On Friday 26 July 1991, Alan Leahy reported his spouse Julie-Anne and her best friend Vicki Arnold missing in Atherton, Queensland, Australia. Alan reported that the two women had made an immediate decision to go fishing jointly sometime between 12:30 and 1 am the night before and hadn’t come back. The official investigation began on Saturday, July 27, and by Monday, July 29 there was a full-scale air and ground search, but with heavy mountain scrub to search and no substantial evidence as to where the women had gone, nothing was discovered.
On 9 August, five teenagers riding trail bikes in bushland between Atherton and close Herberton found out Julie-Anne’s Nissan Patrol was slightly off a dead-end track. The corpses of Julie-Anne and Vicki were inside.
Within an hour of appearing on the spectacle, police assumed that Vicki Arnold had shot her friend and then turned the gun on herself. Neither of the police officers on the spectacle was a detective, nor had either of them ever investigated a murder. There was no adequate forensic investigation of the crime spectacle; the corpses were removed and the car was towed the night they were discovered.
An inquest thereafter substantiated the police opinion, despite numerous oddities about the crime scene and circumstance, as well as a lack of any evident motive. Nonetheless, family members of both women have kept the case active and petitioned to have it reopened. There have now been three inquests and there is yet no official determination to the case.
Vicki Arnold was a 27-year-old accountant who was characterized as shy and introverted, but active in her neighborhood. Vicki managed the accounting firm’s Atherton branch office and was the accountant and voluntary treasurer for a regional church group; she was a reliable employee and kept comprehensive personal financial records and receipts. Vicki befriended numerous families in Atherton and frequently babysat other people’s kids, and while valued by her friends it seems she could overdo it; at least two families (including the Leahys) had at one time invited Vicki to visit them less frequently. Vicki also sometimes fantasized or exaggerated, including notifying friends that she had kidney disorder and that an ex-partner she had broken up with had been murdered in a car accident, neither of which was valid.
Julie-Anne Leahy was 26 and came from a somewhat troubled family, with two brothers who had served considerable jail time for violations including unlawful murder. Her mum was characterized as “unsettled” and Julie-Anne and her younger half-sisters were mainly brought up by their grandmother. Julie-Anne first wedded at 17, but although it produced two daughters the wedding failed within a couple of years. Julie-Anne was characterized as common-sense and streetwise; she could be loud and brash, and Vicki’s other friends were amazed over their friendship as Vicki was so quiet. Julie-Anne was also loyal to her family and a caring parent and sister.
Alan Leahy also came from a reasonably troubled background; his parents separated when he was a kid and he was brought up by his grandparents. He left school after Year 9 and worked as a layer of floor coverings. In his early twenties, he expended around two years total in jail for many offenses including breaking, unlawful use of motor vehicles, stealing guns from a store, and fleeing while in police custody. It was while he was on parole that he met Julie-Anne, who was attending a court hearing for her brother.
The Leahys’ domestic situation
Julie-Anne and Alan wedded in 1988 and had two kids. Julie-Anne’s two daughters from her previous marriage also resided with them. Julie-Anne and Alan established a floor covering business and started building a house.
In 1989, Julie-Anne’s half-sisters, Margaret and Vanessa, shifted into the Leahy house when their grandmother became incapable to care for them. Vanessa was 13 and Margaret 16 at the time. Three months later, Margaret moved out to stay with a boyfriend after Julie-Anne confronted Alan Leahy over his paying too much interest to Margaret.
Some years later, both Vanessa and Margaret contended that Alan Leahy had initiated sexual connections with them while they stayed with the Leahys. Margaret gave proof that Alan raped her while she slept, while they were on a trip to obtain Margaret’s belongings from her grandmother’s home. Vanessa contended that Alan had started touching her sexually while she was 15, but that this did not progress to a full sexual relationship until after her sixteenth birthday, which happened during the time that her sister and Vicki were still missing. Various family and friends substantiated to police that Alan was excessively attentive to the two girls and that Alan and Vanessa expended lengthy periods in a locked bedroom together. It’s worth noting that numerous people brought this up to police years before Vanessa and Margaret acknowledged it.
Alan Leahy thereafter confessed that in the two years following his wife’s killing, he had a sexual relationship with Vanessa as well as using her to do the majority of the housework and childcare, as well as to work for no pay in his floor sanding business. Nonetheless, he refuted that he had sex with Vanessa before the corpses were discovered.
Precisely a month before Julie-Anne’s disappearance, the bank holding mortgage over the Leahy house endangered to foreclose due to arrears; if sold, they were possible to still have a mortgage, as it was uncertain to attract a price which would be comparable to what the Leahys had sunk into it while building.
