Transcript: 101. What Happened to Bob Chappell? | Australia

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Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Some parts are graphic in nature and listener discretion is advised. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones.

65-year-old Dr Bob Chappell worked as chief radiation physicist at the Royal Hobart Hospital’s Holman Clinic. He was looking forward to retirement. His life’s dream of sailing around Australia – and as far as he could go – was about to become his everyday life.

Bob lived with Sue Neill-Fraser, and they had been together for more than 18 years. Both had been married before and had grown children from their previous marriages. Their blended family all got on together, and Sue’s daughters embraced Bob as their stepdad.

In September 2008, Bob and Sue found the perfect yacht in Brisbane: The Four Winds. It required quite a bit of renovation work, but that was all part of Bob’s plan. He wanted to put his own stamp on his yacht, get to know every inch of it before they set sail.

The Four Winds was a luxury 16-metre ketch that arrived in Hobart at the beginning of January 2009. It was moored in the River Derwent off Marieville Esplanade, at Hobart’s Sandy Bay. Bob and Sue, went out to her whenever they could, spending the day on the water, renovating their very own yacht.

Australia Day 2009 was the perfect opportunity to work on the yacht. Bob and Sue packed some supplies and took their dinghy off to the Four Winds at about 9am. They dropped anchor a short distance from the shore and set out for a day’s work. After lunch, Sue decided to go home, but Bob chose to stay onboard overnight. She took their blue and white Quicksilver dinghy and said she’d be back the next morning.

That night, Sue was home alone when she received a strange phone call. It was from a friend of Bob’s daughter, Claire. The man said to Sue that Claire had a vivid premonition that something terrible was about to happen to Bob. Claire suffered from mental illness, and Sue wasn’t sure what to make of this call.

At dusk, some passers-by saw the Four Winds, half-submerged in the waters of Sandy Bay. They had a dinghy, so went to the vessel to see if anyone was on board. But the yacht was abandoned, and there was no sign of Bob Chappell.

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Bob Chappell and Sue Neil-Fraser were in the process of renovating their newly acquired yacht, the Four Winds. On the Monday of Australia Day 2009, after Sue left Bob on the boat to stay the night, she left their dinghy at the Royal Yacht Club. To go ashore, he’d have to wait for Sue to return. The Four Winds without a dinghy, but he had his cell phone and said he would call if he needed anything before the next morning.

As the Australia Day BBQs sizzled out and celebrations across Hobart died down for the night, Sandy Bay was quiet. There was some activity onshore, mostly homeless people, huddling around fires, sharing food.

At 11:30pm, John Hughes was in his car, parked at the end of rowing sheds at Marieville Esplanade, when he heard something on the water. He saw an inflatable dinghy, coming from the Royal Yacht Club, and heading east, in the direction of The Four Winds. John saw a solo person on the dinghy – if he had to guess he’d say it was a female. But it was late and dark, and he could not provide a more definitive description. He did not think anything of it as he fell asleep in his car.

The next morning, just as the sun was rising at 5:40am, two friends saw an inflatable dinghy washed up on the rocks near the Sandy Bay Rowing Club. They went closer to have a look, and could not see the dinghy’s owner anywhere. As they looked across the bay for clues, they saw a sinking yacht, not far from land. The two friends quickly secured the dinghy, then headed out into the water on their own run-about, chasing out to see if anyone needed help. They reached the half-submerged vessel called The Four Winds and jump onboard. They called out and had a look around, but no one was there. In the saloon, there were some dark spots, possibly blood. The friends decided to call the police and waited for them to arrive.

At 7:30 the first officers arrived at the Four Winds. Police teams got to work, pumping out the water to prevent the vessel from sinking. It didn’t take them long to determine that the yacht had been sabotaged. A pipe connected to the toilet had been cut, allowing for a slow but steady inflow of seawater. The seacock had also been opened, adding to the conclusion that someone had scuttled the vessel. The seacock was covered with carpet and located under a panel. Someone uncovered it and opened it.

Two police boats and four divers searched the waters surrounding the yacht. They could not find Bob or any of his belongings.

