This October, it finally looked like police would be able to have their day in court over the shocking 1997 nursing home murder of 95-year-old Kathleen Downes, having charged one of Australia's most depraved serial killers.
Mrs Downes had lived at the Brunswick Lodge nursing home on quiet Loyola Ave for eight years, becoming known as the "matriarch" of the community. Despite her age, she was still spritely, "a person who was able to get up and get about," as she was later described.
As is custom, a member of staff checked on Mrs Downes at 12:30am on New Year's Eve, and found her soundly sleeping. At 3am, another resident heard blinds rattling and a door opening — no doubt thinking it odd that someone was up at such an hour.
What the resident heard was most likely the sound of boltcutters snapping through the chain lock on Mrs Downes' bedroom window. Maybe it was the flyscreen being slashed open. Nobody, however, reported hearing Mrs Downes scream, as she was stabbed three times in the neck.
She was found at 6:30 the next morning, lying on the floor in a pool of blood.
"She was the type of lady who insisted on sleeping with her bedroom door open," Detective Chief Inspector Rod Collins told the media shortly after the shocking murder.
The killing has remained unsolved for 22 years.
Peter Dupas, who is already serving life sentences for the stabbing murders of three women, was a longtime suspect in the Downes case. He was formally questioned in 2013 for five hours, but denied any involvement.
In 2015, a former lawyer, who was jailed for drug trafficking and did time with Dupas, told an inquest that Dupas once confided in him: "I reckon I'm going to end up wearing the old sheila, Downes, too" while at other times allegedly crowing, "they will never get me for that".
The court heard two calls made to the nursing home in November 1997, and another just two hours before the stabbing, were traced to Dupas' phone.
With police believing evidence was mounting up, Dupas was charged last year with the brutal killing, and was set to stand trial this October.
However, the former lawyer and key witness for the case was deemed too ill to give evidence, and prosecutors were forced to drop the case.
The Downes slaying is only one of three unsolved murders that police believe Dupas committed, in addition to the three he has been found guilty of.
THE FIRST DUPAS MURDER?
Dupas first showed signs of violent intent towards woman at age 15. Visiting a neighbour's house, he asked to borrow a sharp knife to cut up some vegetables. He then slashed her face, neck and hands as she struggled to fight him off. He was placed on probation and spent two weeks under psychiatric care.
The following year, someone broke into a mortuary and mutilated the bodies of two elderly women. A distinctive carving was found on the thigh of one of the bodies – a carving that would show up again on one of his murder victims, leading police to believe Dupas may have been involved.
In 1974, Dupas was sentenced to nine years for what the judge called "one of the worst rapes that could be imagined". He was only 21 at the time. He was out after just five years. Less than 60 days after release, he went on a 10-day spree, sexually assaulting four women with varying levels of viciousness.
He was jailed, again with a five-year minimum, a report stating bluntly: "There is little that can be said in Dupas' favour … His release on parole was a mistake."
Despite this, in 1985 he was again released after serving his minimum sentence. Four days later, he raped a 21-year-old woman at knifepoint. She was sunbaking on a secluded stretch of Blairgowrie Beach when Dupas struck.
The timing was interesting to police. Just 16 days earlier, 47-year-old Helen McMahon had been murdered while sunbaking in the nearby sand dunes, a crime that bore uncanny similarities.
Ms McMahon liked Rye Beach for its sense of seclusion. On February 13, 1985, she did what she had done many times before, laying her towel out between the sandy dunes, and sunbaking topless.
At 3:30pm, her naked body was found hidden underneath her towel. She had been badly beaten. This happened less than 4km from where Dupas would rape the sunbaker two weeks later
Police questioned Dupas about Ms McMahon's murder, and he denied any involvement. They soon found that Dupas was still imprisoned during this time, so they dismissed any link.
Years later, it emerged that Dupas was actually on prerelease the day this murder occurred, and lived near Rye. Nobody has ever been charged for McMahon's killing.
Police now believe this was Dupas' first murder.
THE VIOLENT DEATH OF RENITA BRUNTON
Renita Brunton was stabbed 106 times in broad daylight in a busy mall in Sunbury.
