MARY and Bevan Hunter did not find out who their childhood friend really was until after he had stabbed himself to death in the heart aged 67.
From the heights of a business career that saw him build a successful accounting firm, to the lows of using it to reel in unsuspecting investors and fleece them of their life savings, Ray Walker spent a lifetime scheming.
The Hunters, like so many others who handed over their life savings, met Walker through the Seventh Day Adventist Church at Cooranbong.
Mr Hunter, 76, and Mrs Hunter, 70, had no idea who Walker really was until after his past had finally caught up with him and their nest egg was gone.
“One day we found ourselves in Newcastle with an empty tank in the car, our credit card maxed out and Mary had $2.75 in her pocket – that was it,” Mr Hunter said.
“We were going to buy a caravan and drive around Australia. But thanks to Ray all our dreams are gone. Instead I found myself at 75 out mowing lawns all through summer just to keep us afloat.”
The financial loss, hundreds of thousands of dollars, has forced them to keep working long after their planned retirement. Even now they find it hard to believe that Walker ripped them off.
Mrs Hunter went to primary school with Walker who was affectionately known to his friends as “Fred”, he’d grown up living next door to her aunt and uncle in Cooranbong.
He’d been Mr Hunter’s accountant for almost 40 years.
“When we eventually found out what he’d done it was so much more insulting because we knew the man, we trusted the man implicitly,” Mrs Hunter said.
“I went to school with Ray from when I was 10 years old and all through high school. It’s the absolute insult of the betrayal that we just can’t believe.”
In late 2004, when Mr Hunter sold his building company to care for his first wife, Vida, who was dying of cancer, Walker assured his friend he knew a safe way to invest the money.
“I can still see him now leaning over and taking that cheque from me, it was so smooth, I didn’t suspect a thing,” Mr Hunter said.
“He knew full well what my circumstances were, he knew how sick Vida was and that it was all the money I had in the world.”
Walker and his family emigrated from England in 1958 and moved to Cooranbong where his mother, Evelyn, worked in the kitchen at the Adventist College and father, Len, printed cereal boxes at the Sanitarium factory.
The Hunters said Walker, who left the church “years ago”, used his connections in the community to target victims over decades.
“We always thought Ray was such a nice guy,” Mrs Hunter said. “He came from such a good family. I’m glad his parents are no longer here, they were lovely people and would turn in their graves with horror if they knew what he’d done.”
Mr Hunter said a lot of the people Walker defrauded were “fellow believers”.
“He totally deceived us all,” he said. “We just never saw it coming. He was a friend, someone we trusted.”