WEDDERBURN: A TRUE TALE OF BLOOD AND DUST
The first account I heard of the killings had the logic and trajectory of a fairy tale. Not a Disneyfied soufflé of princesses in citrusy pastels, but a grisly fable such as might have been told by the Brothers Grimm. Essentially it centred around an uncomplicated plot, set in train by conflict impelled by the actions of archetypal characters and climaxing in a scene of cathartic violence.
Foremost among the slain was a tyrant, feared and hated, then the tyrant’s weak wife and her warrior son. The latter had recently returned from battle, wild and strange from the things he had seen and done. There were even hints of a stepdaughter imprisoned against her will, who fled under the protection of the man who would become her husband. Then there was the stern loner, who dispensed harsh justice to the tyrant and his family in an act of righteous vengeance. Finally, there was the village, freed from the yoke of the tyrant’s malignant presence.
Of course, the reality was neither so neat nor so simple. The protagonists were not archetypes, but complex and flawed human beings, whose motivations were clouded, and whose state of mind was contested by those who knew them. What was clear was the scale of the violence and the blast-like devastation of its fallout. The slaughter was extravagant and bloody. The grief and horror of the victims’ family and those close to them were profound, their lives blighted by the knowledge of what had been done to their loved ones. And yet there were people in the small town of Wedderburn in Central Victoria who, while they did not exactly rejoice, quietly thought that Ian Jamieson, who murdered his three neighbours one night in October 2014, had done them all a favour.
When I first began to probe into the killing of Peter Lockhart, his wife Mary and her son Gregory Holmes, I did so with little more than curiosity as to where the story might lead and what it might reveal.
There were the murders themselves, obviously, and how they unfolded. But after I read the first scant reports that a feud fuelled by dust was behind the violence, the crime itself was the thing of least interest to me. I was more intrigued by questions relating to the community in which it happened; the relationships between all of those involved; and what could lead a person, over months and years, seemingly inexorably, to the point where they could commit such an act.
Inevitably, my view of the murders and the protagonists was framed by the perspectives of those I first spoke to about them. Aspects of the killings that were told to me—the events that were known to precede them; the nature and character of the protagonists; and the community’s response to the slaying—were relayed in such a way that at first I wondered if this story posed the question if it is ever justifiable to kill a bad man. What could be behind the rumours I heard that at least some of those living in the community viewed the killings, in particular the murder of Peter Lockhart, as an understandable reaction to extreme provocation? How could anyone, apart from the most callous individual, describe the killing of another person as a favour?
These and other questions kept me going back to Wedderburn—talking to one person and then another, walking its wide, country-town streets, and then attending the court proceedings concerned with the charges against Ian Jamieson. As I did, the story kept opening out like a chatterbox—a folded paper fortune teller that I used to make as a kid—every choice unfurling to reveal more possibilities to explore beneath. I did this for months before committing to writing a book about the murders. There was a story here, but it was not initially apparent to me what, at its heart, it was about.
As I spent the next two and a half years researching and writing, I came to see, of course, that this was not a story about one thing but about many things: violence, masculinity, families, the judicial process, the life of small communities, and the pull and sweep of emotions and human qualities, both base and lofty. And in coming to know, a little, those caught up in the sorrow and disruption generated by the deaths of Peter and Mary and Greg, my detachment began to leach away.
Chapter One – Dust and Blood
The triple zero operator asks him if anyone needs an ambulance. ‘No. I think they’re past that. I took their heads off.’ The police were at his neighbour’s place earlier and would have already found the body of the younger bloke, he tells the operator. If they went to the house across the road they’d find the other two. ‘They just push people,’ the operator overhears him saying, presumably to his wife. ‘They don’t know when to give up, these cunts.’
It is hot for spring and the rainfall for October is tracking well below average, as it has been for the past several months. In fact, the whole district has been in drought for almost two years. The paddocks are parched and the roads are dusty. Everything is dusty.
By mid-afternoon on Wednesday 22 October 2014, the temperature has reached 33°C. At around two-thirty, 64-yearold Ian Jamieson and his wife, Janice, return to their house on the Logan–Wedderburn Road from a hospital appointment in Bendigo, a one-hour drive away. Janice has been ill and, while she and her husband are separated, she sometimes stays with Ian at the home they once shared.
