A coronial inquest has found that Paddy Moriarty, who went missing from the tiny Northern Territory town of Larrimah in 2017, is dead and a feud with his nearest neighbours is likely to be the key to solving the case.
Coroner Greg Cavanagh said the evidence showed that Paddy and his dog Kellie had both died some time on the evening of 16 December 2017, when they were last seen leaving the town pub and driving the short distance home on a quad bike.
Cavanagh’s findings detailed a history of turmoil between Moriarty and the residents living across the road from him in the tiny town with a population of 12. The findings included allegations the missing man had repeatedly destroyed plants and possessions on the opposite property.
Fran Hodgetts, who ran a Devonshire teahouse in the town, and her gardener and caretaker, Owen Laurie, lived directly opposite Moriarty.
“In my opinion, Paddy and his dog were killed in the context of and likely due to the ongoing feud he had with his nearest neighbour,” Cavanagh said.
“He likely died on the evening of the 16th of December 2017.
“He had ridden home from the hotel, put the mostly-eaten chicken in the microwave, put his wallet on the table, his hat in the usual place, the dog food in the dog bowl and got his own meal out of the freezer.
“He then went outside with the dog. There is no evidence as to where he went, however, in my view it’s likely that the new plants at Fran’s place were of some attraction to him.”
Thursday’s coronial inquest finding comes after eight secret police recordings, taped on the property of Moriarty’s nearest neighbours, were played before the court.
In the recordings, which also include singing, a man’s voice can be heard saying: “Fucking killed Paddy, hit him on the head. Smacked him on the fucking nostrils with my claw hammer,” and, “I killerated old Paddy … I struck him on the fucking head and killerated the bastard … basherated him”.
The recordings were obtained by police in a six-month period after Moriarty went missing.
Laurie on Wednesday told the court the voice was not his and that he did not know anything about Moriarty’s disappearance. He opted to remain silent on the basis that anything he said could incriminate him.
The Coroner’s Act does not permit a finding that might suggest an individual may be guilty of an offence, and the matter has now been referred to the commissioner of police and the Director of Public Prosecutions for further action or investigation.
Officer in charge of the investigation, Det Sgt Matt Allen, said Moriarty’s disappearance was a “once in a generation case”.
“Murder investigations are challenging, particularly without a body,” he said. “The case doesn’t get closed until it is solved. We need to find Paddy.”
In February 2021, NT police offered at $250,000 reward for information that would help solve Moriarty’s suspicious disappearance. The reward is still current.
In response to this, two further allegations emerged and were heard at the inquest on Wednesday.
Labourer Wayne Ledwidge told the court he had overheard a conversation between his friend Brian Roberts, now deceased, and Hodgetts, in which Hodgetts offered Roberts $10,000 to “get rid of” Paddy.
Hodgetts, who also gave evidence via video link from Melbourne, denied such a conversation had taken place and said she did not know Roberts.
Truck driver Michael Pangquee also gave evidence that he had heard another former Larrimah resident, Richard Simpson, implicate another man in the murder, but police said there was no evidence to support this.
The findings outline the life of Moriarty, who moved to Australia from Ireland at age 18, and settled in Larrimah after working on remote stations as a ringer, grader driver and station hand and competing on the rodeo circuit.
The 30-page documents also charts the relationships, tensions and hardships in Larrimah, which had only 12 permanent residents when Moriarty disappeared.
The case will be the final inquest for Cavanagh.
“Close the door,” he told the court, after delivering the findings. “Shut the gate. Draw the blinds. Drop the curtain. Turn off the lights. It’s all over for me … my final inquest. Cheerio.”