Did Inspector Powell have the answers in the murder investigation? ‘Who knows?’

Retired Hobart police Inspector Peter Powell led the investigation into the disappearance-turned-murder of Bob Chappell on Australia Day 2009, which led to the arrest and 2010 conviction of Sue Neill-Fraser for Chappell’s murder. But in interviews between 2012 and 2016, Powell’s responses were peppered with ‘who knows?’. 

In 2012, before he retired, Inspector Peter Powell was interviewed by documentarian Eve Ash who has included excerpts in her recently produced 12-part podcast, Who Killed Bob? and previously in her TV series Undercurrent and  doco Shadow of Doubt. After his retirement in 2016, he was interviewed by authors Robin Bowles and Colin McLaren.

Det Insp Peter Powell (rtrd)

Judging by many of his answers, speculation and guesswork seem to have been the drivers of the 2009 police investigation (which has been thoroughly discredited in the Etter Selby papers) into the now controversial and contested murder case.  [Comments in italics added] But more recently, Powell has inadvertently revealed that on one thing at least, he knew more than police admitted at the trial.

Snippets from Powell’s interviews:

Re: How Sue disposed of Bob – June 27, 2012
PETER POWELL: Ah, look, based on all the circumstances, and this is our belief and obviously the jury accepted this. We believe he was killed on the yacht sometime either late that afternoon or even later that evening. Bear in mind he hadn’t been seen by anyone else since, you know, Sue saw him on the yacht just after lunch. Um, and, we believe, probably, his body was then loaded into the dinghy that was attached to the yacht and taken out and dumped in the deep, deep channel of the river. [No evidence] Now, whether it was weighted down, and lots of people thought well, that’s why the fire extinguisher has been taken, ah, to weight the body down. Ah, whether he was put in a, and one of the things that was a possibility a sail bag, whether he was put in a sail bag and then weighted down. Who knows? But we’re fairly confident that based on all the circumstances, that he was, he was killed on the yacht, because there were some blood spatters which, you know, forensics, um said seemed to be consistent with someone being hit around the head. Um, and of course there was a big stain in the dinghy, which although, because of some issue with the forensic testing couldn’t be actually determined to be human blood, it certainly was Bob Chappell’s DNA. [Yet the prejudicial photo of the dinghy glowing with luminol was shown to the jury, despite no blood. As for Bob’s DNA, fancy that, on his own dinghy!]

Re: The fire extinguisher ? – June 27, 2012
POWELL: Oh look, of course it is, and we’re only going on what Sue says, that is it was there, and it’s gone missing. So, ah, and I guess even if you’re talking about witnesses like mechanics and that, who said it wasn’t there, did he really notice it or not? Who knows? I mean it was quite big. It was a fifteen kilo one. Um, so I don’t know where it was placed on the yacht, you’d think you might have seen it, if it was there. But if I’d been on that yacht I don’t know that I’d remember a week later or two weeks later, whether there was a fire extinguisher in place or not. [The prosecution speculated that Sue used the fire extinguisher to weigh down Bob’s body…and then told police it had gone missing…?]

Re: Coincidental phone call from stranger, Richard King, predicting something bad would happen to Bob – June 27, 2012
POWELL: Well I guess, you know, you say he was a stranger but bear in mind she knew he was at Clare’s place [this is not true, he was not at Clare’s] when he made that phone call so she knew that, um, he’s been doing some work with Clare. And when I say work I understand he befriended her and gave her a bit of counselling because of her mental health issues. Um, so yeah, it’s a coincidence that he made that phone call that night.  But who knows? And I’m not sure that he said something bad is going to happen that night. It was more about Clare wasn’t happy about Bob having the yacht. Maybe that’s cause she knew that Bob wasn’t really ever going to be capable of sailing that yacht. Um, and she was concerned that if something was going to go wrong with the yacht. Now whether, whether they, whether that was just coincidence, whether she had some psychic sort of you know, feel about it, bear in mind her mental health issues. Who knows? So, I think it was a coincidence.

