An Enigmatic Death

18.03.2011

tags: Death, NSW, NSW Police, Cobar,

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An Enigmatic Death
By Retired Detective Sergeant C.B. (Barry) Fay
APJ Issue - September 2003: pp.197 - 200.

EDITORIAL NOTE

Documents relating to the physical evidence outlined in this fascinating tale of woe were forwarded to the APJ many years ago along with a small article and image from the Sunday Liberal newspaper, relating to same.

We have resurrected the documents from our archives and, have added a chapter or two to bring a little continuity into the original storyline. But as far as the hard evidence is concerned nothing has been changed except the deceased’s name.

INTRODUCTION

Rex Remington was a 65-year-old man, who, like many of his generation, had seen action in WW II and had returned home a victim of a war neurosis.

He had taken to a life of isolation and that meant mostly staying put on his property situated about 90km north-west of Cobar on the Louth Road.

Even though he was regarded as a harmless old bloke there was a darker side to his nature as he had a propensity for excessive drinking and was an enthusiast for ‘Bundy’ or, to the uninitiated, Bundaberg Rum.

On the morning of 20 July, 1975 he was in a real drinking mood and, in the course of the day, polished off a 26oz bottle of rum (750ml) before driving off to Louth for a ‘top-up’ at his favourite watering hole – ‘Cindy’s Inn’. (There were no breathalyzer units about in those daysand even a traffic breach of: ‘Drive Under the Influence’ was seldom written up unless some unfortunate person had been involved in a motor vehicle accident.)

Around 3 O’clock that afternoon, Rex apparently had had enough rum for the day. He waved ‘goodbye’ to some of the local inhabitants, climbed into his old ute and headed off in the direction of the farm. This turned out to be the last official sighting anyone had of poor old Rex.

DEATH SCENE

Later that afternoon, Tim Clark, an old war buddy of Rex’s, decided to drop in on his mate for a yarn and a drink.

As he drove onto the property he noticed Rex’s 1964 Ford Falcon utility parked at an odd angle not far from the main gate. However, knowing that his friend often had mechanical trouble with it, he proceeded on to the homestead. On arrival, he knocked loudly on the front door and called out to his friend but all was quiet. He began to search the sheds and yards because earlier in the week Rex had assured him that he would definitely be home that evening.

But Tim couldn’t find him. He called out a few times and then walked back to his car and tooted the horn, but apart from startling a few birds nothing stirred.

Tim reasoned that his mate had to be somewhere close because Rex’s only means of transport was the old Ford and that was still there in the top paddock.

Well, to cut a long story short, Rex was in fact close-by but he would never hear his mate’s call - he was dead. His body lay face down in the dirt. In fact, it was wedged underneath his own utility.

Eventually, Tim became curious about the ute and went over to check it out before driving home. That’s when he made the grisly discovery. Not realising that his friend was dead he rushed back to the farmhouse, forced the back door and called 000.

After the local police established that Rex’s earthly race was over, they carefully checked out the area to sort it all out.  However, by this time, it was too dark to accurately establish just how the man had died so they called for assistance from detectives and physical evidence officers. Government contractors were also notified at this point so that the deceased could be conveyed to the local morgue.

As a consequence of these actions, Detective Sergeants Herb Gilmour (Dubbo) and Colin Selwood (Physical Evidence Unit) joined local police at the property and, with the aid of their portable generator floodlit the scene.

Initially, at least, it seemed as though Rex had crawled under the ute to carry out some minor repair and, whilst doing so, the vehicle had somehow dropped onto him. But this theory was soon discarded when the detectives realised that Rex’s head was wedged face down in the ground - held firmly by the back of the rear, offside tyre.

After Sergeant Selwood had taken dozens of photographs of the victim and the surrounding area, where certain personal items apparently belonging to the deceased were located, the utility was jacked up and the contractors moved in with their body bags.

MORTUARY

Early the next morning, the Cobar District Medical Officer (Dr Brady) conducted a post-mortem examination on the cadaver.

Apart from some burn marks on the man’s shoulders the body appeared to be uninjured. At this point, it was accepted that the burn marks came from the vehicle’s exhaust pipe.

After the post-mortem the doctor listed the cause of death as simply: ‘asphyxiation’. But this didn’t help our investigators one iota. They needed to know if it was murder, suicide or just an accident?

In an effort to resolve the matter, Sergeant Selwood returned to the property and closely scrutinised the entire scene.

(The eventual conclusion reached by Sergeant Selwood would have done justice to even Sherlock Holmes.)

