Paddy Mo­ri­arty Dis­ap­peared

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by Rus­sell Marks

If you were look­ing for a quirky out­back yarn, this one would tick most boxes: a tiny re­mote town (Lar­rimah, a speck on the Stu­art High­way 500 kilo­me­tres south of Dar­win, pop­u­la­tion about 11, av­er­age age about 70) and its all-con­sum­ing, long-run­ning feuds (which have pro­duced, among other cu­riosi­ties, ri­val town preser­va­tion so­ci­eties); a pub called the Pink Pan­ther (be­cause it’s pink, and be­cause of the life-size Pink Pan­ther sit­ting on a chair out the front next to the gi­gan­tic brown stubby); croc­o­diles; wild pigs; sink­holes; and a lo­cal icon, Paddy Mo­ri­arty, 70, who van­ished into a hot De­cem­ber night just be­fore Christ­mas last year. “Why are all the me­dia here?” asks Greg Ca­vanagh, coro­ner. It’s June, nearly six months since Mo­ri­arty’s dis­ap­pear­ance. Half a dozen jour­nal­ists are crammed into the Kather­ine Lo­cal Court’s tiny num­ber two court­room for an in­quest into what has be­come the talk of the Ter­ri­tory. There have also been na­tional TV re­ports, in­ter­na­tional cov­er­age and a pod­cast se­ries. “Your Hon­our, I think they’re go­ing to write their book on it, a bit like Wolf Creek, in due course,” replies Kelvin Cur­rie, coun­sel as­sist­ing. “Yes, I sup­pose,” says the coro­ner dryly. As a young lawyer Ca­vanagh was on Lindy Cham­ber­lain’s de­fence team. Five years ago he fea­tured on an episode of Fox­tel’s Out­back Coro­ner; The Aus­tralian de­scribed him as bear­ing “a star­tling re­sem­blance to the age­ing Gary Cooper”. “Cav”, as he is known to Top End lawyers, is tall, hard of hear­ing (he com­plains in the open court that a hear­ing aid is out of the ques­tion: “Ten thou­sand dol­lars, I’m not go­ing to pay that!”) and a mas­ter of the wry quip. On the first day of the in­quest, the wit­nesses – nine civil­ians (mostly res­i­dents of Lar­rimah) and two po­lice of­fi­cers – tell the court about Paddy and his re­la­tion­ships with ev­ery­one else in town, when they last saw him, and what they did to try to find him. “He loved to chat and he loved talk­ing to strangers,” says Pink Pan­ther pub­li­can and lo­cal zookeeper Barry Sharpe. (One of his ex­hibits is Sneaky Sam, a 3.5-me­tre salt­wal­ter croc who was in­ves­ti­gated – and ap­par­ently cleared – over Mo­ri­arty’s dis­ap­pear­ance.) “Tourists would come by the pub ev­ery year specif­i­cally to see Paddy,” says Karen Rayner, who man­aged the pub un­til last year. Ir­ish-born Paddy Mo­ri­arty had ar­rived in Aus­tralia aged 18 and made im­me­di­ately for the Top End. In Lar­rimah and Daly Wa­ters – 90 kilo­me­tres south – he be­came an iden­tity. Wear­ing a beige cow­boy hat, blue sin­glet and thongs – and hold­ing one of the eight cans of XXXX Gold he rit­u­ally downed ev­ery evening un­til his dis­ap­pear­ance – the lushly mous­tached Mo­ri­arty even made the cover of pho­tog­ra­pher David Darcy’s 2013 book Ev­ery Man and His Dog. The var­i­ous wit­nesses more or less agree that be­tween 6pm and 6.30pm on Satur­day, De­cem­ber 16, Mo­ri­arty left the Pink Pan­ther with his kelpie, Kel­lie, drove his quad bike the cou­ple of hun­dred me­tres to his home, put a left­over Wool­worths chicken (given to Kel­lie by a tourist) in his mi­crowave, and van­ished. He didn’t re­turn the fol­low­ing morn­ing to col­lect the lawn­mower he’d ar­ranged to bor­row from Sharpe, or to watch Land­line. (“That was sort of a lit­tle ritual we had,” Sharpe says. “We used to call it ‘go­ing to church’.”) Sharpe and oth­ers started look­ing for Mo­ri­arty on the Mon­day, De­cem­ber 18, and po­lice com­menced a three-day search on the Wed­nes­day. Another four­day foren­sic search was per­formed by the Ter­ri­tory Re­sponse Group just af­ter Christ­mas. No sign has ever been found of ei­ther Paddy Mo­ri­arty or Kel­lie.

