Killed as she wrote her shopping list

Helen was a loving sister, mother and grandmother. So why would anyone want to hurt her?

Jenny Hitchcock, 59, Maitland, NSW

My hands were shaking as I hung up the phone. I tried to make sense of what I’d just been told. My brother Greg, 61, had rung to ask if I’d been watching the news.

The question made me instantly anxious. I hoped nothing had happened to my relatives on an overseas trip. But I never could’ve predicted what I was told next. ‘Aunty Helen’s dead,’ he said in a shaky voice. ‘She was shot!’

There had to be a mistake. Who would want to harm such a beautiful lady? My Aunty Helen, then 75, was a lovely woman. Kind and caring, she volunteered tirelessly and showered our family with love.

Despite losing her partner Ray in 2004 and her best friend Reita to cancer eight years later, she still maintained a good social life.

She spoiled her three dogs Lulu, Zoe and Sooty and loved nothing more than playing bowls each week.

She was always first on the dance floor at parties and lit up the room with her smile. Now I was being told her happy life had met a terrifying end.

Calling my mum and Aunty Helen’s sister Noelene, 81, she was at the police station giving a statement. 

Devastated, all she knew was that my sweet aunt had been shot through the front door of her Toongabbie home, killing her instantly.

I raced to Sydney to be with my family. As we all gathered at my sister Kay’s house, I did my best to support Helen’s daughter Kathy, 58. Our grief was unbearable as we held each other and cried.

I soon discovered that on the evening of November 19, 2014, at around 6pm, Aunty Helen had answered the front door to an unknown person. That person had fired a gun through the screen door and shot her in the face.

There was no evidence of theft or burglary and she’d been discovered the next morning by a friend when she didn’t show up to the bowling club. ‘It has to be a case of mistaken identity,’ I cried to Mum.

The next day the story was all over the news. No-one could believe something so horrific could happen to a sweet grandmother.

I was still consumed by grief when we went to her house a few days later. The crime scene had been cleaned except for an ugly bullet hole in the wall behind the front door. Looking around, we could see her shopping list and a pen on the coffee table.

She must have been writing it when the killer came knocking. Detectives worked around the clock to find the person responsible. Christmas came and went as we then faced Aunty Helen’s 76th birthday without her.

“‘It has to be a case of mistaken identity!”

I was heartbroken by the loss of my dear Aunt. (Credit: Supplied)

In January, police held a press conference to share some CCTV footage of a late 1990s maroon Toyota Camry that was seen near Aunty Helen’s house that night.I spoke to the assembled media on behalf of the family.

‘Please come forward if you’ve seen anything,’ I begged. On February 9, I got a call from a detective.

‘We’ve arrested a man in relation to your aunt’s murder,’ she said. ‘His name is Rodney Boatswain.’ I was stunned. Rodney, then 63, was the son of Helen’s late best friend, Reita!

Suddenly, the murder didn’t seem like mistaken identity at all. But detectives told me Rodney had terminal cancer and might not live to face trial.We might never get justice, I thought sadly.

As we tried to digest the news, we remembered Reita had spoken to Aunty Helen about the rocky relationship she had with her son.

She’d told her she was considering changing her will and Aunty Helen had encouraged her to do what she felt was right.

Reita had amended it not long before she died and made it less favourable for Rodney. We knew he hadn’t been happy about it, but had it made him angry enough to kill? And why was my innocent aunt the target?

As the trial approached, our suspicions were confirmed.

(Credit: NSW Police)

At a bail hearing at the Supreme Court of NSW in July 2015, the court heard that Rodney Boatswain, of Glenwood, NSW, had a ‘long simmering but unfounded belief’ that my aunt, Helen Dawson Key, was responsible for his mother altering her will unfavourably to him.

In police interviews, he admitted to holding a grudge but denied committing the crime. He also drove the same make and model car that was seen near Aunty Helen’s home.

The court heard that he also told a co-worker, ‘I’ve shot someone and I thought I would have been caught by now.’

Bizarrely, media reports soon revealed that Rodney had been accused of the murder months earlier on a Magic Eight Ball website.

Before his arrest, the question ‘Did Rodney Boatswain murder Helen Dawson Key?’ was posted on the site by an anonymous user.

The reply said Magic ball answers: without a doubt. However the email address couldn’t be traced and police said their investigations did not ‘yield any significant evidentiary leads’.

Rodney was granted conditional bail due to his ailing health.

On December 4, 2015, Rodney Boatswain, then 64, died just hours before he was due to be arraigned for trial.

His family was able to say their goodbyes – something we were never able to do.

He took our chance at justice with him to the grave. We hope a coronial inquest can be held, but we may never have closure.

A beautiful, innocent woman was stolen from the world. But we’re determined to make sure we remember her for the amazing person she was, not the way she was taken from us.

The crown case

At Rodney Boatswain’s bail hearings, the prosecution presented a summary of evidence:

Witnesses claimed that Boatswain had sworn revenge against those who had been involved in the changing of his mother’s will. He reportedly said he would ‘wait a couple of years’ after his mother’s death in November 2012 so no-one would suspect him.

He owned a car of the same colour, make and model as the one that was caught on CCTV near the scene. The registration number of the vehicle was the same except that Boatswain’s had one letter and number different. The crown said they had expert evidence to show that he had used black tape to alter the plates.

Originally published in that’s life! issue 9, 3 March 2016

Reita Boatswain with Aunty Helen (Credit: Supplied)

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