Sue and Bob

Re: Sue’s motive for killing Bob – June 27, 2012
POWELL:  Look, who knows what the motive really is in these cases. And I guess you, you can usually rely on witnesses or some, some admission from the offender. But Sue’s never going to tell us that. Um, and I, I do, I think maybe getting divorced, or they weren’t married anyway, but separating after twenty years together is going to cost you some money. So, it’s a lot easier to get the whole of the estate that you know, you’re entitled to under the terms of the will, than to have to share that and bear in mind, that was Bob’s house. He was paying it off. Um, you know, and she’d moved in there. He had, he had all his super he was due to get when he retired. So that could be one motive, the money. Secondly as I said, maybe she was realizing he wasn’t capable of you know, sailing this yacht, didn’t want to do it. Um, he was, and if you look at the two people, as I said, Sue a fairly smart looking fifty-five year old and fairly active I think, and Bob a frail sixty-five year old. Maybe she was just sick of the relationship and wanted to move on to something more exciting. Who knows? But, there are a whole range of possibilities about what the real motive was.

Re: Could drug dogs detect anything if the yacht had been underwater – June 27, 2012
POWELL: Oh who knows? But certainly if it’d been anywhere around the boat you’d think you’d pick up some trace. It still would have been loaded on the boat at some stage.

Re: If dinghy seen at 11:30 and car seen on ATM 12:30am doesn’t fit timeline – June 27, 2012
POWELL: Oh look, who knows whether the vehicle went down there more than once… and um, I’d have to, as I said, I’d have to look at the file because it’s a fairly extensive file to see the exact timings, and I’m only going from memory that it was around about that time span.  So we’re talking 11.30 – 12.30 time span. [Police tried to claim the blurry image of an unidentifiable car was Neill-Fraser’s but prosecution did not include it at trial.]

Re: Why didn’t Sue act on a murder plan she supposedly had ten years earlier – June 27, 2012
POWELL: Who knows? I mean, because on Triffett’s version of events it was going to be her brother Patrick she was going to kill. And then for whatever reason she’s changed that and sometime later she has said well, I’d like to do that to Bob. Um so, who knows what’s in her mind? [Triffett’s personal history and criminal record makes his preposterous allegation highly unreliable. An anonymous call alerted Sue’s defence team to Triffett’s own charges that month and his attempt to try and do a deal with police.]

Re: Theory that Vass’ DNA got on board at Constitution Dock – Oct 9, 2016
POWELL: There is some footage from the Port Authority where there is two or three young people sitting on the, ah, on the dock there, not far from the yacht, but you can’t actually identify who they are. Um, so, we actually thought that one of those could have been this young girl. They could have gone on board the yacht, they’d been drinking, they could have gone on board and squatted and have a pee while they’re on the yacht.  Who knows? [Footage shows no one going onto the yacht.]

Re: Powell’s other theory of how Vass’ DNA got on yacht – June 27, 2012
POWELL: But the, as events turned out, the dry dock wasn’t secure. You could get access from the waterside to it. So who knows who may have, you know, gained access to the boat out there. And certainly Meaghan Vass had some associations with some young, ah, male offenders, underage offenders, that have been in the past guilty of breaking into boatyards and stealing things off boats and that. [At the trial, police denied knowledge of Vass associating with young offenders stealing from boats.]

Re: Powell theory of DNA on yacht Oct 9, 2016
POWELL: I think that deposit, that DNA sample was taken on the 30th so we’re talking like three days later. Um, and the dry dock is not secure from the water. So my view is that this young girl was also associated with some young criminals, in the northern suburbs, which is where the dry dock is. And it’s possible that she’s been with them and they’ve gone into this boatyard and you know, wandered around yachts, seeing what was worth stealing or whatever – who knows – um  and left her DNA on there by that. [These scenarios require us to believe that Vass later inserted herself into the murder case by claiming to have witnessed the fight on board Four Winds on Australia Day.]

Re: Gleeson naming Paul Wroe as a suspect – Oct 19, 2016
POWELL: Oh, maybe a bit…Who knows, who knows? But my attitude was that they’re both drunks. Um I wouldn’t rely too much on anything Gleeson told me, to be honest. [Gleeson and Wroe have extensive criminal records, were near the crime scene on the night but were not investigated by police at the time.]

Re: Why not a simpler way to murder Bob? – Oct 9, 2016
POWELL: But, who knows how the minds of, you know, murderers work? And we all know there’s been lots of cases where, when people get caught for a murder, you think, “Gee, there were easier ways to do this… and certainly easier ways to probably get away with it.” [The easiest way for the perpetrator/s to get away with this particular murder was for police to charge Sue Neill-Fraser…]

 

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23 Responses to Did Inspector Powell have the answers in the murder investigation? ‘Who knows?’

