Safe as Houses: 189 Greenhill Road, Parkside

Adam Smith 13 September 2016

safe as houses 189 greenhill rd parkside

An Adelaide murder leads to a fight for justice that long outlasts the brick and mortar of the crime scene.

WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes some may find disturbing

Adelaide has gained a perhaps-undeserved reputation as Australia’s murder city. It’s sometimes fallaciously referred to as the murder capital of the world. It’s not, of course, by a long shot. That dubious distinction belongs to Caracas, Venezuela. Adelaide doesn’t even come close to cracking the top 50 list of the world’s highest homicide rates per capita, at a measly 1.7 per 100,000 people.

Perhaps it’s the grisly details of so many Adelaide murders that gives the city its place in the public consciousness. One such crime was the famed “body in the freezer” case that shook the city in 1979.

Derrance Stevenson was a high-living criminal lawyer whose line of work naturally put him in contact with some dangerous characters. The 44-year-old liked the high life, had a wide circle of friends and lived in Parkside in a house as bombastic as he was. The asymmetrical house at 189 Greenhill Road had a bizarre, sloping roof matched by its distinctive, meandering fence.

It was in this house on June 5, 1979, that police found Stevenson’s body, wrapped in two rubbish bags and jammed head down into a freezer. A basket of frozen food had been placed over his head, while bags of frozen food were covering his back.

Stevenson has been shot in the back of the head, execution-style, with a .22 calibre weapon, and his body had been deposited in the freezer with the lid glued shut. It took police little time to apprehend and arrest Stevenson’s 19-year-old live-in boyfriend, David Szach. Szach had taken Stevenson’s red Datsun and driven through the night to Coober Pedy.

189 greenhill rd parkside

189 Greenhill Rd, Parkside. Source: adelaidenow.com.au

Szach was quickly convicted based on evidence the murder had occurred while he had been present in the home at 189 Greenhill Road. Szach vigorously maintained his innocence, saying Stevenson had received a threatening phone call the night he was killed and had told Szach to flee for his own safety.

Certainly, Stevenson had made a long list of enemies in the criminal underworld. It was later suggested that Stevenson had been a member of a group that procured young men for sex, and had attempted to cut off contact with the group in the days leading to his death.

Szach has continued to maintain his innocence, and spent his prison sentence declining opportunities for parole until a law change in the 1990s meant parole was automatically applied to eligible offenders, even when they didn’t seek it. He was released in 1993.

Now, dying of motor neuron disease, Szach has enlisted the aid of new forensic techniques proving the physical evidence used to convict him was irreparably flawed to try as his final act to clear his name and have his conviction quashed.

In 2008, the distinctive house at 189 Greenhill Road was demolished. It was rumoured at the time that 12-storey residential tower would be built on the site. That never came to pass. It remains an empty lot, fronted by a bus stop and flanked by a school for Transcendental Meditation. It seems some sites find their reputations damaged beyond rehabilitation, even in bloody Adelaide.

Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders, and the effect those killings had on real estate values.

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