Sunday, 20 November 2011

Cherry Ck inquest continues to hear bizarre testimony

Murder-suicide theory not for ex-top copMelanie Petrinec

Saturday, November 19, 2011
© The Cairns Post
Testimony: Former Queensland assistant police commissioner Carl Mengler told yesterday's coronial inquest he does not subscribe to a murder-suicide theory in the deaths of Julie-Anne Leahy and Vicki Arnold. One of Australia's most experienced homicide detectives says he "would sway towards third-party involvement" in the brutal deaths of Julie-Anne Leahy and Vicki Arnold, but warns the mystery may never be solved.

Carl Mengler investigated hundreds of murder cases during his 40-year career – one of which was the premise for series two of the Underbelly franchise – and yesterday weighed into one of the Far North’s most baffling crimes in court for the first time. Mrs Leahy, 26, and Ms Arnold, 27, were missing for two weeks when their bodies were discovered south of Atherton on August 9, 1991. Police and two previous inquests branding the shooting deaths a murder-suicide.

Both women’s families have long disputed the theory and lobbied the State Government for a third inquest, which began on Monday in a bid to establish once and for all whether another person was involved. During a candid two hours spent dissecting the evidence yesterday, Mr Mengler, who was called in to review the case in 1998 along with fellow top cop Frank O’Gorman, also expressed concern a double-murder may have gone unpunished.
But the former Queensland assistant police commissioner, National Crime Authority chief investigator and Victorian homicide squad boss said a bungled initial investigation by local police meant there was simply not enough evidence to build a prima facie case either way.

"There’s certainly some suspicions in relation to Vicki Arnold being the perpetrator of the crime, (and) there are certainly circumstances that cause you to posture that a third party was involved," he said.  "But it all boils down to one thing: We don’t act on suspicion. "I defy anyone to say ‘I know what happened’. "The two people that can tell us are both dead, and that’s all there is to it."

Ms Arnold suffered three gunshot wounds – through the thigh, upwards through her jaw and a fatal wound to the back of the head. Mr Mengler believes it was unlikely Ms Arnold fired the fatal shot herself due to the extent of her other wounds. "She would have been in total pain and total confusion," he said. "At that stage, you’re not thinking straight." He said for her to then have the presence of mind to fire a precise fatal shot was "starting to ask a little bit much, in my view". Mr Mengler said the fact Ms Arnold’s shoes were found 17m to 20m away from the white four-wheel-drive the women’s bodies were found in meant he "would sway to third-party involvement". 

But within four hours of discovering the crime scene at Cherry Tree Creek late on a Friday afternoon, senior Far Northern police deemed the tragedy a murder-suicide and ordered the women’s bodies be removed from the vehicle. It was towed to Yungaburra police station, where it was poorly stored and exposed to the elements, making it impossible for forensic evidence to be recovered.

The court has heard investigating officer Sen-Sgt Mick Hayes wanted the State Homicide Squad brought in from the outset, but his request was denied by his bosses.  "That was the first great mistake, not realising what they had on their hands and not providing the assistance to local police," Mr Mengler said.  "Anyone with any experience should have said ‘my God, this is going to cause us a great headache… we must do everything right’. "Hayes should have been provided with the best expertise in Queensland." But he wasn’t, and the inquest has been told concerns over budgeted overtime may have been the reason the investigation was stymied.

His superiors’ haste to declare the tragedy a murder-suicide was also a factor. "If you know the police service like I know, if your boss says this is the case, well that’s the case and there’s no two ways about it," Mr Mengler said. "Hayes himself would really have to do what his bosses were saying… and that is what he did to the best of his ability." There was public disquiet over the murder-suicide decision, and rumours swirled that Ms Arnold was involved with her best friend’s husband, Alan Leahy.

It’s a theory Mr Mengler subscribes to. "There were indications that Alan Leahy from time to time had liaisons with Vicki Arnold," he said.  "I think she was probably besotted by him, like a lot of people. "There was a fair bit of hearsay around that Julie-Anne sort of knew what was going on." Mr Mengler talked with Mr Leahy and found him "confident, manipulative and patronising", and noted he was seeking to learn the extent of his interviewers’ knowledge before definitively answering any questions. He said in his experience, some men had an inherent ability to charm and manipulate women.  "I unequivocally tell you Alan Leahy had that charisma," he said. "There was something about him that women liked."

