Mystery over ‘grim’ wheelie bin murder

WARNING: Distressing

It's been seven years since Sarah Cafferkey was mercilessly killed and thrown into a wheelie bin, but there's still one big unanswered question about the case.

Why did this happen?

The murderer - who was a friend of hers - gave a story to police at the time that has never checked out.

We know the grim details about how the then 22-year-old Victorian woman was murdered, and how disgracefully her body was treated in the aftermath, but mystery surrounds what led Steven Hunter to bludgeon her to death, hitting her head with a hammer while also stabbing her numerous times.

Hunter, then 47, was a convicted murderer out on parole. He had proved he was capable of murder before after killing an 18-year-old woman in 1986. Why he was let out on parole is beyond belief.

But Cafferkey and Hunter were mates. In fact, Hunter described himself as like a "father figure" to her.

On the day of her death, they were hanging out at Hunter's place like they had previous times before. But on November 10, 2012, for whatever reason, it turned deadly.

Facebook picture of Sarah Cafferkey, 22, who was brutally killed in 2012.
Facebook picture of Sarah Cafferkey, 22, who was brutally killed in 2012.

HOW SARAH AND STEVEN BECAME FRIENDS

Just after her 21st birthday, Cafferkey began dating a man from the wrong side of the tracks in their home town of Bacchus Marsh, a tiny town about 50km north west of Melbourne.

Her mother, Noelle Dickson, in an interview on Foxtel's gripping new docu-series Wrongly Released: Free to Kill , which is available to stream now, said Cafferkey's relationship "changed her".

Cafferkey had acute severe bronchial spasms, a rare form of asthma, which Ms Dickson said contributed to her behaviour being impacted as she got older and began dating a "bad guy".

"Their relationship started off OK but after two months I started seeing texts, he was verbally abusive, she couldn't go out with her friends anymore," Ms Dickson said.

"He just started getting more possessive, then she confided in me … She was using ice.

"She told me she had it under control and I believed her because she never looked any different or behaved badly.

"Then she decided she was going to break it off with him, of course he didn't like that at all."

Cafferkey separated from her partner and her mum says she found a zest for life again, but her past with her controlling boyfriend would come back to haunt her.

He sent his mate, Hunter, to scare Cafferkey while she was working at the local pub.

"But instead of scaring her like he was supposed to, they became friends, because everyone loved Sarah," Cafferkey's best friend Ashleigh Mehmed said.

Their relationship developed into a platonic friendship over the next few months.

"He had sort of taken on this role of telling Sarah she was 'going to be OK, don't worry about your ex boyfriend, he won't harass you while I'm here'. So Sarah starts hanging out with him and going to his house," Ms Dickson said.

"I can see that she's changing again. I finally get out of her that she's using again."

Determined to give up drugs, Cafferkey attended a detox clinic to get her life back on track.

Little did she know it was about to end.

An entry from Sarah's diary detailing her experience trying to get her life back on track.
An entry from Sarah's diary detailing her experience trying to get her life back on track.

THE DAY OF HER MURDER

According to text messages, Cafferkey and Hunter had arranged to hang out at his Bacchus Marsh place on the Saturday afternoon of November 10, 2012.

Cafferkey was pictured on CCTV picking up alcohol from a local supermarket before going to his house where they drank and smoked methylamphetamine.

Hunter has only given a very brief account of what went on inside his house, in a story that hasn't made sense to Cafferkey's loved ones.

He told police he found a syringe in his home and made a disparaging comment about "junkies", which he says Cafferkey mistakenly assumed was about her and set her off.

Hunter claimed an argument broke out and Cafferkey pushed him to the ground, causing him to attack her. He hit her with a hammer and stabbed her 19 times.

During a record of interview following his arrest, Hunter told police he remembered hitting Ms Cafferkey with a hammer but couldn't remember stabbing her.

He said he couldn't explain why he had killed her.

"I don't understand why, I really don't understand why," he told police.

"I am nothing."

His lawyer blamed drugs on the murder.

He then went to drastic lengths to cover his tracks after realising Cafferkey was dead. Hunter used her phone to text people in an effort to thwart any suspicions.

CCTV shows Sarah at the supermarket to pick up alcohol on the day of her death.
CCTV shows Sarah at the supermarket to pick up alcohol on the day of her death.

Hunter left her body in his house for two days, during that time sending texts from and to Cafferkey's phone.

The next day he sent a text message to her phone at 10.07am saying, "Hey a** bandit, just come to - Sue hung over. What you up to?"

At 1.36pm Hunter sent a final text message to Sarah saying, "Need my keys. Call me".

He also drove her car and parked it outside a known drug offender's house to avoid being a suspect.

He then took her body in a bag and sought help from a friend to dispose of it.

Hunter went to a Bunnings store at Port Melbourne and bought a 20-litre container of hydrochloric acid, three bags of rapid set concrete, one bag of lime and one roll of black plastic.

He headed to his other property in Point Cook, about 50 minutes drive from Bacchus Marsh, and put her body in a wheelie bin before emptying bags of concrete over the top of Cafferkey.

Meanwhile her family and friends were growing increasingly concerned as Cafferkey was missing for several days, with speculative posts littering Facebook as police begun their search.

