24 July, 2010

He thought he'd gotten away with it - Part I

In 1987 21-year-old Jodie Larcombe was working as a prostitute in Melbourne’s St Kilda for about two years. She was a regular heroin user, and dabbled in other illegal drugs. Her friends and family saw her in mid-November of 1997, just before she spent a short time in Pentridge Prison for a minor offence. She was released on 22 December.

She was not seen or heard from since December 26, and extensive searches of banking, government and hospital records throughout Australia and New Zealand turned up nothing. Her body was not found.

50-year-old Darryl Suckling was the caretaker in the homestead at the otherwise unoccupied Wyrama Station, a property of about 6,000 acres in south-west NSW. His closest neighbours were the Millers, a couple living about 1km away from Wyrama. He had a Landcruiser as part of his work.

Shortly before starting this job in October 1987, he was staying with his niece Shirley Sutton in Doveton, near Melbourne. While there he would often go to St Kilda to visit a friend, and around this time he started hanging out with Jodie Larcombe. He claimed that it was not a sexual association at that stage, although it certainly became one after he went to Wyrama, when he made trips down to Melbourne.

On one occasion they had sex in the Landcruiser at Port Melbourne. He also took photos of her, and paid her $40 - she told him she needed the money.

On the night of Christmas Day when he was staying with Shirley again, he withdrew $40 from an ATM in St Kilda and met up with Jodie. They had oral sex. Darryl told her that she was hurting him, so she took her dental plate with false teeth out and put them in the glove box of his car. She told him she needed more money for drugs, so he loaned her $80 in exchange for some jewellery, which he took as security.

Darryl said he then drove Jodie back to St Kilda where they saw three of her friends, who said they were going to buy drugs. She wanted to go with them so she asked Darryl to wait, saying she’d be back in half an hour. He agreed, and she left, leaving her dental plate in his glove box. Darryl said he waited at St Kilda for about 45 minutes, and when she had not returned, he decided to leave. Before he could, he saw one the friends Jodie had left to buy drugs with, and claims he was told she was still trying to get the drugs. According to Darryl he never saw her again.

He said he went back to Shirley’s house and slept outside in the Landcruiser. The next morning he drove to his sister Joan Suttons’ house to spend Boxing Day with her, and then went back to Shirley’s late that evening. After that he returned once more to Joan’s and again, because it was late, he said he slept outside in the car. His sister woke him on the morning of the 27th.

Shirley Sutton said she saw Darryl on Christmas Day, and that when he came into the house he was carrying a green bag. She had earlier noticed that her packets of her Valium (sedative) and Ativan (anxiety medication) were missing. When Darryl was out of the room she peeked in his green bag and saw the missing pills, but didn’t remove them.

Joan Sutton gave a statement that it was her 60th birthday on Boxing Day 1987, and a number of her family gathered at her house in north-east Melbourne. They were all going to Templestowe to celebrate. Darryl apparently arrived around 10am and left around midday, not going with the rest of them to Templestowe. She then said she arrived home from the party late that night and did not see Darryl. The next morning however, her daughter Diane told her Darryl’s truck was outside. She went out around 7:30-8:30am and saw him asleep in the front seat. She said there was no other person in the truck. He went inside, had a cup of tea, and left between 10:30 and 11am.

Joan’s son David also said he thought he saw Darryl’s Landcruiser outside his mother’s house on the morning of the 27th, but he did not see Darryl.

Darryl said he made his way back to Wyrama on 27 December, and when he got there he rang a massage parlour in Melbourne where Jodie worked and left a message for her. He said he tried unsuccessfully to contact her a few times after that to get her dental plate back to her, but eventually gave up and threw it in the rubbish.

There was also the evidence of James Wembridge, the local mailman for Wyrama. He first met Darryl on 23 October 1987 when Darryl first moved up there, and asked James if he could get him a road map of the area. James couldn’t get it immediately and Darryl asked for it again - eventually James delivered it on 27 October.

On 8 December James received a call from Darryl saying he was going to Melbourne because his niece had been in a road accident and was in intensive care. James did not deliver any mail to Wyrama Station until he heard that Darryl was back.

James remembered 27 December 1987 well, as it was the day of his niece’s christening. He received two phone calls, the first at 10am and the second about 2:30pm. Darryl arrived at James’ house in Wentworth at around 5 or 6pm. He told James that he had two flat tyres and that his car was on the Arumpo Road. He asked James if he would come with him and help get the car going again. James went with Darryl to Arumpo Rd to a point 15km north of its junction with the Silver City Highway. The road was unsealed. Darryl’s car was on the right side of the road, facing south.

One of the tyres was completely destroyed, and it was obvious to James that it had been driven on flat, for at least 20-30km. All the doors of the Landcruiser were closed. He saw drop sheets, clothing and a travel bag piled high on the passenger seat, about 4-6 inches above the back of the seat. James went to open the passenger door to find a jack but Darryl told him not to, and said the jack was missing. James then used his own jack to fix the car.

Afterwards, they drove back to Wentworth and had something to eat. James asked Darryl what he’d been doing on Arumpo Rd, and he said he’d been up to Top Hut, and then he’d got lost and asked for directions. After that he decided to head south because he’d forgotten to call in and wish James’ family a happy Christmas.

On 30 December James did a mail run to Wyrama and saw Darryl washing the Landcruiser. He saw the seats were wet, and that the inside of the car had been completely hosed out and water was dripping from the roof. This was corroborated by Alan, James’ brother, who joined James on the mail run that day. So much water had been used that the car had become bogged.

