“When did murder come into your life?”
It was a simple question from a Queensland detective to one of Australia’s most sadistic killers, Barrie John Watts.
A cold and calculating Watts simply replied: “I dunno.”
WARNING: This article contains graphic content that may disturb some readers.
The detective was trying to get Watts to admit he killed a Brisbane mother at the start of a vile seven-week crime spree in Queensland, in which three separate failed abductions of adult women turned the predator to target 12-year-old school girl Sian Kingi in 1987.
Her rape and murder was one of such depravity, it changed the way Queenslanders lived.
Their exchanges are contained in a series of chilling interviews Queensland detectives conducted with Watts and Valmae Beck — his wife and accomplice in Sian’s murder.
Nearly two decades on in 2006, the notorious couple was reinvestigated for the murder of 31-year-old Brisbane mother and student teacher, Helen Mary Feeney.
Watts had earlier faced a murder trial over her death but was acquitted.
As the parole hearing for the 67-year-old looms, ABC News can publicly reveal the contents of interviews for the first time.
‘A mongrel thing to do’
In his initial police interviews, Watts admits to the brutal rape and murder of Sian for the first time since his arrest.
Watts — an adopted child who was later diagnosed as a psychopath in 2001 — trivialises Sian’s murder as an exception to his otherwise “good track record” of petty crime.
He was well educated until he “went off the rails” at around age 15 and was arrested at 16 for breaking into a Caloundra home and later jailed in WA for break and enter, stealing and safecracking offences before returning to Queensland.
The interviews took place at Rockhampton police station and Wolston Correctional Centre in Wacol, where Watts is serving a life sentence over the schoolgirl’s murder.
He told detectives a Queensland bikie gang had taken a hit out on him for Sian Kingi’s murder in 1994 and he hoped to work as a dry cleaner when he released from prison.
Detective: “[How long have you been thinking about murder?] … was it some years?”
Watts: “I’ve never thought about it … nothing other than [Sian Kingi].
“I had a good track record, I don’t know how this came into it, it’s just not my style.”
Detective: “[Why did you kill Sian?]”
Watts: “No. A bit too much piss or just … no just.”
Watts: “No it wasn’t evil, it was just a lot of crime, I was just on a… roll to crime. And that was just another crime.”
Detective: “[Do you feel any remorse of guilt for Sian’s murder?]”
Watts: “Aw heaps of it … I always have. Yeah we just… [it was] a silly thing to do, it was a bad thing to do.
“I’ve never done anything like that before. It was a mongrel thing to do.
“And I deserve it [punishment].”
Detectives told Watts they had interviewed Beck, his then ex-wife.
Beck claimed she had a lonely childhood and was raped by relatives before being jailed at 18 for stealing funds meant for children with physical disabilities.
Beck detailed Watts’s liking for young girls, child pornography and his belief females aged over 12 were “all sl**s”.
She inferred Watts made that statement after discovering his biological mother was a 13-year-old girl.
During an assessment for her parole application in 2000, Beck told a prison psychiatrist Watts’s obsession with young girls was the source of a lot of tension in their relationship.
“[Watts] explained that as a result of being in jail, men think of blonde schoolgirls for their sexual satisfaction,” the prison psychiatrist reported.
Beck told detectives Watts made her dress as a schoolgirl and dye her hair blonde.
She said they would sit outside schools of Ipswich and Toowoomba, watching female students.
Detectives pressed Beck about the location of Ms Feeney’s body and whether Watts had committed any further crimes after they fled Western Australia on bail in 1987.
Beck said Watts had told her about a forest in Sydney where men he knew had raped “girls”.
“It’s a well-known forest in the city and it’s very, very dense,” she told police.
“These guys used to take girls in there and tie them up to trees and rape them and do all kinds of things and then told them if they told anybody they’d go and kill their family.
“But he [Watts] reckoned he was never involved in it … but I wonder whether he … if he was one of the ones.”
A ‘cool, calm collected’ killer
In responding to Beck’s insights of Watts, Detective Alan Bourke, an officer who died in 2014 after being involved in the arrests over Sian’s murder, said Watts was “fairly cool and collected” after committing such horrific crimes.
He said usually people who commit their first offence “don’t usually think normal and panic”.
“The crime scene, he was meticulous … he’s collected all that up in the blanket … cool, calm and collected and just gone and got rid of it.
“To me that was [a sign] that he certainly committed those sorts of serious offences before. I know he was a criminal with a sex background, but just the way he went about it.”
‘Sex attacks left, right and centre’
In recorded police interviews, Watts told detectives he broke into houses and stole items while women slept naked.
“I’ve seen sheilas sleeping in the nuddy [sic] or close to the nuddy [sic], you know,” Watts said.
“I’ve just … grabbed their wallets or something like that and walked back out again. There’s never been any sex.
“Then all of a sudden I come to Brisbane and within three months … there’s sex attacks going on f***ing left, right and centre, and murders and all that.
“That’s all bullshit you know. I’m just a thief.”
Watts repeatedly tried to convince detectives he was not a violent predator.
Detectives proposed a “hypothetical”, asking him how he would dispose of Ms Feeney’s body at Lowood, north of Ipswich if he had raped and murdered her.
Detective: “If she was murdered at the car, if someone got her and took her away… where do you reckon they would dump her?
“If it was you and you took a body… what would you [do] with her?’’
Watts: “Personally I don’t care … yeah where I left her … I wouldn’t really care where I left her.”
Detective: “You wouldn’t leave her in the open… obviously you would go somewhere quiet, you know to do what you’re going to do.’’
Watts: “The girl that it involved started screaming, move on that’s the way…yeah my operations is, if there is any noise, I’m out, I’m off.”
Watts then quickly changed tact, repeating that he was not a violent person, “just a thief”.
The petite student teacher vanished two weeks after Watts and Beck had arrived in Queensland after fleeing Western Australia.
She was last seen alive on October 29, 1987 — her car abandoned with its window smashed in Carseldine in Brisbane’s north.
Police repeatedly assured Watts double jeopardy laws prevented him from being charged with her murder if he did disclose the location.
But Watts told police he did not want to be known as a serial killer as it would damage his chances of getting parole.
Details of Feeney’s alleged murder revealed
Further revelations of Ms Feeney’s fate were revealed in 2007 during additional police interviews with Beck.
She told detectives the pair had argued about “him [Watts] getting rid of the body”.
Beck claimed Watts killed Ms Feeney because she disturbed Watts while he was breaking into her car.
She told detectives she was sitting “three car lengths away” when Watts, armed with his break-in kit of a screwdriver and wire, killed Ms Feeney.
Beck said she did not see Watts kill her but he had returned to the car and said “something had gone wrong” so he had “killed ’em”.
Watts grabbed a doona and returned to the car with the body.
She said she could not remember talking to Watts about Ms Feeney as they drove to Lowood with her body in the car because she “didn’t want to know about it”.
She said when they arrived at their rented Lowood home, they argued over how to dispose of Ms Feeney’s body, with Beck claiming she refused to help him dispose of it.
While her body has never been found, police suspect Ms Feeney has been buried in a shallow grave between Lowood and Wivenhoe Dam.
Tomorrow ABC News will publish an interview with a nurse who escaped a chilling encounter with Barrie Watts and Valmae Beck.