The lasting tragedy of Valerie Dunn’s 1968 murder
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
Almost a year ago, I began documenting the 1965 murder of a young Jordanville woman called Maureen Ferrari by an Ashburton man. Since I published that post, I have been contacted by several people who wanted to share their memories of her.
Maureen is always spoken of kindly. It was even pointed out to me that I understated just how attractive she was in my article. Some of those people have also taken time to visit her gravesite at Burwood Cemetery to pay their respects; a gesture I’m sure her surviving family members would appreciate.
I’m also asked if I know what became of the man who confessed to killing her, Keith Ryrie. I did not look into this too much because I wanted the story to be about Maureen. However, I was contacted by one of his distant relatives. Although Ryrie was never spoken of among this side of the family, the rumour was he changed his name and moved to Queensland many years ago. This person did not know if he is still alive but did confirm both his brothers – one of whom also served a lengthy prison sentence for sexual crimes against children – have since died.
As I continue to delve into life in Ashburton and the surrounding areas in the 1960s, I have learnt that Maureen was not the only young woman to lose her life to an Ashburton man. The man who killed Valerie Dunn would also destroy the lives of dozens of people who came into contact with him.
But unlike Keith Ryrie, we know exactly where he is today. And he continues to show no remorse at all.
Valerie Ethel Dunn: a typical teenage girl
Pretty and petite, seventeen year old Valerie Ethel Dunn – Val to her friends – lived in Margot Street, Chadstone with her father Harry, her mother Vera and two of her sisters. Thanks to Harold’s military service in World War II, the family occupied one of the area’s ubiquitous concrete Housing Commission homes.
As it was for most Housing Commission residents, money was tight for the family. However, as Waverley Council’s Community Services Officer Bryan Sheridan told the Chadstone Progress in 1973, ‘while many people in the [broader] community tend to look down on those living in the Housing Commission areas, there are numerous examples where we would profit in looking at their community spirit.’ He went on to describe how the cash-strapped residents provided food to those in need, looked after the elderly residents, and even accommodated families who had fallen on hard times.
It is through this community spirit that Val met 20 year old Ashburton man Leigh Robinson. Harry had met Leigh when he was boarding with Margot Street residents, the Fosters. Val’s parents supported their daughters’ friendships and relationships with local young men and Harry introduced Leigh to his daughter Val. Soon after, the two began seeing each other. Although Vera and her daughters disliked Leigh and his loud and extroverted manner, Harry had no objection to the union. A man of his time, what he said went without argument.
Sometime after meeting Val, Robinson moved back in with his mother Gwen in the housing estate at Markham Avenue, Ashburton. Gwen had divorced his father many years earlier, when Leigh was four years old. According to one report, she had a drinking problem that led to a tumultuous upbringing for Leigh.
The relationship lasted around 10 months. Val worked as a salesgirl and allegedly grew frustrated with Leigh’s inability to hold down a job. So in November 1967, Harry took pity on Leigh and gave him a job helping him lay carpet. This benevolent act provided Leigh with a legitimate reason to keep seeing Val, despite her romantic interest in him cooling off considerably.
Throughout her relationship with Leigh, Val had continued to maintain a friendship with her ex-boyfriend Des Grewar, an apprentice panel beater from South Oakleigh. Presumably she hoped she could do the same with Leigh.
But unfortunately for Val, few women – especially 17 year old girls – are emotionally equipped to deal with the fixated obsession, jealousy, misogyny and massive sense of entitlement already entrenched in a man like Leigh Robinson.
A culture of minimising women’s fears
Harry was distantly aware of the cooled relationship between the pair. In November 1967, he recalled hearing them fight at the Margot Street house but did not seem too alarmed. He noted only that ‘my daughter seemed a little bit upset.’ Robinson then apologised to Harry for raising his voice and told him he would not do it again.
By March 1968, Val and Des had rekindled their romantic relationship. This infuriated Leigh Robinson. Des thought they were friends but then, sometime in April, he received a telephone call from Robinson.
‘I told him Val had told me that it was all over between him and Val,’ he told the police. ‘Then Leigh said, ‘As far as I’m concerned she’s a dead chick’ and he banged the phone down.’
