Coronial inquest into missing four from Nannup | Day 1

A three-day coronial inquest started in Busselton on Wednesday, examining the mysterious disappearance of Gary Felton (alias Simon Kadwell), his partner Chantelle McDougall, their six-year old daughter Leela McDougall and friend Antonio Popic.

It is believed Ms McDougall, her daughter and her friend Mr Popic were last seen in Perth on July 14, 2007 after they abandoned their rented home in Nannup.

Their landlords Lyndon and Elizabeth Crouch had leased them a house on their beef farm on Roberts Road.

On July 19, Ms Crouch noticed a yellow envelope stuck in the door of the property that informed her that her tenants had left for good. By that stage, she had not seen them for a number of days.

Mr Crouch said in his evidence that he was surprised about the note, which had informed him that he could have all the furniture that was left behind in lieu of rent.

“The house was spotless, the fridge was cleaned, the only other thing that was left behind was half a bucket of rice,” he said.

The couple also found a note on Mr Popic’s bed that said they were all moving to Brazil.

Investigations into the disappearance have left police baffled, with little to indicate whether the four were murdered, had died in a suicide pact, had relocated to a remote area off the grid, or had left the country by sea.

Mr Felton used the alias Simon Kadwell, police later discovering it was an identity he had stolen from a former colleague he worked with in the UK.

According to witness reports at the inquest, his landlord Mr Crouch described Mr Felton was physically and mentally weak, and was controlling of Ms McDougall, their daugther and Mr Popic.

WA Police senior sergeant Gregory Balfour said Mr Felton had also disassociated from mainstream society.

Mr Balfour said Mr Felton had “bizarre spiritual philosophies”, was the leader of an internet-based cult called the Truth Fellowship and had written a book Servers of the Divine Plan.

During the investigation, police discovered Mr Felton stayed up all night playing online games, and chatted to people on chat sites often discussing with them his family had a suicide pact, then would sleep all day.

Police believe Mr Felton met Ms McDougall in 1997 at an ashram in Melbourne, they moved to WA and lived a communal lifestyle with Felton’s partner at the time.

Mr Felton returned to the UK with his former girlfriend, according to police he had travelled between the UK, India and Australia using a passport with the name Simon Kadwell, Ms McDougall went and met up with him and returned to WA with Felton in 2003.

The relationship with his former partner had ceased, she told police Felton had a narcissistic personality.

Mr Felton and Ms McDougall resided in Denmark when they decided to move to Nannup and found a quiet and remote home to rent 12 kilometres out of town.

Leela who was six years old at the time of the disappearance was home-schooled, other than the Crouch siblings, her landlords said she had little contact with other children.

Ms McDougall was described as happy and outgoing, she was well liked in the community, and worked at the Nannup Hotel, a hardware store and a fish and chip shop.

Her parents Jim and Catherine McDougall said at the time their daughter was young and naive, she wanted an alternative lifestyle and aligned herself with Felton.

Mr Popic met Mr Felton and Ms McDougall in Denmark, he moved to the Nannup property around 2004 living in a caravan next to the house.

He was a follower of Felton’s spiritual beliefs.

It is understood Nannup Police received a tip-off from a local that Simon Kadwell was not Mr Felton’s real identify however police leads did not find anything unusual.

On May 5, 2007 Nannup Police sergeant Taylor stopped Mr Felton in a routine traffic stop and took the opportunity to question him about his identity.

Senior sergeant Balfour said at the inquest it was reported Mr Felton appeared nervous, he was issued a ticket in the name of Simon Kadwell, police believe it may have been a catalyst for the disappearance.

The last known contact with Felton was a phone call made to a travel agent.

In the days before the disappearance, senior sergeant Balfour said Ms McDougall and Mr Popic sold their vehicles and puppies to a pet store in Busselton.

Ms McDougall went to Busselton to sell the puppies and deposited cheques at the Commonwealth Bank.

She had phoned her parents to tell them they were moving to Brazil, Mr Popic visited his family in Manjimup telling them he was going to Alice Springs.

What is not clear to police is how they travelled from Busselton to Nannup then Bunbury after selling their vehicles.

Confirmation of how they may have made their way to Perth and if any of the missing persons later travelled to Kalgoorlie or Northcliffe are sketchy.

Police have theorised that Mr Popic caught a train from Bunbury to Perth calling backpackers, the Court Hotel and ordered a pizza delivery to a remote part of Kings Park.

Ms McDougall told her parents she would be staying at a backpackers in Perth before they headed to Brazil.

Police said it was difficult to ascertain whether train or bus tickets purchased in cash under a false alias of Jay Roberts were used by Popic or Felton.

A police search of the Nannup property did not find any human remains and their bank accounts have never been touched since they vanished.

Catherine McDougall said they hoped to find out anything which would help find them, or find out what happened to them.

Catherine said sometimes she thought they were hiding somewhere off the grid living a quiet lifestyle, other times she thought something happened to them and they were killed or committed suicide.

“It is difficult going back over it but I want to find out where they are, so I will just keep doing it until I find something, I won’t give up,” she said.

“It is not over.”

More to come.

This story Coronial inquest into missing four from Nannup first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.


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