New witness speaks out to solve 52yr McKim-Hill cold case
ON THE verge of celebrating his 80th birthday, Geoff Smith, is a star witness whose testimony promised to crack open CQ's longest running cold case, which occurred 52 years ago.
His discovery as a key witness followed a television appearance in late 2016 where author Shirley Eldridge was publicising her book Mima - A case of abduction, rape and murder about the unsolved murder of her friend 21-year-old Rockhampton resident Mima McKim-Hill.
It was believed that on March 9, 1967, Mima was abducted near Calliope, sexually assaulted, murdered and dumped 80km away in Collard Creek, near Biloela, but her killer never faced justice for the crime.
Mr Smith reached out to the Queensland Police Cold Case Unit to speak with the investigating detective in March 2017 but it wasn't until a year and a half later, September 2018 that Mr Smith was finally approached by investigators to sit down for six hours and give his formal statement.
Given the length of time it has taken to solve the case, and the advanced age of the key witness, and it being six months after The Morning Bulletin's last story about the new witness who could help close the case, it is perplexing that it took the cold case department so long to follow up this lead.
Since the interview occurred, the CQ community and key stakeholders in the quest for closure, including Mr Smith, author Shirley Eldridge and justice advocate Trevor Sorenson have waited anxiously for the police to formally name the murderer of Mima McKim-Hill and close to the case once and for all.
Speaking exclusively with the media for the first time, Archerfield based Mr Smith provided The Morning Bulletin with a copy of his witness statement and a lucid interview where he recounted the day Mima McKim-Hill disappeared and his experiences with the person he believed murdered her.
Mr Smith is a retired former long-distance semi-trailer driver who worked for Mayne Nickless in March 1967, the same transport company who employed the prime suspect in Mima's murder, a German man named Erich Johann Seefuss.
The truck drivers went about their allocated assignments and business completely unaware of the movements and locations of other drivers and their units, unless they made a sighting or made specific inquiries at stop points such as service stations.
On a number of occasions that the truck drivers crossed paths, Mr Smith had witnessed some troubling behaviour from Seefuss.
These included Seefuss frequenting brothels prompting Mr Smith to describe him as a "sex maniac", intravenous drug abuser and with a drug fuelled fiery temper that scared him one night when he went to aid Seefus fixing a tyre on his rig.
"I remember he flew into a rage and threw his spanner into the bush," Mr Smith told police.
"His behaviour frightened me to the point where I got back into my truck and headed off.
"When I heard about Seefus being interviewed by police over McKim-Hill, which was only a matter of weeks after she went missing, I remembered something out of the ordinary that happened with Seefuss early in March 1967."
Former Rockhampton resident Trevor Sorenson, 72, who has led the movement to seek justice for Mima, has pieced together an intricate timeline of what happened on the fateful afternoon that she disappeared based upon the best knowledge of previous investigations and witness accounts.
Mr Sorenson said Mima was parked up beside the corrugated dirt Detour Road ('Goat Track'), killing time waiting for her married boss Isobel Hare, who was conducting a secretive affair in nearby Calliope.
"She would have had to leave around 4pm to be in Calliope before 4.30pm to safely pick her boss up so that they could then travel back to Rockhampton," he said.
A 66-year-old eyewitness, said he saw a female sitting in her Station Sedan car parked on the side of the road with a Ford Customline parked on the opposite side of the road "with two young fellas sitting in the front of it and a young fella standing near the driver's door of the Station Sedan" between 3.30pm and 4pm.
These men are considered as witnesses and were never located.
Mr Sorenson said not long after these Customline blokes left, that a tanker truck being driven by the murder suspect has arrived - a two tone green Mayne Nickless Leyland Beaver forward control prime mover which was towing a trailer loaded with 15t of tallow being transported from Rockhampton's Nerimbera meat works to Sydney.
"The time that the suspect would have arrived in the area with his prime mover and trailer would have been between the 3.30pm to 3.45pm mark and it's been an opportunistic sexual crime," Mr Sorenson said.
It was then Mr Sorenson believed that Seefuss acted impulsively to pull alongside Mima's car and attack her, rendering her unconscious or semi-conscious, pushing Mima's limp body into the back seat and floor area of her vehicle before travelling towards Biloela and launching a sexual attack on Mima and asphyxiating her by strangulation.
Seefuss was suspected to have driven towards Biloela to a more isolated area, with minimal or no chance of Mima's body being located, before dumping her body in Collard Creek, near Biloela before racing back to the Detour Road at fast speeds to dump the car and retrieve his prime mover and tanker.
While Seefuss was gone, some time between 4.30pm and 5.30pm, Mr Smith spotted a Mayne-Nickless prime mover and tanker parked up on the left hand side, off the 'goat track' in a cleared area.
