‘Mum, people go missing up there and are never found’
TWELVE years on and a mother is desperate to find her son, who police believe has been murdered.
"Mum, you don't understand, these people mean business - people go missing up there and are never found."
This was one of the last things Gina Merritt heard her son Jay Brogden, 21, say to her before he went missing at Airlie Beach in April 2007 - now, as fresh leads come to light, she is calling on anyone with information to step forward to help with the case.
"It's a very traumatic time for all of us. He really loved spending time with family … it hasn't really gotten any easier for us over the 12 years and that's because we have no closure," she said.
Before he went missing, Jay's relationship with girlfriend Patricia Heath had become fractured. Her father and her new lover were out to get him, Jay believed.
The pair had a child, Kira, who was only a baby when her dad vanished. Patricia's new man was a guy named "Shoey" - a bloke who had previously become physical with Jay and warned him not to mess with Patricia.
Days before Jay vanished - his body never found - he lost control and attacked Patricia at a gathering, leaving her bloodied and bruised. When she next saw her father, he uttered the words "I'll kill him", according to coronial findings handed down in 2015.
Also at the centre of Jay's whereabouts was a fight he reportedly had with drug dealing mate Braddon Butler.
Another rumour around the beach town was that Butler had killed Jay for ratting to the police about his drug dealing. According to coronial documents, the police probe centred on three scenarios:
● Patricia's father, Geoff Heath, conspired with Shoey to kill Jay;
● Shoey and Butler killed Jay while fishing and disposed of him overboard; or
● Jay was killed over a drug debt, or was in hiding to avoid consequences for what he had done to Patricia.
He was last seen by friend Gavin Parnell at Reefo's Resort on April 21 about 7.30pm.
"He had a child that he adored," his mum said. "He's really been robbed of the opportunity to be a father, to be an uncle, to be a brother and son. He's missed all the time - there's not a day goes by that we don't think about what's happened with Jay."
His boss claimed Jay was "having a lot of trouble with Patricia"; he cried in front of him three times in the week before he went missing.
The police investigation took a turn when a 'Mr X' came forward in 2010, telling police he and two others were driving to Bowen with Butler when they drove down a dirt track for 15 to 20 minutes. Butler reportedly pointed to the side of the road and said "that's where Jay is".
Jay's cold case is in the hands of eight homicide detectives who came to Airlie Beach after fresh leads emerged about the suspects in January. Detective Inspector Damien Hansen is in "no doubt" Jay was murdered and "confident" the case would finally be solved.
Do you know more about Jay? Email firstname.lastname@example.org