‘Blood-stained’ bedroom, foul smell in missing woman’s unit
A foul-smelling rental unit, where a bloodstained mattress was allegedly seen after Hervey Bay woman Shae Francis disappeared, had been stripped and cleaned by the time police examined it.
This is what Hervey Bay Magistrates Court heard as the committal hearing for Jason Cooper, the man accused of killing his partner and disposing of her body, began on Monday.
Staff and neighbours at the former Torquay Esplanade unit block The Hub described an "overpowering off meat" smell coming from the unit Ms Francis had shared with Mr Cooper and what they alleged looked like blood and faeces on a mattress and carpet in the bedroom.
One former worker was Leanne Douglas, who the court heard was concerned after she hadn't seen Ms Francis in some time and allegedly received a letter from Mr Cooper which he claimed was written by his partner, saying she was in a rehab in Brisbane and was happy for him to continue living in the unit which was rented under her name.
Ms Douglas said she had carried out an inspection of the units and saw what she believed were blood and faeces stains on the mattress and floor and that the smell was "bad".
Asked why the smell was particularly concerning to her, Ms Douglas responded that she had carried out work experience in a morgue as a teenager but had to stop because she couldn't stand the smell.
She said that when she entered the unit it was that "same smell - you never forget it".
She also claimed she reported it to her boss Shaun Leather who said he would "deal with it" and after raising it "many times" he said police were called in December but did not find anything.
Mr Leather's former business partner, Chris Krieger told the court the pair had cleared the unit in December wearing masks and "got the job done as quick as we could" because the smell was "pretty bad".
Mr Krieger said there was a large stain on the mattress which had soaked through to the bottom - something he discovered when he lifted it, his glove broke and he felt "something wet" on his hand.
He said he believed the stain could have been blood or faeces but, when questioned by defence barrister Lars Falcongreen, said he wasn't certain and accepted it was possible the stain could have been something else like the result of someone vomiting after drinking red wine.
Detective Senior Constable Dave Zanella was asked about the police investigation which began as a missing person case before turning sinister.
Ms Francis hadn't been seen since October, 2018 but wasn't officially reported missing until much later.
Officers went to country Victoria, where Cooper, who left the region after being evicted from the unit in December 2018, had allegedly been using Ms Francis' bank card and extradited him back to Queensland.
In May 2019 investigations led police back to The Hub but Det Snr Const. Zanella said when it came time to forensically examine the unit no traces of blood were found.
He said the unit had been "stripped", cleaned and re-let to a new tenant.
Ms Francis' body has never been found.
Mr Falcongreen quizzed multiple witnesses on Shae's health, particularly her alcoholism and weight loss in the months leading up to her disappearance.
One former Hub worker said she had often witnessed Ms Francis drunk and stumbling.
A neighbour said that when police had conducted a welfare check on Ms Francis in October she had answered the door looking "dreadful".
Her mother Cheryl Francis said that she and her daughter had been estranged for a number of years but that she'd come back into her life in 2018.
When asked by Mr Falcongreen if her daughter had been "drinking herself to death" the mother angrily replied "don't put words into my mouth".
She claimed that while Shae had needed hospital treatment for her problem the year she died she had been "on track to getting well" and was back to being "sober, beautiful and happy" before Mr Cooper "got hold of her and plied her with alcohol".
Asked if she had witnessed the alleged plying, Ms Francis replied that she had no "proof".
During cross examination she also broke from answering questions on several occasions, looking at Mr Cooper in the dock, calling him a "coward" and asking "where is she Jason?"
The hearing will continue next month.