Juanita Nielsen was just 38 years old when she disappeared after going to a meeting in July 1975. Forty-six years on, the heiress and journalist is presumed dead, but her fate is still unknown
When Juanita Nielsen went to the Carousel nightclub for a morning meeting on 4 July, 1975, she had expected to discuss advertising.
But the 38-year-old journalist and heiress to a multi-million dollar department store fortune was never seen again – and to this day, her fate is unknown.
Nielsen, from the Kings Cross district of Sydney, Australia, owned a fortnightly newspaper NOW and was known as a prominent campaigner in the area.
Her dad, Neil Donovan Smith, was the heir to the Mark Foy’s department store chain and Nielsen worked at Mark Foy’s in her earlier career.
In the early 1970s, Nielsen’s dad financed her takeover of NOW newspaper, where she modelled hair and clothes – and started a campaign that is widely believed to be behind her vanishing.
Victoria Street campaign
As owner of the newspaper, Nielsen started a campaign against a high-profile development in Kings Cross proposed by property developer Frank Theeman.
The $40 million plans involved evicting dozens of people from their homes in Victoria Street which were due to be demolished and replaced by three high-rise towers.
Residents in the houses due to be destroyed fiercely campaigned against the development and refused to leave their homes. When Nielsen heard about their campaign, she used NOW newspaper to support it.
But while the residents fought against the development, they became targets of harassment by Theeman and his men – including former cop Fred Krahe, who is widely believed to have been corrupt.
But by 1974, the BLF lifted the ban, leaving the residents on their own to fight the development. It’s widely believed that the union was bribed by the developers.
Stepping in to come to their rescue, Nielsen convinced the Water Board Union to impose another green ban – creating another problem for the developers.
The Carousel nightclub in the Kings Cross district was owned by notorious organised crime boss Abe Saffron.
Saffron’s son, Alan, has since claimed that his dad had lent large sums of money to Victoria Street property developer Frank Theeman.
On 30th June, two employees from the nightclub knocked on Nielsen’s door under the guise of discussing advertising in NOW newspaper.
But Nielsen’s business partner and boyfriend David Farrell answered the door instead – so Nielsen was invited to Carousel for an advertising meeting four days later.
But in a 1977 police interview, it was revealed that Carousel employees Edward Frederick “Eddie” Trigg and Shayne Martin-Simmonds had actually tried to kidnap Nielsen on 30th June and take her to see “people who wanted to talk to her.”
Martin-Simmonds said the plan was to: “Just grab her arms and stop her calling out, no real rough stuff, no gangster stuff.
“We thought that just two guys telling her to come would be enough to make her think if she didn’t come she might get hurt.”
On 4 July, Nielsen set off for the 10am meeting at Carousel, but phoned David Farrell at 10.30 to tell him she was running late.
Loretta Crawford, secretary to Eddie Trigg, claimed Nielsen arrived for the meeting and said she was hungover from the night before. She shook Trigg’s hand and went upstairs to his office.
This was the last time Juanita Nielsen was ever seen.
On July 12,1975, Nielsen’s handbag was found on a freeway near Penrith in the west of the city, but there was no sign of the journalist.
In 1977, Eddie Trigg, Shayne Martin-Simmonds and another Carousel employee, Lloyd Marshall, were charged with conspiracy to kidnap Nielsen on June 30 1975.
The three were tried in 1980, but Marshall was acquitted on lack of evidence. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on Martin-Simmonds and Trigg, so a retrial was ordered the following year.
In 1981, Martin-Simmonds was convicted and jailed for two years – but Trigg was long gone and had fled to the USA on a fake passport.
Trigg was finally apprehended in San Francisco in 1982. He was extradited to Australia where he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kidnap and jailed for three years in 1983.
Despite these convictions, no one has ever been brought to justice over Nielsen’s actual disappearance on 4th July 1975.
A coronial inquest was opened in 1983 which found Nielsen was most likely dead – but there wasn’t enough evidence to say how she died or where her remains were.
Forty-six years on from Nielsen’s disappearance, her loved ones still have no idea exactly what happened to the journalist, or where her body is.
In June this year, New South Wales police offered an enormous reward of $1 million Australian Dollars for information that would help solve the mystery of what happened to her.
Nielsen’s cousin, Francis Foy, appealed for information alongside the police reward offer, claiming the family just wanted answers.
He said: “Juanita was very much loved by her family and very much missed.
“Her disappearance and the unknown of what happened to her caused incredible pain for her family.”