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Dead men (and women) do tell tales

Cases are sometimes solved by brilliant policing but just as often by stupid crooks. One who put garden lime in a barrel with the victim, depositing it in a storage facility under his name. The lime acted as a preservative. Good for tomatoes, bad for disposing of bodies.

When Matthew Wales decided to kill his mother, Margaret Wales-King, and Paul King in April 2002 he didn’t illustrate a capacity for forward thinking.

Having drugged and bashed them to death, he then tried to work out where to hide the bodies. Using his credit card as security, he hired a trailer and went to the local hardware shop to buy chains and shackles. He also bought an industrial strength cleaner. The bodies were found buried in a shallow grave at Marysville, across the road from a camp used for years by Matthew Wales’ private school.

Australia’s most wanted man, convicted killer and failed hitman Graham Gene Potter, hasn’t been seen in more than 10 years, meaning he has successfully disappeared or someone or something made him disappear permanently.

He was last seen in Tully in far north Queensland in 2010, when he escaped from police by running into the bush wearing only a pair of jeans.

It was an area notorious for hungry crocodiles, beasts that may well have seen a bail jumper as the wildlife version of Uber Eats. He also knew a truckload of Mafia secrets, which leads some police to believe he was lured to a meeting on the promise of an international escape route only to be murdered.

Today Victoria has the Missing Persons Squad, a group of 17 investigators who bunker down on long-haul investigations. At any one time they have about six cases, most of which will last well over six months.

Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper (right) of the Missing Persons Squad.

Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper (right) of the Missing Persons Squad.Credit:Eddie Jim

They start with missing persons reports that may or may not lead to murder. More than 38,000 people go missing in Australia each year, the vast majority turning up within hours or days. Over the years there have been 2600 long-term cases that remain mysteries. No one knows how many are people who wanted to make a fresh start, died by their own hand, misadventure or were the victims of foul play.

This is not so much a process of finding a needle in a haystack – without a body and a crime scene there may be neither a needle nor a haystack.

The head of the Missing Person Squad is Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper, a man known for his patience and good humour. In that job he needs both.

It takes a particular type of investigator to handle these cases. First they have to establish there has been a crime, then why the crime was committed, where it occurred and who did it. And then there is the matter of gathering enough evidence to put before a jury.

The working day begins with the squad checking all missing persons reports, looking for those that don’t sound quite right. The trouble is many of the cases involve people who live on the fringes of society, low-level crooks and the homeless; people who by choice or circumstance simply fall off the grid.

But there are those that – from the moment the file drops – look deeply sinister.

Such as the case of Adelaide concreter Kerry Giakoumis, a young man who spent too much time with members of the local North Crew Hells Angels bikie gang.

This gave him status in certain social circles, but the cost was that when the gang asked him to perform a service it would always be an offer too good to refuse.

Missing Adelaide man Kerry Giakoumis.

Missing Adelaide man Kerry Giakoumis. Credit:Victoria Police

So when the Thomastown Hells Angels planned a renovation at their Lipton Drive clubhouse, the concreter was called in to join the building team. With constant COVID lockdowns, the Hells Angels wanted a clubhouse gym installed and sourced the equipment from Adelaide.

Although initially reluctant, Giakoumis drove to Melbourne with two bikie associates, arriving on June 5 last year. Perhaps because he was uncomfortable, he cancelled the return road trip and asked his mother to organise a flight home on June 10.

He was taken to the clubhouse in the early hours of the day he planned to leave. He has not been seen since.

Police have set up a 30-strong taskforce involving Missing Persons, Homicide and Echo anti-bikie detectives to investigate the murder.

One theory (and there are several) is that days before he disappeared Giakoumis attended a clubhouse party where he “disrespected” an exotic dancer hired to perform.

It is a fact that most bikie murders are not due to inter-gang rivalry but internal conflict resolution known as “cleansing”.

Police searching Jacksons Creek at Diggers Rest for the body of Adelaide man Kerry Giakoumis.

Police searching Jacksons Creek at Diggers Rest for the body of Adelaide man Kerry Giakoumis.

Police have searched the clubhouse twice (it is no coincidence they seized gym gear) and have used divers to search Jacksons Creek at Diggers Rest. It is also no coincidence that on the other side of the road is a sprawling property associated with the Hells Angels. On Thursday police raided six properties as part of the investigation.

Detective Superintendent Paul O’Halloran said: “I also believe there are likely to be people out there who don’t agree with what has happened to Kerry, and that it went too far. This is your chance to tell us your version of events.”

Another case where police are still looking for the victims is the long, mysterious and – at this point – unresolved disappearances of Russell Hill, 74, and Carol Clay, 73, who went missing on March 20 last year from their campsite on Dry River Creek Road, Wonnangatta.

Their campsite had been burned out and Hill’s valuable camper utility abandoned.

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They have not contacted family members, have not accessed savings, used their mobile phones or received health treatment through Medicare.

Police have concluded they are dead but have been unable to establish where and how. Were they victims of the unforgiving bush or an unforgiving offender?

Repeated searches of the mountainous terrain have found nothing.

“A homicide investigation usually begins with a body. The case of Mr Hill and Mrs Clay began with about a million acres [he’s old school] of bush,” says Stamper. “We are still pursuing leads in this matter.”

The days when no body meant no crime are long gone. Brighton man Toby Loughnane has been charged with the murder of his former girlfriend, Maryam Hamka, who was reported missing on April 15. Her body has not been located.

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A court was told police found bloodied material and Hamka’s mobile phone at Loughnane’s Brighton home. A second man has been charged with assisting an offender (murder).

Most of the investigations are put together piece by piece, but sometimes police have to move immediately.

Joon Seong Pan, 35, was asked to answer a few questions about the disappearance of his girlfriend, Ju “Kelly” Zhang, 33, who was last seen leaving her Epping home on February 1.

A few days after he was questioned he was arrested at Melbourne Airport. One may question whether he was there for the duty-free shopping.

Over the following months police searched several locations looking for her remains. In June, after a three-day search at a Wollert rubbish tip, she was found.

*The 16th-century English cleric Thomas Becon is believed to have said “The dead cannot reveal any secrets.”

Anyone with information on any of these cases should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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