GONE - The Brooks Family

By Riverine Herald

It was an execution-style killing of the worst kind, with a teenage boy murdered in the most violent of circumstances.

The triple murder of the Brooks family also left two young girls orphaned.

It has been 18 years since the bodies of 34-year-old Barbara Brooks and her 13-year-old son Stacey Willoughby were found in their family car in the Millewa State Forest near Mathoura on March 16, 2000.

Four days later, the body of 38-year-old Steven Brooks was found in bushland 500m from where the bodies of his wife and stepson were earlier located.

All three had been shot to the head with a .22 calibre weapon.

Despite extensive investigations by the Homicide Squad at the time, no-one has ever been charged over the family’s murder.

The murder remains under the responsibility of the Homicide Squad’s Unsolved Homicide Unit.

Unit co-ordinator Detective Chief Inspector David Laidlaw told the ifRiv nfthis month the investigation was awaiting a full review for potential future re-investigation.

‘‘The investigation into the murders will be formally reviewed under the new unsolved framework,’’ he said.

‘‘Members of the community are reminded that a $250,000 reward remains in place for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the family’s murders.’’

Police believe more than one person was involved in the callous murders and the motive was drug related.

In December 2000, NSW Crime Commission assistant director Tim O’Connor re-opened an appeal for information, saying their killers were living in Deniliquin.

Mr O’Connor said he believed Stacie and Barbara were killed to prevent them from talking.

Steven was unemployed at the time of his death and was known to be dealing in marijuana, according to police.

Mr O’Connor said Steven left the family home in Gulpa St about 7pm-7.30pm on Tuesday, March 14.

Dressed in overalls and workboots, he told Barbara and mother-in-law Gladys Willoughby he was going out ‘‘to do a job’’.

Police believe the ‘‘job’’ related to some illegal activity.

At 10.30pm, Barbara received a telephone call at home, made from a public phone in Deniliquin.

Barbara indicated she was reluctant to leave the home, but was encouraged to go by her son Stacie, who offered to go with her.

Gladys was left at the Brooks’ home, minding the couple’s two young daughters, Carrissa, then 9, and Mikarla Brooks, then 6.

At 11pm, police stopped Barbara for a random breath test on the outskirts of town. Stacie was with her. She then stopped to buy petrol.

Police said the family had bought new tyres for the car on Monday and a record of the odometer was taken at that time.

The family’s yellow XF Ford Falcon had not travelled far between Monday and Thursday when it was found on Plantation Rd, with Barbara slumped in the driver’s seat and Stacie in the boot.

Steven, Barbara and Stacie did not return home on Tuesday night. Nor did they contact Gladys to let her know where they were, what they were doing, or when they would be home.

They were seen in Deniliquin at 3pm on Wednesday, March 15, when Steven cancelled a hair appointment at a local salon. An unidentified man was seen with them.

Barbara and Stacie’s bodies were found at 5.30pm the next day and Steven three days later.

Police moved quickly, setting up Strikeforce Rodi to investigate the triple slaying, amid fierce speculation from the public about the motive for the killing.

Twelve months later, police found the sawn-off shotgun barrel and other implements in the forest, 5km from the murder scene.

In December 2001, a coronial inquest into the murders named Deniliquin man Damiano ‘Danny’ Marando as the prime suspect.

However, Deputy State Coroner Jacqui Milledge found there was insufficient evidence for any charges to be preferred.

The inquest heard from Inspector Hans Rupp, who headed Strikeforce Rodi.

He told it: ‘‘Investigators believe that one person acting alone could not have killed all three members of the Brooks family .th.th. what is not clear are the reasons for the murders and who the other people are who were involved with Marando in this ghastly crime.’’

Despite the lack of evidence, Insp Rupp was convinced Deniliquin residents withheld vital evidence from police.

‘‘What has got me absolutely flawed is that in a small town, nobody seems to know what happened,’’ he said in 2004.

Finally, in 2005, in an effort to kickstart the stalled investigation, police offered $250,000 to catch the killer.

It still didn’t help.

Leaving the remaining Brooks family with no answers.

Last year, Mikarla Brooks, 25, posted a tribute on her Facebook page ‘‘Yet another year with no leads. 18 years is way too long. Miss you mum dad and my big bro wishing you was here everyday kills me a little more inside. RIP may we meet again’’.

The mother of three, who lives in Wagga, spoke to the Deniliquin Pastoral Times Last year, pleading with the killer or anyone with information to come forward.

‘‘I would just like anyone with information to just come forward, so our family can get some closure,’’ she said.

‘‘This person was ‘man’ enough to take three lives, a young life included, so they should be man enough to take responsibility for their actions.

‘‘Growing up without parents is hard. Seeing your friends with their parents, doing stuff with them; I just wish I got to do the same.

‘‘Even now when things go wrong or are getting stressful, I can’t go to my parents. So I just deal with it myself.’’

She said annual appeals to find her family’s killer were welcome, but said she does not feel the NSW Police Force is doing enough to solve the murders.

‘‘It’s good that they haven’t forgotten about it, but in a way they have given up because they only reach out to the public on the anniversary once a year,’’ she said.

‘‘They should be going over the evidence again. Maybe they left something out, or missed something.’’