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Nielsen, Juanita Joan (1937–1975)

by Richard Morris

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Juanita Joan Nielsen (1937-1975), publisher and urban conservationist, was born on 22 April 1937 at New Lambton, Newcastle, New South Wales, daughter of Neil Donovan Smith, English-born heir to the fortune of Kathleen Sophia Foy, and his wife Vilma Grace, née Meares, who was born in Sydney. Juanita was a great-granddaughter of Mark Foy; her father was a major shareholder in Mark Foy's Ltd. Her parents separated soon after her birth and she was raised by her mother at Killara, Sydney. Educated at various schools, including Presbyterian Ladies' College, Pymble, she obtained her Intermediate certificate in 1952 and worked at Mark Foy's as a glove model before leaving Australia in 1959.

While abroad, she married Jorgen Fritz Nielsen, a Danish merchant seaman. They solemnized their union in 1962 in a Shinto ceremony at Kobe City, Japan, but were to be divorced in 1967. After living in Morocco and Denmark, Juanita returned alone to Sydney in 1965 and opened the 'Gear Box' fashion boutique in Mark Foy's city store. She was briefly estranged from her father for leading an unsuccessful shareholders' revolt against a takeover offer ($4 million) by McDowell's Ltd for Mark Foy's in 1968. Following their reconciliation, her father bought her a terrace house in Victoria Street, Kings Cross, and a local newspaper, Now, which she published from her home.

Wearing distinctive clothes and a 'beehive' wig, Nielsen modelled fashions and hair styles for her newspaper's feature pages. She also conducted a vigorous editorial campaign in support of the 'green ban' movement against the redevelopment of Victoria Street by F. W. Theeman's real-estate company, Victoria Point Pty Ltd. With her neighbour and trade-union activist Jack ('Mick') Fowler, she played a prominent role in mobilizing local residents against the demolition of Victoria Street's historic terraces and the eviction of their tenants.

Juanita Nielsen vanished on 4 July 1975 after visiting the Carousel (previously Les Girls)—a transvestite nightclub and underworld haunt at Kings Cross—on advertising business for Now. Attempts to find her or her corpse proved fruitless. Despite public outcry, the mystery remained a major case in the annals of unsolved Australian crimes. Over the years some information about the circumstances of her presumed abduction and murder came to light. Two persons connected with the Carousel nightclub were convicted (one in 1981, the other in 1983) on charges of conspiracy to abduct Juanita Nielsen on an earlier occasion. The trials did not directly involve events on the day she vanished.

In July 1983 the Sydney City Council opened a recreation centre in the Juanita Nielsen Building, near her former residence at Woolloomooloo. It was not until 10 November 1983 that a coroner and jury of six declared that Nielsen had died 'on or shortly after 4 July 1975'. They were unable to name 'the place of death or the manner and cause of death', but found 'evidence to show that the police inquiries were inhibited by an atmosphere of corruption, real or imagined, that existed at the time'. In 1994 the Commonwealth Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority further castigated investigative ineptitude in the case and emphasized links between her presumed murder, property developers and the criminal milieu at Kings Cross.

Select Bibliography

  • Report, Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1994
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 10 Mar 1968
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Oct 1974, 19 Jan 1979, 4 July, 11 Nov 1983, 1 July 1995
  • National Times, 5-10 July 1976, p 4
  • A. King and P. Rees, manuscript (held by author)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Richard Morris, 'Nielsen, Juanita Joan (1937–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nielsen-juanita-joan-11241/text20047, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 30 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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