During the week, it was revealed Mr Leahy began sleeping in the same bed as his wife’s teenaged sister Vanessa Stewart while she was missing, and they also took showers together.  Mr Mengler said Ms Stewart had appeared to be in love with her sister’s husband at the time. "You get a young girl bursting out like a flower and an older man of his charisma and you’ve got problems," he said.Ms Stewart and Mr Leahy are due to give evidence on November 29. The state of the .22 rifle used to kill the women has also been scrutinised, particularly as to whether the rounds jammed in the gun’s breech pointed to it being manually manipulated after the final shot.

It is still not known who sawed off the barrel of the gun, and how the parts ended up in Ms Arnold’s garage two weeks after the pair’s bodies were found. Mrs Leahy’s sister, Margaret Leary, hopes these questions and more will be answered by the time the inquest ends on November 30. "We want to know what the truth is," she said. The inquest resumes in the Cairns Coroner’s Court on November 28.

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Husband of victim Julie-Anne Leahy said he had ''ways of shutting people up'', woman tells court

Melanie Petrinec
Friday, November 18, 2011
© The Cairns Post

Scared: Emma Bryant leaves court yesterday after testifying in the Arnold/Leahy coronial inquest yesterday.

The husband of murder victim Julie-Anne Leahy told relatives and friends he had ''ways of shutting people up'' if they revealed what went on in the family home while his wife was missing, an inquest has heard.

The bodies of Mrs Leahy, 26, and best friend Vicki Arnold, 27, were discovered at Cherry Tree Creek near Atherton on August 9, 1991, with police and two previous inquests branding the shooting deaths a murder-suicide.

But the women’s families have long disputed the theory, and on day four of a third inquest into the deaths yesterday, Emma Bryant gave evidence about the weeks she spent helping Alan Leahy around the home while his wife was missing.

Ms Bryant, whose step-daughter was a friend of Mrs Leahy’s daughter Sandra-Sue Graham, said one night Mr Leahy told a group of people in his lounge room not to talk to anyone about things they had "seen, heard or witnessed" at the home.

"Alan said keep your mouth shut, we have ways of shutting people up…," she told the court. "It scared me." But Ms Bryant admitted Mr Leahy might have said the words because he was in talks with television program 60 Minutes, or wanted to prevent small-town gossip.

She said Mr Leahy requested all potential correspondence with police be filtered through himself, or his wife’s teenaged sister, Vanessa Stewart.  Ms Bryant said she told Mr Leahy she was driving to Atherton from Cairns on the night the women went missing when she saw a white four-wheel-drive similar to the one their bodies were found in, and witnessed three people arguing. Mr Leahy told her he would pass the information on to police, but Ms Bryant alleged he never did. Ms Bryant also claimed she found a bloodied towel at the Leahy family home in the days after the women disappeared, but she washed it without thinking.

She said she twice heard Mr Leahy telling Ms Stewart to "just keep your cool, it’ll be all right", and witnessed the pair becoming close.  Ms Bryant said she attended Mrs Leahy’s funeral and then cut back on contact with the family. "I was pretty scared actually; to be honest, I said to (my partner) on the day of the funeral ‘Get me out of here, I’m never coming back’," she said. She told the court she received nuisance phone calls from an unknown person for up to 10 years after the event.

Ms Arnold’s former neighbour, Pamela Fox, said she too received nuisance phone calls for many years after she discovered parts of the sawn-off rifle in the woman’s garage two weeks after their bodies were found.  Two policemen have already told the court the parts were not there in an initial search of Ms Arnold’s home.  Mrs Leahy’s eldest daughter, Anitra Graham, also gave evidence that her mother had to tell Ms Arnold once to leave the family alone because she was "coming around so much". The inquest continues today before coroner Michael Barnes.

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