I met Stephen when he first came out here from New Zealand when he was 18. We became friends and in 1979 started working together and developed an indoor plant hire business, which we later sold and started a landscaping business.
It went really well. He was the designer, the horticulture expert. I got the business and he executed it. We worked together and lived together on and off over 16 years. It was more or less a platonic father and son relationship.
In August 1994 he was living with his sister and some friends up at Palm Beach, and he didn’t turn up to work one day. In those days we didn’t have mobile phones and that sort of thing. He told me he was going out the night before and said he’d be at work at 8 o’clock the next morning.
When he didn’t turn up I thought, oh well, he’s stayed out partying. Then when he didn’t turn up the next day I sort of panicked a bit and rang his sister, and she hadn’t heard from him either.
We thought it was a bit strange and by Thursday I started thinking, where could he be? So I just drove around a few places and saw no sign of him. It was totally out of character. On the Friday I rang the police.
I was driving home that night and called into Deep Creek Reserve at Narrabeen, which is a beat, and there was his car. The police kept that area as a crime scene overnight. We had no idea what happened to him for the next five months.
In the meantime a taxi driver had been murdered at Collaroy Plateau, and all of a sudden it looked like we had two murders. We hardly ever have murders in the peninsula.
Then on 21 December, a torso was washed up at Pittwater. The police said they didn’t think it was Stephen because of the condition of the torso. It looked like it had been in the water for only about three or four weeks.
However, because he was a missing person they needed to get some blood from his mum to do DNA testing and we had to find his dad, who was up in Broome. And we waited.
It was, I think, the fifth of January when we got a phone call to say yes, it was Stephen. [Stephen was the first person identified using DNA in NSW.]
The police had found an arrowhead in Stephen’s heart, but didn’t release this information because they were continuing their investigations. When they did release the information on 19 March, five people rang up and nominated a particular person as being someone who had spent time down at Deep Creek carrying a bow and arrow.
The police put this guy’s name -“ Richard Leonard -“ into a computer and found he had been admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital with stab wounds two hours after the taxi driver was murdered at Collaroy Plateau.
According to him, when he got out of hospital he panicked because he had given his real name and address, which meant he had to get rid of Stephen’s body out of his fridge.
He’d had it in the fridge for five months. He took it down to Pittwater and wrapped it in two parcels, the torso in one and weighed down with rocks, and the head, arms and legs in another parcel.
Now, because the torso had air in it, it floated and, thank god, otherwise we still wouldn’t know what had happened to Stephen.
The police waited a week or so before they approached both Richard Leonard and his girlfriend, who admitted to being an accessory after the fact of Stephen’s murder. She helped dispose of the body.
Leonard admitted he was a homosexual, but he couldn’t accept he was a homosexual, which is why he was hanging around a gay beat terrorising people.
I’m glad he’s in jail for the rest of his life. He’ll never get out. I don’t believe in the death penalty. I’d rather see people suffer in jail. If that’s bad karma, well, I’m sorry.
After the funeral it was very important for me to get in touch with a support group. This was all something that was completely foreign to me. I had never spent much time in courts. I needed to be with people who understood how I was feeling.
I joined the Homicide Victims’ Support Group but found there were some restrictions, because they follow the Charter of Victims Rights to the T. To be a victim you have to be an immediate member of the family or have been cohabiting for at least two years.
Stephen and I hadn’t cohabited because we were in a platonic relationship. Which meant there was always the feeling in the organisation that I wasn’t really a victim. I found also there was a bit of homophobia within the organisation.
I’d met quite a few other dissatisfied people -“ heterosexual and gay -“ so I went out and started my own, The Homicide Survivors Association. We have a court support volunteer program, help with victim impact statements, parole board submissions, mental health review tribunal submissions.
I’ve been involved in 58 murder trials supporting people over the years. You know the system backwards. You’re able to explain to people experiencing it for the first time what is going on.
It’s fantastic Michael Kirby was named NSW Australian of the Year. He’s such a deserving person. I don’t know who nominated me for Australian of the Year, but I’m very humbled.
I’ve been the figurehead for this organisation but it’s important to recognise all the other people who also get out there and help each other, and get on the phone and are there to take phone calls 24 hours a day from people who are distressed.
Interview by Myles Wearring