The initial search of the Four Winds was somewhat disorganised. While some team members focussed on pumping water to prevent it from sinking, others started processing the scene for evidence. The yacht had three levels: the deck at the top, the wheelhouse in the middle and then the saloon at the bottom. This is where the kitchen, bathroom and beds were located.

Photographs of the first search revealed a knife on the floor of the wheelhouse. There was some blood on the steps leading from the wheelhouse down into the saloon. Downstairs, a torch with blood on it was found. On the floor was a section where a couple of carpet tiles had been removed.

Co-owner of the yacht, Bob’s partner Sue Neill-Fraser was contacted soon after police arrived at the scene. She was told that the Four Winds was sinking in Sandy Bay and asked to make her way down to the water. Sue immediately wanted to know if Bob was okay, but the officer on the other end of the line told her that he had not been located.

When Sue’s daughters heard the news, they rushed to their mom’s house. Her eldest daughter Sarah was worried when she saw the state Sue was in – she was incoherent and shaking, clearly in shock. Sarah called their family doctor and asked for help – he prescribed Valium, to help her cope with the situation.

Along with her daughters and Bob’s son, Tim, Sue made her way to Marieville Esplanade where she saw the scene of the half-sunken yacht and the water swarming with police activity. She was taken aboard to point out what was out of place.

She was able to tell them that the personal beacon, that is fitted to the vessel was no longer there. The fire extinguisher, usually in a wall-bracket, was also nowhere on the yacht. Sue pointed out that a piece of green rope was not where they usually kept it. Up on deck, there was a winch handle on the main mast that should not have been there.

After walking through the scene, seeing what was most likely Bob’s blood on the stairs and seat cushions in the saloon, Sue had to answer a couple of questions. She was in no state to sit through a formal interview, but she was able to provide investigators with a basic timeline of when she last saw Bob and that they had arranged for her to go out to the yacht the next morning. She told police that she had left the dinghy at the Royal Yacht Club and had no idea how it ended up on the rocks near the rowing club.

Police secured the dinghy and processed it, hoping to find some evidence that could explain what had happened to Bob. To start, they sprayed the surface with luminol. Under the neon light, a big area lit up brightly, showing evidence of blood. Something brutal must have taken place.

They had to consider if Bob’s was perhaps a case of suicide. But nothing in his life indicated that he had problems – financial or personal. By all accounts, his relationship with Sue was stable, and he was looking forward to retirement. The suicide theory was quickly dismissed. Another option that had to be looked at was the possibility that insurance fraud was behind the scuttling of the Four Winds. Perhaps the renovation costs and efforts were too much to handle. But talking to Bob’s friends and family, they learnt that he was excited about the project and that he had the financial means to see it through.

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Night came and went, and by the next morning, there was still no sign of Bob. Sue agreed to a formal interview and went to the police station. Her testimony was strange, and investigators didn’t quite know what to make of it.

She said that after she had left the dinghy at the Royal Yacht Club, she went to Bunnings Warehouse – a large household hardware store. Sue claimed that she always loved going there and that on Australia Day, she walked around for hours, it could have been as long as four to five hours. She felt guilty because she didn’t have her cell phone on her and that although she was worried that Bob might need her, she didn’t go home to be near the phone. Instead, she just browsed the aisles, walking up and down, without buying anything.

Sue couldn’t say for sure what time it was when she arrived home but remembered that it was turning dark. Bob had not tried to call, so she assumed everything was okay. In the course of the evening, she received a couple of phone calls from friends and family on the home line. The last call was from Richard King, and it ended around 10:30. Phone records confirmed this timestamp in Sue’s story. According to Sue, she went to bed after speaking to King and was notified about the sinking yacht and Bob’s disappearance in the morning, shortly after waking up.

Three days after Bob Chappell was last seen, the missing beacon from the Four Winds was found on the rocks at Wrest Point foreshore, less than a kilometre from the Royal Yacht Club. The inlet valve on the beacon was broken, and police announced to the media that they suspected Bob had met with foul play.

