Lindy Williams (left) was convicted of murdering her partner George Gerbic (right).
Lindy Williams (left) was convicted of murdering her partner George Gerbic (right).

Toxic partners and terror in year of crimes, controversies

THE landscape of Australian crime can seem like a bleak environment of hard-going monotony and futile suffering. Drugs, drugs, more drugs, family violence, street fights and bashings - the destinations of addiction, anger issues, jealousy and other human frailties.

It often makes for grim reading. But even jaded observers are sometimes startled. And in 2018, the most appalling crimes included nightmarish acts of violence inflicted on innocent strangers and bizarre plots involving scheming lovers.

Tragically, evil partners and lovers too often succeed in killing. Most intimate partner homicides involve males killing their female partners - but not so in the case of George Gerbic. After Lindy Williams was accused of dismembering her partner, she pleaded not guilty to murder. Her claims of finding Mr Gerbic chopped up in a Tanawha bathroom before dumping his body in Gympie were otherworldly. Jurors heard Williams once claimed to have been a kidnapping victim, in a bizarre, unverified story she told a women's magazine. She also spent Mr Gerbic's money and impersonated him in emails sent to his loved ones. Ultimately, jurors did not believe her lies and she was convicted of murder.

Death plots are sometimes thwarted, as when scientist Robert Ridgeway's own ineptitude dashed his evil scheme. Robert and Pepita Ridgeway might have seemed to have an ideal life. The glamorous, well-educated couple had properties in the US and Australia. But the husband had trouble finding work on the Sunshine Coast and jurors heard his seething temper erupted in verbal outbursts and sinister threats. He connived to kill his wife by infiltrating a caravan with nitrogen as she slept. Despite his training, the concoction he used failed, as did the stories he told an attempted murder trial.

 

Robert Ridgeway, pictured in 2001.
Robert Ridgeway, pictured in 2001. Noosa News

Euthanasia and assisted suicide inspire some polarising social debates. Graham Morant was the sole beneficiary of his Gold Coast wife Jenny's life insurance policy. She suffered chronic back pain - but was not terminally ill - and was found dead in her car in 2014. Graham, a born-again Christian, was charged with aiding and counselling his wife to kill herself. A witness claimed Morant spoke of building an Armageddon-proof commune with the insurance payout. Jurors in October found Jenny would not have committed suicide without her husband's advice, and he was jailed.

Compared with most countries, murder is rare in Australia. Rarer still are mass murders. But the country was horrified when Katrina Miles and her four children were shot dead in their beds on May 11 in Margaret River, south of Perth. Katrina's father, Peter Miles, then killed his wife Cynthia before taking his own life. After the unthinkable tragedy, Peter's former son-in-law Aaron Cockman told the Sunday Night program Peter was upset over several family dramas and had wanted to kill himself. Aaron's children were Taye, 13, Rylan, 12, Arye, 10, and Kadyn, eight.

Despite the likes of Lindy Williams, women were the victims in shocking crimes that led to calls for a serious national conversation on misogynistic violence. Eurydice Dixon, 22, was walking home after a Melbourne comedy gig in June when she was allegedly sexually assaulted and murdered. Thousands attended a candlelight vigil soon after but in a disgusting twist, the vigil site was vandalised.

And on a Far North Queensland beach, Toyah Cordingley, 24, was found dead in October. Her german shepherd-cross dog was found alive nearby. Weeks passed with no charges laid but in early December reports emerged that police and Interpol were working with Indian law enforcement after a male nurse was said to have been seen with scratch marks and flew to India after the attack.

 

Toyah Cordingley, 24, went missing after taking a dog for a walk on Wangetti beach north of Cairns.
Toyah Cordingley, 24, went missing after taking a dog for a walk on Wangetti beach north of Cairns. QLD Police Service

'THE UNTHINKABLE THEFT OF INNOCENCE'

Meanwhile, sleaze and misconduct allegations kept dogging the Catholic Church. And in tearful scenes in October, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a national apology to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse, describing "the never heard pleas of tortured souls bewildered by an indifference to the unthinkable theft of their innocence." His speech followed the release in 2017 of the report by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. "I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you," he said.

Child welfare was also a major issue when Australian Federal Police busted an alleged child abduction ring in October. News Corp reported the police operation took two years, and included raiding a yacht being refitted to send children and mothers to New Zealand or Zimbabwe, away from supposedly sexually abusive men. Police at the time of the arrest said none of the sexual abuse allegations was proven.

 

Alan Jones was found to have defamed the Wagner family and ordered to pay $3.7 million in damages.
Alan Jones was found to have defamed the Wagner family and ordered to pay $3.7 million in damages. John Weekes

SHOCK FOR THE JOCK

In a big year for the civil courts, high-profile characters battled for their reputations, and for millions for dollars, in some of Australia's most dramatic defamation cases ever. In September, radio host Alan Jones and his team were ordered to pay $3.7 million after a judge found he defamed Toowoomba's Wagner family in broadcasts made after the deadly 2011 floods. At the time of Justice Peter Flanagan's judgment, the payout order was the biggest in Australian history.

In Sydney, actor Geoffrey Rush sought millions in damages for defamation after claiming The Daily Telegraph falsely painted him as a "pervert" and "sexual predator". Judgment will be handed down in the Federal Court early next year.

