Bizarre ‘branding iron’ clue in prostitute torture murder
AT about 6.15am on February 12, 1998, a woman jogging along Bygotts Road in Brisbane's Samford nature reserve, glanced through a clearing in the bush and saw what looked like a body.
The woman ran home and returned with her husband, who walked into the gravel reserve known as a car parking area for lovers, and people who smoked drugs.
The man saw the body of a woman lying in the dirt under overhead telegraph wires, and the couple contacted police.
The dead woman was lying face down. She was naked except for leather braids on a wrist and an ankle.
She had suffered several blows to the head, effectively clubbed to death with a heavy, sharp object, possibly a small axe.
She also appeared to have been branded: three circular shaped objects formed a triangle of dark red bruises on the woman's back.
Ms Henry had likely been tortured, and the reasons are only just beginning to emerge 20 years later.
An attempt had also been made to incinerate her body, with charring to her legs, back and head showing she had been partially set alight with petrol.
An autopsy revealed she was four months pregnant. Police matched her fingerprints to their database.
Elizabeth Rebekka Henry, 30, had last been seen alive 20km away the night before.
Ms Henry had been working as a street prostitute in the infamous Brisbane sex beat, Fortitude Valley.
She had been standing on one of the Valley's notorious corners when she was picked up, murdered and dumped at the gravel pit.
Three days before she vanished, another Valley sex worker, Karen Redmile, had been attacked on Harcourt Street, Fortitude Valley at 3.30am and left for dead.
As Ms Redmile was lying in intensive care in a coma with severe head injuries, Elizabeth Henry was working the intersection of Harcourt and Brunswick Streets in the Valley.
She was last seen at 11.45pm, and then she vanished.
A witness would later tell police that a beige four-wheel-drive utility had "cut off'' another vehicle on Samford Road, which intersects with Bygotts Road at around 5.30am on February 12.
A short time later, the witness noticed smoke coming from the area where Ms Henry's body was found.
But that was all that the grieving family of Ms Henry, a mother of six children, had to go on.
The following day, they went to the site and placed flowers among the police markers at the spot.
Ms Henry's parents, Patsy and Hank, revealed that their daughter had battled alcoholism and a personality disorder.
She had relinquished custody of three children to her former husband, adopted another child out and entrusted the other two to her older sister.
Her sister, Jenny, said Ms Henry had been poor and homeless and had only worked as a prostitute out of necessity rather than choice.
She knew some very dangerous people.
"She was a good person who would talk to anyone and would always look after people, but she was very straightforward and would not back down from anyone,'' Jenny said.
Elizabeth Henry was killed on her first night back after a two-month absence from working the streets of the valley.
Her murder and Karen Redmile's attempted murder would drop out of the news until five years later, when the roads frequented by both women had become streets of fear.
The first victim was dumped in a vacant lot 8km from where she had last been seen.
A truck driver doing a U-turn at 11.10am on August 8, 2002, found the woman's body in the dirt clearing beside Hendra Police Station, in Brisbane's north east.
Dressed only in a black top and ankle boots, she was curled up in a foetal position.
Rigor mortis would suggest she had been there between four and six hours.
A set of tyre tracks and foot prints were in the dirt near the dead woman, but no blood which suggested to police she had been killed elsewhere.
Police fingerprinted her and photographed her tattoos.
Forensic examination revealed that she had been stabbed 19 times in the back, throat and arms, with some of the wounds 16cm deep.
That and the fact she had no defence wounds suggested the woman was the victim of a surprise frenzied attack.
Police identified her as Jasmin Crathern, a 41-year-old Valley street prostitute and mother of three who worked to support a heroin habit.
She had just been released from prison after serving time for stolen property offences.
CCTV recorded Ms Crathern at a BP service station on the strip at 8.30pm the night before.
She was then seen at a food van, and then the trail went cold.
Police took imprints of the tyre tracks and shoe prints at the scene, a sperm sample from her shirt and other DNA under her fingernails.
Media reports linked Ms Crathern's murder with Elizabeth Henry's of five years earlier, and the attack on Karen Redmile, who still lay in hospital, a severely brain damaged paraplegic.
Detectives in the Valley wondered if they had a serial killer on their grounds.
Police began interviewing Valley prostitutes who had dubbed the unknown assailant "The Schizo''.
Just 24 hours after Jasmin Crathern was found, another prostitute known to work Harcourt Street vanished.
Lana Denise Reside, 31, was seen possibly getting into a vehicle with two men along St Pauls Terrace, 15 minutes by foot from Harcourt Street.
By late October, Ms Reside had been located and the women working the Valley strip continued their trade.
