Lee Rimmer can’t stop the tears springing to her eyes when she talks about her beloved sister Jane.
It’s been 24 years since the young childcare assistant suddenly vanished during a night out at the popular Claremont entertainment precinct in Perth’s leafy western suburbs, but the grief and the sadness for her family never goes away.
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think it’s all a nightmare or something, but obviously it isn’t, but that’s just how I feel sometimes,” Lee says.
The tragic story of Jane’s final night out has become ingrained in Perth’s history, and her family has been forced to relive the nightmare again and again over the past seven months as the horrifying details have been revisited in the WA Supreme Court, where her alleged killer has been on trial.
Telstra technician Bradley Robert Edwards, 51, is accused of killing Ms Rimmer, along with 18-year-old Sarah Spiers, who vanished in similar circumstances four-and-a-half months earlier, and Ciara Glennon, 27, who went missing from Claremont nine months after Jane.
The trial is in its final days and Justice Stephen Hall will soon retire to consider his verdict.
The three murders captured the public imagination in Perth like little before or since, and quickly became immortalised as the Claremont serial killings.
‘Jane was her baby girl’
Haunting video footage of Jane captured on CCTV standing outside the Continental Hotel just before midnight on June 4, 1996, her jacket folded over her arm and her handbag slung over her shoulder, is the last time she was seen alive.
54 days later, her naked body was found in a patch of bushland filled with arum lilies, just off an unsealed road in semi-rural Wellard, on Perth’s southern outskirts.
It’s no exaggeration to say Jane’s murder destroyed her close-knit family.
Dad Trevor died of cancer in 2008 and Mum Jenny has been in ill health after a series of strokes, and now lives in a residential care facility.
Jenny Rimmer attended the first day of the widely publicised trial in a wheelchair in November last year, but has not been back.
“She’s very upset all the time,” Lee says of her mother.
“But she can’t do anything about it. [Jane] was her baby girl and … it’s just been horrific.”
Exuberant, outgoing and bubbly, 23-year-old Jane had a wide circle of friends, and was adored by her family.
“There’s six years difference between us, so when Mum brought her home, I was six years old,” Lee says.
“So she was doted on from the day she was born until the day she died.
Summers at the beach, holidays at the shack
Lee’s pain is obvious as she speaks of her sister, even though she has many happy memories.
She talks of the three siblings growing up in Shenton Park, happy, carefree childhoods marked by summers at the beach, holidays to the family shack at Karridale on Western Australia’s south-west coast, where the siblings would muck around “and throw cow pats at each other”, and playing with pet mice.
“We used to go to Cottesloe Beach a lot in the summer, either by train or ride our bikes, so we spent heaps of summers just at Cottesloe after school,” Lee says.
Claremont, not far from their home in Shenton Park, was another popular destination for the family, where Mum Jenny used to take the kids shopping and buy them treats from the local cake shop.
Lee’s “last really nice memory” of her sister was when the West Coast Eagles-supporting family watched their team win the AFL grand final for the first time.
“She was a mad Eagles supporter — and they won and she jumped up in the air and smashed Mum’s light, and Mum didn’t even care because the Eagles won,” Lee says, laughing.
“So that was pretty funny.”
Jane had a sunny personality, Lee says, and “if there was a drama in the household Jane would make light of it and everyone would laugh”.
She was also caring and compassionate, her sister says, and loved children and animals.
“When she left home she finally got a job at Nedlands Daycare centre and that just completed her life — all she needed now was a partner,” Lee says
‘Everyone’s lives were shattered’
Lee says she has “cried heaps” since her “joyful and gorgeous” sister died, and the personal toll the tragedy has taken over the years has been enormous.
“Shattering comes to mind, I suppose,” she says.
“We were a pretty perfect family, and we never had any dramas or anything like that.
“Just a good Aussie family, working and having fun and whatever else.
“Then as soon as that happened, everyone’s lives were shattered.”
Describing the time after her sister died, Lee says she broke down and it was years before she was able to pull herself together.
“It took me years to be able to go out into the public and think that people weren’t watching me all the time and stuff like that,” she says.
“And after about four years I thought ‘well Jane wouldn’t want me sitting here drinking and smoking and doing all this crap’.
“So I went and did a degree at ECU and got my Bachelor of Science — I just needed some purpose in my life.”
Sister may not be in court for verdict
However, the trial has been akin to ripping open the wound again.
“I’ve been up and down really. My mental health wasn’t good at the start of the year,” she says.
“But I went to hospital for a bit and sorted myself out.”
Her struggles, combined with the distance from her home has meant Lee has attended the trial only sporadically, but the days she has been in court she describes as “gut-wrenching”.
“I felt, like, very nauseous, as you would, and I think I was there one day when the people that heard Jane screaming were on the witness stand, so that was very upsetting,” she says.
Lee doesn’t know if she’ll be in court when Justice Hall finally hands down his verdict. She’s got shoulder surgery scheduled for next month, and she’s not sure she’ll be up to it.
“Just the whole process that’s been going on for 23 years now, has been … like being upheaved all the time, something like that,” she says.
Two years after Jane disappeared, Lee attended a Reclaim the Night rally in Claremont in memory of her sister and to fight for the right of women to walk the streets safely at night.
Unsurprisingly, she still believes passionately in “women, especially, being able to walk the streets without fear of rape”.
“I know it’s not reality, but it should be,” she says.