FOR more than three decades Rodney Lawrence kept a secret about one of the Hunter's most baffling and brutal cold case murders.
Who killed Elizabeth “Betty” Dixon? The 31-year-old squash-loving Northern Irish lass who was found tied up and stabbed 27 times in her car in bushland at Ashtonfield on April 6, 1982.
It was a question that so many in the Hunter and Northern Ireland needed an answer to.
But throughout an extensive police investigation, public pleas for information, a coronial inquest and years of international media coverage, Lawrence kept his mouth shut.
That was until 2002, when Lawrence let slip during a heated argument with his son that he was “involved” in the murder of Ms Dixon, according to an agreed statement of facts.
Lawrence, a well-known cricket player in Maitland at the time of the murder, told a similar story to another family member at some point.
But it wasn’t until 2015 – 13 years after he first confessed to his son – that the matter was reported to police.
Since being arrested and charged with murder, Lawrence, now 66, has always maintained that while he was involved in dumping her body, he didn’t stab Ms Dixon.
He claimed another man, who has since died, was responsible, and that the murderer put a knife to his throat, threatened him and made him help dispose of Ms Dixon’s body and her car in the bush.
And on Monday, on what was expected to be the first day of his murder trial, a forlorn-looking Lawrence was re-arraigned on the backup charge that he assisted the murderer after the fact.
“Guilty to accessory after the fact,” Lawrence, who was represented by Public Defender John Fitzgerald, said softly.
Crown prosecutor Brad Hughes, SC, told Justice Ian Harrison the prosecution would not be proceeding on the murder charge.
Justice Harrison ordered that the man the prosecution say was the “principle offender” in Ms Dixon’s murder cannot be identified, due to his inability to defend himself from the allegation.
Ms Dixon, a secretary at a Kurri Kurri mining firm and a keen squash player at Hit n Dip Squash Centre at Greenhills, where she also worked part-time, was living alone at Metford at the time of her murder.
She had played squash with a friend on the afternoon of Saturday April 3, 1982, and the last reported sighting of her was when she was seen walking into a bottle shop at Greenhills about 5.45pm that day.
She didn’t show up to work on Monday and her sister checked her unit before reporting her missing on April 6.
Later that day a jogger found Ms Dixon’s body slumped across the front seats of her yellow 1977 model Mazda.
Police believe the car had been there since at least Sunday April 4, when trail bike riders had seen it from a distance.
Ms Dixon was face down with her hands tied behind her back with a black bootlace. There were bloodstains in the car and her handbag was on the floor of the driver’s side, but her purse was missing.
An autopsy revealed she had been stabbed 27 times to the neck, torso and abdomen. There were three wounds to her head that could possibly have been caused by a blunt object and the forensic pathologist opined that Ms Dixon’s hands were tied before she was murdered.
Police launched an investigation, a coronial inquest was held, stories were written, but Mr Lawrence, or the man who the prosecution says committed the murder, were never interviewed or considered suspects.
Then in 2002, Lawrence told his son about his involvement.
After his arrest in 2015, Lawrence gave a version to police, telling them he was asleep in the back seat of the murderer’s car after drinking with him at the George and Dragon Hotel at Greenhills.
He said the murderer drove to a location where he said he was meeting someone.
But Lawrence said when the man returned to the car he woke him up and said he had “just killed someone”. Lawrence claims he told him he “didn’t want anything to do with it”, but the murderer threatened him with a knife and told him he would kill him if he didn’t help out.
Lawrence claims they went to Ms Dixon’s unit where he saw her body. He then tied her hands and helped move her into the boot of her car.
When Lawrence asked why he killed Ms Dixon, the man replied: “Because she called me an old man. “No one calls me an old man.”
After initially being refused bail after his arrest, Lawrence was granted Supreme Court bail in April this year.
Despite his guilty plea on Monday, Lawrence’s bail was continued on Monday.
He will face a sentence hearing in Newcastle Supreme Court on December 6.