Deborah Dagan, 53, Aramac, QLD
Hearing the phone ring, I jumped up to answer it.
It’ll be Lindsay, I thought. It was my 50th birthday and I knew my big brother would call. He never missed an important occasion. When I answered, I was surprised to hear a stranger’s voice. It was a lady called Rhonda from Lindsay’s work.
‘Have you heard from your brother recently?’ she asked. ‘He didn’t turn up for work.’
A feeling of dread came over me. I knew my reliable brother would never take a day off without calling in. When I tried reaching him, his phone kept ringing out. I felt sick with worry as I waited for him to get in touch. Where was he?
Growing up I’d idolised Lindsay. We had a happy country upbringing in Ogmore, Queensland. Although Lindsay was six years older than me, we were close. Lindsay was an adventurer, often taking off in his ute and travelling around Australia. When our mum Mary sadly passed away in 1985, Lindsay packed up his life and hit the road. Every few weeks he’d ring from a new location and we’d chat about life. I loved hearing about his adventures.
While I went on to marry my hubby Graham, now 57, and had seven kids, Lindsay carried on his exciting life. Then for 10 years he settled down, working in Uluru as a bus driver hosting motorcycle tours. Lindsay loved a yarn, so it suited him perfectly.
At least once a year he’d visit us, always laden with gifts for the kids.
Then in 2013 he got itchy feet once again. ‘I’m moving to Port Hedland in WA,’ he told me. He’d got a job as a bus driver at a mine. As he worked one week on and one week off, he could spend his spare time camping.
When he wasn’t working, Lindsay mainly lived out of his beloved ute. He knew lots of great camping spots and was at his happiest sleeping in a swag under the stars.
Although Lindsay had a nomadic lifestyle, he always took his work really seriously. That’s why when his colleague rang, I knew something wasn’t right. At first I wondered if his car had got bogged somewhere remote and he was waiting for help. Lindsay always carried plenty of food and water, so I knew he’d be okay for a while. But as the days turned into weeks, my fears grew. By now Lindsay had been formally reported missing to police but there were no leads.
After a few weeks his case got passed to the missing persons unit. A feeling of dread twisted in my stomach. They wanted to know whether Lindsay had been on medication or if he’d been anxious about anything. The last time we spoke, he’d been his usual jolly self. I felt sure Lindsay hadn’t disappeared on purpose.
My daughter Tammy, 30, was also worried about her beloved uncle. She set up a Facebook page ‘Missing ‘Lindsay Judas’ Please help us find him’ and spent hours following up potential leads from around Australia. Each night I’d lay awake imagining where Lindsay could be. I even had moments where I wondered if he’d been taken by a croc.
Then CCTV footage surfaced of Lindsay on February 8, 2013 – seven days before my birthday. It showed him in a Coles supermarket in Broome, buying food. He was buying camping supplies, I realised. Seeing my brother looking so happy broke my heart. Where are you Lindsay?
'Where are you Lindsay?' I wondered.
His story featured on a TV show, appealing for help finding his white ute, with the number plates L4XXXXJ. I felt sure someone would remember seeing something so distinctive. After the show a bloke came forward. He lived in Ayr, Queensland and had Lindsay’s truck. He said he’d swapped his car for the ute with a bloke he met in Darwin.
I was confused. Darwin was almost 2000 kilometres from where Lindsay was last seen. Knowing Lindsay would never part with his beloved ute, I realised that something terrible must have happened to my brother. I felt helpless.
Meanwhile Tammy was also seeking answers. Through the Facebook group, she’d been contacted by a helpful man named Shann Low who told us Lindsay’s case needed to be investigated by the Major Crimes unit. He’d helped other families of missing people in the past. So my girl sent a petition to our state parliament, who then sent a letter to the WA Parliament on our behalf.
Then in October 2014 we got the call we’d been waiting for. The Major Crimes Unit was taking on Lindsay’s case. The first thing they did was impound Lindsay’s ute and take it to WA in a shipping container for forensic testing. Then a detective called. ‘We are investigating Lindsay’s disappearance as a suspected homicide,’ he said.
Deep in my heart I already knew Lindsay was dead, but knowing he might have been murdered almost broke me. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt my kind brother.
'I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to harm my kind brother.'
Within weeks, we got news that shocked me to my core...
I shuddered as the detective spoke to me. ‘We’ve arrested two people,’ he said. ‘One for murder and one as an accessory to murder.’ I felt relieved we were going to get answers, but also confused. Why would anyone want to murder my brother?
Two days later, police rang back to say they’d discovered Lindsay’s body. My poor brother had been dumped in a shallow grave in bushland off Crab Creek Road, just outside Broome. I was devastated. It broke my heart to know that I’d never see his smiling face again. I thought back to the CCTV in Coles showing my brother buy a whole roast chicken. He must have cooked dinner for his killer, I realised.
A few weeks after his body was found, we finally had a funeral for Lindsay in Rockhampton. People from all over came to pay their respects. I felt comfort knowing he’d touched so many people’s lives.
In January this year we started to piece together what happened to Lindsay leading up to his death. The Supreme Court in Broome heard that a man named Sammy Jonathon Hietanen, 39, and his then girlfriend, Stacey-Marrie Knight, 24, were travelling through WA in February 2013.
When Hietanen hit a cow in a car he had borrowed, they were forced to stay at Pardoo Roadhouse. There they met Lindsay. I knew my brother would’ve befriended the couple and helped in any way he could. Hietanen and Knight then travelled in convoy with Lindsay and stopped to buy supplies before retiring to a campsite at Crab Creek Road on the outskirts of Broome. While there, Hietanen hit Lindsay twice on the head with a metal bar. He claimed they’d had an argument but the Lindsay I know would never engage in a fight.
Giving evidence against Hietanen, his former girlfriend Stacey-Marrie, told the court she was asleep in the back of their Mitsubishi Triton utility after drinking and smoking cannabis, before being woken by her boyfriend who was ‘freaking out’. She said Hietanen was a ‘very scary man’ who’d beaten her when she asked what he’d done. Hietanen then tied rope around Lindsay’s legs and ordered Knight to tie the other end of the rope to the tow ball of the car. They then dragged my brother’s body into a shallow grave. The pair dumped their vehicle at a truck stop near Broome and fled the state in Lindsay’s ute, pawning his belongings along the way.
In January this year Stacey-Marrie Knight pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to an unlawful killing of Lindsay Judas. Sentenced to 22 months in prison which was backdated to July 2015, she is soon eligible for parole. Sammy Jonathon Hietanen, 39, was found guilty of Lindsay’s murder and jailed for at least 24 years.
It broke my heart. Lindsay had stopped to help people in need, and been repaid with brutal violence. The light of my life has been stolen away, but our family will never let his kindness be forgotten. My brother was a true gentleman to the end and that’s how we’ll remember him.
Lindsay's niece, Tammy says
Lindsay was a gentle giant. Each time he visited he would always bring a heartfelt bear hug. Without the assistance of Shann Low, who contacted me on Facebook, I may never have got Lindsay’s case investigated by the Major Crimes Unit. After years of searching for answers, seeing both Knight and Hietanen in court brought both relief and devastation. Hearing the details of what happened to my uncle that night was traumatic. He would never harm a fly and to know he experienced such a brutal death was almost unbearable. I’m pleased his killer ended up behind bars. Not only is it justice for Lindsay, but Australia is a safer place without him on our streets.
Originally published in issue 29 of that's life! magazine - July 21, 2016.