Updated September 22, 2020 06:40:13>
> Photo: Kirra died at just 27, leaving behind her four children. (Supplied)
>Map: Gympie 4570
Kirra McLoughlin died after being found unconscious in her bed with 105 bruises from head to toe. Six years on, the wheels of justice are finally starting to turn.
It was code 2: lights and sirens. As Jamie Pultz and his senior constable sped along the pretty, potholed country roads east of Gympie, police dispatch fed them details of the scene that they would meet: Kirra McLoughlin, a young mother with four kids and a new boyfriend with a history of violence.
"We're like, 'This guy's serious, he's got some history, what are we walking into here?'"
Kirra had called triple-0. Her boyfriend Jason was "going off", she said.
Wolvi is one of the small communities that dot the bucolic hills inland from Queensland's Sunshine Coast. The beauty of the region's rolling landscape belies a poverty fed by high rates of unemployment and an underbelly of drugs and violence.
When then-Constable Pultz arrived at Kirra's small white farmhouse on Beenham Valley Road, he met her standing on the driveway. He began looking for clues: injuries to Kirra, damage to property. He spoke to the kids, who seemed happy and OK. Kirra told him she was fine: Jason had gone.
Jamie looked her in the eye. "You need to tell me if he's threatened you."
Kirra said no.
"You need to tell me if he's hurt you," he said.
> Photo: Jamie Pultz is the creator of the podcast Beenham Valley Road. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)
"We can't do anything for you if you don't tell me what's happening."
Nothing happened, Kirra said.
"I felt helpless," Jamie says now. "We basically had to drive away."
A few months later, a colleague mentioned to Jamie that Kirra had died. She had suffered a catastrophic head injury at home and passed away later in hospital, age 27.
There were 105 bruises detailed in the autopsy report. Jamie was gutted. "I felt that maybe I could have helped more or maybe I could have pushed more," he says.
A mother of four children, the youngest still in nappies, was dead. "I just felt the weight of it.">
> Photo: Kirra died at age 27. (Supplied)
But there was another woman whose guilt weighed even more heavily upon her. Tamiqua, Jason's sister, was with Kirra the night before she died. "I punched her. I honestly don't know if it was three or four times."
Over the years, Jason had occasionally told his sister that she was responsible for Kirra's death. "It crushed me," Tamiqua says.
Four years later, Tamiqua received a text message that changed everything.
But it's up to a coronial inquest that began earlier this month to determine the truth around Kirra McLoughlin's death.
After Kirra's death, Jamie was "haunted" by her case. "When I was working as a police officer, I would be going to domestic violence incidents almost every day, if not every day," he says.
Jamie asked himself each time, what happens if I don't get this right?
Almost four years later and burned out, Jamie left the police to join his family's soap business. During the day, he mixed herbs and emulsifiers and binged on podcasts. At night, he watched YouTube clips on how to edit audio.
Other than a couple of short articles, there was no mention of Kirra in the media and nobody had been charged in relation to her death.>
> Photo: Jamie says Kirra's case "haunted" him since he left the police. (Australian Story: Mayeta Clark)>
> Photo: Wolvi is located about 170 kilometres north of Brisbane. (Australian Story: Mayeta Clark)>
> Photo: The lush scenery of Wolvi, Queensland. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)
Thinking he could shine a light on Kirra's case, Jamie decided to do his own podcast investigation, Beenham Valley Road.
He contacted former policeman and Gympie Times journalist, Tom Daunt. They drew up a list of people to interview and decided to start with the person who knew Kirra best: Her mother, Alison.>
> Photo: Jamie records narration for the podcast Beenham Valley Road. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)>
> Photo: Jamie and Tom reached out to Kirra's friends and family to record interviews. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)>
> Photo: The Beenham Valley Road podcast has had more than a million downloads. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)
Alison's five years of 'hell'
As Tom and Jamie drove onto Alison's block, Reggie, her ferocious-sounding chihuahua cross, raced across the yard to meet them. Alison was upstairs baking a dish she calls "road-kill" pie.
Tom says she was a woman who was "crippled by grief", but even so she hadn't given up on getting justice for her daughter. She rejected detectives' reasons for finalising their investigation into Kirra's death without laying charges, describing their efforts as "slack".>
> Photo: Jamie has poured over documents and reports in his investigation into Kirra's death. (Australian Story: Mayeta Clark)>
> Photo: Alison labelled the efforts of police in her daughter's death investigation as "slack". (Australian Story: Mayeta Clark)
Alison drafted her own letter to the coroner asking for an inquest but did not send it. She wrote to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and confronted the police minister at a luncheon.