Shortly before four-thirty, Peter Lockhart drives his yellow Kubota tractor along the dirt track that runs beside Jamieson’s boundary fence. The fence separates the property belonging to Greg Holmes, Lockhart’s stepson, from Jamieson’s place. The track, which lies on Holmes’s side of the fence, is a ‘paper’ road: a surveyed but unsealed right of way.
Lockhart, 78, lives across the road from Jamieson with his second wife, Mary, who is Holmes’s mother. Lockhart is towing a small water tanker on a battered trailer. He had an arrangement with the previous owners of Holmes’s place that allowed him to use the track and to access the small dam behind the house to draw water. Since his stepson moved in five months ago, Lockhart has accessed the dam more frequently, continuing to use the track only metres from Jamieson’s house rather than take the more roundabout way via Mulga Ridge Road, which bounds his stepson’s property to the north. This alternative route would take him an extra ten minutes or so.
Jamieson has complained to Lockhart more than once that his use of the track disturbs the dust. It settles in the gutters of his house, contaminating his rainwater tanks, and soils his clean washing as it hangs on the line to dry. He has asked Lockhart a number of times not to use the track, but Lockhart has refused to alter his habitual route. Jamieson believes that Lockhart uses the road primarily to bait him.
At the front of Jamieson’s house and close to the road is a large corrugated-iron shed fitted with CCTV cameras. According to the Crown prosecutor who will later bring charges of murder against Jamieson, footage from the cameras taken that afternoon records Lockhart ‘driving slowly along the road reserve towards the house at 66 Mulga Ridge Road and no evidence of dust emanating from the process’. Shortly afterwards, the cameras record Jamieson coming out of his house and walking over to the fence, before returning indoors. Some minutes later he calls the Wedderburn police station a few kilometres away. His call goes to voicemail and he leaves no message.
Wally Meddings, a long-time friend of Jamieson’s, visits him around five-thirty that afternoon. He has recently sold Jamieson a plough and has come to collect the one hundred dollars they’d agreed upon. Jamieson pays him the money, shows him a trailer he is working on and complains about the long wait at the hospital earlier in the day. He also tells Wally he has booked a flight to Tasmania for the following week to spend some time at the house he and his wife bought several years ago and where he has plans to retire. Wally stays for about an hour before driving home.
That evening, at around 7.40 pm, Lockhart receives a call from Eric Walker. Both men belong to the Wedderburn Historical Engine and Machinery Society. They talk for ten to fifteen minutes on a range of topics. Jamieson’s name isn’t mentioned.
Across the road, 48-year-old Greg Holmes speaks to his girlfriend, Lynette Mordue, on the phone. After they hang up, the pair trade text messages. Lynne, a teacher’s aide, works at a school in Bendigo and lives about twenty minutes out of town on 10 acres. Normally, she would be with Greg, but she was delayed at work and has opted to spend the night at home rather than driving the 50 minutes to her partner’s house. Their exchanges are inconsequential: lightly wry small talk concerned with domestic details. Greg’s had a shower, he reports, and is about to eat dinner; he says nothing about his neighbour. Their last contact is at 7.55 pm.
At around 8 pm Jamieson receives a telephone call from a business associate who lives in Tasmania. The associate tells Jamieson that he’s acquired a light for an incubator in which to hatch chicks and they discuss some excavation work on Jamieson’s Tasmanian property. Jamieson makes no mention of the Lockharts or Holmes, and gives no indication that anything is amiss.
Shortly after finishing the call, Jamieson climbs through the six-strand wire fence between the two properties. He has a large hunting knife in a leather sheath attached to his belt.
At 8.14 pm Holmes rings the Wedderburn police station. The station is unmanned and the call goes through to voicemail.
He hangs up. One minute later he dials triple zero. He wants the police to come; it is ‘an emergency’, he says. He informs the operator that Ian Jamieson is on his property. Up to this point there has been no violence, he makes clear, but Jamieson is ‘annoying the hell’ out of him. The operator urges him to keep calm and advises that police are on their way.