“How many times have you said, ‘I’m go­ing to mur­der him?’” Cur­rie asks her.

On the sec­ond day of the in­quest, the 74-year-old star wit­ness, Fran Hod­getts, bus­tles in to give ev­i­dence. She lives di­rectly across the Stu­art High­way from the dis­used ser­vice sta­tion Mo­ri­arty had lived in for a decade, and runs a Devon­shire tea house out of her home. They were neigh­bourly at first – Hod­getts brought meals over to Mo­ri­arty when he re­turned home fol­low­ing a triple by­pass – but by 2010 their re­la­tion­ship was ac­ri­mo­nious. Lin­ing her front fence are a dozen black­boards list­ing, in tightly packed white text, the items on her menu. The prices aren’t in­cluded, which is just as well, be­cause her pies are $13 and her scones are more. In re­sponse, Mo­ri­arty had put a sign out the front of his place, alert­ing tourists to the “best pies in town” – at the Pink Pan­ther, for a com­pet­i­tive $5. Their an­i­mos­ity is no­to­ri­ous in Lar­rimah, and to some she was the prime sus­pect in Mo­ri­arty’s dis­ap­pear­ance. At the in­quest, Kelvin Cur­rie takes Hod­getts through the many, many oc­ca­sions on which she had com­plained to po­lice about Mo­ri­arty, for such of­fences as warn­ing tourists about her sub­stan­dard food, steal­ing her red um­brella (an el­derly res­i­dent, Arthur, told her he’d seen a sim­i­lar one in Mo­ri­arty’s house), break­ing a plas­tic fit­ting on a hose con­nected to her wa­ter pump (at­tend­ing po­lice found a per­ished O-ring) and de­posit­ing road­kill in her front yard. The last time he did this, she says, was four days be­fore he van­ished. “How many times have you said, ‘I’m go­ing to mur­der him?’” Cur­rie asks her. “Fuck­ing mil­lion, mil­lion, mil­lions of times,” she froths, each “s” sound a whis­tle. Mo­ri­arty wasn’t the only one who didn’t like Hod­getts – “short, fat, abrupt, rude, over­bear­ing un­less you’re do­ing some­thing for her or do­ing her a favour” is how Pink Pan­ther bar­tender Richard Simpson de­scribed her in a state­ment to po­lice. But did Paddy Mo­ri­arty end up minced into Mrs Hod­getts’ fa­mous “buf­falo” pies? There is no ev­i­dence of that. (“I’m rid­dled with arthri­tis,” Hod­getts scoffs. “Imag­ine me car­ry­ing a dog and a bloody body.”) Nev­er­the­less, it is the most de­li­cious of the many spec­u­la­tive the­o­ries about what hap­pened to Mo­ri­arty, which also in­volve sink­holes (maybe he fell into one?), wild pigs (maybe they ate him?) and ene­mies from his past. But as the in­quest un­folds, it’s clear the coro­ner isn’t much in­ter­ested in th­ese con­jec­tures. Kelvin Cur­rie raises with Hod­getts the events of Septem­ber 2017, when she had told po­lice that Mo­ri­arty and her ex-hus­band Bill had poured oil all over her plants. “I couldn’t prove any­thing be­cause ev­ery­thing was done when I went shop­ping at night.” It was around this time that Hod­getts had wel­comed 71-year-old Owen Lau­rie to her prop­erty as a res­i­dent gardener and handy­man. “I swear to God, that man is as hon­est as the day is long,” she gushes to the court. “I love him to pieces as a per­son.” Very lit­tle is known about Owen Lau­rie by any­one else. Most of the lo­cals – all 10 of them – have never met him. He is the last wit­ness to give ev­i­dence. Three of Paddy’s clos­est mates, sit­ting in silent hope that the in­quest will de­liver some an­swers af­ter six baf­fling months, lean for­ward in their seats. Lau­rie tells the court that, within hours of them meet­ing, Hod­getts had told him all about her nui­sance neigh­bour, Paddy Mo­ri­arty. “Fran likes to talk,” he says. He’s heard sto­ries of Paddy “over and over and over and over again, ad in­fini­tum”. Coro­ner Cav and Kelvin Cur­rie are par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in a ver­bal al­ter­ca­tion be­tween Mo­ri­arty and Lau­rie that had hap­pened three days be­fore the dis­ap­per­ance. Later that af­ter­noon, Richard Simpson caught up with Mo­ri­arty for a beer. “He told me that Owen had come out and told him to shut his fuckin’ dog up or he’d shut it for him,” Simpson re­calls. “Es­sen­tially [Mo­ri­arty] said, ‘You shut your mouth, you old cunt, or I’ll take your knees out from un­der you.’ And then, like, a week later he goes miss­ing and where’s the dog?” Dur­ing her ev­i­dence, Hod­getts re­calls Lau­rie telling her about the ex­change. “Did he seem up­set?” Cur­rie asks her. “I’d be ly­ing if I said no,” she replies. She says she also re­mem­bers telling Lau­rie: “Don’t do any­thing stupid, be­cause I’m go­ing to Dar­win and I don’t want to come back and bail you out of jail.” Some weeks be­fore Mo­ri­arty went miss­ing, Lau­rie had been plant­ing along the front fence. Hod­getts ad­vised him not to, given the risk that the plants would be poi­soned. “Any fuckin’ bas­tard comes in here and poi­sons my fuckin’ garden,” Lau­rie told her, “and there will be the first mur­der in Lar­rimah.” “I said it jok­ingly,” Lau­rie tells the court­room. “You know, peo­ple say things like that. I had no in­ten­tion to mur­der any­body over a garden.” “Peo­ple have been mur­dered for less, sir,” ob­serves Cav. Lau­rie, a for­mer tent boxer and re­tired bore run­ner, lists his ail­ments – a bad an­kle, a heart con­di­tion, high blood pres­sure and os­teo­poro­sis – to il­lus­trate why he couldn’t have jumped a fence and at­tacked Mo­ri­arty. (Re­sponds Cav: “My phys­i­cal fu­ture is laid out in front of me.”) Lau­rie’s age­ing frame can’t quite hide what would have once been a for­mi­da­ble strength. “Would you re­gard your­self as a so­cial crea­ture?” Cur­rie asks Lau­rie. He says no.

