For more than three decades Jean O’Leary has lived with the torment of knowing her brother met a violent and painful death.
But much of her agony comes from what is not known.
Who murdered George Brown? Why? Where are they now? Who else could be keeping the killers’ grisly secret?
The tortured remains of Mr Brown, a Sydney horse trainer, were found inside his incinerated car at the top of Bulli Pass on April 3, 1984.
A Wollongong coroner later found he had probably been force-fed a large quantity of alcohol by his killers.
There were multiple fractures to his legs and his arm was bent backwards. Something had connected hard with his head, causing a network of cracks to spread across his skull like a spider’s web. There were other fractures above his right ear – one a saw-like crack and another just above it, nearly 6.5cm long. The fire had burnt away his lower legs and his forearms. His watch had dropped from his burnt wrist and stopped ticking at 10.56pm.
“He was absolutely mutilated,” said Mrs O’Leary, who quietly marked the anniversary of her brother’s death last week from her Hope Island, Queensland home.
“You never get over it; it’s with you every day - the torture, the absolute torture that such a good man would have died like that.
“He wasn’t a rogue, he wasn’t dishonest. Who would want to do it to him, I wouldn’t ever know.”
Mrs O’Leary was 10 years older than her brother and had a heavy role in rearing him after their mother died when Mr Brown was still an infant.
Growing up on a property in mid-west Queensland, horses were always part of Mr Brown’s world, but he struggled to make it as a Sydney trainer and often had to scramble at the end of the week to cover his costs. In early March 1984 he reportedly told friend and horse owner Geoff Newcombe Brown he had "something up his sleeve" to help the stable out of its financial woes, but didn't elaborate.
His death would later be linked to one of racing’s clumsiest and most infamous scams – the Fine Cotton ring-in.
With paint, peroxide and brown hair dye disguising its true markings, Bold Personality masqueraded as the much slower Fine Cotton to edge out Harbour Gold at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm in August of 1984. The horse had started at 33-1, but as word of the switch spread, a late plunge saw it come in to 7-2.
The horse was disqualified 40 minutes and trainer Hayden Haitana fled. He later said he went through with the scam because a standover man told him, ‘do you want to end up like the trainer Brown?’.
Mrs O’Leary, now 82, doesn’t doubt her brother’s demise was linked to a grapple for power and money.
She would always place a two dollar each-way bet on Mr Brown’s horses and remembers him telling her one of them – McGlinchy – “should do well”.
“But McGlinchy came nearly last,” she said. “When he came out to Brisbane I said, ‘oh, you let me down with McGlinchy’. “He said, ‘I got a phone call from someone. They said, ‘McGlinchy won’t win tomorrow’. I could still see he was so upset. He said, ‘I have no idea who would want to do that to me’.”
Mrs O’Leary says she is convinced that here are people who know who killed her brother and she is still waiting for them to go to police.
She last saw her Mr Brown at Sydney airport, moments before she departed for a holiday to Fiji.
The pair were close, but she can’t explain why she clung to him that day and felt so reluctant to leave. She would receive a phone call the next day, telling her he had been murdered.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to go’,” she said.
“He said, ‘go on, you’ll be alright’. I can still remember him hugging me.”