Junction Hotel arson trial: Facebook picture gave detectives new lead in arson case, court told

Jozef Jansen (left) owned the Junction Hotel in Ravenswood when it went up in flames in June 2014. He is standing trial in Bendigo with his son Remco Jansen (right), on charges of arson for gain.
Jozef Jansen (left) owned the Junction Hotel in Ravenswood when it went up in flames in June 2014. He is standing trial in Bendigo with his son Remco Jansen (right), on charges of arson for gain.

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A PHOTOGRAPH on Facebook alerted detectives to the possibility the Jansens may have removed sentimental items before fire gutted the Junction Hotel, a court has heard.

The hotel’s then-owner Jozef Jansen, 65, and his son Remco Jansen, 42, appeared at the fourth day of a criminal trial in the Bendigo County Court on Friday, both charged with arson for gain.

Detective Senior Constable Sam Miller gave evidence to the court, describing police suspicions that the Jansens removed an antique clock and a large photograph of their deceased son before they left the property, which was also their home.

Jozef Jansen and his wife, Coby Jansen, drove to Moama on June 9, 2014 – the day of the fire – where they checked into a motel for the night.

Police allege they took the items with them, along with their dog.

They made the booking on June 6, when the sale of the Junction Hotel fell through, the court was earlier told.

Detectives began tracing the phone calls of Jozef and Remco Jansen on September 17, and heard them discuss some property from the hotel.

Detective Senior Constable Miller found a photograph on Facebook which showed an antique clock on the wall in the background. He returned to the fire scene, and noticed that area of the wall displayed no signs that the clock was there when the fire swept through.

“When there’s a fire inside a premises, and there’s smoke and condensation and sooting, it settles in objects hanging on the walls,” he told the court.

“There’s no such sooting or outline of a clock being there when the fire occurred.”

Jozef and Coby Jansen moved to New South Wales soon after the fire. Police raided their new address on October 16, and found the clock and photograph in a wardrobe.

One of the phone calls between Remco Jansen and his mother Coby was played to the court on Friday, during which Coby Jansen instantly shrugs off police claims her husband was involved in the fire.

The phone call occurred on September 25 – the same day Remco was interviewed by police.

During the phone call, he tells his parents about the conversation he had with police.

“They seem to think youse done it,” he said.

“Or you had someone do it or what not.”

Coby Jansen replied: “How? We were in Moama.”

Remco Jansen’s interview with police was also played to the court, during which he was asked directly whether he had any involvement in the fire.

It was a claim he immediately denied, along with a suggestion his parents were involved.

“That’s just not like my parents,” Remco Jansen told police. He also said he only left his house in Kangaroo Flat once on the day of the fire, to get dinner at McDonald’s, and did not go to the Junction Hotel until he was told about the fire by a friend.

He told police he had no knowledge that the sale of the hotel fell through on June 6, and that he was unaware his parents were in financial difficulty in the lead-up to the fire.

The Junction Hotel the day after the fire.

The Junction Hotel the day after the fire.

Police allege Jozef Jansen and Remco Jansen were responsible for the fire that destroyed the hotel on the Calder Highway.

Two fire investigators earlier told the court the fire originated in the office of the Junction Hotel, but there was no physical evidence of any fire accelerant nearby. One claimed the fire started via an overloaded powerboard, while the other pointed to malfunctioning computer equipment.

Both said they could not definitively rule out that an accelerant, or a match or cigarette lighter, could have been used.

Jozef Jansen was also charged with obtaining property by deception, after receiving insurance payouts of more than $300,000 from APIA.

In the police interview, Remco Jansen was asked about why his parents booked into a motel in Moama on the same day as the fire.

“It was their 40th wedding anniversary,” he told police.

“They were going to Echuca-Moama first, then somewhere further up, Taree, because dad has family up there.”

He said he was unsure if his father planned to go fishing.

Jozef Jansen told police he planned to go fishing.

Senior Constable Ian Carfoot and another officer from Echuca police went to the motel in Moama on the night of the fire to speak to Jozef and Coby Jansen.

Senior Constable Carfoot said the couple did not seem upset about the news – but they had already been made aware of the fire.

“They seemed normal to us, they weren’t surprised by it, they weren’t emotional or anything,” he told the court.

Senior Constable Carfoot also looked inside Jozef Jansen’s car in the motel car park, and could not find any fishing equipment.

He did not look inside the boot however, the court was told.

Text messages between Jozef and Remco Jansen on the day of the fire were read to the court.

In a conversation between 5.11pm and 5.18pm – four hours before the fire – Jozef Jansen allegedly told Remco: “Tell him to do it.”

Remco says: “See what I can do later.”

They also had a text message conversation between 9.35pm and 9.46pm, when the two men were aware of the fire. A passerby called in the fire at 9.20pm. Jozef Jansen allegedly told Remco Jansen to delete their messages. The trial continues.