The Golden Gully Wychitella Nature Conservation Reserve lies on the same side of the Logan–Wedderburn Road as the Jamieson and Holmes properties and just the other side of Mulga Ridge Road. The moon, a mere sliver, had slipped below the horizon a little after 6 pm. Dusk had fallen at 7.45 and by 8.15 it is properly dark. Soon after that, Ann and Linton Sandau, who are camping nearby, hear someone cry out in distress. The sound is alarming enough that they get in their car and brave the gloom and unfamiliar terrain to search for whoever has called out in such dire need.
The police arrive at Holmes’s property a little after 8.30 pm, shortly before the Sandaus. The lights are on in the house, and the police search the premises. There is no sign of Holmes.
A few minutes later, as the police and the Sandaus confer, they hear a volley of shotgun blasts coming from the direction of the Lockharts’ place, less than 400 metres away. The police call Holmes’s mobile phone and hear it ringing in the darkness at the back of his house. They follow the sound and find the body of Gregory Holmes, clad in a dressing-gown and underwear, beside a small olive tree a short distance from his deck.
He is lying on his side and is covered in blood from many obvious wounds.
The police advise the Sandaus to return to their campsite, but when they realise how close it is to where Holmes’s body lies and the location the shotgun blasts must have come from, they recommend the couple follow them to the Wedderburn police station instead. During the 3-kilometre drive back along the Logan–Wedderburn Road, the officers put a call out over the radio requesting assistance.
Shortly after the shotgun blasts rang out, Jamieson enters his house carrying two guns. Janice, who has been asleep, wakes to find her husband in bloodstained clothes and shoes. Blood is also dripping from his arm. There is a blood-smeared hunting knife on the kitchen bench. She asks him what has happened and he tells her not to worry about it. He then says that he shot the Lockharts, and he stabbed Mary Lockhart’s son while they were fighting. He takes off his bloody clothes and Janice places them in the laundry basket.
So much has happened in such a short space of time.
At 8.48 pm, Jamieson calls triple zero, announcing to the operator, ‘I’ve just killed three people.’ He identifies the Lockharts as two of his victims, but claims not to know who the ‘other bloke’ is. He declares that he is ready to surrender to police.
‘Just send the cops around here, all right? I should be put in jail, I’m a cunt but anyway they pushed, pushed, pushed and that’s it.’
Jamieson takes his guns and places them in the gun safe in the master bedroom and locks it. He apologises to his wife. His actions have destroyed any possibility of a tranquil retirement for them both in Tasmania, but he has been harassed beyond what anyone could reasonably bear.
At about 9.10 pm, Wally Meddings wakes to a call on his mobile phone. It is his mate Ian. In a sentence with all the cadence of a bush ballad, Jamieson explains what has happened. ‘Wally, I’ve killed three people. I want you to come and look after Janice because the police are coming to take me in and I’ll never see the light of day again.’ He intends to surrender peacefully and has locked his guns in the gun safe.
Wally dresses, gets into his ute—a vehicle he recently bought from Jamieson—and drives towards his friend’s house, a route that takes him past the Wedderburn police station.
A little over half an hour after speaking with Wally, Jamieson calls his friends Anna and Gordon McMerrin. When Anna answers the phone, Jamieson tells her that he has killed his neighbours. ‘I’m just ringing you to let you know and I want you to look after Janice for me.
‘Five years I’ve been putting up with shit from these bastards and I just snapped.’
After stabbing Holmes, he says, he looked down at the dying man and saw that he was ‘fucked, so I might as well finish it off, so I went and did the other two’.
He then speaks to Gordon. ‘They have been put away for good. It’s all you will see of me. You will never see me again.’
Superintendent Graham Kent, Victoria Police Divisional Commander, Wimmera Division in Western Victoria, is having dinner with his parents in Beulah, 145 kilometres north-west of Wedderburn, when he gets a call informing him of the killings.
Wedderburn is not usually Kent’s patch, but as the most senior police officer on call in that corner of Victoria, he takes over the operational response, issuing instructions en route to Wedderburn. He doesn’t know Jamieson, nor is he well acquainted with the Wedderburn police officers. Kent, previously a Homicide Squad detective, has no idea if the man who has announced he has just killed his three neighbours is genuine about his stated intention to surrender. For all Kent knows, Jamieson could just as easily be planning to goad police into shooting him—commit suicide by cop—or be contemplating taking out a few more people before he’s done. He does know that Jamieson’s licensed firearms outgun anything the Wedderburn police have on hand. It’s dark and he’s not prepared to send in the local officers, already badly shaken by the discovery of Holmes’s body, to arrest the killer.
