THE Coronial Inquest into the 1997 death of Brooms Head teenager Lee Ellen Stace has named three men as the main suspects in her murder.
Yesterday’s hearing was taken up by the evidence of the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Senior Constable Tony King.
In the final session of the hearing, Det King began giving evidence about the prime suspects in the case: Gregory John Davis, Anthony Charles Apps and John George O’Leary.
Of these suspects Apps, who is in jail for the 2003 murder of his friend Christopher Lamb, is the key suspect.
Det King said Brooms Head residents nominated Apps as a person of interest at the start of the investigation.
“He was described as a suspicious person who beat his parents and bashed his wife,” Det King told the court.
He said at the time of the disappearance Apps was 22 years old, a user of illicit drugs, and convicted of property thefts and assaults. He was also under investigation for a number of sex offences.
The court heard that Apps befriended Lee Ellen Stace and her best friend and next-door neighbour Terri Mackay when he lived near them in 1996.
In summary, these are the claims put to the court yesterday.
In an interview with police Apps said he was only an acquaintance of Lee and did not know her personally.
This was one of a number of contradictions in Apps’ description of his relationship with Lee, including a discrepancy about the last time he saw her alive.
Apps had previously claimed he last saw Lee before her death in Maclean, but in another interview said he saw her on the beach at Brooms Head in July 1997.
Apps was interviewed a number of times by police after the disappearance and there were other contradictions in his statements.
Apps also had trouble accounting for his movements on the day of Lee’s disappearance.
A housemate, Heather Young, told police Apps had abandoned her at the Ulmarra Hotel on September 2, 1997, and did not return until late in the afternoon.
She remembers the day clearly because two weeks later she threw him out of the house.
Police records show that on September 16 Apps was charged with assaulting the housemate.
Later in his evidence Det King talked about covert police operations in 2001 that involved recordings of prison cell conversations involving Apps and O’Leary, as well as interviews with jail informants.
Several times Apps was implicated in the murder of Lee Ellen Stace and, according to two informants, admitted to her murder.
Det King’s statement mentioned sightings of Lee on the day she disappeared in Yamba and Maclean.
Many of these witnesses will be called to give their evidence later in the inquest.
He also told how Lee’s remains were discovered at Red Cliff on October 17 by a couple of campers.
Although a cause of death could not be determined, a lump of sawn timber found near the remains and covered with her hair and blood was probably the murder weapon.
He said the fact Lee’s clothing had been removed showed it was likely she had been sexually assaulted.
One witness said a table near where the body had been found was covered in marks similar to those an axe would leave, along with a dark substance he did not think looked ‘hygienic’.
Some of Lee’s remains are still missing, but the evidence indicated her death was extremely violent.
Earlier in his evidence Det King painted a picture of Lee as a normal teenage girl who disliked school but loved the beach, music and videos, and was popular with friends.
She used cannabis and smoked cigarettes.
She had gone out briefly with one boy but was not sexually active. She left school at the end of 1996 and had dropped out of a TAFE course.
This had prompted friction with her parents and she moved out of home briefly.
In August 1997 she secured a job at Yamba BI-LO as a checkout operator. This resolved the family problems.
At the time of her death she was looking forward to her first payday and a trip on the next weekend to Dreamworld.
The inquest continues today in Grafton Court House.