Four days before the disappearance, Julie-Anne and Vicki had toured Cairns jointly to get Julie-Anne’s vehicle valued for sale; Alan’s truck was also valued for sale around this time. The Leahys’ business was running at a loss and there was a lesser than $600 in all the family’s bank accounts.
When questioned for the 1997 re-investigation and the 2010 inquest, Alan refuted that the family was in economic problems. Following his wife’s casualty, Alan received an insurance payment of just over $120,000; he also tried to sue Vicki Arnold’s estate for $45,000 following the casualties.
Julie-Anne and Vicki relationship
Vicki met the Leahys in 1987 when they contracted her to be the accountant for their carpet laying business; she became strong friends with Julie-Anne. When the Leahys wedded a year later, Vicki was the bridesmaid.
Julie-Anne’s oldest kid, who was nine at the time of her mum’s demise, confirmed that Vicki was her mum’s best friend. The kids called her ‘Auntie Vicki’ and she was often at their house. On the night she vanished, she assisted Julie-Anne wrap presents for the birthday of one of her kids.
July 25, 1991
On that Thursday, Julie-Anne had inquired her younger sister Vanessa to stay home from school; Vanessa, afraid that her sister was going to confront her over her connection with Alan Leahy, told an untruth and said she had an exam and could not stay home. One of Julie-Anne’s daughters reported that Vicki toured Julie-Anne at lunchtime and that she was sent to her room while the women had a serious conversation before Vicki returned to work. Later that night, Vicki came back to the Leahy house and had dinner with them. Julie-Anne and Vicki went into the bedroom to wrap presents; Vanessa and the kids were asked to go to bed sometime after 9:30 pm.
Alan Leahy’s account was that Julie-Anne and Vicki said him they were going fishing at the Tinaroo Dam and left the home at around 12:45 am; he expected them back within a few hours. Julie-Anne’s sister Vanessa, 15 at the time her sister vanished, backed Alan’s story at the time. Many years later, Vanessa disclosed that she had told an untruth and that Alan had coached her on what to tell about the night the women went missing.
The Crime Scene
The Nissan was found out 800m along a dead-end bulldozed bush track, pointing back towards the highway and about 100m from the edge of the track. The car was a few meters off the actual trail, and it seemed to have careened out of control and knocked over a small tree that was now caught underneath the car. The ignition and headlights were on, the driver’s side window was rolled down, and there was blood on the ignition keys. Both front doors were open. In the rear of the car were two buckets with bait and two fishing rods, but no torch or lantern was discovered.
Julie-Anne Leahy was collapsed in the driver’s seat, held up by the seatbelt. She had been shot twice in the skull, once behind the corner of her mouth on the left, and once next to her left eye. She had also had been wounded with a 1.5 kg rock which was discovered in the car, and had endured three slashes to her neck; the slashes were so superficial that it was guessed they occurred because the knife had been held to Julie-Anne’s throat to make her comply.
When police tried to remove her corpse they found that the seat belt was looped twice around her neck; it was later assumed that there had been an attempt to suffocate her and that this could only have occurred from behind the driver’s seat. There was also bruising on the back of her left hand which was strong enough to bend three of her rings. The pathologist guessed that the hand had received a whack, rather than that Julie-Anne had hit someone.
Vicki Arnold was wedged into the passenger side footwell, her back to the dashboard and her head stroking the center console. Her legs protruded outside the vehicle with her bare feet stroking the ground. A sawn-down .22 rifle lay on the passenger seat, the barrel edging toward the seatback, and Vicki’s right hand was on it; three fingers were clasped tight and the index finger was laying on the trigger. A tangle of Julie-Anne’s hair was caught in the gun sight.
The receiver of the rifle was jammed with two cartridges, but unfortunately, there is combatting evidence about whether there was one life and one spent cartridge, or whether both jammed rounds were live. Jammed between Vicki’s thigh and the door frame was a wooden-handled serrated steak knife with its blade bent at a 45-degree angle.
Vicki had been shot three times; once in the front of the upper left thigh – which appears to correspond with a hole in the back of the passenger seat – once under the jaw and through the tongue, and once 4 cm behind the tip of the right ear. The pathologist gave fact that the wound below the jaw would not have murdered Vicki but would have caused enormous pain and bleeding; that she was alive when the shot behind the ear was fired; and that it was unique to discover a suicide wound in that posture. He could not say whether the head wound was a contact wound due to deterioration and insect activity; nonetheless, there was very little gunshot residue present, less than he would have anticipated even with the decomposition. There were no other clues of a battle or struggle on Vicki’s corpse.
Vicki feet were bare, and her shoes were discovered 17 and 21 meters from the back of the vehicle.
