Jeffrey’s last words: ‘Curiosity killed the cat’
A YOUNG scientist found dead from a shotgun wound had just over an hour earlier made a chilling call to a colleague, blurting: "I have found something … I have to go … curiosity killed the cat.''
Those final words, said as Lismore man Jeffrey Brooks rushed to end a phone call, came as the aquaculturist had begun exposing workers at the Beenleigh Crayfish Farm for the large-scale selling of stock on the side.
A coronial inquest heard that Jeffrey, 24, had confessed to friends and family that he feared for his life.
He told people he had been threatened by his farm co-workers after telling them he intended to turn them in.
"He'd found a book, a black book, a dodgy one with the (cash) sales … his closing statement was 'curiosity killed the cat' … he had to get off the phone because I think someone was listening, or he saw or heard someone coming,'' said Beenleigh Crayfish Farm sales manager Paul Stewart, who was based in NSW.
"I realised he was under a lot of pressure to get off the phone. That was the last I heard of Jeffrey … three hours later we got the call that there had been an accident on the farm.''
Jeffrey died from severe blood loss after being shot in the chest in bizarre circumstances at the Beenleigh Crayfish Farm between Brisbane and the Gold Coast on March 13, 1996.
Detectives determined the aquaculturist had accidentally killed himself while trying to pull a loaded shotgun - barrel first - out of a small utility.
Firearms were used at the property to scare predatory birds.
However, family, friends and crime experts, backed by new evidence uncovered as part of a special investigation by The Courier-Mail, believe he was murdered and want the case re-examined by the coroner and police.
Family, friends and the farm owners gave evidence tendered at the coronial inquest into the death that Jeffrey had been threatened by the farm's manager and a farm worker, and feared for his life.
Mr Stewart said Jeffrey's last words continued to haunt him.
The call, confirmed by phone records obtained by police, was made from the farm shed at 1.51pm on the day of the tragedy and was terminated after 59 seconds.
The two spoke every day but Mr Stewart said Jeffrey had seemed frightened as he rushed to end the call. Jeffrey had called Mr Stewart at company headquarters in northern NSW.
Mr Stewart said he told police about Jeffrey's comment and was surprised to see it was not included in material submitted to the coroner.
"Knowing that he had been shot, I thought, 'Crikey, he was probably on to something somebody didn't want (others) to know about','' he said.
Mr Stewart was travelling in a car with farm co-owner Greg Milham when they received a call notifying them of Jeffrey's death.
He said they both had the same initial thought because of the friction on the property.
"I vividly remember Greg getting on the mobile phone, which was an old Motorola back then, in a brick-sized bag. He rang straight through to the police and told them, 'We've had troubles on the farm and this should be (investigated) as a homicide'," Mr Stewart said.
"We were both stunned. It was a very difficult time because it was a horrible thing to happen, and to such a great guy.''
Mr Stewart said that in his role as sales manager he had come across businesses on the Gold Coast that had been supplied crayfish from the farm without permission from the owners.
"I already had an inkling that stuff was going out the back door, way back then," he said.
Mr Stewart said he could not believe Jeffrey had accidentally shot himself because he had always known him to be fastidious when it came to safety.
He said he had stressed to police in his official witness statement, tendered at the inquest, that the shotgun that killed his colleague did not belong to Jeffrey and, in fact, was a weapon the scientist had refused to touch.
"He told Greg he would never use it and Greg ended up buying him a brand new 12-gauge.
"When I heard on the day that it (the old firearm) was the weapon that supposedly took his life, I was really surprised because he emphatically said to me he would never use it because it was so dangerous.''
When asked whether he had ever seen Jeffrey using the older shotgun, he said, "No, never''.
Both the farmhand and farm manager - both in interviews with police and at the inquest - denied any involvement in Jeffrey's death.
WHAT THE PODCAST HAS UNCOVERED
■ Jeffrey Brooks told his former boss he feared fellow workers would kill him and make it look like an accident.
■ Jeffrey's brother told an inquest than when living in a caravan at the Beenleigh Crayfish Farm, Jeffrey had been so fearful of his co-workers that he asked his brother if he could borrow a gun - for protection.
■ Within minutes of finding out about Jeffrey's death, crayfish farm co-owner Greg Milham phoned police to tell them: "This needs to be treated as murder". His plea was ignored.
■ The inquest heard Jeffrey told Mr Milham that he had found a book with "secret" cash sales of crayfish.
■ Family and friends say he was terrified of retribution from co-workers who did not want him at the farm and believed he was a spy sent by the owners.
■ Jeffrey told family, friends, bosses, the farm's sales manager and seasonal workers tracked down by The Courier-Mail that he would never use the gun, owned by the farm manager, that investigators believed he accidentally shot himself with as it was unsafe.
■ In less than an hour, with scant forensic examination and no gunshot residue testing to see if the victim had fired the gun, police concluded the shooting death was an accident.
■ A neighbour who lived 1km away heard the likely fatal shot at 3.10pm on the day but the farm worker who was working near the scene of the fatality said he heard nothing.
■ Police took 18 months to interview the neighbour, Noel Rubeck, and only did this after the oversight was stumbled on by a private investigator and raised at a coronial inquest.
■ Police took eight months to pull the phone records for the farm.
■ A sign advertising crayfish for cash was put on the farm gate every weekend; owners knew nothing about it and received none of proceeds.