on to become Mayor of the local government where the kidnapping took place, and who cited the ordeal as having shaped the person he became later on in life (in the good sense, of course.)
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Nicole Henley is a freelance writer and storyteller. An East-coast girl whose obsessed with shows like The X-Files, Buffy and almost every crime procedural series under the sun. Writing the story is merely half the journey. When she’s not covering cold cases or mysteries, she’s watching movies or writing poetry, short stories, and flash fiction that may or may not be based on horror.