It was a glorious spring day, perfect for a day out in the forest. Ken Seily stood in a clearing looking slowly about him, breathing the clear, fresh country air. It was a far cry from the pollution and stress of Sydney, two hours to the north, where he lived and worked. This was the time of the week that he looked forward to the most, when his orienteering club met for their weekly run.
Normally, Ken bushwalked or ran the orienteering courses alone but on Saturday, 19th September 1992, the club had organized a training day along some of the many trails that criss-crossed the forty thousand acres of the beautiful Belangalo State Forest. Ken thought the forest had never looked so good. Everywhere around him was the lush green vegetation of towering Eucalypt trees and native shrubs, bordered by commercial pine plantations. A stark contrast to the blackened desolation normally left after the many bushfires that had swept through the area in recent times.
After a short navigational briefing, Ken and his running partner, Keith Caldwell, set off on the first leg of the run. The sport is not unlike rally driving, where the object is to run a pre-determined course within a specified time, reaching and recording various check points on the way. By early afternoon, they were deep in the forest close to one of the most spectacular land marks of the area, “Executioners Drop.” So called because of its sheer fall into a deep, wooded gorge.
After recording their previous control points, staggered roughly half a mile apart, they took bearings on the next, Control Number Four, designated by a large boulder. Approaching the boulder, Ken smelled something bad. As he got closer the smell became more intense. He thought it was probably a rotting animal carcass. The forest provided a home to many wild animals. Kangaroos, wallabies and even the elusive dingo, roamed free, virtually unhindered my human intervention.
Dismissing it from his mind, Ken concentrated on his navigational bearings and was about to move on when Keith called to him from the far side of the boulder, “Can you smell that?” he asked. The smell got stronger as they approached the western side of the boulder.
Beneath a small overhang they found a mound of debris, approximately 7 feet long and 2 feet high. Stepping closer to the pile of branches and decaying leaves, the two men, braving the smell, saw what appeared to be a bone and a patch of hair. They werent sure it was human until they saw part of a black T-shirt. They both walked slowly around the mound until they got to the northern end of it, where they stopped, staring down at the ground, trying to comprehend what they had found. Protruding from the pile of brush was the heel of a shoe.
By this time it was 3.45 p.m. Soon the forest floor would be in darkness as the sun dipped lower in the sky. They carefully marked the location on their map, 800 feet south west of Long Acre Fire Trail, one of the many access trails in the area. A decision had to be made, back track the way they had come in or complete the course, which would take them out of the forest and bring them closer to their cars. They decided the latter choice would be quickest. Half an hour later, they rejoined their friends and quickly related the experience. They all agreed that the authorities should be informed as soon as possible. Contacting Emergency Services by mobile telephone, Seily, a gentle, softly spoken man, was asked by the operator, Is this an emergency? When he replied, Not really, he was disconnected.
Several phone calls later, he was finally connected with the duty officer at the local police station in Bowral, a pretty little town, nestled in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Seily identified himself and told the officer, “Ive found a body in the Belangalo Forest.” He wasnt sure if they had taken him seriously. It wasnt long before he saw that they had.
Uniform police arrived just as the light was beginning to fade. They were shown the way to the sighting by torch light, marking the way with reflective tape. Local detectives arrived soon after and requested a crime scene unit from Goulburn, the next major town to the south. Lighting was organized for the scene and not long after, regional detectives from the homicide squad arrived. A call was made to the office of detectives in Sydneys Kings Cross, as well as the Missing Persons Bureau, as they were known to be investigating the disappearance of several backpackers who were last seen heading south.
No one at the scene that day realized that the body that had been found would lead to the biggest murder investigation in Australias history. Nor would they know the extent of pain and suffering, that was shared by a small group of people from different parts of the world.