Riverine Herald

Journalist, detective and champion of the forgotten

By Charmayne Allison

CURIOSITY and persistence – that’s what true journalists are made of. Without those two vital ingredients coursing through the veins of countless correspondents across the globe, even more corruption and injustice would reign supreme.

It may sound melodramatic – until you check out Keith Moor’s resume after 40 years on the media frontlines.

His curiosity and persistence brought to heel the savage killer of a six-year-old girl, raped before she was murdered and then, to complete her degradation, her tiny, broken, innocent body was tossed in a ditch, like yesterday’s food scraps.

If not for Keith, her killer would still be a free man. Or the innocent Australian couple wasting away behind bars in an Afghani prison, abandoned by their own government and police, their case slipped into the too-hard-basket – and the lid closed tight.

They are just a snapshot of this avenging journo, driven by that curiosity and persistence, and an outraged sense of injustice.

Without which so many cold cases would still be just that – stone-cold.

The police facing nothing but dead-ends, literally. Until one more article, one more angle, one more nudge, from a dogged journalist, shakes a witness from their inertia, shining a light on fresh evidence, turning over rocks to reveal some of humanity’s true ugliness.

If you’d asked Keith Moor about these two qualities 40 years ago when he nervously entered his first newsroom as a wide-eyed cadet, he may not have valued them as much as he does now.

But they were a signature of his work ethic from day one.

Leaving school at 16, Keith’s fi rst job was delivering pens, ink and notebooks to journalists at the Newcastle Chronicle and Journal in his home-country of England. Rubbing shoulders with reporters daily, he soon began to dream of joining the newsroom himself – a dream that seemed one step too far.

“My dad was a bricklayer with four kids and we lived in a council house, there was no way I could have become a journalist in England,” he admitted.

But Keith wasn’t that easily dissuaded.

And when he turned 20 he followed a path well worn between the old country and the antipodes.

Like the colonial experience men of the 1800s he headed Down Under, first boosting his bank account in the northwest iron ore mines as a driller until he raised enough money to put himself through university.

A journalism degree under his belt, he completed a cadetship at the Perth Daily News before moving between England and Australia for several years, working at the Newcastle Journal and the Melbourne Herald.

He was only seven years into his career and working in Melbourne when he was crowned with Australia’s coveted top journalism award – a Walkley.

It was for a series of brilliant investigative pieces that would cement his reputation as one of the country’s most persistent (and, you guessed it, curious) new reporters out there.

“It was 1986 and two Victorian aid workers had been kidnapped in Pakistan by the sons of a local tribal elder,” Keith recalled.

“Their father had been jailed for murder so they captured the two westerners and told the Pakistani government they’d kill their hostages if their father wasn’t released.

“But the government said they didn’t really care if the hostages were killed and sent out the army to try and capture them.”

The kidnappers fl ed with their hostages to Afghanistan and straight into the clutches of the Russians, who were invading the country at that time.

But Australia didn’t recognise the Russian government as they had taken Afghanistan by force, so there was no Australian embassy and no base anywhere for the Australian Federal Police.

Meaning the kidnapped couple were essentially lost. No one was looking for them.

Except Keith Moor. “I’d done a number of stories on the couple in the six months since they went missing and their parents came to me and said, ‘Keith, nobody is looking for our children’,” he said.

“That’s when I started pestering my editor week after week saying, ‘send me, I’ll find them’.

“In the end he told me to go, just because he was sick of me asking.”

Dropped smack-bang into the middle of a war zone, Keith started doing what any good journalist would do – knocking on doors.

Or, in this case, tents.

Where persistence and “a bit of good luck” led him to none other than one of the couple’s kidnappers.

“When the group fled to Afghanistan both the kidnappers and hostages were arrested by the Russian government and thrown into jail,” Keith said.

“But one of the kidnappers was able to escape and he told me where they were.”

Days later, Keith’s embattled editor was shocked when the fi rst phone call he received from his jet-setting young reporter was to file a story that he had found the lost Australian couple.

“They were released a couple weeks later into the British embassy and then transferred into India and came home,” he said.

From there Keith’s only direction was up and after another stint in England, he returned to the Melbourne Herald in 1988 as an investigative reporter, made chief of staff later that year.

In 1990 he became the Herald Sun’s fi rst chief of staff when the paper was formed, later named news editor and managing editor (news).

And until May this year, he was the head of the Herald Sun’s investigative unit.

Meaning he has been wading through some of Victoria’s most notorious cases, endlessly digging for answers long after many others – the police, even the families – had given up hope.

“One thing I always lecture young cadets about is owning a story.

Not owning it for a week, two weeks, a month, but owning it for decades in some cases,” he said.

“There’s never just one story, there’s always at least one follow-up in a lot of cases whether it’s crime, education, political.”

When it comes to unsolved cases, Keith has made a point of maintaining contact with both homicide squad detectives and family members throughout the years.

And not out of any voyeuristic intent – but purely out of an interest to see justice done for those taken too soon, and to bring the slightest sense of justice and some sort of peace of mind, to those left behind.

“I’m a great believer that a heck of a lot of crimes have been solved because of the interest of journalists,” Keith said.

One of those was the Kylie Maybury murder – a tragic case that started for Keith when he found the six-year-old’s body lying in a gutter in 1984.

And ended 32 years later when he stood beside Kylie’s mother Julie as her daughter’s murderer and rapist, Gregory Keith Davies, was jailed for life.

This was just one of the countless cases in which Keith has immersed himself, without reservation, all his career.

“I made a promise to Julie I would keep her daughter’s case in the public eye, that I would pursue it and do fifth anniversary pieces, 10th anniversary pieces,” he said.

“I made the same promise to the widow of politician Donald MacKay, who was murdered in Griffith in 1977 on the orders of the local mafia.

“I covered that for 40 years, from the start of my career until recently.”

Although that case, like too many others, has not had closure.

“While the hitman went behind bars, the mafi a bosses who ordered that killing have never been brought to justice and I suspect never will be,” he said.

There are many aspects of Keith’s career that could have made him throw up his hands and surrender.

The cases that remained just out of reach, unsolved, mocking.

But worse was the cumulative trauma, which he was absorbing faster than his mind could process it, accept it and discharge it.

He has been brutally exposed to it not just for months, not just for years, but for decades.

To still discuss little Kylie Maybury can move Keith to tears, his voice breaking as he tries to articulate the horror in a way that dignifies her memory without overwhelming his readers.

But it’s never been enough for him to abandon his career – a career he fi rmly believed could make this world a better place.

“It’s important to have people around you that you can talk to you about it,” he said.

“And it’s important to accept you’re likely to be exposed to these things – but you can’t let it affect the job you do, because the job you do is important.

“Any homicide squad detective will tell you they value the work journalists do on cold cases because a particular angle in the story can be the one that prompts somebody to pick up the phone and ring Crime Stoppers.

“That keeps me going.” Although Keith left the Herald Sun in May this year, he’s convinced he’s not retiring.

He’s currently working on Mugshots 4, the fourth instalment in a series of true crime stories which has already seen him unpack numerous high-profi le cases, from the Calabrian Mafia and drug boss

David McCulloch to the Russell St bombing and Queen St massacre.

On Wednesday, October 30, he will share some of his stories at the Echuca branch of the Victoria Police Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 2019 Inside Story event.

Guests will have a chance to hear more from Keith about Kylie Maybury and the Hoddle St massacre, while mother-of-four Christine Latimer will share the devastating loss of two of her girls and ongoing impacts of road trauma on her two surviving children after they were involved in separate road accidents.

All funds raised will go towards the purchase of vital equipment for Echuca Regional Health’s George Henry Taylor Emergency Department.

The event will be held at the Moama Bowling Club from 6.30pm to 10pm.

Tickets cost $45 each and can be purchased at echucamoama.com