Veteran reporter and author Ken Blanch at the launch of his true crime book 'Who Killed Petty Shanks?' Who indeed? Ken was a reporter at the crime scene in 1952 and, in this book, sheds new light on an old crime which has frustrated generations of detectives.

Ken Blanch

Reporter and author KEN BLANCH wasn’t born in Queensland, but given that he saw the light and moved to Brisbane in 1949 to join the Brisbane Telegraph, we can still claim him. Ken was born in Sydney in 1927 and grew up in the Blue Mountains and Grafton. He did his cadetship with the Grafton Daily Examiner in 1944 and also worked on the Cumberland Argus and the Sydney Daily Telegraph before making the move to Brisbane. 


It was during his stint on the Telegraph in Brisbane, that Ken became embroiled in the murder of Betty Shanks. He wasn’t even a crime reporter at the time: he was a Parliamentary roundsman covering State Parliament and travelling to Canberra for Federal parliamentary sessions.

But, because it was Saturday morning, there were no parliaments sitting, and Ken had failed to look sufficiently occupied, the then 25-year-old was sent to the murder scene in Wilston to relieve the reporter who was covering the story.

It was a particularly gruesome business. The body of Betty Shanks, aged twenty-two, had been found in the early morning of 20 September, 1952, battered and strangled in the yard of a house two hundred metres from her home.

In 2007, on ABC Radio National, Antony Funnell of the Media Report took Ken back to the crime scene in Wilston and asked him: ‘You were sent out on the Saturday morning; what was the scene like when you got here?’

‘Well it was extremely busy,’ Ken said. ‘There were at least 20 detectives here at the scene, and they were stopping bystanders and people walking along the footpath, and questioning them to see whether they had heard anything or seen anything of importance at the time of the murder the night before.’

Antony Funnell: ‘Now most people over the age of 50 in Brisbane would know about the Betty Shanks murder, it was quite a famous murder. Why do you think it stayed in the public imagination for so long?’

‘Well, I think there are a couple of things,’ Ken said. ‘One was that it was a rare sort of murder. It was assumed to be a sex attack. I’m not sure whether it was, but it was assumed to be a sex attack. They were fairly rare in Brisbane at that time. It was carried out with extraordinary ferocity. She was kicked to death. And there just has never been any identifiable suspect.’

There didn’t seem any real reason for anyone to attack Betty Shanks. Des Sturgess Q.C. is still troubled by her murder. In the foreword to Ken Blanch’s book, Who Killed Betty Shanks, he said: ‘I knew Betty well. We were students together at the Queensland University.

‘More than fifty years, a lot of them spent as an advocate in the criminal jurisdiction where violent crime is common, has not diminished the horror I feel when I recall the death of Betty Shanks.

‘It was the ultimate crime. Here an attractive, thoughtful young woman, kind, truly decent, with whom nobody could possibly have had a quarrel, was attacked in the most cowardly manner and viciously done to death. And the wretch responsible has gone unpunished.’

No one was ever arrested for the murder of Betty Shanks. It was a crime that changed the face of Brisbane forever. Before the body of Betty Shanks was found, people left their doors and windows unlocked to catch the breeze, and women would walk the streets at night without a second thought. Now women were frightened to venture out without an escort and the city bristled with alarms, bolts and shuttered windows.

The Betty Shanks case continued to haunt Ken Blanch and the detectives of the Queensland Police Service. The file on the slaying of Betty Shanks consists of more than fifteen boxes of records in the Homicide Squad’s archives – and the case is still active.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the crime, the QPS issued a special bulletin in the hope of rekindling someone’s memory. It said: ‘It is half a century later and detectives are still as eager to solve the murder as the day it occurred.’

In 2006 Ken felt compelled to write the true crime book, Who Killed Betty Shanks, in which he re-examines the scene of the crime and the available evidence. Could the murder of Betty Shanks have been a case of mistaken identity? Is this the reason that her murder remains unsolved? Ken doesn’t think so. Since the book was published, further evidence has come to light and Ken believes he now knows the identity of the killer.

You could be forgiven for thinking that a life working in newspapers would be exciting enough, but after sixteen years as a reporter, Ken joined the army with the rank of Captain and did a tour of duty as public relations officer in Vietnam during 1966 with the First and Sixth Battalions, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR and 6RAR).

Ken eventually joined the Sunday Sun in Brisbane and dazzled everyone with his ability to juggle a multitude of roles including that of Chief of Staff. Then he moved to the Sun’s sister paper, the Courier-Mail, as a leader and feature writer, in which capacity he covered the Lindy Chamberlain case in Australia and a series of crises in Fiji and Papua New Guinea during the mid 1980s.

