Burned nurse’s ‘baffling’ diary
"Anniversary. 1 month 2day we begin messaging," Monika Chetty wrote in her diary on January 24, 2010.
The man whose first text she was so eager to remember she knew as "Nick Cha".
But she also called him "baby", over and over, in the pages where she recorded her hopes, mundanities and anxieties.
In diary excerpts tendered in court this week, Ms Chetty wrote of how much she loved and missed "baby".
But Nick Cha's story unravelled on close examination, according to the police who searched Ms Chetty's diary for clues after her brutal death in January 2014.
Their inquiries revealed Nick Cha's number was activated on Christmas Eve 2009, the same day Ms Chetty received that first text.
It was registered to a "Miss Nick Cha", whose date of birthday was August 29, 2010, the court heard.
These and other inquiries led police to believe Nick Cha never existed - and that he was created for the purpose of manipulating and controlling Ms Chetty in the years before she died.
This theory was laid out in police statements tendered to the NSW Coroner's Court this week, as a coronial inquest began into Ms Chetty's death.
It has been seven years since two police officers found her lying in bushland in the Sydney suburb of West Hoxton on January 3, 2014, severely burned and softly crying "help me, help me".
The mother-of-three begged them not to call an ambulance, but she was taken to Concord Hospital and assessed by specialist Associate Professor Peter Haertsch, who knew she would not live.
"(It was) the percentage of her body burned and her age," he said on Thursday. "If those two things come to greater than 100, you are not likely to survive."
Ms Chetty, who was 39 and had severe burns to 80 per cent of her body, died on January 31, 2014.
Counsel assisting Christine Melis said "words can't describe" what Ms Chetty's burns looked like, before displaying a harrowing photo of her to the NSW Coroner's Court.
"Who could have inflicted these injuries?" she asked.
Police still do not know.
Deputy state coroner Elaine Truscott is now exploring the extraordinary contradictions and complexities of Ms Chetty's life, in a bid to solve the mystery a senior police officer once described as the most baffling he had seen.
Ms Chetty's ex-husband Ronald described her as a "great mum" and "normal partner", who changed beyond recognition after they separated in about 2009 over financial woes.
Ms Chetty's gambling addiction created incredible tension in the marriage, Mr Chetty said, and she also transferred about $6000 to Thailand after falling for a scam falsely informing her she was the winner of a lottery prize.
By 2013 she was homeless and embroiled in a fraudulent visa scheme in which she extorted young Indian men out of thousands of dollars, the court heard.
Ms Chetty left several furious victims in her wake, one of whom recalled texting her in tears once he realised his money was gone: "Bitch where is my passport? What are you doing to me and why are you doing this to me?"
"Ha ha ha, what do you think I am going to return you your money?" she replied, according to a police statement.
In 2012 and 2013, the court heard, people began to observe Ms Chetty suffering strange injuries, including burns to her hands and face. Some said her skin appeared to darken.
Mr Chetty said she was burned, covered up and basically unrecognisable when he saw her in September 2012.
Ms Melis said more than $184,000 flowed into Ms Chetty's bank accounts between August 2010 and December 2013, but she was increasingly desperate for cash, often asking Mr Chetty, her sister Mohini Prasad, her father, and friends for loans.
The source of these earlier injuries remains unknown. Ms Chetty told people at various times they were burns caused by a car radiator, splashing oil from cooking an egg, and other things, the court heard.
Ms Chetty had developed a close relationship with Sadma Begum, the co-owner of Fairfield pawn store Smart Cash Loans with her husband Ion Olariu and with Ms Begum's daughter Mosmeen Mohammed, who resided in West Hoxton with husband Chris Farras, the court heard.
Store records show she pawned jewellery frequently at Smart Cash Loans from about 2008, and she referred to Ms Begum as "Mama" and "Aunty" in conversations and her diary.
West Hoxton residents reported seeing Ms Chetty at Ms Mohammed's home up to two years before the acid attack.
One of them described her as "the burnt lady", saying she always wore long sleeves and beanies even in the heat, and would "scatter, go and hide" the second she saw somebody.
Little is known about how, when, where and why Ms Chetty sustained the severe burns that led to her death.
She told police a random man threw acid on her in Liverpool's Bigge Park the week before she was found, but police are certain this is not what happened, the inquest heard.
