Early on 22nd February 2002, the body of security guard Slawek Tomczyk was found on the premises of the Casablanca Reception Centre at Cranbourne, a south-eastern Melbourne suburb.
He had been tied up and brutally bashed with an iron bar in an attack that Detective Senior Sergeant Rod Iddles described as “vicious, cold, calculating and very cruel”.
For the case file: Five things learned
- Early Leads are Important
Investigations began immediately, and got off to a positive start on the morning after the murder when an anonymous caller phoned the Cranbourne police station and named the murderer – as well as the reason Tomczyk was killed.
Police located and interviewed the suspect at the Cranbourne rubbish tip but he provided an alibi that was accepted by the police – and he was allowed to go.
The question was asked – “Where were you last night?” He says, “I was at home with my girlfriend”. That’s where it’s left – and the man goes on his way. Ron Iddles recounts the police questioning of the suspect at the Cranbourne tip, the day after the murder.
- Don’t Make the Facts Fit Your Theory
Then a witness came forward about 4 weeks later – a used-car salesman – who claimed that he overheard a conversation in which a man described beating a security guard to death with a metal bar. Reference was also made to a metal bolt the police had discovered at the crime scene.
The salesman identified that man as Peter Samuel Smith – a local already known to police. His house was searched and blue rope was discovered similar to the type found at the crime scene.
With the story provided by the car salesman and the discovery of the rope, there was strong circumstantial evidence that pointed to Smith as the culprit.
But one of Ron Iddles’ strongest beliefs is to keep an open mind during an investigation – don’t make the facts fit the theory. Although believing Smith was guilty at the time, he was always open to other possibilities.
Peter Smith in his own words was no angel, he was a man who has got a little bit of experience of being questioned by the police over various matters.
Andrew Rule, Crime Writer, Herald Sun
- A Suspect’s Conduct After Being Charged is Important
Sometime later, Smith was brought in for questioning and after a lengthy interview, Ron Iddles charged him with the murder of Tomczyk. This resulted in vehement and outraged denials from Smith – and this immediately raised doubt in Iddles’ mind. Through long experience, he had learned that a suspect’s reaction when being charged was important – and Smith’s conduct was not typical of a guilty man. As far as Iddles was concerned, it was not the end of the investigation.
When you tell somebody, you’re going to be charged with murder and they’ve actually done it you’ll get no reaction. If I say to someone you’re going to be charged with murder, and they haven’t done it, straight away there’s this massive reaction. – Ron Iddles commenting on interviewing a murder suspect.
- Forensics Can Tell the Story
Smith was remanded in custody for around 7 months and during this time, Iddles and his team continued to review the evidence. Subsequently the forensic investigations showed that the rope from Smith’s unit was similar but not exactly the same as the one at the crime scene. In addition, DNA evidence recovered from the crime scene did not match that of Smith.
Iddles later approached the Director of Public Prosecutions to raise his strong doubts about Smith’s guilt and the charges were withdrawn. Smith was freed soon after.
In September 2007, a Coronial Inquest was held and Smith was exonerated – largely through the evidence of Ron Iddles who publically admitted the police investigation had been flawed.
I have to make an admission, publically, that we got it wrong – Rod Iddles at the Coronial Inquest
- The Answer is Often Contained in Old Evidence
Ron Iddles came to believe that the first person named by the anonymous caller on the morning after the murder was the likely culprit. He was later identified as another local, who supplied an alibi that was accepted – but not fully checked – by the police at the time.
Iddles was devastated to find that this suspect had since died through natural causes.
The case was a textbook example of how strong circumstantial evidence can be convincing – but can end up pointing the investigators in entirely the wrong direction.
He is not alibied for the murder of Tomczyk, and I have a view that he is responsible for Tomczyk’s murder. Ron Iddles commenting on the status of the first suspect – identified on the day after the murder.