This is the 29th Instalment in the series surrounding the many murder cases of the Murder Squad Detective Joseph Lind and his young partner, Shelley Shields.
Almost two decades after a horrible murder/suicide of a much loved family in an outback country farming community, a former boyfriend of the murdered woman has written on his deathbed, a confession note stating that he had murdered the family of three so many years previously.
A Coronal Enquiry some three years after the shocking incident had handed down a finding of murder/suicide.
Is this Finding set in concrete?
Can sufficient evidence after all this time be found to collaborate the claims of the confession note?
Or should the case be put to bed as it had so many years previously to negate the many whispers and rumours that have circulated throughout the township for almost twenty years.
Murder Squad Detectives Joseph Lind and his partner Shelley Shield are called in to investigate the veracity of the confession note which causes pain, torment and suspicion to once again boil over in the small farming community.
"Tell me again." I requested, as I swished another fly away from my face.
It wasn't as if I disbelieved the Senior Constable, it was just that the circumstances of us being in this south-western country town were a little hard to understand. Initially I had thought the whole thing a total waste of our time and effort and wished, as soon as the heat had hit us as we disembarked from the plane, to turn around and head back to Sydney immediately.
My disbelief, or more correctly, my disinterest must have been noticeable as Senior Constable Robert 'Bob' Carmody was a little miffed, to say the least. Here he thought he was doing the right thing by bringing in the Murder Squad guys from Sydney, but now it seemed to be going pear-shaped in front of him.
My fault entirely, I must admit!
Shelley was less than amused!
"Fifteen years ago, in early December 1999. Bill Byron, a local Cockie and from a prominent family hereabouts, shot his wife, his son then himself. His body wasn't found until several days later down in his bottom dam..."
He waved his arm in a westerly direction.
I knew that it was west as the sun was halfway to that horizon, and as yet, hadn't lost any of its sting.
"Yes. I read the Coronal Enquiry Findings into the incident as we flew up here...a suicide note was found on a laptop. Missus Byron's computer, the wife Gwendolyn, that right? On the Kitchen table." Shelley Anne Shields, my young Murder Squad partner added. "The Coronal Enquiry was held a couple of years after the event. In September 2003 to be exact."
Shelley had been diligent in reading the full Findings as handed down by the Coroner as we flew up on the noon flight to Young.
I'd slept all the way!
The Senior Constable nodded his head.
"That's right...it seems that Bill, Bill Byron had enough of the constant threats from his son...don't get me wrong, young Brad didn't know what he was doing. He was involved in a Quad Bike accident on the farm...when he was thirteen, I think. Left him with severe brain damage. A bloody waste as he was the Dux of the school three years in a row prior to the accident. With the accident?" He looked over at me as he rubbed his chin. "He needed constant help with just living each day. You know? Couldn't disappear on a moonless, dark night if you get my drift...slow as a wet week. As he grew older, a big lad like his father, the seizures...the fits became worse. He put his mother into Hospital three times...a broken jaw. Fractured cheek bone...last one a broken arm. A badly bruised and black right eye. They went through half a dozen 'Live-in' Nurses...people that they got out to the farm to help. Gwen had only come out of Hospital a couple of days before the murder/suicide incident...the Coronal Enquiry concluded that Bill had shot his wife and son and then turned the gun on himself after writing the note on the Laptop. It was concluded that the added stress of the son's continued and ever increasing menacing behaviour coupled with a drought that was severely affecting the area, pushed poor Bill over the edge."
"You were the Senior Investigating Officer at the time?"
"Yes. I was the Senior Constable in charge of the case...in 1999... Christ, that's gone quick"
"Promotion is a fast track situation out around here, so it seems."
"Yeah" The Officer laughingly conceded.
"Why wasn't the lad put into an Institution?"
"Both Gwen and Bill didn't want it...I think they both may have felt some responsibility for the accident..."
"Oh? How so?"
"I think it would be the normal parental reaction to such a horrible accident. I think any parent would feel the same..."
"Maybe so...I can understand that, but if their very safety became an issue, as it apparently had become, then regardless, it would seem the most logical avenue to pursue..."
"Parents? What can you say?" Shelley cut in. "Some will go through hell for their kids. Others?" She shrugged her shoulders. "It's all a moot point now, Joe, as it caused the eventual disintegration of the family...isn't there another brother?" Shelley tersely commented as she gave me a scathing look. She obviously didn't approve of my attitude.
