THEY first saw the man soon after he moved into a property close to their suburban Bendigo home.
He was peering over their fence, staring at the girl, then aged 14. It happened multiple times.
“We noticed straight away that there was a man watching her,” the girl’s mother said.
Then, about a year later, a note was left on their wheelie bin addressed to the girl. It was graphic and sexual in nature.
“The content of these notes was so graphic and sexual I knew it was too extreme to be a prank,” the girl said.
The mother and daughter suspected it was the same man, believing he must have seen her taking out the bins. They took the note to Bendigo police who said no crime had been committed.
They could not provide a female officer and the mother could not be present for the police interview. The girl’s anxiety meant they could not go through with the interview.
“I told them that process would be terrifying for her and would do more damage. We left and went home, feeling more defeated and vulnerable to a possible pedophile stalking my daughter,” the mother said.
About one year after the first note, a second one arrived also with graphic content.
But its content was also slightly different to the first – they said it was almost reaching out to the girl, requesting friendship in a controlling manner.
“I thought the notes were very contrived, first an aggressive, dirty, sexually explicit letter, then a more controlling, reaching out-type of letter requesting friendship,” the mother said.
“I found them very disturbing.”
This time they took the matter to the Bendigo Sexual Offence and Child Abuse Investigation Team, fearing the man was displaying “grooming” behaviour.
“Every noise I thought he was coming to get me,” the girl said. She could no longer be left home alone, would not venture into the garden and was suffering severe anxiety.
“I feared he was trying to lure her out of the house. I felt like he was trying to make her think that he was a teenage boy, that maybe she would meet him somewhere public,” the mother said.
Detective Senior Constable Jamie Stubbins took on the case and had the notes sent to be fingerprinted.
The results came back six months later with no match. Detective Senior Constable Stubbins sent them away again, believing there were further processes that could have been attempted.
This time they revealed a fingerprint match to a registered sex offender – Jason Andrew Nowell, a Bendigo man with a conviction for the attempted rape of a 16-year-old girl.
When another note arrived at the house, describing the girl as “his beautiful” and signed with “J”, police got a warrant to raid the address.
They found another lewd note intended for the girl and seized Nowell’s computers and USB devices.
More than 1600 images and 20 videos of child exploitation material were found.
There was also a downloaded “pedophile’s handbook” on the computer, describing techniques of grooming children without detection.
Nowell was charged with stalking, possessing child exploitation material and not complying with sex offender register conditions. He had registered an email address using the WiFi from the Bendigo Library and not informed police.
He was released on police bail that same day, into the same house. Legally, police had no other choice.
“For him to come back, it was horrible for us,” the mother said.
Nowell remained in the house for another six months before he was sentenced in court and jailed for three years.
During the ordeal, the mother had attempted to have Nowell removed from the premises via the real estate agent.
She wanted to use a clause that states people can be evicted within 14 days if they are proven to be a nuisance. It required the approval of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Following the raid, the mother took the charge sheets into the real estate office but was told they did not constitute proof of a crime.
The property manager required the consent of the landlord for the man to be evicted, unless they are convicted or if the person is in imminent physical danger. The landlord did not give that consent, so he remained.
The real estate agent also had no way of knowing the man was a registered sex offender under Victoria’s privacy laws.
The three-year “nightmare” took a major physical and emotional toll on the teenage girl.
Her four-page victim impact statement describes how she has been robbed of her innocence and her privacy.
“There are times where I have hidden behind the couch with a pair of scissors and a phone after hearing noises outside,” she wrote.
“One of my first thoughts when I got his first creepy, diabolical letter was: what have I done?
“He has taken so much from me and my mother without ever speaking to us.
“I often don’t want to go out and once I am out, I don’t want to go home.”
The girl wrote that her life had changed forever.
“I’m always scared I’m being watched. I’m always scared I’m being followed,” she wrote.
“I fear I will bear the scars of this forever.”