By ALEC SMART
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are warned that this article contains an image and the name of a deceased person.
On the 22nd anniversary of 13-year-old Arthur Haines’ suspicious death, NSW Police increased the reward for information to catch his killer(s) to $1 million.
On 9 April 1998, the young Aboriginal boy was enjoying a sleepover with a friend at the other lad’s family terrace home on Walker Street, Waterloo, in Sydney’s inner-south. The pair were planning to enjoy the Royal Easter Show the following day – the first year the agricultural event moved from Moore Park to the new showground at Sydney Olympic Park in Homebush Bay.
However, at 10.30pm that night, the house was deliberately set ablaze after a Molotov petrol bomb was thrown into the building.
Up to six other people on the premises at the time managed to evacuate without serious injury, however Arthur, who was in a top floor bedroom of the three-storey townhouse, suffered severe burns to 60 per cent of his body while trying to escape.
A Redfern police inspector, Paul Wells later explained, “The little fellow has run through the fire to get out – that is how he has been burnt.”
Arthur was rushed to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead for emergency treatment, but, tragically, never recovered from his injuries and died 11 weeks later, on 29 June 1998.
A forensic examination of the crime scene – which the Daily Telegraph reported was hampered by heavy rain – was when inspectors found the horrific fire was deliberately lit, and NSW Police established Strike Force Belemba to investigate. However, no one was ever charged for the arson-murder.
At an inquest three years later in 2001, it was learned that there were inter-neighbourhood rivalries around Walker Street during the months leading up to the Molotov being thrown, and tensions were running high as the disputes escalated.
On Wed 22 August 2018, on what would have been Arthur’s 34th birthday, his mother Julie Szabo planted an Illawarra flame tree in his honour and vowed, “I’ll never give up finding these people who are responsible for my son’s death.”
Speaking to journalists, she made a fresh plea for help and begged those with knowledge of the crime to “come forward and clear your name – for my son’s sake and for me. If you have a heart, have a conscience, please come forward.”
Redfern Police Area Commander Superintendent Andrew Holland also requested the help of the Waterloo community to reinvigorate the investigation.
“We are particularly interested in speaking to anyone who may have lived in the area at the time. It’s been 20 years and we want to provide some answers to Arthur’s family who tragically lost their son. Someone must know something about this incident so I urge you to pick up the phone and call us – you can do this anonymously through Crime Stoppers.”
Sadly, no new leads were provided.
In January 2020 the cold case underwent a formal review and was referred to homicide detectives to reinvestigate, under the revised name Strike Force Belemba II.
On the 29 June 2020 anniversary of Arthur’s death, over two decades after the April 1998 arson attack, NSW Police announced the reward for information leading to conviction of the boy’s killer(s) was increased from $100,000 to $1 million.
The escalation is seen as providing a higher incentive for those with knowledge of the arson attack to come forward to help solve the abhorrent crime.
Ms Szabo released a statement after the announcement: “My son would have been 36 this year and not a day goes by where I don’t think of him and wish he were here. He was a kind boy who was well mannered and very respectful to his elders and he was taken from us too soon…
“With friends and that, he’d always look out for them and look after them and make sure everyone is all right… I thank the police for never giving up on my boy and I hope the reward encourages those who know what happened to come forward.”
NSW Police Homicide Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Daniel Doherty issued a statement detailing the resumption of the investigation. “We are keen to speak to people who lived in the area at the time as someone must know something about how this tragic incident occurred.
“The reward is available for information which leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for Arthur’s death.
“There are people out there who have been holding a secret for 22 years and it’s time to come forward.”
NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott added, “This boy’s family have been suffering for years and deserve justice and closure at the very least. I urge anyone who may remember exactly what happened to Arthur Haines to do the right thing and call Crime Stoppers.”
Ms Szabo said she hoped the increased $1 million reward would bring justice and closure.
“All this time, it’s been heartache. Every day when I wake up and until I go to bed, I never [stop] thinking about my son: what he would have been, how he would have been and what he would have become. As a mum, you never give up on your children. Never. And that’s just the love that I always will have for my son beyond the grave. And I will fight all the way until his case is solved.”
Anyone with information has been urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.