5 December 2023

Sydney underbelly killings allegedly behind 1989 murder of Young's Paul Norton

| Albert McKnight
Start the conversation
woman and man sitting at a table

Police are calling for information on the 1989 disappearance of Paul Norton (right). Photos: NSW Police.

A devoted father from rural NSW may have become caught up in a series of underworld killings in the 1980s when he was allegedly murdered, resulting in a mystery that police think involves a notorious gangland figure.

Paul Anthony Norton, who was born and raised in Young, disappeared from Sydney in 1989 after he had taken his two sons to a football match.

His resting place went unknown for years until human remains that had been discovered at a Kurnell desalination plant in 2007 were confirmed as belonging to the 31-year-old in 2019.

In the meantime, an inquest from 1996 determined it was most likely he had been murdered in a crime motivated by his alleged involvement in Sydney’s drug trade.

On Monday (4 December), NSW Police called for information into his death and said initial observations had drawn links between his suspicious disappearance and a series of underworld killings in Sydney in the 1980s.

Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said a large number of inquiries had been conducted since his remains were identified.

“Of note, at the time Mr Norton’s remains were located, other remains were found,” he said.

“It was a known burial ground for the criminal world, including ‘Neddy’ Smith and his associates.”

READ ALSO Man who paid 14-year-old girl for sex handed years in jail

Some of the other remains belonged to 36-year-old model Mark Johnston, whose disappearance in 1986 had also been investigated.

A coronial inquest this year named gangland figure Arthur ”Neddy” Smith, who had been in jail serving life sentences for two murders before his death in 2021, as the person responsible for Mr Johnston’s death.

“There are strong links in both these matters to the underworld criminals in the 1980s in Sydney. Of main interest has been Arthur ‘Neddy’ Smith,” Detective Doherty said.

man and woman on sofa

The remains of Paul Norton were not found until years after his disappearance.

Police believe Smith was incarcerated at the time Mr Norton vanished. Also, Detective Doherty, who did not think Mr Norton and Mr Johnston knew each other, said before the 76-year-old Smith died in 2021, he was interviewed about both disappearances and denied any knowledge of them.

“[But] we believe that he was still very capable of running things from his jail cell and that his associates and those involved in the drug trade were responsible for Mr Norton’s disappearance and subsequent murder,” he said.

The detective said Mr Norton, while potentially a minor player, was associated with some “very big players in the drug trade” who would know what happened to him.

“He was a boy from the bush, he ended up in Botany and he was married with a couple of kids,” he said.

“He got mixed up with the wrong crowd, fell into it somehow, and … whilst maybe a minor player, hung around some very big players and that’s unfortunately what caused his demise.”

READ ALSO ‘Horror movie’ car crash left driver’s workmate with life-changing injuries

Police are now looking at whether anyone involved in other murders is connected to the case.

“There’s people out there who we believe would have been involved in these murders … they’re still alive, walking around in the community,” Detective Doherty said.

“Thirty-five years doesn’t diminish the criminality of the people responsible and 35 years hasn’t diminished the grief of the family.”

newspaper clippings

A newspaper article from about three months after Paul Norton disappeared.

Mr Norton worked as a butcher, firstly in Botany and then in Ultimo, which was also where he lived.

He was last seen on 9 April, 1989, after spending the day with his sons at Leichhardt Oval watching a Parramatta Eels vs Balmain Tigers rugby league match.

His girlfriend, Val Lieb, reported him missing on 14 April, 1989, and told police he was last seen wearing a red-and-white-striped shirt, grey trousers, and grey-and-tan shoes.

READ ALSO Tetraplegic terrorist who planned ‘violent attack’ on Goulburn prison officers handed more jail time

On 2 May, 1989, police found his blue 1981 Commodore sedan at the Hertz Car Rental at the Sydney Airport domestic terminal.

“[A police officer said] this was a common tactic of hit men, dumping the cars of their victims at airports to give the impression that their owners had left town,” a newspaper article from three months after his disappearance said.

After his remains were identified in 2019, the matter was referred to the homicide squad.

old photo of a family

Paul Norton’s family has called for anyone with information to come forward. Photo: NSW Police.

Mr Norton’s sister, Margaret Brown, hoped Monday’s appeal could provide some answers about what happened to the much-loved member of her family.

“Paul and I were one of six children, and with only four of us remaining, we’d love to find some answers about what happened,” she said.

“Even though it’s going back many years, we’re asking anyone who might have information to contact police.”

The newspaper article reported that Mr Norton had two young sons whom he saw at least two or three times a week, even though he and his wife were separated.

“Norton’s friends cannot fathom why he should suddenly want to take off without telling anyone, leaving behind all his possessions and more importantly his sons, aged nine and seven,” it reads.

Anyone with information that may assist investigators can contact Crime Stoppers by calling 1800 333 000 or by clicking here.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.