Neighbours knew man linked to Rottnest Head
People who live and work near the apartment of 56-year-old Stephen Cookson, who's head was found washed up on Rottnest Island, say the notorious racing figure was well known.PT0M50S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2cppc 620 349 January 14, 2013
The news that the human head discovered on Rottnest Island may be the remains of Stephen Cookson has come as no surprise to those who knew him.
The man, known in thoroughbred and harness racing circles as "Cookie", is considered a dangerous criminal given to settling disputes with violence.
Last week, so convinced the victim was Cookson, Peter George Graham, a former horse trainer, contacted a friend of his - a retired police superintendent.
Police teams searching the beaches of Rottnest Island for more body parts. Photo: Channel Ten
"I knew it was him," Mr Graham said.
"The missing teeth and the beard were telltale details and I knew Cookson had not been seen for a while.
"I even contacted a former, prominent racing investigator to make sure the coppers got the message," he said.
Peter Graham knew Cookson well and had been on the receiving end of his violence.
When a horse that the two were involved in returned a positive drug test, they argued and Cookson attacked Mr Graham, breaking the trainer's nose and inflicting other facial injuries.
"He was capable of anything if he didn't get his own way," Mr Graham said.
"One time we argued over a horse yard in a stable we were sharing. I insisted the yard was mine. Cookson disagreed and did his block. Two days later I found my horse dead in the yard."
Later, when Cookson vacated the stables at Lark Hill, the incoming tenant discovered a sawn off shotgun hidden in a wall cavity.
Mr Graham said that Cookson often flashed money around and loved to bet.
Cookson's love for betting has been confirmed by the former operator of a suburban TAB outlet.
"Cookson would often throw six or eight grand on the counter and tell us to keep tally and let him know if the money ran out," the former operator said.
The operator explained that Cookson used his first name Stephen when betting, but gave a surname that "sounded foreign".
Cookson's big betting days attracted attention from law enforcement agencies when TAB officials noticed a spike in the betting turnover.
"I remember the Federal Police coming and taking our security tapes," the former operator said.
"This happened a few years ago and then he sort of went off the scene. We thought he must have gone to jail."
Cookson may have thrown his money around when he was punting, however he is notorious for not paying training and agistment fees for horses he left in the care of unsuspecting trainers, breeders and agistment farms.
The owners of a small training and agistment operation had up to seven horses left in their care by Cookson.
Cookson has ignored the owner's attempts to make contact and over two years the outstanding account was up to tens of thousand of dollars.
"It's a mess," said one of the owners. "We are still trying to sort things out."
"The horses are in various names. Sadly, we are not the only ones who have been caught in this.
"Some bigger establishments have problems, too."
Thoroughbred and harness racing officials became deeply concerned when Cookson started mixing with licensed persons.
A senior racing official told Fairfax Media that Cookson even went so far as to apply to be licenced. The process involves the potential licensee declaring any criminal convictions they may have.
"We knew all about Cookie," the official said.
"We knew about his conviction for drug offences, his Australian criminal history and we knew details of his convictions and jail time in Germany.
"When he applied, we kept rejecting his application."
The official added that he believed Cookson was involved in the ownership of a suburban brothel.
When asked how he felt when hearing the news that the human remains belonged to Cookson, attack victim Mr Graham explained that while he had "cause to hate the bloke, nobody should have that happen to them."
Cookson has not been seen for nearly a month by locals who frequent his regular East Perth haunts.
But it was not unusual for him to vanish for weeks at a time, neighbours said.
Police on Monday continued to search the Quattro apartment block in East Perth where, according to a neighbour, Cookson kept an apartment.
One neighbour described Cookson as an unkempt man, who did not appear to "wash, shower or clean".
"He probably had the same shoes on for two years," he said.
"He said he was in the trotters."
Self-proclaimed "equine consultant" Cookson spent four years on Racing and Wagering WA's black list for failing to pay a $5000 fine.
"As he's never been a registered person of the racing industry I doubt he's been involved in any meaningful way," Racing and Wagering WA corporate affairs manager Pippa McIntosh said.
The fine was in relation to the incident in which Cookson punched Mr Graham.
Cookson did not pay the fine until 2010 when he was eventually allowed back onto the track.
As recently as last month Cookson was still an avid punter at an East Perth TAB, where he was known to flash large wads of cash, according to other regulars.
Police identified the head through forensic means on Thursday, but remain adamant they will not release the man's name until his next of kin has been notified.
Cookson is due to appear in court Friday charged with possession of the street drug methylamphetamine with the intent to sell or supply.