I am 8. I go to school. I go to Sunday School. I go to the Lutheran Church. I know what it is to tell the truth about something. I know what it is to tell lies about something. 

What do you think would happen to you if you tell lies?

I would go to hell. 

I promise to tell you the truth about everything and not tell lies at all.

Testimony of Wendy Jane Pfeiffer, Adelaide Magistrates Court, December 5th 1966.

Written by Kylie Boltin

SBS Exclusive

Mylor, Adelaide Hills, Australia

The small town of Mylor, population 1097, is described by locals in the Adelaide Hills as quiet, rural and friendly. Children walk or ride their bikes freely, paddocks intersperse the few farmhouses. It was here, in October 1966, that eight-year-old Wendy Jane Pfeiffer was abducted about 500 metres from her family’s dairy farm, Willow View, near the intersection of Porteous and Bradbury roads.

The dirt track that Wendy walked along with Bonnie, “a nondescript brown and white farm dog” she will later tell me in her matter-of-fact way when we meet at her home in outer Melbourne, is still there. Wendy, now 61, does not draw attention to those three days and two nights. She doesn't talk about it: two of her three children do not know that she was abducted, brutally stabbed and left for dead. It is only because I have promised to rewrite the way the story has been told – including how Wendy survived in the bush alone and the heroic actions of Pitjantjatjara trackers Jimmy James and Daniel Moodoo, who found her when 150 police and volunteer searchers could not – that Wendy agrees to these exclusive interviews. She wants to set things right.

The first time I make the 35-minute drive from Adelaide, it is with a hand-marked Google map of the area near Wendy's former family home. Wendy's memory is surprisingly clear and she has drawn lines and simple sketches of sites she passed 52 years ago.

Artist's rendition of Wendy Pfeiffer's directions

Artist's rendition of Wendy Pfeiffer's directions

Artist's rendition of Wendy Pfeiffer's directions

Wendy has arranged for me to meet her sister-in-law, Ellie Pfeiffer, in Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, Hahndorf, about nine kilometres from Mylor. The town is considerably more populated, with hotels and restaurants on the one main road, as well as tourist shops and a German bakery that Ellie recommends. Ellie and her husband, Trevor, want to help Wendy tell her story in any way they can, but Trevor himself doesn’t want to meet me – his reluctance speaks to the impact of that time.

‘You hate the sin, but you love the sinner’. Isn’t that an incredible thing to say?
- Ellie Pfeiffer

Ellie, 63, listens intently and speaks softly, sharing details about the Pfeiffer family and what she's gleaned from her husband’s childhood: “Wendy’s mother used to say: ‘You hate the sin, but you love the sinner’. Isn’t that an incredible thing to say? I don’t know if you believe in God, but he never gives us more than we can cope with.” Ellie and Trevor remain active members of St Michael’s, the oldest Lutheran congregation in Australia. It was the church that Wendy attended the morning she was abducted.

Day 1: Sunday October 23rd 1966

October 23rd 1966 was a Sunday like any other for the Pfeiffer family. After a lamb’s fry and egg breakfast, they all got dressed for church in their Sunday best. Wendy wore a red velvet dress with a boxy cream hat, gloves and white socks just like Gladys, her mother, while her two older brothers, 16-year-old John and 10-year-old Trevor, put on white shirts and ties like their father.

Wendy wore a red velvet dress with a boxy cream hat, gloves and white socks just like her mother. (L-R) Alan, Trevor, John, Wendy and Gladys Pfeiffer. Image source: supplied

Wendy wore a red velvet dress with a boxy cream hat, gloves and white socks just like her mother. (L-R) Alan, Trevor, John, Wendy and Gladys Pfeiffer. Image source: supplied

Wendy wore a red velvet dress with a boxy cream hat, gloves and white socks just like her mother. (L-R) Alan, Trevor, John, Wendy and Gladys Pfeiffer. Image source: supplied

Alan Pfeiffer drove slowly along the winding roads to Hahndorf that morning, taking time to shift the gears in the old blue-grey Hudson. It was shaping up to be a warm day – around 20 degrees Celsius – and it took a good 40 minutes to get to St Michael’s.

