On the 6th February 1986, the body of 31-year-old Sallie-Anne Huckstepp was found floating in a pond in Centennial Park by a passing jogger.
Her murder, which remains unsolved, appears to be a tragic lesson on the fate of whistleblowers brave enough to call out police corruption in New South Wales.
This is her story.
A Troubled Life
Huckstepp was born Sallie-Anne Krivoshow on the 12th of December 1954, to a middle-class family in Sydney.
Huckstepp was a spirited adolescent.
She left school at 17 in order to marry a man named Bryan Huckstepp, with whom she moved to Western Australia.
Bryan Huckstepp was an abusive man, pushing his young wife into sex work in order to fund, firstly his own, and then both of their dependence on heroin.
By 1981, Huckstepp had managed to escape her husband and had returned to Sydney but remained dependent on heroin and survival sex work.
She began a relationship with 22-year-old Warren Lanfranchi, a heroin dealer caught up with a criminal syndicate linked to heroin kingpin Neddy Smith.
Throughout her years as a sex worker with a heroin habit, Huckstepp had witnessed countless instances of police corruption, claiming to have paid significant sums of money to police to avoid charges. However, it was the fate of Lanfranchi that would spur her to campaign against police corruption.
The Last Straw
In June of 1981, Lanfranchi allegedly robbed a Sydney heroin dealer, firing several shots at a police officer in the process. Neddy Smith claims he was then asked by Lanfranchi to negotiate a payment to then Detective Sergeant Roger Rogerson to avoid being charged with the shooting.
Smith allegedly set up a meeting between Lanfranchi and Rogerson for this purpose, but when Lanfranchi arrived he was surrounded by nearly eighteen officers from NSW police including Rogerson.
Lanfranchi was then shot and killed by Rogerson, in an altercation which Rogerson later claimed was self-defence.
An inquest into Lanfranchi’s death found that there was little evidence of self-defence, yet subsequent investigations by the New South Wales Ombudsman and Internal Affairs resulted in no action against Rogerson, despite clear indications of wrongdoing.
Outraged about the killing of her partner, Huckstepp made a formal statement to the New South Wales Policy Internal Affairs Branch about her experiences of paying off NSW police. She felt that Lanfranchi was murdered in order to obtain his money. Her lengthy, damning, statement about the state of corruption in NSW, ended with a blunt assessment of the state of law enforcement:
“I believe that the New South Wales Drug Squad and the Armed Hold-Up Squad are both totally corrupt and that they feed on the very activities which they are supposed to stop.”
Huckstepp’s revelations provoked a media and political frenzy. She appeared on 60 Minutes soon after Lanfranchi’s death and publicly accused Detective Rogerson of being a cold-blooded killer.
Her whistleblowing would lead to the two largest institutional responses to police corruption in Australian history, the establishment of an Independent Commission Against Corruption and the undertaking of the Wood Royal Commission.
The Wood Royal Commission uncovered countless instances of police corruption in NSW including bribery, money laundering, drug trafficking, fabrication of evidence, destruction of evidence, fraud and serious assaults.
Huckstepp’s actions completely reshaped perceptions of NSW police and called for greater accountability, particularly within drug and “vice” enforcement. A documentary was made about Huckstepp’s life and she began writing articles for magazines on her difficult life at the margins of society.
However, Huckstepp’s life would be cut short in circumstances which raise serious questions about the risks whistleblowers take on in calling out police misconduct.
On the evening of her death, Huckstepp received a phone call, telling her roommate that she was meeting someone and would be back shortly. Most accounts believe this call was from convicted drug dealer Warren Richards, an associate of both Neddy Smith and Rogerson.
The discovery of her body would be headline news across the country. Yet, despite obvious inferences that her murder was payback for her heroism, the coroner concluded she was killed by “persons unknown”.
Neddy Smith confessed to a cellmate some years later that he had killed Huckstepp as a favour to Rogerson, but later stated he had lied about this in order to promote a book he was writing.
Rogerson himself had an alibi for the night of Huckstepp’s murder, he was drinking with police prosecutor Mal Spence in a Merrylands pub.
In 2016, Rogerson along with fellow former police detective Glen McNamara, were found guilty of murdering Sydney man Jamie Gao during a drug deal.
Huckstepp’s claims that Rogerson was a corrupt standover man and a ruthless killer were finally vindicated. Yet a resolution regarding her own murder remains out of sight, with the case remaining open to this day.
Huckstepp’s sister, Debra Krivoshow, spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald, soon after the conviction of Rogerson, reflecting on her sister’s legacy.
“If there is a lesson that Sallie-Anne would want young women today to take from her life, as short as it was” she noted, “speak out if you see injustice.”