A year after Debbie's brother disappeared, police made a shocking discovery.
Here, Debbie Smith, 57, tells the story in her own words...
I was nervous making the call. I hated giving my brother Dean, 54, bad news over the phone.
‘Dad’s had a stroke,’ I told him. ‘Are you able to go home and see him?’
Dean had been travelling around Australia for the past two years, after recovering from a life-threatening motorbike accident.
It’d been touch and go, but after years of rehab, my brave brother had pulled through.
I still worried about him though, and now Dad was in a nursing home, it made sense for Dean to move back to Wongan Hills, WA.
Thankfully, he agreed. ‘You’re right sis, I’m going back home,’ he said.
I felt relief as I hung up.
Over the next few weeks, I tried to call Dean for a catch-up but he didn’t pick up.
With his travels, he was always a bit hit and miss keeping in touch.
But there was still no word from him when Dad’s health deteriorated over the months. Dean wasn’t replying to his mates either.
I’d moved from WA to New Zealand, so I felt helpless.
Then, on August 23, 2017, I received some terrible news – Dad had passed away.
I phoned Dean, but he didn’t answer.
Dad’s died. Please call me, I texted.
But he was still silent.
At that, I became sick with worry.
There was no way Dean would ignore this.
And when he didn’t turn up for Dad’s funeral, I knew something was very wrong.
I reported him as missing and police began to look into it.
Joe, the detective on Dean’s case, kept in touch with me.
‘How does Dean spend his money?’ he asked me.
‘He usually gets chunks of cash out to buy food and fuel,’ I replied.
Apparently, his bank account was being used, but his spending habits had completely changed.
‘We think someone else is using his card,’ Joe said.
Just before Christmas, Joe rang again to say they’d found Dean’s abandoned ute.
When police asked me to send a swab of my DNA, I started to panic.
Where was my brother? I worried.
Then, in April 2018, Joe phoned with the news I’d been dreading.
‘I’m sorry, we’ve found a body, and we think it’s Dean,’ he said.
I broke down in tears.
It didn’t take long for police to confirm it, thanks to my DNA and Dean’s dental records.
My big-hearted brother was gone. His body was found in a shallow grave in the bush in Quairading, WA.
It had been there for a year and was so decomposed, they couldn’t determine how he had died.
It was horrific, especially as Dean had been just two hours from home.
Police said they already had a suspect and they eventually arrested Robert Troy Scanlon, 45.
He was charged with interfering with a corpse, motor vehicle theft, three counts of gaining a benefit by fraud and one count of stealing and giving false personal details to police.
In February this year, Scanlon appeared at WA District Court and pleaded guilty to all charges.
The court heard that when police initially interviewed Scanlon, he lied saying he knew Dean from a stint in prison. My brother had never even been to jail.
He also claimed Dean was still alive.
But after hours of interviewing, he changed his story, saying he and Dean had met travelling.
In court, he said the pair were camping when Dean fell from the roof of his car, bashing his head.
Scanlon saw the blood and watched my brother die, but did nothing to help.
He said he buried Dean in bushland as he was afraid of being accused of murder.
Scanlon then filled the grave using Dean’s own shovel, put broken branches over the dirt, stole Dean’s car and wallet, and used his bank card to buy things.
When the card was blocked due to suspicious activity, Scanlon even rang the bank pretending to be Dean.
He took the car up to Queensland and spray-painted it a different colour, before crashing it near Brisbane, where police found it.
Scanlon was sentenced to just six years in jail and will be eligible for parole in four, which was hugely disappointing.
I was unsurprised to learn Scanlon has spent various stints in prison, including for attempted murder, and was on the run from police at the time.
The newspapers reported Dean and Scanlon were mates, but I know that wasn’t the case.
My brother would never hang out with someone like Scanlon.
I don’t think we’ll ever really know what happened to Dean but I’m grateful to the police for finding my little brother after all that time not knowing.
It’s so painful he’s gone but living with the uncertainty was agonising too.
At least I know he’s resting in peace with our dad.
He’ll always be remembered as one of the good guys, easy-going, loveable and friends with everyone.