A new year rolled in, and then on the morning of February 26, 2003, Brisbane City Council worker Dan Daly drove to Deep Water Bend on the banks of the Pine River in Brisbane's north.
It was 8am and Mr Daly parked his car at the Trichi Tamba Wetlands Reserve.
In the car park was the body of a woman, naked except for a sandal on her left foot and a blindfold; her hands had been bound with rope behind her back.
She had been hogtied, bondage style, without signs of struggle.
Forensic police would count 24 stab wounds on the body of the woman, who was identified as New Zealand-born Julie McColl, 42.
Just five hours earlier, at around 3am on a rainy Wednesday morning, Ms McColl had been on the streets of the Valley.
The mother of three had been discussing with fellow street worker Jacinda Thorne the weather's dismal effect on the night's trade.
Ms McColl was last seen walking along Adelaide Street in the Valley dressed in a white top and a blue denim miniskirt with dark coloured sandals, and then she vanished.
Her discovery made police believe they had a serial killer stalking street workers, a Valley Ripper, and it was clear the violence was escalating.
By early March 2003, prostitutes on the streets of Brisbane's red light district were scared, but still working their corners.
Within the space of six months, two street workers had been plucked from what some of the street girls were calling the Valley Ripper's kill zone, and it would later emerge a third had narrowly escaped from the killer.
Police believed the killer was a sexual deviant experienced in rope work and bondage who liked to bind up his victims.
Police formed Task Force Midas to investigate the murders of Julie McColl, Jasmin Crathern, Elizabeth Henry and Karen Redmile's near fatal assault.
On different street corners along Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley in March 2003, a mother and her daughter, both heroin-addicted prostitutes, were plying their trade, despite their fears.
Down near the railway station, Kay Gardner was pounding the pavement outside the sex shop strip along Brunswick.
Kay had reason to be fearful.
She had been a friend of Julie McColl's, the so-called Valley Ripper's latest victim.
Some time earlier, Ms McColl and Kay Gardner had been discussing leaving life on the street and starting a bondage business.
They had discussed the comparatively safer and more lucrative option to street work, of setting up a "dungeon" and charging clients $500 a session.
Julie had also discussed with another sex worker her dream of leaving the life altogether and returning to New Zealand where her three children lived.
But now she was dead and if the facts of her death - blindfolded, bound with rope and stabbed 24 times - were not chilling enough, it confirmed for Valley detectives that they had a killer on the loose in their precinct.
Further up the street from her mother, on Brunswick and Harcourt streets corner, the young and pretty Betina Gardner was poking her head in cars soliciting for her next $250-an-hour "mug".
On the game since she was 14, Betina was wise beyond her years, perhaps learning about the trade and the latest murder from her mother Kay.
Sharing her corner were two other young pretty girls, Jasmine, 22, and Jessie, 20, who told news.com.au that they were mortally afraid and trying to earn their money before night fell. Their clients were usually "straight married men with kids".
Betina reckoned the killer was targeting older prostitutes, but her belief didn't comfort her street friends.
"He's a square, a businessman," Betina declared, and revealed a fact of the investigation she may have gleaned from her mother Kay.
"They took a sample out of [Julie McColl's] body and did a DNA test and there was no match, so he's never had a record," Betina said.
She had some other advice for surviving the Ripper's reign of terror.
Experienced prostitutes working on their own just didn't allow themselves to be bound.
"You should never be submissive, it's too risky," Betina said.
But her mother's friend, the presumably streetwise Julie McColl, may just have done so to earn a dollar on an otherwise unprofitable night.
Forensic analysis of Ms McColl's stab wounds showed they were of the same depth, not inflicted in the frenzied manner Jasmin Carthern's had, but methodical and deliberate.
Task Force Midas began reworking the clues from the crime scene of Elizabeth Henry's 1998 murder.
They consulted the stock squad and the Department of Primary Industries to see if the marks on Ms Henry's back were from a branding iron used on livestock.
Inspector Mike Condon said police were also making inquiries whether the weapon was a jewellery-making tool.
Then a street prostitute came forward and told them about a man on the night Julie McColl vanished.
Jacinda Thorne told detectives that at around 2.50am a man in a ute with a matching canopy had approached and she had climbed into his car.
He asked whether he could tie her up. Ms Thorne wasn't interested and got out of the vehicle. He said "I might be back" and drove off.
She described to police the driver as male, caucasian, 40 to 45 years old, overweight with a beer gut, and a moustache.
CCTV footage of the streets at the time showed a vehicle driving through the Valley three times.
Car dealers told police it looked like a Mitsubishi Triton, a 1996 to 2001 model, which had tyres with tracks similar to those found at the Jasmin Crathern crime scene.
