25 March, 2010

"I'm going to be your nightmare" - Part I

John Serratore and Frances Tizzone grew up near each other in Croydon Park. They went to different high schools, but started going out together in Year 8 and 9. In Year 10 they broke up, and Frances went out with a boy named Joe Elia. John didn’t see her again until 1993, when Frances was studying science at Macquarie Univeristy. The started dating again, and in May Frances brought John home to meet her parents. The relationship, however, was a stormy one and became increasingly volatile. Frances found John to be jealous, obsessive and violent. The relationship began to sour, and they broke up in late 1994 when an restraining order (AVO) was taken out against him, but by early 1995 they were apparently back together again. Nonetheless Frances had mixed feelings about their reunion, and decided that she wanted to end the relationship for good.

On the evening of 28 March Frances spoke to John on the phone and agreed to meet him the next day on her way home, to give back some of each other's belongings, signalling the end of the relationship. She said she would phone home for a lift at about 6pm when she finished. The next day Frances went to university as normal, but ended up leaving early at about 4:20pm, telling a friend she was going to visit a sick relative. She never called home, and was not seen alive again.

Frances' partly decomposed body was found on 2 April 1995, in bushland near the Wakehurst Parkway in Frenchs Forrest. Her blue Sportsgirl bag with her university books and purse were found nearby. It was estimated she died late on 29th March. She was 21 years old.

22-year-old John was charged with Frances' murder. The Crown case was entirely circumstantial, and it was put to the jury on two alternates bases: that John either killed Frances himself; or he arranged for someone else to do it.

The Crown called evidence from friends and family of Frances. They spoke of occasions when Frances had told them that John was verbally abusing her, physically assaulting her, following her to Uni and sitting in her classes, always calling her on the phone, always wanting to know where she was. Needless to say John was not a student at Macquarie Uni and had no business being there.

The defence objected to this evidence on the grounds that it was hearsay, however the Crown argued that much of it was in fact direct evidence - classmates who saw John at Uni, witnessed the phone calls, saw the bruises and scratches on Frances' body, and saw her distressed and crying immediately after being with him.

Background evidence
Rima Aboud-Raad, a fellow student, often saw John in Frances' classes, and also saw him hit her and push her into a brick wall. She overheard a conversation between them where John said to Frances "You're coming home with me" and she replied "No, I'm not" after which John grabbed her hand and said "Yes, you are". Rima said John looked angry and was very forceful, and Frances turned to her and said she was going home with John. Rima said she looked unhappy.

Frances' mother Patricia Tizzone heard her daughter constantly arguing with John on the phone, and in June 1994 saw a bruise on her face. She said she had hit it against a door. Patricia also saw bruises on her arms, and fresh nail marks. Frances admitted they were made by John, and also told her about John coming to her classes at Uni, and also yelling at her male friends so that they did not talk to her anymore. In August 1994 Patricia went into her daughter's bedroom to find her crying. Frances said that John would often stand outside her window and watch her, and this time when they argued he had punched her through the flyscreen. Patricia saw that Frances had a red, cut lip, and the flyscreen was broken with a hole in it. Patricia also saw John grab Frances by the neck and shake her on another occasion.

In September Frances went to the theatre with her friend Michelle Kaltoum to see 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. After the show John was waiting for her outside, and they all went to Darling Harbour together. After a while Frances told Michelle she was going outside for a walk with John. 20 minutes later Frances returned, distressed and crying, and said that John had hit her a few times about the face, and head-butted her in the head, because he demanded she go home with him. In John's evidence he said that he had just "slapped her in a fight".

The defence also objected to this evidence, but the Crown argued that it showed the nature of the relationship between the two, and also showed a tendency on John's part to be obsessive and domineering, making it difficult for Frances to break up with him. There was also evidence that he falsely accused her of getting back together with her ex Joe Elia, humiliated her in front of her family by referring to an abortion, and threatened Frances and her family when they were at court in November 1994.

In the fight that led up to those court proceedings, Patricia saw John and Frances outside the front of their house arguing, and saw John hit her across the face. Patricia called her husband Santo and they all went out the front. Santo asked John what was going on, and he replied "You ask for answers about when she was pregnant and had the abortion." Of course, this was the first time Frances' parents had heard about any pregnancy or abortion.

John gave evidence about this event. He said that when Frances came out he confronted her about Joe Elia, and asked "Is there something going on? Are you seeing Joe?" He said she had a guilty look on her face, but she denied it, so he said "Don't lie to me, I just saw him." Frances said she was only speaking to Joe and wasn't seeing him but John slapped her in the face "because she liked to me and she was seeing her ex-boyfriend. I suppose I lost my temper". Then her father came out and started shouting, saying he was going to hit him, so John pushed him.

"I told Frances, 'C'mon, tell him. I'm getting my arse kicked in here and its not my fault. Tell him what you have been doing', and she just didn't say nothing, just standing there. We kept on arguing for a little bit longer, screaming at each other, and Frances said 'I was only speaking to him a few times. I never seen him'. When she said that, I don't know, I just told her father about how she was pregnant to me and she had an abortion and he seemed like it was a big shock at the time."