The sergeant initially climbed on to a nearby shed to give himself an overview of the scene. He made several sketches of the area including the position of a number tyre marks in the dirt, damage to the fence and the exact location of certain objects presumed to be personal property of the deceased.  These items were listed in his notebook as: a pair of glasses, a cloth cap, two pencil batteries (AA), a small plastic bag containing salt, a small bottle of tablets and a man’s wallet.

Sergeant Selwood noticed two distinct zones in which a certain amount of vehicular ‘activity’ appeared to have taken place that was evident by the tyre marks.

The first of these were centred on a circular area containing the pair of glasses and the cap. The second defined by a larger circle of tyre marks, on part of the circumference of which the stalled utility and the deceased had been found.

Closer examination of the 1964 Ford utility revealed that it was in poor mechanical condition and the driver’s door had a faulty catch allowing it to swing open under even the slightest pressure.

It was also noted that the choke on the vehicle had been pulled out (about half way) and the ignition key was still turned to the ‘on’ position.

From all of the above observations, Sergeant Selwood deduced that Rex Remington had met his death by a most unusual chain of events.

SELWOOD’S THEORY

‘Blind in more ways than one!’

Although Rex Remington was well-primed with the demon drink that day he, nevertheless, managed to drive home safely. But his blood alcohol level increased as every kilometre passed and it soon began to take its toll. Shortly after arriving at the main gate he alighted from his vehicle (possibly for a call to nature) only to stumble or fall, dislodging his glasses and cap in the process. Rex was virtually blind without his glasses. Hand marks and other signs indicated that he had crawled around in search of them losing in the process the small plastic salt bag which it is believed he kept in a zipped pocket (chest area) of his bib and brace overalls. A closer inspection of his overall showed the zip was fully open.

Apparently, after failing to locate his glasses he climbed back into the ute and began to drive home. However, with his vision somewhat impaired, he drove just a few metres before his vehicle became snagged on the wire fence. Without his glasses he was in no position to get out and check the entanglement, so, more than likely, he probably just slipped the gear lever down and tried to reverse away from his predicament. However, he was held fast and the motor strained and cut out. The old utility (apparently) had often cut out like this so he pulled the choke out (about halfway) and started the vehicle again. Then he decided to turn the front wheels as far as he could (applying full left lock) before reversing out under extra throttle. As he did this, the wire fence held momentarily, then with a jerk the utility leapt backwards. The sudden movement (and twist) of the ute, threw the driver against his door which sprung open and he fell out dropping a few items he apparently held in his other hand, namely: the pill bottle, wallet and pencil batteries.

That’s when the ‘Grim Reaper’ appeared. Stunned or unconscious, Rex lay in the dirt face down while the old Ford kept moving (because of the choke) in reverse, in a wide circle on full lock. Shortly afterwards it backed over his prostrate body pushing his face further into the soft dirt thereby blocking off his air supply.

Finally, because the utility was in poor mechanical condition with its choke open, the motor soon cut out as it strained backwards across the man’s prostrate body. Thus trapped Rex Remington soon suffocated.

RECONSTRUCTION

When Dubbo Detectives filed their report/findings about the man’s death, it was read by senior officers of the police’s Criminal Investigations Branch (CIB). Those officers just couldn’t believe the death had happened that way. So they flew two of their senior detectives down to check out the facts.

Although it was all explained (at some length) to these super sleuths from Sydney it apparently became necessary to prove a point or two for all concerned. So the utility was towed to the Cobar Showground for an official test. Sergeant Selwood’s accidental death theory was to be re-enacted by the Dubbo Detectives to reveal Rex’s final moments. Using a weighted mannequin in the driver’s seat, with the wheel on lock and the vehicle in reverse the experiment got under way. And, ‘lo and behold’, the vehicle performed exactly as deduced by Sergeant Selwood. The CIB men and other witnesses were quite impressed. Especially after the ute swung about and, as its centre of gravity moved, the dummy was thrown out of the driver’s seat. The vehicle then circled and passed over the dummy just as Sergeant Selwood had predicted.

CONCLUSION

Although it was merely an accidental death, it took around 48 hours for our ‘scientific’ man to unravel it satisfactorily for the Coroner. To this day the case remains as one of the most bizarre cases ever encountered by police in western NSW. No wonder those in charge of the Sydney CIB couldn’t initially accept the officer’s report.

Poor old Rex, he may have been a ‘nobody’ in life, but in death - he was a celebrity of sorts. His demise being the result of one of the strangest motor vehicle accidents ever recorded in NSW history.   

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