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No answers for Membrey family in court verdict

Parents of murder victim Elisabeth Membrey in shock over not guilty verdict of Shane Bond.

PT2M6S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-1xshn 620 349

A liar, a blaggard and an ordinary person is how the man on trial for Elisabeth Membrey's murder has been portrayed by many people in the Victorian Supreme Court over the past two months.

But a killer Shane Andrew Bond is not, according to the jury of 12, who today acquitted him of the 22-year-old aspiring journalist's death at her East Ringwood home on the night of December 6-7, 1994.

After more than a week of deliberations following an eight week trial, the jury of seven men and five women found Bond, 45, not guilty of her murder or manslaughter.

Elisabeth Membrey

Elisabeth Membrey

In what was largely a circumstantial case, the prosecution claimed that Bond had argued with Ms Membrey during her last day alive before he went to her unit and killed her after she knocked off work at the Manhattan Hotel at 11.45pm.

A pool of blood was all that remained in the hallway outside her bedroom door, along with blood spatter on the walls.

The prosecution alleged that after killing her at the address, Bond wrapped her in a doona and placed her body into her red Mazda 323 that had been parked in the driveway. He then drove her to an unknown location — through a lot of dirt, based on the amount left on her car wheels and tyres — where she remains.

A 2010 police sketch of Shane Bond.

A 2010 police sketch of Shane Bond. Photo: Illustration by Bettina Guthridge

Her body has never been found.

The jury heard that Bond had been hassling Ms Membrey to go out with him in the lead-up to her disappearance and fitted the description of a man she was seen arguing with at the Ringwood Aquatic Centre on the day she was last seen alive.

The man, who used "vile" language towards her during the argument, was described as having a limp. Bond, the court heard, had a right leg injury at the time of her death, causing him to walk with a severe limp.

She was also seen arguing with a man outside her unit later in the day, in addition to being involved in a heated exchange with a man who grabbed her wrist as she tried to pull away from him, during her hotel shift that night.

Bond's former housemate claimed that he had arrived home in the early hours of December 7 covered in blood, which Bond had said was the result of biting his tongue during an epileptic fit.

But his housemate testified that "there was too much blood for actually biting your tongue as far as I was concerned".

The housemate also claimed that within days of her disappearance, Bond stated: "I'm in trouble with the Elisabeth Membrey thing because the police want to see me".

Two days after her death, Bond allegedly flew to Queensland, where according to Medicare records, he visited a doctor. Exactly what for though remains a mystery as the records have since been destroyed.

Bond was quizzed by police on December 22 after he returned home from the trip, but denied knowing the missing woman.

He told police he recognised a photograph of her but said they had never spoken. He explained that he used to drink at the Manhattan Hotel months earlier, but only on Saturdays and only during the footy season. When he was questioned again by police in 2008, Bond said he knew her, but only from being served by her at the bar.

Yet to others Bond gave very different stories over the years.

Several people testified that he had told them he had been questioned about her disappearance because he had been drinking at the hotel on the night she died.

He admitted to an ex-girlfriend that he had come home the morning after she died covered in blood, but again explained the blood as the result of a seizure.

And a former work mate of Bond's in Western Australia told the court he overheard Bond in 2007 admit to being involved in an incident with a Melbourne barmaid who he made a move on, during which she hit him, he hit her and she hit her head on a coffee table.

"From what I gather she obviously died and he helped dispose of her body... [and] clean up the mess," the former workmate said in the witness box.

Another man who was also present that night gave evidence that he overheard Bond discuss dramas involving a woman in Melbourne, to which Bond said he "took care of it".

Another former colleague who had worked with Bond the mines in WA later that year testified that Bond told him he had been in a relationship with the missing woman when she vanished, and had been at the hotel on the night in question.

Although he denied having anything to do with her disappearance, he added: "It doesn't matter anyway, they'll never find her body".

Asked by the workmate if he knew what happened to her before she disappeared, he claimed that Bond had allegedly told him: "Yes, she had been bashed".

"Absolutely devastating" is how Crown prosecutor Geoff Horgan described such comments in his closing address.

