AFTER Doris McMaugh died last month, her family found a box of Christmas decorations they hadn’t seen in years.
Not since 2007 – the last Christmas celebrated under the McMaugh roof.
Not since before Doris’s daughter, Stacey McMaugh, was found bludgeoned to death inside her Caves Beach home.
“Since that year there has been no Christmas at my mother’s house,” Dallas Anderson, Stacey’s older sister, told the Newcastle Herald.
“It’s true, they never came out again.”
Stacey McMaugh and her partner, drug dealer Robert Pashkuss, 51, were found dead inside their Macquarie Grove home about 11am on January 6, 2008 – 12 days after Christmas.
Someone had entered the house during the night and attacked them both with a heavy, blunt instrument.
There was no signs of a break-in or struggle, suggesting the pair knew their killer.
Robert, ever vigilant and cautious about who he let in the house after 8pm, was attacked from behind in the kitchen and struck at least eight times in the head.
Stacey, found in her bed, was struck two or three times in the head.
Then the killer slipped out without leaving a trace.
“The homicides were very violent and possibly even frenzied,” Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon told a coronial inquest into the murders on Thursday.
“This raises the possibility that the person who hit Robert may have been under the influence of a drug such as “ice” or may have been desperate to get his hands on such a drug from Robert.
“If that is correct, it is surprising, and extremely unfortunate, that DNA or other forensic evidence such as fingerprints and blood stains, and the murder weapon, that could identify the killer, were not found at the crime scene or as a result of other searches.”
After a nine-year investigation into the murders and a four-day inquest in Newcastle Coroner’s Court, Mr Dillon concluded on Thursday that there was insufficient evidence to identify a suspect or refer the matter to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was a disappointing development for the still-grieving families, but one that came with a few hopeful prospects.
Someone, who seemed to have relevant information about the murders, had called Crime Stoppers, more than once.
But due to the strict confidentiality associated with that service their details could not be passed onto investigating detectives.
Counsel Assisting Peggy Dwyer urged that person to instead contact police.
Also, detectives had been re-testing evidence, hoping that advances in DNA science might identify the murderer.
And, finally, the reward for information about the murders – which Mr Dillon had recommended be doubled – was increased on Thursday to $250,000.
But as well as all that, there was an underlying feeling that the detectives were close.
First, while commending the work of police, Mr Dillon delivered a somewhat cryptic summation of the case to date.
“I know there are some people you may have been thinking about very deeply,” Mr Dillon directed to lead-investigator Inspector Anthony Agnew and Detective Chief Inspector Mark Newham, who were seated in the court.
“It appears to me that this case is quite close to being closed, or to a successful conclusion at least as far as the investigation is concerned.”
Then, in his formal findings, Mr Dillon said he believed the case could be solved with just a little more evidence.
Without naming a suspect, Mr Dillon said there was “certainly evidence raising a strong suspicion that a known person was responsible” for the murders.
He identified one man – Owen Keeley – named as a “person of interest” in March, who he said “knew much more about the killings than he was willing to say”. Mr Dillon stressed he did not suggest Mr Keeley was responsible for the murders.
If the case is solved, it will be too late for Doris, who died not knowing who was responsible for her daughter’s brutal death.
Doris, who had attended the inquest as recently as July, passed away on October 10 after complications from an operation. She was 80.
”Mum was here everyday for the inquest and it's quite sad that she will never know who did this,” Ms Anderson said. ”We’re not out for vengeance, but we know that person is out there and they are probably looking forward to having a family Christmas and when Stacey died in 2008 that robbed our family of ever having a happy Christmas ever again.
”It caused a huge amount of grief in our family.
”Mum really wanted to know who did this to Stacey.
”It’s a really horrible, vicious, shocking crime.
”And the person who did this, and is capable of doing it again, is out there living in our community.”
Mr Dillon appealed for compassion from those out there who know about the murders, but, so far, have been unwilling to come forward and assist police.
“I hope that sheer humanity may prompt a witness to come forward,” Mr Dillon said.
“It is a grave and onerous thing for a person with this sort of knowledge to sit on it silently, knowing that two families are grieving while a killer walks around free in the community.”
Then, a final message, that this double murder mystery wasn’t about to disappear into the ether. “The killer and the witnesses should also be aware that after this inquest concludes, the investigation will continue, regardless of their attitudes,” he said.
Mum was here everyday for the inquest and it's quite sad that she will never know who did this.