 

Australian actor Geoffrey Rush (left) sued Nationwide News for defamation.
Australian actor Geoffrey Rush (left) sued Nationwide News for defamation. PETER RAE

TROLLEY MAN AND SISTO

Terror hit Melbourne in November when a knife-wielding attacker lashed out at strangers on Bourke St. Celebrated coffee pioneer Sisto Malaspina, a 74-year-old cafe owner, was killed. Police shot dead the attacker, Somali-Australian Khalif Shire Ali, after intervention from members of the public including a mysterious hero pushing a shopping trolley. "Trolley man" was later identified as Michael Rogers, a homeless man. But Mr Rogers turned out to be of interest to the same police force he helped in Bourke St, and will face burglary and theft charges unrelated to the terror attack. But grateful members of the public raised $145,000 for the troubled hero on GoFundMe. Mr Rogers was granted bail on November 17. Just three days later, terror plots returned to the headlines when three men appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court accused of planning a different terrorist act. They were remanded in custody to face court again in April.

 

Sisto Malaspina (right) was killed during an attack in Melbourne.
Sisto Malaspina (right) was killed during an attack in Melbourne. File

A BERRY NASTY FOOD SURPRISE

A different phenomenon was of potentially far greater economic damage than any domestic terror attack. An unprecedented strawberry contamination scandal erupted in spring after some consumers complained about finding needles in the fruit. The food safety crisis caused victims to be hospitalised and several supermarkets to recall strawberry brands. The waste was epitomised in photos showing mountains of dumped fruit. Devastating consequences for strawberry growers continued as alleged copycat contamination incidents and fake complaints were reported in NSW and South Australia. On November 11, police charged a former strawberry farm worker from Caboolture with seven charges related to contamination of goods.

Lynette Dawson's husband Chris has been charged with her alleged murder.
Lynette Dawson's husband Chris has been charged with her alleged murder. ABC

LONG QUESTS FOR JUSTICE

Friends and families of victims can be left waiting decades for justice. Toowoomba teenager Annette Mason was brutally killed in November 1989. Nobody was ever convicted for her murder. But after years of campaigning from Annette's family, a long awaited inquest was re-opened in November. The inquest heard from those who knew Annette - including some who allegedly confessed to killing her. The inquest is expected to resume on January 21 before the State Coroner.

Interest was also renewed in the Teacher's Pet cold case as police dug up a Northern Beaches property in search of answers to Sydney mother Lynette Dawson's 1982 disappearance. Two coroners have declared it is likely her former husband Chris Dawson murdered her. Mr Dawson, a former PE teacher, always voiced his innocence. The September dig was not promising but in a spectacular turn of events Mr Dawson was arrested at his Gold Coast home on December 5 and extradited to Sydney. His barrister Greg Walsh told media there was evidence Lynette "was observed" after her disappearance.

Further north, tenacity resulted in a possible breakthrough for those investigating the 1996 death of Airlie Beach woman Dorothy Britton. In June, a man was arrested and charged with murder. He turned out to be Dorothy's own son, Christopher Mark Britton, 51. He'd been living in South Australia for years. After his first court appearance in Brisbane, Britton's lawyer said the son would be "strenuously denying" the charge.

 

Former Ipswich Mayor Andrew Antoniolli.
Former Ipswich Mayor Andrew Antoniolli. Rob Williams

A 'MARE FOR MAYORS

In local politics, the year was a nightmare for mayors facing corruption or misconduct allegations. Ipswich mayor Andrew Antoniolli stepped down in May, facing fraud charges. And the year brought no end to legal problems plaguing his predecessor, Paul Pisasale. After a dramatic arrest the year before, Pisasale faced allegations of corruption and illegal possession of a sex drug. Pisasale has denied wrongdoing, as has Antoniolli. Numerous Ipswich City Council staff and contractors were also charged after Crime and Corruption Commission probes. In extraordinary scenes in August, the State Government sacked the whole council.

Fraser Coast mayor Chris Loft was dumped in February and quickly went to court, blasting Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe's decision to fire him as an egregious affront to "natural justice". But the regional council mayor failed to persuade Queensland Supreme Court to reinstate him. The furore came after Loft was accused of misdeeds including breaching rules around confidential information. Loft admitted making some "naive" decisions but denied disclosing official secrets.

Logan mayor Luke Smith found himself in hot water after allegations involving a businessman and a luxury powerboat. He was arrested in April and faced charges including official corruption, perjury, assault and obstructing a police officer. The Courier-Mail reported the suspended mayor was alleged to have received a luxury powerboat from political donor SKL Cables in return for help approving a development project. Smith has previously denied any wrongdoing and vowed to defend the charges.

 

David Andre Jules Piccinato was been sent to jail for selling synthetic cannabis.
David Andre Jules Piccinato was been sent to jail for selling synthetic cannabis. Jack Tran

VICTIMS OF CAT-AND-MOUSE GAME

Over in the drug and synthetic drug world, dealers and entrepreneurs always try keeping a step ahead of authorities. Love Hearts sex shops operated in Rockhampton, Mackay, Bundaberg and Toowoomba. Among the products offered were synthetic drugs packaged as "tea" and sold under the counter to trusted customers. The sex shop fake marijuana racket ended in tears after two drug users died in early 2015. In April, Judge Brian Devereaux sent Love Hearts boss David Andre Jules Piccinato and his sidekick Ross McGlone to jail. Several of Piccinato's pawns, mostly shop staffers from around regional Queensland, were also convicted. - NewsRegional

News Corp Australia


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