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Louise Bell case: Dieter Pfennig to stand trial next week
A former teacher will next week stand trial over the murder of
Louise Bell, more than
30 years after the schoolgirl was abducted from the bedroom of her Hackham West home.
Supreme Court Justice Michael David on Monday revoked an order suppressing the identity
of the 10-year-old’s alleged killer,
Dieter Pfennig, after defence counsel opted for a
trial by judge alone.
Prosecutors will allege Pfennig broke into Louise’s bedroom, which she shared with her
sister, and abducted her on the night of January 4, 1983.
The alleged abduction was not discovered until early the next morning when Louise’s
mother, Diane, realised she was missing.
Torrensville cleaner, Raymond John Geesing, who lived 500m from the Bell’s Meadow Way
home at the time of Louise’s abduction, was charged with murder 10 months later.
He was convicted on circumstantial evidence and spent 16 months in jail before his
conviction was overturned.
The crime remained one of the state’s most enduring mysteries and a focus of SA Police.
It was not until after a concerted cold case review of the Bell investigation that Major
Crime detectives travelled to Port Lincoln and charged Pfennig, now aged 67, with Louise’s
murder in November 2013.
Developments in DNA testing led to police arresting and charging Pfennig over Louise’s
murder after sending a pyjama top, which was found on a neighbour’s lawn two weeks after
her disappearance, to the Netherlands.
The trial will include a view of the Hackham West home Bell was taken from and Pfennig’s
then residence a few streets away on Holly Rise.
Police have previously excavated and searched Pfennig’s old home in the hope of finding
The property was first searched in 1991, when the entire backyard was excavated and timber
floors in several bedrooms ripped up, but nothing was found.
Ground-penetrating radar was later used on the property but did not lead to any discovery.
Pfennig, who is being held in a high security cell at Yatala, showed little emotion during
the brief court appearance on Monday.
Prosecutor Sandi McDonald will open the trial on Monday, September 28, and it is expected to
run for several weeks.
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Man charged over the 1983 murder of South Australian schoolgirl Louise Bell
New forensic evidence led to Major Crime detectives charging a former schoolteacher in the
Louise Bell murder case.
The evidence forms the backbone of the case against former schoolteacher
Dieter Pfennig, 65, who was today charged
with the murder of the 10-year-old schoolgirl.
In a sensational development in the 30-year old mystery, detectives from the Major Crime Investigation Section
descended on Port Lincoln.
Pfennig, who has been a suspect in the Bell abduction for two decades, was taken to the Port
Lincoln police station after being arrested and formally interviewed.
He was then charged with murder.
In an Adelaide Magistrates Court hearing before Magistrate Jayanthi McGrath, he
appeared via videolink from Port Lincoln Magistrates Court and was remanded to next
appear in February. He sat emotionless and silent.
The arrest was the culmination of a two-year cold-case review in which many pieces
of evidence, including the pyjama top worn by Louise, were sent to the Netherlands by police for advanced DNA testing.
The pyjama top was left on the front lawn of a neighbour's house two months after Louise was abducted from her
bedroom on the night of January 4, 1983.
The DNA testing used new "low-copy'' testing techniques that have been successfully used in other jurisdictions, including the US.
The low-copy method of DNA testing is a far more sensitive technique than the method used in Australia.
It can extract a DNA profile from just a few cells of skin or sweat.
The review also led to police excavating the backyard of a Hackham West house that was occupied by Pfennig when Louise was abducted.
It was the second time his house had been searched by officers investigating the case.
Deputy Commissioner Grant Stevens declined to be drawn on the nature of
the new evidence against Pfennig, but said police would allege he abducted Louise
from her bedroom sometime after 10.30pm on January 4.
They believe he acted alone and no other suspects are being sought.
"She has not been seen since and unfortunately her remains have not been located,'' Mr Stevens said.
"This is a significant step forward in the investigation and is evidence once again that police
continue to investigate murders, regardless of their age or the difficulty of those investigations.''
Mr Stevens paid tribute to the current investigators and others, many of whom have since retired, who
also sought to bring Louise's killer to justice.
"We have also had significant support from Forensic Science SA, who have been
instrumental in helping us to bring this case to a point where we have been able to make an arrest,'' he said.
Louise was snatched from the bedroom of her house on Meadow Way during the night of January 4, 1983.
Neighbour Pat Golsby, who has lived in Meadow Way since 1971, welcomed news of the arrest.
"We all had young children at the time, there were a lot of children on the street so it was very distressing,'' she said.
"It is something that has needed to be solved for a long time and you just wonder all the time who could do such a thing.
"Our kids used to all play together, it would be nice to know where Louise is for her parents' sake.
Hopefully now they can get closure for the parents. It has taken so long.''
Pfennig has been a suspect in the case for two decades. He lived two streets from the Bell house when Louise was abducted.
The backyard of his house and a shed were first excavated in 1991. The floors of two bedrooms were
also dug up as part of the search, which failed to find any evidence.
One of the key exhibits sent overseas for forensic testing was the pyjama top
Louise was wearing at the time she was abducted through her bedroom window.
Weeks after taking Louise, her abductor phoned Kathleen Smith - who lived near
the Bells - and asked about medical advice for Louise.
He told her where to find Louise's
earrings - under a brick at the Beach Rd-South Rd intersection. Earrings matching Louise's were discovered.
Five weeks later he left Louise's pyjama top - neatly folded - on Mrs Smith's front lawn.
Algae and soil samples found on the pyjama top led police to the estuary area at Noarlunga but no trace of the girl was found.
Deputy Commissioner Stevens said the arrest was the "culmination of the relentless work of
all those police involved over the years combined with the dedicated efforts of Forensic Science SA personnel".
