Paul Vincent Sutherland
Paul Vincent Sutherland NewsMail staff

Killer denies murdering Bundy cabbie

"WE JUST want the words 'I'm sorry' to our family."

That was the plea murdered cabbie Bryan Hodgkinson's sister made at the conclusion of yesterday's coronial inquest.

Doris Hillier told coroner David O'Connell she didn't "really want to have anyone go to jail" over the 30-year-old cold-case murder.

"We just want a 'sorry'," she cried.

The words come after an inquest into the September 10, 1987 death of the Bundaberg cab driver and photography enthusiast came to an end yesterday afternoon, after it had been adjourned since April.

While Tuesday saw a series of people speak their evidence in the Bundaberg Magistrates Court, yesterday only one witness was called.

Convicted rapist Paul Vincent Sutherland, whose name, along with Gary Rasmussen and Anthony Bruce Beer, had long been associated with the death of Mr Hodgkinson, told the court he'd had nothing to do with the murder.

Paul Sutherland

Rumours surrounding Sutherland's involvement stem largely from the death of Paula Peters, who was killed early in September, 1987 - one week before Mr Hodgkinson was murdered.

Ms Peters' body was found in a "bondage position" in a burned canefield off Rosedale Rd hours after Mr Hodgkinson's body, riddled with stab wounds, was discovered.

Sutherland was later found guilty of Ms Peters' manslaughter and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

A few months later, he raped a 22-year-old woman on New Year's Day in 1988 at the Sugarland Tavern and was sentenced to a further nine years.

Some six months on, school teacher Teresa Smith was found dead in her apartment after being bound, raped and left with her head in a bucket of water on February 1, 1988.

Sutherland, who lived next-door to Ms Smith, was originally charged with her murder, however, was later acquitted.

Yesterday Mr Hodgkinson's sister, Ms Hillier, told the court she'd "been following this case ever since Bryan was murdered".

"You get to hear things and you find out about things and there's of couple things in there this morning (Wednesday) Mr Sutherland's said that's not the truth," she claimed.

The statement came after Sutherland said he couldn't have been involved in the killing of Mr Hodgkinson because he'd been on his way back from Brisbane when the cabbie's body was found.

"It's not just my statement that puts me in Brisbane at the time; it's other people's," he said.

The court heard statements had been taken from at least two people who'd offered Sutherland a lift for parts of his hitch-hiking trip to Brisbane, where he stayed for about a week.

The exact day of his return, however, is still uncertain.

The court was told Sutherland had left Bundaberg on September 3, the day after Ms Peters died to "clear (his) head and get away from what happened".

Mr O'Connell asked: "So you were just running away from Bundaberg because Paula Peters had died?"

Sutherland agreed and admitted he "was basically trying to kill time".

During cross-examination, lawyer Callan Cassidy asked Sutherland whether he'd always been truthful with police in relation to his crimes.

Sutherland said no and added that: "At the time I didn't think (Ms Peters' body) would be located for probably a year. I thought that section (of cane) had been burned for the year".

Mr Cassidy suggested the reason he had lied to police in relation to Ms Peters' death early on "was an attempt to distance" himself from it all.

"And if you were involved in the killing of Mr Hodgkinson, you would likely tell lies about that matter also, wouldn't you?" Mr Cassidy asked.

Sutherland answered: "If I was involved, yes I probably would".

Mr Cassidy said the last person to see Ms Peters alive was an unidentified taxi driver.

"And you were in her company at that time?" he said, to which Mr Sutherland agreed.

Gary Rasmussen

Questions relating to the whereabouts of Gary Rasmussen at the time of Mr Hodgkinson's death rose in the inquiry.

According to Sutherland, Rasmussen was an associate of his who was well known throughout Bundaberg.

He arrived in Bundaberg the day before Mr Hodgkinson's body was found.

The court heard Rasmussen was prone to violence and spent a lot of time at the pub.

