The hidden story behind two killings

UNRAVELLING: Forensic investigators search the site where the body was discovered on Crown land near Chewton.
UNRAVELLING: Forensic investigators search the site where the body was discovered on Crown land near Chewton.

LEE Patrick Torney knew how easy it was to hide a body in the bush.

In 1982, he took his `business partner' Sidney James

Graham out into the scrub near Wesburn, east of Melbourne, and shot him in the back, killing him.

Graham's body was not found for more than three months.

But when it was, Lee Torney was charged and ultimately convicted of murder.

Torney and Graham were in the business of robbing banks, but their partnership had fallen apart.

Torney was released on lifetime parole in July, 2003, and moved to Elphinstone - a sleepy town on the outskirts of Castlemaine – to live with his mother, Lyn.

Although he had a reputation in the area and many influential underworld connections from his time in prison, the area provided the anonymity he craved.

He reported for parole in Castlemaine once a fortnight, but otherwise was free to go about his daily activities.

Lee Torney's daily activities usually included drugs, guns and violence of some kind.

He grew cannabis on his mother's property in Torney's

Lane, Elphinstone, and in April, 2004, formed a new business partnership with a friend of his brother, Mick.

Like his previous business partner, the new recruit was also named Graham – Graham John Holden.

Despite a few minor brushes with the law, Holden was a likeable larrikin, well-known in the Castlemaine area, and the product of a large local family.

Trained in carpentry, he was a self-employed handyman who did odd jobs, many paid and many simply for mate's rates.

He loved being outdoors, hence his nickname, Bushy, and was popular with children, particularly his 15 nieces and nephews.

His large property on Dinah Road in Chewton reflected his love of the bush.

It was his `piece of paradise' and he could feed his interest in amateur gold prospecting, and even had a flying fox to satisfy his inner-youth.

Chewton was a busy place during the gold rush of 19th century, and while its streets no longer hustle and bustle as they did in those days, remnants of those glory days remained evident on Bushy's property.

Yet, despite its rocky, quartz-riddled soil, the property proved fertile enough for the enterprising duo.

Under their watchful eye, 40 cannabis plants were grown on Crown land at the back of Bushy's property.

Bushy agreed to split their profits "50/ 50".

It seemed a reasonable deal; he had the land and time to look after the crop and Torney had the experience and the connections to move the product.

But in early 2005, Bushy took it upon himself to relocate the plants.

Thirty-six of the 40 plants died, and Torney wasn't happy.

He told his friend, Ross Young, that Bushy was a "f...ing idiot".

As Sidney Graham learned two decades earlier, if Lee Torney wasn't happy with you, you became dispensable.

More than a decade behind bars had done nothing to mend Lee Torney's violent ways, but had helped strengthen his standing in the underworld.

He was a close friend of pensioner-cum-drug-trafficker George Williams and his family, including George's well-fed, cocky son, Carl.

It was rumoured, but never proven, that Torney had carried out murders for

Carl Williams while on parole in the late 1990s, and he was certainly friendly with others in Williams' murderous drug syndicate.

Among his known associates were hitman Andrew

`Benji' Veniamin, the man who was shot dead in a Carlton restaurant by Mick Gatto in March, 2004, and a man who cannot be named for legal reasons, but is now known as Mr X.

Mr X became a driver and surveillance operative for the syndicate after being introduced to Carl Williams by Lee Torney.

He was involved in a number of underworld revenge murders, but after pleading guilty to murder, turned supergrass as a key witness in Williams' murder trial earlier this year.

Such treachery is not new in the underworld, but Lee Torney took it to an extreme when he moved back to Elphinstone and started making threats against his own family.

His mother lived without running water and in appalling conditions at Elphinstone so that her son could grow his cannabis there, but she had Alzheimer's disease and Lee could see that her days were numbered.

He wanted to inherit the family property all on his own, and certainly didn't want to share it with his wheelchair-bound younger brother, Mick, or Mick's son,

Patrick.

"Lee was being very nasty to the whole family; he threatened to kill us all," recalled Mick's former partner, and Patrick's mother, Maree Merrick.

Lee Torney's nefarious reputation was enhanced by

Mick, who although worried about his brother's threats against him, often boasted about his capabilities to others.

But Mick's talking did not concern Mr Young, a local truck driver, who fixed a series of cars – mostly white Ford Falcons – that came into the brothers' possession.

He and his family befriended Lee, often inviting him and his mother over to share dinner with them, even at Christmas time.

A will was signed at one such dinner, with Mrs Torney apparently bequeathing her entire property to her older son.

With an apparent stranglehold on the Torneys' Lane property and Bushy proving inept at looking after the cannabis crop, Torney started making his presence felt at Dinah Road.

He would stay at Bushy's home a number of nights each week, but the host wasn't keen to have him there.

Bushy told friends that he'd had words with Torney, and the gangster had responded by taking guns and knives into his home.

He'd been kicked out of his own home, and told friends he was spending his nights sleeping in a cave in the bush, in his car or dossing with Patrick Torney, who lived nearby with Holden's niece.

