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Stephen Leslie BRADLEY






Graeme Thorne kidnapping
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping for ramson - The victim's father won 100,000 pounds in the Opera House lottery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 7, 1960
Date of arrest: October 10, 1960
Date of birth: 1926
Victim profile: Graeme Thorne, 8 (the first person kidnapped for ransom in Australia)
Method of murder: Asphyxiation or a head injury or a combination of the two
Location: Bondi, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on 29 March 1961. Died in prison on October 6, 1968
photo gallery

Graeme Thorne kidnapping

Eight-year-old Sydney boy Graeme Thorne was the first person kidnapped for ransom in Australia. Before the kidnapping, there had been considerable publicity when his father won 100,000 pounds in the Opera House lottery. The kidnapping caused a huge public outcry.  The boy’s distraught father appealed on TV for the kidnappers to give back his son, but Graeme was later found murdered. Stephen Bradley was convicted of the murder and given a life sentence. He died in jail in 1968.


The Graeme Thorne kidnapping is the name given to the 1960 kidnapping and murder of Graeme Thorne for money that his father, Bazil Thorne, had won in a lottery. A crime which caused massive shock at the time and gathered huge publicity, it was the first known kidnapping for ransom in Australian history. The police investigation that led to the capture and conviction of his murderer, Stephen Leslie Bradley, is regarded as a textbook example of forensic investigation. The kidnapping is arguably Australia's best-known crime and one that became famous around the world.

Lottery win

In 1960, the construction of the Sydney Opera House was proving expensive and so the New South Wales Government initiated a lottery to help raise money. The £100,000 (equivalent: AU$5 or US$2.5 million in 2006 values) prize in the 10th Opera House Lottery, drawn on Wednesday 1 June 1960, was won by traveling salesman Bazil Thorne. There was no option of privacy for lottery winners at the time, so the details of the Thornes' lottery win were published on the front pages of Sydney newspapers.


The Thornes (Bazil, 37, his wife Freda and their two children, Graeme, eight, and Belinda, three) lived in Edward Street, in the Sydney suburb of Bondi. Graeme's customary morning routine was to wait at the corner of Wellington and O'Brien streets, some 300 metres from the house, where a family friend, Mrs. Phyllis Smith, would pick him up and take him (along with her two sons) to The Scots College in Bellevue Hill, one of Sydney's more expensive schools. On the morning of Thursday 7 July 1960 Graeme left for school as usual at 8:30am, but when Smith came to collect him, Graeme was nowhere to be seen.

Smith waited a short while then drove to the Thorne's home to find out if Graeme was going to school. His mother confirmed that he was and wondered if he might have arrived at the school by some other means. Smith then drove to Scots College but Graeme Thorne had not been seen there. She left her sons at the college and returned to the Thorne apartment. Now very worried, Mrs. Thorne rang Sergeant Larry O'Shea at the nearby Bondi Police Station to notify that Graeme was missing.

Ransom demand

At 9:40am, 70 minutes after Graeme had left for school, a man telephoned the Thorne household. Sergeant O'Shea had already arrived and was taking notes when the phone rang. Mrs. Thorne answered and was told "I have your son" - she was stunned.

Pretending to be Bazil Thorne, O'Shea took the telephone. The kidnapper demanded £25,000 before 5pm, saying "If you don't get the money, I'll feed the boy to the sharks." O'Shea expressed doubt as to his ability to get hold of such a large sum of money (being unaware that the Thornes had recently won the lottery). The caller then said that he would call back by 5pm with more details, and hung up.

Rather than wait for the deadline, or keep the kidnapping under wraps, the acting chief of the Criminal Investigation Bureau called an immediate press conference. That afternoon every newspaper in the country carried the story on the front page.

The kidnapper phoned again at 9:47pm but the telephone was answered by a different police officer. The kidnapper gave instructions that the money was to be put in two paper bags, but then hung up abruptly without giving further instructions.