Scraps of paper and notebooks filled with legal definitions and unanswered questions littered the makeshift office at the edge of her lounge room. Alison described the past five years as "hell".
Almost everybody had stopped listening, until a day in March 2019 when Tom and Jamie turned up. Says Tom: "She needed someone to tell her what had happened to her daughter. Then and only then could she move on with her life.">
>Infographic: Kirra McLoughlin in her childhood years. (Supplied)
Alison told them that Kirra, named after the gelfling in the Dark Crystal, was her only child. "I was basically single the whole time, it was just the two of us."
Born in Gosford hospital where Alison was training to be a nurse, Kirra was a cheeky, sassy, determined child who didn't seem to need much help. Feisty, stubborn and passionate are how close friends Genevieve and Jay describe Kirra.
"She was just outrageous," Genevieve says. "She was one of the most fun people I think I've ever met.">
> Photo: Alison with her daughter, Kirra McLoughlin, and two grandchildren. (Supplied)
"There's something about her that shone," says Jay, Kirra's longest and closest friend.
"Most people would either gravitate to her and fall in love with her or clash with her.
"And it was kind of one or the other because she was so authentically her."
"She loved her kids ferociously," Alison says. "She loved being a mother."
During Kirra's adolescence, she had struggled with her mental health after the suicide of a close friend. She was hospitalised and later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She learned to manage her illness through medication and exercise.
Before Kirra died, Alison says, she had been training to run the King of the Mountain race in Pomona.
She had hated being an only child, and yearned for a big, noisy family. Kirra wore orange on her wedding day to Roger. She was 18, and fell pregnant soon after.
"She became serene and serene is not a word I would use to describe Kirra," Genevieve laughs. "Never."
'He was charming': Kirra meets Jason
The couple moved to Queensland soon after they got married and found a small house on two acres at Wolvi. Kirra dreamed of having a small farm with chickens, sheep and plenty of room for her children to play.
"She just fell madly in love with it and she was going to have it and that was that," Alison says.
As soon as they moved in, the McLoughlins became close to their new neighbours the Brodies, a family with four children, and settled into the tight-knit Wolvi community.
Family and domestic violence support services:
- 1800 Respect National Helpline: 1800 737 732
- Women's Crisis Line (NSW): 1800 656 463
- Safe Steps Crisis Line (Vic): 1800 015 188
- Men's Referral Service: 1300 766 491
- Mensline: 1300 789 978
- Lifeline (24-hour Crisis Line): 131 114
- Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
But after eight years and four children, the marriage began to crumble and Kirra started to look elsewhere. Her path crossed with "Jason" (not his real name for legal reasons), a dad at her kids' school and her co-worker at the local chicken and turkey farm.
Jason's sister Tamiqua says her brother is charming.
"He tells them they're beautiful, he's spontaneous, he's all those things that you really, really like when you first meet a dude. It's Doctor Jekyll, Mr Hyde."
Jason was also the partner of one of Kirra's best friends, Katy.
Katy had told Kirra that Jason was controlling and violent. Katy says Kirra would listen, but she could tell that Kirra was also trying to decipher the truth between Katy and Jason's versions.
By the 2013 August school holidays, Kirra's marriage had disintegrated and a short time later, Jason moved onto Kirra's property on Beenham Valley Road.>
> Photo: Kirra and "Jason" were together less than a year when she died. (Supplied)
Kirra 'thought she could fix him'
The next-door neighbours noticed a swift change in Kirra soon after Jason moved in.
"He got his hooks into her so, so quickly," Nicky Brodie says.
Kirra would visit Nicky each afternoon, often around 4.00pm, with a bottle of wine in hand. Soon after she arrived, Jason would start messaging her, demanding she come home. Initially, Kirra would text back that she would be home when she was ready.
"After about three weeks, she'd just get up and go home," Nicky says. "Soon as he messaged, she'd be gone.
"She thought she could fix him and then she couldn't get out of it.
"He had control of her money, her house, her children, everything.">
> Photo: Wolvi woman Kirra McLoughlin died at age 27. (Supplied: Alison )
Kirra confessed to her oldest friend, Jay, that the relationship had become violent.
"She went, 'Look, I can take a black eye here and there to help him through this'," Jay recalls.
