Bevin & Brad SIMMONDS

 

   Bevan Simmonds in undated copy photo, believed murdered along with son in 2003.

Mystery double murder baffles Top End

June 20, 2003 10.00am  -The Age

A baffling double murder mystery is unfolding in one of the wildest, most remote parts of Australia.

A fisherman and his son disappeared in the Gulf of Carpentaria two weeks ago during a routine trip to check shark nets.

After a massive search failed to find any trace of the pair, police admitted they suspected foul play and called in homicide detectives.

But they are tight-lipped about why anyone might have wanted to kill fisherman Bevin Simmonds, 36, and his 10-year-old son Brad.

 

The backdrop to the disappearance, the gulf country and western Cape York, is some of the wildest, most hostile terrain in Australia.
 

The Simmonds' base is Karumba, an isolated frontier town more than 700km from Cairns where the main earners are fishing and a port.

Karumba has a reputation as a wild town, where fishermen and port workers party hard in the little time they have between shifts or voyages.

But life on boats in the gulf is potentially even wilder.

"It's very isolated, there is no one looking over your shoulder seeing what you're doing," said one man, who did not want to be named.

 

Arguments between fishers over turf in the gulf are no secret and there is growing conflict between local and east coast crab fishers.

But police say such conflict is not a factor in the case.

The Simmonds were last seen when they set out in a five metre dinghy to check shark nets near the mouth of the Coleman River.

The alarm was raised when they failed to return to the main ship.

Some of the nets were checked but the job was not finished, police later found.

 

Police searched four fishing vessels on the Coleman River and seized items, later charging a woman with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

After the search was called off police combed the area with sonar equipment, finding objects in an unnamed creek off the Mitchell River.

Police divers will inspect them next week.

The water is crocodile infested, so it will be watched for more than 24 hours before the dive begins and marksmen will be present.

"We would like to think (the objects are) the missing person's dinghy but we can't be sure," said Cairns Police Inspector John Harris.

 

The Simmonds lived on a Karumba property when they were not on their boat, El Dorado, fishing for barramundi, salmon and shark.

Brad was a student of the Cairns School of Distance Education.

The Karumba fishing community is in shock, particularly over the disappearance of the boy, said one resident who did not want to be named.

"Fishermen go missing and that's part of the game, it's a rough life," he said.

"If they go over the side and get tangled up in the nets and drown that's one thing, but when there's a young kid involved that's quite shocking."

 

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Satellite concerns surface at murder trial

Concern over satellite surveillance of a Gulf of Carpentaria murder scene in far north Queensland was raised in the Cairns Supreme Court yesterday.

Conversations between Joan and Michael Gater were secretly recorded after the disappearance of Bevan and Brad Simmonds.

The Gaters have pleaded not guilty to murdering the Simmonds, who disappeared more than two years ago.

Their 4.6 metre dinghy has not been found, despite extensive searches.

Police used a covert device to record conversations between the Gaters after the disappearance.

In one conversation Michael Gater says, "she's talking about getting satellite pictures of what happened that morning".

Joan Gater replies, "satellite pictures? Yeah, surely there'd be a satellite up there, she could get pictures of that morning - yeah - mate, if they had satellite pictures of that morning we wouldn't be sitting here now would we".

The court also heard a conversation in which an attempt to implicate the grandparents of 10-year-old Brad in his Gulf of Carpentaria disappearance was discussed.

The court heard extracts from more than 40 hours of a police surveillance recording after a device was planted in Michael Gater's car.

Beth and David Ward were also fishermen in the area and the grandparents of Brad.

Michael Gater in discussion with de facto Christine Leudeman says, "lets say something turned up at their place - I'm just talking hypothetical".

Christine Leudeman replies, "what would turn up at their place? Let's say that dinghy turned up at their place - yeah - then that would tie them in - I'm not talking about them murdering him, they wouldn't do that but that would tie them in, wouldn't it?".

