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John Leslie COOMBES





Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Dismemberment - Speirani's remains are never found
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: February 26/November 17, 1984 / August 12, 2009
Date of arrest: November 2, 2009
Date of birth: September 14, 1954
Victims profile: Michael Peter Speirani, 20 / Henry Raymond Kells, 44 / Raechel Betts, 27
Method of murder: By driving over him in a motorboat / Stabbing with knife / Strangulation
Location: Victoria, Australia
Status: Sentenced to life with no chance of parole on August 26, 2011

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Supreme Court of Victoria

The Queen v. John Leslie Coombes

Triple killer to die in jail for murder that 'ought never have happened'

August 26, 2011

It started with the tattooed leg. Normally a good start, as far as clues in a missing person's case go. Except that it was a leg without a body, water-logged and washed up on a Phillip Island beach.

In the days after that grisly find in August 2009, other body parts turned up on beaches. Police appealed for help to identify them, and so began one of Victoria's most gruesome murder investigations.

Today, it ended with monstrous triple killer John Leslie Coombes jailed for life with no chance of parole for strangling and dismembering childcare worker Raechel Betts.

After months of denials, Coombes, 56, in May pleaded guilty to strangling 27-year-old Ms Betts to death after the pair argued in bed at the Phillip Island home of friend Nicole Godfrey.

In sentencing, Justice Geoffrey Nettle said there was significant similarity between Coombes’ three murders - including the violence in which they were committed and the lies he constructed afterwards.

"It evinces a frightening predilection for homicide," Justice Nettle said.

He said he believed that Coombes was not remorseful and if given the opportunity to kill again, he would.

"It passes understanding that a sane human being could hack up and destroy the body of another as if, to use your own words, she were just a lump of meat," Justice Nettle said.

"The heinousness of that conduct is shocking. It bespeaks an utter disregard of the law and basic norms of society and depraved inhumanity towards the deceased, her family and her loved ones."

After strangling Ms Betts, Coombes cut the corpse into pieces in a bath, placed the body parts in plastic bags and threw them off a local pier. The bags later washed up on nearby beaches.

He then began a sexual relationship with Godfrey, who was in an adjoining bedroom as Coombes dismembered the body.

"I know she was chopped up in the bathroom," Godfrey told police during the investigation. "He took her into the bathroom because I was in bed and I had the TV (on) a little bit and I had my hands in my ears so I couldn't hear anything."

The court heard Ms Godfrey had given Coombes false alibis, claiming she feared for her own safety.

Godfrey pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice and received a suspended sentence in return for assisting the prosecution.

Shaking outside court, Ms Betts' mother Sandra said Coombes was "a cruel monster", who had killed her daughter because she refused to become his mistress.

"Murder to him is better than sex," she said. "May he never be released and never have a chance to harm another human being or animal."

Coombes, a triple murderer, has a long criminal history that includes escape from jail, where he was serving a sentence for the murder of Henry Raymond Kells, 44, who was stabbed to death in his Chelsea home in 1984.

He was also later convicted and jailed for the murder of Michael Peter Speirani, 20, of Mount Martha, who went missing while on a fishing trip in February 1984.

He was paroled in October 1996 after serving time for the Kells murder, and arrested two months later over the Speirani murder. In 1998 he was sentenced to a minimum 10-year term for that killing. He was released on parole in February 2007.

Two-and-a-half years later, he strangled Ms Betts to death.

In June, Ms Betts' mother told the Supreme Court Coombes should never be released.

In her 50-minute victim impact statement, Sandra Betts urged Justice Nettle to lock Coombes up for life, given Coombes had two murder convictions before he killed her daughter.

"This murder ought not to have happened," she told the court, adding that Coombes' actions had handed her family a "life sentence of grief and loss".

"He represents a definite threat to society of murder and mutilation. Although the justice system has failed Raechel, it should never fail another person again," she said. "I don't want to find in 11 or so years John Leslie Coombes has been released and has again murdered another person."

Coombes' counsel argued Ms Betts was a drug dealer and said his client had "snapped" after she offered him a young girl for sex, having been sexually abused himself as a child.

However, the judge placed little weight on Coombes claims, saying he had a propensity to lie for his own advantage.

Coombes claimed that he had been the victim of a paedophile ring when he was younger and that he had seen service as a solider in Vietnam, but he had never seen any action.

Sandra Betts said he had learned to kill in the army and had been cruel and sadistic towards pets in the past.

Coombes told police that when he murdered Betts he cut off her breasts as she did not ‘‘deserve to die like a f---ing woman’’.


A history in blood: the crimes of remorseless killer John Coombes

August 26, 2011

The long, grisly criminal career of triple killer John Leslie Coombes, who was today sent to jail, never to be released, for killing and dismembering childcare worker Raechel Betts.

February 26, 1984 Michael Peter Speirani, 20, from Mt Martha goes missing on a fishing trip.

November 17, 1984 Henry Raymond Kells, 44, stabbed to death in his Chelsea home.

November 27, 1984 Coombes and Andrew Harold Opie charged with Kells' murder.

December 14, 1985 Coombes sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Kells.

September 22, 1988 Coombes, 34, and another convicted killer, Dean Leslie Ashley, 27, both lifers, and convicted killers, break out of Ararat Jail using a key to open their compound door, a makeshift ladder to climb an interior wall, and using piping as a bridge between two razor-ribbon fences.

