Leisl Smith resided with her mother on the scenic New South Wales Central Coast, yet Sandi Harvey remained fraught with worry, her heart swathed in prayers, as she tirelessly sought her for almost a decade.
The contemplation of selling this abode did cross my mind, but I could not bear the notion of her arriving at my doorstep in my absence, should she ever return one day. Such sentiments were conveyed to A Current Affair by Harvey.
The young woman, aged 23, vanished on the fateful day of August 19, 2012.
Despite the authorities charging a man with her murder, her lifeless body eluded discovery, and the murder weapon remained elusive.
The circumstances of Smith’s demise remain shrouded in mystery.
As she recounted to everyone, “He kept her as a hidden secret, as he was entangled in an ongoing affair with a woman he professed to be the love of his life,” Harvey added pensively.
Belinda Lees was the one who steadfastly stood by Church until his web of lies unraveled.
During the initial interrogation with the detectives, which occurred a month after Smith’s disappearance, Church claimed he had not seen her for months.
However, the police drew closer to him after finding Smith’s abandoned car at the railway station.
Security footage from Tuggerah on August 19, 2012, revealed Church’s ute arriving alongside Smith’s automobile, just before he asserted that he had given her a lift to Wyong, a brief ten-minute drive away.
Church initially informed the police that he had returned home and spent time with his family after leaving Lees’ residence.
As the investigation shifted from a missing persons case to a homicide probe, police ascertained that Church’s ute had been captured on traffic cameras at Sandy Hollow in the Hunter Valley, the first of two sightings on the same day.
Detectives engaged in a videotaped conversation with Church, questioning why he was not with his girlfriend Lees on the afternoon of August 19.
“Why would Belinda attempt to contact your landline and cell phone if you were in her company? According to Detective Senior Constable Michael Jones, Leisl Smith met her demise after you took her to the Hunter Valley.”
“I am not a murderer; I have never taken someone’s life,” Church staunchly retorted.
Detectives also found it puzzling that Church’s ute had been spotted traveling north on the same route two days before Smith’s disappearance.
The police asserted that during that time, “you chose and prepared a location to murder Leisl and dispose of her body.”
“I haven’t committed murder, and I don’t harbor violent tendencies.” Church responded resolutely.
On August 17, Church had left a voicemail for Smith, leaving an ominous message about having prepared a location where everything would be “fine” and ready to go.
Police accused Church of killing Smith for various reasons, including her claims of expecting a child from him.
“Leisl Smith had an infatuation with you. Her feelings of rejection and scorn stemmed from your newfound relationship with Belinda Lees,” the detective stated.
“You came to the conclusion that the only way to be rid of this problem was by eliminating Leisl, as you believed she was pregnant and unwilling to terminate the pregnancy.”
Police informed Church that Smith was never pregnant, but they persisted in pressuring him during the interrogation.
“We need to know where Leisl is because we suspect you are responsible for her demise and that her remains are in the Hunter.”
“I have never taken someone’s life. I have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and I have no access to a firearm. I have never committed such a heinous act,” Church affirmed adamantly.
Phone records indicated that there were 1804 calls and texts exchanged between Smith and Church in the three months before her disappearance, but none after August 19.
According to the police, “the only reason you stopped contacting her is because you know she is no more.”
After Church killed Smith, he stole her phone and sent messages to her friends and family, unaware that his phone was being tapped.
“I’m definitely going to jail,” Church admitted, “I don’t know what to do.”
Five days later, during a re-interview with the police, he confessed to lying and admitted to having had sexual relations with the 23-year-old.
Church provided an explanation for why he was driving his vehicle in the Hunter Valley on August 19.
His girlfriend had reminded him to visit friends, he told the detectives.
A new twist and account from Church surfaced a year after Smith’s disappearance.
When questioned about Leisl, he revealed that two men had shot him in the middle of the night.
“There were two gunshots; it wasn’t just one; it wasn’t a figment of my imagination; there were unquestionably two,” Church stated.
Six years after Leisl’s disappearance, the case remained unresolved, with no concrete evidence to support Church’s claims.
Six years later, during a reinvestigation, the police stumbled upon a highway patrol footage showing Church’s ute heading north around 2.14 pm on August 19th.
This crucial evidence demonstrated that Church could not have picked up Smith from Wyong and driven her on the long journey up north.
Church faced murder charges brought forth by the police.
The now 53-year-old man pleaded not guilty and was subjected to a three-month trial.
Harvey, Smith’s mother, attended the proceedings regularly.
Just 24 hours before the decision, an unexpected turn unfolded, one that no one could have foreseen.
Church committed suicide.
After over a decade of police efforts and three months of grueling testimony from the prosecution, it was a tragic conclusion.
The case ended without a verdict.
“He’s nothing but a coward – if he is innocent, I firmly believe he is guilty,” Harvey added with a heavy heart.
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