Living with the mystery

RELATED: Cold Case unit applies for $1 million reward for unsolved case 

Thirty years since Bendigo businessman Kevin Pearce was murdered by a mystery gunman, a still grieving daughter opens up about the burden of not knowing who pulled the trigger...

IT WOULD be easier not to discuss the murder at all, but the pain of not knowing who did it motivates Donna to talk.

It’s difficult though. She’s had to prepare herself for this phone call.

Her father was shot 30 years ago but the passage of time doesn’t make it any easier.

Donna has grown up, married and had children, but she hasn’t been able to share those milestones with her father.

And apart from the grief of not having him in her life, is the horror of knowing that his murderer roams free.

Kevin Pearce operated a freight distribution business when he was shot at a Golden Square transport depot on the night of April 15, 1985. 

A bullet from the sniper's .308 hunting rifle went through Pearce's left arm and shattered against his ribs, with a fragment lodging in his spine. 

Three colleagues who were with him at the time tried to stop the bleeding with a roll of toilet paper. 

They never saw the sniper.

Pearce, 45, died in hospital three weeks later. 

The Bendigo Advertiser reported in 1986 that coroner Hal Hallenstein found Pearce was shot "by or by the arrangement and organisation of" a former business partner in William James Matthews.

It was well known the two had a falling out and became business rivals. 

Coroner Hallenstein ruled that Matthews should stand trial however the director of Public Prosecutions reviewed the case and decided not to pursue charges.

Just when you think you're able to move on, something comes up and it just throws your whole world into turmoil. - Donna

Years later, DNA on three cigarette butts found in bush about 40 metres from where Pearce was shot matched that of Matthews' devoted assistant and lover Dianne Robertson. 

In a report by John Silvester of The Age in 2007 Mr Matthews was quoted saying: "I don't wish to say anything. I received legal advice not to make any comments and I don't think I should go against that now. I hope you understand, thank you."

The investigation has sat dormant for years but two recent events have reopened old wounds for the Pearce family. 

An investigation by The Age revealed last month that a Victoria Police relocation in 1994 resulted in the destruction of cold case evidence from about 140 unsolved murders.

"It puts a lot of questions in the back of your mind," Donna said.

"It's frustrating that we had to read this in the media. 

"No one has even bothered to contact us and say, 'it was or wasn't anything to do with your case'.

"We're still left in the unknown."

Victoria Police cannot confirm whether any evidence in the Pearce case was lost.

A police spokesperson said the Cold Case Missing Person Squad was reviewing all investigations.

“The Cold Case Missing Persons Squad makes contact with family members when an unsolved case is reopen," the spokesperson said.

“Should there be any concern with exhibits the family would be informed at that time.

“To date... no other cases have been identified as being impacted by the destruction or loss of exhibits.

“Current Victoria Police policy now dictates that these types of exhibits must be retained for at least 50 years.” 

It’s been six years since the case was investigated.

“When an unsolved homicide is selected for review, it is based on a number of factors, including solvability, the likelihood of forensic evidence and the availability of witnesses,” the police spokesman said.

Shortly before The Age investigation into the lost evidence, Victoria Police raised the reward for unsolved murders to $1 million, raising the hopes of families waiting for answers to all unsolved murders across the state.

The Bendigo Advertiser's reportage of the case in 1986, a year after Pearce's murder.

The Bendigo Advertiser's reportage of the case in 1986, a year after Pearce's murder.

The Pearce case does not yet carry a reward of $1 million, but police this week confirmed investigators were applying for one and it was likely to take effect within a few weeks.

Donna said such a large sum of money could be the incentive needed for someone to come forward with vital information to solve the murder mystery.

"It would at least give us closure knowing the person responsible is held accountable for their actions, although it does not decrease our grief, but then nothing can," she said.

Different detectives have worked on the case through three decades and the family hopes fresh eyes might find something others have missed.

Not knowing has taken its toll on the family and every fresh development or media report presents a new battle for Donna.

“I come home and I talk to my husband and I have a few tears," she said.

"Just when you think you're able to move on, something comes up and it just throws your whole world into turmoil.

“Then we need to disclose new information to new employers, to new friends.”

The conversations are always uncomfortable.

“There is a stigma to the fact that he was shot,” Donna said.

“People wonder and it’s natural. 

"They think he’s done something wrong to deserve it. 

"And then you have to defend and explain.”

But despite the pain involved Donna believes talking publicly is the only way to keep her father’s case from being ignored.

"There's a hard line between being forgotten and being thrown into turmoil," she said.

Donna keeps talking because she’s proud to be Kevin Pearce's daughter.

“I never wanted to hide away from the fact that he was my father."

PREVIOUS STORIES FROM THE ARCHIVES:

Kevin Pearce, a 25-year Bendigo murder mystery

Sniper case re-opened

Police close in: DNA gives new clues in sniper case

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