Thirty years after the brutal rape and murder of Anita Cobby, details of her death still have the power to shock and bring tears to the eyes of hardened police officers.

The gang-rape and torture of the 26-year-old nurse in Sydney was so violent that it still haunts those involved including her husband John Cobby, who fell into drugs to cope and still can't bear to read reports about her death, even now.

"He still doesn't know the names of the people who killed her, he's avoided that his whole life," reporter Steve Pennells told

Pennells interviewed Mr Cobby as part of a movie-length investigation into her death Seven News Investigates: Anita Cobby. You Thought You Knew It All, which screens tonight.


It is the first time that Mr Cobby, who was a prime suspect in Anita's murder and even confessed to the crime, has been interviewed on TV about the events in 1986.

The five men accused and charged with Cobby's rape and murder. Photo / Supplied
The five men accused and charged with Cobby's rape and murder. Photo / Supplied

"He was a broken man and shortly after her death he went into hiding," Pennells said.

Mr Cobby also changed his name as he couldn't bear the association to the crime. He has only recently begun to face the past and decided to restore his identity.

"He blames himself still for her death and thinks 'it should have been me'. It is heartbreaking to spend time with him."

On the night she went missing Anita was unable to call her father to pick her up, as the public phone at the Blacktown train station was broken. It was thought this may have been one of the reasons she decided to walk home. On the way, Anita was dragged into a car, kicking and screaming.

Pennells said Mr Cobby still has vivid dreams about Anita including ones where he rescues the beauty queen from life-threatening situations, such as from an oncoming car. Other dreams involve walking into court and killing those responsible for her death, even though he doesn't know who they are.

He is not the only one who fantasises about getting revenge on the five men involved.

Anita's younger sister, who lived every blow to her sister as if it had been inflicted on her, also remains angry, as do police, Pennells said.

New details of the case are set to be revealed on Australian television. Photo / Supplied
New details of the case are set to be revealed on Australian television. Photo / Supplied

He said some officers involved in the investigation left the force afterwards and some are still close to Anita's family.

Having looked at the crime scene and autopsy photos, Pennells understands why.

"I've gone to war zones and been to many crime scenes, I've been a journalist for a good quarter of a century ... but this crime is horrifying ... and I can see why everyone was affected."

Anita was grabbed off the street while walking home from a suburban Sydney train station after work. She was pulled into a car with five men, who took her to a paddock and gang-raped her, breaking her fingers and dislocating other bones before one of them cut her throat so violently her head was almost severed from her body.

When details of the crime became public, especially after radio host John Laws read out details of her injuries from a leaked post-mortem report live on radio, Australians demanded the return of the death penalty for the five men involved.

"I've seen a lot of death and violence in my career, but this crime has haunted me," Pennells said.

"To think that people could do that to someone and have no remorse is frightening."

Pennells interviews five of the police officers involved in the investigation and some of them struggle to contain their emotions.

"These are hardened police officers and I talk to them and their eyes well up in tears. They get angry, even 30 years later it still brings up all this emotion. To actually see grown men cry about a crime that happened 30 years ago, it's extraordinary."

Pennells has also been given the tapes that police used to put the killers away and will play the confessions for the first time.

He also speaks to Anita's sister and one of the main witnesses.

Thirty years after the crime, John Travers, Michael Murdoch and the three brothers Leslie, Gary and Michael Murphy remain in jail. They are serving life sentences with no possibility of parole.

But the brutality of their crime continues to resonate and has become part of Australia's DNA, Pennells says.

"Everyone knows about this crime, even those who weren't born 30 years ago. There's something about this case, about Anita, that resonates, 30 years on it's still affecting people."