16 Crimes That Captivated Australia In 2016
Unbelievable trials, shocking arrests and not-so-cold cases.
1. The Tromp family's baffling road trip
When the Tromp family members inexplicably fled from their home in Victoria and embarked on a bizarre interstate road trip, the world watched on.
Mark and Jacoba Tromp and their three adult children, Riana, Mitchell and Ella, left business papers, passports, bank cards and phones scattered inside their unlocked house and embarked on an interstate road trip.
Mitchell, who threw his phone out the window half an hour into the journey, said the family members were “fearing for [their] lives”, but no aggressor has yet been identified, fuelling speculation the Tromps suffered from a shared delusion that they were under threat.
Ella Tromp has been charged with theft of a motor vehicle and possessing the proceeds of a crime (the car) and will front court in April next year.
Riana Tromp was also charged with stealing a car but the charge was later dismissed under Section 33 of the Mental Health Act of NSW, which excuses a mentally ill person from a crime.
Mark Tromp was found in northern Victoria five days after he was reported missing and later apologised for the "hurt and concern" caused by the road trip.
2. The murder trial of Glen McNamara and Roger Rogerson
When university student Jamie Gao snuck into a storage shed in Sydney’s south west on May 20, 2014, lugging a hefty bag of the drug ice, he thought he was going to make a lot of money.
A fisherman found Gao’s body floating in the water off Cronulla in Sydney’s south, inside a surfboard bag that had been wrapped in a blue tarpaulin and weighed down with a thick chain.
A former cop, private investigator and true crime writer, Glen McNamara, and his co-accused, notorious former police detective Roger Rogerson, were charged with Gao's murder.
McNamara said Rogerson shot and killed Gao before threatening the lives of McNamara and his two daughters. But Rogerson said the student was dead when he entered the shed and he did not even know Gao’s name until he helped remove the body.
In June this year, after a 16-week trial, the NSW Supreme Court jury found the pair of former police officers guilty both of Gao’s murder and of stealing the 2.78kg of ice.
2. When three Australian men avoided a rape trial
Melbourne men Dylan Djohan, Ashwin Kumar and Waleed Latif pleaded guilty to raping a 17-year-old backpacker in Croatia in 2015.
Croatian police seized their passports and the case was to be heard on February 1.
But the trio's lawyers struck a deal with the prosecution that would see the men return home to Australia with a conditional jail sentence of one year, suspended to a good behaviour bond for five years.
Under the deal, ratified by the County Courts, the men paid the victim's family 20,000 euros (AUD$30,595), or about $10,200 each.
4. The murder of Pasquale Barbaro
Sydney gangland identity Pasquale Barbaro was shot dead on November 14 in the south western Sydney suburb of Earlwood.
An Audi Q7 4WD was found burnt out at Goddard Park, Concord, half an hour after the shooting.
Barbaro, 35, was a member of the Calabrian mafia, drove a $2 million black Lamborghini and spent nine years in jail after pleading guilty to drug dealing in 2002.
He liked to be known as “The Boss” around Leichhardt’s Italian Forum, where he lived, and was tailed by his bodyguard, known as “The Shadow”, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The execution came three weeks after local gang member Hamad Assaad, 29, was murdered in broad daylight outside his home in the city's south west. His murder is one of eight gangland killings being investigated by NSW police's Strike Force Osprey.
5. Gable Tostee's trial
New Zealand national Warriena Tagpuno Wright was on a Tinder date on the Gold Coast with Queensland man Gable Tostee when she fell to her death from the 14th floor of an apartment complex two years ago.
Tostee pleaded not guilty to her murder during his trial this year.
The jurors, one of whom almost got the trial aborted for Instagramming from Brisbane's Supreme Court, heard an audio recording taken on Tostee’s phone moments before the fall, in which the pair can be heard arguing.
Crown prosecutor Glen Cash argued Wright was trying to escape Tostee after he allegedly tried to strangle her inside his apartment.
But Tostee’s barrister Saul Holt argued his client locked Wright out on the balcony because she became “increasingly erratic”, throwing ornamental rocks at Tostee, and that Tostee was trying to defuse a volatile situation.
The jury, who did not hear evidence of Tostee's criminal record or psychiatric report, found him not guilty of both murder and manslaughter.
6. The cyanide iced coffee murder
An Indonesian judge sentenced Australian resident Jessica Kumala Wongso to 20 years in jail for the premeditated murder of her friend Wayan Mirna Salihin in October.