There are still two Lutheran churches in Hahndorf – St Michael’s, and just a few blocks away, St Paul’s – and I will later learn that there’s a divisive history between the two. As an eight year old, Wendy was unaware of these divisions, but they did have one important consequence for her: Wendy didn’t know many members of the other church and therefore didn’t recognise her abductor, a man named Neville Francis Dolling who attended St Paul’s.

As always, the family sat close to the rear through the service led by 60-year-old Pastor Elmore Norman Zweck.  As soon as it ended, they headed straight for their car, stopping just once – at Mrs Post’s general shop in Hahndorf, where Mrs Post passed a Sunday Mail to Alan and wrapped a slab of vanilla ice cream in cardboard then newspaper for the children. It was their Sunday treat.

Pfeiffer family archive: supplied.

Pfeiffer family archive: supplied.

Pfeiffer family archive: supplied.

I’ve been researching Wendy’s case for about six months by the time Ellie and I pull up at the old Pfeiffer farm on what’s now Porteous Road. I’ve amassed newspaper clippings and court records and spoken to witnesses who participated in the search – at the time, one of the largest hunts for an abducted child in Australian history – as well as family members and police, but I still have questions about the crime that happened here more than five decades ago. They’re the same questions that have been circling in my head for months: What drove Neville Dolling to abduct Wendy, stab her three times in the chest and leave her body in the Mt Bold Reservoir reserve? We now know that most violent crimes against women and children are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. But, in this case, it was an unknown man who “found a little girl alone on a country road, pulled up [his] car and spoke to her,” as the judge in the case, Justice Chamberlain put it in a statement in the Supreme Court.

How did Wendy survive three days alone in the thick scrub where at night temperatures dropped near zero? Wendy says she wasn’t scared, that she was more concerned about “getting in trouble with mum and dad” for not putting the chooks away. Fear was not something she registered as a child: she had “nothing to compare it to as an experience” she says now. Yet she was close to death when she was eventually found by Jimmy James and Daniel Moodoo. It is likely she would not have survived another night.

Wendy's survival skills make me stop short. The way they defied expectation. She sucked on leaves for their dew, searched for blackberries, made a blanket out of tree branches and lay it on top of herself in the cold. I can’t help thinking of my own inadequacies, and of the city kids that I know. I can’t say with confidence that any of us would survive. Wendy's actions, resilience and confidence challenge the stereotype of a helpless girl lost in the Australian bush.

The Queen v. NEVILLE FRANCIS DOLLING Supreme Court Adelaide,  December 1966 - February 1967

The Queen v. NEVILLE FRANCIS DOLLING Supreme Court Adelaide, December 1966 - February 1967

The Queen v. NEVILLE FRANCIS DOLLING Supreme Court Adelaide, December 1966 - February 1967

Like many of their generation, Alan and Gladys preferred that children be seen and not heard. Silence was expected during Sunday lunch; a hash of potatoes, turnips, onions and pieces of cut meat cooked in a big frying pan on the wood stove. For Wendy, who hurriedly ripped off her Sunday best every week when she got changed after church – “I hated wearing dresses” she’ll later tell me – nothing was more enticing than being outside. She’d lose her sense of time in the company of the chooks, sheep and cows on the Pfeiffers’ 25-acre property. She thought of the animals as her friends and wasn't afraid of snakes around the Adelaide Hills, even dangerous ones.

That Sunday, Wendy gobbled down the last mouthful of food and said cheekily, to no-one in particular, “I’ll take Bonnie for a walk”. She said this knowing that Bonnie, the old farm dog, didn’t like walks and would be happier snoozing with the cat on the hessian bags on the back step. Still, she grabbed the first piece of twine she could find, tied it around the dog’s neck and gently tugged. She was wearing her new red jelly sandals as they started down the dirt road.

 'Willow View,' the Pfeiffers' former home, present day. Image: Tamara Dean.

'Willow View,' the Pfeiffers' former home, present day. Image: Tamara Dean.

'Willow View,' the Pfeiffers' former home, present day. Image: Tamara Dean.

Ellie and I get out of the car and peer over the small fence of the white farmhouse. I think of how it matches Wendy and her brother John's accounts and the images I’ve seen in newspaper articles. This was the initial headquarters of the search that was followed on televisions across the country from the night Wendy disappeared. It's hard to imagine how strange that must have seemed to Wendy's family: that their lawn was floodlit and the site of a sea of vehicles – police cars, fire engines, emergency rescue and media cars – along with dozens of volunteers preparing sandwiches for the police and searchers.

Spreading out a few paces apart, police and 150 volunteers combed the dense tangled scrub in the valleys around Mount Bold Reservoir. Image source: The News

Spreading out a few paces apart, police and 150 volunteers combed the dense tangled scrub in the valleys around Mount Bold Reservoir. Image source: The News

Spreading out a few paces apart, police and 150 volunteers combed the dense tangled scrub in the valleys around Mount Bold Reservoir. Image source: The News

We turn away from the house and retrace the steps of Wendy and Bonnie. It was at the intersection of Porteous and Bradbury roads that a small white car approached Wendy from the opposite direction. In late 1966, Wendy described this car to a packed courtroom with characteristic precision: “It was a white car, a small car. I know the size of a Holden car, it is fairly big. This car was smaller than a Holden.”

“He put his hand over my mouth then dragged me over his lap.”
- Wendy Pfeiffer

From Wendy's court testimony:

“The car stopped on exactly the same side as I was walking. The door was closest to me. The left door on the front. The passenger’s door. He asked about fishing. I spoke to him. I said “Silver Lake”. I told him the directions. I was just saying the last words and he snapped me into the car. He put his hand over my mouth then dragged me over his lap.”

Wendy Pfeiffer's testimony.  The Queen v. NEVILLE FRANCIS DOLLING Supreme Court Adelaide, January 1967

Wendy Pfeiffer's testimony. The Queen v. NEVILLE FRANCIS DOLLING Supreme Court Adelaide, January 1967

Wendy Pfeiffer's testimony. The Queen v. NEVILLE FRANCIS DOLLING Supreme Court Adelaide, January 1967

It is this scene that I will go over in detail with Wendy when I visit her in suburban Melbourne in early 2017. Wendy shows me her outdoor art studio, which is filled with tubes of coloured oil paints and large canvases of commissioned animal portraits. She talks of her art practice as "careful observation". She is fastidious with her work as she with her activism – Wendy is a strict ethical vegan – and her daily exercise regime, which involves waking at 3:30 each morning. It’s as if she doesn’t want to waste even one moment of her life, knowing as she does that it is a life spared.

Wendy doesn’t remember becoming weaker over the days she wandered through the scrub, though she hadn’t eaten. Even now she can’t abide physical weakness: “To this day I've got this stupid determination and hate anything that gets in the way, like my body if it falters, I just get really annoyed.” Her frustration is at its peak when she's confronted by what she sees as the sloppy, sensational language of tragedies presented in the media. This interview will be her last, she says.

“His hand was sweaty and dirty. I remember that and he held it over my mouth.”
- Wendy Pfeiffer

Over a cup of tea in her kitchen, with her beloved greyhounds at her feet, Wendy tells me: “[I remember] him winding down the window and opening the door, but country people do that. It was a young man’s voice, more of an anxious voice, not a slow drawl, not a yarner, not a country bloke like ‘how's your animals going?’ He asked about fishing – which is strange because there was no fishing around there…”

While Wendy has worked to forget about those days, it is the smell of Dolling’s hand that has lingered. “Otherwise, I couldn’t identify him. I never looked or registered him,” she says. “His hand was sweaty and dirty. I remember that and he held it over my mouth.” To this day, she can’t abide the smell of dried human blood. It has a “sharp, strong, tangy” smell, she says.

Dolling stabbed Wendy with a long, red-handled kitchen knife three times in the upper chest. The third time, the knife went in deepest, cutting through her shirt and singlet and finishing "less than half an inch [1.27 cm] from her heart," according to Dr Stanley Martin, who examined her in the hospital. Later, in court, he testified that her skin had been "gaping apart" at the wound site. She had lost so much blood that he suspected a lung injury and was "almost certain" it could have killed her.

As a child, Wendy testified that Dolling told her to “keep quiet” before he stabbed her. Now she adds that being stabbed is “like being punched. It’s nothing like the way it’s depicted in the movies. You go into another space when that happens. Even fear isn’t there. Just an otherness.” Her voice trails off for a moment. “All I could see was the steering wheel and the dash. The stabbing itself was incomprehensibly quick. The next thing I felt a pile of warm blood coming off me. That was when I fainted."

Eight-year-old Wendy’s body was abandoned near this site, close to the intersection of Gurr and Mount Bold roads. Image: Tamara Dean

Eight-year-old Wendy’s body was abandoned near this site, close to the intersection of Gurr and Mount Bold roads. Image: Tamara Dean

Eight-year-old Wendy’s body was abandoned near this site, close to the intersection of Gurr and Mount Bold roads. Image: Tamara Dean

The next time I visit Wendy in Melbourne, we sit down with John, 69, who openly shares his memories of those days and nights, though it is difficult for him. As Wendy retells her story in minute detail, John shakes his head and quietly interjects. He is hearing some things for the first time and still bears the sense of responsibility that haunted him then. “I knew Wendy was missing and I didn't have my driving licence but I was going to pinch my father's motor bike, but realistically it was a very heavy motor bike and I wouldn't have been able to start it.” He sighs. John’s sense of helplessness during those days and nights leaves him breathless. “The Beaumont children were fresh in everyone's mind. I couldn't help but feel, everyone couldn't help but feel, that this was another Beaumont case basically.”

 In her haste to get away, Wendy left her red jelly sandal in the scrub. Illustration: Thea Perkins

In her haste to get away, Wendy left her red jelly sandal in the scrub. Illustration: Thea Perkins

In her haste to get away, Wendy left her red jelly sandal in the scrub. Illustration: Thea Perkins

The search for Wendy was the largest since the disappearance of the Beaumonts – Jane 9, Arnna, 7, and Grant, 4 – from a Glenelg beach on January 26th 1966. The children had left their suburban Adelaide home on an unsupervised trip on a 39-degree day. When Wendy was abducted almost exactly ten months later, the case remained unsolved. There was “an aura of hysteria” across South Australia at the time, Peter Hughes,The Advertiser’s former police reporter writes, with journalists camped permanently outside the Beaumont family home. It was widely reported that an unidentified blond man had been playing with the children shortly before they disappeared.

Dairy farmer and volunteer firefighter, Fred Ewing, remembers the day of Wendy's disappearance well. It was his wife’s 40th birthday and he had just about finished milking his cows when the sirens started. Fred immediately changed into his overalls and headed to the station, where Captain Ed Brigan put 15-odd men into two fire engines, with another brigade arriving from neighbouring town Algate, to assist. The volunteers started searching in widening circles around Willow View. As word spread of the missing girl, more members of the community arrived at the Pfeiffers’ farmhouse. Even the South Australian Premier, Frank Walsh, participated. Some now describe the area around the house as like a mini-city. To John, it seemed the entire population of Mylor and surrounding towns had come to help. "I don’t think I had an ounce of sleep, I don’t think anyone had an ounce of sleep,” he says.

Emergency Fire Authority and volunteer searchers comb the area around Mount Bold Reservoir. Archive source: ABC

Emergency Fire Authority and volunteer searchers comb the area around Mount Bold Reservoir. Archive source: ABC

Day 2: Monday 24th October 1966

At first light, John recalls the “empty panic” that set in. The police were already preparing Gladys and Alan for the worst. “I had a sick feeling in my stomach,” he says.

 “Search in Hills Country for Nine-Year-Old Girl,” The Advertiser 24th October 1966, Page 1

“Search in Hills Country for Nine-Year-Old Girl,” The Advertiser October 24th 1966, Page 1

“Search in Hills Country for Nine-Year-Old Girl,” The Advertiser October 24th 1966, Page 1

A front-page newspaper report appeared about Wendy’s disappearance, its headline, “Search in Hills Country for Nine-Year-Old Girl”, reproducing a factual error about Wendy's age that had first appeared in the West Sterling Police logbook. Below the headline was a photo of Wendy and a quote from Alan Pfeiffer: “I think she must have been abducted. She is a shy girl and would not have spoken to a stranger.”

That Monday morning, at his parents’ dairy farm, the perpetrator Neville Dolling read this story. Later he told police he had also seen some of the Sunday night TV coverage, just hours after he left Wendy. “That night I saw on TV there was a search taking place for a girl in the Mylor district and I thought it must be the same girl I had seen earlier that day. I could not sleep. I could not eat my breakfast. I felt sick with worry.” After taking a tablet, Dolling drove to Hahndorf.

The ridge that Wendy walked through. Image: Tamara Dean.

The ridge that Wendy walked through. Image: Tamara Dean.

The ridge that Wendy walked through. Image: Tamara Dean.

Residence of Pastor Elmore Zweck, 23 Church Street, Hahndorf. 8:30am.

Pastor Elmore Zweck of St Michael’s turned into his street and saw a white Toyota Corona parked in his driveway. The young farmhand was waiting for him. Dolling asked Zweck whether he was a minister. He told him he had a problem – a very big problem – on his mind, but he didn't know how to put it. 

Dolling said: “I suffer from my head. My mind sometimes is a blank.”

Zweck asked if it was in connection with the missing girl and Dolling said yes it was. The pastor asked “What has happened to the girl? Is she dead?”

Dolling said: “Yes.”

Zweck asked: “How do you know she’s dead?”

Dolling said: “She had stopped breathing.”

Zweck asked again: “Are you sure she’s dead?”

And again Dolling said: “Yes”.  He added: “I know where she is.” The pastor went into his study to phone Mount Barker police station. He spoke to Sergeant Schmerl, also a member of his congregation, who told him to keep Dolling talking.

Wendy crossed the Onkaparinga River here. Image: Tamara Dean

Wendy crossed the Onkaparinga River here. Image: Tamara Dean

Wendy crossed the Onkaparinga River here. Image: Tamara Dean

Dirt track off Mount Bold Road: 10:00am.

Dolling took three homicide detectives to the place where he claimed to have left Wendy’s body.

They asked him to take off his shoes as he led them along the dirt track.

The detectives discovered Wendy’s left red sandal in the bushes to the right of the path.

They did not find Wendy.

 “Man Questioned About Lost Girl,” The Age,  25 Oct 1966, Page 1

“Man Questioned About Lost Girl,” The Age, 25 Oct 1966, Page 1

“Man Questioned About Lost Girl,” The Age, 25 Oct 1966, Page 1

Adelaide District Court: 9:15pm.

Police including Detective Ron Albert Thomas arrested and charged Dolling with Wendy’s murder.


Medical officer Dr Douglas Williamson examined Dolling in the presence of his lawyer. Dolling said he was suffering from a duodenal ulcer and the pain of this sometimes felt like “someone [was] sticking in a hot knife”. Williamson found Dolling to be in a “sound physical condition”.

“Wendy knew she had animals around so she never felt that she was alone."
- Ken Ruge

The second time I visit Mylor it is to meet the team at South Australian Water, who now manage the Mt Bold Reservoir reserve where Wendy was abandoned. I’ve arranged to meet District Leader, Ken Ruge, outside the Clarendon Bakery at 9:30am. I buy a sweet loaf for morning tea to share with the team as I wait for Ken to pick me up.

In Ken, I am greeted by another person who is open, warm and kind. It makes sense. Wendy had said it was very much a local trait: it’s why she didn’t hesitate to speak to Dolling when he wound down his window. Ken will later laugh with me when we compare city and country life. “Wendy knew she had animals around so she never felt that she was alone. It’s the country people upbringing. You have a love for what’s around you. Simple, beautiful stuff.”

Ken has lived in nearby Victor Harbour his entire life and is the same age as Wendy. He remembers Wendy’s story as it played out in the news and is keen to know whether she survived, whether Dolling was jailed and whether there was sexual assault. These questions haunt many about the case, leading to speculation and gossip.

There was no sign of rape. This is in keeping with the report of the doctor who examined both Wendy and Dolling. Justice Chamberlain added that it was impossible to divine Dolling’s motive but that it appeared “to have some sexual basis" because Wendy's underwear had been found beside her. For me, it is Wendy who has the last say on this issue: “It was a psychotic episode. There was no sexual assault. He thought he had killed me.”

On December 7th 1966, The Advertiser reported Neville Dolling was committed to stand trial in the Adelaide Magistrates Court on a charge of having attempted to murder Wendy Jane Pfeiffer.  He pleaded not guilty. Reports by two psychiatrists revealed that Dolling was not certifiable under the Mental Health Act, nor was he insane.

In March 1967, Dolling was found guilty of the attempted murder of Wendy Jane Pfeiffer by a jury of seven women and five men. At the sentencing in the Supreme Court, Justice Chamberlain said: “I have no alternative than to treat you as responsible for a very terrible crime, indistinguishable but for the accident, and the very fortunate accident of the child’s survival, from murder.” Dollings’ lawyer, a prominent QC, asked for leniency, saying Dolling had an immature personality and had been backward and a burden on his parents since childhood. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail.

Neville Dolling died in June 2018. After being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2015, he spent the last few years of his life fundraising for cancer research and raising awareness about the condition.

Mt Bold Reservoir. Images Tamara Dean

Mt Bold Reservoir. Images Tamara Dean

Mt Bold Reservoir. Images Tamara Dean

As Ken drives us through the gates, he points out rare and native flora and marsupials - of which I will later learn there are thousands. “I have a great passion for this joint and what it holds,” he says, visibly chuffed at his good fortune to work here. “To find out there was a story, where a little girl got lost and got out of it… that’s something that was very special.” Ken vividly recalls the case as it unfolded in 1966. But surprisingly, it wasn’t so much Wendy but Jimmy James who captured his imagination at the time. “Jimmy James was like a hero. He resonated with me.”

"Mission Trackers Heroes of Search," The News, 25 October, Page 3

"Mission Trackers Heroes of Search," The News, 25 October, Page 3

"Mission Trackers Heroes of Search," The News, 25 October, Page 3

Ken knows I am here to find the exact locations that Wendy walked while she was missing, to photograph them. I am trying to fulfil Wendy's wishes to honour Jimmy James and his relative Daniel Moodoo, the men who saved her life.

Journalism from the time ignores the complexities and nuances of Jimmy James's life, his ability to track and how he found Wendy. English was not Jimmy’s first language and he was never interviewed by the mainstream media in Pitjantjatjara. But with assistance from his nephews, David and Trevor James and the work of linguist Linda Rive and others, Jimmy has come alive to me: his quiet way of working; his steely gaze; his photographic memory for tracks; his infectious laugh.

Taught by his family of Pitjantjatjara aunties, west of Ernabella in Central Australia, Jimmy James learnt to recognise plants, hunt small game through tracking lizards and insects, predict the seasons. In short, Jimmy held an entire knowledge system in his mind. He knew when something was out of place. Perhaps David James says it best: "Uncle Jimmy just had it: a feeling and sense of belonging to the land. The skill of being able to observe, to notice what is missing and anything that is added."

Jimmy James with Retired Detective Chief Inspector Bill Newman outside Berri Court before his first appearance as an expert witness. Image source: supplied.

Jimmy James with Retired Detective Chief Inspector Bill Newman outside Berri Court before his first appearance as an expert witness. Image source: supplied.

Jimmy James with Retired Detective Chief Inspector Bill Newman outside Berri Court before his first appearance as an expert witness. Image source: supplied.

In a career with the South Australian Police that spanned 40 years, Jimmy James tracked close to 100 escaped prisoners and people lost in the bush. Together with Daniel Moodoo, he helped solve the Sundown murders in 1957 and the Pine Valley murders in 1958. Jimmy James is responsible for the successful capture of escaped child killer James George Smith in 1982. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1984.

The police I speak to including retired Detective Chief Inspector Bill Newman – who first came across James in 1959 – talk of him with utmost professional respect. “Jimmy could see tracks on the ground that I couldn’t see and most white people couldn’t see,” Newman reflects. “He had the ability to identify the tracks of the person we were looking for. Other footprints wouldn’t distract him at all.”  Yet in 1982, when Jimmy James spent six days tracking Smith through more than 100 kilometres of some of the roughest country in South Australia, he was paid just $7.29 an hour. While the South Australian Government paid Jimmy James a one-off bonus of $500, there were no changes to tracker’s pay rates despite claims they were "grossly underpaid and shamelessly exploited”  in the Sydney Morning Herald. The same article estimated that Jimmy James “saved the State Government hundreds of thousands of dollars per year through his tracking skills”. 

There is also a deep, painful irony in the fact that when Jimmy James was working to reunite Wendy and her family, the South Australian government was forcibly separating Indigenous children from their families and communities.  

Jimmy James OAM with the medal he was awarded following his rescue of Wendy. Image source: John Stokes

Jimmy James OAM with the medal he was awarded following his rescue of Wendy. Image source: John Stokes

Jimmy James OAM with the medal he was awarded following his rescue of Wendy. Image source: John Stokes

On Monday October 24th 1966, Dolling had already come forward to police, so the focus of the search had shifted from the Pfeiffer farmhouse to the dirt track where Dolling abandoned her body. 

