Stace murder 'work of two men'

Peter and Robyn Stace at their daughter Lee Ellen's memorial grave site at Redcliff Beach.
Peter and Robyn Stace at their daughter Lee Ellen's memorial grave site at Redcliff Beach. Tim Howard

POLICE investigating the murder of Brooms Head teenager Lee Ellen Stace believe it is possible that two of their prime suspects combined to murder her.

The officer in command of the investigation, Detective Senior Constable Tony King, told the Coronial Inquest into Lee’s death that there was a possibility both Anthony Charles Apps and John George O’Leary had abducted Lee while she hitch-hiked home from work at Yamba and killed her at Red Cliff on September 2, 1997.

Apps is a convicted murderer and O’Leary a convicted sex offender. Both are now in jail.

“Both Apps and O’Leary are blaming each other of involvement in this matter and there is some information in the evidence obtained that suggests that both may have been involved,” Det King said.

Later, Det King told the inquiry that a prison informant said O’Leary told him that:

“Mate, I was with Apps, we went to Brooms Head from Maclean. Apps was the one that done the final straw on her.”

Another informant also claims O’Leary had told him he had raped and killed a girl at Brooms Head.

However, O’Leary claims he was in Mount Druitt at the time of Lee’s disappearance and reporting to local police on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as part of bail conditions.

But Det King said there was a hole in this alibi, as O’Leary did not report on Wednesday, September 3 and his movements cannot be accounted for until September 4.

He said the investigation into O’Leary revealed he had a deep hatred of women; he spoke about a previous sexual assault on three girls, downplaying his role in the crime; while awaiting trial on these matters in 1997 he had travelled between Mt Druitt and the Maclean area; he had boasted there was no restriction on the types of crimes he might commit, saying he had handled firearms and he had a close relationship with his mother and had discussed previous crimes with her.

After Det King’s evidence, the coroner heard evidence from two of Lee’s closest friends: Terri Mackay and Gabriella Deleiuen (Woodbridge).

Both women gave details of their friendship with Lee as well as revealing their knowledge of her personal habits.

Ms Deleiuen told the court that she was sure that a butterfly hair clip found on the side of the road between Maclean and Yamba had been in Lee’s backpack when she met her on the morning of her disappearance.

When pressed for a theory of who might have killed Lee both nominated a local fisherman, Stephen Pateman.

Both claimed Pateman had been involved in behaviour towards them that showed he was capable of killing Lee.

Ms Deleiuen said on the day of her disappearance she had been with Lee at the Pateman’s home where it was possible Pateman overheard Lee discussing her movements later that day.

The inquest continues today.

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