A far-north Queensland couple have been found guilty of the murder of a gold prospector, and sentenced to life in prison.
The body of 48-year old father of two Bruce Schuler was never found, presumed discarded somewhere on a 130,000 hectare property, which is also the site of the late 1800s Palmer River gold rush.
The Cairns Post reported that a jury found that Cape York graziers Stephen Struber and Dianne Wilson-Struber guilty of the murder of Schuler after they found him prospecting in a gully on their property three years ago.
The case relied heavily on circumstantial evidence provided by fellow prospectors Daniel Bidner, Tremain Anderson and Kevin Groth, who accompanied Schuler on the fateful expedition.
Schuler was last seen by his companions on 9 July 2012, operating a metal detactor, but shortly after two gunshots were heard.
Bidner and Anderson testified to having seen Struber in a ute, approaching Schuler immediately prior to hearing the gunshots.
“It has been well over a century since the turbulent and sometimes violent days of the Palmer River gold rush, that in this day and age, long removed from those frontier days, it beggars belief that station leaseholders could become so detached from the standards of civilised behaviour and could have engaged in such cowardly, callous behaviour as this,” Justice Jim Henry said in the Cairns Supreme Court.
The two-week trial saw speculation about evidence including the sound of gunfire, missing weapons, the absence of Schuler’s body, and blood found on rocks in the area.
Crown prosecutor described the Palmerville property as “probably the largest crime scene ever declared”, with abandoned mine shafts, crocodile inhabited waters, and a nearby ghost town.
Justice Henry said the property owners at the least had intended to hurt or scare the prospector who they perceived to be trespassing on their property.
“Once begun, this conduct obviously spiralled out of control, with the probably panicked, but truly dreadful decision, to pursue and shoot again,” he said.
“Consistent with that dreadful choice, you followed through and disposed in some unknown way of the body of Bruce Schuler.”
Image: Cairns Post/Harry Clarke