"Because it was a Mayne-Nickless rig, a Leyland, a Leyland Beaver I think, and because we generally drove the same rigs, I knew the driver would have been Erich Seefuss," Mr Smith said.
"I pulled up next to his prime mover and tanker, parking between him and the dirt road, to see if everything was okay.
"I looked, and it didn't have a sleeper cab on it and I looked in the cab, I didn't open the door or anything and I could see that there was no one in there and I walked around the truck and called out, thinking he might be out having a rest in the bush.
"But there was no response. I was a bit bewildered and thought this was odd."
Mr Smith said there was no sign the truck was broken down or having mechanical problems, where he might have expected to see water, or oil, under the prime mover so he checked the temperature of the engine, discovering that it was cold - something he estimated would have taken two or three hours to happen.
The abandoned truck was sighted by witnesses from about 4.10 pm until about 7.35 pm.
Seefuss would later tell police that he had thermostat problems which he managed to overcome; an allegation a qualified mechanic like Mr Smith would dispute saying the truck wouldn't have been able to go anywhere and the engine would have been hot when he felt it.
That night Seefuss made an unscheduled diversion to Brisbane (to shower and change clothes), before going onto Sydney the next day.
Seefuss was grilled eventually by police but subsequently released.
Due to a failure of the 1967 investigation, Mr Smith was never interviewed.
Because Mr Smith had heard about Seefuss being questioned by authorities, and being released and never brought to trial, he dismissed the idea that Seefuss was involved at the time.
Added to this, he said working in an era before truck radios.
Communicating solely by dodgy pay phones, he was out of the loop when it came to following the news.
Further investigations over the years led homicide detectives back to Seefuss as the prime suspect in 2009, to be re-interviewed and faced with fresh and enhanced forensic evidence.
Unfortunately, Seefuss had died six weeks previously at Tailem Bend in South Australia. "Because Seefuss was immediately cremated, and all of his personal possessions destroyed or dumped, it was considered by the QPS that nothing would be gained by attempting any forensic testing specific to Seefuss," Mr Sorenson said.
"The review and re-investigation then basically ground to a halt."
He was extremely critical of the failures on multiple levels of the original 1967 police investigation and maintains that a constant turnover of detectives handling the case, coupled by shortage of staff and misplaced priorities had prevented justice being achieved for Mima after such a long period of time.
He, like many, looked forward to police publicly naming the murderer of Mima McKim-Hill before formally closing the case.
"The one thing remaining which gives me hope that a conclusion will be reached in the foreseeable future, and for some justice to be achieved for Mima and the few remaining members of her family (both parents and her only sibling, a brother, are now deceased), and her friends, is that the current cold case officer in charge has assured me again very recently, that the case file is definitely not back on the shelf gathering dust, and is still the subject of an active and on-going investigation," he said.
In the meantime, Mr Sorenson is continuing to compile a second application to the State Attorney-General, Yvette D'Ath, requesting the re-opening of the original coronial inquest, or for a new and second inquest to be granted and conducted.
To this day the McKim-Hill case remains open with a $250,000 reward on offer for information which leads to the apprehension and conviction of anyone over her death.
Q&A on McKim-Hill with Queensland Homicide Cold Case Unit
Q: Can you please provide us with an update on the progress of the McKim-Hill cold case?
A: The Mima McKim-Hill investigation remains an open and ongoing cold case homicide investigation. We can confirm this case is constantly reviewed and any new information provided to police is investigated thoroughly. This is best exemplified with the new witness coming forward to police.
Q: How many people are currently investigating this case?
A: This is a matter currently being investigated by the Cold Case Investigation Team within the Homicide Group.
Q: Was the information provided by the witness sufficient to progress the case to closure or do you think it would take more witnesses or evidence for the case to be resolved?
A: We can confirm the information was beneficial to the investigation, however we encourage any person with information that may assist our investigation to come forward.
Q: Given that the main suspect, Erich Johann Seefuss, is deceased - how does that change your investigations? Will it make it harder for the case to be closed?
A: The Cold Case Investigation Team remains committed to investigating unsolved homicides and bringing answers to the families of those victims. Any information that is provided to police will be thoroughly investigated in the hope it will bring those answers.
Q: Given the lengthy time spent on this investigation, is there any way the investigation process could be expedited to fully action and exhaust the new evidence and leads generated?
A: Cold case homicides can often be lengthy and protracted investigations by their very nature. We can confirm the matter remains an ongoing investigation and that any information provided to police has been and will continue to be thoroughly investigated.
Q: Do you have a message to the family and friends of Mima McKim-Hill who are still waiting for closure on this 52-year cold case?
A: The QPS remains committed to solving this crime and bringing answers to the family.
We actively encourage anyone with information, despite how small or trivial they may think it to be, to come forward.
If you have any information which could help solve the McKim-Hill murder case, contact the Queensland Homicide Cold Case Unit during business hours on (07) 3364 4150.