Des immediately rang Val to check on her. She told him not to worry about it, as Leigh had made threats towards her before. According to Des, Leigh then called back to ‘more or less’ apologise and ask if he could see Val when she visited Des. Deciding this was none of his business, Des told him to take it up with Val.
When Val and her friend Sue arrived at Des’ house sometime later in Sue’s car, Leigh turned up. Des then observed Leigh drive off with Val in Sue’s car. According to the police, ‘apart from frightening her, Robinson did no harm on this occasion and she returned to her home.’
So what was it that had frightened Val about the incident? Was it that no-one took her fears of him seriously? Or perhaps it was that no-one seemed to care that Robinson had a rifle in his possession at the time he took her?
‘She was unharmed but just a bit scared,’ Harry Dunn confirmed. ‘I was told that he had a rifle belonging to one of his mates in the car. [After he dropped Val home] I received a phone call from Leigh the next morning. Leigh wanted to meet me at the corner of Burwood and Blackburn Road, Burwood. I drove up there and I saw Leigh sitting in [Sue’s] car, he was in it alone.
I went up to it and Leigh was sitting behind the steering wheel with a .22 rifle across his legs. I had Leigh’s mate [Ashburton resident] Geoff Cunningham with me at the time. It was Geoff’s rifle.
I told Leigh to put the gun in the back of the car, and with that he took the magazine off the rifle and also took a bullet out of the breach of the rifle. Leigh then came with me in my car and Geoff drove Val’s friend’s car and I drove to Oakleigh Police Station, where Leigh spoke to Detective Eric Cooke.’
The police arrested Leigh Robinson for abduction and remanded him in Pentridge Prison. Robinson had already been in trouble for other crimes, including breaking and entering. But for some unexplained reason, perhaps because of some affection or sympathy he held for Leigh, Harry decided to drop the abduction charge. The police instead charged Robinson with illegally using a motor car. He was placed on probation.
Despite this incident and Val’s fear of Robinson, Harry Dunn retained the man in his employment. He was not to know at the time but it was a decision he would regret for the rest of his life.
A friend in need
Of all the people the police interviewed in relation to what happened to Valerie Dunn, only Val’s friend Suzanne ‘Sue’ Anderson recognised the escalation in Leigh Robinson’s behaviour towards Val. ‘He just kept hanging around her all the time,’ she told the police. She went on to describe another incident in April 1968 of Robinson kidnapping Val.
‘I went to Val’s home and Leigh Robinson was out the front of her house doing something to a car. I decided we should go to my place [in Dent Street, Ashburton] to get away from him. I just wanted to get her away from him.’
We got in my car and Leigh sang out, ‘Sue, wait a minute, I want to talk to Val’. I put my head out of the car window and said, ‘She doesn’t want to talk to you’, and I drove off with Val.
Leigh then jumped in his car and followed us. I drove into Warrigal Road and was making a U turn at the Matthew Flinders Hotel when Leigh drove along the right hand side of my car and clipped the front mudguard.’
Sue was not a young woman to be intimidated. As Leigh yelled at her to ‘Pull over or I’ll run you off the road’, she replied, ‘no, you’ve had it now,’ implying he had violated his probation.
Sue kept driving into Victory Boulevard. But Leigh had got ahead of her and had parked his car across the road, blocking it. By this time, Val was in tears. Sue managed to get past Robinson’s car and drove on to the shops off Alamein Avenue. Leigh followed her there too. Not knowing what to do now, Sue drove to her house in Dent Street. She and Val stayed in the car as Leigh Robinson pulled into the driveway.
Sue’s mother came out to investigate and got into an ugly confrontation with Leigh. Sue said later she heard him say, ‘I’ll kill anyone who gets in my way.’
Worried about her mother’s safety, Sue and Val got out of the car. Leigh made a grab for Val and started dragging her across the lawn. Sue tried to grab Val’s other arm but wasn’t strong enough to stop him. Val struggled with Leigh but he got her into the car and drove off with her.
There is no record of what happened next. But it is clear, unlike the men in Val’s life, that Sue believed what Leigh said. Leigh Robinson would go on to blame her for what he did to Valerie Dunn next.
The last day of Valerie Dunn’s life: Saturday, 8 June 1968
Around 9 am on Saturday 8 June 1968, Leigh Robinson telephoned Harry Dunn at home. The two men made an arrangement for Harry to pick up Leigh and take him to a carpet laying job at his other daughter’s house in Camberwell. Vera Dunn accompanied them to visit with her daughter.
