May 26, 2013 12:00AM
IT’S A fatal mystery that hinges on a missing medicine bottle, a rumoured love affair and an agonising death by poisoning.
Ian Johnstone was just 38 when he collapsed and died in front of his two children at his home in Inverell, in northern NSW, on December 16, 2009. Despite being found with a locked jaw and foam round his mouth, his family was told the death was probably due to a heart attack.
But Detective Tony Esham wasn’t convinced, evidence tendered during a Coroner’s inquiry shows. He had already flagged the possibility of poisoning with the doctors and medical examiner.
But it wasn’t until toxicology results came back six weeks later that his fears were realised: Mr Johnstone had died from strychnine poison, an extremely painful way to die. Detective Esham informed the homicide squad and an investigation involving dozens of witness statements and phone taps began.
For the first time The Sunday Telegraph can reveal details of the inquest, which heard that by the time police began bugging the home of Mr Johnstone’s wife Sue, she had already become romantically involved with one of her husband’s best friends, Laurence Burdekin, known as “Scrubber”.
Mr Johnstone and his wife had separated and she was living away from the family home. But days before his death she had temporarily moved back to the small family property “Wotcmajig” to finalise property and custody issues.
The inquest was told on the day Ian Johnstone died, Mr Burdekin had driven Mrs Johnstone to hospital after she phoned him at work.
Many of Mr Johnstone’s friends and family told police they believed the pair were romantically involved long before the death, and Mr Johnstone had also spoken of the possibility. But Mrs Johnstone repeatedly denied any involvement with Mr Burdekin, claiming they became close after her husband, an abattoir worker, died. Within weeks the pair were dating and a year later engaged. They now live in the family home where her husband died.
Sue Johnstone, pictured leaving work, now lives with her husband’s best friend.
Detective Esham told coroner Michael Holmes in September, 2011, that police were suspicious that either Mrs Johnstone, Mr Burdekin or both may have been involved in his death. But the couple offered another answer. Mr Johnstone had tried to gas himself in 2007 and they believed this was either another attempt at suicide or a bid to get attention gone drastically wrong.
The biggest problem for police was where was the strychnine?
After interviewing the children – a boy aged 10 and a girl aged 8 – and Mrs Johnstone, the theory was the poison was most likely in a bottle of Combantrin, a worming medicine commonly taken in rural areas.
The coroner reported: “On the evening of Tuesday 15th December, 2009, Combantrin was administered by Susan Johnstone to herself and the two children.
“Sometime during the morning of the 16th the deceased took three spoonfuls of medication. At the time he made the comment ‘Yuk’.”
The court heard he then yelled to his son to get help. The boy tried to use the phone but it wasn’t working so he ran 4km to his grandparents.
After viewing Mr Johnstone’s body police went to the house. They rang Mrs Johnstone and asked her to meet them there, which she did soon after with Mr Burdekin.
Detective Esham told the court police asked her for all medications in the house but they were never given any Combantrin. Police were never able to find the bottle.
In two statements Sue Johnstone said she had nothing to do with the death. In the first interview, police asked her 1074 questions and in the follow up, a further 413 questions. At first she told police that after attending the hospital, she and Mr Burdekin had driven straight to her parents’ place. But a few minutes later she remembered the pair had first visited the house: “We went down to parcel pick-up at Coles and then we took them home to my place, and then we went over to mum and dad’s to tell the kids.” Mr Burdekin’s former wife, who admitted an acrimonious split, testified he had access to strychnine. Strychnine was also found in a shed at a property where Mr Johnstone worked.
Police said surveillance found nothing incriminating. They said suspicions were raised because Mrs Johnstone had failed to tell police in the initial interview the true state of her relationship with her husband. It was also discovered she and Mr Burdekin had constantly exchanged text messages before the death. Mr Holmes found: “Ian Johnstone died as a result of strychnine poising but I am unable to determine the manner in which the poison was administered.” Detective Esham said the file would stay open and hoped new information may solve the case.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
915 168512655 54
his path of destiny = 54 = Clues. It’s anybody’s guess.
predictions for the year 2013 are at:
discover some of your own numerology for FREE at:
learn numerology from numerologist to the world, Ed Peterson: