Trigger Warning: This story contains graphic details that readers may find disturbing.
Bradford “Brad” Warner Pholi was born in 1972, the youngest of three children born to Lorna Pholi.
Lorna and her children moved to Dundas Valley, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, around September 1982 and settled in a small home at 51 Warwick Road. Brad, 10, attended Carlingford Public School, a half-mile away in Carlingford.
The Disappearance of Bradford Pholi
It was Boxing Day (Dec. 26) 1982, and the Pholi children were on a month-long school break because of the holidays and the end of the school year. In New South Wales, the school year begins in late January and ends around the middle of December.
Lorna asked Brad’s older siblings, Anita, 13, and Bernie, 11, to take a train to borrow money from their aunt, Marilyn Cox, who lived in Newtown. The family did not know anyone in Dundas Valley yet and had taken the train before, so the kids knew how to get to Eastwood Station.
Anita and Bernie flat-out refused to go.
“I didn’t want to go, it was Boxing Day. I was playing with my toys,” said Bernie in a 2018 interview with the Parramatta Advertiser.
Lorna then asked Brad, and he said he would go.
It’s wild to think Lorna allowed her 10-year-old son to take the train. According to Google Maps, the walk from his home to Eastwood Station is 41 minutes, 2.9km (1.8 miles). Newtown is about 15 miles southeast of the Pholi home. The train ride from Eastwood Station to Newtown Station would have taken 35-40 minutes. Then, Brad would have had to walk to his aunt’s residence. All alone.
Bernie begged Brad not to go, but the boy left anyway and headed to Eastwood Station on foot wearing a blue and yellow shirt with “Life. Be in it” imprinted on the front, blue shorts, and green flip-flops.
About five minutes later, out of guilt, Bernie went after Brad but could not find the 10-year-old. “He was gone, he was already gone,” Bernie said in 2018. Brad never made it to his aunt’s home.
That night, Lorna went to the Eastwood Police Station to report Brad missing, but officers told her she had to wait 24 hours, per police procedure. She returned after that period with an unidentified man and reported her son missing.
The family criticized the police for how they handled Brad’s disappearance. According to them, Eastwood police only searched one possible route Brad may have taken to the train station that day, but there were others.
One route the Pholi children would take to Eastwood station was to hop on Mobbs Lane, take it to Midson Road, and then turn left onto Hillview Road, where the station sits. The shorter route was to take Terry Road to Hillview Road.
Below shows the Terry Road route.
“They didn’t check other roads,” she said. “He could have went a different way.”
After some police inquiries, an Eastwood Station attendant said he saw Brad board a train. The man knew the boy and might have been the last to see him alive.
According to the Eastwood police, Brad was sighted in Darlinghurst and King’s Cross, about four to five miles from Newtown.
Pedophile Ring Theory
The Pholi family presented a theory to police that a pedophile ring might have abducted Brad, and authorities did not initially discount that possibility. There were several rings in the Sydney area in the 1980s.
Detectives received information from “street kids,” who told them pedophiles had taken them as “slaves.” The runaways would later be sold through a Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle, and Wollongong network.
Police conducted an operation to seek information surrounding said network. But it placed those involved in “considerable danger,” so they ceased the operation. (McCallum and Taouk 2018)
Juvenile crime squad detective Gary Scott: “The operative was sent into an area of Kings Cross and Oxford St. posing as a pedophile,” he said. “The operative would then go into clubs in that area and attempt to meet with other pedophiles to gather intelligence about that network.”
About 50 miles south of Sydney, Wollongong once had a couple of mayors who liked young boys. One was Tony Bevan. When he died of cancer in 1991, he left behind numerous recordings of phone calls between him and politicians and financial associates, as well as Sydney pedophiles. He had even recorded a phone call between him and an American he called “Lonny.”
Bevan ran a pedophile “school” where Illawarra and Sydney boys were seduced and manipulated. (Martin 1995)
In 2015, a former King’s Cross sex worker publicly spoke about his high-profile clientele, one being Bevan.
“Dave” was 18 at the time and claimed Bevan had groomed him to “approach younger boys from the streets and lure them back to hotels and apartments for the men in the network to have sex with. (Palin 2015)
“The going price was $50, then you go with them, and they pay you or give you clothes,” Dave said.
“The boys would be around the Cross, they have seen them then get me to befriend them and see if they were willing to come back and introduce them and stuff like that.”
Dave said how he met Beven, “It happened to me when I was young and homeless and approached by a man while resting at Central Station.
“I was a very young-minded 18-year-old. He came and said ‘stay with me’.
“I went with him and later found out he was a heroin addict when we were living in Paddington.
“He introduced me to the Cross and I started meeting people and going to bars that were gay, like the Fish Bowl and the Rex Hotel. Then, one day, he took me up to ‘the (Darlinghurst) Wall’ and said, ‘If you stand here, we can make lots of money.’
Dave mentioned both places where people had seen Brad – Darlinghurst and King’s Cross.
Another victim of Bevan was Frank Stansbury, who was a 13-year-old runaway in 1980 when he met Bevan at a local cafe. He was interviewed for an article, “City of Secrets,” in the Sydney Morning Herald’s weekend edition, Good Weekend, published in August 1998.
“Bevan got me by taking me up in the plane,” Frank said.
“It was a real spin for me. Coming from a broken family, I had never had anyone pay attention to me like that before. I had no male figure in my life to guide me, and that’s how they broke through to you.”
Frank continued, saying, “It was like you were a little puppy: you were looked after, given money, and things were bought for you. You were picked up.”
The other Wollongong mayor was Frank Arkell, whose term lasted from 1974 to 1991. Arkell was savagely murdered in June 1998.
It now transpires that Wollongong was run for 20 years by two mayors who preyed sexually on their teenage constituents and that a raft of well-to-do figures — the headmaster of the local Catholic boys’ college, a local councilor with five children, a rotund industrialist who drove around town in a Rolls-Royce, a Catholic priest, a local restaurant manager, a shark-patrol pilot — molested dozens of boys for years with apparent impunity. (Good Weekend 1998)
Someone from these networks might have abducted Brad after spotting him on the train from Eastwood to Newtown or at Newtown Station.
Lorna’s Search for Her Son
According to Anita Pholi, Lorna searched for her missing son in the Eastwood and Newtown areas and King’s Cross for two years. She even entered pubs, showing Brad’s picture and asking if the patrons had seen him. Nobody had.
Bernie Pholi said his brother’s disappearance destroyed Lorna, and she died in 1986.
Coroner’s Inquest 2009
A four-day coroner’s inquest in Brad’s disappearance took place in June 2009, held by former Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich.
At the inquest, former police officers gave hard-to-believe testimonies.
Former senior sergeant Graham Kinross and sergeants Neville Bulley and Graham Thomas claimed they had no memory of Brad or his case.
Witness Statements: Allegations of Abuse
The following statements were made at the inquest and reported by the Parramatta Advertiser.
- Neighbor Robin Yates told the police she saw Lorna throw the family’s fish tank towards Brad, and “it smashed in the middle of the road. I saw the fish tank shatter with glass going everywhere.”
- Marilyn Cox claimed Lorna told her about burning Brad’s bed and said something like, “I’ll teach the little bas*ard a lesson.” Cox claimed that after Brad disappeared, Lorna called her and said she was glad “she only had Anita and Bernie and not Brad.”
- Keith McNamara, 13 in 1982, claimed he witnessed Lorna’s abuse and that she “loved to drink.” She would be “verbally aggressive” towards her kids and “throw things” at them.
At the inquest, Detective Inspector Darrin Newman testified that if Lorna had been alive, he would have considered her a person of interest.
“There’s no evidence to suggest anybody else was involved.”
However, Milovanovich ruled out Lorna’s involvement in Brad’s case.
“I do believe it should be publicly stated that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Lorna Pholi was in any way involved in the disappearance or suspected death of her son Bradford Pholi,” he said.
During the inquest proceedings, detectives attempted to locate the unidentified man with Lorna when she reported Brad missing. However, they never discovered his identity, and the man never came forward.
It’s unclear whether police closed Brad’s case after the inquest, but it’s likely.
What would this story be without some weirdness involved?
Grant Austin, 18 in 1982, came forward in 2009 claiming he had several dreams of Brad buried in the backyard of the Warwick Road home. Grant had lived there before the Pholis.
He even went to the police regarding these dreams and said they began in 1998. Police had thoroughly searched the backyard but found no remains.
When I read his story, I thought, “Killers will sometimes put themselves into the investigation to observe the police to see what they know.”
After Lorna’s death, her daughter Anita, then 17, finished raising Bernie. Both siblings had problems with substance abuse and struggled to deal with their brother’s disappearance. They both were in and out of hospitals and spent time in prison. They believed the authorities did not do enough to find Brad.
Anita vehemently denied at the 2009 inquest that her mother harmed Brad. Anita died in July 2020. Bernie still lives in the Sydney area.
“Bradford Warner Pholi.” Image. Australian Missing Persons Register. https://australianmissingpersonsregister.com/ampr/BradPholi.htm Accessed on January 7, 2024.
“Bradford Warner Pholi.” The Doe Network. https://www.doenetwork.org/cases-int/2182dmnsw.html Accessed on January 7, 2024.
“City of Secrets.” Good Weekend, Sydney Morning Herald. August 22, 1998. Retrieved from https://comments.bmartin.cc/2019/09/12/wollongong-horror-behind-the-scenes/
“Haunting Dreams of Buried Bradford Pholi.” The Daily Telegraph. Jun 17, 2009. Retrieved from https://australianmissingpersonsregister.com/ampr/BradPholi.htm
Lawrence, Kara. “Police Focus on Mystery Man as Inquest Opens.” The Daily Telegraph. June 15, 2009. Retrieved from https://australianmissingpersonsregister.com/ampr/BradPholi.htm
Martin, Brett. “Former Mayor Ran Child Sex Ring.” Illawarra Mercury. March 9, 1995. Retrieved from https://comments.bmartin.cc/2019/09/12/wollongong-horror-behind-the-scenes/
McCallum, Jake and Mary Anne Taouk. “Lost in Sydney; Bradford Pholi’s Disappearance on Boxing Day.” Parramatta Advertiser. August 20, 2018. https://australianmissingpersonsregister.com/ampr/BradPholi.htm Accessed on January 7, 2024.
Palin, Megan. “Former Kings Cross sex worker opens little black book on high profile clients.” New.com.au. December 7, 2015. https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/former-kings-cross-sex-worker-opens-little-black-book-on-high-profile-clients/news-story/5ba7138d98f7f7c1907f60d8d6ecbbf4 Accessed January 7, 2024.