Taking a break from the job around 1 pm, Harry took Leigh and his wife to lunch at the Central Club Hotel in Richmond. Harry then gave Leigh the keys to the truck to finish the rest of the job while he and Vera moved on to the Rising Sun Hotel down the street.
Leigh came by just after 3 pm and the threesome drove back to the Matthew Flinders Hotel. At that point, Harry asked Leigh to drive his truck back to the Margot Street house because he could not get a parking spot at the Hotel.
Earlier that morning, Leigh had arranged for Des to be at Margot Street in the afternoon so that he could help drop off a car. When Des arrived around 4 pm, Leigh was waiting in the driveway.
Meanwhile, Val was at home. Her sister’s boyfriend Ray had spent the day building a bird cage in the backyard. Ray stepped out briefly to take his girlfriend to basketball practice but returned soon after. Around 3 pm, his friends Alan and Angela arrived to check out his handiwork. The three friends were in the backyard at the time Leigh and Des arrived.
Standing in the driveway, Leigh told Des that Val was ‘in a bit of a bad mood with him.’ Leigh then asked Des for some time to talk to Val inside. Des acquiesced and went back to his car to wait. A few minutes later, Val emerged from the house and got into the car with Des. ‘She said to me that she was frightened to go back into the house with Leigh alone.’
So Des accompanied Val back into the house. When she asked him to stay with her in the kitchen while she talked to Leigh, he declined, saying he would wait in the lounge.
The next thing he knew, Val started screaming. Des raced into the kitchen. Val was curled up on the floor and Leigh was stabbing her with a knife. Des reached for Val and tried to pull her away but Leigh stabbed him in the stomach too. Wounded and bleeding, Des still managed to drag Val toward the front door while Leigh continued to stab her in the back.
Ray and his friends in the backyard recalled hearing the screaming but thought it was just an argument between the sisters in the house.
As Val lay dying on the floor in the hallway, Des staggered outside and over the road to a neighbour’s house to raise the alarm. Meanwhile, Leigh Robinson stood in the driveway, still carrying the knife dripping with Val’s blood.
Then he turned, jumped into a car, and drove off with a squeal of his tyres.
On the trail of Leigh Robinson
After hearing the tyres squeal, Ray decided it was time to leave. He walked into the house and discovered Val lying on the floor in a pool of blood. He yelled out to his friends and grabbed the telephone to call the police.
With Des also raising the alarm, the police arrived quickly. Word of what happened travelled swiftly up and down Margot Street. Someone sought out Harry and Vera Dunn at the Matthew Flinders Hotel and told them to get home immediately.
Meanwhile, Leigh Robinson was heading towards Cranbourne. A mail worker standing in his driveway in Dandenong reported later seeing him drive up and tell him ‘you had better get the coppers, I have just killed a man, go and turn your wireless on it will be on the news in a minute, they are a pack of bastards.’
Then he sped off.
Next, he arrived at Ron Daldy’s house near Cranbourne. Ron didn’t recognise the car that drove up his driveway but he did know its driver. He had employed Robinson as a truck jockey (these days called a delivery assistant) for milk deliveries during the summer.
As Robinson got out of the car, he asked Ron if he had ‘heard about the trouble’. Then he reached onto the dashboard and showed Ron a long bladed knife. Realising something very bad had happened, Ron said to him, ‘let’s have a smoke and talk this over sensibly, lad’.
‘I’ve stabbed Val and some friend of mine,’ Robinson told him. ‘I killed her, I heard it on the car radio on my way out here.’ Ron suggested they go to the police. Robinson wanted to go to the station in Oakleigh but there was not enough petrol in his car to make it that far. Ron was not about to let Robinson anywhere near his house and family to get more petrol. So he talked Robinson into going with him to Cranbourne station. Robinson agreed.
Robinson’s chilling confession
Robinson readily confessed to killing Valerie Dunn.
‘We were supposed to go out together tonight and we were talking about it in the kitchen,’ he told the police. ‘Then she said that she was not going to go out with me because of what I had told Des.’ This, it seemed, referred to him telling Des ‘as far as I’m concerned she’s a dead chick’.
When Val had asked where he intended going, Leigh replied, ‘down to the Golden Bowl because I haven’t got much money.’ Val pulled a face. The Camberwell bowling venue had a reputation for sleaze and an unpleasant odour.
This look was all it took for Leigh Robinson to crack.
‘I was going to slap that look off her face but I just grabbed the knife and swung it,’ he told the police. The knife had been lying on the kitchen counter at the time. According to Robinson he ‘struck her a couple of more times with the knife’. But the forensic report aligned with Des’ version of events; Robinson stabbed Valerie at least 16 times in the back.
In a follow-up interview, Leigh Robinson sought to correct the reason he had killed her. It was not because she wouldn’t go out with him. It was because she had criticised him for not having a car.
‘I was talking to her mum in the hotel earlier [about how] Val had said that things would be a lot better between us if I had a car. Her mum said not to worry about her and to try and forget about her if that is the way she wants to be. I got mad at her Mum for saying that too.’
Then he proceeded to inform police he had dreams of killing Val and that he would get square with Sue Anderson. ‘I have been thinking that Val’s dead because of Sue sticking her nose in.’
If he had any remorse at all, it was for stabbing Des not killing Val.
A community shattered
Val Dunn’s murder devastated her friends, family and the broader Ashwood/Chadstone community.
Harry Dunn told his daughter’s boyfriend Ray of his plan to kill Leigh Robinson when he returned to the murder scene under police escort. ‘I want to shoot him between the eyes. I want to shoot him dead. I don’t care, I’ll do 20 years if I have to.’
‘He didn’t have his own gun, so he asked me for one. He asked me heaps of times. He was going to hide in the garage and shoot him,’ Ray said. ‘He was then going to give himself up and tell the detectives, ‘OK, I did it, Here I am, take me away.’’
Ray refused. He got rid of his guns shortly after.
Fortunately, thanks to the assistance of the Margot Street residents, Des Grewar survived. But he would bear the physical and emotional scars for the rest of his life. ‘I loved her and I’m pretty sure she loved me. She was a sweet innocent little girl who wouldn’t have done harm to anybody,’ he said. ‘For a life to end at that age is bullshit. It shouldn’t have happened.’
Robinson was never charged with the attempted murder of Des. ‘I wanted revenge,’ Des said many years later. ‘I wanted to do everything I could to make sure Robinson stayed in prison or was hanged.’
So he went to Russell Street Police Headquarters and tried to press charges. But he was told he would have to wait until Robinson was released. ‘For years that’s what I wanted to do. But life changes, I just got on with it.’ Des married, had children and moved to northern Queensland.
For the children of Margot Street, Val Dunn’s murder became a defining memory. One woman remembers seeing Des sitting on her doorstep clutching his stomach as he waited for the ambulance. She was three years old at the time.
Val’s sisters remember her birthday every year. A devastated Vera died in 1979; officially of cancer but really of a broken heart. She was buried next to Val in Burwood Cemetery.
For forty years, life moved on. Val was remembered and never forgotten. Then, on another terrible day in April 2008, the memories came rushing back.
The end of the beginning of Leigh Robinson’s life
After his arrest, the Chief Government Psychiatrist who assessed Robinson, Allen Bartholomew, diagnosed him with a ‘neurotic personality’. The hallmarks of this personality type involve negative emotions, an inability to manage urges, trouble dealing with stress, a strong reaction to perceived threats, and the tendency to complain. Contemporary research has found that high numbers of perpetrators of intimate partner violence exhibit these personality traits.
Bartholomew found no indication of any psychotic illness or schizophrenia that may have contributed to Robinson’s actions. Although Robinson had left school at 13 and been expelled from Oakleigh High School, Bartholomew found that Robinson was of much higher than average intelligence, with an IQ of 120. Yet, ‘everyone agreed he was odd, immature, odd [sic]. His attitude to the girl was odd. It was peculiarly jealous and possessive one and in this sense, jealousy runs into paranoia.’
Robinson pled not guilty at his trial but he mounted little defence for his actions. He said only he had no recollection of the stabbing and ‘something came over me, I don’t know what.’ The jury took 45 minutes to convict him of Valerie’s murder on 28 November 1968.
