On 10 April 2002 I was working in the Bundaberg Detectives where I had been for the previous 7 years as an Investigator. That night my Officer in Charge rang to alert me of a body that had been found under the Burnett River Traffic Bridge. I was tasked with being the lead detective on the case, alongside my partner Detective Russell Williams.
When it was identified that British backpacker Caroline Stuttle was the victim of a horrific murder, Bundaberg was once again subjected to a lot of public and international media scrutiny due to the Childer’s Backpacker fire just 2 years earlier which I was also an Investigator for. The Police Commissioner gave an immediate assurance that Caroline’s murder would be investigated until the killer was found.
Homicide Squad detectives assisted in the Major Incident Room and the investigation continued every day for more than 10 months. Hundreds of statements and leads were taken and followed until Ian Douglas Previte, a 30-year-old homeless drug addict, was finally identified.
After a long, intense investigation involving hundreds of police, varying government departments, prison staff and prison inmates, the Supreme Court jury finally brought about a guilty verdict – some 18 months after the crime was committed.
After working on Caroline’s case every day over those 18 months, the day Previte was found guilty was one of the most satisfying in my 23-year career as a police officer.
Before and during the trial I kept in contact with Caroline’s brother Richard and I was over the moon when he told me he and his mum Marjorie were going to start ‘Caroline’s Rainbow Foundation’, a charity to assist backpackers stay safe when travelling abroad.
While in England for a Rotary Study Exchange in 2007, I was honoured to meet Richard and Marjorie in York where I learnt more about the Foundation and visited the rainbow mosaic and tree planted in Caroline’s memory. As a police officer who had never been involved with a victim’s family before, I was so nervous to meet them. But, since then we have kept in regular contact and I have followed the fantastic work of the foundation and was honoured to arrange the instillation of a rainbow mosaic in Bundaberg’s Buss Park, a location many backpackers visit every day.
My youngest daughter was just six months old when Caroline was murdered and I missed a lot of her growing up during that 18 month investigation, but I have been blessed to have watched both my daughters grow into amazing young adults over this 18 year period. At the same time Caroline’s parents and brother have had that same opportunity taken away from them on that night in April 2002. Nothing will ever take away the pain of losing Caroline but the work Richard and Marjorie have done since 2002 is an amazing and wonderful tribute to their sister and daughter.