Saturday, October 02, 2010
Bush lair of state's most wanted October 3, 2010
Barrington Tops in no stranger to fugitives trying to avoid the law: from Captain Thunderbolt to Malcolm Naden. Large tracts of it are impenetrable, writes Tim Barlass.
BARRINGTON Tops is a place where people disappear.
Five people have never been found after a Cessna plane crashed there in 1981, despite an annual search for the wreckage by volunteers.
Now Malcolm John Naden, the most wanted man in NSW, is doing his evil best not to be found. Despite reports of spotter planes, up to 40 police being drafted into foot searches, an Aboriginal tracker being hired and even a former soldier-turned-bounty hunter being on his tail, Naden remains at large.
Large tracts of the Barringtons are impenetrable. The national park covers 400 square kilometres and the highest point is 1586 metres above sea level.
John Tonitto, a captain of the Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad who leads annual searches for the missing Cessna, said efforts were hampered by the two-level rainforest canopy and steep mountain sides.
Regardless, locals criticise police attempts to find Naden, saying the investigation is being ‘‘run over the phone from Sydney’’ rather than relying on land owners to flush him out.
‘‘The police could seal off two ends of a street in Kings Cross and catch someone in the middle but up here they couldn’t track an elephant walking in snow,’’ one cattle farmer says.
Naden is criss-crossing the terrain, breaking into weekender residences to sustain a bush lifestyle described by another stockman as ‘‘living like a dingo’’. He has repeatedly robbed properties – taking canned food, .22 rifles and several miners’ helmets with lanterns to enable him to move at night without having to carry a torch.
Properties he has burgled now pepper the tourist map of the area including Rookhurst on Thunderbolt’s Way, Curricabark, Mount Mooney, Stewarts Brook and Gloryvale as well as many others.
One local estimated Naden had pinched no fewer than 14 pairs of binoculars, squirrelling them away in different locations.
Naden, now 36, a former skinner and boner at Dubbo abbatoir, became the most-wanted criminal in NSW five years ago following the murder of his cousin’s partner, Kristy Scholes, 24, who was found strangled in his bedroom at his grandparents’ home.
Her death led police to believe he could also be linked to the disappearance of his cousin Lateesha Nolan, then also aged 24, who went missing six months earlier from the same house.
One theory is that both women knew too much about allegations that Naden was facing in relation to the sexual assault of a child.
At the time he was a recluse and had become obsessed with religion, believing the end of the world was approaching. Since then he has managed to keep one step ahead of the authorities – escaping after he was spotted at Dubbo’s Western Plains Zoo, where he hid in the roof of an accommodation block.
The Barringtons are accustomed to fugitives trying to keep ahead of the law. The main tourist thoroughfare, Thunderbolt’s Way, was named after bushranger Frederick Ward – alias Captain Thunderbolt – who was active in the area in the 1850s.
Jimmy Governor, the Aboriginal man made famous in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and the last person to have a bounty on his head – raped a teenage girl in Mud Hut Lane, north of Cobark, where Naden is believed to have been most active.
Peter and Sheila Watson, who live on the lane where the mud hut was, returned from a trip abroad to find police had made an extensive search of their property. Peter said: ‘‘We do now lock things up when we go out; you do get to be a bit cautious.’’
Another burglary victim, David Moore, said his tin shed at Rookhurst on Thunderbolt’s Way had been broken into twice, most recently in September. He reckons Naden helped himself to tinned food, Vegemite and a pair of boots. Mr Moore said: ‘‘He took two levers out of the window to get in ... He also shorted out an electric fence – he is a good bushman. If I saw him in the shrub and I had a gun I would not hesitate to shoot him. He’s too comfortable up there.’’
There are plenty of people who have theories about police tactics and Naden tactics – many prefer not to be named, concerned for their properties, often left empty for much of the time, and for their families.
Some farmers believe Naden is receiving support from two men who tried to access a remote area of the Tops, saying they wanted to pan for gold. They were turned away.
One stockman who has been in the area for 60 years said: ‘‘I am not a bounty hunter and I have no intention of trying to chase him – much as I would like to get the murdering bugger – but someone will get him.’’