"And my response instantly was, 'You have children that are seeing this'."
Kirra admitted to Genevieve that Jason had been in jail for beating her up.
"I just remember being so gobsmacked by it. This isn't the kind of thing that Kirra would ever have stood for."
Her mother Alison had grave concerns for the children because of the situation that Kirra was living in.
Kirra's estranged husband sought legal advice and after a weekend visit, he did not return their children to Kirra. Alison supported him. They gave Kirra an ultimatum: get rid of Jason and you can have the children back.
Kirra was now alone and isolated on her property with Jason.
Katy feared for her life
To learn more about what Kirra might have gone through, policeman-turned-podcaster Jamie Pultz approaches Jason's former partner Katy for an interview.
Katy takes Jamie to the remote property where she lived on and off with Jason and their children in a rudimentary shed for five years. As they approach the shed, Katy becomes nauseous. This, says Katy, is where, behind closed doors, Jason turned from an outwardly loving partner and father into a violent abuser.>
> Photo: Katy agreed to go public with the story of her abusive relationship. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)>
> Photo: Katy says she feared for her life while in a relationship with "Jason". (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)>
> Photo: With his policing days behind him, Jamie could use his investigative skills to seek justice for Kirra McLoughlin. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)
It's where she was threatened, strangled, and smashed into walls. It's where she walked on eggshells and fought for her life and to protect their children. It's where Katy says she would bake sugar cookies in a makeshift kitchen so that the children had something to eat after Jason had spent Katy's child support money on drugs, alcohol and outings with his mates.
In those weeks when Jason stayed at Kirra's at night and returned to Katy during the day, Katy feared for her life.
On a September day, she escaped. She had gone on social media, contacted an old friend and asked for help. They arranged a meeting place in Gympie and Katy never looked back.
But, remarkably, she did stay friends with Kirra.
Kirra would tell Katy about Jason's escalating violence towards her.
"She was hiding in a bathroom from him," Katy says.
"I said to her, 'Is he hitting you again?'. And she said, 'Yes'."
Katy had previously described to Kirra the steps of taking out a domestic violence protection order with police. While they were on the phone that day, Jason broke into the bathroom. "The last thing I said to her was, 'I love you and you know what you need to do'," Katy says.>
> Photo: Katy recalls the abusive relationship she was in for almost 13 years. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)
Kirra's final moments
On her last night on Earth on July 14, 2014, there had been phone calls between Kirra and her estranged husband, Roger. He was living on the Sunshine Coast with the children and Alison was staying with him to help look after them while he worked.
For the first phone call, Kirra was on loudspeaker, wishing her children goodnight. Alison thought she sounded broken-hearted.
At the end of the last phone call, Roger said that he and Kirra had been talking calmly and meaningfully for the first time in several months.
But towards the end of the conversation, Kirra's tone changed abruptly. Out of nowhere she began swearing at him, as though somebody walked into the room, he said.
The next afternoon, 18 hours later, Roger and Alison received a phone call from Kirra's neighbour. Ambulances had just taken Kirra away, they told them. They weren't expecting her to return.
The startling text message
For four years after Kirra's death, Jason's sister Tamiqua was almost broken under the guilt she felt about what transpired that July night at Kirra's house in 2014. She was convinced that she had killed Kirra. Tormented, she often woke in the middle of the night screaming.
But then somebody reached out to Tamiqua. Sally. Sally is Jason's ex-girlfriend and her name has been changed for legal reasons.
Sally told Tamiqua via text message in 2018 that Jason confessed to her that he killed Kirra. She said that he broke down because he couldn't deal with it. "I know what her final hour would have been like," Sally texted. "Kirra, that poor girl, was beaten to death.
"Her head injuries are from him pounding her head on the ground over and over. He told me this."
Sally gave the same evidence to a coronial inquiry into Kirra's death.>
>Video: Tamiqua harboured guilt for years that she may have contributed to Kirra's death.(ABC News)
'Where did you hit my daughter?'
But Tamiqua's guilt wasn't fully assuaged by Sally's revelation.
She found Kirra's mother Alison on Facebook and confessed her involvement.
"I'm the one who had a fight with Kirra. I just want you to know I didn't want to hurt her," Tamiqua wrote.
"Her demise has ripped my world apart and not a day goes by that I don't think of her and wonder if four children wake up every morning without their mother because of something I was a part of."
