TRUE CRIME: A sadistic pair of child killers may have gotten away with the heinous murder of a Noosa schoolgirl had it not been for the gut instincts of a surfing icon and his friend.
Elizabeth Young and Noosa surfing icon Bill Wallace were only metres away from evil at Castaways Beach on Friday, November 27, 1987.
In front of them was Barrie John Watts, looking dishevelled, loitering, scanning from the dunes to the water.
A brilliant surfer and renowned surfboard shaper, Mr Wallace, who died in 2017 aged 91, feared his 4WD was about to broken into again in the carpark while he was at the beach.
So he scribbled down the numberplate of Watts' white, Holden station wagon.
Ms Young recalled Watts' cold stare, straight through her.
The hairs stood up on the back of her neck, so unnerving was the encounter.
Her instincts told her something very sinister was at play.
When Watts left the beach at 3pm Ms Young and Mr Wallace followed the Kingswood station wagon.
They lost the car in Noosa Junction, as Watts made a beeline through the shops towards Pinnaroo Park.
Less than 90 minutes later 12-year-old schoolgirl Sian Kingi was grabbed from behind, had a cloth shoved over her mouth and was manhandled by Watts into the back of the station wagon.
Sian had been riding her bike home from the hot bread shop when Watts' wife, Valmae Beck, lured Sian close by asking her for help to find a missing dog.
Beck's distraction gave Watts time to pounce.
The depraved pair had been searching for a victim and Sian had unknowingly happened upon two monsters less than a kilometre from her home.
Watts had what he wanted. A pretty young girl whom he intended to rape.
Sian's muffled screams went unheard as she was shoved onto the back seat of the car and driven, mouth taped and hands tied, towards the Tinbeerwah Mountain State Forest, where she would be horrifically raped, strangled to death then brutally stabbed and cast aside.
Sian's pink socks, white joggers and school uniform were still on when her lifeless body was found six days later by a passing fruit picker.
The abduction was so brazen, in broad daylight, just 50m from possible witnesses, but no one had seen anything.
With no witnesses, no descriptions and a pair of transient offenders who'd already returned to Lowood, investigators were faced with a monumental task.
Unbeknown to Ms Young and Mr Wallace, their gut instinct to record Watts' numberplate would prove enormously valuable.
Seventeen days before Sian's life was cut short, Watts and Beck had trialled their heinous plan on two nurses at Ipswich General Hospital.
Thwarted on both occasions, they tried again.
The third was a more serious incident, during which Watts' target managed to grab his knife and slash his hand open, prompting a report to be lodged with Ipswich police.
A white Holden station wagon involved was described by witnesses.
The numberplate they recorded was a New South Wales plate, LLE-439.
Two weeks later the numberplate of the station wagon Bill Wallace and Elizabeth Young wrote onto a scrap of paper at the Castaways Creek carpark after their encounter with Watts was LLE-429.
Decorated Coast detective, Superintendent Alan Bourke, who passed away in late-2014, was the man who matched the numberplate provided by Mr Wallace and Ms Young to Valmae Beck on a Victorian database.
Former Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, AO, was a Detective Sergeant on-duty at Noosa Heads Police Station that fateful Friday night when Lynda and Barry Kingi reported Sian missing.
They'd found Sian's bike at Pinnaroo Park during a desperate search for their daughter.
Mr Atkinson feared the worst from the outset.
"I remember thinking at the time 'something terrible has happened here'," he said.
He said there was a sense that "it wasn't just a missing person case".
Acting quickly, he rang the Daily's night desk at 11.05pm, in a bid to squeeze in a notice about Sian's disappearance in the Saturday paper.
He said he would "always be grateful" to the Daily for running the story the next day, as it sparked about half a dozen leads "which started the investigation".
"In categories of crimes that really strike at the heart of he public, both of those cases (Sian Kingi and Daniel Morcombe) are probably the type of circumstances that for the average family it would be their worst nightmare," Mr Atkinson said.
"It (Sian's murder) had a big impact on the community."
Mr Atkinson praised what he said was a "wonderful piece of work" by late Supt Bourke, who interviewed witnesses of the car and processed combinations to find the match with Valmae Beck.
"That (numberplate) was one of the keys to it," he said.
Victorian counterparts did some reconnaissance of Beck's address and investigators were able to uncover Beck and Watts' criminal histories in Western Australia.
Armed with that knowledge a widespread alert was sent out to Queensland Police.
That alert lit the fuse on what was to become a very fast-moving investigation, which had about 20 detectives tasked to it full-time.
Ipswich detectives saw the alert and matched with the vehicle reported in the attempted abductions of two nurses 17 days earlier, while a Lowood Senior Constable reported seeing the station wagon.
Ipswich detectives were able to pinpoint the Lowood home where Watts and Beck had been renting, but they'd already fled as the investigation intensified.
A money order to pay the rent sourced from The Entrance, in New South Wales, sparked a request for help and soon 10 undercover NSW police were tailing Watts and Beck after their car was spotted leaving a service station and driving to a motel.
Mr Atkinson and former Sunshine Coast CIB officer in charge, Detective Senior Sergeant Neil Magnussen, flew to Sydney and drove north to The Entrance.
Entering the hotel room by key, detectives arrested the pair on the afternoon of December 12, 1987, and eventually extradited them back to Noosa on December 14.
Having originally stuck to a fabricated story in New South Wales, cracks had appeared in their version of events.
In Noosa, with the cells bugged thanks to a Supreme Court order allowing officers to do so, an undercover officer was tasked with befriending Watts.
Beck began turning on Watts, as Mr Atkinson carefully built rapport with the mother-of-six.
She eventually broke and recounted the horrific story of Sian's murder in a 29-page, 9-hour interview, which led police divers to locate evidence, including a knife, belt and masking tape, at Six Mile Creek.
Electronic recordings in the cell after Beck's interview captured Watts abusing his wife for turning on him.
The undercover officer, Matthew Heery, told The Sunday Mail in 2012 of the toll that task had taken on him.
He took three months' medical leave after the committal hearing before retiring on medical grounds.
He said the case had taken him down a dark path.
Another key investigator on the case, Bob Dallow, then a detective Senior Sergeant in charge of the Homicide Squad said in 2012 that he thought about Sian Kingi "every day".
He said Watts, an inmate at high-security Wolston Correctional Centre, would re-offend if ever released.
Watts became eligible for parole in 2000 and applied unsuccessfully in 2009, after the Supreme Court Justice who sentenced Watts recommended his papers be marked 'never to be released'.
Beck died in hospital in Townsville in 2008.
In 1995 Watts was acquitted of the murder of Helen Mary Feeney, a 31-year-old teaching student and mother abducted from a Carseldine college and believed murdered between October 29-December 1, 1987.
Her body was never recovered, but Beck had given evidence that Watts had dumped Ms Feeney's body and burnt it at a rubbish tip near Lowood after killing her during a botched car break-in attempt.
Police suspected Beck knew exactly where Ms Feeney's body was buried, but she never revealed a location before she died.
Mr Atkinson said he could still recall the public's reaction when Beck and Watts received life sentences for Sian's murder.
"I think there was a great sense of relief really, right across the board," he said.