MONSTER: Brett Peter Cowan was no stranger to Coast cop Daren Edwards.
MONSTER: Brett Peter Cowan was no stranger to Coast cop Daren Edwards.

BIG READ: Meet the men who caught Coast's worst killers

IT'S oil spilled, rather than blood, that keeps Des Mahoney busy these days.

He's not long returned from New Zealand where he's nabbed his suspect.

The crime. Oil dumped on the Great Barrier Reef.

It's a long way from the Elkhorn St, Kuluin home in June 1996 where Des came across what he described as probably the most brutal murder scene he'd encountered in his long career as a detective.

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Coast teenage hockey player Amanda Jane Bliss, known as Smiley by her friends, had been strangled, stomped and stabbed during a botched home invasion.

It was a crime that stunned the Coast and impacted every investigator that worked the case.

Des was a Detective Sergeant at the time and said the days following were relentless as they worked to catch a brutal killer who he recalled ended up the first juvenile offender to receive a life sentence.

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"It was my first day back from leave when that (Amanda's murder) happened," Des recalled.

"I'll never forget the complete look of devastation and despair as she (Amanda's mother, Lesley) was sitting on the footpath outside when we turned up.

"There wasn't much sleep in that period (three-four days following), you just go as hard as you can."


03/07/03 120555c Detective senior sergeant Des Mahoney at the scene of Wednesday night's fire  . Photo:Barry Leddicoat.
FLASHBACK: Des Mahoney back in 2003. Barry Leddicoat

Spurred on by senior detectives like Jeff Oliphant and the inspirational Alan Bourke, Des said there was a certain look exchanged across the investigation room during the days following.

Everyone was on the same page, unwilling to stop until evil had been taken off the streets.

But it was the grimmest of breakthroughs that led to cracking the case.

"He'd stomped on her face after he murdered her," Des said.

The act of brutality left its mark on more than just the detectives. The footprint left on Amanda became a vital clue which helped detectives narrow in on the suspect.

25/07/02 111261Maroochydore' Detective Inspector Jeff Oliphant retires.
Former Maroochydore-based Detective Jeff Oliphant. chris mccormack

During a lengthy interview detectives were able to negate her murderer's account and Des said he believed it had been current Sunshine Coast District Superintendent Darryl Johnson who located the shoes worn by Amanda's killer.

"In terms of display of evilness (it was the worst he'd seen)," Des recalled.

"To go to that extent after you've killed someone, yeah that shakes you up."

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Nowadays Des isn't chasing cold-blooded killers, having done so on the Sunshine Coast from 1992 to 2005.

A stint owning his own billiards store was "not a success story", but for the past five years he's been chasing shipping captains working as an investigator for Maritime Safety Queensland, travelling around the state and overseas on his cases.

His most recent success, nabbing those responsible for a Great Barrier Reef oil spill.

"It's very environmentally focused and a better class of crook," Des said with a laugh.

"Most of them (spills) are just accidents and they don't hate you as much."

So what's the difference between chasing a murderer on the run and a negligent skipper who may be thousands of nautical miles from the crime scene?

"It's much the same, you stick to the basics and follow every avenue of investigation," Des said.

Former Coast detective Alan Bourke, who worked on the Sian Kingi case, said he felt relief when he learned one of her two killers, Valmae Beck, had died in a Townsville hospital this week. Photo: 167688
The late Alan Bourke was a highly regarded, well respected Coast cop and skilled investigator.

Memories from the top

DARRYL Johnson was a fresh-faced Sunshine Coast detective on May 27, 1992, still "only a young bloke" who'd shifted from Dalby.

The now-Superintendent of the Sunshine Coast district was one of a number of police officers tasked to a job.

John and Olveene Kelly, partners and colleagues, had been executed in the early hours of a Yandina morning.

The pair were security guards and had responded to a break-in at the CSR Hume pipe factory. Fulfilling their duties would end up costing their lives.


Superintendent Darryl Johnson has returned to the Sunshine Coast looking after the Sunshine Coast region.
Photo: Warren Lynam / Sunshine Coast Daily
TOP COP: Superintendent Darryl Johnson. Warren Lynam

David Peter Clarkson was convicted of the murders in August 1993, having shot the pair at point-blank range with Mr Kelly's .38 calibre pistol before dumping their vehicle at Wappa Falls.

Clarkson and his co-convicted, Stephen Douglas Winston, along with 19-year-old Michael Ferguson, had gone to steal a section of water pipe while Clarkson and Winston were on the run from prison.

It would be months before the trio were apprehended, with almost every detective on the Coast called in to help crack the case.