"Who lives in this homestead now?"
"It's the original Floodway Creek homestead. Solidly built in the 1860's. The original farmstead hereabouts. A big house. It's rented out...the family are away for a week. Out on the Coast. They are basically the 'live-in' Managers of this farm. John and Jody Pritchard. Six kids. Put in by Dave Byron. Do a great job by all accounts. Came in from a property out past Canowindra."
I nodded my head as I turned and walked along the wide, low veranda at the front of the sprawling stone and brick farmhouse. Originally occupied by the Byron family before the tragic events that overtook them. I peered out at the parched landscape. Everything appeared to be devoid of moisture. I returned to the front door where the three of us had congregated out of the glaring heat of the sun.
"No dogs..." I uttered absent-mindedly. "...so...why have we been called in?" I asked, as I turned back to face the tall Chief Constable.
"The dogs are over at Dave's place, Pembroke Hill Station...Dave is now the last of the Byron dynasty which has existed hereabouts for over one hundred years...um...Cec Flood..."
"Local bloke...like the Byrons, the Flood name has existed around these parts since before Adam knew about condoms...this...Floodway Creek Station was originally owned by the Flood family. There was a big upheaval in the family in the late 1800's with them taking an offer from the Byron family to buy them out for a fraction of the Run's worth in 1899...Cec Flood worked on the farm here for a while. For a good many years actually. Lived on the property in a caravan that was positioned under a lean-to roof off the side of the Work Barn...Hay Store. Down over the back of the rise."
I felt that he had not explained himself fully. He needed coaxing like a motor starved of fuel!
The Senior Constable handed a letter in a clear evidence bag over to me.
"He's confessed to murdering the entire family all those years ago...completely throwing the Coroner's findings out the window...there's been whispers since the shooting about who was really responsible. Cec Flood or even Dave, the one remaining son, so that he could take over both holdings...conspiracy theories. Some people love them despite the facts of the case. Like to ignore the facts if'n it doesn't fit their theory."
- - - - -
I turned and walked several steps to sit on a cane sofa up in the deeper shade of the veranda roof.
Read the neatly written letter.
A neat, rounded hand style of even slope and size of letters.
Read it again.
Handed the note to Shelley.
She read it slowly, then raised her eye-brows to me.
"There's no date on this letter." I noted, again swishing away several flies away that thought my face was ruggedly handsome, otherwise why get so close to me to annoy me so much!
"No... but it sure as hell hasn't been written lately."
The local cop was adopting an attitude.
Again, my fault, I thought.
I needed to curtail this 'couldn't care less' attitude. Some would construe it as a mightier than thou stance, though it wasn't a ploy by me, especially in these circumstances. I was still mystified why we should be called in. If there was new evidence that had come to light that challenged the original Coroner's Findings, then the Coroner's Office should have been approached. Not the Murder Squad.
"Oh? Why's that?"
"Cec...um...they were going to transfer him to Dubbo Base...but then thought it a waste of time, money and effort...and he would want to be close to his family roots when he karks it...the Floods have a family plot at the local Cemetery. Even though it would appear that he has not spoken of his wishes in that regard...um...we suspect that he would want to be buried with his folks.... all his family. That wouldn't happen if he was transferred to Dubbo Base Hospital...or it may, but at a cost."
We both looked up at the tall, solid bush cop. He was leaning casually against one of the veranda posts.
I'd noticed from previous trips out into the Bush that country folk fall into three categories. Those who think that words are precious and tend to deal them out like one hundred dollar bills. Those that have all day and take all day to say something and those like the Senior Constable, who swirl the words around in a circle until they are ready to get to the point!
"He's dying. In a coma, in and out I'd say by now. Cancer. Right through him. He handed this to the Head Sister...who happens to be Cec's only family...a second cousin or something. Not close though...told her to hang onto it but to give it to us if he got worse. She handed this to me yesterday morning as Cec was slipping in and out of a coma. Maybe tomorrow. The next day...hard to tell."
"So, there's no point trying to talk to the man?"
The cop looked at his boots. Dusty. In need of a polish. Shook his head slowly.
"No. No point at all, I'd say."