Rasmussen, who died of a drug overdose in 1993, was convicted of multiple crimes including manslaughter, serious assault and assault occasioning bodily harm.

In April at an earlier hearing of the inquest, the Bundaberg Magistrates Court was told Mr Hodgkinson had picked up Rasmussen and a man called Anthony Bruce Beer in his cab on the night he was killed.

At the time, witness Gary Anthony Spann said he glimpsed one of the two passengers sitting in the front passenger seat of the taxi about 12.55am on September 10, 1987.

Less than one hour later, at 1.45am, the now-empty vehicle was found with spots of blood on its exterior in town.

However, evidence heard during the inquest has suggested the person sitting in the front passenger seat of the taxi had blonde, straight hair - contradicting claims that Beer, who had dark curly hair, was sitting beside Mr Hodgkinson while Mr Rasmussen sat in the back.

Neither hair samples nor fingerprint samples taken from the dumped vehicle by police matched Rasmussen or Beer.

There are also conflicting reports about Rasmussen's whereabouts on the night.

According to his wife, he came home after a night of drinking with Dennis Fox and Dave Marshal about 10pm on September 9 and went to bed.

However, statements taken from both Mr Marshal and Mr Fox in March 2009, contradicted the alibi. A statement by Mr Marshal read:

"I remember in 1987 there was a taxi driver murdered in Bundaberg. One day I was in the Royal Hotel just around the corner of the police station. Gary Rasmussen came in and was panicking, he told me the police were trying to do him for Hodgkinson's murder. Gary told me he had said to the police he had been with me and ... Dennis Fox. 

"It had me thinking to myself if he was or was not with me and Dennis, I didn't report him being with us but I wasn't about to argue with him about this. It wouldn't have been pretty.

"You didn't argue with Gary Rasmussen unless you wanted to have a bit of a punch on. As soon as I saw Dennis the next time, a couple of days later, I mentioned to Dennis that Gary had told police he was with me and Dennis.

"Dennis blew up and said 'no f---ing way he was with us'."

Anthony Bruce Beer

To this day, no one has ever been charged for Mr Hodgkinson's murder.

Beer, who was subpoenaed to appear as a witness in the coronial inquest in April, was charged in relation to Mr Hodgkinson's death with accessory after the fact to murder, robbery with actual violence, unlawful use of a motor vehicle and wilful damage after his former partner, Rhonda Jeanette Chapman, triggered a breakthrough in the case.

The charges were later dropped after a magistrate determined there was not enough evidence to commit Beer to trial.

But in April he asked to be excused from giving evidence in the inquiry as his answers could potentially incriminate him.

At that time, Ms Chapman told the inquest Beer had started telling her things that were "praying on his mind" many years ago.

She said he'd spoken to her about Mr Hodgkinson up to 40 times and "seemed scared at times".

Ms Chapman said she went to police in 2009, after struggling with believing anything Mr Beer had said was true.

Yesterday, counsel assisting the coroner, John Aberdeen, said His Honour should "ask why Beer often returned to talking about Mr Hodgkinson", if he hadn't been involved.

Lawyer Mr Cassidy questioned Ms Chapman's reliability given the 30 years since Mr Hodgkinson's death and some inconsistent answers she gave during the inquest.

But Mr Aberdeen asked what motive Ms Chapman would have to lie.

"There's no motive for her to make it up, so did Mr Beer make (the things he said to her) up? There's no motive there for that either" he said.

"Was this all a figment of Mr Beer's imagination?"

Mr Aberdeen concluded, submitting to Mr O'Connell: "Certainly the stronger evidence (pointed) to Mr Rasmussen", if he found the alibi to be untrue.

Coroner's comments

Mr O'Connell told the court he would reserve his decision and release it later.

"I will be wading through all the evidence to try and establish what I find is credible and reliable and truthful, and to see if I can come to answers..." he said.

The coroner noted how difficult the 30-year-old case was to reach the bottom of, given the complexity and the added issue of fading memories.

"It may be that I may not be able to get answers on the required standard of proof," he said.