On the same day, the Four Winds was removed from the water and taken to Cleanlift Marine for forensic testing. Interestingly, they found the DNA of an unknown female on the starboard walkway – that is upon the deck, to the side. At first, police assumed that, when the yacht was moved, contamination took place. They believed that the DNA had been transferred from another item or via someone’s shoeprint. This is referred to as secondary transfer. Still, it was the strongest clue they had. The sample was sent to a lab in Melbourne and tests confirmed that the DNA was not transferred, but ‘primary deposit of her biological fluid’. It came from someone being physically present at the scene. But who was she? The sample did not match Sue, her daughters or any of their friends. Investigators were aware of the fact that the yacht was a recent purchase and had to consider the possibility that the DNA had come onto the boat before Bob and Sue took ownership of it.

Inspector Powell had six detectives working around the clock, but they were at a loss. They realised that they would need help from the public and appealed for information. Witnesses came forward and said that they saw a grey, aluminium dinghy attached to the Four Winds early that night, not the inflatable white and blue one owned by Bob and Sue.

There was contradictory information about the night, of which a lot of inconsistencies came from Sue herself. From the onset, police found Sue rather suspicious. Early on, when investigators discovered the seacock had been opened, they felt who-ever did this, was familiar with boats. The person most likely had an intimate knowledge of the actual vessel, knowing to find the seacock under a panel, under a carpet.

Another piece of evidence that became problematic was a discarded red jacket found on Margaret Street. This spot is in between the Royal Yacht Club where Sue said she left the dinghy and the Sandy Bay Rowing Club where it was found the next morning. When police asked Sue, she said the jacket didn’t belong to her. However, her daughters, not knowing what Sue had said, confirmed that the jacket did belong to their mom. When she had a second look, Sue changed her mind and said yes, it was actually hers. What was Sue trying to hide?

Also, they looked at CCTV footage from Bunnings Warehouse on the afternoon of Australia. In reviewing hours and hours’ worth of footage, police could not find any sign of Sue. Investigators questioned her again, one week after her first interview. Sue said that she left the Four Winds at 2pm and went straight to Bunnings, arriving at 4:40 pm and went in through the main entrance. She said she went up and down every single aisle, looking for timber and slipmats. When she didn’t find what she needed, she left. This version was slightly different from her first story when she said she spent hours and hours at the warehouse. She said she must have left later that she’d initially thought, as it was only a short drive from where she had parked her car, near the Royal Yacht Club.

A month later, Sue was asked to visit the police station for the third time. By this time she knew that police had reviewed the footage from Bunnings and did not see her, so, despite her previous accounts, she changed her story altogether, saying that her visit to the warehouse could have been on a different day. Sue said she was ‘pretty sure’ she went to Bunnings. Investigators confronted her, saying that store closed at 6pm, so if she arrived just before 5pm, her initial story of browsing for hours and hours does not make much sense. Sue could not explain why she changed her story, nor could she explain why she was not on any CCTV footage.

A week later, Sue was questioned yet again. This time, she was confronted with a trump card: her own words to an ABC journalist had come back to haunt her. In an interview with Felicity Ogilvie, Sue said that she drove down to the water to look at the yacht. She had a quick look, then drove home. As she drove along the foreshore, Sue recalled seeing homeless people with fires. In another interview, she said that she drove down to the Esplanade to look across the water to see if everything was okay with the yacht. Everything seemed to be in order, so she left the car and walked home for exercise.

Both of these stories, whether she drove or walked, contradicted her initial statement that she went to bed after her 10:30 phone call with Richard King. She neglected to tell investigators that she had gone down to the Marieville Esplanade after the phone call. They wanted to know why.

Sue said that she was anxious and disturbed after her phone call with Richard King. She had never met him before, but he said that he knew Bob’s daughter, Claire. Claire had many mental health issues, and Richard was her carer. Sue was under the impression he was Claire’s counsellor. King told Sue that Claire had a vision of sorts and wanted to warn Sue that their boat would sink and that Bob was in danger. Sue has had her problems with Claire over the years and did not know if she should take the phone call seriously or not.

Nevertheless, she was unsettled when she couldn’t reach Bob on his cell phone and decided to drive down to Marieville Esplanade. She told police that she remained in her car and looked at the yacht in the water. Then she drove back home. Sue could not explain why she never said anything about this nocturnal excursion.

After this interview, in April 2009, police searchers employed sonar equipment to search the waters of Sandy Bay. They found 90 anomalies on the sea bottom, of which divers retrieved 25 – none of it had any connection to Bob Chappell. There was an area that was too deep to explore, and visibility was poor. By this time, they knew that Bob was no longer alive, but they had yet to find his remains.

