A model murder?
We examine the shocking real-life crimes given the Hollywood treatment
The Gap was a notorious suicide spot
It was summer 1995, and Caroline Byrne was living the dream. Working as a model in Sydney, Australia, the 24-year old was living with her boyfriend of three years, chauffeur and former gym instructor Gordon Wood, 35. Caroline remained close to her dad Tony, and brother Peter, who lived nearby. She was a hard worker, conscientious. So it was out of character when she didn’t turn up to work on 7 June 1995, and didn’t come home that evening, either. At midnight, Gordon Wood was allegedly spotted by fishermen on a Sydney cliff top called The Gap – frantically calling out for Caroline.
Caroline’s white Suzuki was found parked in a nearby lane.
In the early hours of 8 June, Gordon called Caroline’s dad and brother, and the three men scoured the cliff top in the dark, looking for Caroline.
Then the police were called – and, at sunrise, a horrific discovery was made...
Caroline’s body, on the jagged rocks 30m below the cliff. She was dead, aged just 24. Her family were devastated, even more so when an inquest the following year ruled she’d ended her own life.
The Gap was a notorious suicide spot, with 50 ‘jumpers’ perishing there each year.
It emerged that, days before her death, Caroline’s doctor had referred her to a psychiatrist, describing her as ‘very depressed’.
Sadly, Caroline had lost her own mum to suicide four years earlier.
Gordon said he believed she’d taken her life, even claiming ‘her spirit guided’ him to the place of her death.
But, to her family, nothing about Caroline’s death made any sense.
Refusing to believe that his successful, seemingly happy daughter had taken her own life, her dad Tony campaigned for a reinvestigation.
In 1998, at another inquest, the coroner recorded an open verdict, saying he suspected ‘a known person was involved in the death’.
The police began investigating the case as murder – and turned to Gordon Wood.
He’d insisted Caroline had killed herself, but the shadow of suspicion hung over him.
In an infamous TV interview, he’d even arrogantly asked the reporter, ‘So, do you think I did it?’
For five years, the investigation dragged on. Detectives examined the position of Caroline’s body, testing theories and interviewing witnesses.
Finally, in 2006, Gordon Wood – by then a successful businessman living in the UK – was arrested in London, extradited to Australia.
In August 2008 at New South Wales Supreme Court in Sydney, Wood, then 46, pleaded not guilty to murder.
He exercised his right not to give evidence, or be cross-examined during the nine-week trial.
But 70 witnesses were called, including Sydney socialites and local celebrities.
The court heard Wood may have killed Caroline after she’d tried to dump him.
Two witnesses, working in a local cafe, claimed to have seen Caroline arguing with two men at the cliff top, prior to her death.
There were claims the men
could have been Wood and his then-boss, stockbroker Rene Rivkin, who’d since killed himself.
One witness – Caroline’s policeman ex-boyfriend Andrew Blanchette – testified he’d spoken to the morgue attendant on duty when Wood had come to see her body.
The attendant had made the shocking claim that Wood had asked to see Caroline’s breasts as she lay dead.
Physics Professor Rod Cross, from Sydney University, was the prosecution’s star witness.
He said her body was too far out from the base of the cliff to support a theory of her jumping.
He claimed Caroline had been ‘spear thrown’ off the cliff.
The jury returned their verdict. Guilty.
Gordon Wood was sentenced to life, to serve a minimum of 13 years before being eligible for parole.
The following year, the film True Crime: A Model Daughter was released, portraying Wood as a controlling boyfriend.
But in 2012, three years into his prison sentence, Gordon Wood appealed his conviction.
At the hearing, Wood’s legal team questioned the evidence of Professor Cross, said he hasn’t been qualified to speak about how a body may have left the cliff.
A photo of the alleged murder scene used at Wood’s trial was found to have been taken seven years later than claimed.
The legal team also reckoned the statement from Andrew Blanchette about Wood asking to see Caroline’s breasts, had been made maliciously.
In the Criminal Court of Appeal, three judges ruled there was insufficient evidence to rule out Caroline Byrne committing suicide.
And Gordon Wood’s conviction was unsafe, they ruled, not beyond a reasonable doubt.
Wood’s conviction was sensationally overturned and he was immediately released from prison.
He told reporters, ‘This is just the first step now that justice has started.’
He later sued the authorities for more than $20million (around £10million) for malicious prosecution, but lost.
Meanwhile, Caroline’s dad Tony said, ‘I never stop thinking about Caroline and I know all the evidence as if it happened yesterday.
‘It should have all been over and done with years ago.’
Left: Gordon Wood. Inset: Caroline’s dad Tony Byrne
The fatal clifftop Poles mark where her body lay Caroline: beautiful and successful