Former councillor for Sterling, Milton Baulderstone, now 81, and Peter Lewis, now 74, did a full day’s work at Baulderstone’s Poultry Farm before they headed to Mt Bold Reservoir to assist. “By the time we reached the site, the police had given up on searching the reservoir and had begun to shift their focus again,” Peter Lewis says as we stand at the top the dirt track now known as Firebreak 20. “Milton said ‘we haven’t been down there’… he said ‘let’s go for a walk’. It was then we found the footprints."

Police photographed the prints in the fading light. They were Wendy’s. The next morning Jimmy James and Daniel Moodoo were called in from their home on Gerard Mission in the Riverland to find her remains.

 On the second night Wendy "made a bit of a house to sleep in."  Image: Tamara Dean

On the second night Wendy "made a bit of a house to sleep in."  Image: Tamara Dean

On the second night Wendy "made a bit of a house to sleep in."  Image: Tamara Dean

Day 3: Tuesday October 25th. 5:30am.

It was 5:30am when Jimmy and Daniel arrived at Mount Bold Reservoir reserve. Alan and John Pfeiffer were with them, walking slightly behind, as well as Emergency Fire Service searchers and police. Jimmy knew he had to move quickly and soon saw that Wendy was hurt.

Jimmy James and Daniel Moodoo tracked Wendy's prints across 20 kilometres of dense scrub in just under two hours. Jimmy saw that Wendy crossed the Onkaparinga River and that she was looking over her shoulder to see if Dolling had followed her. During the search, Jimmy was keenly aware of Wendy's extraordinary ability to adapt to the landscape. He saw every piece of evidence first-hand: evidence that was hiding in plain sight to others.

It was only Jimmy and Daniel who could hear Wendy crying as they combed through the bush, finding more of her tracks. The other searchers thought they were hearing lambs in the area. One later said there had been "a mumbling noise". 

When Jimmy found Wendy sitting under a tree by the shallow river, he stood back and allowed Alan and John to be the first ones to race over, the police in a 4-wheel drive vehicle behind them. Today Wendy remembers this as a moment of "being swamped”.

Wendy was found at 7:30am on Tuesday October 25th 1966, exhausted, sitting under a tree. Illustration: Thea Perkins

Wendy was found at 7:30am on Tuesday October 25th 1966, exhausted, sitting under a tree. Illustration: Thea Perkins

Wendy was found at 7:30am on Tuesday October 25th 1966, exhausted, sitting under a tree. Illustration: Thea Perkins

The news flashed through Emergency Fire Service radios to Mylor and surrounding towns. “I remember the excitement when Jimmy James found me,” Wendy reflects now. “I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but if I’d stayed one more night, I would have physically been pushing my luck. Jimmy James was a link, a really important link. Because even though I thought I was a big smarty eight year old who could walk home, obviously I couldn’t. Jimmy James built the bridge to get me out of there. I’m lucky to be alive."

“Girl Alive,” The News, Oct 25th 1966, Page 1

“Girl Alive,” The News, Oct 25th 1966, Page 1

“Girl Alive,” The News, Oct 25th 1966, Page 1

Jimmy James passed away in 1991. He wore the medal he received for finding Wendy until the day he died.

Experience Wendy's three days and two nights in the Mt Bold Reservoir reserve and discover how Jimmy James tracked her prints:

"Missing" the SBS Interactive documentary

"Missing" the SBS Interactive documentary

"Missing" the SBS Interactive documentary

HELP & SUPPORT :

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au
In an emergency, call 000.

Essay credits:

Written by Kylie Boltin

Research by Debra Shulkes

Interviews with Wendy and John Pfeiffer by Roslyn Oades

Location photography by Tamara Dean

Illustrations by Thea Perkins

Article layout and design by Daniel Bismire

Thanks to

Wendy, Ellie, Trevor, John and the Pfeiffer family.

David, Alice and Trevor James

Hilda Moodoo

Rhonda Centofanti

Linda Rive

SA Water: Peter Pavey, Ken Ruge, Ian Smart

Milton Baulderstone, Peter Lewis, retired police officers Linc Gore and Bill Newman, Detective Senior Sergeant First Class Sid Thomas and all those who assisted us with the research of this piece

Ramindjeri Heritage Association and Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage Association Inc

ABC Archive

The News

The Sydney Morning Herald