  1. Owen allen says:

    I would like to make a confession. I am so stressed with anxiety and depression from standing up and working hard long hours at the same time, and living in the flooded area; but thank God when the riverbroke and started flowing through my annexe, it kept flowing. It is devastation in the Northern Rivers.
    But, and Sue Neill-Fraser is still locked up, and the powers do not give a shit.
    Well 30 years of standing up, is wearing me down. 5 weeks holiday, ( rest from work, no holiday away,) and my day before work I wash my clothes, after 5 weeks. I have been crippled with depression and anxiety.
    I thought I would share this with you,I feel better, thanks.
    They won’t destroy me, I have bottomed out, and it’s all up from here.
    We Will Never Surrender, thanks WC.

    • Robert Greenshields says:

      Well Owen, only you really know if you have indeed actually bottomed out. Good luck and best wishes to you as you recognise your progress. Keep strong and safe as I believe persons who have walked the walk, and continue to support Sue Neill Fraser are an asset. Any, and many talk the talk, but it is certain experiences that separates those who know the ultimate difference between circumstances. As a legendary AFL coach is recorded as saying, “after all is said and done, there is a lot more said than done “.
      Maintain the faith that recognised ongoing, long-standing criminal public service cultures and propaganda, do not hold mettle against professionalism, altruism, and honesty. “Nil Desperandum Illegitimate Carborundum”, as the old statement goes.

  2. Garry Stannus says:

    On delicate sashes of law
    she was lowered into the earth.

    Justice threw some crumbs
    of dirt onto Truth’s coffin
    and around the grave they were silent.

    They had come to bury her,
    but not to praise.

    Back at the Ministry
    They chose their next target.
    At the tea break they worked through.
    They work-shopped Justice herself.

    How would they write
    the next big truth?
    Who would be the next true-witness?

    That homeless man!

    A true promise of shortened servitude,
    -all promises are true –
    then the admission

    his true admission!

    For False is True
    and the time of Mme. Justice’
    has come and gone.

    Who knows?

  3. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Isn’t it interesting Andrew, ‘Who knows” anything about Inspector Peter Powell’s background in England! ‘Who knows’ if Bob Chappell’s background in England had any connections with the inspector! ‘Who knows’ anything about the five years break that Inspector Peter Powell had from policing!’Who knows’ anything about Peter Powell’s return to policing, and re-appointment as a detective, after five years absence! ‘Who knows’? Maybe if one of Inspector Peter Powell’s close colleagues or friends, who does know, and could be reading this, could tell us. I’m sure we would appreciate knowing more about the inspector. Just a hunch, but you know, ‘Who even knows’ where Bob Chappell is. The wheel sometimes, turns slowly. ‘Who knows’? May not even be a Tasmanian suspect, regarding Bob’s disappearance! Just a hunch!!!

  4. Stephen Berry says:

    Hi guys.
    I wrote last week to the Premier who had the audacity to send me an email telling me what a safe place Tasmania is! I got the usual reply from the attorney general signed one Pip Scott. I replied, and If and when I get s reply I will publish it.

  5. Lynn Giddings says:

    At Sue Neill-Fraser’s trial in 2010, we learnt that, in addition to the DNA of Meaghan Vass, there was DNA of two unidentified males. Do the police now know who those two males are? Is it a matter of “who knows?” Because the public would like to know and would like them investigated.

  6. LB says:

    Dear oh dear oh dear…. … if “who knows” is the best conclusion/ response a police INSPECTOR can arrive at, then “who knows” what, if anything, emanating from that department could possibly be taken seriously? ….it really is a laughing stock, but in this case, one with very serious consequences. Sitting, shaking my head….

  7. Freddy says:

    Who Knows?
    Is this a trick question? Powell knows who knows.
    I know Who Knows.

    Sue Neill-Fraser knows the answer to most of these questions.
    Motive. Method of Murder. Where the body is now. If the fire extinguisher was used.

    Sue Knows!

    • andrew says:

      If only the police had some evidence and the jury was presented with it…when the only recourse is to speculate, you know the case doesn’t stack up against her. That’s not just my opinion, also of the late celebrated Chester Porter QC …not to mention Robert Richter QC, legal academic Dr Bob Moles and others. No independent lawyer or barrister has ever defended the conviction.

