Fear and shock as suspect in Meagher’s murder faces court
On the short walk between a bar where she bid goodnight to a colleague and the Melbourne flat she shared with her husband, Gillian Meagher vanished into a nightmare. Now the man accused of raping and murdering her goes on trial.
On the short walk between a bar where she bid goodnight to a colleague and the Melbourne flat she shared with her husband, Gillian Meagher vanished into a nightmare.
Thomas Meagher started calling his wife, at 2am, wondering why the popular 29-year-old, known as Jill, had not returned home after Friday night drinks with her colleagues at ABC radio.
“I rang her like hundreds of times,” he said earlier this week.
“The phone rang, but went to voice mail, then at about eight in the morning the battery must have died since it just went straight to voice mail.”
He left their Brunswick apartment at 4am to search nearby streets in the dark.
Soon, missing persons posters were plastered everywhere and a massive social media campaign appealing for information attracted more than 120,000 Facebook followers.
Ms Meagher’s panicking family in Perth and overseas also made tearful pleas for assistance.
But six days after she was last seen, all hope was shattered.
Ms Meagher’s body had been discovered in a shallow grave, not far from a dirt road about 50km northwest of Melbourne.
Detectives have now laid murder and rape charges against a 41-year-old stranger who is expected to face a committal mention next year.
The suspect, a man in a blue hoodie, had been recorded by a CCTV camera at a bridal store as he tried to chat with Ms Meagher on Sydney Road, only 450 metres from her home, as she walked from a nearby bar.
“This is the worst thing we’ll ever go through in our lives,” Mr Meagher said on Friday outside a court appearance for his wife’s accused rapist and killer.
His wife’s family added in a statement: “We are devastated. We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe how we feel at what has happened.”
Ms Meagher’s death has touched thousands across Australia and in Ireland, where she and her husband were born and met as university students before taking a world tour several years ago and ending up in Melbourne.
In a show of public grief, people began leaving flowers at a makeshift memorial where Ms Meagher was last seen on Sydney Road. Many said they were sad and scared. How could this happen so close to her home, on a busy, popular strip, in the most livable city in the world?
“It’s pretty sickening,” said Holly Edward, 22, who believed she had walked past the accused killer minutes before Ms Meagher disappeared, but had barely noticed him.
“We’re here to say goodnight to her, and sweet dreams,” said Heidi, 42, as she laid flowers and chocolates with her daughter outside the Duchess Boutique bridal store.
“It could have happened to anyone.”
Plans are under way to organise a “Reclaim the Night” rally in the inner-city suburb, when the grieving family is ready.
Co-organiser Natalie Pestana, 35, said people should not let the tragedy make them live in fear.
“It is horrifying, to be honest. And I’m really devastated that this has happened,” she said.
“We are allowed to walk alone and not be harassed or be told we were asking for it.”
ABC radio colleagues – even as they feel the pain of seeing an empty desk where their bubbly young co-worker once sat – are also calling for calm from the public.
“Its randomness is what is so incomprehensible about it,” said an emotional ABC radio host Jon Faine on Friday, holding back tears.
“(But) Jill’s death must not come to define us. That’s not what it’s like to live in the Melbourne I know.”
Ms Meagher had been a unit coordinator at ABC radio’s Southbank studios and is remembered as the beloved party planner of the office.
On Friday, 21 September, she enjoyed birthday drinks for several co-workers on Sydney Road, then had one last drink with her friend and colleague Tom Wright.
The pair left Bar Etiquette at 1.33am (AEST) on Saturday.
“I said, can I walk you home because it’s late at night,” Mr Wright recalled during a News Limited interview this week.
“She said: ‘No, no, I live around here. I know it really well. Don’t worry.’”
He asked again and she declined, so Mr Wright jumped in a cab while Ms Meagher continued walking by herself towards her home.
She paused a moment on the way to phone her brother in Perth at 1.43am, asking about their sick father.
That was a few moments after she and the man in a blue hoodie were caught on camera.
The phone call ended after two brief minutes.
And then she was gone.
Her handbag was found in a nearby laneway two days later, triggering a major homicide investigation.
“I’ve been really humbled by the support of the Australian public, the tireless efforts of the police and all the friends and family who have put their lives on hold to help us out,” Mr Meagher said on Friday as his brother-in-law Michael McKeon, stood nearby.
For Gillian’s husband and brother, a six-day journey of hope confusion had ended in horror.
When they sat next to each other in court on Friday, seeing the accused killer for the first time, the pair exchanged looks.
Mr McKeon leaned over and held Mr Meagher’s hand. – AA