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A man in his 70s is accused of killing his tenant over a dispute about unpaid rent and then returning with a tractor to cover up the crime scene.
However, police have no DNA evidence linking Steven Johnson to the murder of Christopher Jarvis and the 71-year-old wants to be set free.
Christopher Jarvis was last seen alive in June 2006. His car was found on fire near the Warrnambool coast soon after.
Jarvis, 38, was last seen leaving his home in Wangoom, near Warrnambool in Victoria’s west, on June 13, 2006. His car was found on fire at Thunder Point coastal lookout.
His body has never been found, but detectives are planning to search a nearby forest for Jarvis’ body, the Supreme Court of Victoria has been told.
Framlingham Forest is owned by an Indigenous trust and police are negotiating with the local community along with trustees to conduct a thorough search, Detective Senior Constable Alicia Reivers said.
Wearing a neck brace, Johnson appeared in court on Monday to apply for bail after being charged with Jarvis’ murder, alongside co-accused Glenn Fenwick.
The prosecution opposed Johnson’s bail, suggestion they did not want him to be able to go to Framlingham Forest and potentially interfere with possible evidence.
“If he were to locate the body and/or items that might implicate him … he would be depriving the prosecution of the best evidence,” barrister Mark Gibson, KC, said.
Jarvis, who was Johnson’s tenant, allegedly confronted Johnson on his rental’s driveway and there was a significant assault which led to his death, Gibson said at the hearing.
He told the court a witness saw Johnson use a tractor to grade the driveway the day after Jarvis was murdered.
Christopher Jarvis went missing in 2006. His body has not been found.
After being interviewed by police about Jarvis, he visited Fenwick. Gibson claimed during the hearing that Johnson told Fenwick “the shit has hit the fan, and I’m worried”.
Jarvis and Johnson were locked in a dispute about unpaid rent, which was due to be heard in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal days after Jarvis went missing.
Jarvis had submitted a counter-claim, asking for money for plumbing work needed on the roof.
Gibson claimed the dispute was motive for Johnson to want Jarvis dead, but Johnson’s barrister disputed this.
Thunder Point in Warrnambool.Credit: Aaron Sawall
“Johnson tried to lawfully end this dispute and was about to have his day in the tribunal,” Patrick Doyle, SC, said.
“He wasn’t going to get anything out of violence.”
Doyle said the trial would likely not occur for another two years, and Johnson was vulnerable in custody due to his poor physical and mental health.
He has offered to put the value of his property, which he owns with his wife, as a surety.
Johnson has promised to abide by bail conditions, including he not contact witnesses and cannot visit Framlingham Forest.
Doyle said there was no DNA evidence tying Johnson to the murder.
Analysis of a baseball bat, the alleged murder weapon, had not turned up any links to Johnson, he said.
“This is a very weak crown case,” Doyle said.
Justice John Champion will hand down his decision on Johnson’s bail at a later date.
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