Professor Haertsch placed the attack as having occurred between December 7 and 14, 2013.
Incredibly, in the weeks that followed, Ms Chetty was seen out and about in the community - catching a bus 10 times, visiting a Westpac branch to withdraw $870, and begging in a shopping centre and even a hospital lobby.
Hospital security guards noticed her blistered skin and asked if she needed to go to emergency, but she told them she was fine and left, the court heard.
She wore heavy clothes - trackpants, a huge hoodie, a beanie - that concealed most of her injuries from the public.
In the days before she was found in bushland, Ms Chetty stayed at Ms Mohammed's West Hoxton home, sleeping on the veranda, the court heard.
Ms Mohammed and Ms Begum gave her food and dressed her burns.
After discovering Ms Chetty in bushland, police spoke to Ms Begum and Ms Mohammed, who said she was a homeless woman who had come to their door about three days ago.
"So this woman has been living on your front porch with the injuries she has, using your hose as a shower and unable to have a conversation without breaking down and you haven't contacted the police or paramedics?" one officer asked, according to a police statement tendered in court.
Neither woman answered the question, the court heard.
They later told police the woman they had been looking after was a homeless lady called Nikki Prasad, according to Detective Senior Constable Andrew Booth's statement.
They said they knew Ms Chetty but had not spoken to her since mid-2013 after an incident in which she threatened Ms Mohammed.
Mr Booth, who took over the investigation in May 2018, presented a detailed analysis of phone records to the court, which he said showed Ms Chetty was in fact in regular contact with the two women up to the time she was found.
In December 2013, Ms Chetty made and received numerous phone calls to numbers registered under the names "Nick Prestons" and "Danny Stenzel".
Detective Senior Constable Andrew Booth told the court he believed these men were fictitious, and the phones were controlled by Ms Begum and Ms Mohammed.
Records also showed Ms Chetty also speaking with "Nick Cha", who Mr Booth said he believed was not a real person, and the phone used by either Ms Mohammed or Mr Farras.
These conclusions were based on call record analysis and the phones being pawned through Smart Cash Loans, Mr Booth said.
Mr Booth said the call records suggested whoever was using the "Nick Prestons" and "Danny Stenzel" numbers were contacting Ms Chetty for a reason.
"I believe that they were requiring and pressuring Monika to provide money," he said.
Mr Booth said Ms Chetty was highly vulnerable and he had come to believe she was manipulated into falling for the fictional Nick Cha.
"The deceased believed this male was the love of her life, regardless of never meeting him and even though some of their discussions included threats of violence," he wrote.
"I believe that Begum, Mohammed, Farras and Olariu identified this vulnerability and abused it in a way to be financially viable for them all.
"The amount of money the deceased was receiving either through the visa scam or begging was significant yet (she) remained homeless and was lacking assets in every aspect of her life."
Mr Booth's statement ends by saying it is still unclear who attacked Ms Chetty.
He wrote he was of the "strong opinion" Ms Begum, Ms Mohammed, Mr Farras and Mr Olariu know more than they are saying.
All four have all been legally represented at the inquest and are expected to give evidence at a later stage.
Ms Mohammed's barrister Sam Pararajasingham suggested many of the Indian men scammed by Ms Chetty would have a "powerful motive" to cause her harm.
"I accept that," Mr Booth said.
He agreed none of the scammed men could be completely eliminated.
There remain 129 deposits to Ms Chetty's bank account that police have never been able to identify, the court heard.
Whatever happened to her, Ms Chetty was unwilling to assist police in her dying days.
"You have to find the truth," she urged a detective, her head swathed in bandages.
Whether or not the inquest at the NSW Coroner's Court will be able to remains to be seen.
Ms Chetty's son, Daniel, and sister, Mohini Prasad, attended every day of the inquest's first week, bearing witness to harrowing evidence in the hope it will help them find answers.
So too did Gary Asher, who met Ms Chetty in her last months as she begged on western Sydney streets and gave her an estimated $20,000.
Mr Asher, who is not considered a suspect and says he cared deeply for Ms Chetty, is not confident anyone will ever unravel what happened.
"Answers, where are they going to come from?" he said outside court on Monday. "There's too much mystery involved here."
Originally published as Burned nurse's 'baffling' diary