The weapon used was a .22 Ruger rifle belonging to Vicki Arnold, which had been cut down and reduced to 33cm in length (originally around 94 cm). Vicki had bought it six weeks before her casualty, giving different people different justifications as to why she needed it: for a friend who resided on a cattle station, for her safety, or to hunt kangaroos.
Vicki did not have the knowledge, courage, or manual dexterity to cut down the rifle barrel herself, nor did she own the equipment that would be necessary. It is still unfamiliar who performed this criminal action of cutting the gun down.
The coroner in the third inquest noted that Vicki may have bought the rifle on behalf of someone else, especially someone who had an illegal record and could not legally buy firearms. This is borne out by the fact that she argued on particularly buying a .22, even though Vicki had never exhibited any attention in, or knowledge about, firearms and the seller had warned her it was “a bit light” for her intended objective. Many men in Vicki’s life had unlawful records, including two ex-boyfriends, two of Julie-Anne’s brothers, and Alan Leahy.
Vicki’s hands were not tested for gunshot residue by the police. This was just one of the numerous blunders made by the police, which included:
Failure to conserve the spectacle until forensic examination could be carried out
Failure to appropriately store the car – it was enclosed with a tarp, and its interior was damp throughout with condensation, making fingerprints difficult to retrieve.
Failure to snap footprints and tire tracks at the spectacle, and to properly snap the jammed breach of the killing weapon
Failure to test the women’s clothing or hands for gunshot residue, to take blood samples, or to secure their clothes
The removal of both women’s hands (allegedly to promote obtaining their fingerprints) instantly before their funerals, and retention of the hands by police, unknown to their families, after they were laid to rest.
Failure to request expertise from the Homicide Squad because of the expense involved (the district officer was quoted in the paper complaining about the expense of the search and that the bills would keep rolling in)
A month after the car was found out, a second search turned up an expended cartridge case from the rifle, which may reveal the inefficient nature of the scene inquiry.
The weird circumstances around this case included:
Why would Julie-Anne and Vicki go fishing at night, in the pitch dark, with no torch or lantern – and why have they discovered down a track which led to a creek just a few inches full of mud, which could not be fished?
Both women were lightly clad – Julie-Anne was in a miniskirt and flip-flops – despite the overnight climate is as cold as 1.7 degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit).
Neither woman took her handbag or wallet; Julie-Anne was not taking her driver’s license and had left behind her cigarettes, while Vicki’s handbag and glasses were discovered in her car, which was still parked at the Leahys’ house.
It was uncertain that Vicki would agree to go fishing at 1 am; she had a scheme for the following day, including a 6 am appointment for her godparents to sign their tax returns and a business tour to Cairns for which she’d organized to carpool with colleagues.
There was no evidence that Vicki was suicidal or that she harbored homicidal intentions towards Julie-Anne. She appeared normal to family, friends, and colleagues in the time leading up to the disappearances. She had bought a birthday present for one of Julie-Anne’s daughters, which was discovered in her car after her disappearance.
Re-enactments indicated that it would have been very tough – nearly impossible – for Vicki Arnold to find sufficient room to shoot herself in the head if she were sitting in the footwell of the Nissan, as her last position indicated.
The coroner in the third inquest also remarked that if Vicki had shot herself the gun should have plunged outside the vehicle rather than having come to rest on the passenger seat and that it was very uncertain that her hand and the gun would have fallen into such close juxtaposition generally.
No fingerprints could be identified in the car and the fingerprints on the rifle, while harshly degraded, were possible to have belonged to Vicki. Nonetheless, they were in postures interpreted as “not consistent with normal use”.
Two weeks after the corpses were discovered, the cut-off pieces of the gun and other paraphernalia related to it were discovered in a pillowcase in Vicki Arnold’s carport. They had not been there during the preliminary search. Forensic testing assumed the pillowcase had come from the Leahy household after the name and prior address of one of Julie-Anne’s daughters was discovered written inside, greatly faded and barely legible.
No woman-on-woman murder-suicides had ever been recorded in Queensland and Vicki Arnold had no threat signs such as “failed intimate relationship, an indication of unfaithfulness, history of impulsiveness, aggression, and violence, psychiatric situations, child custody problems, financial difficulties, or recent bereavement” which usually precede such events.
In 2013 the third coroner’s report found that both women had been killed and committed Alan Leahy to stand trial over the deaths; nonetheless, Leahy’s committal was later overturned in the Supreme Court. The conclusion that both women were killed, rather than this being a murder-suicide, still stands and was not affected by the Supreme Court case.
A new suspect – Chris Dunlea, involved in methodical crime and drugs – has since been named founded on the testimony of two witnesses: the man who murdered Dunlea a few years later, and a shopkeeper who came forward in 2013 to contend Dunlea had visited her shop with the two women around the time of their casualties. As Dunlea is dead, the case stays open and is unlikely to be resolved.