In May 2009, four months after the incident, Sue changed her statement again. She said she didn’t go to Bunnings on Australia Day after all. She had it confused with another day that she left Bob on the yacht to go shopping for slip mats and timber. Sue stated that on the last day she saw Bob, she must have left the Four Winds later than 2pm, probably closer to four.

She took the blue and white Quicksilver dinghy to the Royal Yacht Club, then drove and parked her car either on Allison Street or Margaret Street, she couldn’t remember which one. She could not remember if it was light or dark when she arrived home, in fact, she had no idea what time it must have been.

Police told Sue that Bob’s sister, Ann, who lived in Sydney came forward and told them Sue had mentioned that she drove to Marieville Esplanade after the phone call with Richard King, then drove back home. Sue admitted for the record that, after her phone call with King, she felt worried about Bob, so she walked down to Marieville Esplanade and saw the Four Winds. It was afloat, but there were no lights on, and she assumed that Bob was safely asleep. Sue corrected the information given my Ann, saying that she didn’t drive, she walked.

At this point in the investigation, police felt that Sue Neill-Fraser was responsible for Bob Chappell’s murder. They looked into their relationship to get a better understanding of the circumstances leading up to Australia Day 2009.

Bob and Sue had both been married before and had children from their previous marriages. Sue owned an equestrian centre, which she sold. Her love for horses continued – a passion shared with her daughter, Sarah.

The relationship between Bob and his three grown children was strained at times. Claire’s mental health illness had never been formally diagnosed or treated, and for Bob, a physician, it was something he could never really come to terms with. Sadly this meant that he did not have much contact with her. And if he did, it was volatile. Like for instance, the last time Bob spoke to his daughter – a year before he disappeared – Claire threatened to end her own life if he didn’t leave Sue.

Police bugged Sue’s phones and collected more than 700 hours’ worth of conversations with friends and family. By the 20th of August 2009, they felt they had enough circumstantial evidence to arrest her.

Sue insisted she was her innocent, but she’d have to wait for her day in court. Her daughters and friends were appalled that police could even suspect her of being a killer, let alone charge her with murder.

While Sue was awaiting trial, in March 2010, the unknown DNA sample found on the starboard walkway of the Four Winds, was matched to a young woman by the name of Meaghan Vass. Her sample was taken by police in another matter, unrelated to the Chappell case. At the time of Bob’s disappearance, Meaghan was 15 years old and had been living on the streets for two years. When police questioned her, she had no recollection of being anywhere near the water on Australia Day 2009. She denied ever setting foot on the Four Winds. She said that at the time she was unemployed, homeless and said she was ‘pretty sure’ she spent some time at the Montrose Woman’s Shelter. As she had substance abuse problems at the time, she was unable to provide exact dates.

Police did not quite know what to make of Meaghan’s possible involvement in the case but realised the DNA evidence could not be ignored, and she was called to testify at Sue Neill-Fraser’s trial. She confirmed that she had no recollection of ever going onto the Four Winds while it was anchored in Sandy Bay. She also had no memory of ever being on the vessel while it was kept for examination at Cleanlift Marine.

Sue’s defence attorney, David Gunson SC, applied to have Meaghan Vass recalled to the stand to testify after he received some evidence of Meaghan’s whereabouts on the evening of the 26th of January 2009. She was booked into the New Town woman’s shelter for the night but had told staff she was going to stay at an address in Mount Nelson. At 3:50pm Meaghan left, agreeing that she would call the shelter to provide a phone number of the person she went to stay with. She never called. She had no alibi for her whereabouts. The Prosecution refused to recall her, and the trial judge agreed, and Meaghan’s testimony was sufficient enough to exclude her from the case.

Sue and her supporters were convinced that she would be acquitted. The evidence against her was purely circumstantial: there was no body, no murder weapon and no witnesses. Her defence team also pointed out some failures in the investigation. They revealed that police never followed up on reports that the dinghy spotted on the water was a grey aluminium boat, not the white and blue inflatable one owned by Bob and Sue.

