Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A South Australian man whose body was found in a shallow desert grave littered with beer bottles was murdered for failing to pay a drug debt

A South Australian man whose body was found in a shallow desert grave littered with beer bottles was murdered for failing to pay a drug debt, a coronial inquest has heard.

In her opening address to the inquiry, counsel assisting the coroner Libby Armitage said Peter Wayne Murphy, 46, went missing on August 17, 2008, and was last seen that day in a car with two men who were suspects in his murder when he disappeared.

Directions marked on a map by Gregory Allan Russell led police on June 2 last year to Mr Murphy's body, buried in bushland about 91km down the Plenty Highway from Alice Springs.


During the inquest in Alice Springs on Tuesday, Mr Murphy's family, including three of his five siblings from South Australia, watched a police video showing the crime scene and Mr Murphy's decomposed body.

Ms Armitage asked that the vision be released to the media, with strict conditions, in the hope of encouraging more witnesses to come forward.

"It would have been impossible for anyone to locate Mr Murphy's remains but for the information that was provided," she said, adding that the grave site was very remote.

Ms Armitage told the inquest autopsy reports had revealed Mr Murphy suffered a fractured cheek bone and been shot twice in the head.

Mr Murphy and Mr Russell worked in the building and construction industry, and had at various times worked in the remote Aboriginal community of Yuendumu, about 300km north west of Alice Springs, with a man who was known to most as "Wog".

Ms Armitage said Mr Murphy had been selling marijuana in Yuendumu and owed Mr Russell in excess of $100,000 for supplying the cannabis.

Mr Murphy was living in a hotel at the time of his disappearance, while Mr Russell was sharing a house in Alice Springs with Mr Murphy's ex-wife, Tamara Murphy.

The inquest heard Mr Russell had, in a drunken conversation leading up to Mr Murphy's disappearance, complained about being owed money and asked Ms Murphywhether her ex-husband had life insurance.

Ms Murphy had reported Mr Murphy missing and told police Mr Russell had done a number of strange things on the day the father of her children went missing, Ms Armitage said.

She said he had obtained rubber gloves, carried a handgun in his pocket and locked the doors of the house.

She told police Mr Russell went out for several hours on August 17 and returned to the house with Wog, whose real name is Adam Joseph Filippone.

Mr Filippone told police he was working on the day in question, but the inquest has raised questions about the reliability of his alibi.

Mr Murphy's sister, Cheryl Smith, told the inquest Ms Murphy had telephoned her a couple of days later and said Mr Murphy was "no longer on this earth" and that police had placed her and the children in witness protection.

"I still believe Tammy (Ms Murphy) was involved, either directly or indirectly," Ms Smith said.

"She never asked me if I'd seen him," she said, adding that Ms Murphy had never reported Mr Murphy as missing when he'd disappeared for extended periods in the past.

Ms Smith said she knew her brother gambled quite heavily and assumed he used drugs, but she denied any knowledge of him being involved in motorcycle gangs.

The inquest heard Mr Russell had told his daughter he was a hit-man for an outlaw motorcycle gang.

A recording of Mr Russell confessing to murdering Mr Murphy was played on Tuesday, but the contents were suppressed until the end of the inquest to enable reliable cross-examination of witnesses.

Mr Russell reportedly committed suicide not long after he confessed and led police to the body.

Mr Filippone was extradited from Queensland last year and charged with murdering Mr Murphy, but the case against him was dropped at the committal hearing.

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