Police Search

Police launched a massive search operation on a scale Australia had never seen before. Within hours of the kidnapping, every house and flat in the vicinity of the Thorne's home was searched. Every possible hideout was checked: motels, boarding houses, and even boat moorings around Sydney Harbour came under scrutiny. Known criminals across the country were questioned. Officers on leave were called back to duty to help with the search.

The NSW Police Commissioner made a personal appeal for the return of Graeme Thorne on the evening television. The next day, television stations across the nation screened photos of the missing boy. Bazil Thorne appeared on television briefly and said; "...all I can say is, for God's sake, send him back to me in one piece."

The following day (8 July) at 6 p.m. Graeme Thorne's empty school case was found near the Wakehurst Parkway, a busy highway through several miles of bushland on the outskirts of Sydney. Within hours hundreds of police assisted by army units, helicopters and tracker dogs were combing the area for further clues. On 11 July, Graeme's school cap, raincoat, lunch bag — with an apple still in it — and math books were also found about a mile from the school case on the opposite side of the highway.

Body discovered

On 16 August, five weeks after he went missing, Graeme Thorne's body was discovered in Grandview Grove, Seaforth in Sydney. Wrapped in a blue tartan rug, Graeme was still wearing his school uniform. The rug containing the body had been there for some time; some local children had known about it for a few weeks but it didn't occur to them that it might have been anything significant. The discovery was only made when two of them mentioned it in passing to their parents.


Examination of the body showed that the boy had died from either asphyxiation or a head injury or a combination of the two. He had been alive when hit on the head. His hands and feet were tied with rope and a silk scarf had been knotted tightly around the neck. Examination also established that he had been murdered within 24 hours of the kidnapping and that his body had been dumped soon afterwards.

There were other pieces of evidence:

The Stranger

Mrs. Thorne recalled that a short time after the lottery win, a man with a heavy European accent and wearing dark glasses had knocked on her door and asked for a Mr. Bognor, a name which Mrs. Thorne didn't recognize. He then asked her to confirm their telephone number, and left after also chatting with the upstairs neighbours.

The Car

Also, on the morning of the kidnapping some witnesses had seen an iridescent blue 1955 Ford Customline double-parked at the corner of Francis and Wellington streets, near where Graeme was usually picked up. Dozens of police moved into the Department of Motor Transport and started on the daunting task of checking through 260,000 Ford index cards. Investigations eventually established that there were 4000 cars matching this general description.

Eight days after Graeme Thorne's body was found, two detectives called upon Stephen Bradley at work in Darlinghurst. Bradley (born Istavan Baranyay in Budapest had emigrated in 1950 and now worked as an electroplater) was co-operative and pleasant. He remembered 7 July well; it was the day he moved out of his house to an apartment in the nearby suburb of Manly. Bradley had owned an iridescent blue 1955 Ford Customline, which he had just sold.

The Car Rug

Forensic examination of the blue tartan rug found with the body showed two plant types, Chamaecyparis pisifara and Cupressus glabra, that were not present at the vacant lot where the body was found. From the mould on Graeme's shoes, it was determined the body had been where it was found in the bushes for most of the time since the boy was murdered. In addition, soil scrapings from the body showed tiny fragments of pink mortar. Forensic experts deduced that the body had been lying under a brick building at some stage. Also, the brand of rug, an Onkaparinga, was relatively traceable too.

Detectives rummaging in the garden of the apartments on Osborne Road, Manly, the Bradleys' last known address, uncovered a number of discarded 35 mm film negatives among the weeds. The film was cleaned, printed and enlarged. One photo was of Mrs. Bradley and her children sitting on a car rug with the same pattern as the one found around Graeme. Other frames showed Stephen Bradley himself.

The Dog

Police forensic experts reported that hair found on the car rug, hair found in the trunk of the Ford Customline and hair in the bag of the vacuum cleaner were all from a single source — a Pekinese dog. The Bradleys owned a Pekinese dog called Cherry, who hair was matched forensically.

The House

Police searched for a house with pink mortar and with the two plant types growing in the yard. Although cypress plants could be found growing in many people's yards, only one of the plant types was common, making the combination of the two plants together very rare.

Following a tip-off from a postman, a pink house was identified with a blue Ford outside and the two plant species in the garden. The house was in Moore Street in the suburb of Clontarf.

Police visited the house on 3 October and learned that it had been rented by Bradley with his second wife Magda and their three children. However Bradley had left Australia on 26 September, sailing for London with his family aboard the SS Himalaya. Police also found and impounded Bradley's car and took scrapings from the trunk. They also took possession of a vacuum cleaner, which was among the household items Bradley had sold.

Extradition and trial

The Himalaya arrived at Colombo, Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon), on 10 October. Two Sydney policemen were waiting for Bradley but Australia had no extradition treaty with Ceylon. After a lengthy hearing, the extradition order was granted and detectives arrived back in Sydney on November 19 with Bradley in handcuffs, allegedly making a confession just before the aircraft landed at Sydney airport (now packed with reporters and hundreds of curious citizens who wanted a look at Bradley).

Taken to Central Police Station for questioning, Bradley admitted the kidnapping, but said that Graeme Thorne had accidentally suffocated while locked in the back of his car. Forensic experts disproved this by connecting a breathing mask to the inside of the boot and breathing the air from the boot for seven hours, without ill effect, indicating that Thorne had been killed by the blow to the head rather than asphyxiation.

On 21 November 1960, Mrs. Thorne was asked to identify the man (from a line up of sixteen men), and she stopped at Bradley. "Please place your hand on him," the policeman asked. "No," Mrs. Thorne replied. "I will not put my hand near him."

Bradley's trial for murder lasted nine days. At the trial, the prosecution delivered one forensic bombshell after another. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on 29 March 1961 amid jeers from the gallery. Bradley remained emotionless, his hands on the dock rail. The Thornes, who were in court throughout the entire proceedings, remained quiet. Bradley's subsequent appeal to the full bench of Supreme Court judges was unanimously rejected as the evidence against him was simply overwhelming.

It was widely predicted that for his crime against a child, he would be a pariah in prison. Prison authorities subsequently described him as tense, insecure and intelligent, with a sociable and engaging personality, but also deemed him a hopeless liar, a confidence man and an opportunist who was desperate to make money quickly.


Magda Bradley divorced her husband in 1965 and went to live in Europe. While many reporters and investigators believed that Magda Bradley had been party to the kidnapping, Bradley never implicated her in any way. In gaol, Bradley was subjected to repeated bashings, but was later kept protected from other prisoners. He died of a heart attack, while playing tennis, in Goulburn gaol on 6 October 1968, aged 42.

The Thornes, with their daughter, moved to another suburb, but never quite recovered. Bazil Thorne died in 1978.

Lottery procedures in Australia were changed after the Thorne case, with all lottery winners being given the option of remaining anonymous when collecting their winnings.

Like all of the other Australian states, the New South Wales Crimes Act didn't carry a provision for the crime of kidnapping. The nearest listed offense was "abduction" which referred to the abduction of a female for the purpose of marriage or carnal knowledge. It carried a maximum penalty of fourteen-years' imprisonment. The Thorne case was the catalyst for introducing laws to deal with kidnapping in Australia.

The late crime journalist Alan Dower was of the opinion that Graeme was not Bradley's initial target. Dower's theory was that Graeme's younger sister was Bradley's target and that he had no intention of killing her. She was young enough that, if she had been kidnapped and then released, she would not have been able to give any useful information that could identify her kidnapper. However, she was also so young that she was never away from her parents and so Graeme was abducted instead.


Graeme Thorne's murder was the focus of the Crime Investigation Australia season 1 episode "Kid for Ransom".


Bradley, Stephen Leslie (1926 - 1968)

Bradley, Stephen Leslie (1926 - 1968), kidnapper and murderer, was born on 15 March 1926 in Budapest and named István, son of József Baranyay, architect, and his wife Klara (Clarisse), née Kramer. A divorcee since 1948, István arrived in Melbourne in the Skaugum on 28 March 1950. He found jobs as a life-insurance salesman, male nurse and as an electroplater at a poker-machine factory.

On 1 March 1952 he married Eva Maria Laidlaw (who had changed her name by deed poll from Laszlo) at the Presbyterian Church, Gardiner. They had one daughter before Eva was killed in a car accident on 26 February 1955. István changed his name by deed poll to Stephen Leslie Bradley in August 1956.

In November 1957 Bradley was charged with false pretences in Sydney, but the charge was allowed to lapse. In the registrar general's office on 8 December 1958 he married Magda Wittman, née Klein, a Hungarian divorcee with two children, who owned a boarding house at Katoomba.

In 1959 the guest house burnt down, but he failed to make any money on the insurance settlement. He reputedly lived beyond his means. Short, stocky, dark haired and balding, he dressed well and liked to drive big cars. Prison authorities subsequently described him as tense, insecure and intelligent, with a sociable and engaging personality, but also deemed him a hopeless liar, a confidence man and an opportunist who was desperate to make money quickly. Frustrated at his circumstances, he brought his family to Sydney, determined 'to do something big'.

In June 1960, after the report that Bazil Henry Parker Thorne, of Bondi, had won first prize in the Sydney Opera House lottery, Bradley hatched his plan to kidnap the Thornes' only son, 8-year-old Graeme.

On 7 July 1960 Graeme failed to arrive at school and the boy's disappearance was reported to police. Later that day Bradley rang the Thornes, demanding a £25,000 ransom; he rang off without finalizing arrangements during a second call that night. The incident was immediately reported in the media and became Australia's most sensational kidnapping case. On 16 August two boys found the body of Graeme Thorne in the bush near Seaforth. Forensic tests established that he had been bashed and strangled soon after the kidnapping. An extensive police investigation resulted in scientific and eyewitness evidence which linked Bradley to the crime. Meantime, Bradley had sailed for England with his family.

On 10 October he was arrested in Colombo. He was extradited on 18 November, convicted of murder on 29 March 1961 and sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence that was upheld on appeal.

In June 1961 Bradley was transferred to Goulburn gaol where he was employed as a hospital orderly. Professing innocence, he claimed that he had confessed to the crime through fear lest his family be harmed. He seemed oblivious of the pain suffered by the Thornes. Bradley died of a coronary occlusion on 6 October 1968 while playing in the gaol tennis competition, and was buried in the Catholic section of Goulburn cemetery. His daughter survived him.


A city’s innocence is lost

By Amanda Howard

The kidnapping and murder of Graeme Thorne in 1960 is one of many crimes that have shaped and changed our great nation.  We have always had murders and crimes, being a country settled by convicts. However the day that Graeme Thorne was kidnapped in Sydney and a ransom demand made, was a time that Australia hoped would never happen.

Graeme Thorne was an average eight-year-old boy. His school routine included being picked up from the corner of O’Brien and Wellington Streets around 8.30am each weekday morning by a family friend and driven to nearby Scotts College.

So how did Graeme Thorne become Australia’s first kidnapping for ransom? The case begins several weeks earlier:

At the time, Sydney was building her centrepiece. A one of a kind opera house. The building was amazing and would continue to be an icon of our great city and country. To fund the building works, Sydney held a lottery. People would buy tickets, a jackpot would accumulate and a winner announced. On June 1, 1960, Bazil Thorne won the £100,00 lottery. The win of an amount equivalent to $5million these days was obviously front page news and great publicity for the Opera House’s construction.

The Thorne’s lottery win in Sydney was before the term “security conscious” was in our vocabulary. We had our own share of thugs and crimes, but no-one would consider trying to extort money from a normal family after winning a lottery. Nowadays the identities of lottery winners are kept secret to protect their newfound wealth and their families. In 1960, this was unheard of. The Thornes were photographed and appeared in newspapers across the city.

Bradley’s plan

A man called Stephen Bradley read the stories of the Thorne’s windfall and he too decided he should have a piece of their proverbial pie.

Bradley began putting his plan into action. His first step was to find out where the Thorne family lived. He called the telephone exchange and asked for the telephone number and address of the Thorne family. He was given the details without question.

Bradley went to the Thorne house on June 14, 1960. He was calm and had his conversation rehearsed. When Mrs Thorne answered the front door, Bradley asked the young mother using a thick accent if a Mr Bognor was at home. Mrs Thorne shook her head acknowledging that  no such person lived at that address.

Bradley continued his act and appeared perplexed. He took out a piece of paper and confirmed both the address and phone number of the Thorne’s household. Mrs Thorne verified the details, concerned that the man had the family’s unlisted number. She also said that they had lived at the address for only a short-time but knew that the previous owners were the Baileys. Perhaps he should speak to the Lord family upstairs in the apartment building when he told her he was a private investigator checking on the Bognors. Bradley then thanked Mrs Thorne for her troubles and headed upstairs. He spoke to Mrs Lord briefly about the Bailey family, and said nothing about the imaginary Bognors. Bradley was just confirming that he had the right house. 

At the time it appeared to just be a misunderstanding, however Bradley had taken his first step towards extortion and murder.

The stranger’s visit was forgotten until three weeks later when Graeme disappeared.

The Kidnapping

On July 7, 1960 eight-year-old Graeme Frederick Hilton Thorne, dressed in his school uniform and headed to the intersection of Wellington and O’Brien Streets in Bondi to await his lift to school. On the way to the meeting place, Graeme was abducted.

Stephen Bradley had been watching the routines of the Thorne family for weeks and today was the day that his plan was to come to fruition.  Around 8.15am the man parked his 1955 bright aqua-blue Ford Customline at the corner of Wellington and Francis Streets, where anyone walking past would have to go around the car.

Bradley counted on Graeme walking by his car around 8.25am, so the man stood at the back of his car, he had the boot open. He waited for the unsuspecting boy, to walk past with his school bag.  As the young boy diverted his trip around the car on his way to O’Brien Street, Bradley grabbed him and pushed him into the boot of the car, slamming it shut. The kidnapper drove away with Graeme bashing on the inside of the car.

At 8.30am, the friend, who would normally pick up Graeme, arrived at the designated pick-up spot and Graeme was nowhere to be seen. It was possible that he was sick and was not coming to school so the friend drove the short distance to the Thorne house to see if Graeme was sick or just running a little late. Mrs Thorne told the neighbour that Graeme had left for school on time.

A check at the school also failed to locate Graeme and a call was made to the Bondi Police.  The officers quickly arrived at the house, it was unthinkable that the disappearance of Graeme was a kidnapping, let alone a demand for ransom; however by 9.20am Bradley brazenly called the Thorne home and asked to speak to Bazil Thorne. A police officer took the call, claiming to be Bazil who was away on business at the time.

In his thick accent Bradley demanded £25,000 by five o’clock. He then threatened to feed Graeme to the sharks should the ransom not be paid before hanging up the phone. Instantly police knew that the plot had to do with the Thorne’s lottery windfall. 

Later in the day Bradley called again. This time he spoke to another police officer again claiming to be Mr Thorne. Bradley asked if he had the money ready for delivery and gave the officer instructions to put the money into two paper bags. Bradley again disconnected the call abruptly.

By now Mrs Thorne remembered the strange man with a thick accent who was at her door several weeks earlier. She told police of his visit and the man became the prime suspect.

The police were extremely concerned. The kidnapper had been planning the abduction for several weeks and so far had the upper hand. Clues were needed to help police find the boy before it was too late.

On July 8, the day after the abduction, Graeme’s school bag was found. It had been emptied of all of the boy’s belongings and dumped beside a statue along Wakehurst Parkway, Frenchs’ Forest. Police hoped they would find fingerprints or other evidence from the kidnapper on the bag. So far it was their only hope. Within a few days the rest of Graeme’s school bag’s contents were found scattered along the same road.

Police continued their search, hoping to find Graeme alive. But the outcome was sadly not as the family, the police or indeed the country had hoped.