The trial is continuing.

Fishing for clues to Cape killings 

- The Australian, extract by Robert Reid, January 12 2007

ABOUT 7am on Thursday June 5, 2003, Bevin Simmonds and his 10-year-old son Brad prepared for a day just like any other day in the knockabout world of professional fishing off the remote west coast of Cape York Peninsula.

It was time to head out in the dinghy to check their shark net off the mouth of the Coleman River, about 10km south of the Aboriginal community of Pormpuraaw, where the family trawler El Dorado was anchored.

Normally Simmonds took his 12-year-old daughter Katie to the net while Brad went with his mother Cathy to clear barramundi nets in the Mitchell River, about 6km to the south. But on that morning Katie had homework to attend to and Simmonds decided to take Brad instead.

On that day the water was dead calm, what fishermen call a "glassy" sea, always a welcome bonus for the hardy breed who regularly tackle the roughest of conditions when hauling in their catches.

Soon after Simmonds, 36, and Brad left in their 5m aluminium dinghy for the shark net 8km offshore, Cathy Simmonds and the couple's third child, four-year-old Sam, headed off in the direction of the barramundi nets. Katie stayed on board with governess Michelle Saunders, who tutored the children via the Cairns School of Distance Education.

Cathy and Bevin usually returned to the El Dorado at about the same time after checking their nets, but on this day Bevin was late. At first Cathy was unconcerned. Her husband had recently extended the length of the shark net, so she reasoned it would take longer to clear the catch. Later, though, she became worried and phoned friends and acquaintances. But nobody had seen Bevin and Brad. Some time before 11am she motored out to the shark net but there was no sign of her husband and son. Later she made a second trip, this time meeting Michael Gater and his mother Joan, members of a fishing family on the Cape. They hadn't seen Bevin and Brad either. Not long after that, concern turned to alarm and Cathy notified police.

Cathy Simmonds and Michael Gater searched for Bevin and Brad until 11pm. At 4am the next day they started again, supported by search and rescue personnel and a contingent of volunteers. Cathy trawled along the shark net with an echo sounder, knowing if the dinghy had sunk, she would find it. But there was nothing.

A large-scale air, land and sea rescue operation covering 1300 square nautical miles followed. For three days fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and boats scoured a vast area of the region's rivers and waterways. There was still no sign of the dinghy or the missing pair. They had simply disappeared. On Sunday June 8, the official search was suspended.

But family and friends of Bevin and Brad Simmonds kept looking. They didn't believe two people and a dinghy could vanish without trace. And if an accident had occurred, why no sign of the dinghy or the gear stowed on board? Old hands in the fishing industry have been involved in searches before this and they are adamant something always turned up. They say there is always a visible clue to what happened if there has been an accident. A floating oar, an oil slick, a petrol drum wedged in mangroves, something is always found. This time there was nothing.

On June 13, detectives executed search warrants on four fishing vessels in the Coleman River and "seized a number of items" including bank records and fuel containers, finally admitting they were treating the disappearance as suspicious. On the same day they announced in a media release that "a 55-year-old woman is currently assisting police with their inquiries into the disappearance of Mr Simmonds and his son".

That woman was Joan Gater. The raided fishing vessels all belonged to the Gater family. This development fuelled widespread rumours that the Gaters were under suspicion for murder, at least by popular opinion.

On December 12, six months after Bevin and Brad Simmonds disappeared, police made their move, arresting Michael and Joan Gater and charging each with two counts of murder. The Gaters appeared in the Cairns Magistrates Court three days later and were remanded in custody. The Gaters were well known on Cape York. Joan, her husband Vince, Michael and his younger brother, Vincent Jr, kept to themselves aboard their four fishing vessels, rarely venturing ashore except for supplies and an occasional foray into the pubs, either at Kurumba or Weipa. Vince Sr, the patriarch of the family, wore an iron hook in place of his hand in true seafaring fashion. It's believed he lost the hand in a boating accident and then travelled several hours in a dinghy to receive medical assistance.

