Falconio killer 'a gun-obsessed thug'

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The Independent Online

Drug smuggler Bradley Murdoch was a gun-obsessed thug who has repeatedly claimed the police have framed him for violence, sex offences and, finally, murder.

Murdoch, of Broome, Western Australia, was said to be obsessed with the Falconio case prior to his arrest.

He was arrested for the murder by police investigating the rape of a 12-year-old girl - a crime Murdoch was cleared of two years ago.

During his rape trial, the 47-year-old was accused of tying up and raping the girl "for insurance" when he feared police were close to arresting him over Peter Falconio's murder.

But in November 2003 the cross-country drug runner was found not guilty of charges of rape, false imprisonment and assault following the case, which has remarkable similarities and close links to Mr Falconio's murder.

The drifter has been described as impulsive, irrational and "in such a state that nothing was going to tone him back" by a psychologist.

Prosecutors alleged Murdoch raped a 12-year-old girl before abducting her and her mother "for insurance" while in a state of drug-fuelled paranoia that police were framing him in the Falconio case.

During the 25-hour ordeal at Swan Reach, in Riverland, South Australia, in August 2002 Murdoch allegedly denied killing Mr Falconio, but admitted having one of his T-shirts, the South Australia District Court heard in October 2003.

The court heard Murdoch told the mother and daughter, who thought they were Murdoch's friends, that he was "on the run" because the police had framed him.

Opening the case against Murdoch, Liesl Chapman, prosecuting, said: "The accused put black cable ties around (the mother and daughter's) wrists and the more they tried to get out of the cable ties, the tighter they got.

The young girl's legs were shackled and tied to the handcuffs, the court heard.

Two years later, the jury trying Murdoch for murder heard he had put black cable ties around Miss Lees's wrists and tried to put tape around her legs, but she kicked out and he was unable to tighten it.

Miss Lees also told the murder trial that her attacker was driving a white four-wheeled drive vehicle, similar to a Toyota Landcruiser, which had a dark-coloured canopy over its rear.

Two years earlier, the alleged rape victim, who was 13 when she gave evidence, said Murdoch had a white Landcruiser with a green canopy.

And while Miss Lees's attacker covered her head with a sack during the attack and tried to tape her mouth shut, the 13-year-old girl said she was blindfolded while her mouth was taped.

The jury in the rape trial also heard Murdoch spoke about Mr Falconio during the attack itself.

Ms Chapman said Murdoch was paranoid that he would be linked to Mr Falconio's disappearance and murder.

She alleged that he told the mother and daughter: "I didn't do that Falconio."

But when the girl asked where he got his T-shirt from, Murdoch replied: "Falconio."

When Murdoch was arrested over the allegations of rape and indecent assault in August 2002, police allegedly found a folded-up article about Mr Falconio in the guest house where Murdoch had stayed.

Ms Chapman, prosecuting Murdoch in the rape trial, said he was obsessed with the Falconio murder.

"He believed, for whatever reason, the police were after him for this well-publicised murder," she said.

Officers who arrested Murdoch discovered a horde of weapons inside his van, including a high-powered .308 rifle with telescopic sight, Russian-made night vision goggles, almost 800 rounds of ammunition, a knife, a crossbow with 13 bolts, an electric cattle prod, chains and shackles similar to those used to bind the wrists of Miss Lees.

They also discovered two long-handled shovels, a jockey whip and five pairs of disposable gloves.

And in a hidden compartment in a spare fuel tank in the rear of the vehicle, officers found an empty box for a 9mm semi-automatic Glock pistol and a fully-loaded .38 Beretta semi-automatic pistol was found in a holster within a backpack between the van's front seats.

The court heard he vehemently resisted attempts to have his DNA analysed - tests which eventually linked him to Mr Falconio's murder and showed that he was 100 million times more likely to be the killer than anyone else.

He was arrested after the jury returned majority verdicts of not guilty on two charges of rape, two charges of false imprisonment, two counts of indecent assault and one of common assault in South Australia.

The jurors who acquitted Murdoch at the end of the two-week trial knew of the Falconio link at an early stage. They were told he knew he was a key suspect and that he thought he was being framed for his murder.

They heard Murdoch even planned to commit suicide in a bid to escape police.