Indonesian woman Salihin, 27, died in hospital after a coffee meeting with Wongso, with whom she had lived and studied in Australia, at an upmarket Jakarta shopping strip in January.
Wongso ordered three drinks: two cocktails and the Vietnamese iced coffee that police allege she laced with cyanide.
After sipping her drink, Salihin collapsed into the sofa and started convulsing and foaming at the mouth.
She was rushed to hospital and died later that day.
Initial forensic tests showed the amount of cyanide in the coffee (298mg) was enough to kill a woman of Salihin’s size, but whether or not she died of cyanide poisoning was heavily disputed by experts during the trial.
7. Tiahleigh Palmer's disappearance
A fisherman found missing schoolgirl Tiahleigh Palmer's naked body on the banks of the Pimpama River in south east Queensland, six days after she was last seen alive in October 2015.
In March this year Tiahleigh's biological mother Cyndi, who had been preparing for a custody hearing to get her daughter back from foster care when the 12-year-old went missing, made a public appeal for information on her death.
Then in September Tiahleigh's foster father Rick Thorburn, who was a pallbearer at her funeral, was charged with her murder.
His 54-year-old wife Julene and 20-year-old son, Josh, have pleaded guilty to one count each of perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Tiahleigh’s foster brother Trent Thorburn was charged with incest, attempting to pervert the course of justice and two counts of perjury, and will face court later this month.
The 19-year-old is accused of having an illegal sexual relationship with the 12-year-old during the 10 months she was in the family’s care.
8. Amber Heard's biosecurity snafu
Nobody could have predicted Australia's widest-reaching crime story of last year would involve a breach of biosecurity, a Pirates of the Caribbean star and two Yorkshire Terriers.
This year, the world stayed tuned for the legal fallout.
Actor Johnny Depp, his soon-to-be ex-wife, actor and model Amber Heard, and their two dogs Pistol and Boo, arrived on a private jet in Australia in April, 2015.
Heard failed to declare the pups on her incoming passenger card, saying she had no live animals with her.
Enter Australia's incredibly strict biosecurity laws.
On May 13, 2015, the government was notified of the dogs' presence and then-agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce threatened to have them killed.
“If he doesn’t take Boo and Pistol back we do have to euthanise them,” Joyce said. “Just because he’s Johnny Depp doesn’t make him exempt from Australian laws.”
Two days later, Pistol and Boo fled the country on a private jet.
Charged with two counts of illegal importation of an animal and one count of producing a false document, Heard arrived on the Gold Coast in April, 2016, to face her punishment.
But in the end the trial was a bit of a fizzer. Heard changed her plea to guilty, the charges of illegal importation were dropped, and she was handed a $1000, one-month good behaviour bond.
As part of the court case Depp and Heard recorded a bizarre public apology for flouting Australian biosecurity laws. Various media outlets labelled the 40-second footage, “a lo-fi hostage video”, a “triumph of minimalist cinema”, and “excruciatingly awkward”.
9. The Ipswich fire
In November former Brisbane banker Neil De Graaf, 37, died after he set himself and his ex-girlfriend's home on fire as she and her family hid in the bathroom.
Graaf's 23-year-old ex-girlfriend April Wilmot had taken out domestic violence orders against Graaf, who died in hospital after he suffered severe burns to 95 per cent of his body.
Wilmot was in the house with her mother, brother and brother's girlfriend at the time. All four survived.
10. The case of Mark Haines
In October, two women with information about the murder of Aboriginal teenager Mark Haines, spoke out publicly for the first time, after reading an article by BuzzFeed News about the cold case.
Faye Souter and her daughter, Colleen Souter-Calder, told BuzzFeed News that Terry Souter, Faye’s son and Colleen’s brother, was the driver of the car that carried Haines to the spot where his dead body was found in 1988 on railway tracks outside Tamworth in northern New South Wales.
The new information led to the cold case murder being reopened.
Seven months after Haines died, Terry took his own life in the family home, the women said.
Before he died the 18-year-old made a phone call to his girlfriend to break up with her and then he called emergency services to tell them what he was about to do.
He left a suicide note saying, “life’s too hard”.
“Apparently Terry had written three letters,” Colleen said. “One to his girlfriend at the time and two to two mates. Apparently, in the letters, it stated all the names of the people that had killed Mark, how, why, when, and everything was sort of detailed in these letters.”
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge has requested the state's police commissioner transfer the case from the NSW police to the elite homicide squad.
11. Jamie Murphy and the white powder
Being arrested in Bali is pretty much any Australian's worst nightmare.