Later, he says, “I like to stay in­side. I go on the com­puter and muck around on there.” “At the end of your time on the com­puter, do you log off?” Cur­rie asks. “Yes.” Fol­low­ing Mo­ri­arty’s dis­ap­pear­ance, po­lice had seized Lau­rie’s desk­top. “See,” Cur­rie tells him, “your com­puter re­mained logged on from 16 De­cem­ber through to 18 De­cem­ber.” De­cem­ber 16 was the evening Mo­ri­arty van­ished. “The only time it wasn’t logged off?” Cur­rie adds. Was some­thing about Lau­rie’s rou­tine dif­fer­ent for those cou­ple of days? “Could be,” Lau­rie says. Cur­rie asks him what he did about a virus mes­sage he re­ceived the evening of the 16th. “There’s a web page that you go to, but you’ve got to pay money for them to an­swer your ques­tion,” Lau­rie ex­plains. “There was a tele­phone num­ber … I think by then I might have gone to the phone box and rang that num­ber and got no an­swer.” Lar­rimah’s only phone box hap­pens to be just next to Hod­getts’ tea house – and di­rectly op­po­site Mo­ri­arty’s place. Its records show two calls made to an IT com­pany, at 6.30pm and 6.31pm. Both went unan­swered. Coin­ci­den­tally, that’s just about the time Paddy Mo­ri­arty left the Pink Pan­ther on his quad bike. Owen Lau­rie de­clares he nei­ther saw Mo­ri­arty nor heard his bike. In a reg­u­lar who­dun­nit, you turn the page and get the an­swer. Not in Lar­rimah. “Thank you for com­ing along,” says Cav to Lau­rie. “You may go now. Chee­rio.” Po­lice have their the­o­ries. But what’s miss­ing is a body – two, count­ing Kel­lie – and, re­ally, any con­clu­sive ev­i­dence of any­thing.

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