Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Australia: Third inquest opens into 20 year-old murder-suicide cold case

Atherton is a small town and police didn't want to rock the boat. Hence their absurd claims and utter negligence

JULIE-ANNE Leahy had her "bags packed" to escape an abusive marriage just days before she disappeared and was found dead with her best friend in a car up a disused bush track, an inquest heard.

Police almost immediately ruled Atherton accountant Vicki Arnold killed her friend and then shot herself in a bizarre murder-suicide pact in a 20-year-old north Queensland cold case that has baffled investigators.

State Coroner Michael Barnes opened an unprecedented third coronial inquest into the Arnold and Leahy deaths and will explore the possibility a third party killer may have escaped justice after police botched the crime scene.

Friends told the inquest how the two women were "chalk and cheese" with Arnold, 26, a depressed loner aching for a family life while Leahy, 27, was a "strong and outspoken" mum housewife trapped in an abusive relationship with financial problems. "She (Leahy) had her bags packed. She was leaving," friend and police sergeant Bernard Wilce said.

He said he was still astounded by the thought gentle-natured Vicki killed her friend and then herself.

He told of an anonymous call to police alleging a white van was spotted driving out of the Cherry Creek track murder scene about the time the women disappeared on a midnight fishing trip on July 26, 1991.

Ex-husband Alan Leahy, a carpet layer who was having an affair with his wife's 16-year-old sister at the time, has been subpoenaed and is due to give evidence in the second week of the inquest in December.

Leahy had been bashed with a rock the size of a grapefruit, her throat cut and was shot twice in the head. Arnold had a gunshot wound in the thigh and fatally another gunshot wound behind the right ear.

Atherton businessman, blacksmith and Australian representative target shooter John Wilkinson told how he obtained the .22 semi-automatic Ruger rifle for his former book-keeper two weeks before the women were found dead. He said Arnold told him she wanted it for a friend who lived on a cattle station but he vehemently denied cutting down the barrel.

"Sure, I've got the knowledge and the ability. But I absolutely deny I cut it down. "Whoever cut it off knew what they were doing. "I just hope you find whoever did it."

A video re-enactment shown to the court found it was physically possible to put the sawn-off gun behind the right ear and pull the trigger.

Officers used a white 1984 Nissan Patrol, same make and model, and a female police officer of the same build as Arnold holding a sawn-off .22 Ruger rifle sitting in the footwell of the passenger seat. Arnold's body was found slumped in the seat with her hand resting on the rifle.

Counsel assisting the coroner Ralph Devlin, SC, said the inquest would examine the possibility of any third party in the killing. But Mr Devlin admitted the odds are against them given the fog of time, faded memories of witnesses, a contaminated crime scene and an almost complete lack of scientific and physical evidence.

"It is hard to exaggerate the failures (in this case)," Mr Devlin told the inquest.

He said only two bloody fingerprints were taken from the butt of the rifle, none from the knife, none from inside the car, and critically, no tests for gunshot residue were done on the hands of Arnold. "It was a missed opportunity at the outset. "And it would have been determinative in this case."

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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