Updated: 23/12/16 : 06:07:14
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World :: Breakthrough in Australia's longest murder investigation

An Australian man has been charged with murdering two women following the nation's longest police investigation.

The mystery of the alleged murders, dubbed the Claremont case, has captivated Australia for almost 20 years.

Police in Western Australia announced they had made a "significant breakthrough" on Friday.

The 48-year-old man was charged with killing Perth women Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon in 1996 and 1997.

He was also charged with earlier attacking two teenage women.

Police said the 1996 disappearance of a third woman in Claremont, Sarah Spiers, remained an ongoing investigation.

Long-running case

Ms Rimmer, 23, disappeared from the upmarket Perth suburb after a night out with friends on 9 June, 1996. Her body was discovered two months later in bushland about 45km (30 miles) south of Claremont.

Ms Glennon, 27, went missing on 14 March, 1997, also after a night out. She was found dead three weeks later near Eglington, about 50km away, in the city's north.

The body of Ms Spiers, 18, has never been found. She was last seen outside a Claremont nightclub on 27 January, 1996, after celebrating Australia Day with friends.

Despite a dedicated police taskforce and 10 independent reviews by crime experts, the disappearances have frustrated police for two decades.

Investigators have followed thousands of leads and offered a A$250,000 (147,000; $180,000) reward. An earlier suspect, later cleared of any wrongdoing, was for a time under constant surveillance.

Western Australia Police commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said the 48-year-old man was arrested at home in the Perth suburb of Kewdale on Thursday.

He was charged with two counts of murder over the deaths of Ms Rimmer and Ms Glennon.

The man was also charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl he allegedly abducted from Claremont in 1995. He was further accused of indecently assaulting an 18-year-old woman in 1988 after breaking into her home as she slept.

"Police will allege that he acted alone," Mr O'Callaghan said on Friday.

He said the investigation into the suspected murder of Ms Spiers would continue, as would "inquiries into other matters".

"So there is still much work to be done," he said.

"But this has already been the biggest and most complex police investigation in WA history. Hundreds of police officers have worked on this case of the last 20 years."

Acknowledging the case had "shocked" Western Australia, Mr O'Callaghan urged the public to exercise restraint on social media while the charges were before court.