When Mr Young told him what Bushy had been saying, Torney simply laughed it off.

"I jokingly said, `What's going on? Can't he come back to his place?', and he said, `of course he can; it's his place'," Mr Young recalled.

But clearly, it wasn't that simple.

Bushy was scared of Lee Torney, but also angry at him.

Even when he was staying at home, he knew he could no longer invite his family or friends out to the property, and many of them were now reluctant to visit because of the gangster's presence anyway.

Meanwhile, Torney remained unimpressed with Bushy.

Eventually, it boiled over, and there was a fight.

Where it happened is not exactly clear, but it was probably at Dinah Road.

Torney struck first, hitting Holden in the legs with a shovel.

But this was not a fight the gangster would win.

Analysis of Torney's shattered skull showed Bushy whacked him in the back of the head with a shovel.

Another two blows on the right side followed, and possibly a fourth to the left.

At one point, Bushy struck his tormenter so forcefully and violently that the shovel entered into Torney's head and gouged the inside of his skull bone.

Once the job was finished, Bushy hulked Torney's body away.

He used rope to tie it to the back of his car and then towed it to an old, vacant mine shaft 300-500 metres away from his house.

When he got there, he threw Lee Torney's lifeless body into the four-metre deep hole and used a shovel again, this time to bury the corpse.

Lee Torney was showered with rocks and dirt.

Like most rural landholders, Bushy had a few rusty old 44-gallon drums lying around on his property, so he even threw them in as well, just to help cover-up his tracks.

He returned the shovel to his shed and burned the towrope.

Mr Young had caught up with Lee Torney a few days after divulging Bushy's re

luctance to return home.

It was April 15, 2005, and he didn't know it, but it was the last time he would see his friend.

Torney simply stopped dropping around for a cuppa – he had disappeared.

His mechanically-minded mate, Mr Young, saw Holden at Chewton's Red Hill Hotel and tried to discretely ask him if he had seen Lee, but Bushy wasn't interested in discretion.

"He said he didn't know where he was and good riddance," Mr Young recalled.

"I was trying to talk quietly because I didn't want the whole pub to hear.

"I just thought to myself: `why tell the whole bloody town?"

Bushy attended Mick's funeral, raising eyebrows by showing up in Lee's car

Locals reported seeing Bushy driving around the district in Lee Torney's car in the days, weeks and months after he disappeared, but most resisted the temptation to ask where the convicted murderer had gone.

When police finally got around to asking Mr Young why Torney had jumped parole, he had a unique theory of his own.

He told them Torney might have gone underground "to go and shoot Mick Gatto".

Gatto had just been released from custody after a jury acquitted him of murdering Torney's friend Benji Veniamin.

He had argued he shot Veniamin in self-defence, but that counted for little in the underworld and rumours of a bounty on Gatto's head only made Mr Young's theory seem more plausible.

In late 2005, Mick Torney's long battle with illness ended, as did his mother's.

With or without the will drafted at the Youngs', the Torney Lane property was

Lee's, but he didn't emerge for either funeral.

Bushy attended Mick's funeral, raising eyebrows by showing up in Lee's car.

But still, the shadow of suspicion seemed to avoid him.

Then, in November, Bushy's mate Rick Meadows was locked up at the Castlemaine police cells for a night.

During his incarceration, and seemingly without context, Mr Meadows told the watch-house officers "Bushy Holden would be too stupid to put Lee Torney down a mine shaft".

A few ears pricked up at that comment and by early

2006 bugging devices had been planted in Bushy's home and mobile phone.

Disguised as criminals, two undercover officers visited

Bushy at Dinah Road on February 6.

"You tell us where Lee Torney is and we'll make it worth your while," they offered.

Underworld figure Mario Condello was supposed to face trial the following day for attempting to incite the murder of Carl Williams, and

Bushy mistakenly believed Torney was to be a witness in that trial.

He thought that was why the goons were looking for Torney, and probably thought his suspicion had been confirmed later that night when it emerged that

Condello had been shot dead in his driveway.

Bushy also got wind of a police investigation into

Torney's whereabouts and was soon recorded in conversations with his friend Ms Merrick, Mick Torney's former partner.

Together, they plotted to blame Lee's disappearance on Mick.

Why not? Mick was already dead, and Lee had made threats on his life.

At the start of March, police set the cat among the pigeons by issuing an appeal through the media for information about Lee Torney's whereabouts.

"My gut feeling is, I believe he is deceased," said Inspector Steve Francis.

But in reality, the police already knew Torney was in a hole – they were just trying to smoke Bushy out of his.

On Monday, March 6, homicide teams swooped on Dinah Road.

Police and media helicopters were hovering overhead and an agitated Bushy Holden was inside talking on the phone.

He was worried about the police, but he was terrified of what Carl

Williams and Co would do to him if they found out he killed their mate, Lee

Torney.

The following day, Bushy's backfilling had been removed, the skeleton was retrieved from the bottom of the mine shaft and the identification process began.

Before long, police confirmed the decomposed body dumped in the bush at

Chewton was Lee Torney, a man who already knew a thing or two about hiding bodies in the bush.