Tamiqua agreed to meet Alison, Jamie and Tom at a pub in Eumundi and be recorded for the podcast. It would be the first time that Alison and the podcasters would hear about the last night of Kirra's life from a person who was there.
Tamiqua said that Kirra, her brother Jason, and her mother, her niece and her daughter were at Kirra's house that Wednesday afternoon on July 13. She said their tax money had just come through.
They bought beer and wine and returned to Kirra's place on Beenham Valley Road.
Tamiqua says that not long after her mother left, Kirra's mood turned black.
"I think drinking and her and Jason not getting along probably overwhelmed her a lot more and made it a lot worse," Tamiqua says.
"She was burring up and starting to cause shit.
"I'm pretty sure I said something disgusting like, 'Put your dog on a leash.'">
> Photo: Kirra and 'Jason' lived in a remote area of Wolvi. (Supplied: Six10Media)
She says that Kirra became enraged and threw a wine glass and a thick bike chain at her.
Kirra broke something wooden over Jason, then later came at them swinging a baseball bat, then a tin of red paint that she spilled all over herself and Jason.
Tamiqua, who weighed less than 50 kilograms at the time, gave evidence at the recent inquest that she punched Kirra three or four times around the temple area, which caused her to fall down a couple of times.
Tamiqua says that Kirra sprang straight back onto her feet. "I thought, I'm gonna get my head kicked in here," she tells the podcasters.
Tamiqua called her mother and asked her to come and collect them.
The last time Tamiqua saw Kirra, she says Kirra was hysterical. She was banging on the door screaming, red paint streaked down her face. Tamiqua told the inquest Jason left with them and they drove back to Gympie, where their mother and two more brothers lived.
At the Eumundi pub, Alison asked her: "Where did you hit my daughter?"
Tamiqua pointed to an area just under her right eye, around her temple.
"You didn't do it," Alison said immediately.
"That's a bad spot to hit," protested Tamiqua.
"You're not responsible," Alison said.>
> Photo: Alison is desperate for answers over Kirra's death. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)
"I'm so sorry because I didn't want to hurt her, I just wanted to get the f*** out of there," Tamiqua said.
"Whatever part you played, I forgive you," Alison said.
But it wasn't until Tamiqua heard reports about a neurosurgeon's evidence at the inquest, that the weight on her shoulders began to lighten.
To shed more light on what happened that night in July 2014, Jamie also spoke to Jason's other siblings.>
Jason's brother Nakota told the podcast that after Jason arrived at the family home in Gympie, Jason was constantly on the phone with Kirra.
But there was a time after 9.00pm when Jason tried to call Kirra and couldn't get through.
This made Jason anxious; he thought she might be with another man. Then he called and Kirra answered. She had been having a deep conversation with her estranged husband.
Jason demanded that his brothers drive him back to Beenham Valley Road. Nakota says that on the ride home, Jason worried that Kirra's estranged husband was "getting into her head".>
> Photo: An ambulance was not called to Kirra's home until about 2.30pm. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)
From when he arrived home sometime between 9.30 and 11.00pm that night until paramedics arrived at about 2.30pm the next day, Jason was alone with Kirra.
Jason told police he and Kirra went to sleep about 3.00am.
He told paramedics that he had slept until 1.00pm and that Kirra was unconscious and covered in her own urine when he woke.
He told his family he got up for a bong at 7.00am, then went back to bed.
At the inquest, Nakota gave evidence that Jason told him that he and Kirra had a small fight when he returned home, but they had a shower together and made love afterwards, then watched a movie before they went to sleep.
No overdose, 105 bruises
When the two ambulances arrived at Kirra's house on Beenham Valley Road at 2.35pm, they rushed her to Gympie Hospital but her condition was quickly deteriorating.
Jason had told paramedics Kirra had taken an overdose of anti-depressants. Gympie Hospital found no evidence of an overdose. Just a very bruised young woman with a serious brain injury who was no longer able to breathe by herself.
When Alison first saw Kirra in the intensive care ward at Gold Coast University Hospital where she had been airlifted, her knees buckled. Kirra was black and blue.
Kirra's best friend Jay arrived and was confronted by the sight of her breathing by support machines but brain dead. She had an inch-thick yellow-purple ridge down the front of her forehead and her cheeks were a deep purple-blue. Jay and Alison peeled back Kirra's clothes. Her body was covered in bruises.