  8. Sue Marsh says:

    I can only shake my head as I read article after article showing the disregard for the truth. Hoping that an Attorney General or others who can wright the wrong but Won’t.
    Surely if they are that certain they would let the next chapter happen and quickly to prove her guilt. Meanwhile the perpetrators are living life knowing how incompetent the police investigators were.
    It is a movie in the making for sure.

  9. John Biggs says:

    This case is screaming for a Committee of Inquiry. Powell’s interviews give one the very strong impression that he’s not at all sure himself of the police case. I agree with Keith’s comment — it is a disgrace that investigations into such a flimsy case (beyond reasonable doubt? rather with considerable doubt) are met with such resistance by powerbrokers from the Premier and AG down. This suggests massive defensiveness, that they themselves may have considerable doubt but the fair name of Tasmania’s justice system, not to mention the names of key players within that system, must be protected at all costs. I doubt any Committee of Inquiry set up in Tasmania could be fit for purpose. It would have to be composed of Mainlanders. I’d like to be wrong.

    • Ian Ronald Gardner, Gold Coast. says:

      I agree with you John Biggs.
      What a disgrace that the people of Tasmania have not rallied to strongly petition for a Committee of Enquiry consisting of non-resident Tasmanians. As an ex Tasmanian, I would be happy to serve, but I am too biased against the establishment to do so, as I consider them all to be crooks. Mostly I would look at the Police and delve into their backgrounds from the top down.

    • Garry Stannus says:

      John, you suggest [govt & bureaucratic] defensiveness … and certainly from Powell to the Premier, the case seems to be dripping with it. Thanks for linking those two ideas … doubt and defensiveness.

      It’s not unreasonable to suspect that Powell’s defending himself publicly is associated in some way with self-doubt.

      When I write ‘defending himself publicly’, I am referring particularly to his interviews/statements:

      2009 03 13 Felicity Ogilvie (ABC),

      2013 07 00 Eve Ash (in Shadow of Doubt) [see for example at: 31:44 and 41:34]

      2014 08 25 Tasmanian Police Statement 2 – Susan Neill-Fraser case https://tinyurl.com/2p9xy8y7

      2014 08 26/27: his on-the-street and outside-Police-HQ interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VepBkTuC0vQ

      2022 03 02: Powell tells The Australian (journalist Matt Denholm) that the Etter-Selby papers had been ‘loose with the truth‘ and that he had been ‘selectively misquoted‘ … saying that he didn’t believe he’d ever said police had known that associates of Vass had been guilty of breaking into boats.

      2022 03 26: Powell then had to qualify that last statement after Eve Ash produced the film/audio clip of him saying that very thing. In The Australian‘s ‘Cop, filmmaker spar over yacht murder audio‘, he defends his error by referring to context while not actually explaining why disclosure (of Vass’s associates stealing from boats) was not made to the defence.

      The expression ‘double down’ is heard quite often lately. It can mean to strengthen one’s commitment to a particular strategy or course of action, typically one that is potentially risky. It can also mean to argue one’s position more strongly as that position is increasingly seen to be false.

      Listen to Powell. And watch him creasing and re-creasing his notes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VepBkTuC0vQ

    • Owen allen says:

      You will not be wrong. SOG Tasmania Police Murder of Vietnam Vet.
      Research?

  10. Garry Stannus says:

    Q Who knows?
    A I know:
    Xxx Xxxxxx, who lived up there near Goodwood, on the river. He had form for stealing from boats. Devine wasn’t Vass’s boyfriend, though Xxxxxx was. He had form for stealing from boats.

    Nobody is telling the whole truth … and neither am I … in the sense that I’m not going to publicly name that teenage thief (as he was then). He had access to dinghies that were motorised. [read about him on pp 218-219 of Southern Justice]

    It is ironic that at the time of the commencement of the SNF Leave Application hearings, our Xxx Xxxxxx was sentenced to two years imprisonment by Justice Brett for breaking into and stealing from boats. Our Xxx Xxxxxx had (according to Justice Brett) was at the time of his offences subject to a suspended sentence and already had a significant criminal history – from when he was very young! – and which continued into his adult life.

    [On 26Jan2009 Xxx Xxxxxx was 16 years old. Meaghan Vass was then, 16 years old. ] I’m not talking about Sam Devine … this Xxx Xxxxxx that I’m mentioning is a different person. It’s an irony of life that sometimes the real questions are not asked and sometimes information is known to some of the various parties, but for various reasons, that information does not get brought out into the public arena. See! I’m guilty of it myself!

