Case of the Month: Fiona Burns and John Lee

John Lee and Fiona Burns, Photography provided by Crime Stoppers, Grid by AdS

John Lee and Fiona Burns (Photography Crime Stoppers. Grid by AdS)

Case of the Month: Fiona Burns and John Lee is written by guest blogger and Australian journalist/author Emily Webb.

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They were young and rebellious and living a life of what they thought was freedom.

John Lee (14) and Fiona Burns (15) were hitchhiking across the South Australian-Victorian border when they met a violent end almost 25 years ago. The teen friends were found stabbed to death on October 18, 1990. Their bodies were left in grassland on the Victorian side of the border – near the town Kaniva.

A husband and wife collecting gum nuts found Fiona. She was lying facedown in the grass, near trees, in a spot along the Western Highway that was popular as a truck stop. When police arrived at the scene they found John’s body 50m from Fiona.

The case had barely a solid lead from the start.

When Victoria Police launched a fresh appeal for information on the case in 2011, the then-Homicide Squad Detective Inspector John Potter said: “There is someone out there who knows exactly what happened to Fiona and John and it is to those people and their closest confidants that we are appealing to.”

The communities on the SA-Vic border are small and this fact makes police believe that there is at least someone else, besides the killer, who knows what happened. However because Fiona and John were found at a truck stop, that means the killer could live anywhere in Australia.

When a child is killed, society loses some of its innocence, when two children are callously murdered and the killer or killers are not brought to justice, the whole community carries the burden,” Insp. Potter said.

John and Fiona met on the streets. Fiona had lived with her aunt and uncle in Melbourne’s south east after her parent split up in 1990. Fiona set off for Adelaide, South Australia later that year but after five days she returned to Melbourne. On a second trip not long after, Fiona met John, who was a street kid.

The pair were thought to be hitchhiking back to Melbourne and were last seen on October 10, 1990 at a truck stop at Bordertown, which is, as the name suggests, just over the SA-Vic boundary. It’s about a 30-minute trip by motor between Bordertown and Kaniva. The pair weren’t found until a week later

There have been a few theories on the killings. One was that Fiona has some interactions with a satanic cult (her family doubts this though and said any talk of Satanism was the workings of Fiona’s teenage imagination). As the bodies were still full clothed and the youngsters had barely any possessions, sexual assault and robbery were not thought a motive.

Another theory, the most plausible, is that Fiona and John died at the hands of a thrill killer.

After the 2011 appeal, police confirmed to the media that an anonymous caller contacted them with information about a vehicle used by the killer, or killers. The police wanted this person to call back. It was the best piece of information in 20 years. Police even flagged the possibility that immunity could be offered by the Office of Public Prosecutions to people whose information led to a conviction. But this ultimately led to nothing.

In 2014, Victoria Police’s cold case squad Detective Inspector Boris Buick said investigators were still frustrated by the lack of information. “There are people in the community who know what happened and to whom the killers have confided,” Insp. Buck said. Someone knows something.

Anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 (within Australia) or visit www.crimestoppers.com.au.

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In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, in some cases more information can be found online and in newspaper archives. The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are cold does not mean that we can forget about them.

If you have any thoughts about these cases I encourage you to post them on your own social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc. Every time we mention the names of John Lee and Fiona Burns online we enhance their digital footprints.

We must make sure that they retain their web presence if we ever wish to find answers in these cases. You can help by linking to or sharing this post.

Thank you for remembering John and Fiona with us.

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Emily Webb

Emily Webb

Emily Webb is an Australian journalist and author. She started the blog “True Crime Reader” in 2011 and has written two true crime books: Murder in Suburbia and Angels of Death. Emily lives in Melbourne. Her Twitter account is here.

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Further reading:

Adelaide Now

Herald Sun

Brisbane Times

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