Betty Shanks Theories: What Really Happened?

Betty Shanks was a 22-year-old girl who was murdered in 1952 in Brisbane, Australia, and to this day, her case remains a mystery. At the time of her death, Shanks was employed at the Department of Interior as a public servant, but she also took classes at night. On the night of September 18, 1952, Shanks headed home to her parents' house in Grange after attending a lecture. The Days Road Tram Terminus was just a short distance to the house, and she was last seen exiting the tram at about 9:32 p.m. that night, per State Library of Queensland. However, Shanks never made it to the doorstep of her home.

Shanks' father was waiting up for her, but by 1:30 a.m., she still wasn't home, and he decided to report her missing to the authorities. Shortly before 6 a.m., one of the neighbors named Alex Stewart went outside his home to get his newspaper when he noticed Shanks' body lying on the ground on his neighbor's yard. He immediately called the authorities and several investigators headed to the location.

The crime scene and Betty Shanks' body

Betty Shanks' body was found at Carberry Street, which was a short distance from her parents' home. It was just almost 500 feet away from the tram terminus, which made investigators believe that she was attacked shortly after departing the station. A few neighbors also told authorities that they heard screaming before 10 p.m. the previous night, but they assumed they were just teens from the nearby school being loud. Alex Stewart said he looked out his window but didn't see anything suspicious (via the State Library of Queensland).

Shanks' condition was gruesome. She was badly beaten and some of her teeth were found on the ground. Her face and some parts of her body also had obvious marks of black boot polish, and it looked like she had been kicked. According to Esri Australia, her bra straps were broken and her underwear was removed, but further investigation showed that she was not sexually assaulted. Robbery was excluded as a motive, as her handbag and jewelry were found at the scene, though the contents of her purse were scattered everywhere. There were also bloody handprints on the fence. Shanks' family and friends said she had no enemies and hadn't been dating anyone for the last year. "She was all every mother could wish for, in a daughter. We were a real team ... She was the type of girl everybody loved," Shanks' mother said.

Did a well-known doctor kill Betty Shanks?

To this day, no one has ever been arrested for Betty Shanks' murder, and it's one of the oldest cold cases in Australia. Over the years, there have been theories about what happened, and one of them had to do with a renowned doctor in the Brisbane area. Three days after Shanks' murder, a doctor by the name of Donald Carter died by suicide, and many speculated that he was the murderer, per the Courier Mail. Dr. Carter's death was on the front page of newspapers, as was Shanks' case, which sparked rumors to arise.

However, investigators — as well as Carter's own sons — looked into the matter and couldn't find a connection between Shanks and Carter. As for the reason Carter killed himself, a friend said that at that time, the doctor was overworked and had financial difficulties. In addition, he was devastated after losing a patient. This theory has been disproven with DNA evidence. Dr. Carter's sons provided their DNA samples, and the profile was not at all a match with the DNA found on Shanks' clothes, thereby eliminating Dr. Carter as the murderer.

Was she murdered over her lottery win?

There's speculation that Betty Shanks was murdered by an unknown individual who targeted her for money. According to the book "I Know Who Killed Betty Shanks" by Ted Duhs, a taxi driver came forward claiming that he had picked up a man more than a mile from the crime scene at about 10:40 p.m. on the night Shanks was killed. The driver said the man was wearing a suit that had blood on it.

Some people believe that the man was the same person who called Shanks at her place of work just a few days before she was murdered. Shanks had entered the Golden Casket Lottery and won a cash prize of £3,000 (the Australian pound was used as the country's currency until 1966 when it was changed to the Australian dollar), which is equivalent to approximately $250,000 in today's money. Shanks' personal details — along with the information of the other winners — were published in The Daily Telegraph, which many speculate was how the man knew where to find Shanks. According to her co-workers, Shanks was visibly upset after talking to someone on the phone. There was no evidence to support that someone was harassing Shanks regarding her lottery win, but the man was named as a person of interest in the case. However, he never came forward and was never identified.

Did Desche Birtles' father kill Betty Shanks?

A woman named Desche Birtles claimed that her father — an ex-soldier-turned-locksmith — was the one who killed Betty Shanks. Birtles said that she went to the authorities several times to tell her story, but they didn't believe her. According to The Daily Mail, Birtles witnessed her father burning his clothes in their backyard on the night Shanks was murdered. Her father, who she claimed was physically and sexually abusive toward her, asked her to clean his leather boots that were stained with "blood and tissue." Birtles, who at that time was 8 years old, said her father told her, "Don't say anything or you'll end up like Betty Shanks."

Birtles ran away from home in 1960 when she was 16 years old, and it was then that she shared her knowledge with the police. When asked why she wanted to run away, she answered that she had to in order to live, as her father will kill her, "just like he killed Betty Shanks." However, the police told her that she shouldn't say such things and that they knew his father because he was the locksmith who worked on locks at the station. A psychiatric report of Birtles' father stated that he had the potential to be psychotic, which fits the violent crime scene. The marks on Shanks' face and body were also believed to have come from the leather boots that Birtles' cleaned on the night of the murder. Birtles' father died a couple of years before her allegations were made public.

The case remains unsolved

Apart from those mentioned, there are other theories regarding the murder of Betty Shanks, including a hit and run, a case of mistaken identity, and a handyman who had a romantic interest in her. However, none of those concluded in an arrest. There were also others who confessed to being the killer, but they were proven to be false confessions. Shanks' murder had a great impact on Brisbane. Women no longer walked alone at night, and people started locking their doors, per Criminal. Although many decades have passed since the murder, detectives are still determined to solve the case.

To this day, authorities are looking for tips that could help the unsolved case move forward and lead to an arrest. According to Medium, the Queensland Police Service is offering a $50,000 reward to anyone who can provide a solution to the long-standing mystery that has continued to baffle the Brisbane community.