    Q Was Vass ever asked in court if she knew Zzz Zzzzzz?
    A No.

    Q Was Powell ever asked if Xxx Xxxxxx was one of the criminal associates?
    A I don’t know*.

    *Remember: McLaren and Ash worked closely together … McLaren knows the identity of Xxx Xxxxxx … TasPol (by an interstate raid under warrant) gained access to all Ash’s material.

    Thus Powell – before he retired? – must have become aware of the identity of this person. It seems as if he has been with-holding the truth. Maybe not. But…

    But surely there needs to be an Inquiry: into the Feds, into TasPol, into the Tas Legal Fraternity (and that word includes some of the female gender), into the NSW Police who executed the raid on Ash, into the raid on Thompson – [edited for legal reasons] – and into the [edited for legal reasons] surveillance of Gleeson who at the time was a prisoner in HM’s Risdon Prison. Oh yes, I left out the ODPP, the Tasmanian Prison Service, the Attorney-General of Tas and the Tas Premier and Cabinet … and so forth.

    • Pauline Chalmers says:

      Meaghan Vass private messaged me and angrily said all these events are historical, and she has decided to put everything behind her, and keep moving forward with her life, and not worry about what happened in the past!!

      • David Smith says:

        I can understand why Meaghan Vass wants to put it all behind her. She has told the truth and then has threats and had a gutful of being treated so poorly by those who are there to protect her. She doesn’t want to be harassed any more.
        This is a Murder Case with No Evidence against the person in Prison – there are many logical motives – previously transported Drugs – The People who steal from Boats – People who Steal Boats and more – which one do you want – we do know that it wasn’t Sue – that is a definite.

    • Owen allen says:

      What a bunch of dogs Garry. Thanks for submitting.
      I have so much personal evidence, it just blows my mind.
      This is the way they live. “The TasmanianWay.” Stated by
      Michael Field 1997 in his office. My ex wife was witness.

  11. Robert Greenshields says:

    If retired Police Inspector Peter Powell uses the misuse of alcohol as a reason to discount the legitimacy of evidence from potential suspects or witnesses, then it could be correctly presumed that much of recorded evidence in courts by policing types, should be viewed and accepted in the same light.

    Sub cultures within public service categories undermine what populations view as a combined umbrella of abstract concepts, ie, morality, efficiency and integrity and honesty. Sue Neill Frasers case in Tasmania, along with the relevant now exposed evidence, deceit, institutionalised probable corruption, and policing and judicial failures to fulfill basic accepted and viewed standards of professionalism, certify a desperate need to overturn traditionalist practices, as it is painfully obvious to me (and possibly many others), that sections of policing and connected administrations fail miserably, in their supposed duty of care to the public, and they cannot be trusted to speak transparently and honestly.

    The problem is of a national concern, and needs to be challenged, but while our supposed elite political masters seem to morally mirror the ilk of pitiable policing recruits and accepting ongoing active practices, what are the odds between venality again being possibly recognised publically as choreographed but eventually vindicated, against the feeble retaliations of transparent honesty?

  12. Keith says:

    Who knows and maybes, the sum total of Powell’s case. How successive Premiers and Attorneys General can ignore this case for so long is a disgrace, and it is up to Gutwin and Archer to right this wrong. They have the power, and to hide behind the fallacious argument that the matter is before the court is an insult to all Tasmanians.
    If Tasmanian media outlets gave this alternative view the profile it deserves, the government would feel some heat. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case.

    • Owen allen says:

      Cronyism and fear. Where are the journos who go over seas and report on international crime against humanity. They report and run for safety.
      A local may lose their life in Tasmania,
      definitely their career if they dob. They want to live in Tasmania so they remain silent. You work it out.
      But in saying that I have respect for some Tas Journos. Tried to expose the Amnesia Club.

      • Owen allen says:

        Well, in fact I am talking nonsense. Eve Ash and Colin McLaren have documented and been aired on 2 major tv channels, perhaps it is just a fictional show of entertainment.
        If Putin wants Australia, nobody will fight him for it.
        Aussies are so apathetic it blows my mind, unless somebody wants to build something near spotted frogs.
        Stay strong, it is not about the destination, it is the journey.
        I thank everybody supporting Sue in Prison. This scenario will never be forgotten.

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