BuzzFeed News has obtained several documents that have never been made public, relating to the the unsolved 1988 death of Aboriginal teenager Mark Haines in regional New South Wales.
The documents include detailed statements by community members given to the Haines family’s solicitor, which contain explosive allegations claiming the teenager was murdered by a group of men.
An ongoing BuzzFeed News investigation has seen the almost three decades old cold case reopened, and now several people have agreed to speak about their claims in a bid to help the Haines family in its campaign for justice.
They are speaking out despite living in fear of the alleged killers, two of whom still live locally.
In a nondescript suburban house in the sleepy rural city of Tamworth in north-western New South Wales, Marilyn, whose name has been changed at her request, is worried about a car that drove past her house “last night, real slow; a man hanging out the passenger side”.
The middle aged woman wanted the make and model of the car to be written down “in case something happens to me”.
“I'm scared," Marilyn told BuzzFeed News. "But I still need people to know something's wrong here. Something's very wrong."
For Marilyn, talking about the death of Mark "Stoney" Haines in January 1988 triggers a "gut churning" fear that she will face violent retaliation from the alleged killers.
In July 1988, Marilyn walked into a small legal firm in Tamworth with two young men, known as Mr X and Mr Y, who were friends with Mark and her recently deceased son, Jackson (not his real name).
Marilyn told the solicitor, who was acting on behalf of Mark's family, they had information about how Mark died.
The transcript of that discussion, obtained by BuzzFeed News, shows that the teenagers named suspects and outlined a motive for the killing.
Today, Marilyn only remembers one of those young men, Mr X.
Mr X was good friends with Marilyn’s son Jackson, who had died a week before the statements were given to the solicitor.
Marilyn told BuzzFeed News that her son was trying to “find out the truth of what happened to Mark”.
In her statement Marilyn said that before Jackson died, she had a conversation with another woman who warned Marilyn about a girl.
"She told me that [the girl] had told her son about [Mark's] death. I said in reference to my son: 'Does Jackson know?' She said: 'Yes, he knows now, they weren't going to tell Jackson because he would go and tread on someone's toes and end up dead himself'.
"Sometime later I recall Jackson being on the telephone one night talking to a mate about taking [the girl] and another girl to a movie.
"I said to him: 'Keep away from her, she's bad news – you know what I'm talking about'. My son said: 'Who told you?'"
Marilyn also said in the statement that the girl had a friend place a note on her son's coffin.
“At the funeral [the girl] was present and she had a letter or a poem or something of that nature which she wanted placed in the grave," she said. "She had one of her other mates [do it]... and I remember thinking at the time that that seemed very strange because [my son] couldn't stand her."
Marilyn gave permission at the time for the coffin to be exhumed in order to retrieve the note, but this never occurred.
Following the funeral, she spoke with Mr X about the rumours she had heard about the girl.
“After talking to one of my son's mates [Mr X] I thought it would be a good idea if we went and seen a solicitor, but we went down and we seen the Haines first, and then that's how we ended up going to the solicitors,” Marilyn told BuzzFeed News.
In the transcript, Mr X recounted a conversation he had with the girl, and alleged the motive for the murder revolved around drugs.
"The week before [Mark’s death] a heap of them got together at a house drinking and Stoney [Mark] came up and one of them said: 'He knows too much – what are we going to do about him?',” Mr X said. “It was something to do with a crop of drugs.
“She told me that they then drove out with Stoney in the stolen car to where there was another car. She said that the stolen car was to be used as a plant.”
Mark was 17-years-old when he was found dead on January 16, 1988, on railway tracks outside Tamworth.
He had said goodbye to his girlfriend at around 3:30am that morning, and just over three hours later a train driver discovered his body on the tracks.
Despite massive head trauma there was only a patch of blood the size of a 50 cent piece at the scene. A stolen car found nearby was not fingerprinted at the site, nor was its interior searched by police. The car was left exposed to the elements for around six weeks and was then removed from the scene. Police are unable to comment on what happened to the vehicle, as it remains part of an ongoing investigation.
The death was ruled suspicious and a coronial inquest returned open findings, failing to identify what caused Haines’ injuries.
The information provided by Mr X and Mr Y alleged that Mark knew “too much” about a marijuana drug crop and was going to be “taught a lesson” in the form of a bashing that got out of hand.
“Mark was hurt," Mr X said in the 1988 statement. "Two of them held him while [the suspect] laid into him and hurt him badly in the stomach so that he was really badly hurt and that they then put him on the railway tracks."
The first police investigation has come under fire for what critics consider to be a lax approach. Initially, grieving family members said they were encouraged by detectives to conduct their own investigations, which resulted in Don Craigie, Mark’s uncle, being brutally assaulted twice and having his jaw broken.
Last year, a woman came forward to BuzzFeed News with new information after reading several stories on Mark's death, leading to the case being actively investigated once again.
It took months for the Oxley LAC detectives to follow up on those leads, prompting Greens MLA David Shoebridge to demand the case be moved from the local area to the elite State Crime Command's (SCC) homicide unit in Sydney.
Today, the SCC is conducting a review of the initial police investigation and, based on its findings, will consider taking on the case.
Marilyn told BuzzFeed News that the police never followed up with her statement from 1988.
"I haven't seen or heard from anyone," Marilyn said. "I'm going to say this and I don't care what people say. But if he was a child from East Tamworth and white, that this happened to, it would've been finished, over. They would've found out. But no, this is some poor Aboriginal kid that didn't deserve it."
Additional reporting by Ellen Leabeater.
Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.
Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.
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