The investigation had involved taking 550 statements as detectives pursued Louise's murderer.
"Murder investigations never close and police do follow up every line of inquiry in the hope that
each case is solved and the justice process completed," he said.
"Police have had ongoing contact with the Bell family during the past 30 years and continue that contact today.
"Louise's family remain devastated by her disappearance and remain hopeful that her remains will, one day, be found.
"Police will continue to work hard to meet this expectation. As this case shows it is never too
late and police will take action whenever possible."
Raymond John Geesing, who had lived 500m from the Bell house until two months before her
abduction, was initially charged with murdering Louise. Police had spoken to the father-of-four days after the abduction.
He was convicted using circumstantial evidence, but this was later overturned. The court found some
grounds of suspicion but that they fell far short of the proof the law required for conviction of a criminal offence.
A key witness, a prisoner, was found to have fabricated his statement implicating
Geesing, who successfully sued the government for facial injuries sustained during his 16 months in prison.
Search for Louise Bell (3-7-2012) -
School friend hopes mystery of missing Louise Bell will be solved
Kylie Doubikin will never forget the day her school friend Louise Bell was abducted.
"It was school holidays, they had police helicopters landing on the school oval and the police came and interviewed us all," Mrs Doubikin, of Hackham West, said.
"I grew up in the area and I was friends with Louise, we were in the same class at school."
Louise was 10 when she was abducted from the bedroom of her family home in Hackham West on January 4, 1983. Her body has never been found.
Mrs Doubikin, 39, said she was sad the high-profile case still remained unsolved but was pleased the investigation had been reopened.
"We were only 10 when it happened and we all just wanted her found," Mrs Doubikin said.
"She was just a shy, sweet girl."
Major Crime detectives started a search of a Holly Rise home, Hackham West, for new evidence earlier this week.
It is the second time the home, which was once owned by Dieter Pfennig, has been searched in relation to the case.
Pfennig owned the Holly Rise property from 1977 until 1992.
"I just hope they find her, the family have had to deal with it for a long time," Mrs Doubikin said.
"I feel for the family that live in the house now too, it's not nice for them."
Mrs Doubikin has lived on Holly Rise for 11 years.
"It's strange to think that of all the streets, I ended up living on this one," she said.
Mrs Doubikin said her children had been interested in all the activity on the street in recent days.
"My eldest is 13 and she understands what happened and I guess she is worried it could happen to her.
"I think it's a really good time for us to bring up stranger danger with our kids."
Search for clues
Several small items were taken from the scene for examination yesterday as police continued their painstaking search
of the Holly Rise home.
Their attention was focused on three concrete slabs in the back yard of the property - one of them the floor of a
shed and two others in the yard.
Concrete cutters were used to break up the slabs before police used shovels and hand trowels to dig through the dirt
Late in the afternoon, police focused on a back corner of the property where a slab was removed and a marquee erected
over the site.
Sifting pans were used to carefully examine the soil under the slab and some items were placed in bags to be taken from
the property for further examination.
A police spokeswoman said that the search was a lengthy process.
"Police are still searching the property and will continue to do so," she said.
"They have conducted a thorough search and they are examining items from the scene."
Officers will return to the scene today to continue the search.
In 1991, police pulled up floorboards but excavated only a section of the yard.
Australian Federal Police officers were at the property again yesterday to continue their examination with
ground-penetrating radar, which can identify disturbed ground up to a metre deep.
Alyssa-Jane Tucker/ Thomas Conlin
Paedophile murderer linked to property being searched over Louise Bell disappearance
The Adelaide property being searched today by police in connection with the
1983 abduction and murder of schoolgirl Louise Bell was formerly occupied by
convicted child murderer Dieter Pfennig.
AdelaideNow has revealed hi-tech ground-penetrating radar equipment is
being used to search the backyard of Pfennig's former house on Holly Rise,
Hackham West, in Adelaide's outer southern suburbs.
There are more than a dozen police officers from the Major Crime and
Forensic branches involved in the search.
Louise was 10 when she was abducted from her
family's Hackham West home on January 4, 1983. Her body has not been found.
Known paedophile Raymond John Geesing was convicted of the crime, despite
no body being found, but later acquitted on appeal.
Pfennig was jailed for life with a 38-year non-parole period in 1992
for the murder of 10-year-old Murray Bridge schoolboy Michael Black.
Michael was abducted on January 18, 1989, from a reserve near Murray
Bridge. Pfennig placed the boy's belongings upstream to give the
impression he had drowned while swimming, but his body was never found.
Pfennig has also admitted abducting and sexually assaulting another boy, 13, in late 1989.
Lands Title Office records show Pfennig owned the Holly Rise property
from 1977 until he was taken into custody.
The Louise Bell investigation was re-opened last year because of better
DNA technology, police said.
The radar equipment being used at the Hackham West search site has been
loaned from the Australian Federal Police, who are assisting in the operation.
Similar equipment was previously used to search a Salisbury North
backyard in the infamous "bodies in the barrels" murder investigation.
Police say they could be working at the site for several days.
Major Crime officer in charge Superintendent Grant Moyle said the
search had been ordered after police re-examined evidence from the
1983 investigation and subsequent investigations in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"We are searching for any evidence that might relate to Louise Bell
or any other offences that might have been committed," he said.
"It's a big commitment. We have examined closely the extent of
investigations that were conducted in 1983, when Louise Bell went missing.
It is a result of that, that we felt for thoroughness we needed to fully
examine the backyard more than they did in 1991."
In the mid-1990s, Louise's father, Colin Bell, said his
daughter's disappearance was "completely out of character''.
"She was a fairly timid girl and slightly immature for her age and fairly shy,'' he said.
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