On February 5, 2004, Michael and Joan Gater faced a preliminary hearing in the Cairns Magistrates Court in relation to the murders of Bevin and Brad Simmonds. The court heard police had planted a listening device in the Gaters' vehicle and secretly recorded 40 hours of conversation between the two and others. Police requested that 16 of the 66 witnesses listed to give evidence do so in the Pormpuraaw court to avoid the expense and complications of bringing them to Cairns. On June 28, a year after the Simmonds disappeared, Michael and Joan Gater appeared in

the Pormpuraaw Magistrates Court.

The court heard evidence from Cathy Simmonds's parents, David and Beth Ward, that Michael Gater did not like Bevin Simmonds. David Ward told the court that Gater made threats against his son-in-law and once told him that Bevin would be "in trouble" if he met him alone at a shark net. Beth Ward gave evidence that about 18 months before the disappearance, Joan Gater told her that if ever Cathy wanted to get rid of Bevin, she should give Joan a call and "the best way to get rid of a body was to put it in a prawn net". The Wards' son Shane told the court Michael Gater was "crazy" about his sister, Cathy. The next day Cathy Simmonds revealed she had had sex with Michael Gater three times since 2002, the last time just days before her husband and son disappeared. But she said she and Gater were only friends.

Leading investigator detective sergeant Ed Kinbacher said police had considered all possibilities that would explain the disappearance of the pair including accident, suicide or that they had absconded for reasons unknown. He said Bevin Simmonds's bank accounts remained untouched and the conclusion was that foul play was involved. He said when police raided vessels owned by the Gater family, they were unable to locate Michael Gater's firearms.

The committal hearing resumed on July 5 in the Cairns Magistrates Court. The Simmonds's governess, Michelle Saunders, told defence counsel, Sydney barrister John Korn, that Bevin had confided in her that his marriage with Cathy was over.

Saunders expressed her opinion that she didn't believe Cathy Simmonds and Michael Gater were involved in a sexual relationship. But Toni Phillip, a former cook employed by Michael Gater on his boat, the Paladin, later gave evidence that Gater told her he was in love with Cathy and had bought her an expensive watch and perfume.

Phillip said that on one occasion Joan Gater told her she wanted Michael "to be with Cathy, she would be good for him ... she was bubbly and full of personality".

Fishing charter operator Gregory Lesley Bethune told the court he was a friend of Michael Gater and had known him since 1991. He said during a conversation in June 2003, Gater told him the authorities had "burned thousands of dollars" in fuel searching for Bevin and Brad Simmonds, but after three days "to the hour" police started to investigate him. "I asked him did he do it and he said no," Bethune said. "He said he'd had a couple of punch-ups on the wharf with him, but he didn't kill him. He had said he'd kill him but he didn't do it."

During cross-examination by defence lawyer Korn, detective sergeant Kinbacher said, "Cathy Simmonds advised us that the shark net was half cleared of fish and that Brad and Bevin had been disturbed at the net." Kinbacher also said Cathy Simmonds's brother Shane Ward had told him that during the search he had been with Michael Gater in a small creek where Gater recovered a tarpaulin and "other things", saying, "Don't want helicopters flying around here." Kinbacher said police searched the creek but nothing was found.

On September 16, magistrate John Lock committed the two Gaters to trial. He said the evidence consisted of "strands of evidence, not links in a chain" but he was "not making decisions about each strand, or particular strand, of evidence" and was "leaving that to the jury".

On October 10, 2005, in the Cairns Supreme Court, Joan and Michael Gater stood charged with the murders of Bevin and Brad Simmonds. It was a scenario unique in the annals of Australian crime history, a mother and son charged with the murders of a father and son. Presiding judge Stanley Jones addressed the court with the words that set the scene for a trial that would determine the outcome of a murder-mystery that had all the elements of a Hollywood movie drama: "There are no bodies to establish that they are dead or how they died. They simply disappeared."