September 24, 1988 Both killers recaptured after they were seen on a train near Mildura. Coombes received a six-month sentence for the escape.

April 10, 1990 Coombes sentenced to 11 years, taking into account 370 days already served for murder of Kells, after an application for a fixed minimum term.

October, 1996 Paroled.

December, 1996 Arrested for the murder of Speirani.

April 23, 1998 Coombes and Glen Conlon jailed for murder of Speirani. Coombes sentenced to 15 years with a minimum of 10.

February 12, 2007 Coombes released on parole.

August 12, 2009 Strangled Raechel Betts at Port Phillip home and then cut up her body in the bathroom before throwing parts into the sea. Her limbs later washed ashore.

November 2009 Coombes is charged with the murder of Ms Betts.

May 2011 Coombes changes his plea to guilty of the murder of Ms Betts.

August 26, 2011 Coombes sentenced to life behind bars with no chance of parole. Justice Geoffrey Nettle said Coombes had "a frightening predilection for homicide’’ , showed no remorse, and, given the opportunity, would kill again.


John Coombes 'does not seem to pose a substantial threat to the community'

By Russell Robinson - Herald Sun

August 25, 2011

As far back as May 1988, the Adult Parole Board was told he did not pose a threat to the community.

That assessment was given by a senior corrections officer who told the panel the convicted killer deserved to have a set term of incarceration.

"In spite of his offence, which did not seem to be pre-meditated, he does not seem to pose a substantial threat to the community,'' he wrote in his official report.

In documents seen by the Herald Sun, a psychologist also spoke in Coombes' favour, stating to the parole board: "there appears to be no psychiatric contradiction to Mr Coombes release from prison.''

Supreme Court Justice Barry Beach, who imposed the original life sentence on Coombes, heard the killer's plea for a minimum sentence.

He told the court he was satisfied Coombes and his co-accused, Andrew Opie, who was found guilty of manslaughter, did not intend to kill Henry Desmond Kells when they entered his Edithvale bungalow.

He said both men bore a grudge against Opie and their intention was to just beat him.

Referring to Coombes' heavy drinking and extensive prescription drug use at the time, the judge said: "I think it would be fair to say that at the time Kells met his death, the applicant was not in a normal and rational frame of mind."

He also referred to Coombes' 'disturbed'' family background and his marriage break-up.

He then imposed a fixed term of 11 years.

What these men, however, didn't know was that eight months before he'd killed Kells, Coombes had brutally murdered Michael Peter Speirani, by driving over him in his motorboat on Port Phillip Bay.

He and his co-accused, Glen Conlon, then pulled Speirani to the side of his boat and "sliced him up a bit so that the fish could finish him off".

Ten years after the official's vote of confidence in Coombes, the double killer was found guilty in March 1998, of having murdered Speirani.

At his trial, Supreme Court Justice Bernard Teague said he had decided against jailing Coombes for life without parole, even though the court had to treat the double killer as a "serious violent offender''.

He cited evidence that in both murders alcoholism and other health problems were contributing factors, and remarked that Coombes' remorse was "not at a high level".

He concluded, however, that there were clear indications of rehabilitation.

Eleven years later, Coombes would kill again.

His victim, a defenceless 29-year-old child care worker Raechel Betts.

John Leslie Coombes 'mildly obese'

Coombe's physical description in official prison reports is not flattering, to say the least.

He is described as: "...a short, round-headed man with a crew cut and heavy beard. he had a tattoo on his left upper arm and he was wearing glasses. He was mildly obese.''

After being sentenced to life for the murder of Henry Desmond Kells in December 1985, Coombes quickly came to the attention of Pentridge Prison officials. He was accused by the mother of a fellow prisoner of "demanding payment of gambling debts by menace''.

Coombes denied it and blamed it on other prisoners.

Shortly after, four lengths of "home-made rope which were torn from bed sheets'' were found in the G Division kitchen.

"Coombes was believed to be involved with these materials,'' a prison report states.

"When questioned Coombes stated that the material was tea towels that were from a shoe polish bag which were kept in the kitchen for general use.''

Three months later was reported for retaliating after being struck in the back by another prisoner, whom he named.

No charges were laid because the inmate, true to the cell-block code, refused to confirm or deny the incident.

All the time, Coombes was regularly visiting the prison psychiatrist.

The following August, Coombes was transferred to Ararat.

A year later, he made headlines when he and a cellmate, convicted double-killer Dean Ashley, broke out of Ararat.

They were described by police as extremely dangerous and should not be approached.

The pair spent three days on the run until their capture in the rail yards at Red Cliffs, outside Mildura.

Coombes and Ashley had found a water pipe left by contractors and placed it across the top of the inner and outer security fences, using it as a bridge.

Dressed like railway workers, they surrendered without a struggle when police surrounded the goods train carriage, in which they were hiding. One was carrying a long-handled screwdriver and the other a knife.

After his capture, Coombes was promptly returned to Pentridge.

Prison records show Coombes completed a certificate in horticultural science and was studying Japanese.

At the time of his release on November 18, 1996, he was head cook at Morwell River.

Two months later, he was arrested over his involvement in the killing of Michael Speirani, 12 years earlier.



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