Ken Blanch finally retired at the age of 70 but kept his hand in with the occasional article and writing his true crime books. Not surprisingly the Australian Journalists’ Association awarded him the Gold Honour Badge for Most Significant Contribution to Queensland Journalism and he also received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for services to journalism.

Ken’s true crime series of books are a combination of painstaking research and the keen eye of an extremely competent reporter who has never given up on looking for the truth.

Three of them are available in the Brisbane City Council Libraries: Who Killed Betty Shanks; The Rampage of Killer Kast: Terror on the Terrace – dealing with a crime committed on Wickham Terrace, home ground of most of Brisbane’s medical specialists; and The Taxi Driver Killer: The Southport Murder, in which the murder of a young cab driver on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane sparked an investigation across two states that resulted in a trial that remains as controversial today as it was in 1953.

In September 2012 a second edition of Who Killed Betty Shanks (containing additional material) will be published both in print and as an eBook by Jack Sim (he of murder trails and ghost tours fame). After it comes out you can get it at

When last seen, Ken Blanch was seen enjoying himself in the WYNNUM-MANLY & DISTRICTS MEN’S SHED waving a hammer around – that can’t be good! Ken turns 85-years-old on 1 November 2012 and there will be cake at the shed, probably on Wednesday, 31 October, for anyone who needs to know. Don’t tell him though – it’s a surprise!

What’s a Men’s Shed? The Australian Men’s Shed Association explains

The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) is a charitable not-for-profit association and is registered as a Deductible Gift Recipient. AMSA is the peak body representing Men’s Sheds in Australia, providing free practical support and assistance. With over 720 Men’s Sheds registered, AMSA is now the largest Association in Australia focussed on male health and well-being.

The modern Men’s Shed is an updated version of the shed in the backyard so beloved by Australian men. Not every bloke is lucky enough to have one. Men aren’t used to talking about feelings and they often don’t take care of themselves. A lot of men find it hard to ask for help when they need it, and probably because of this, many men are less healthy than women. They drink more, take more risks and suffer more from isolation, loneliness and depression.

AMSA says that relationship breakdown, retrenchment or early retirement, loss of children following a divorce, or physical and mental illness are just some of the problems that men find hard to deal with on their own. The Men’s Sheds give men back a sense of purpose and companionship by providing an environment where men can relax or embark on a useful project.

If you look inside a Men’s Shed you might see a number of men restoring furniture or rebuilding bicycles for a local school. Some men fix lawn mowers or make a kid’s cubby house for Camp Quality to raffle. Sometimes younger men work with the older ones to learn new skills and maybe learn something of life from the men they work with. There are teabags, coffee cups and a comfortable area where men can sit and talk. Some men learn to cook for themselves or learn how to contact their families by computer.

Members of Men’s Sheds come from all walks of life, all of them with time on their hands which they would like to spend doing something useful. Good health means feeling good about yourself, being productive and valuable to your community, connecting to friends and maintaining an active body and mind.

Becoming a member of a Men’s Shed gives a man a safe and busy environment where he can find many of these things in an atmosphere of old-fashioned mateship. And, importantly, there is no pressure. Men can just come and have a yarn and a cuppa if that’s all they’re looking for. 

Men work on a project of their own choice, in their own time, and where the only ‘must’ is to observe safe working practices. At Wynnum-Manly, near the Wynnum State School in Brisbane, Queensland, the men make toys for children and owl boxes for nesting birds and possums, primarily for the local school children who place the eggs in the boxes and watch the birds grow. Sometimes the possums beat them to it – they’re partial to those boxes.

Secretary of the Wynnum-Manly Shed, Wayne Holmes, says that the shed started on 6 July 2011 with six members, and since then membership has grown rapidly. On 12 October 2012 the Shed will be officially opened by Tim Matheson, the patron of The Australian Men’s Sheds. (That name seems familiar – it is, ask Julia.) Wayne is proud of his Shed and is happy to discuss it with interested people: phone (07) 3396 4178 or email him at

Some of you might like to go and see what goes on for yourselves. In the ‘Website Watch’ section, there is a web address for The Australian Men’s Shed Association, where you can find the location of a Men’s Shed near you.

Website Watch

The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA)

The number of Men’s Sheds in Australia has grown very rapidly and in the early days there was a great deal of duplication and no central reference source. In April 2007 The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) was set up to act as a resource centre for all sheds and to promote the idea of Independent Community Men’s Sheds. The Association represents and promotes the Shed movement, and acts as a communications hub using their website and regular newsletters, copies of which are archived on the site. If you’d like to find out more about the Men’s Sheds movement, and maybe find one near you, go to

Barry Johnston (left) and Ken Blanch (at right) looking distinctly dangerous at the Wynnum-Manly & Districts Men’s Shed. Photo courtesy of Jim Campey.