The State was not deterred. They laid out their version of what happened to Bob Chappell:

Firstly, they felt strongly that the Four Winds was scuttled by someone who knew the layout of the yacht, someone who knew to cut the toilet hose and to open the seacock in its hidden location. Other than Bob, Sue was the only other person connected to the case who would have had this level of familiarity with the boat.

Sue was also the one who, by her own admission, had taken the yacht’s tender to go ashore. The Prosecution argued that Sue most likely killed Bob in the afternoon of Australia Day, striking him on the back of the head with a wrench. She left him in the saloon and went home to establish an alibi. When Richard King called and said that he could not get a hold of Bob, she panicked, returned to the yacht with their dinghy at 11:30pm – as witnessed by John Hughes from his parked car.

In the cover of night, Sue then disposed of Bob’s body by hauling him up to the deck with a winch, from where she transferred him onto the inflatable dinghy. She used the fire extinguisher to weight his body down and dumped him in the water, somewhere in the River Derwent. Then Sue returned to the yacht, cleaned up the scene and left. When she arrived home at 3:08am, she dialled *10# to see if anyone called while she was out. That would give her between 2-3 hours to dispose of the body as well as the murder weapon.

The court believed that Sue’s motive for killing Bob was financial. She wanted out of the relationship but realised Bob’s 1.3 Million Dollar estate was worth more than a settlement if she were to split from her de facto-partner.

An old friend of Sue’s, Phillip Triffet, said that 10 years before, Sue had plotted to murder Bob. She also wanted to kill her brother, Patrick. Triffett stated that Sue had said she wanted to wrap Bob in chicken wire and throw him in the water. Sue responded, claiming she never said anything of the sort. Nevertheless, his testimony supported the Prosecution’s case that Bob’s murder was pre-meditated.

Justice Blow stated that:

“In my view Ms Neill-Fraser would not have attacked Mr Chappell unless she intended to kill him, had a substantial reason for killing him, was confident that she would succeed in killing him, and had a strategy to avoid punishment. This was not a killing that occurred because of a loss of self-control. It was not a crime of passion. It was an intentional and purposeful killing. I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Ms Neill-Fraser deliberately killed Mr Chappell for a reason, and that that reason had to do with her financial betterment.”

On the 15th of October 2010, Sue Neill-Fraser was found guilty and sentenced to 23 years in prison. She maintained her innocence, but most people felt justice had been served. However, Sue and her supporters refused to accept it.

She appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal in 2011. The main argument was around Meaghan Vass presence on the yacht: either she had committed the murder, or she had witnessed it. Sue also claimed that the Four Winds had been broken into two weeks before Bob vanished. He defence team contended that Bob was the victim of a burglary-gone-wrong. The court rejected the claim that Sue’s was a case of miscarriage of justice because the court failed to recall Meaghan Vass. However, Sue’s sentence was adjusted to 23 years instead of 25, with a non-parole period of 13 years.

Sue’s advocates have gone far and wide to prove her innocence. Unfortunately, in some instances, their efforts have done more harm than good for Sue’s plight. Three people were charged with offences regarding false evidence. Solicitor Jeffrey Thompson was charged with perverting the course of justice, because of a photo board identification procedure conducted by him with eyewitness Stephen Gleeson. Gleeson slept rough, in his car on the foreshore for about 9 months around the time of Bob’s disappearance. He said that on that Australia Day evening, he was asleep in his car when a young guy and girl woke him up. They were looking for something to eat. He made some sausages, and they ate together. Then they left, saying they were going to look for something to steal on the boats. Gleeson later identified Meaghan Vass as the girl from a photo line-up. Stephen Gleeson was charged with two counts of perverting the course of justice, to which he pleaded guilty. He received a 12-month sentence, with a minimum of 6 months.

Sue’s most persuasive advocates are Eve Ash and Colin McLaren. Eve made a six-part documentary series called ‘Undercurrent’. Eve joins forces with former detective Colin McLaren on a quest to find the truth about what happened to Bob Chappell. They spoke to Sue’s family and friends and tried to get a better understanding of who Sue was. No one who knew her thought that she was capable of murder. Most people who knew Bob and Sue refuted the statement from Sue’s friend who said she had plotted to kill Bob before.

