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unsolved Irishman's disappearance from Australian town linked to infamous British backpacker murder

Despite a four-year investigation that has spawned a popular podcast, a book, two movie projects and a $200k reward, the mystery remains

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Paddy Moriarty

Paddy Moriarty

Paddy Moriarty

The disappearance of an Irish pensioner from a tiny Australian town has been linked to the infamous murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio, a new inquest has heard. 

Paddy Moriarty was last seen walking out of the Pink Panther Hotel at dusk on December 16, 2017, in Larrimah which is located some 500km south-east of Darwin following an afternoon boozing.

He got onto his red quad bike with his dog Kellie and neither has been seen since.

The 70-year-old was known as such a creature of habit in the Outback community with its population of just 11 that if he did not turn up at the local pub the licensee would call police.

But despite a four-year investigation that has spawned a popular podcast, a book, two movie projects and a $200,000 reward, the mystery dubbed ‘an Outback Agatha Christie’ remains unsolved.

An inquest into Mr Moriarty's fate that was launched in 2018 has resumed this week at Katherine Local Court.

That inquest has now heard of uncorroborated links between Mr Moriarty's disappearance and the 2001 murder of Mr Falconio, who was travelling through the Outback with his girlfriend Joanne Lees.

Mr Falconio had been with Ms Lees on the Stuart Highway near Barrow Creek, 700km south of Larrimah, on July 14, 2001 when he disappeared.

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Patrick ‘Paddy’ Moriarty, born in Abbeyfeale, has been missing from his adopted home in Australia since December 2017

Patrick ‘Paddy’ Moriarty, born in Abbeyfeale, has been missing from his adopted home in Australia since December 2017

Patrick ‘Paddy’ Moriarty, born in Abbeyfeale, has been missing from his adopted home in Australia since December 2017

Ms Lees said the pair had been flagged down in their Kombi van by a man who had followed them from a roadhouse in his Toyota ute.

The man claimed he had seen sparks shooting out of the van's exhaust and went to the rear of the vehicle with Mr Falconio to investigate.

Ms Lees heard a loud bang and moments later the man climbed into the Kombi with a handgun and tied her hands behind her back. She was dragged to the Toyota but managed to flee into the bush and escape.

Mr Falconio's body was never located but Ms Lees identified her attacker as drug runner Bradley John Murdoch, who had been captured at the roadhouse in CCTV footage.

Murdoch, who maintained his innocence, was found guilty in 2005 of murdering Mr Falconio and attacking Ms Lees. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 28 years.

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On Wednesday, witness Wayne Ledwidge gave evidence about a conversation he said he overheard between a wheelchair-bound man called Brian Roberts and Larrimah pie shop owner Fran Hodgetts.

Ms Hodgetts who had a decade-long dispute with the retired stockman who she blamed for poisoning her plants, had always denied any role in Mr Moriarty's disappearance.

Mr Ledwidge claimed he and Mr Roberts had been neighbours at Katherine, 180km north west of Larrimah, in 2017 before Mr Moriarty disappeared

He said the pair had gone to the Katherine Motor Vehicle Registry one day where Mr Roberts had been approached by a woman he now believed was Ms Hodgetts.

Mr Ledwidge said Ms Hodgetts told Mr Roberts she was prepared to pay $10,000 to “get rid of' someone”.

“She was very loud, abrupt, and said to Brian, ‘That bastard is still giving me a hard time - I need to get rid of him’,” Mr Ledwidge told the court.

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Missing: Paddy Moriarty

Missing: Paddy Moriarty

Missing: Paddy Moriarty

“I asked Brian who the old lady was and he said Fran from the pie shop.”

Ms Hodgetts has said she did not know Mr Roberts, who is now dead, and denied any such encounter took place.

“I never ever ever ever paid anyone to bump Paddy off,” she told the court on Wednesday. “I swear on my mother and father's grave, I don't know him and I never said that.”

Mr Ledwidge later contacted police about the conversation after he saw a missing person sign for Mr Moriarty in Larrimah in 2019.

Mr Ledwidge told the court he did not know Mr Roberts as someone who “takes people out” but said he had heard Mr Roberts yelling at the television when stories about Murdoch were screened.

“He started yelling saying, ‘He didn't do it’,” Mr Ledwidge told the court. 'He didn't do it, you have got the wrong man... he's buried under the tree.'

Mr Ledwidge was also aware that Mr Roberts's stepson was at one time a suspect in the murder of Mr Falconio, according to The Australian.

Another neighbour, Owen Laurie, a onetime tent boxer, had shared a property with Ms Hodgetts across the road from Mr Moriarty after she hired him to do some gardening.

Mr Laurie, who also denied knowing Mr Roberts, admitted having a verbal altercation with Mr Moriarty about his dog three days before he went missing.

The court has heard a listening device was placed inside Mr Laurie's bungalow about two weeks after Mr Moriarty disappeared.

Police say Mr Laurie was recorded singing to himself: "F***king idiots, yeah, tell them what I've done, hit with a f***ing hammer, tell them how I hit you with a f***ing hammer.'

In another recording, Mr Laurie allegedly said: 'Well, they didn't f***ing find the hammer, well they can't get me for anything', according to the ABC.

A third recording allegedly captured Mr Laurie singing: "I killerated old Paddy I f***ing killerated him… struck him on the head and killerated him … basherated him, doof, yes he did, basherated him.'

Mr Laurie has denied making the comments or having had any involvement in Mr Moriarty's disappearance.

Mr Moriarty was last seen wearing a singlet, dark shorts, silver watch and black thongs.

Detective Sergeant Matt Allen took charge of an investigation which faced logistical challenges including the town's extreme remoteness.

There was no CCTV, no mobile phone coverage and no other useful modern technology.

A forensic team sent from Darwin on Christmas Eve, nine days after Mr Moriarty's last trip to the pub, searched his home, his yard and his Toyota HiLux.

His reading glasses were still on a table, Kellie had food in her bowl and Mr Moriarty's hat, cash and cards were still inside his house.

A three-day search using motorbikes and a helicopter that began on December 28 covered 85 square kilometres but revealed nothing.

It wasn’t until about a month later, when news outlets heard of the feud with his foulmouthed, pie-baking neighbour, that Moriarity’s disappearance began gathering national attention.

‘Missing man may have been baked into pie’, ran the headline of a popular TV programme episode while news outlets here in Ireland, where Moriarty had grown up, also published stories.

But with no body and few leads, theories abounded about what might have happened to Paddy Moriarty.

There were some suggestions the 70-year-old was fed to one of the pub’s three crocodiles or baked into a pie by a bitter rival and served to tourists.

Other potential culprits included a sinkhole, a serial killer, a snakebite and a simple heart attack.

Journalist Kylie Stevenson who was one of the few to have met Moriarty, during a writer’s residency in Larrimah a year earlier, began working on a podcast about the town, with Caroline Graham

Their podcast, ‘Lost in Larrimah’, which is part investigation into Moriarty’s disappearance have made Larrimah a magnet for true-crime aficionados from as far away as Ireland and the United States.

On Thursday, Coroner Greg Cavanagh referred Mr Moriarty's suspected death to the Northern Territory’s Director of Public Prosecutions.

“In my opinion Paddy was killed in the context of and likely due to the ongoing feud he had with his nearest neighbours,” Mr Cavanagh found.

“He likely died on the evening of 16 December 2017.”

Mr Cavanagh said the cause of Mr Moriarty's death was not able to be determined.

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