Alistair MacRae is serving out a life sentence over the murders of four people.
Alistair MacRae is serving out a life sentence over the murders of four people.

How mummified man’s crucifix helped nail his murderer

ALISTAIR "Sandy" MacRae wasn't just satisfied with killing Domenic Marafiote with a close-range blast to the back of the head.

As the greengrocer's body lay in the makeshift grave deep in the farm's chicken coop, MacRae stabbed it again and again with a kitchen knife.

As his de facto wife Judith Ip, 36, told the Supreme Court during his trial: "(MacRae) said 'I've never stabbed anyone before, I want to see what it's like' and then took a knife and went back to the coop."

In October 1989, MacRae, 40, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Marafiote at his Merbein farm on July 18, 1985. He was ordered to serve a minimum of 18 years.

 

Dominic Marafiote was thought to have killed his parents, but the truth was more sinister.
Dominic Marafiote was thought to have killed his parents, but the truth was more sinister.

 

Murder victim Rosa Marafiote.
Murder victim Rosa Marafiote.

 

Marafiote had been lured there under the false belief he could buy some marijuana from MacRae to be sold by his parents Rosa and Carmello Marafiote in Adelaide. But there was no marijuana waiting, only a .22 pistol and a freshly dug grave.

Rosa and Carmello were later found dead in their Woodville North house, both shot in the back of the head.

For some time, police believed their son might have been responsible for the killings because Rosa and Carmello's bodies were found the day after their son disappeared, leaving just his truck on the roadside.

Ron Iddles was a drug squad sergeant at the time, and said there had been no disturbance or blood at the truck.

"His parents were known to be reasonably wealthy people," he said. "Some say they were involved in drug trafficking. And I think the speculation was that somehow, he got money from them and then orchestrated his own disappearance."

Domenic Marafiote’s fruit truck, which was found abandoned on the roadside.
Domenic Marafiote’s fruit truck, which was found abandoned on the roadside.

INFORMER'S CRUCIAL DETAIL

The investigation floundered because Marafiote couldn't be located, and the deaths remained a mystery for at least two years.

Det-Sgt Brendon Murphy, of Broadmeadows CIB, took on the case in 1987. Marafiote had been missing for more than two years and police were no closer to charging anyone.

"For a while there, it was looking bad. We had a fair idea of who might have done it but we didn't have anything to go on," he said.

But MacRae bragged of his exploits to a fellow criminal, who told the police in 1987.

Informer Billy Lees came forward and said MacRae confessed to luring Marafiote out to his Merbein home, killing him and burying the body on the property.

Officers searching the banks of the Murray River at Mildura.
Officers searching the banks of the Murray River at Mildura.

 

Police digging in the search for Domenic Marafiote’s body at MacRae’s Merbein farm in December 1987. Picture: Tom Menzies
Police digging in the search for Domenic Marafiote’s body at MacRae’s Merbein farm in December 1987. Picture: Tom Menzies

 

Crucially, Marafiote's truck had been found within 40 metres of MacRae's driveway.

Lees also revealed a detail from the Adelaide crime scene that only the killer would have known, or divulged.

MacRae used a pillow to muffle his gun when shooting Rosa, but the first shot didn't go off.

"When (police did) the crime scene examination, they found a small hole in the pillow with a piece of black grease. No one could ever work out what that came from," Sgt Iddles said.

"But here's Billy Lees relaying the story of Sandy saying 'I pulled the trigger' the first time the (gun's) hammer came down and caught between the pillowslip.

"The crucial bit of that story is I've got something that's never, ever been released to the media. Which we know can only come from the killer."

 

Acclaimed detective Ron Iddles helped unmask the murderer. Picture: David Smith
Acclaimed detective Ron Iddles helped unmask the murderer. Picture: David Smith

 

RAID FINDS 'MUMMIFIED' BODY

About 70 police raided the Merbein citrus farm one dawn, arresting MacRae and Ip.

MacRae refused to co-operate, and Sgt Iddles' first impression of him was chilling.

"He was a creep. Showed no emotion. Had these piercing eyes that stared straight through you. He just looked evil," he said.

But Ip - a quiet, withdrawn divorcee - told police everything. She knew everything.

She had helped bury Marafiote's body, telling police: "Sandy was expecting him to bring a briefcase full of money, and he (was) not carrying a briefcase."

"She seemed relieved that it had all ended when we arrested them," Det-Sgt Murphy said.

He said she was a "petite, lonely type of lady" who had been completely dominated by MacRae.

The chook shed where Domenic Marafiote’s body was found.
The chook shed where Domenic Marafiote’s body was found.

"Basically we would have been looking for a needle in a haystack, had the de facto not confessed. She told us where the body was and we dug it up," Det-Sgt Murphy said.

After a long and arduous dig, the body was found buried almost two metres deep in a grave covered with hay.

Said Sgt Iddles of the dig: "You don't want to dig too fast because … you may actually put the shovel through the body. So slowly but surely they're digging it. They're sifting the dirt because you might find a button or something."

Marafiote's head had partially decomposed but police could still see his blue trousers, checked shirt and his checked blazer wrapped over his head.

Alistair Macrae refused to co-operate with police.
Alistair Macrae refused to co-operate with police.

The corpse was described as "nearly pristine" because it had been mummified, allowing investigators to clearly identify a gunshot in the back of the head.

There was no identification on the body. MacRae had ordered Ip to remove it on the night of the killing.

The only clue was Marafiote's wedding ring. "Domenico - Anna 29.8.81" the inscription read.

