Julie Hutchinson collage
Julie Hutchinson collage

Wife-killer’s evil depths of deception

COLD, calculating and manipulative - Michael Hutchinson didn't just lie to police about what happened to his wife Julie, he attempted to drag her name through the mud and blame her for the pain felt by those desperate to see her come home.

Townsville Criminal Investigation Branch's Detective Sergeant Fred Starr, who charged Hutchinson with murder, still can't fathom how a man could sit with a straight face and shame the mother of his children.

That's exactly what Hutchinson did during a filmed conversation with police regarding his wife's disappearance.

It was during this initial interview that he first raised his since rubbished claims that Julie had become a lesbian, developed a drug addiction, and run off into the sunset.

"None of this is anyone's fault but hers … it's not her sister's fault, brother's fault, my fault … she just won't come home and I don't know why," Hutchinson told police.

He did know why.

He had killed Julie, thrown her body in the boot of a car and dumped the beloved mother-of-two on the side of a lonely country road.

A bullish figure, Hutchinson wasn't particularly tall but he was broad, barrel-chested and strong.

An old colleague of Hutchinson's said the wife-killer was pound for pound the strongest man he had ever met, capable of snapping large bolts while working on heavy machinery.

Yet he whimpered throughout his interview with police.

He frequently sobbed and buried his head in his hands.

Hutchinson barely made eye contact with the detective and he eerily referred to Julie in the past tense on most occasions.

 

Michael Hutchinson, who was convicted in March 2017 of the manslaughter of wife Julie Hutchinson, who disappeared in March 2015
Michael Hutchinson, who was convicted in March 2017 of the manslaughter of wife Julie Hutchinson, who disappeared in March 2015

 

Julie Hutchinson who was killed by her husband Michael.
Julie Hutchinson who was killed by her husband Michael.

 

About four hours after he arrived at the police station for the interview Hutchinson was back at his Condon home, supported by his father and in the company of detectives.

It was there Hutchinson's story changed.

He told his father Julie was killed in a scuffle with a group of strangers from Melbourne and he had dumped her body at Hervey Range.

Hutchinson has stuck by that story ever since. He has never admitted guilt.

"My thoughts are that he is actually a very manipulative person," Sgt Starr said.

"He has certainly shown that he's cold and has a lack of remorse, especially for those who are still grieving for Julie."

Instinct and experience counts for a lot as a detective; at the time Julie Hutchinson was reported missing on April 9, 2015, Sgt Starr had more than 25 years service on the force.

 

Detective Acting Inspector Phil Watts, with Larry Beraldo, Christine Teitzel the brother and sister of Julie.
Detective Acting Inspector Phil Watts, with Larry Beraldo, Christine Teitzel the brother and sister of Julie.

 

While Julie was officially considered to be "missing" at that time, Sgt Starr immediately suspected she had been the victim of foul play.

"She came from a very close Italian family, was a protective mother and the story that she had left and was only really making contact through him (Michael Hutchinson) didn't add up," Sgt Starr said.

Police suspicion was such that while Julie's sister, Christine Teitzel, and other members of her immediate family were talking to police about her disappearance, Hutchinson was being questioned in a separate part of the station - isolated on purpose.

Sgt Starr said Hutchinson's version of events appeared unconvincing and his body language was suspicious.

His two-hour conversation with police finished shortly after 2pm and by 4pm detectives were with Hutchinson at their family home.

As officers searched the house, Hutchinson, in what Sgt Starr believes was a moment of panic, told his father Geoffrey that Julie had knocked her head on a bench, died, and he had taken her body to Hervey Range.

Geoffrey told the police his son's story and Hutchinson was placed under arrest.

 

Detective Fred Starr, Forensic Officer Kirsty Griffiths, and Senior Constable Anita Pordage arrive to the courthouse.
Detective Fred Starr, Forensic Officer Kirsty Griffiths, and Senior Constable Anita Pordage arrive to the courthouse.

 

Pressure on police

From that moment the pressure was on for police to obtain enough evidence to lay charges before they would need to release their prime suspect. The search of 13 Chelsea Drive was still under way and Julie's silver Mazda 6 was nowhere to be seen.

The garage at the property was locked; Hutchinson had told the police the keys were not at the house and investigators were convinced crucial evidence would be found behind the locked doors.

"One of the detectives stood his ground and said 'we are not leaving until we get into that garage'," Sgt Starr said.

Police were prepared to organise a locksmith but found the key to the garage hanging on a key-hook in plain sight.

At 9pm they entered.

"As soon as we opened that roller door (the smell) … it was bad," Sgt Starr said.

"I've been a policeman for a long time and I've been to a lot of scenes where bodies have been dead for days and weeks but the smell was so strong, the word overwhelming would be an understatement … it was actually horrid."

Sgt Starr said he was convinced Julie's body would be in the boot of that car, but when it was opened detectives were confronted by an abundance of bodily fluid and maggots.