As was the law at the time, he was given the death penalty. Five months later, this was overturned and replaced with a 30 year sentence. As I wrote in the article on Maureen Ferrari, the late 1960s was a time of an ideological global shift away from capital punishment. Many death row occupants, including Maureen’s killer Keith Ryrie, had their sentences commuted in this way.
Robinson served 15 years. He was a well-behaved prisoner. He lifted weights and ‘was a force in the drama department, building stages, working the lights and playing small parts in some plays.’ He struck up a close friendship with TV actor Gil Tucker, who played Constable Roy Baker in the television show Cop Shop. In 1983, Robinson was released on parole until 1994.
Four years later, Leigh Robinson was featured in a profile in The Age called Life after Life. The author, Peter Wilmoth described him as a ‘big garrulous man with powerful arms and a barrel chest [with a] gap-toothed laugh that rolls around the room.’
Robinson told Wilmoth a confusing story about meeting a woman called Colleen through jail visits and leave. He expected to meet up with her when he got out in 1983. But she bailed on the relationship once he was free.
By the time Wilmoth met him in 1987, Robinson had begun a relationship with a woman called Gena. They had met when she came to the prison to teach soft toy-making. He was now a stepfather to her five children. Gena is quoted as saying only ‘I never really thought of him as someone who’s been in jail’.
Also interviewed for the article was Dr Bartholomew, who by 1987 was the Pentridge Prison psychiatrist. He spoke of the judgement parolees received from the community about their time in prison, including having their crimes held against them in arguments with loved ones. But he also noted that ‘the number of convicted murderers who murdered again was minuscule. I know of only three out of 1,000 over my 27 years.’
It would take another 20 years but Leigh Robinson would join that ‘minuscule’ number. But not before he had orchestrated the destruction of yet another set of lives first.
A family torn apart
In an opinion piece published in the Herald Sun in October 2009, Daniel Robinson, one of Robinson’s step-children, wrote that he thought his mother Gena had ‘a classic variation of Stockholm syndrome, where people caught up in confronting situations begin to find empathy with those who are committing a crime. She always defended my stepfather, even when it was a question of what he was doing to us kids. She always believed in his innocence. Nothing anyone can do will ever change her opinion.’
In Leigh Robinson’s case, his loved one wasn’t holding his crime against him. Instead, he was holding it as a threat over his newfound family.
Daniel was three when Robinson moved in. ‘He dominated us through intimidation and fear. As a kid, we knew he’d been in jail for murder. And when he was dealing with me he’d say, ‘you know what I’m capable of, son.’
Robinson’s step-daughter Louise also described how Robinson’s dominant and aggressive personality cast a shadow over their daily lives. ‘I couldn’t bring any girlfriends over because he’d make rude remarks or he would touch them,’ she told the Herald Sun in 2010.
Robinson worked as a truck driver. In 1991, he spent two years in prison for burglary and handling stolen goods, despite receiving a character reference from actor Gil Tucker. Then in 1993, Robinson was charged with one count of rape and 11 of indecent assault involving two 14-year old girls.
Gena stood by him. She believed he was falsely accused, even though one of the girls was her own daughter Louise. Gena married Robinson a short time later. Gil Tucker went to the wedding.
Daniel and Louise could not understand the hold Robinson had over certain people despite the continual nature of his criminality. ‘It was frightening,’ Louise said. ‘He threatened to kill me if I told anyone and because of his past, I took him seriously. We knew he’d killed a lady in cold blood.’ For most of her adult life, Louise self-medicated her considerable psychological trauma with drugs and alcohol.
Robinson served six years for his assaults on Louise and the other girl. Gena divorced him but inexplicably retained her devotion to him. By the time Robinson took Tracey Greenbury’s life 40 years after he had taken Val Dunn’s, Louise had barely spoken to her mother in years.
The end of the line: the murder of Tracey Greenbury
Robinson had been out of prison for a few years and worked as a truck driver in Pearcedale when he met Frankston resident and single mother of two, Tracey Greenbury. He knew her brother Jeffrey from prison and Jeffrey introduced them at Tracey’s birthday party. Robinson was 60 and Tracey was 33.
‘Tracy was kind to everyone because she cares about her family and friends,’ her daughter said at her funeral. ‘She was a very friendly person, always smiling.’
