Dec 6, 2017

Cult leader Simon Kadwell inquest hears police failed to investigate leads including reports of 'dead flesh' smell

Chantelle McDougall — pictured with her six-year-old daughter Leela — left a note saying the group was headed to Brazil.
Gian De Poloni
ABC Online
December 6, 2017

A coronial inquest into the baffling disappearance of a cult leader and his family has been told police failed to fully investigate all of the evidence and possible sightings.

Internet cult leader Simon Kadwell, partner Chantelle McDougall, their daughter Leela, and lodger Tony Popic left their home in the small West Australian town of Nannup in 2007.

Coroner Barry King is probing their suspected deaths at the request of Ms McDougall's parents.

The four left behind a house full of furniture, but few personal belongings.

In his testimony, Senior Sergeant Gregory Balfour said there were four reported sightings of the family in the Busselton area in 2008, but police did not investigate due to a lack of evidence.

He said three months after Ms McDougall disappeared, prison workers also reported finding a woman's T-shirt along with the smell of "dead flesh" in bushland near Northcliffe.

However, the report was not fully investigated until 2015, by which time bushfires had swept through the area.

It was also revealed items belonging to Ms McDougall were found at the Nannup tip, but never recovered by police.
Plans for 'peaceful' family suicide pact

Senior Sergeant Balfour described Mr Kadwell as a heavily spiritual self-styled shaman who had a cult following online.

Weeks before his disappearance, Mr Kadwell discussed plans with his online followers for a "peaceful" family suicide pact using drugs.

Mr Kadwell said he planned to take the drug after Ms McDougall and Leela, giving him time to bury their bodies in the forest.

However Senior Sergeant Balfour said Mr Kadwell went cold on the idea, instead contemplating moving to an isolated location.

A few days before vanishing he was stopped by police while driving in Nannup.

Senior Sergeant Balfour told the inquest the officer involved said Mr Kadwell looked uncomfortable with questions about his identity.

He said the officer believed the incident was a catalyst for the family's disappearance.

Police suspect Mr Kadwell stole his identity from an associate in his native England, and have established his real name as Gary Felton.
Pizza delivery driver's 'creepy' encounter

The inquest also shed light on the last known movements of Tony Popic, a friend of Mr Kadwell and Ms McDougall, who lived in a caravan parked on their property.

Police believed Mr Popic checked into a backpackers' hostel in Northbridge on July 15, 2007 — a day after the last reported sighting of Ms McDougall.

A pizza delivery driver was the last known person to see him alive, when he delivered food to him that night in bushland in Perth's Kings Park.

The man, who now lives in Malaysia, later described the encounter to police as "unusual" and "creepy".

Senior Sergeant Balfour told the inquest police believed Mr Popic used a fake name to travel on several bus and train routes spanning from Northcliffe to Kalgoorlie in the two days after leaving Nannup, but his final destination was unknown.
Parents continue to hold out hope

Outside the inquest, Ms McDougall's parents Catherine and Jim said they would never give up, even if the inquest provided no answers.

"Sometimes I think they have just sort of gone off the grid and are hiding somewhere and just living their quiet lifestyle," Catherine McDougall said.

"Then sometimes I think that something has happened to them. That they've been killed or committed suicide or something like that."

The family's Nannup landlord Lyndon Crouch found a note written by Ms McDougall indicating the family had moved to Brazil.

He told the inquest he did not believe the four were dead and suggested they followed through with their travel plans.

The hearing has been set down for three days.

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