There were also a number of items, including cleaning products and a set of overalls. Sgt Starr said it appeared as though Hutchinson had locked the car in the garage the night he dumped Julie's body and hadn't returned to it in the month that passed before police entered.

"If he had of got rid of that car I still shudder to think where things would have got to (with the case)," Sgt Starr said.

"But I am still confident he would have been charged."

Hutchinson was charged with murder and in the weeks and months to come investigators would pile up the evidence against the father-of-two.

Hutchinson was tried for the murder of his wife in March, 2017.

 

Julie Hutchinson pictured with her father Silvano Beraldo on her wedding day.
Julie Hutchinson pictured with her father Silvano Beraldo on her wedding day.

 

A version of events suggested Michael Hutchinson was in a financial situation and would benefit from his wife’s life insurance and superannuation.
A version of events suggested Michael Hutchinson was in a financial situation and would benefit from his wife’s life insurance and superannuation.

 

Then Crown prosecutor Michael Cowen QC presented the jury with a version of events that suggested Julie had discovered her husband's financial situation and he killed her to hide the shame of his debt.

It was suggested that Hutchinson would benefit from Julie's substantial life insurance and superannuation.

Hutchinson had convinced a friend, Tara Worrell, to pretend to be Julie in order for him to take an $80,000 loan to establish a security business, which had resulted in a crippling financial situation.

Worrell was also the first person Hutchinson had told his version of events to; just hours before talking to police he had confided in Worrell and given her Julie's phone to destroy and dispose of in the Ross River.

 

Tara Worrell was convinced to pretend to be Julie Hutchinson.
Tara Worrell was convinced to pretend to be Julie Hutchinson.

 

Hutchinson had used the phone to send text messages to himself and members of Julie's family, in the weeks after her death, to portray that she was still alive.

He had also pretended to be her in sending a resignation email to her employer, Queensland Nickel.

At trial it was revealed Hutchinson had searched the internet about decomposition of a body, how to stop a body from smelling, and how to drain the boot of a Mazda 6.

It was revealed Hutchinson, on his way to the police station following his arrest, had told officers he "could have burnt the car out weeks ago" and that he knew he was going to get caught.

After an eight-day trial Hutchinson was found not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.

He was sentenced to 15½ years jail.

Throughout the proceedings Hutchinson maintained the story he had told his father and Worrell about the altercation involving people from Melbourne.

No evidence supporting his claim that Julie had smashed her skull on a bench was ever discovered and police found no blood spatter in the house whatsoever.

The exact way Julie was killed may never be known but in sentencing Justice David North described Hutchinson's version of events as a lie and said it was safe to infer the beloved mother died a "violent death".

Search for Julie

From the moment Sgt Starr began treating the Hutchinson case as a homicide investigation he had two main goals; to see the killer convicted and find Julie.

As Julie's sister Christine Teitzel said, her body had been "dumped without a grain of humanity".

Two searches were conducted along Hervey Range Rd in 2015.

Australian Defence Force personnel aided police in the latter search, which scoured the area around Hervey Range Rd, Keelbottom Creek and Mingela Rd.

There was no trace of the slain mother.

The introduction of "No Body, No Parole" legislation gave police new-found hope that Hutchinson would reveal Julie's location but he refused to co-operate.

"We were hoping that under the circumstances he may disclose her location … he had the opportunity and he didn't," Sgt Starr said.

"We went and spoke to him.

"His words were 'I've got nothing to say'.

"I always believed that he would tell me eventually but he never showed any indication that he was going to crack."

It wasn't until August 25, 2018, that skeletal remains were spotted by a motorist just several metres from the edge of Hervey Range Rd.

 

Julie Hutchinson at graduation.
Julie Hutchinson at graduation.

 

Julie Hutchinson pictured with an unidentified dog.
Julie Hutchinson pictured with an unidentified dog.

 

Fire had ripped through the area and burnt off tall grass that had hidden the bones.

"Things took a dramatic turn when human remains were located at Hervey Range," Sgt Starr said.

"There was a glimmer of hope that the family may receive some closure with a positive (identification of Julie)."

An agonising wait followed until the remains were publicly announced as those of Julie on September 5.

Hutchinson's mobile had pinged in and out of the coverage zone of a phone tower in the area on March 11, 2015.

The gap between "pings" was less than an hour, which led police to believe the distance he could have covered was limited to their search areas.

The location where the bones were discovered was much further west than police had anticipated.

Sgt Starr measured the site at 98.7km from the Hutchinson family home in Condon. He concluded Hutchinson must have driven at an extreme speed and spent very little time disposing of Julie's body.

"Without doubt, every domestic violence incident has the potential to end up in something as bad as this," he said.

Julie was 48 when she was killed. Hutchinson will be 60 when he is eligible for parole in 2027.



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