"It was a very tough, long, protracted job," Supt Johnson said.

"It was an horrific homicide. Two people going about their business were executed, shot in cold blood."

Supt Johnson said working alongside some of the region's most dedicated, decorated investigators, led by former Assistant Commissioner Paul Wilson, taught him a lifetime of skills.

"It was one of those jobs you don't forget," he said.

"There were no immediate leads, it was good old-fashioned police and detective work that built the foundations of the investigation."


Assistant Commissioner Paul Wilson. National Police and Service Medals. Photo Dave Noonan / The Chronicle
LEADER: Former Assistant Commissioner Paul Wilson. Dave Noonan

He said it was down to pounding pavements, knocking on doors and talking to the public that eventually led to the breakthrough.

"Pretty well every detective on the Coast was at Nambour's major incident room in the early stages," Supt Johnson recalled.

The cricket lover and surf club member said it had been a single piece of information which led to them piecing together the prison escapee angle and deliver a breakthrough.

"It was one of those jobs you don't stop until you solve," he said.

He said the teamwork and chemistry within the investigative unit was unbelievable as he opened up on some of the skills needed to close lengthy cases.

"You need to stay removed from the emotional aspects but we're all human and that obviously comes into it," Supt Johnson said.

"We wouldn't be human if we didn't feel some emotion.

"It's dedication, doggedness, the ability to not let go and gut instinct comes into it too.

"It's being able to work as part of a team. No single one is going to solve a homicide for you.

"In any serious crime you've got to keep an open mind, you can't be tunnel-visioned."

He said the community expectation also weighed heavily on those tasked with bringing to justice violent criminals.

"We feel the expectation, we've got the responsibility from the community to make the community safe," Supt Johnson said.

"We do everything we can to make them feel safe.

"We work for the community and to bring someone to be held to account for their actions, it is satisfying.

"It's a team effort, from the most junior constable to the most senior investigator.

"I would be loathe to nominate officers individually as being pivotal to the successful conclusion of any investigation, like any successful sporting team, everyone has a role to play."

Familiar faces

BRETT Peter Cowan was a stranger to many until he became the face of a monster who stole our innocence when he abducted and murdered Daniel Morcombe in 2003.

But Cowan was no stranger to Sunshine Coast CIB officer in charge, Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards.

He's been in charge of the Coast CIB for the past five years but back in December 2003 he was in the state homicide squad.

December 7, 2003, was the day Daniel went missing. The next day Det Snr Sgt Edwards was on the Coast.


Day after Brett Cowan was found guilty of murdering Daniel Morcombe - The scene at the Daniel memorial at the overpass on Nambour Connection Road where Daniel was abducted in 2003.
FLASHBACK: Kiel Mountain Rd overpass the day after Cowan's guilty verdict was handed down. Brett Wortman

Cowan was one of the first faces he printed out for a list of possible suspects.

As the Australian public was to learn once Cowan's trial had ended, he had a long history of sexual offences against children.

The most brutal of which happened in a Darwin Caravan Park in 1993, when he sexually assaulted a six-year-old boy so savagely the first policeman to see the victim thought he'd been hit by a car.

Daren Edwards was one of the Northern Territory police officers who arrested Cowan for that crime.

"My gut feel was he (Cowan) was one, that it could be him (who took Daniel)," Det Snr Sgt Edwards recalled.

"You couldn't have tunnel vision though.

"I always had a bad feeling about him (Cowan)."

Det Snr Sgt Edwards helped solve some of Queensland's most horrific murders from 2002 to 2011, commuting from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane until he transferred permanently to the Sunshine Coast to lead our detectives.

He worked on a string of cold cases as well during his time with the state investigators.


Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards.  Photo: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily
GRITTY: Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards. John McCutcheon

So what makes the Sunshine Coast different to other regions? Why do horrific crimes seem to shake us to our core and why are he and his team so determined to solve them as quickly as possible?

"Everyone's entrenched in the community here so they give a damn," he said.

"The detectives up here have always had a great name for getting results.

"The majority of the Sunshine Coast community are decent people... that's a fact of life. This community doesn't accept that (violent and serious crimes) as the norm."

Looking back

IT WAS about a decade into Bruce Maclean's career as a Coast cop when Bevan Meninga - brother of rugby league legend Mal - snuffed out Cheree Richardson's life in a brutal murder at Alexandra Headland.

She was reported missing on Mother's Day in 1991 and her body was discovered in dense grassland a few days later.

"I'll never forget that," Mr Maclean said.

He spent 36 years as a Coast policeman, 23 of which as an investigator in both the Child Protection and Criminal Investigation branches.