John said he went home and poked his finger through a photo of him and Frances. He agreed in cross-examination that he had accused her of having an affair solely on the basis that he had seen Joe driving his car in her street, and the area where she lived. He was clearly unable to see that the reason Frances' feelings towards him were cooling was due to his own behaviour, rather than the supposed attentions of a former boyfriend.

Later that day Frances and her family went to Burwood police and reported the incident. The next day Santo went to John's house and spoke to his father, Frank Serratore. While he was there John came out and said "the problem is your daughter, she goes off with somebody else, she's a slut, I can prove it to you... I have got some documents, I can prove it to you". He went inside and brought out a plastic bag and showed Santo pictures of Frances at her Year 12 formal, three years earlier. He repeated his comments about Frances having an abortion, and said he wanted to fight. Santo said "come on, throw the first punch, I'm going to kill you". After that John's sister came out and asked Santo to go home, which he did.

John confirmed most of this in evidence, and said he slapped Frances "for what she did to me". The next day Monica Kollar phoned John on Frances's behalf and asked why he had told Santo about the abortion. John replied that she deserved it because she did not stick up for him when he was copping all the blame. The Judge regarded this as "a somewhat unsatisfactory perception of what happened".

That evening John arrived at the Tizzone house and started bashing on the front door looking for Frances. She refused to come out, so he started yelling for Santo to come out and fight him, but Santo just told him to go home. They called the police and told them the whole story.

A Hit Man?
Bassam Redwan was a schoolmate of John's but they had drifted apart until about October 1994. John told him that he'd broken up with Frances and was having a hard time. He said it was her family's fault, and suggested to Bassam that he wanted him to "hurt a lady". He eventually said this was Patricia Tizzone, for “interfering with his relationship“. Bassam said he “wanted me to help him kill her … he wanted her to overdose on pills … to get her back for what she did to him”. John outlined plans to give himself an alibi.

Bassam gave the following evidence:
“A: At first he said 'Tomorrow morning Frances will be going to university, and on the way to university she’ll be dropping her mother off at work, and leaving to go to the university. Where she drops her mother off at work there’s a roundabout’ and he asked me, when she approaches the roundabout to hop in the car with her and drive somewhere down the road - he said she’ll get scared of me and do what I say because she’ll be scared of me and he said ’You make her scared and make sure she swallows the tablets and write out a [suicide] note.’
Q: You told him ’no way’, in other words, you weren’t going to do it?
A: Yes”
Bassam refused, but John kept trying to convince him, asking him “at least a hundred times“.
“A: He just kept on trying to convince me and I kept on trying to talk him out of it, trying to reason with him, tell him ‘I’m not going to do it’ and tell him ‘its not worth it’ and try and make him see.
Q: What happened then?
A: He just got more and more frustrated… and desperate, yeah”
John was saying "you have to help me, if you don't help me I won't get away with it". Bassam said he would tell Frances, Santo, the police, everybody, but that didn't seem to deter John. At one stage he said "my cousin knows some Greeks, hit men, or people from the Cross". Eventually he got angry and frustrated, and offered Bassam his car and around $3,000. Bassam again refused. At first he didn't think John was serious, but began to change his mind.

He went to John’s house the next morning “because I was concerned that he was going to go through with it, whether he was going to go anywhere, and I walked to his house, and my intentions were to stop him, to speak to his father, and his father was not home, and I seen John, I seen John warming his car up… I assumed he was going to do what he said. So I decided to walk down the street around the corner towards my house and also towards Frances’s house. I walked in that direction and within two minutes John came around the corner in his car, and he pulled up beside me when I was walking and he asked me ‘Are you going to help me?’ and I said ‘No’… and he said ‘OK, I’m going to do it myself.”

Bassam went to the Tizzone house and told Frances not to go to Uni that day, and told her and Patricia of John's plans. The Tizzone's phoned the police, and then Frances, her cousin and her mother all went together to the Uni. On arrival, Frances went to class. Patricia and her niece saw John on the campus, so they went to security who called the police. The police approached John and told him Frances did not want to see him and had gone home. They searched his car but found nothing of interest so they asked him to leave, which he did. Constable O'Connor told John there was no need to wreck his life over a woman, and said that he seemed emotional.

John denied ever asking Bassam to help him kill Frances or her mother, and said all they had talked about was John going to the Uni to ask Frances why she had gone with Joe Elia and why she had lied about it. At this time police obtained the AVO, which was valid for six months. As the Tizzone's were leaving court, John said to Frances "you're gone, you're gone... you're dead, its going to cost me money but you're dead". He said to Santo "I'm going to be your nightmare". John later said this was all "on the spur of the moment".

Later that day John went to Bassam's house and asked him if he'd spoken to Frances, and he said "yes, I told them". Bassam knew about the AVO, but John told him "you don't think this is going to stop me, I'll get her six months later". The Tizzone's house was then plagued by phone calls, up to 15 times a day, where the caller would hang up unless Frances answered the phone. These calls were traced to public phones mostly in the Botany area, where John worked.

To be continued...


  1. I accompanied my mother to my fathers tomb today and noticed the tomb of Francis as it is located abound 5 meters from my dads. I recall at the time i was working at burwood at took interest as it is close to croydon park. On my next visit and every visit after i will put fresh flowers as a sign of respect for francis. RIP

  2. this is untrue and should be deleted