Outback murder mystery

The eerie high street in the remote town of Terowie, where police believe Martin Meffert's killers are hiding.

Outback murder mystery

SICK with grief over the death of his mother, Martin Meffert packed his bag one day in 2004 and set off on a bus journey to Terowie, 220km north of Adelaide.

Mr Meffert had arranged to stay with his aunt and cousins, who lived in the town, while he recovered from his loss.

Within months of starting a new life in this dusty settlement of less than 200 people, the sickly, 23-year-old disability pensioner had been murdered in a Snowtown-style plot to steal his Centrelink payments.

 

Martin Meffert whose skeletal remains were found in a fireplace at a Terowie property rented by his cousin in October 2013. Picture: SAPOL
Martin Meffert whose skeletal remains were found in a fireplace at a Terowie property rented by his cousin in October 2013. Picture: SAPOL Supplied

But it would take eight years and what detectives have described as a "bizarre sequence of events" for his death to come to light.

On October 24, 2013, police conducting a routine firearms inquiry raided a home on Packer St and found human bones in a bag inside a box in the fireplace. No attempt had been made to conceal them.

Forensic evidence indicated the partial skeleton had been dug up from a previous location but extensive excavations in the backyard of the property failed to unearth further clues.

The "mystery skeleton" was eventually identified as the remains of Mr Meffert.

Inquiries revealed the young man had not been seen since February 8, 2005, when he was spotted boarding a bus back to Terowie following a medical appointment in Adelaide.

Police say Mr Meffert's transient lifestyle and strained relationship with relatives back in Adelaide meant that he was never reported missing.

Police charged the occupant of the house, Christopher Travis Scott, 25, with failing to report a death. In a horrible twist, it emerged that Scott was one of Mr Meffert's cousins.

 

 

The Packer St home where Mr Meffert's remains were discovered.
The Packer St home where Mr Meffert's remains were discovered. Simone Cross

At the time of his arrest, police labelled Scott a suspect in the murder investigation, along with a number of his associates. Scott was initially refused bail after detectives expressed fears he would interfere with possible crime scenes and witnesses but by November, 2013, he was free.

Prosecutors withdrew the charge at a 2014 court hearing after failing to establish a time of death.

Now police say they are close to solving the case. New information resulted in detectives descending on the tiny town on Wednesday to conduct doorknocks and interview residents.

Posters offering a $200,000 reward have also been placed in the windows of local businesses.

Detective Superintendent Des Bray, who heads South Australia's Major Crime unit, told reporters police believe those responsible for Mr Meffert's murder had remained in the Terowie area, where the circumstances of the crime were a "poorly-guarded secret".

 

Police dug up the backyard of the Terowie home where Mr Meffert's remains were discovered but found no further clues. Picture: SAPOL
Police dug up the backyard of the Terowie home where Mr Meffert's remains were discovered but found no further clues. Picture: SAPOL Supplied

"This case is bizarre. It's hard to come up with any logical reason why anybody would have the remains of a murdered person in the fireplace of their lounge room - it makes no sense," Supt Bray said.

Police believe Mr Meffert was murdered in Terowie sometime after February 8, 2005.

"He has never been reported missing. At the time of his disappearance, Mr Meffert was on a disability pension, paid into his bank account," Supt Bray said.

"Between 2005 and 2013 a significant amount of money - more than $130,000 - was taken from that account, drawn from various ATMs in the mid-north. Police are aware of the identity of those who accessed the account.

"There was also an attempt by a man to establish his identity as Martin Meffert at the local post office, for the purpose of continuing to claim Mr Meffert's allowances."

Supt Bray said it was unclear if the murder was planned or committed in a "moment of madness" but said police were confident the case would be resolved.

He said Scott had consistently refused to be interviewed by police and remained a suspect.

"We have never had a version from him as to how the remains came to be in his fireplace," he said on Wednesday.

"It's more likely than not that more than one person was involved (in the murder) and we have several suspects in relation to the theft of the money.

"We are confident this case can be solved ... we know that some people have information about the murder.

"If you come forward and contact us you won't be in trouble ... it's never too late to do the right thing."

Anyone with information is urged to call CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000.