Man accused of abducting, raping teen hitch-hikers released on bail

A Drouin man accused of abducting two teenage hitch-hikers at gunpoint and raping them along remote dirt roads in the Dandenong Ranges more than two decades ago has been released on bail.

Magistrate Kieran Gilligan ruled on Monday that Garry Cook, 71, a father-of-eight, would be allowed to leave custody.

Court sketch of Garry Cook, 71, accused of abducting and raping two female hitch-hikers in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs in September and December 1998.

Gilligan said Cook’s advanced age and lack of other serious offending meant he did not pose a risk to the safety of others. He said the accused man’s close family ties and a $500,000 surety would also prevent him from leaving the country.

The 71-year-old will reside with his sister at a home in Pakenham until his next court appearance in November but will be barred from visiting his young children until child protection services determine he doesn’t pose a risk.

The court heard Cook, who fathered eight children from different relationships, had previously been violent to his wife, with whom he lives in Drouin, and has two children, aged 6 and 1.

During an alleged incident in August 2013, Cook grabbed his wife by the throat, restrained her arm to prevent her from leaving, and tried to knock down the door of a room where she was hiding, the court was told.

Child protection officers are investigating whether Cook should be allowed to have contact with his youngest children in light of the charges brought against him over the 1998 alleged rapes.

The prosecution’s case hinges on DNA samples collected from both girls in 1998, which have been preliminarily matched to a swab taken from Cook during his police interview in July.

Cook’s lawyers plan to challenge the accuracy of the samples, and could argue that DNA collection was still in its infancy in 1998 and the swabs could have been subject to cross-contamination.

Police allege that on September 24, 1998, Cook picked up a teenage girl who was hitch-hiking along Belgrave-Gembrook Road in Belgrave in a dark blue sedan.

After the girl felt uneasy and attempted to get out of the vehicle, Cook allegedly grabbed her by the hair, pulled her head down to his lap and drove her to a track off Wellington Road.

There, police say, he put a silver handgun to the girl’s right temple and instructed her to remove her clothing. It’s alleged he then forced her to perform oral sex before raping her at gunpoint.

After a 40-minute ordeal, the woman was dropped off at a side street in Emerald.

Less than three months later, on December 1, 1998, Cook is alleged to have picked up another teenage girl walking to a bus stop in Clematis in a maroon Toyota all-wheel-drive.

Police claim Cook pulled over in a paddock off Wellington Road, pulled out a knife and a gun, forced the teen into the foot well of the passenger side of the vehicle and covered her head with a blanket.

Officers search bushland in the Dandenong Ranges area in 1998 as part of Operation Collier.Credit:Nine News

He then is alleged to have driven 15 minutes away to a dirt track, where it’s claimed he instructed the girl to get in the back of the car – which had the curtains on its rear and side windows drawn – and undress.

There, he allegedly pushed her down onto a mattress, told her to cover her eyes and sexually assaulted her. He then told her to get dressed and dropped her off near Belgrave station, police claim.

Both teenagers memorised the number plates of the vehicles they were abducted in, but police at the time found the plates were stolen and could not be matched to cars fitting the victim’s descriptions.

The prosecution alleges Cook used his Abbotsford smash repair business, Procar Collision Repair Centre, to source different vehicles and swap over plates to avoid detection by police.

Cook was living with his then-wife in Menzies Creek at the time of the abductions and was familiar with the Dandenong Ranges area, police say.

Both girls provided descriptions of their alleged attacker that police say matched photographs of Cook at the time. Police officers also found a photo album with an image of a maroon car similar to that described by one of the victims during a raid of Cook’s home and business last month.

Cook’s business was forced to close after his arrest. His sister and bookkeeper told the court no one else could manage the insurance claims process.

She said the repair shop had fallen on hard times during the pandemic and owed $20,000 in overdraft, and warned five employees would lose their jobs if Cook wasn’t able to run the business.

Prosecutor Jelena Malobabic opposed bail on the basis Cook posed an unacceptable safety risk to the community, could interfere with the prosecution’s witnesses and presented a flight risk.

She also argued that, if released, the 71-year-old could get rid of crucial pieces of evidence including weapons, cars, and registration plates that police are yet to locate.

However, defence lawyer Emily Clark said the length of time since the alleged offending and the $500,000 surety were enough factors to release Cook on bail, adding the 71-year-old had the support of his family and strong ties to the state.

Relatives of Cook sighed beneath their face masks in the public gallery of Melbourne Magistrates Court when the decision to grant bail was delivered.

Cook appeared via video link from Melbourne Assessment Prison and spoke only to confirm his name and acknowledge the magistrate’s decision.

He will be required to hand over his travel documents, refrain from contacting any witnesses, and be barred from leaving the state. He will also need to report to Pakenham police station three days a week.

He will appear in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for a committal hearing in November.

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