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A grope in the dark, and a weapon is found

Date

Christopher Knaus

Victims Lauren Barry and Nichole Collins.

Victims Lauren Barry and Nichole Collins. Photo: Wayne Venables

It was a most unbelievable moment of chance - a knife plucked almost instantly from the vast, murky waters of Lake Burley Griffin - that would help ACT police divers play a part in bringing down the notorious Bega schoolgirl murderers.

It was October 1997, and Leslie Camilleri and his companion Lindsay Beckett had just finished the truly monstrous abduction, rape and murder of Bega teenagers Lauren Barry, 14, and Nichole Collins, 16.

The girls had been taken from their campsite at White Rock, near Bega, and subjected to 12 hours of repeated rape and torture, driven through remote areas of NSW and Victoria, before ultimately being stabbed to death at Fiddlers Green Creek in Victoria.

Yet it was their trip through Canberra in the aftermath of the killings that would, in part, help lead to the killers' downfall.

The pair stopped at Theodore Lookout on the Monaro Highway, burning their blood-soaked clothing and the ropes and gags used in the crime. They then drove into Canberra and threw the murder weapons from the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge into the waters of Lake Burley Griffin.

During the ensuing investigation into the girls' disappearance, the territory's police received a tip-off from NSW investigators indicating that the knives may have been dumped in the lake.

It was a daunting prospect for the city's police dive team, with the search described by senior water operations officers as ''needle in a haystack stuff''.

The lake is incredibly difficult to search, even for submerged objects larger than a knife. Visibility is terrible, sediment and mud is easily stirred, and in those days the divers often had to search by feel. To make matters worse, divers had little idea where to look, which side or section of the bridge the weapons were thrown from, or how far they'd been carried by the waters.

Yet luck was upon them.

The very first diver to touch the water returned to the surface in next to no time. In the first minutes of his search, the diver's hand fell upon one of the knives used in the horrific crimes.

The knife would ultimately prove to be crucial evidence in the trials of Camilleri and Beckett, partly helping to convict both, and to sentences of life imprisonment.

The find would help ACT police cement a role in solving what is still widely considered one of Australia's most shocking murder cases.

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