Darryl’s explanation as to how he came to be on Arumpo Rd did not make sense. In a statement, he said “Now, the main road that Eddy’s talking about going past the property is a dirt road, twisted up in some parts, and only gets graded twice a year… I thought I’d try Arumpo Road and do the turn off on Exhibit 3 off the Arumpo Rd where it’s highlighted yellow. Because, to my mind, that’s a shorter cut than going through Wentworth.”

However the map shows this to be nonsense. Taking the Arumpo Rd would not have avoided the need to drive from Pooncarie to Wyrama because the Arumpo Rd is south of Pooncarie, whilst Wyrama is to the north. That would mean he drove on the Arumpo Road, which he described as a “dirt track” and “pretty deserted”, avoiding the bitumen road. It is by no means a short cut. It is significant that Darryl asked Mr Wembridge for a map of the area which was eventually given to him.

Darryl said he left Melbourne on the morning of 27 December. He said it was 560km from Melbourne to Mildura. He filled up with petrol at Kyneton, and Ouyen and Buronga. He said that the fuel he purchased at Buronga together with two 20L drums on the back of his vehicle was sufficient to get him to Wyrama:

“I didn’t even get to the turn off of the Arumpo Rd, the road going from Arumpo Road to Pooncarie, when I realised I hadn’t seen Jamie, the postie… Before I got to the turn-off from Arumpo Road to the Pooncarie Road I realised I hadn’t called in to see Jamie and his family for Christmas and the New Year, so I turned around. How close, to be honest, I don’t know, to the turn-off road I was but I turned around and I must have been driving for a while wand I realised I had got a puncture…

“I went through Arumpo and right up to Top Hut, so I pulled over wherever I was, wherever it is marked, and I sat in the truck for a while until somebody went past, and I pulled them up and asked them to take a message to Jamie, or phone a message to Jamie and let him know where I was and what was wrong. They agreed, so I went to the truck and opened the glove box and I come across Jodie’s teeth she had left and had forgotten about, and I had forgotten about the day before. So I put those on the seat and was still looking for my notebook. I got it and just wrote Jamie’s number and where I am, and that I needed a spare wheel…

“What Top Hut is, to be honest, I don’t know if it is a town or a station. I have never been there… If I was coming from Top Hut, why would I need directions when I could ask the people there directions?

“They have been given the message and I am waiting at the truck - no response - so after about an hour, an hour and a half when the next truck, vehicle has come past - I think it was a utility - I asked them if they could give me a lift to the T-intersection at the Arumpo Road and Silver City Highway which goes up to Wentworth. So Ieft the truck on the side of the road and I got a lift to the Silver City Highway. Now I did ring the Wembridges from Buronga and told them I was coming…

“I walked for a while and I got a lift to Wentworth to Jamie’s place… I seen Jamie and I told him the trouble I was in with the spare wheel and everything, and I needed a complete wheel and tyre… When we got to the truck it was raining… I remember saying to Jamie ‘Don’t worry about you giving me a hand, sit in the car’. I said ‘Its no good the two of us getting wet when only one of us should get wet’ and he agreed and sat in the car.”

It was hard to work out why Darryl would have taken a longer dirt road over a shorter bitumen one unless he was disposing of the body. The police searched Wyrama Station, but no-one searched the Top Hut area.

Further, if he had left his sister’s house at around 10:30-11am on the 27th as she claimed, he would not have been anywhere near Wyrama or Arumpo Road by that afternoon, and James was clear that he was with Darryl on that particular day.

Due to Darryl’s known association with Jodie immediately before her disappearance, he was treated as a suspect, and the homestead at Wyrama Station was searched by police in March 1988. In the main bedroom police found the photos Darryl had taken of Jodie, the jewellery he had taken as collateral, a green bag matching Shirley Sutton’s description, as well as packets of Valium and Avitan.

Police also located a purple dress, make-up and other accessories (such as her brand of deodorant) which were identified as belonging to Jodie. With these was a note written by Darryl saying “Jodie 27/12”. He denied the dress was Jodie’s, and said the note was to remind him to give her dental plate back. Police found the plate in the rubbish at the homestead.

Darryl’s explanation for the presence of these items was entirely unconvincing.

Jodie’s mother Dorothy Larcombe stated that Jodie had the dental plate fitted in 1985 after having five teeth removed. She said her daughter never removed it except on one occasion when she knew Jodie had broken it, glued it together, and was waiting for the glue to dry. Jodie’s brother Darren also confirmed that she wore a plate, and the only time he’d seen her without it was when it was being repaired. He said that without it, her speech was significantly handicapped - she found it very difficult to speak and kept her hand over her mouth. A boyfriend of Jodie’s who had been with her for about a year since 1986 and still saw her occasionally, said she only removed it to clean it. He said she never removed it in public, and she was embarrassed by it.

As the Crown put it, the suggestion that she would have simply left the plate behind in Darryl’s car “simply beggars belief”. It is also highly unlikely he made the many phone calls to Jodie’s workplace as he alleged, given the long distance he had to travel.

Two bottles of Noctec were also found in the bedroom at Wyrama. A pharmacologist stated that the combined effect of these drugs taken with alcohol would increase their strength and could induce a semi-conscious state, in which a person would be able to comply with instructions.

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