Kent implements a cordon-and-contain strategy—he doesn’t want Jamieson turning up armed at the police station or anyone else blundering into the area—and calls for support from the Special Operations Group based in Melbourne.
By the time Wally Meddings approaches the police station, a roadblock has been set up. He explains to the police officers that Jamieson called and asked him to come and look after Janice. They refuse to let him through. It’s not only Janice’s welfare that concerns Wally. While Ian made it clear that his three victims were dead, the idea that Peter and Mary might be lying injured but still alive has taken hold of him. He can’t shake it. He pleads with the officers to move their vehicles off the road and when they again refuse he rages at them, calling them cowards and worse for not checking themselves if the Lockharts might yet be saved. Wally has his mobile phone with him and calls Jamieson, asking him if there’s any chance the Lockharts might still be alive.
Jamieson dismisses this possibility. He reiterates that he was provoked by both Greg and Peter, but that he is resigned to giving himself up. Wally tries to give the phone to police so they can hear for themselves that Jamieson is no longer a danger to anyone. Still they refuse to let him through the roadblock.
Wally gets back into his ute and attempts a more circuitous route to Jamieson’s house via Ridge Street, which runs above and behind the town centre. The intersection of Ridge Street and the Logan–Wedderburn Road is within the cordoned-off area, however, and local officers manning the roadblock recognise the ute. Unaware that Jamieson recently sold it to Wally, they run towards the vehicle with their guns drawn. When they identify the driver, they waste no time in telling him to clear off.
Wally returns to the police station. There are now several ambulances at the checkpoint as well as State Emergency Service vehicles and police cars, all waiting for the Special Operations Group—the Soggies—to turn up. When Superintendent Kent arrives, Wally bails him up, demanding he send someone to the Lockhart property. ‘He’s locked up his guns,’ he insists. ‘He wants to surrender.’ Kent asks Wally to come into the station and make a statement, but he is too agitated to comply.
Wedderburn is more than 200 kilometres from Melbourne, and it is close to midnight by the time the Soggies roar up the Calder Highway and negotiate Jamieson’s surrender over the phone. Impatient journalists, in early reports, mistakenly categorise the delay in Jamieson’s apprehension as a ‘siege’. Two Special Operations Group officers and two local police drive to Jamieson’s place and, as arranged, he emerges from his house and walks to the front of his property. He is composed, yielding without incident and calmly following all instructions. Asked if there is any chance Holmes or the Lockharts are still alive, he scoffs, ‘Them? No, no.’
In the rear of the police divisional van, Jamieson freely admits to killing his three victims, saying, ‘I’m guilty, do what you like.’
The detective asks who he has killed.
‘Peter Lockhart and his missus and I don’t know what the other bloke’s name was, but they push, push, push and I’d had enough.’ It’s a justification he repeats in interviews with police over the next hours and days.
Later that night, Jamieson is driven from Wedderburn to the Bendigo police station. On the way, in response to a question about Peter Lockhart’s use of the dirt road, he says, ‘I’ve asked them not to do it and he thinks it’s a great big joke and yeah, so the joke’s on him now. I’ll go to jail for the rest of my life and he will go to—well, he won’t go to heaven, that’s for frigging sure.
‘I’m not sorry for what I done, really. They didn’t give me any choice.’
At Bendigo police station, a formal interview with Jamieson begins at 2.12 am. Jamieson tells detectives that he went next door and confronted Holmes. It was probably a mistake to take a knife, but Holmes had once threatened to shoot him. The knife was intended for his own protection. ‘He attacked me, he went for me knife. I got him down on the floor, he had the knife. I wrestled it off him. I had to sort of get him in the head with a stick that I had and a bit of dirt and then I must’ve stabbed him. That’s all I can really remember about that.’
As revealed in the subsequent autopsy, there were blunt force trauma injuries to Holmes’s head and his blackened eyes were surrounded by cuts. He also had some subarachnoid bleeding—blood beneath the protective membrane that covers the brain. Both hands had lacerations, indicating he had tried to defend himself against the thrusts of Jamieson’s knife.