 

Another piece of jewellery was later found in the lapel of one of Ip's jackets - Marafiote's small gold crucifix.

Det-Sgt Murphy said he did not think she took the crucifix for any financial gain, but "just didn't want him buried in his crucifix. I don't know why, she just didn't".

The Mildura fruit store belonging to Domenic Marafiote.
The Mildura fruit store belonging to Domenic Marafiote.

WHAT TRIGGERED COUPLE 'S MURDERS

Another significant clue was a dark brown Holden, which Lees had identified as the vehicle driven to Adelaide.

MacRae and Ip motored on into the wee hours of the morning, before arriving at the Marafiote residence.

Ip told police the couple expected to see their son with a delivery of drugs, only to be greeted with demands for money.

In a bid to make Carmelo hand the cash over, MacRae drove him out under a ruse to see Domenic, before shooting him in the car.

The couple returned to the residence with Carmelo's body in the back seat, dragging his body back inside after MacRae fatally shot Rosa.

A search of the home failed to uncover any cash, but police later found a stash of $30,000 sewn into the hem of Rosa's nighties - believed to be the proceeds of drug trafficking.

Mourners weep at the gravesites of Carmelo and Rosa Marafiote.
Mourners weep at the gravesites of Carmelo and Rosa Marafiote.

NIGHTMARE OVER FOR ABUSED DE FACTO

It was an advertisement in The Weekly Times in April 1984 for a country housekeeper that had led Ip into a life of murder and cover-ups.

She had left school at 15 and drifted into office work. An early marriage lasted only six years and a second marriage and other de facto relationships had not lasted either.

Lonely and needing money, she answered MacRae's ad. She moved in a short time later and they became lovers.

But it was not a happy relationship. Ip was beaten by MacRae and constantly in fear.

"People say why didn't you leave him? Well he used to remind me he knew where my parents lived and I couldn't risk their life for anything," she said.

Judith Ip hides behind police as she is led into Mildura Magistrates’ Court in 1988.
Judith Ip hides behind police as she is led into Mildura Magistrates’ Court in 1988.

 

"I just had to put up with it. I couldn't go left, I couldn't go right. I was stuck."

Ip was sentenced in June to 18 months' jail with a nine-month non-parole period. Her nine months spent on remand were taken into account and she ended up serving only about a week of her sentence.

Sgt Iddles said of Ip: "I don't think that she's ever got over the fact that she was an accessory to murder, that it all started from one single ad in the paper.

"I still see her. I still speak to her. Most Christmases she sends me a Christmas card."

 

A court sketch of Alistair MacRae.
A court sketch of Alistair MacRae.

THE PRISON ESCAPE

But the charges did not signal the end of the saga. Six months after MacRae had been committed to stand trial, Sgt Iddles received a shock phone call.

The triple murderer, held in Pentridge's D division, used a rope to scale the prison wall before hailing a taxi in his brazen escape.

"There's only two people I've probably been scared of in my whole career and he was one. I considered him to be a psychopath," Sgt Iddles said.

Regular patrols were established, but MacRae was later found a few kilometres away, visiting his ailing father in Moonee Ponds.

MacRae eventually appeared before the Mildura Supreme Court, where Ip gave evidence against her abusive ex.

 

Judy Ip, left, later testified against her ex.
Judy Ip, left, later testified against her ex.

"The intricate details of the murders of Dominic, Carmelo and Rosa - how they unfolded, how they were planned, how they were executed - would not have been able to be presented at court if Judy Ip was not able to get into the witness box and give that evidence," Det-Sgt Murphy said.

And she delivered one more body to authorities after indicating MacRae could have killed up to eight, telling police she believed another man was buried close to the garage.

A search found the remains of Albert Edwin O'Hara, 59, who disappeared in 1984. Homicide detectives believed he was shot to death the night he went missing.

MacRae was convicted of the four murders and sentenced to life in jail.

In sentencing the evil killer, Mr Justice O'Bryan said there were no indications he would respond to rehabilitation.

 

Relatives of Rosa and Carmelo Marafiote leaving the Supreme Court after Alistair MacRae was sentenced.
Relatives of Rosa and Carmelo Marafiote leaving the Supreme Court after Alistair MacRae was sentenced.

 

 

LATEST TRUE CRIME:

 

 

MacRae hadn't been born into a criminal family. In his early teens, it looked like the young boilermaker - once named Apprentice of the Year - might really make something of himself.

But after becoming a father at 16 and marrying two years later, MacRae moved into his parents' floundering business. He tried a car business, but by his late 20s had become a voluntary bankrupt.

He never got back on his feet. Instead, he drifted into the seamy world of massage parlours with its fast cash and few questions asked.

And from there, it was only a short step to murder.

- The Good Cop is on Foxtel

Carmelo Marafiote was also shot dead.
Carmelo Marafiote was also shot dead.
Detectives escort the murderer from court.
Detectives escort the murderer from court.
Domenic Marafiote with his wife Anna on their wedding day.
Domenic Marafiote with his wife Anna on their wedding day.
Pallbearers carry a casket at the funeral of Carmelo and Rosa Marafiote.
Pallbearers carry a casket at the funeral of Carmelo and Rosa Marafiote.
Anna Marafiote, widow of murder victim Domenic Marafiote.
Anna Marafiote, widow of murder victim Domenic Marafiote.
Alistair Macrae was sentenced to life in prison.
Alistair Macrae was sentenced to life in prison.


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