Leaving her home on a chilly winter’s day in 1991 for a new life in nearby Coolah, NSW, 20-year-old Penny Hill was beyond excited.
She had landed the job of her dreams as a nanny for Col Baigent – a former drummer for Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs – and his wife Barbara.
The couple were busy running the Black Stump Motel, in Coolah, and had advertised for a nanny to help care for their sons aged 7, 4 and 1.
Penny’s parents, Jeanette and Felix, drove their only daughter to the motel where she was staying. Tragically, just three days later, Penny was left for dead in a ditch.
LISTEN TO THE GRIPPING TRAILER FOR THE ROCK STAR & THE NANNY
In a compelling new podcast, The Rock Star & the Nanny, journalist Mary-Ann Harris examines what happened to Penny, who was found clinging to life by the side of a road.
“She had blood on her face and was very, very still,” says local teacher Susan Brown, who found Penny as she was driving past on the wet and cold morning. “I stopped the car straight away.”
With no mobile phones back then, Susan used her UHF radio to call the local garage owner, telling him to send an ambulance and a doctor.
“I thought she was dead,” Susan recalls. “Then, as I walked over to her, she moved her shoulder a little bit.”
Susan wrapped her cardigan and coat around Penny “to try and ... put my life into her. To warm her up. But I could see she was in a very, very bad way.”
Penny was airlifted to John Hunter Hospital where she died 13 days later, having never regained consciousness.
So what happened to Penny and who is responsible for this heinous crime? Almost 28 years and two coronial inquests later, mystery still shrouds the case.
In The Rock Star & the Nanny, Mary-Ann speaks with those close to the case including Penny’s mum, Jeanette, who hopes the podcast will shed fresh light on the crime. “It’s the unknown that you always think about,” a heartbroken Jeanette says. “You think, how could someone do this and walk away and leave a person.”
Former officer in charge of the cold case, Detective Sergeant Jason Darcy, says that “without a doubt” Penny could have known her killer.
Throughout the investigation, several people have been considered persons of interest including the motel’s cook, Bob Lee; Penny’s boyfriend of less than a month, Shane Williams; and the Baigents themselves.
Discovering that Bob Lee had a criminal record, lived in a caravan park close to the motel and had worked at the Black Stump the night Penny went missing, police initially turned their focus on him. The cook claimed he had spent the evening at a party in the caravan park.
Early investigations also revealed Penny had two phone conversations the night she disappeared.
The first – between 7.30 and 8pm – was with her mum. “She was so happy,” Jeanette says.
The second call was from her boyfriend Shane at about 9pm.
The call placed Shane in Armidale, 280km from Coolah, and Det Sgt Darcy considered whether it was possible for Shane to have made the trip to Coolah that evening and been back in Armidale the following morning. Shane Williams
has vehemently denied any involvement in Penny’s death.
At the second inquest, the court was told Col Baigent had a “shocking temper” and was “sexually predatory” towards vulnerable women and had physically abused all three of his wives.
His then wife, Barbara, denied protecting him and said she had never known him to be violent outside a marriage.
Col has also denied being involved in Penny’s death and the allegations against him are unproven. Despite hundreds of interviews and DNA samples taken from more than 200 men in and around Coolah at the time, no-one has ever been charged with Penny’s murder.
In July 2018, 27 years after Penny was brutally bashed to death, police launched a fresh appeal for information that might lead to the killer. Tragically Penny’s devastated father, Felix, died in 2015 never knowing exactly what happened to his adored daughter and who was responsible.
“Hopefully somebody out there will hear our pleas for help to solve this crime,”says Jeanette.
“No matter how long, you always hope they get somebody.”