Is there a murderer on Bounty island?

A young woman is found dead in a South sea paradise. Did she die in a road accident - or a savage attack?
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The Independent Online

When Senior Constable Michael Julius received a telephone call on Easter Sunday 2002, telling him that a body had been found, he had to ask the informant to repeat herself. Norfolk Island, in the South Pacific, was not a place where bodies just turned up. There had not been a murder there for 150 years.

The body belonged to Janelle Patton, a 29-year-old Australian, and her killing sparked an epidemic of finger-pointing that ended only when an outsider, Glenn McNeill, was arrested last February. Last week, after a five-day hearing, the New Zealander was committed to stand trial. But for Ms Patton's parents, who sat in court listening to the description of her 64 injuries, many questions remain unanswered.

McNeill's name did not come up until late in the investigation. No one was even aware that the 28-year-old, who was working as a chef on Norfolk at the time, knew Ms Patton. He was not one of the 16 suspects named at an inquest in 2004.

Norfolk, a former British penal colony that was settled by descendants of the Bounty mutineers, is a self-governing Australian territory, situated 1,000 miles north-east of Sydney. The committal hearing took place in the 1832 courthouse in Kingston, the historic capital, before the island's chief magistrate, Ron Cahill.

Mr Cahill was told that McNeill was arrested after hairs allegedly belonging to Ms Patton were found in the boot of the white Honda Civic that he had driven while on Norfolk. Police claimed that he confessed to running her over by accident. However, the forensic evidence appeared to conflict with his account.

Ms Patton, who had been working in a hotel restaurant, was one of hundreds of temporary residents attracted by Norfolk's idyllic setting and tax-free status. She had had a string of affairs with local men, and made herself unpopular in some quarters. On the weekend of her murder, her parents, Ron and Carol, were visiting from Australia.

The day that she disappeared, she was captured on video, shopping at the island's one supermarket, Foodlands. She then went out for a stroll, and was seen walking along a rural road by a local resident, Jodie Williams, who waved to her.

That evening her body was found, partly wrapped in black plastic, at a picnic spot near a waterfall. Her injuries included a punctured lung, and fractured skull, pelvis and ribs. The inquest found that she died as a result of a "horrific, sustained attack".

According to New Zealand detectives, McNeill told them that he ran over Ms Patton after smoking marijuana. In a panic, and believing her to be dead, he put her body in his boot and drove home. He then returned to his car, armed with a fish-filleting knife. "I just sat for about an hour or two, then grabbed a knife, and I think I stabbed her," he said.

He told police that the accident happened when he bent down to pick up his cigarettes. "I thought I'd run over a cow or dog," he said. He then got out and found her wedged beneath the car, he claimed.

However, Allan Cala, the forensic pathologist who examined Ms Patton's body, told the court that her injuries indicated that she had been the victim of a violent assault. There was no evidence to suggest that she had been struck by a car. Wounds on her hands implied that she had fought to defend herself.

A local car mechanic, Arthur Keeping, testified that he heard a high-pitched scream that morning while he was cooking fish in the kitchen of the island golf club, about 250 yards from the picnic spot. The scream seemed to go on "for about 30 seconds or so", he said.

He went outside, but could not see anyone in distress, and thought nothing more of it. "Norfolk being Norfolk, you don't have that sort of thing, do you?" he explained.

Another witness, Tracy Wilkinson, said that she saw McNeill's former wife, Aliesha Taylor, outside the hotel where they both worked, on the day Ms Patton died. Ms Taylor was shouting at someone and hitting them. She screamed out Ms Taylor's name, and when the latter came towards her, she had what appeared to be blood on her shirt. However, she claimed that it was paint.

McNeill, who is now married to another woman, with whom he has two young children, left Norfolk a few weeks later. He will be held in a Sydney jail until his trial date is set. His lawyer, Peter Garling, said he intends to plead not guilty.

Briefing: The land of the strangest phone book

Norfolk Island is an isolated spot in the South Pacific ocean with an area of just 34.6 sq km. The terrain is volcanic, featuring rolling hills alongside flat, undulating grasslands. Approximately 2,000 people live on the island, which has up to 800 visitors each day.

The co-official language (alongside English) is Norfolk: a sing-song dialect that evolved from a combination of Tahitian and 18th-century English. It features such expressions as "bussup" (broken in pieces), "car do far dorg et" (not good enough for a dog's meal) and "hui-hui" (appallingly dirty and smelly).

Because nearly all residents are descendants of mutineers from the Bounty, the extremely thin phone book features only a few common surnames (among them Christian and Quintal). This has led to categorisation by nickname - the only directory in the world to do so.

The Bounty mutineers weren't the first to inhabit the island: it had already been used as a place of exile for convicts. One account described it as "the worst place in the English-speaking world".