They asked about Sue’s statements and why she was so inconsistent. One question that needed an answer was why she neglected to tell police that she went down to Marieville Esplanade around 11pm on the night in question.

Sue’s daughter Sarah explained the complicated relationship between Bob, Sue and Bob’s children. She said, when first asked about her movements the night before, Sue had just learnt that Bob was missing. She was in shock but trying to hold things together for the sake of the family. Sarah said, when Sue was asked, Bob’s son Tim was standing next to her. Because Claire’s mental illness is a sensitive issue, Sue would never have revealed the bizarre phone call from Richard King the night before that could possibly implicate Claire in Bob’s disappearance.

In fact, Richard King also called Tim that night with the same story, something Sue didn’t know at the time. Tim was so shaken up, he went to see Claire, to make sure she wouldn’t harm Bob somehow. Not unlike Sue, who went to check on Bob, to see if Claire had gone out to the yacht or not. It was a delicate time for the family, and at that point, they still hoped that Bob would reappear. He was a respected medical professional, and Sue did what she could to protect his and his family’s reputation under the circumstances. She never considered that it would make her look guilty.

Investigators also found ATM footage from a bank at Sandy Bay. A car that looked like Sue and Bob’s car drove past at 12:30am. Sue’s daughters agreed that was the same type of car, but it was entered into evidence that they confirmed that it WAS their mother’s car. A general statement was taken down as a fact.

As for Sue’s confusing accounts about her visit to Bunnings Warehouse, her daughter Sarah reckons, her mom was in shock and got the days mixed up. Australia Day was on a Monday, and Bob and Sue spent the weekend renovating the boat. Sarah also pointed out that her mother took Valium to deal with the stress, something she hadn’t done before. To Sarah, it was not surprising that Sue didn’t have her facts straight.

Then there was the issue of Sue’s red jacket that was found discarded nearby. Sue said she didn’t recognise it. She had bought a couple of jackets from a thrift store to use while renovating the yacht. The jacket wasn’t something she’d worn all that much. It was on Margaret Street, the morning after Australia Day and handed into police. The assumption is that the killer took the jacket from the boat and dumped it as they were running away.

Eve Ash discovered that there was a long dark hair on the jacket, but police never had it tested for DNA. Could it belong to Meaghan Vass? Eve had it tested by an independent lab. When the results came, it proved that it didn’t belong to Sue, her daughters or Meaghan Vass. It was the hair of another female who was arrested across town in Hobart that same night. The fact that it was on the jacket was most likely unrelated to the case.

Sue was the victim of her own statements and changing versions of events. If she had just asked for a lawyer early on, or if she practised her right to remain silent, police would have had no case. She essentially cast suspicion onto herself because of her inconsistencies.

As Eve and Colin’s documentary investigation unfolded, they became convinced that investigators constructed their case to make Sue appear to be guilty. They found that it was a botched investigation during which many vital pieces of evidence went missing. Evidence that was ‘inconvenient’ in proving Sue’s guilt, simply disappeared. Only evidence relevant to Sue was filed and kept.

Renowned Australian legal veteran, QC Robert Richter, also believes Sue is innocent. He was shocked when he learnt that the crime scene was not properly isolated. He said:

“Tasmania is a very strange place. They don’t have many mystery-type homicides. And when you have the homicide investigators there coming in, it is like calling a plumber to do heart surgery.”

In court, the Prosecution showed a photo of Bob and Sue’s blue and white inflatable dinghy, after luminol had been sprayed. A neon light lit up a large area, and the evidence was presented that they had found blood. It was shocking to see, it looked like a carnage took place on the dinghy. However, actual tests revealed that it wasn’t blood after all, but a chemical reaction of the luminol with something else, like bleach or paint. This was never clarified in court.

The fact that the Four Winds was a new acquisition was also breezed over in the investigation. Bob and Sue had only purchased it a couple of months before, and it had only arrived in Hobart weeks before Bob went missing. Before that, it was moored at Scarborough Marina, Brisbane for repairs, to make it seaworthy.

In the Pacific waters off the coast of Australia, yachts are often used to smuggle contraband interstate. A theory that was never considered by investigators, (although it was put forward by Sue) was that The Four Winds was used by smugglers. In fact, weeks after Sue was sentenced, there was a massive drug bust at the Scarborough Marina where the Four Winds was moored before it sailed to Hobart.