The trial followed a similar pattern set by the committal hearing almost a year earlier. In sensational evidence, the court heard police had covertly taped about 40 hours of conversation between Michael Gater and his former de facto partner, Christine Ludeman, and also with his mother. The tapes reveal Gater discussed with Ludeman the Simmonds's disappearance and the fact that Gater was a suspect.

Ludeman, who was to be a key witness in the case but died of heart failure before the trial, was recorded saying: "You're gonna get away with this." Gater replied: "I hope so."

In another conversation Ludeman asked: "What did you do it for? You'll miss all this, all your freedom. I can't understand how you could ... why you had to go and do it."

Defence lawyer for Joan Gater, Greg McGuire, in his closing address, said the case against his client "defied logic". He said the case against Joan Gater was "based on nothing other than suspicion" and "if it was not so serious a scenario, it would be laughable".

Michael Gater's lawyer Korn described the Crown's murder case against him as a "shallow submission" and the motive put forward by the prosecution as "too absurd for words". He asked the court: "What kind of a person does he have to be to kill a boy he knows, a boy he bought presents for ... who appears to be the favourite child of the woman whom he wants as his wife?"

After the trial of Michael and Joan Gater was over, there was no doubt the case was purely circumstantial: no known witnesses to murder, no bodies, no murder weapon, no dinghy. There was no proof the two were dead, and if they were, no knowledge of the cause of death. But police believed it was a very strong circumstantial case.

The defence case relied heavily on the lack of material evidence, dismissing the covertly recorded conversations between Michael Gater and Ludeman as nothing more than desperate discussions about an innocent man being falsely accused of murder and how to get the police off his back.

On October 21, 2005, and continuing on the following Monday, justice Jones addressed the jury of eight women and four men. Jones said there was no doubt Michael Gater had a "passion for Cathy, was infatuated, and had a desire to be with her" and witnesses gave evidence of threats made by Gater aimed at Bevin Simmonds. But, he said, the defence had suggested the threats "were just silly rot that he didn't take much notice of and that's the way they would be seen in that community where people drink too much and shoot their mouths off and engage in a bit of boasting and bravado".

Jones spoke of the secretly taped conversations between Michael Gater and Ludeman, as well as with his mother. Justice Jones said Gater was recorded saying to his mother: "Yeah, they'll give me 25 years now ... no, it wasn't me, oh, we'll make it ... they try and frighten me so I'll say 'yes, I done it' but it's not as if I'm going to give a bullshit confession to something I haven't done, you know." Jones concluded his summing up with: "The secretly recorded discussions are not the be-all and end-all for either side. They must be taken into account with other evidence."

The jury retired at 11.30am. Almost five days later, on Friday 28 at 2.30pm, the 12 members of the jury returned with their verdict: not guilty of either murder or manslaughter. Michael and Joan Gater were free, judged not guilty by a jury of their peers, ordinary men and women selected by the court to rule on a complex matter of life, death and freedom.

Who then murdered Bevin and Brad Simmonds? Police investigators have no suspects, but they have not abandoned the case. Detective sergeant Kinbacher said that whatever events took place within a timeframe of about 1 1/2 hours at the shark net were crucial to the case but remain unknown.

"The circumstances of the cause of this disappearance remain a mystery but this case is not closed," he said.

There is a single opinion that is uniform whenever the mystery is discussed by fishermen who spend their lives on Cape York Peninsula's west coast. They say that along the murky waterways and inlets of the region there are numerous holes, many of them 15m-20m deep, that will swallow completely any heavy object that sinks to the muddy bottom. "If you weight a dinghy down and remove all flotation devices the mud will suck it under in a short space of time and nobody will find it," one long-time fisherman said. He said the area was the natural home of dangerous marine creatures such as giant gropers, bull sharks and crocodiles that would dispose of bodies completely.

