A model mur­der?

We ex­am­ine the shock­ing real-life crimes given the Hol­ly­wood treat­ment

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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

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