The victim, who was 33 at the time, told the court: "He said he was going over to the west to kill a man and to shoot a couple of other bikies. Then he was going to shoot himself in the head because he couldn't take being on the run any more."

She said he laughed when she asked why he had raped her daughter.

Murdoch's defence barrister in both cases, Grant Algie, told the South Australia District Court in 2003: "The issue of Darwin... isn't something that can be put to one side. These (the rape trial and the Falconio case) are not separate and distinct trials any more."

Defending Murdoch, Mr Algie told the South Australia District Court: "The defence case is the false allegations that are made again at Mr Murdoch may well be a product of a desire on the part of the victim or others to set him up for the Falconio murder."

Outside court, he added: "His defence has always been that he was set up."

But Murdoch had a violent past and had already served 21 months in jail for shooting at a group of Aborigines he claimed were harassing him.

He transported large amounts of cannabis across Australia on a commercial scale, often carrying a gun with him in a compartment within the driver's door of his vehicle for protection.

Described as meticulous, fastidious and obsessive in court, it was Murdoch's business to avoid the police and he regularly changed his appearance, shaving off his beard and moustache, as he went about his drugs business.

A self-trained mechanic, or "spanner-puller", and a long-distance truck driver with years of experience, Murdoch took amphetamines to help stay alert and would "plod along" the roads at night with a camper trailer attached to look like a "Tommy tourist".

He would often take breaks, letting his dog Jack out for a run or stopping to buy iced coffees, as he timed his journeys from Sedan, in South Australia, to arrive in Broome, in Western Australia, at around 4am, when the police shifts were changing and early morning workers were on the roads.

Reports in Australia said he was a schoolboy thug who grew up to become a member of the racist Ku Klux Klan, which he joined while working at Brooking Springs cattle station near the remote Fitzroy Crossing in Kimberley, Western Australia.

While working there as a stationhand in 1995, Murdoch was jailed for 21 months for firing rifle shots into a crowd of indigenous football supporters in the remote Kimberley region, who he claimed were harassing him.

Psychologist Ross Smith reported that Murdoch was "in such a state that nothing was going to tone him back".

In her report, which was tendered at the South Australia District Court after Murdoch admitted firing at the Aborigines, Ms Smith said he had an "impulsive and irrational way".

The psychological report revealed that experiences through Murdoch's life had reinforced his negative feelings towards the indigenous people.

Although he grew up in a stable family background, he endured some trauma and dysfunction during his childhood. He often felt distanced and isolated from his parents Colin, who died in April this year, and Nance, who were relatively old when he was born, the report said.

Murdoch became involved in inter-racial tensions when he was growing up in the small country hamlet of Northampton, near Geraldton in Western Australia, and claimed he was badly beaten up by Aborigines on a couple of occasions when he was six years old, because of his father's decision to help police tackle problems in the community.

His family moved to Perth when he was 13 but he left school two years later, married in 1980 at the age of 21, and had a son in 1986. But the marriage later broke down and he has little contact with either his ex-wife or his son.

They did not attend the latest trial in Darwin, which his girlfriend Jan Pittman, 52, came to on her own, sitting in the court's small public gallery, just yards away from Joanne Lees and Mr Falconio's parents Luciano and Joan.

In 1995, Murdoch fired four to 10 shots into the crowd of Aborigines, who were celebrating their local football team's grand final win, using a .308 bolt action rifle and a .22 magnum lever action rifle fitted with a scope.

He hit several cars and one of the bullets grazed a woman's arm.

He pleaded guilty to going armed in public, possession of a loaded firearm while intoxicated, not holding a firearms licence and receiving stolen property.

Claire Rossi, his lawyer at the time, said he had drunk about six cans of beer and eight to 10 rum and Cokes before the shooting and had encountered very unfortunate treatment at the hands of Aborigines.

But she said he also had good working relationships with others in the north of Western Australia.

Ms Rossi said he had a good work history and there had been no outward signs of any extremist behaviour until the 1995 shooting.

But Australian media reports claimed he was a member of outlaw biker gang the Coffin Cheaters after leaving Perth's Como Senior High School when he was 15. His former schoolmates described him as a thug and a bully, even as a teenager.

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