Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bradley, Stephen Leslie (1926–1968)

by Stephen Garton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Stephen Leslie Bradley (1926-1968), kidnapper and murderer, was born on 15 March 1926 in Budapest and named István, son of József Baranyay, architect, and his wife Klara (Clarisse), née Kramer. A divorcee since 1948, István arrived in Melbourne in the Skaugum on 28 March 1950. He found jobs as a life-insurance salesman, male nurse and as an electroplater at a poker-machine factory. On 1 March 1952 he married Eva Maria Laidlaw (who had changed her name by deed poll from Laszlo) at the Presbyterian Church, Gardiner. They had one daughter before Eva was killed in a car accident on 26 February 1955. István changed his name by deed poll to Stephen Leslie Bradley in August 1956.

In November 1957 Bradley was charged with false pretences in Sydney, but the charge was allowed to lapse. In the registrar general's office on 8 December 1958 he married Magda Wittman, née Klein, a Hungarian divorcee with two children, who owned a boarding house at Katoomba. In 1959 the guest house burnt down, but he failed to make any money on the insurance settlement. He reputedly lived beyond his means. Short, stocky, dark haired and balding, he dressed well and liked to drive big cars. Prison authorities subsequently described him as tense, insecure and intelligent, with a sociable and engaging personality, but also deemed him a hopeless liar, a confidence man and an opportunist who was desperate to make money quickly. Frustrated at his circumstances, he brought his family to Sydney, determined 'to do something big'. In June 1960, after the report that Bazil Henry Parker Thorne, of Bondi, had won first prize in the Sydney Opera House lottery, Bradley hatched his plan to kidnap the Thornes' only son, 8-year-old Graeme.

On 7 July 1960 Graeme failed to arrive at school and the boy's disappearance was reported to police. Later that day Bradley rang the Thornes, demanding a £25,000 ransom; he rang off without finalizing arrangements during a second call that night. The incident was immediately reported in the media and became Australia's most sensational kidnapping case. On 16 August two boys found the body of Graeme Thorne in the bush near Seaforth. Forensic tests established that he had been bashed and strangled soon after the kidnapping. An extensive police investigation resulted in scientific and eyewitness evidence which linked Bradley to the crime. Meantime, Bradley had sailed for England with his family. On 10 October he was arrested in Colombo. He was extradited on 18 November, convicted of murder on 29 March 1961 and sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence that was upheld on appeal.

In June 1961 Bradley was transferred to Goulburn gaol where he was employed as a hospital orderly. Professing innocence, he claimed that he had confessed to the crime through fear lest his family be harmed. He seemed oblivious of the pain suffered by the Thornes. Bradley died of a coronary occlusion on 6 October 1968 while playing in the gaol tennis competition, and was buried in the Catholic section of Goulburn cemetery. His daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, July 1960-June 1961
  • Sun (Sydney), July 1960-June 1961
  • Herald (Melbourne), 7 May 1961, 7 Oct 1968
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Aug 1971
  • case report, New South Wales Police Dept, Sydney
  • case file, New South Wales Prisons Dept, Sydney.

Citation details

Stephen Garton, 'Bradley, Stephen Leslie (1926–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bradley-stephen-leslie-9567/text16855, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Baranyay, Istvan
Birth

15 March 1926
Budapest, Hungary

Death

6 October 1968
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence
Occupation