In 1960, the Thorne family lived in a flat in New South Wales, Australia. On June 1st, 1960, their lives changed… but not in the way they expected.
The Story of Graeme Thorne
Freda and Bazil Thorne had three children: a daughter named Cheryl who was institutionalized, a son named Graeme (8), and a daughter named Belinda (3). Bazil was a travelling salesman, and Freda stayed home with their two youngest children.
On June 1st, 1960, Bazil was shocked to learn he’d won the Opera House Lottery. The family was stunned by the 100,000 pound win, which is equal to about $3.5 million dollars today. They didn’t know what to do with the money. Bazil said he wasn’t going to spend a dime until he’d taken some time to think it over. Over the next few weeks, the Thornes continued family life as normal… mostly.
Release of their Personal Information
In 1960, personal information protection was not a major concern for lottery players or lottery corporations. The Wikipedia page describing the Thorne family’s win says:
“As there was no real conception of the need for privacy for lottery winners at that time, and also for the sake of transparency, images and private details of Thorne’s lottery win were published on the front pages of Sydney newspapers.”
Bazil Thorne’s photo and their family photos were pictured in all the local newspapers, alongside the family’s home address.
While this may seem shocking to us now, it wasn’t at the time. Bazil Thorne would not have thought to hire a lottery lawyer to protect his personal information. He likely wouldn’t even have thought much of the publication of his address. Still, the knocks on the door started almost immediately.
The Thornes didn’t have a listed telephone number yet, and so solicitors had to come to the door. Some people asking for money were individuals, and others were with charities. Amidst this, there was one strange knock on the door that was not from a solicitor, but from a self-proclaimed private investigator. He told the Thornes he was looking for someone, and that he’d been given their address. He also had their phone number, which was strange because it has just been connected and wasn’t yet listed. The Thornes told him he had the wrong address, and he quickly went on his way.
An Unspeakable Tragedy
Five weeks after the big win, eight-year-old Graeme Thorne was walking to school when he was abducted. His parents soon learned he was being held for ransom. The kidnapper called the home to ask for 25,000 pounds of their lottery win. Police were already in the Thorne home, as Graeme had been reported missing. An officer took the call, pretending to be Bazil Thorne, who was away on business.
The crime sparked the nation’s largest manhunt yet. Police, investigators, and private citizens scoured the area looking for him. Several clues were found, but they appeared to be planted. The kidnapper never called back with information about where to bring the ransom, though the Thornes were more than willing to pay to get their son back
It took six weeks to find Graeme Thorne, and by that time, it was too late. Graeme’s body was found wrapped in a carpet in a vacant lot where local children often played. It was determined that Graeme had been murdered on or shortly after the day he was kidnapped. Investigators turned to finding the person responsible for the murder. They arrested Stephen Bradley, a Hungarian immigrant who, after the body was found, had fled Australia to stay in Sri Lanka. He was extradited and brought home for trial. As it turned out, he was the “private investigator” who had previously knocked on the Thorne’s front door.
At that time, Australia did not have strict laws regarding kidnapping for ransom. There had been only one kidnapping for ransom in Australian history. After the Thorne case, the laws were changed to harshly penalize criminals holding people for ransom. However, Stephen Bradley was not on trial for kidnapping for ransom. He was on trial for murder, and when he was found guilty, he was handed a life sentence.
You can hear the full story of Graeme Thorne’s kidnapping and murder for ransom on the Casefile podcast.
What Could a Lottery Lawyer Have Done?
Had the Thornes been able to (or even known) to fight for their right to privacy, a lawyer might have been able to help them keep their personal details out of the press. This could have protected them while they tried to go about life normally after the win.
However, in 1960, there was a different attitude toward privacy and security in Australia. Bazil Thorne was stunned by the win. The Thornes went about life in the following weeks as if nothing had happened. Of course, the events following the win would change Australians’ views on safety and privacy, especially for their children. The Huffington Posts’s article on the murder is aptly titled: The End of Innocence: The 1960s Crime That Changed The Lives of Aussie Kids.
According to the Huffington Post article, the event didn’t just change attitudes about kids’ safety. It also changed the lottery laws in Australia: “Following the crime, laws were changed so that a Lotto winners’ name is withheld from the public. But, in 1960, there was a desire for transparency so there could be no accusations that the lottery was rigged. So all the details of the winner was published, for the sake of transparency but, of course in the Thorne’s case, it backfired so tragically.”
No Need for Lottery Lawyers Down Under
To this day, the lottery laws in Australia give jackpot winners the option to keep their names confidential. In fact, major Australian lottery corporation Oz Lotteries encourages people to stay anonymous when they win. Lottery lawyers don’t exist, because they aren’t needed to protect people’s privacy.
Unfortunately, other countries have not followed suit. In Canada and many USA states, the lottery authorities still require winners’ names to be released. While addresses won’t be published, in the digital world, information like that is easy to come by. Protecting a person’s address, telephone number, and other personal details requires that anonymity starts with a person’s name. In order to remain anonymous and safe from media scrutiny, and unwanted attention and visitors, and even violent people or criminals, a person needs to claim his or her prize completely anonymously. In some places, this just isn’t possible without the help of an experienced legal team.
Feature image courtesy of Michael Coghlan https://flic.kr/p/izJEJ9
Author: Danielle Mohr
Danielle is a professional copywriter and editor who provides services to Jackpot Lawyer on a contract basis. She has a broad range of experience in business marketing and is highly motivated to help businesses generate leads, increase sales, and promote growth.
Danielle has worked on websites, corporate blogs, and manuals for professionals, trades, government-funded organizations, and international corporations. Her work is driven by a strong passion for continued learning and she enjoys the challenge that comes with forging connections in the digital realm.
Danielle is the owner of Fine Point Writing & Editing based in Edmonton, Alberta.