Eve Ash hired a private investigator to explore this line. He found out there had been an additional two drug busts after that time. In one of the cases, drugs were hidden in a fire extinguisher. Remember, the fire extinguisher on the Four Winds was missing the morning after Bob was last seen.

Colin McLaren had a closer look at the crime scene photos and discovered that a seat in the saloon of the Four Winds had telling blood splatter: vertical drops, indicating blood running down. Right above it was a hatch that opened up to the front deck of the yacht. On the wooden frame were friction marks, looking like it was made by a rope hauling something of significant weight. Colin discovered that an insurance agent investigated the scene in the days after Bob disappeared, and found grey hair and some skin on the hatch. Coins were found next to the hatch on the deck, consistent with change falling out of pants’ pocket.

The most important outcome of Eve Ash and Colin McLaren’s investigation was the fact that they tracked down Meaghan Vass, whose DNA was found on the yacht. After 10 years, Meaghan Vass finally decided it was time to speak up. And it was a game-changer…

Meaghan finally admitted that she was on the Four Winds that night after all. She tagged along with her 17-year-old boyfriend, a petty thief from a known criminal family. He found it lucrative to steal from yachts moored in the bay. Sometimes Meaghan joined him when he jumped from boat to boat, although she never took part in it.

On the night of Australia Day 2009, Meaghan and her boyfriend bumped into an older man, who was also keen to get in on the action. Paul was a hardened criminal with a rap sheet spanning several pages. Most of his offences were violent, one of them even included acting as a hitman. After serving a prison sentence in NSW, he moved to Tasmania where he lived on a yacht, moored close to where the Four Winds was anchored on the night Bob disappeared. Only after Sue was sentenced did the police get around to questioning him. Weeks after the interrogation, he sold the yacht and moved away.

Meaghan said that on that night, the three of them saw the Four Winds and decided that it would be their next target. They did not know Bob was there. Because there was no dinghy attached, they assumed that no one was on the boat. Once they were on board, Bob heard them and told them to leave. An argument ensued between the three men, it escalated, resulting in Bob’s death. The assault was violent and relentless, it carried on for about 20 minutes. Meaghan was so appalled when she saw the state Bob was in, that she vomited, leaving her DNA on the deck.

She got scared and asked the boyfriend to take her ashore. Meaghan said she never saw what happened after the attack, but when she saw police in the bay the next morning, she knew something bad had taken place. Police tracked down her ex-boyfriend and confronted him with Meaghan’s story. He denied ever being on the Four Winds and said that he did not murder Bob Chappell. He was only interviewed for 38 minutes, then let go.

Sue Neill-Fraser entered a second appeal in 2019, based on ‘fresh and compelling evidence’. This evidence is based on Meaghan’s testimony, which she signed, emphatically stating that Sue was NOT on the Four Winds that night.

However, Prosecution alleged that this statement from Meaghan Vass had been coerced by Colin McLaren. They claimed that he offered Meaghan $10,000 to change her original story. The State also alleged that Sue Neill-Fraser herself tried to convince Meaghan Vass to fire her attorney because he was about to uncover the conspiracy. Because of this, the appeal was denied.

After this, Meaghan Vass agreed to an interview with Australia’s 60 Minutes, in which she outlined the details of what she witnessed that night. Nothing was coerced or fabricated. She took so long to tell the truth because she feared for her own safety. Based on Meaghan’s revised affidavit, an application to reopen Sue Neill-Fraser’s case was granted.

Sue Neill-Fraser’s case that has been called one of Australia’s biggest miscarriages of justice. She has been called the Lindy Chamberlain of Tasmania. Lindy was the mom whose baby was taken by a dingo. For decades her story was brought into question and even ridiculed. She was vindicated 32 years after the death of her baby after a coroner’s inquest concluded that her baby died because it was taken by a wild dog. Many people believe that Sue’s case is equal in magnitude when it comes to the miscarriage of justice.

Meanwhile, Sue is serving her sentence in Risdon Woman’s Prison, hoping to one day be vindicated. We will keep an eye on this case and keep you posted on social media.

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