Retiring police officer Sergeant Bruce Maclean (right) is embraced on his last day of work by his younger brother Sergeant Neil Maclean.
SHIFT OVER: Retiring police officer Sergeant Bruce Maclean (right) is embraced on his last day of work by his younger brother Sergeant Neil Maclean. Stuart Cumming

The former Detective Sergeant retired only a month ago, finishing his service as a Sergeant at Nambour Police Station.

"It was brutal," he says, casting his mind back 15 years to the crime.

He said bearing the horrific news to Ms Richardson's family was something that had stuck with him for life.

"My satisfaction would be to find her in one piece and give her back to her family but that was never going to happen," he said.

"You wish you could do something different to help them."

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He said Cheree's murder, a case he stuck with from the day she was reported missing to the day Meninga was sentenced to jail, changed his outlook on life.

"It's distressing," he recalled.

"You have to behave in a professional manner to achieve the desired result... you have to put your own feelings aside.

"You have trouble sleeping... you can't help but take on some of the baggage.

"I don't regret one day. My only regret is that I had to retire at 60 (compulsory retirement age for QPS)."

The rape and murder of Sian Kingi was another deeply disturbing case for many local investigators.

"That was terrible, she was such a young girl," Mr Maclean said.

The abduction and murder of schoolboy Daniel Morcombe in 2003 was another that had a profound impact on the experienced Coast cop.

He had three sons, his eldest was the same age as Daniel when he was abducted.

"You wanted to know where they (sons) were every minute of the day," Mr Maclean recalled, as he reflected on how he became more protective of his boys.

He worked on the Morcombe investigation from Daniel's disappearance until 2005.

He said the "monstrous" nature of the investigation in terms of amount of leads to follow up and the size of the investigation saw a high turnover of investigators as fresh eyes were constantly needed to replace those tiring.

"It was huge," Mr Maclean recalled.

"So many people played a role in that."

"Police work is a lot of foot slogging, painstaking, asking questions.

"They're (investigators) not there for the money.

"You do it because you want to get results."

And as for the most bizarre case he could recall in almost four decades, a 2003 murder at Balmoral Ridge he worked with lead investigator Chris Eaton took the cake.

"There was an argument between two thieves. One got killed, one got shot, they buried him out in the bush," Mr Maclean recalled.

"They did an Armaguard robbery out at Kingaroy, took about $250,000 and were up for a murder on the Gold Coast.

"That was a huge year. It was very drawn out because it just kept going, all these new offences.

"That was bizarre, you could write a book on that one, we just couldn't believe what we were finding."

RELATED: Coolum murder tragedy: Family life three years on

Unfinished business:

THERE is a case that still remains unsolved on the Sunshine Coast.

The disappearances of two women, Celena Bridge and Sabrina Anne Glassop and young girl Jessica Gaudie, in the late-1990s remain mysteries.

Derek Sam was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for murdering Jessica Gaudie and is the prime suspect in the suspected murders of Ms Bridge and Ms Glassop, but to this day, Sam has never aided police in trying to locate the bodies of the three victims.


The family of missing Sunshine Coast girl, Jessica Gaudie are still searching for answers. 

Photo Contributed
The family of missing Sunshine Coast girl, Jessica Gaudie are still searching for answers. Contributed


British backpacker Celena Bridge last seen in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in 1998.
British backpacker Celena Bridge last seen in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in 1998. Contributed

Eighteen years on and Sunshine Coast CIB Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards still won't give up on finding answers and closure for the families.

Designated investigators have been assigned to the case full-time for the last 12 months and Det Snr Sgt Edwards said he was hopeful of a positive outcome after all these years.

"Criminals that are loners are very hard to catch, they don't speak to anyone... and Derek Sam is definitely one of those," Det Snr Sgt Edwards said.


Missing Kenilworth woman Ann Glassop
Missing Kenilworth woman Ann Glassop. Contributed

Former Sunshine Coast Detective Sergeant Des Mahoney reckons Jessica Gaudie's murder investigation was one of the hardest cases he'd ever worked.

"It was massive," he said, recalling the huge land searches undertaken.


119615     Detective Sergeant Des Mahoney leads Kym Spoehr away from the site of a bushland camp.Rape accused man.
NABBED: Kym Spoehr is led away. Sunshine Coast Daily

He said media assistance had been vital to a number of major cases over the years, none more so than the capture of serial rapist Kym Spoehr who terrorised victims in Noosa National Park in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Des said a comfit image published by the Daily led to a flood of intelligence and he believed played a crucial role in the arrest and extradition of Spoehr from Coffs Harbour to answer to his crimes.