Conflict, threats: Boss’ anguished call to police
"YOU need to treat this as a homicide … there has been conflict … threats!"
This anguished request - that bizarrely went unheeded - was made to police by the owner of a Queensland crayfish farm after one of his workers was found dead from gunshot wounds.
Officers were also told the victim feared for his life, tensions had reached boiling point and money could be a motive as he had reported he had stumbled on evidence of an illegal cash sales operation worth a considerable sum.
Greg Milham's first thought was "it's murder'' and that the smart, young and sensible scientist to whom he had given control of his property, had been slain by jealous, soon-to-be-redundant co-workers who had subjected him to a campaign of abuse.
On the afternoon of March 13, 1996, he was informed that Jeffrey Brooks, 24, had been found dead with an old shotgun wedged under his body.
It was not considered suicide and a farm worker told police Jeffrey had been using the firearm to scare cormorants swooping on precious stock at the Beenleigh Crayfish Farm between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
In less than an hour, with scant forensic examination and no gunshot residue testing to see if the victim had even fired the gun, investigators concluded the experienced shooter had accidentally shot himself while trying to tug the weapon - barrel first - from the front of a farm vehicle.
Mr Milham, the Brooks family, friends and independent investigators, believe the event was no accident and want the case re-examined.
He told The Courier-Mail, that he had been in a car with sales manager Paul Stewart when he received a call from the farm manager, saying: "There's been an accident and Jeffrey's dead''.
"Back then, mobile phones were like bricks. Paul was driving so I started busily dialling. I called triple-0, only to report the fact that I wanted them to treat it as a homicide case and not an accident or suicide or anything else,'' Mr Milham said.
"We got in contact with Beenleigh police station and we told them what we thought … that it really needed to be treated as a homicide because there had been a lot of conflict and a lot of stuff going on at the farm, which meant it could be a homicide case,'' he said
"They took all the details down and said 'yes, we'll notify the detectives' and then we got out to the farm.''
Mr Milham said there had been great animosity shown towards Jeffrey by the farm manager, his wife and the farm worker, who believed the research he was doing would cost them their jobs. The manager, in particular, "lived and breathed'' for the operation.
He said Jeffrey had been so fearful of them that he had moved off-site, expressing to friends and family that "he might cop a bullet''.
"I was thinking the farm manager, or the farm worker had killed him. Those would be my thoughts. Such that I sent my wife and my children to Sydney to get them out of this area because I thought if one of them had done it to Jeff, they might be looking at coming to me, because, you know, I'm behind Jeff, sort of giving him directions, so I thought, I'll be next.''
In his official statement to police, given the day after the death, Mr Milham told of the unrest on the property and how scared Jeffrey had been of his colleagues.
He said there was "a fair amount of bitterness and hatred there'' as Jeffrey had conducted research on why the farm was losing money.
Mr Milham said Jeffrey had found a "secret book'' with information about illegal crayfish sales.
"He feared for his life and that's why he never gave me the book. I said 'just knock it off and give me it'. He said: 'I can't do it mate, if he finds out I know, he'll kill me'.''
Mr Milham told police Jeffrey had been living on the property in a caravan, but had to move. "He was worried about what might happen at night. They were giving him such a hard time.''
Mr Milham also told investigators that he had received a call from the farm manager's wife, saying "it was an accident the gun has gone off in his car''.
"Now, how she knew that I don't know," he said. Mr Milham said Jeffrey had been "very, very gun conscious'' and had refused to use the shotgun, which was found wedged under him, and belonged to the farm manager, due to safety concerns.
The farm had bought, for about $300, a new pump action shotgun for him to use.
"Jeff refused to use it (the old gun). It was never maintained. Jeff was very, very gun conscious.''
Mr Milham said he had been disappointed investigators had not taken his request and evidence into account.