"The fact that he says 'it doesn't matter anyway' gives the game away as far as Shane Bond is concerned," he said. "Who has a vested interest in the body not being found? Who? There's only one person. For no one but the murderer could it matter that the body would never be found."

A prison informer, who was housed with Bond last year while he was awaiting trial, also testified that Bond had told him "They'll never find her f***ing body", a comment he thought was odd. He then apparently clarified that he meant that "if they haven't found it by now they'll never find it".

And another witness gave evidence that he had gone to the Manhattan Hotel with Bond on the night of Ms Membrey's disappearance and that Bond had argued with her.

But defence barrister Michael O'Connell, SC, denied his client had anything to do with her death. And there was no evidence suggesting otherwise, he said.

There were no eyewitnesses and no ear witnesses placing his client anywhere near Elisabeth Membrey or her unit.

There was no CCTV footage placing Bond at the hotel on the night she was last seen alive and there were no fingerprints or DNA evidence connecting him to the crime.

Three sets of unidentified fingerprints were, however, found at Elisabeth's address along with an unidentified shoe-print in the laundry.

And the person from whom a broken fingernail came, which was found in the hallway, has also never been identified.

"We say that there are so many unknowns that a whole range of possibilities arise as to who may have killed Elisabeth Membrey," Mr O'Connell said.

The man Elisabeth was seen arguing with at the swimming pool, outside her unit and at the hotel matched the description of an earlier suspect police focused their attention on for many years, Mr O'Connell said.

Telling was the fact that this man, who was one of the three "alternative possible killers" police looked at but later ruled out, had told a group of people after her disappearance that Elisabeth's throat had been slashed.

The suspect, a former workmate of Ms Membrey's who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted to being at the hotel the night she died and he confessed to finding her attractive, flirting with her and to calling her his "substitute wife" on occasions.

He had also been a regular swimmer at the Ringwood Aquatic Centre in the years prior to her death, but denied going there in 1994.

And it was his image that had been selected by several people from a police photo board as fitting the description of the man Elisabeth had been speaking to or arguing with.

A hotel patron testified that he saw some sort of "interaction" between this man and Ms Membrey on the night of December 6, after which the man in question had allegedly referred to her as a "f---ing bitch".

The suspect had also lied to police about his movements later that night, telling them he had stayed at home after leaving the hotel, only to later admit that he had gone out and bought cannabis within a few hundred metres of where Ms Membrey lived.

"He's in that critical place at the very time Ms Membrey is likely to have gone missing. There he is literally metres away," Mr O'Connell argued.

Despite this, the man, along with two other men police investigated for the crime, all strenuously denied having anything to do with her death.

The defence labelled the evidence relating to Bond's alleged admissions as "very poor", "unreliable", "often bound up with the talk and gossip about Shane Bond's involvement". They were also "not supported by the objective evidence".

Several witnesses also had motives, such as "spite, revenge [and] the prospect of reward" and multiple people waited years before they came forward with information.

They included Bond's former landlord, who waited until January 2008 to report that she had found "jagged scribble" on a newspaper photograph of Elisabeth in Bond's rubbish bin a decade earlier.

Another witness, who testified that Elisabeth told her in the lead up to her disappearance that she was being hassled by Shane Bond, waited until 2007 to contact police, after her boss mentioned the $1 million reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.

And even Bond's housemate waited until he was approached by police in 2007 to disclose information about him coming home covered in blood. Mr O'Connell described him as a "nasty, manipulative liar... [and] a person who was prepared to lie if it suited his purposes to do so". His criminal convictions spanned 25 years and involved 170 separate offences, including multiple dishonesty offences. At the time he was also drinking heavily every night.

"The fact is that very little is known about what happened to Elisabeth Membrey in that unit on that night. Virtually nothing is known about how she died or indeed why she died," Mr O'Connell said in his closing address.

"There is so much that we do not know that in those circumstances it is simply not possible to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused."

Bond did not take the stand to explain to the jury what he was doing on that fateful night and convince them he had not killed anyone. And the defence called no witnesses to help prove his innocence.

But in the end they didn't have to.