Family photos of Brad and his father Bevin Simmonds, who vanished in June 2003.
Family photos of Brad and his father Bevin Simmonds, who vanished in June 2003.

What happened to missing Cape York father and son?

IT IS one of the region's most enduring murder mysteries - a father and son vanish without a trace at the mouth of a remote Cape York river against a background of fierce rivalry and a torrid love triangle involving two prominent fishing families.

On the morning of June 5, 2003, trawler captain of the El Dorado Bevin Simmonds and his 10-year-old son Brad went to check offshore shark nets near the Coleman and Mitchell rivers, just south of Pormpuraaw - and were never seen again.

To this day they remain missing. No murder weapon, bodies or boat have ever been found.

Cairns Criminal Investigation Branch Detective Senior Sergeant Ed Kinbacher said the investigation was an open file and would be ongoing until the bodies were recovered.

"It was a huge impact to the immediate family and the professional fishing network who knew Bevin and Brad … and undoubtably still is," Det Snr Sgt Kinbacher said.

"For us, it is an unclosed chapter that certainly we would like to ultimately resolve."

 

Family photo of missing boat with Bevins Simmonds and his son Brad.
Family photo of missing boat with Bevins Simmonds and his son Brad.

 

Word spread fast when skipper and infamous Cape York fishing identity Michael Gater and his mother Joan Gater were charged with the double murder of the missing pair six months after their disappearance.

It was alleged Michael didn't like Bevin and had intercepted his dinghy near a shark net, shot them dead and dumped their bodies.

And just shy of two years after they vanished the case played out in the Cairns Supreme Court.

It was one of the most anticipated murder trials in the Far North and it read like something from a Hollywood movie script.

Michael Gater had allegedly murdered the father and son because he was in love with Mr Simmonds' wife Catherine.

He had been her illicit lover for about a year and apparently wanted more but she wouldn't leave her husband.

The court heard he had allegedly said "I always get what I want" and "it would be easy for Bevin to go missing when he was checking the shark net … no one would ever know".

Crown prosecutors also claimed that Mrs Gater, who had allegedly offered Mrs Simmonds cash and a valuable fishing licence worth up to $130,000 if she left her husband for Michael Gater, had watched as her son murdered the pair and helped cover it up.

Extensive sea, air and land searches were carried out, but police were left baffled with one officer telling the court that is was the first time in six years that no trace was found during a search.

The trial lasted nearly a month and culminated with the jury taking five days to deliver their verdict - not guilty.

 

Cape York fisherman Michael Gater.
Cape York fisherman Michael Gater.

 

Joan Gater, mother of Michael Gater, leaving the Cairns Supreme Court in Queensland after Michael murder acquittal in 2005.
Joan Gater, mother of Michael Gater, leaving the Cairns Supreme Court in Queensland after Michael murder acquittal in 2005.

 

Another bizarre twist came three years after the murder trial when a young Karumba fisherman, who was said to be a close friend of Bevin Simmonds, was found dead.

Brian Dunnett, 24, was discovered in a Weipa public toilet block with a single gunshot wound to his right temple.

The year before the trawler deckhand had been arrested and charged with stalking and making violent threats after he was caught carrying a bullet in his jeans. A court heard he told police he planned to use the .22 round on Michael Gater.

"I carry it with me always because I'm going to hunt down and kill Michael Gater with it," he had said. He was fined $500 for possessing the bullet and being a public nuisance. Brian's family were adamant his death was murder, but police later determined he had died by suicide.

Brian Dunnett was found dead in a Weipa public toilet.
Brian Dunnett was found dead in a Weipa public toilet.