According to Jamieson, he and Holmes wrestled each other to the ground and it was at this point that Holmes got hold of the knife. Jamieson was above him, his knees on the younger man’s chest. He threw dirt and twigs in Holmes’s face, took the knife back, and stabbed him. Jamieson claims he was in fear of his life. ‘Because virtually, as far as I could tell, it was him or me and then I said, like, I snapped.’
Jamieson had minor wounds to his own hands that were attended to at the hospital in Bendigo the morning after his arrest. He was cut when he grabbed the blade to prevent Holmes from stabbing him, he says. After leaving Holmes mortally injured, Jamieson returned to his own house. Peter Lockhart didn’t yet know it, but his neighbour had formed an intention to kill him: ‘I got the gun out, walked across the road, he come roaring out and I give it to him. Then his missus. So I give him—then I give them—give ’em a couple of extras just to finish ’em off.’
In the bright light of day, the sheer volume of blood shed by the victims is revealed. It marks the path Jamieson trod from the Lockharts’ home, across the road and back to his house, and clings to the discarded shotgun cartridges. It has soaked into Jamieson’s cast-off clothes and smeared his boots still lying on the kitchen floor. The weapons he used—the knife in its leather scabbard lying on the kitchen bench and the shotguns locked in the gun safe—are sticky with it.
Later, Jamieson is interviewed again, this time by Detective Senior Constable Jason Wallace from the Homicide Squad. It is now 7.55 pm on Thursday 23 October, almost 24 hours after Holmes was killed. Jamieson’s story has changed slightly. He tells Wallace that he was walking up the property boundary when Holmes came ‘roaring out of his house’ and it was only after this provocation that he climbed through the fence. ‘One thing led to another and the next minute it was fisticuffs and the next minute we’re on the ground.’ He elaborates further on his assertion that Holmes disarmed him, telling Wallace that Holmes grabbed him around the neck and pulled the knife out of its sheath. Once he regained possession of the blade he stabbed Holmes, but his memory of this is not clear. ‘I got the knife off him and I must have stabbed him and I don’t even recall doing that. Honestly, I don’t, but I—I know—I know I did. It was like I went berserk or something, you know.’
His assertion that he can’t remember stabbing Holmes is undermined when he is asked what he was feeling at the time. ‘Oh, purely bloody—I wanted to kill him. There was no doubt about that and I did, you know.’ He speaks with something like wonder of the strength he must have drawn from his anger, given that Holmes was fifteen years his junior.
Jamieson recalls looking down at Holmes lying on the ground. ‘I didn’t think he was dead, but I thought he was buggered.’ Given he would almost certainly go to jail for causing Holmes’s death, Jamieson decided that he may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. ‘I went and got the guns out of the gun safe, crossed the road and done the job over there.’
He describes walking down the Lockharts’ driveway. Peter came out to meet him with his dog Sambo by his side. ‘He was going on a bit and then he’d seen me and I just shot him, yeah . . . I only shot him and then she came lurching out so I shot her as well. If she had’ve stayed inside she would’ve been all right.’
This statement is contradicted by pellet damage to the exterior left-hand side of the Lockharts’ doorframe, indicating that he shot Mary when she was inside the house at least once while he was still outside the door. Her body was found inside the back door of the house.
On occasion, Jamieson seems to grasp how disproportionate his actions might appear to his interviewer despite his claims of ‘extenuating circumstances’. In a collection of statements that cast his actions as inexcusable while simultaneously portraying himself as a rational person driven to extremes, he says to Wallace, ‘. . . you’ll find that I was pushed. Now that doesn’t justify anything that I did, no way known, a reasonable man wouldn’t do that, but I snapped and that’s it.’
Perhaps it was not only the detective whom he needed to convince. By invoking the notion of a threshold—a hypothetical point, once breached, where he was no longer in control of himself—Jamieson may have been trying to redeem himself in his own eyes, as well as in the estimation of others.
For the police, it must have seemed as if this would be one of those cases that could be put to bed with a minimum of time and effort. They had the perpetrator, his confession, and more than enough evidence to satisfy a jury if it came to trial. Furthermore, Jamieson had stated more than once that he was prepared to go to jail for his actions. There was no need to delve deeply into motive, establish opportunity or carry out superfluous tests. They could assume a straightforward and relatively speedy conclusion to the criminal proceedings. It didn’t quite work out that way.