Deborah Wallace re-enacted Anita Cobby’s last moments to help find her killer.
Deborah Wallace re-enacted Anita Cobby’s last moments to help find her killer.

How top cop helped catch Anita Cobby’s killers

When Deborah Wallace dressed up as Sydney nurse Anita Cobby and retraced her footsteps on the night she was abducted, the young constable kept thinking about the "terror" the 26-year-old must have felt as she was dragged screaming into a carload of killers.

At the time news broke about the murder, Constable Wallace was working the switchboard at Blacktown police station and she watched the team of detectives swing into action to hunt down the killers.

LISTEN TO EPISODE ONE

 

But within a couple of frustrating days, there were no significant leads and police were concerned the horrific rape and murder may go unsolved unless someone from the community came forward.

Anita Cobby was abducted and killed by five men while walking home from Blacktown Station. Picture: Bob Barker
Anita Cobby was abducted and killed by five men while walking home from Blacktown Station. Picture: Bob Barker

 

Police made a public appeal for help in finding Anita Cobby’s killers.
Police made a public appeal for help in finding Anita Cobby’s killers.

As she plugged away at the old switchboard putting calls through to the various officers, her boss, Detective Sergeant Graham Rosetta, walked past and looked her up and down and asked about her age and height.

"He had another look at me and said I think I have got an idea," said Det Superintendent Wallace.

Within a few hours she was enlisted to undertake a re-enactment of Anita Cobby's last known hours and was to dress in similar clothes, taking the same train to Blacktown station and walk in Anita Cobby's footsteps and to use the media to jog the public memory about that night.

"I had to continue to walk the route that she did, because there were some … witnesses had come forward saying we saw a car. "We heard a scream." And I think they wanted to get timings … to give credibility to the witnesses I guess.

Then constable Deborah Wallace retraced Anita Cobby’s steps to find witnesses.
Then constable Deborah Wallace retraced Anita Cobby’s steps to find witnesses.

 

Wallace was dressed in similar clothes and took the same route as Anita Cobby.
Wallace was dressed in similar clothes and took the same route as Anita Cobby.

More than 30 years later, Constable Wallace is now a Detective Superintendent and she has spoke out about the case that spurred her on to a stellar career as a detective and ultimately to become the first women in charge of the NSW Police State Crime Command Gangs Squad.

Detective Superintendent Wallace is one of five top female police officers featured in the Police Tape Blue Sirens podcast series.

In a compelling interview she talks about her role smashing the Brothers for Life gang, taking down the bikies with Strike force Raptor and her early days disrupting and dismantling the Vietnamese 5T gang in Cabramatta.

Detective Superintendent Commander of Gang Squad and Strike Force Raptor Deborah Wallace is interviewed as part of Police Tape Blue Sirens.
Detective Superintendent Commander of Gang Squad and Strike Force Raptor Deborah Wallace is interviewed as part of Police Tape Blue Sirens.

She also talks her defining moments in her career was her role in the hunt for Anita's killers.

"And I remember just walking quietly, the detectives were about two three hundred meters behind me, following me. And I remember getting to the point that we believe that was where she was actually kidnapped and I remember, and he asked me to pause at that place. Just, I suppose they could look at what the lighting was like etc.

"I remember getting to the point where she was actually kidnapped. … I just remember the car went past and I remember thinking what would she have felt at that moment. She was just walking home, had a lovely shift as a nurse in Sydney had dinner with her girlfriends and was walking home to be with her mum and dad Gary and Grace and suddenly her life was changed and stopped in that moment.

 

Then Detective Chief Inspector Deborah Wallace in 2003 speaking about a large drug bust in Canley Vale. Picture: Nick Andrean.
Then Detective Chief Inspector Deborah Wallace in 2003 speaking about a large drug bust in Canley Vale. Picture: Nick Andrean.

"What she must have felt when that car did a U-turn, pulled up behind her and the terror at that one moment being dragged into that car, … probably not knowing at that moment her life was would end shortly after. I remember thinking about the terror."

It was one of the first times police used a media strategy to engage the public and it worked bringing crucial information about the random attack.

"We did that and it wasn't until we finished that, it was about 10 o'clock in the car park at Blacktown, and it was very quiet, no one was around." Detective Sergeant Rosetta looked at her and said, "How would you like to be a detective?"

Deborah Wallace said her involvement in the Anita Cobby case set the path for the next 33 years on the police force.
Deborah Wallace said her involvement in the Anita Cobby case set the path for the next 33 years on the police force.

"I remember particularly when they were arrested, there were scenes that I've never seen before. I was still in uniform at the time and we had to put up a human chain, to keep … as they drove into the police station, people were … it was almost … they weren't violent riots, but they were vocal and yelling for, in a way revenge. There was even a noose hung over the police station. It was quite, surreal. That's how much of the emotion, because I think what had happened is Anita was anyone else's daughter. It could have been anybody. It was just wrong place, wrong time, I guess. And I think people resonated with that. This beautiful young girl's life was over by these five killers. And I think, personal satisfaction, absolutely, but I think more broadly, the community were satisfied that if you help us, and you work with us in a partnership, amazing things can be achieved. And the arrest of these five killers by that team very shortly thereafter, to me is a credit to the partnership we have."

Det Superintendent Wallace said it set the path for her career in the police force.

"It was defining for me because it set what was to become, the rest of my 33 years in the police force."

"I had wanted to spend my life down on the truck with the general duties guys and women," she said. But she saw something else that night that drove her in a different direction.

"I saw determination, passion, commitment all of those. "It was my path I suppose, my journey. "

To listen to Police Tape Blue Sirens go to truecrimeaustralia.com.au

 

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