The Brisbane detectives carefully pieced together their evidence: the tyre tracks, the footprints from a common kind of footwear known as T-boots, and a DNA sample with no computer match from Ms Carthern's shirt.
They took a Comfit drawing from Jacinda Thorne and the CCTV of the ute prowling the Valley.
The ropes binding Julie McColl were a multi plait braid cotton type rope with rope end clips added and crimped with a tool.
They narrowed down the number of owners with a Mitsubishi Triton to 26 people in the north Brisbane area, near the two dump sites of Ms Crathern and Ms McColl.
The tyre tracks were from a cheap Chinese model sold by just one importer.
The CCTV footage showed the prowling Triton had pinstriping down its side, fog lights, CB aerial and a nudge bar.
A man called Francis Michael Fahey had been ticketed in one of the 26 vehicles, and a check revealed that he had been convicted of a WorkCover fraud offence.
A prison photo of Fahey resembled Jacinda Thorne's Comfit image.
When detectives drove to Fahey's address. sitting in the driveway was a vehicle matching the car in the CCTV footage with all the customised features was parked in his driveway.
It had the cheap Chinese tyres and in the car were a pair of T boots.
They put the vehicle under surveillance. Fahey did frequent Deep Water Bend Reserve to go fishing.
A discarded cigarette butt was retrieved during the surveillance, and from the DNA on Ms Crathern's shirt it was a perfect match.
A court-ordered assessment conducted by Brisbane psychiatrist William Kingswell, who studied his medical and work records, found Fahey was a sexual sadist and deviant.
"He enjoyed cruelty to pigs and was emotionally abusive of his children and prone to lies and manipulation,'' the report said.
In April, 2006, Fahey, a 53-year-old former ambulance driver, was sentenced to two life terms for the murders of Julie McColl and Jasmin Crathern.
On September 2, 2006, Karen Redmile died in hospital. Her attack was now deemed a case of murder.
But detectives did not believe that Fahey had killed Ms Redmile or Elizabeth Henry, making their deaths both open cold case murders on the books of Queensland's unsolved crimes investigators.
Then in February this year, the still devastated relatives of Ms Henry came forward with a theory about her torture and "execution" which has eerie links to other prostitutes on the Valley strip.
The slain woman's sister Mary said Elizabeth "knew she was going to be murdered, she said people were after her to kill her".
Brother Peter told the Sunday Mail Elizabeth had revealed she planned on exposing a sinister underbelly of the vice scene in Brisbane, the underground pornography scene involving snuff films.
Snuff films are movies made during which a person is actually killed, made for a sick, minority audience.
But the family also had other theories, relating to the Valley as a centre for a rampant street prostitution trade, even though it was illegal.
Queensland's cold case unit is still "actively investigating" Ms Henry's murder
Earlier this month, former police officer John Garner came forward with a theory.
Mr Garner, a veteran forensics expert who helped investigate the Daniel Morcombe murder and the Sydney Granny Killer cases, said Ms Henry's murder can be traced to two different implements used in the meat industry.
Mr Garner made drawings of the torture marks on Elizabeth Henry's body after her murder as part of his work as a police forensics sketch artist.
Now a forensic science lecturer at Queensland's Griffith University, he told the Sunday Mail the marks were vital clues in the likely thrill killing.
Tracing the three stamp-like markings on Ms Henry's skin, his drawing reveals an image similar to a beef stamp, with what looks like a bull's head at its centre.
The brandings form a triangle which Mr Garner believed was made by a stamping implement, "something like a smallgoods beef stamp".
Her terrible head wounds, made by as yet unidentified weapon, could be explained by a livestock killing device.
Similar to the pneumatic gun used to murder people by the character played by Javier Bardem in the movie, No Country for Old Men, it is called a captive bolt gun or pistol.
In the livestock industry, the goal of captive bolt stunning is to inflict a forceful strike on the forehead of an animal with the bolt to induce unconsciousness.
The bolt may or may not destroy part of the brain.
Mr Garner believes such a device could have cause the sort of wounds inflicted on Ms Henry.
"The injuries did not fully penetrate the skull, they put cracks around it, but they made jelly of the brain," he said.
"It keeps coming back to the meat industry," he said. "That is my belief and I remain unshaken in that belief."
Mr Garner helped identify the vehicle used by serial killer Francis Michael Fahey in the murders of Julie Louise McColl and Jasmin Crathern and the attempted murder of a third prostitute, Renee Reeves, who escaped his clutches.
A $250,000 reward remains on offer for anyone with evidence leading to a conviction in the murder of Elizabeth Henry.
Anyone with information should report to www.crimestoppers.com.au. or call Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.