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Model’s mystery death captivates Australians


Sydney : Gordon Wood and Caroline Byrne were Sydney's new-money golden couple when death intervened 12 years ago.

The handsome gym-toned chauffeur had a millionaire stockbroker for a mentor and seemed destined for a business career of his own. The very least of the appeal of the willowy fashion model and deportment coach was as a trophy wife for a budding tycoon.

The pair was sundered in 1995 when Byrne, 24, was found dead at the bottom of a cliff in a popular suicide spot on Sydney Harbour. The proposition that she didn't take her own life is currently being tested at a committal hearing for her accused murderer.

In the dock is Wood, now 44.

What Crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi told the court was that Wood murdered Byrne because she was privy to his secret shareholding in a printing works that was gutted by fire in 1993 and later delivered massive insurance payouts to its financial backers.

Two days before Byrne's death, in the company of the late stockbroker Rene Rivkin, for whom he worked as a driver, Wood was interviewed by corporate watchdog ASIC.

"The ASIC inquiry was a cause of great stress and anxiety to Gordon Wood," Tedeschi told the court. He argued that Wood killed Byrne because their relationship was in trouble and she could have divulged to ASIC that he might have lied about his shareholding.

By this time, they were living in a luxury flat bought for them by Rivkin, who was fond of the company of young men.

Tedeschi revealed that in the weeks before she died, Byrne had confided in a friend that her lover had a fearsome temper.

"Sometimes I fear for my life with Gordon," she is alleged to have said. "I have to break it off and leave him. I can't break it off cleanly. He gets into a lot of jealous fits."

Wood, who appeared in court dapper as ever in a sharp pinstripe suit and yellow tie, left Australia for the US three years after Byrne's death.

In 2001, he told friends he was going on a world cruise. He reappeared in Europe in 2004 and was arrested in London in 2006 and charged with murder. The former fitness instructor maintains his innocence.

The case against Wood is complicated by the fact that police thought they were dealing with a suicide and they didn't take photographs.

In Winston Terracini, Wood has Australia's most distinguished defence counsel. He was expected to argue that the police bungled an investigation now into its 13th year.

Without witnesses, without a guilty plea and without a clear motive, the case might come down to the merits of circumstantial evidence.

Terracini is going to be sorely pressed explaining Wood's behaviour, particularly his statement to police on Byrne's death that "it was Caroline's spirit that told me where to find her."

On the night Byrne's body was found, Wood said he had dozed off and then woken up to find she wasn't in the flat. He drove to where her body was discovered, found her car there and then drove back into the city to alert her family. With her father and her brother, he returned. Wood led them directly to the cliff top from where her body fell.

The observation Tedeschi made at the committal hearing, which began June 12, was the obvious one: "The only way that the defendant could know about the location of Caroline Byrne's body at the bottom of the cliff was because he was there when she went over."

Another sticky matter is that Byrne's body landed 11.8 metres from the ledge of the cliff.

Sydney University physicist Rob Cross told the hearing that tests with a 57 kg dummy – Byrne's weight – persuaded him that she could not have leapt or fallen to her death and must have been thrown.