GRIEF LINGERS: Doris Hillier and Jodie Hillier, pictured in 2012, reflect insistence which saw the matter reach the Coroners Court.
GRIEF LINGERS: Doris Hillier and Jodie Hillier, pictured in 2012, reflect insistence which saw the matter reach the Coroners Court. Max Fleet BUN100912DOR9

No answer, but evidence from coroner details killing theory

WHO killed Bundaberg's Bryan Hodgkinson?

It seems to be a question with no answer, even after 31 years and numerous investigations since his violent death in 1987.

Coroner David O'Connell had to consider competing theories over the involvement of two men.

But there was too much doubt for him to conclude who was responsible.

After releasing his findings from an inquest into Mr Hodgkinson's death this week, Mr O'Connell said he could not determine with a "required high level of probability" to say just who exactly killed the taxi driver.

He said there was evidence supporting the theories against both Gary Rasmussen or Paul Vincent Sutherland.

During the inquest a third man, Anthony Beer, who had previously been charged with "certain offences arising out of an alleged involvement that evening involving the unlawful use of the taxi, robbery with actual violence, and being an accessory after the fact to murder", claimed privilege under the Coroners Act 1958 and didn't give evidence on the grounds he might incriminate himself.

Mr Beer's charges were later dropped due to "insufficiency of evidence".

Mr O'Connell accepted a theory that Mr Rasmussen, who the hearing heard was "prone to extreme violence and with a very quick temper", was "out to get" Mr Hodgkinson.

This theory began after Mr Hodgkinson allegedly "chatted up" a female friend of Mr Rasmussen, however no witnesses ever confirmed this took place.

It was alleged Mr Rasmussen, accompanied by Mr Beer, flagged down Mr Hodgkinson's taxi on the night he was murdered.

Mr Beer later told his partner (more than one time) about the night and what allegedly took place.

Mr O'Connell said her evidence was that Mr Beer had been in the taxi at the time when Hodgkinson was killed.

"What is alleged to have happened was that Mr Rasmussen said to Mr Beer that he was going to 'get' Mr Hodgkinson, and together they hailed his taxi in town and were driven out of Bundaberg," Mr O'Connell wrote in his findings.

"... When the taxi stopped down the rural side road ... Mr Rasmussen told Mr Beer to 'cover your ears and don't look back'."

Mr Rasmussen then returned to the taxi after a while and instructed Mr Beer to drive back to Bundaberg.

Mr O'Connell, in examining the claims, acknowledged Mr Beer's statements to his partner but questioned the "reliability" of these words.

Mr Rasmussen has been dead since overdosing on illicit drugs in 1993.

The second key figure in the case was Paul Sutherland.

Mr Sutherland had been convicted of the manslaughter of Paula Peters, in an alleged "sexual tryst gone wrong", and gave evidence at the inquest willingly.

Paula Peters died about one week before Mr Hodgkinson.

Ms Peters' body was found bound in a cane field on the same morning Mr Hodgkinson's body was found.

"The theory was developed that Mr Sutherland may have been responsible for Mr Hodgkinson's death due to Mr Hodgkinson being a person who could identify Mr Sutherland as being a sexual partner of Ms Peters ...," Mr O'Connell said.

He said it may have been that Mr Hodgkinson was the last person to see Ms Peters and Mr Sutherland together when they caught a taxi.

Mr Sutherland then left Bundaberg after leaving Ms Peters' body in the cane field, and did not return to Bundaberg until the afternoon Mr Hodgkinson's body was located.

Mr O'Connell said at the very best the theory of Mr Sutherland having a motive to murder Mr Hodgkin's was "speculative".

"He did not leave upon becoming informed of Mr Hodgkinson's death," he said.

"In consideration of all of the evidence presented at this inquest, very regrettably, I am left with a doubt as to which of the two main persons of interest was responsible for Mr Hodgkinson's death," Mr O'Connell said.

In the inquest findings it was acknowledged Mr Rasmussen was a "person predisposed to serious violence" and lived at Elliott Heads at the time and would have passed the death scene.

Despite being unable to make a conclusive decision, Mr O'Connell was certain no other member of the public could have committed the crime and "eliminated" the possibility of an unknown suspect.

"There was not put to me that there was any other member of the public who may have any motive to murder Mr Hodgkinson in such a violent way, other than Mr Rasmussen or Mr Sutherland," Mr O'Connell said.

"In my mind the two theories proposed to me, one that involved Mr Paul Sutherland and the one that involved Mr Gary Rasmussen, each had their strengths and their weaknesses, which on the available evidence I cannot resolve satisfactorily."

"Evidence was given that Mr Hodgkinson had no particular enemies nor persons who may wish to do him harm. He was simply an ordinary family man working a number of jobs."



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