Graeme is Found

The kidnapping turned to tragedy on August 16, 1960. Five weeks after Graeme was abducted his body was found on a vacant block of land at Grandview Grove, Seaforth.  He had been hidden under the overgrown vegetation that covered the land. Eight-year-old Graeme had been gagged and bound, the scarf was still around his neck and twine tightly cut into his ankles. His body was also wrapped in  a blanket and he was still fully clothed in his school uniform. 

With the discovery of Graeme’s body there was an over abundance of evidence. Bradley had been extremely careless with disposing of the body.  There were a number of pieces of trace evidence that would eventually link Bradley directly with the abduction.

  • A number of hairs from a Pekinese dog were found on the rug, Graeme’s school jacket and trousers.

  • Soil found on Graeme’s body and the rug contained minute trace elements of pink limestock mortar.

  • Also pieces of foliage from two distinct trees, Smooth Cypress and a Squarrosa False Cypress were close to where Graeme’s body had been stored.

Armed with details of the man with a heavy accent and the iridescent blue Ford seen near the abduction site, police began to canvass the area starting at Seaforth and moving out from there. The trees were the obvious evidence for police to start with and by October 3, 1960, they had found the house they were looking for.

The Bradley house in Clontarf prominently featured the two trees on either side of the garage. Closer inspection of the house proved that it also had dark brick with prink mortar. Bondi police knew that they had found the right house. Graeme Thorne had been kept at the premises sometime between his abduction and the discovery of his body.

Police also found a Pekinese dog, owned by the Bradley family that had been surrendered only a few weeks earlier. The police investigators soon found the blue iridescent car and began a detailed search of the vehicle. Inside the boot of the car police discovered a dog brush, full of hair. The hair matched that found on the blanket and Graeme’s body.

By the time police found the Bradley’s home it had been deserted. Stephen Bradley had sold the house and was moving on the day he had abducted Graeme. By now he had already left the country.

It gave police more time to put together the pieces of the puzzle.  Photos of Bradley were shown to Mrs Thorne and Mrs Lord, her neighbour, as well as witnesses who had seen the car before Graeme was snatched. All recognised Bradley as they man they had seen.

A roll of film was also discarded showing the tartan picnic rug that was wrapped around Graeme’s body. In the photo Bradley’s youngest child was sitting on it.

Now it was time for Police to discover what type of man had committed the crime.

The Abductor and Killer

Bradley was born Istavan Baranyay in 1926 in Budapest, Hungary and moved to Australia ten years before the abduction of Graeme. He had had two wives in Australia, one dying in a car accident leaving Bradley to look after their daughter.  He married another woman who also had two children.

On the day of the abduction. Bradley had shipped his wife and the three children to Sydney in a taxi to organise a trip. The family was moving to England and Bradley supposedly remained behind to organise the removalists. Once the family had gone, Bradley abducted Graeme on his way to school and bundled him in the boot of the car. Bradley then drove the car back to his home and locked the car in the garage, while the moving company emptied the house upstairs.

According to Bradley when he returned to his car in the garage, he found Graeme dead in the car’s boot, evidence however proved that Graeme was clubbed with a blunt instrument, that fractured his skull and caused significant bruising. He died from his injuries and was dumped at least three hours and no more than a day after his abduction.

Bradley had panicked after realising that the police had answered the phone at the Thorne household and murdered the boy. Bradley then dumped the body of Graeme on the vacant lot before meeting the rest of his family in Sydney. Their belongings were all placed in storage.

The Bradley family left for England via Colombo on September 26, 1960. A little over a week before the police came knocking on the door of their Clontarf home. When the Bondi police found that their trip would include a stay over in Colombo, they organised for Bradley to be arrested and deported. When the Bradley family arrived in Colombo on October 10, 1960 police were waiting for them.

Bradley was arrested and flown back to Sydney. On the flight he confessed to the abduction, but claimed that Graeme had died accidentally. Once back in Sydney, Bradley wrote and signed a confession that sealed his fate at trial in March 1961.

Bradley was found guilty of Graeme Thorne’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

On October 6, 1968, Bradley suffered a heart attack and died.


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