"Bevin and Brad won't be found now," he said. "The odds are nil."

Cathy Simmonds has since remarried.

Edited extract from the new edition of Under a Dark Moon by Robert Reid. On sale at Angus & Robertson shops and from the author's website.

 

 

 

Man linked to missing persons case found dead

Posted Mon Feb 18, 2008 8:31pm AEDT - ABC

A man connected to a notorious missing persons case in far north Queensland has been found dead in a public toilet block.

The body of 24-year-old Brian Dunnett was found in Weipa early on Saturday morning.

He was a deckhand on the El Dorado fishing boat with Bevin Simmonds and his son Brad, who both disappeared in mid-2003.

Mr Dunnett had been charged with stalking Michael Gater, who was found not guilty of the Simmonds murder after a Supreme Court trial.

The stalking charges were later dropped.

Acting Detective Inspector Brad Eaton says police have been interviewing several witnesses over Mr Dunnett's death.

"Obviously we're looking at the circumstances surrounding this young man's death," he said.

"At this stage we're treating the death as suspicious until we get the result of a post-mortem examination, which should be conducted in Cairns on Wednesday sometime."

Fishing identity Michael Gater, acquitted of double murder, faces court accused of 'payback'

FISHING identity Michael Gater, who was acquitted of the double murder of a rival fisherman and his son, faces new charges of stealing two boats in an alleged "payback".

GULF of Carpentaria fishing identity Michael Gater, who was acquitted of the double murder of a rival fisherman and his son, faces new charges of stealing two boats in an alleged "payback".

Cathy Simmonds, the wife of missing fisherman Bevin, 36, whose son Brad, 10, is also missing, yesterday told a Cairns court that a feud over fishing territory in the Coleman River ended with "ropes cut" and two boats gone on the night of March 25 last year.

Mrs Simmonds said she angrily confronted her former lover Michael Gater and his brother Vince at a nearby fishing camp, south of Pormpuraaw on Cape York, and was allegedly told "it was payback for all the stuff you done to us".

In one of the state's most enduring murder mysteries, Bevin and Brad Simmonds vanished without a trace after checking shark nets near the mouth of the Coleman River on the morning of June 5, 2003. Weather conditions at the time were perfect.

Rival barramundi gill-net fishers Michael Gater and his mother Joan were charged with their murders but acquitted by a Supreme Court jury in 2005. No murder weapon, bodies or boat have ever been found.

That trial heard evidence of fierce rivalry that spilled over into bloodshed, shootings and brawls for the best fishing spots in the isolated waters.

Other evidence included that Mr Gater was "infatuated" with Cathy Simmonds, with whom he was having an affair.

Three years after the murder trial, Karumba fishermen Brian "Brains" Dunnett, who was close to Bevin Simmonds and had allegedly threatened Mr Gater, was found shot dead in a Weipa public toilet block.

Police later determined Dunnett committed suicide, while Mr Gater said he was "1000 miles away" at the time.

 

In the latest twist in the feud between the two families, Mr Gater's lawyer, John Korn, told the Cairns Magistrates Court that it seemed his client's family was blamed for anything that went wrong on the Cape.

In cross-examination, Mrs Simmonds, the female skipper of the fishing boat El Dorado, admitted she was upset when she discovered two dinghies had disappeared.

"Too right I was angry. I went down and asked them (Mr Gater and his brother Vince): 'Where is my friggin' boat?"'

Police allege there was an attempt to extort the Simmonds family over the return of the two dinghies, which later turned up at the mouth of the nearby Chapman River two days later "trashed" and with some equipment missing.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Ash Gregg told the court he would make an application for an indemnity to allow Mr Gater's family lawyer, Anne English, to give evidence.

Ms English took the witness box but declined to speak on the grounds of client privilege.

Magistrate Trevor Black set the matter down for mention on March 30.