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Australian police charge man with Northern Ireland woman's murder after 33 years

By Deborah McAleese

Published 30/10/2015

Rod Lawrence (front) appeared in court over the murder of Betty Dixon in 1982
Rod Lawrence (front) appeared in court over the murder of Betty Dixon in 1982
Detectives in Australia examine the scene of Betty Dixon’s murder
The body of Holywood woman Elizabeth Dixon was discovered in her car in bushland north of Sydney in April 1982

A man has appeared in court in Australia charged with the vicious murder of a Co Down woman more than 30 years ago.

In a major breakthrough in a case that has baffled police in New South Wales for decades, 64-year-old Rodney Lawrence, a former cricketer, was arrested earlier this week following a tip-off from a member of the public.

Betty Dixon, from Holywood, was stabbed 27 times in the chest and neck and hit over the head several times with a blunt object in a sustained and brutal attack in April 1982.

The 31-year-old's body was discovered slumped over the steering wheel of her car which had been abandoned in bushland north of Sydney. Her hands were tied behind her back.

Her suspected killer was remanded in custody yesterday following a brief court appearance.

Media reports said Lawrence appeared "calm", with his hands in handcuffs, as the charge of murder was read against him.

A solicitor told the court that he was not in a position to apply for bail at this time, according to news reports.

Lawrence was remanded in custody to appear back before the court via video-link next Wednesday.

Known in his local cricketing circles as 'The Kid', Lawrence was arrested on Wednesday morning NSW time at his home in Stockton, less than 20 miles away from where Ms Dixon's body had been found 33 years ago.

New South Wales Police said yesterday that the arrest followed new information received by detectives in August.

Ms Dixon had travelled to Australia just a few years before her murder.

She worked as a secretary with a mining company in Kurri Kurri, a small town in the Hunter Region of New South Wales.

She lived alone in Metford, a suburb of the city of Maitland, which is north of Sydney.

Ms Dixon was last seen leaving her local squash club three days before her body was discovered in her car.

Police believe she had gone home to change out of her sports gear.

The murder weapon has never been found but police believe she was stabbed with a knife taken from her own kitchen.

After years of failed attempts to find her killer the case was eventually passed over to the Unsolved Homicide Squad of New South Wales Police.

Two years ago the New South Wales Government offered a reward of $150,000, almost £70,000, for information leading to an arrest. In a renewed appeal for information a detective involved in the case described Betty as a "respectable young woman who held down a full-time job, was active in social settings and in squash tournaments".

He added that she enjoyed a good circle of friends and family and that "there was nothing which pointed to her becoming a victim of such a crime".

Throughout their investigations one of the theories being probed by police was that Ms Dixon's killer was known to her.

"I think it is fair to say it is more likely than not (that she knew her killer), either socially or where she lived or possibly where she worked," the detective said in 2013.

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