The frenzied attack occurred at 1pm on November 5, 1993. The 31-year-old was in the kitchen of her second-hand clothing store Exclusive Pre-Loved Clothing.
Nobody reported hearing a scream, although news soon filtered out that she was seen in the store the previous day having a heated argument with a man, who was never identified.
Ms Brunton had only married five months earlier, so police followed procedure and both her husband and ex-husband were questioned. Both were cleared early on of having any involvement in her death.
One friend provided police with information that provided a link to Dupas, although this link wouldn't become evident until April, 1999, after he was charged with the brutal murder of Nicole Patterson.
At the time of the Brunton murder, Dupas was living less than half an hour's drive from the store – but, more interesting to police, he lived in Woodend, the same suburb as Renita Brunton.
Her friend Annette Davey told police Ms Brunton had been holding informal counselling sessions out the back of her store, and was that day meeting a man "with a violent sexual history".
In 1999, Dupas used the alias "Malcolm" and organised to meet local 28-year-old psychotherapist Nicole Patterson, after seeing her classified ad in a local newspaper.
Ms Patterson was attempting to move into private practice and had placed the ad in hopes of building her client base. Dupas called her three separate times over a six-week period to inquire about the sessions, and eventually made a 9am appointment one morning at her home.
Her body was discovered that evening in the front room, with 27 stab wounds to her chest and spine. Both of her breasts had been cut off and bits of tape were attached to her body. Dupas was arrested three days later and charged and convicted of the murder.
In the earlier case of Renita Brunton, the murderer had also used the ruse of counselling sessions in order to facilitate a meeting in a private location, where she would be vulnerable.
Dupas has always protested his innocence in the Brunton case, and provided an alibi to police.
"But then you put that in the context of the injuries and the type of attack it is and the type of offending he's done in the past, those things have to be weighed up," Detective Sergeant Rowe told Channel 7 in 2017, after the Victorian Police offered a reward of $1 million.
"If it's not Peter Dupas, then who is it?"
THREE DECADES OF "TERRORISED WOMEN"
Regardless of whether Dupas, now 66, is ever convicted of the three unsolved murders above, he will spend the rest of his days behind bars, with no chance of parole.
Each time he was freed from lengthy prison stints, he offended again. After being freed in 1992, he was again arrested in January 1994, after attempting to rape a woman at knifepoint in a toilet block. In September, 1996, he was free again, and killed at least twice the following year.
In the early hours of October 4, 1997, he murdered 40-year-old prostitute Margaret Maher in Melbourne, a crime he would not be charged with until 2004.
Her body was found under a cardboard box that afternoon by a man who was collecting cans roadside. She had been hit in the skull with a cinder block, stabbed in the wrist, and choked to death.
Horrifically, Dupas had removed her left breast and stuffed it into her mouth.
Justice Stephen Kaye, in handing down the verdict, said Dupas left her body "by the side of a road, in a desolate place, as a disgusting display of loathing for the deceased and contempt for her dignity".
"Not content with what you had done to her in life, you robbed her of her dignity in death," he said.
"You had, over almost three decades, terrorised women in this state."
Less than a month after Maher's killing, Dupas struck again, murdering Mersina Halvagis as she knelt in front of her grandmother's grave in a Greek Orthodox cemetery, in Melbourne suburb Fawkner.
He stabbed her 87 times, and dumped her body in an empty plot three graves from her grandmother.
Nine witnesses placed Dupas at the cemetery that day, and he was a regular at the hotel across the street. As with two of his other victims, he slashed wildly at her breasts, but did not remove them.
It wasn't until 2007 that Dupas was finally charged for this murder, and found guilty, his third guilty verdict.
Interestingly, the former lawyer who was set to testify in the nursing home murder this October was instrumental in seeing Dupas charged with the 1997 graveyard killing, telling the court that he confessed in jail and even re-enacted the murder.
"You seem to be motivated by a deeply entrenched, perverted and sadistic hatred of women," Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth said, sentencing Dupas to his third life term.
"A complete contempt for them — and their right to live."
This article was first published on news.com.au.