in late March, two death notices appeared in The West Australian newspaper. A cursory glance would not reveal what friends of the two men knew – that their untimely deaths were tragically intertwined. Phillip Chamberlain was a 49-yearold accountant whose work was widely admired in the close-knit farming community around the mid-west coastal city of Geraldton. The second death notice was for local farmer Rodney Vlahov, 48, a client and friend of Chamberlain’s. Years earlier, Vlahov had asked him to be master of ceremonies at his wedding.
On March 22, Vlahov shot Chamberlain at close range in his office and then drove to his farm and ended his life on a lonely hill overlooking the grain fields that make up a large family property in the Chapman Valley, half an hour’s drive from Geraldton. It is the land that his two brothers Andrew and Matthew, their father Tom and their migrant grandfather Ivan Vlahov had all farmed.
In the way of rural communities where everyone knows everyone, the appearance of two familiar names in the newspaper four days later sent ripples of shock through the town. The violent act seemed incomprehensible. Chamberlain and Vlahov had become firm friends after the accountant moved up to Geraldton 20 years ago with his wife Heather. Their children went to the same school, and the Vlahov family had been Chamberlain’s long-term clients in the accounting firm where he was a partner. Douglas Cross and