As they brushed Kirra's hair, they noticed one whole side of her head was swollen like a football and the back of her skull was soft, like a baby's head.>
>Infographic: The autopsy showed Kirra had a total of 105 bruises (Graphic: Australian Story)
Alison remembered from her time in nursing that hearing is the last sense to fade. Her fellow nurses set her up a recliner so that she could lie down next to Kirra and hold her.
Alison promised Kirra that her children would be taken care of. And, that she would get the bastard who did this. Then they turned the life support off.
An inquest last week heard that had Kirra been taken to hospital much earlier, there is a far greater chance she would have survived. But by the time the ambulance was called, there was no hope.
The inquest begins
Fifteen months after Kirra's death, detectives at Gympie Criminal Investigation Bureau were finalising their investigation. From the beginning, police had treated Kirra's death as suspicious. Jason was arrested and questioned but subsequently released.
There was a detective from homicide present at Kirra's preliminary autopsy.
But Kirra's autopsy report had been inconclusive. Although she died as a result of massive brain trauma, what had caused that trauma remained unclear.
Alison couldn't reconcile the Kirra she last saw with what the detectives sitting in her lounge room were telling her.
"They just didn't believe that her partner was responsible, that's what they expressed to me," Alison says.
She learned of lawyer Peter Boyce's work on the Daniel Morcombe case after a friend saw him on Australian Story. She phoned his Nambour office and went in for a meeting days later. He agreed to represent her pro bono. Their priority was getting an inquest.
Police told Mr Boyce they anticipated their report to the coroner would be done by November 2015. Despite multiple prompts from Mr Boyce, the police brief wasn't submitted until about March 2017. The Office of the State Coroner then sent police back out to do further investigations.
"There's a lot to be levelled at the police about what sort of priority was this getting," Mr Boyce says.
"We're dependent on them as a society to make sure that they act responsibly, quickly and reasonably.
"I'd find it difficult to say they've met any of those tests."
It took the Office of the State Coroner another two years to set a date for the inquest.>
> Photo: Peter Boyce is acting on behalf of Alison in Kirra's case. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)>
> Photo: No one has ever been charged over Kirra's death, despite the suspicious circumstances. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)
On September 2, more than six years after Kirra's death, a coronial inquest began at Gympie District Court. It was held over three days with 25 witnesses. Alison addressed a media throng on the courthouse lawn before the hearing started.
"There is no justice for Kirra," she says. "She's not coming back."
Police told the inquest there were signs of a struggle in the toilet area of the house. Multiple neighbours told the court of hearing a woman screaming that July 2014 night.
Top neurosurgeon Terry Coyne testified that it was highly unlikely that Kirra died as a result of any head injuries suffered during the scuffle with Tamiqua or any associated secondary fall.
He told the inquest that a more severe force to the head sometime after 10.30pm was the most likely cause of the fatal swelling of Kirra's brain.
On the second day of the inquest, coroner Jane Bentley made it clear to the court that the Beenham Valley Road podcast had not precipitated her inquiry. However, a few weeks earlier, counsel assisting requested Jamie hand over copies of the interviews he'd done.
"The reason we did this case was because we had that personal connection that I felt a responsibility almost because I had met her," Jamie says outside the inquest.
"In a way, the system let her down and I was a part of that system.">
> Photo: Kirra is forever in Alison's thoughts. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)>
> Photo: Alison says she can't thank Jamie and Tom enough for helping investigate Kirra's death. (Australian Story: Anthony Sines)
But, being a former cop, Jamie Pultz understands the difficulties for police.
"It's obviously a very circumstantial case and it can come down to what he said against what she said," Jamie says. "And obviously she's deceased, so she can't speak. So, his version is obviously very different to what I've been told."
The Queensland Police Service declined to comment given the coronial inquest is ongoing.
The inquest into Kirra's death has been adjourned until further notice. The last person to give evidence will be Jason.
He is currently in prison for violent offences against another woman, including deprivation of liberty.>
> Photo: Alison hopes to finally have closure through the inquest process. (ABC News: Tara Cassidy)>
> Photo: A single rose was left on the steps of the courthouse in memory of Kirra. (Instagram: Beenham Valley Road)
Digital & video production: Megan Mackander
Photography: Anthony Sines, Mayeta Clark, family of Kirra McLoughlin, Six10Media, Tara Cassidy
Video/drone: Anthony Sines, Paul Castellaro
Additional writing: Susan Chenery
Executive producer: Caitlin Shea
Special thanks: Matt Henry