Over the five months of their on-off relationship, Tracey wanted to believe that Leigh was rehabilitated. But just like Val Dunn before her, she soon grew to fear Leigh Robinson. Ten days after he threatened her with a gun, Robinson brutally shot her in cold blood on her next door neighbour’s doorstep. Tracey died instantly.
As soon as news of Leigh Robinson’s detention for Tracey's murder and his previous murder conviction hit the press, the calls flooded in to Val Dunn’s surviving relatives and friends. Decades of healing were ripped away in an instant as the memories of that terrible time came rushing back.
‘They reckon time heals everything. But when something comes up like this it brings a lot of stuff back,’ Des Grewar told the Herald Sun.
Robinson's step-children were not surprised. ‘I was at work when the first reports began to emerge about Tracey’s death,’ Daniel Robinson wrote later. ‘I knew exactly who had done it, even before my stepfather’s name first surfaced. I just knew who it was. No question about it. There was no doubt in my mind. I called Mum. She knew he was involved but she wouldn’t tell me.’
The Herald Sun made much of how Leigh Robinson had escaped the death penalty, only to kill again. Numerous people, including Daniel Robinson and Harry Dunn pointed out that if he had been executed for Val’s death he never would have raped Louise or killed Tracey.
At his trial, Robinson once again pled not guilty, claiming Tracey’s death was accidental. He had little defence and overwhelming evidence against him.
After years of escaping any long-term detention for his crimes against women, justice finally caught up with the Leigh Robinson. In convicting him, Justice Whelan told Robinson, ‘you have now taken the lives of two women who were in a relationship with you, and have deeply damaged the lives of all those who were close to them. There is a pressing need to permanently protect the community from you.’
On 29 January 2010, Justice Whelan sentenced Leigh Robinson to life without the possibility of parole.
Today, Leigh Robinson lives in Barwon Prison’s maximum security Hoya Unit. He keeps company with men just as bad as he is: serial killer Peter Dupas, child killer Robert Farquharson, Bega schoolgirl murderer Leslie Camilleri and Burwood executioner Ashley Coulston, among others who committed crimes against women and children.
If he has any remorse for what he has done, he hasn’t shown it yet.
Compiled with inquest documents from the Public Records Office and newspaper articles.
""Loneliness Alarming"," Chadstone Progress, Glen Iris, 7 November 1973. Robinson, Russell, "Born to Be a Killer," Herald Sun, 30 September 2009. Ibid. "Pure Evil Murderer Avoids Noose," Herald Sun, 30 September 2009. "Born to Be a Killer."  See for example Ulloa, Emilio C et al., 'The Big Five Personality Traits and Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from a Large, Nationally Representative Sample,' Violence 31, no. 6 (2016) 1110-15. Robinson, "Born to Be a Killer." "Man Gets Death Sentence," Sun Pictorial, 28 November 1968. Ibid.  Oakes, Dan, "This Is Leigh Robinson," The Age, 30 April 2008.  Wilmoth, Peter, "Life after Life " The Age (Saturday Extra), Melbourne, 28 March 1987.  Robinson, "Born to Be a Killer."  Wilmoth, "Life after Life ".  Robinson, Russell, "Don't Let This Monster out of Prison," Herald Sun, Melbourne, 29 November 2010.  Robinson, Daniel, "Why Killer Should Die," Herald Sun, 1 October 2009.  Oakes, "This Is Leigh Robinson."  Robinson, Russell, "A Brilliant Mind for Murder," Herald Sun, Melbourne, 30 September 2009.  "Don't Let This Monster out of Prison."  Hagan, Kate, "Governor's Clemency Sealed a Daughter's Fate," The Age, 30 September 2009.  Dowsley, Anthony, "Tearful Goodbye to Mum," Herald Sun, 8 May 2008.  Hadfield, Shelley, "There Was Only One Shot," Herald Sun, 19 February 2009.  "Parents' Nightmare," Herald Sun, 1 May 2008.  Robinson, "Born to Be a Killer."  "Death Penalty Should Return, Say Readers," Herald Sun, 1 October 2009.  "Families Applaud as Judge Rules out Parole for Robinson," Herald Sun, 30 January 2010.  "Inside Hell's Corner," Herald Sun, 17 November 2019.