"I sent her a message and said, 'You're scaring people, you need to come home this isn't funny anymore'," Ashleigh said.

Steven Hunter's home in Bacchus Marsh, where Sarah was killed.
Steven Hunter's home in Bacchus Marsh, where Sarah was killed.

POLICE LAUNCH MANHUNT

Police began interviewing those known to have seen Cafferkey in the lead up to her disappearance, with her ex-boyfriend almost immediately ruled out.

It didn't take them long to set their sights on Hunter.

He initially made excuses, saying he left his house and Cafferkey stayed there.

Released from questioning, Hunter went on the run.

Police then executed a search warrant at his Bacchus Marsh property, where Cafferkey was murdered, and found evidence a serious assault had occurred.

Two hours later they searched his Point Cook property and immediately noticed a foul smell.

They found a wheelie bin with blood stains on it, and, realised they couldn't move the bin due to how heavy it was.

It was sent to a forensic science centre where it was X-rayed. They detected Cafferkey's body in the base of the bin.

"They (police) came in and sat on the couch and said, 'We've found Sarah', and I said, 'Oh that's good', and they looked at me and said … 'She's in concrete in a wheelie bin'.

"I don't think it hit me that even though he's saying she's in concrete and in a wheelie bin … I just don't think it registered."

Police still had the job of tracking down Hunter, launching a nationwide manhunt.

He was eventually found hiding at an associates house in Hawthorn where he was arrested.

When asked by police if he knew why he was being arrested, Hunter simply said, "Yes. Murder".

In a shocking development, it was revealed Hunter's parole period ended only nine days before he killed Cafferkey.

By the end of the interviewing process Hunter eventually admitted he killed Cafferkey but never gave a proper explanation as to why.

Noelle Dickson is advocating for justice reform. Picture: Peter Ristevski
Noelle Dickson is advocating for justice reform. Picture: Peter Ristevski

HUNTER'S DEADLY HISTORY

Suffering a shocking upbringing of domestic abuse, Hunter first found trouble with the law at the age of 17 in 1984. Two years after that, he murdered a teenage woman.

Hunter had offered to drive his work colleague Jacqueline Matthews, 18, where he attempted to seduce her.

She rejected Hunter's advances and he snapped and attacked her.

He then burnt her body and disposed of it.

Police tracked him down and he went to trial, where he was convicted of murder in 1988 and sentenced to 16 years jail with a non parole period of 13 years.

Somehow he managed to escape prison in February 1990, and was only given an extra three months' sentence for doing so.

He was released in December, 2000, as soon as he was eligible.

After that he continued his crime streak, including instances of kidnapping, assault and torture and was put back in jail for four years and six months.

But his sentence was reduced by six months and he was released on parole.

Herald Sun journalist Anthony Dowsley, who covered the case, said parole officers had noticed serious red flags but they weren't acted upon.

"He was able to live in communities where police weren't really sure where he was," Mr Dowsley said.

"He goes to Bacchus Marsh and starts working for a road crew and this is how he seems to link-up with that community.

"On the side he has a business going on in drug trafficking. And I don't even think the police there were aware he was a parolee."

Steven Hunter was arrested for Sarah’s murder.
Steven Hunter was arrested for Sarah’s murder.

CORONIAL INQUEST INTO CAFFERKEY'S DEATH

Two months prior to Cafferkey's murder, one of Australia's most infamous and heinous crimes took place.

Jill Meagher was brutally raped then killed by parolee Adrian Bayley, who was eventually sentenced to life with a minimum term of 35 years. He shouldn't have been out in the first place.

And so, after details surrounding Cafferkey's murder were exposed, the topic of parolees attacking again and getting away with it was causing outcry.

In a decision that received applause in the courtroom, Hunter was sentenced to life without parole in August 2013.

"When I heard he had pleaded guilty, I was told he wouldn't get life (if he did plead guilty) so he's entitled to some leniency, so he will get a parole period," Ms Dickson said.

"But he said he did it, he bashed her over the head, where's Sarah's rights? He's still getting all these rights, a right to appeal, the system is shocking."

It's safe to say Ms Dickson was relieved when she heard the verdict.

Given there was no trial as Hunter pleaded guilty, there was no way of reviewing why Hunter was let out of jail after his first murder.

But a 2016 coronial inquest into Cafferkey's murder laid it all bare.

A coroner found Hunter was not adequately monitored during his parole period.

Victorian coroner Ian Gray determined Hunter posed a real risk to the community when his parole period ended in 2012, days before he killed her, but the Adult Parole Board was not made aware of a report that made it clear Hunter needed substantial further intervention, allowing him to "play the system".

Judge Gray also recommended serious violent offenders be supervised after their parole expires, in the same way sex offenders are.

Steven Hunter was sentenced to life without parole.
Steven Hunter was sentenced to life without parole.

 

 

Noelle Dickson, mother of murder victim Sarah Cafferkey, is comforted by partner Lawrence Seery after addressing a crowd marching for reform.
Noelle Dickson, mother of murder victim Sarah Cafferkey, is comforted by partner Lawrence Seery after addressing a crowd marching for reform.