So when Perth teenager Jamie Murphy was arrested at a Kuta Beach nightclub, the nation held its breath.
The 18-year-old allegedly had a packet of white powder in his bum bag that could have landed him in a Balinese prison for up to 12 years.
But 48 hours later, Murphy was released and flew home to Australia.
Murphy was “very lucky” he had purchased a combination of paracetamol, cold and flu medication and caffeine from a street dealer, not illicit substances, said Bali’s police chief, inspector general Sugeng Priyanto.
12. Sydney family in suspected murder-suicide
“The bodies had no visible injuries,” NSW police said on Monday October 17.
Hours earlier officers had forced entry into a house in Davidson north of Sydney, where they had found the bodies of Fernando Manrique, 44, his wife, Maria Lutz, 43, and their two autistic children, 11-year-old Elisa and 10-year-old Martin.
The body of the family dog, a large Bullmastiff, was also found by police.
Throughout the house police discovered a network of hidden pipes used to transport the deadly gas that poisoned the family. Gas canisters were also found in the home.
Neighbours told News Corp Manrique was on the roof the weekend before the tragedy, installing the system that would pump the gas into the rooms.
13. The search for Matthew Leveson's body
Sydney man Matthew Leveson disappeared in 2007 aged 20. He was last seen by his brother as he left Arq Nightclub in Darlinghurst with his boyfriend Michael Atkins.
Atkins was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges over Matthew's disappearance in 2009.
During an inquest into the death in November, Atkins was asked about why he bought a mattock and tape from a Bunnings Warehouse on the day after his boyfriend went missing.
Atkins, 53, told the court he had planned to use the purchases for gardening.
Counsel assisting the coroner Lester Fernandez asked Atkins if the mattock could be used to dig a grave.
“Could be,” he responded.
Atkins was granted immunity from prosecution for any incriminating evidence he disclosed during the inquest. After five days of questioning, he agreed to lead police Leveson's body.
Police then spent eight days scouring Sydney's Royal National Park but did not find a body.
14. Salim Mehajer's violent video
Former Auburn deputy mayor Salim Mehajer came to public prominence with his opulent million-dollar August 2015 wedding ceremony, which included a jet flyover and caused the unapproved closure of a suburban street.
Mehajer kicked off 2016 by getting suspended from office for four months for failing to disclose financial interests in three properties, including one bought by a company of which he was a director.
In February all nine Auburn councillors, including Mehajer, were sacked ahead of a public inquiry into their planning decisions. The Auburn local government area was absorbed into Parramatta Council and the newly formed Cumberland Council.
The disgraced councillor drew national attention in August when A Current Affair aired footage showing Mehajer yelling obscenities and threats, allegedly directed at his estranged wife Aysha Learmonth.
Mehajer is seen aggressively shouting into a mobile phone, “I hope you die, you slut”, and appears to make threats of sexual violence against Learmonth's family.
He said if she didn't call him within five minutes he would "rape" her mother and father.
Police applied for an apprehended violence order for Learmonth but by September the order's conditions were changed to allow for Mehajer to contact and approach his wife.
In October Mehajer lost a bid to overturn a separate AVO made against him by personal trainer Bruce Herat, father of Sydney siege survivor Joel.
15. The Aussie tourist on trial for murder in Bali
The body of Bali police officer Wayan Sudarsa, 53, was discovered outside the luxury Pullman resort on Kuta beach on August 17 at 3am by a hotel security guard.
At the scene investigators found Sudarsa’s walkie-talkie, a splintered surfboard and broken beer bottles. Police allege the latter items were used in the attack on Sudarsa.
An autopsy found 17 open wounds on Sudarsa’s disfigured head and defensive wounds on his hands.
Also allegedly found in the sand at the murder scene were a leather handbag, NSW driver’s licence and ATM card belonging to Australian woman Sara Connor.
Connor, 46, and her 33-year-old boyfriend, British DJ David Taylor, were named as suspects in the murder and detained.
They are currently on trial separately in Bali.
16. The sentencing of Grant Davies
Grant Davies was the director of the now-defunct RG Dance studios in Chiswick, in Sydney’s inner west, where he trained performers for hit productions including Billy Elliot.
Davies was arrested in May, 2013, after his wife found disturbing images of children on his computer and went to the police.
He pleaded guilty to 28 charges last year, which included sexual intercourse with a child without consent, indecent assault, and the production of child abuse material.
In 2014 a mother was jailed for sending at least 100 naked photos and two videos of her daughters to Davies.
In October he was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in jail for sexually abusing nine students.
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