September 13, 1990: On this fateful day, Colleen Walker-Craig, a sixteen-year-old, mysteriously disappears after parting ways with a group of individuals following a gathering at The Mish.
Colleen’s family reports her absence to the local authorities, who, rather than promptly initiating a missing person’s report, curiously conjecture that Colleen has simply embarked on a journey of her own volition. Consequently, no formal police action is undertaken to search for the young girl.
October 3, 1990: Another distressing incident unfolds when Evelyn Greenup, aged four and incidentally Colleen’s cousin, vanishes from her grandmother’s residence following an event at The Mish. Although her family alerts the regional police, their appeal is met with an indifferent response akin to Colleen’s case. One of Evelyn’s family members recollects a particularly callous remark from a police officer, who callously inquires, “What am I to do in this matter?” and dismisses Evelyn’s disappearance as her having “gone walkabout,” before promptly leaving for the day.
January 31, 1991: The enigma deepens as sixteen-year-old Clinton Speedy-Duroux becomes the next to disappear after attending festivities at The Mish. His last sighting places him asleep in a caravan owned by a local man named Jay Hart, who resides near The Mish.
Clinton’s family files a missing person’s report, only to encounter the same apathetic response that Colleen and Evelyn’s families faced. Faced with this disheartening lack of support, Clinton’s family takes it upon themselves to initiate a search operation.
February 18, 1991: Grim discovery shatters the community as the remains of Clinton are found in the wilderness along Congarinni Road, approximately seven kilometers from Bowraville. His demise is marked by severe head injuries. Notably, a pillowcase, later linked to Hart, is found concealed within his trousers.
April 27, 1991: Tragedy strikes once more as Evelyn’s lifeless body is uncovered in the same wilderness near Congarinni Road. Her skull bears evidence of penetrating injuries.
During this period, a fisherman stumbles upon Colleen’s garments, weighed down by rocks, within the nearby Nambucca River. Despite this grim discovery, Colleen’s remains remain elusive.
Ultimately, with due diligence, the focus shifts to Jay Hart, prompting intensified police scrutiny.
The Primary Suspect
A pivotal figure in this somber narrative is Jay Thomas Hart, who arrived in Bowraville during his adolescence. He shares familial ties to the region and occupies a caravan adjacent to his mother and stepfather’s abode. By day, Hart labors at Bowraville’s canning factory, while nights see him frequenting The Mish, located a short stroll away from his caravan.
While Hart’s social circles are limited in “white” Bowraville, he garners recognition at The Mish, earning the moniker of “The King.” His appearances at gatherings are accompanied by provisions of alcohol and marijuana, a gesture particularly favored by the younger attendees who lack access to such substances.
Hart’s past includes a partnership with Alison Walker, an Aboriginal woman residing in The Mish. Together, they share a son. Although Hart’s demeanor is characterized as composed while sober, a contrasting facet of his personality emerges when inebriated. Incidences of violence mar his history, including endangering Alison while she was pregnant. Ultimately, Alison relocates with their son, leaving Hart to reside in the caravan on his mother’s property.
Suspicion mounts as Hart is consistently observed at gatherings and notably remains in the vicinity of the victims prior to their disappearances.
Interconnections with the Victims
Colleen, closely related to Hart through familial ties to Alison, maintains a connection with him. A July 1990 incident finds Colleen and her friend Patricia Grainer invited to Hart’s caravan to partake in music videos, libations, and rest. Colleen recounts an unsettling encounter, revealing Hart’s inappropriate advances during the night, which she successfully fends off.
Colleen temporarily resides with her aunt Muriel in Sawtell, situated approximately 60 kilometers north of Bowraville. Upon returning to Bowraville in September 1990, Colleen once again encounters Hart’s persistence, this time choosing to bring a male companion for added security.
On September 13, Colleen envisions a night spent at a party, followed by a journey to catch trains for an adventure. However, Hart’s insistence on her remaining in his caravan is rebuffed, and she proceeds towards Marje’s house, subsequently vanishing without a trace.
Several weeks later, a party takes place near Marje’s home, where Evelyn resides with her mother. Hart’s presence is noted once more, and the events that unfold eventually lead to Evelyn’s disappearance. Rebecca, Evelyn’s mother, embarks on a frantic search, seeking help from neighbors and venturing to Bowraville town.
Hart’s involvement in these events does not escape notice, as he continues to weave through the fabric of this intricate narrative.
The legal landscape unfolds with a series of trials and tribulations. Initial investigations suffer delays, with Hart’s caravan remaining untouched for months, allowing him to tamper with potential evidence. Hart’s eventual arrest and trial for Clinton’s murder transpires in 1994, marked by circumstantial evidence.
During legal proceedings, the defense accentuates the intoxication levels of key witnesses, questioning their credibility. Moreover, cultural disparities manifest, as behaviors typical within Aboriginal culture are misconstrued within the Western legal context.
Hart’s alibi, centered around his morning activities, is meticulously examined. His subsequent acquittal in 1994 stirs controversy and prompts renewed efforts to unearth the truth.
In 1997, a dedicated strike force initiates a reinvestigation into the cases. Subsequent coronial inquiries follow in 2004, resulting in renewed accusations against Hart, specifically pertaining to Evelyn’s demise.
The ensuing prosecution in 2006 mirrors Clinton’s trial, with the exclusion of details from the other cases. Cultural challenges resurface, impeding the testimony of Aboriginal witnesses.
Hart’s second acquittal reverberates through the legal landscape, raising complex questions about justice and accountability.
Aftermath and Ongoing Challenges
While the desire for justice remains fervent, New South Wales’ double jeopardy laws impose limitations on the potential for further trials. Hart’s potential retrial hinges on the emergence of fresh evidence, a prospect that remains uncertain.
Efforts to revisit the case persist, with law enforcement and state prosecutors advocating for a comprehensive trial encompassing all three cases. Despite these endeavors, appeals meet repeated setbacks, culminating in the High Court’s rejection in 2019.
This saga stands as a haunting testament to the intricate interplay of justice, cultural dynamics, and the quest for closure in the face of formidable legal hurdles.