Corryn Rayney was a smart, hard-working woman. She and her family moved to Australia when she was 10 years old, to get away from the military dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda. When she grew up she became a lawyer, and by 2007 she was Registrar at the Supreme Court of Western Australia. She had been married to Lloyd Rayney since 1990, and together they had two daughters. Lloyd was also a lawyer, and the two of them were well-known in Perth’s legal community. In her free time she enjoyed watching AFL football, and she was a regular at bootscooting classes.
Corryn was close to her sister and father, and had a wide circle of friends. She was ambitious, not just for herself but for the people she loved, wanting them to aim high and succeed in life. She wasn’t happy in her marriage though, and was in the middle of separating from Lloyd when she disappeared.
The last time anyone saw Corryn was as she left her bootscooting class at Bentley Community Centre about 9:30pm on Tuesday 7th August 2007. She’d told several people she’d be meeting with her husband Lloyd at their home in Como to discuss financial information to do with their separation. She believed he was gambling and having affairs but was willing to stay with him for the sake of their children if he would come clean about his financial situation. She was in a good mood because he’d been delaying this for a while but had promised he’d have the details for her that night.
Corryn’s oldest daughter had been out at a concert with friends, and was dropped home between 10:30 and 11pm. Lloyd invited the friends in but they said no because it was a school night. The younger daughter was already in bed by this stage.
In the morning, the girls asked where Corryn was as they were getting ready for school. Lloyd said she must have gone into work early. He left messages on her work phone about picking up the kids from school, and an email about her missing their meeting the night before. About 11:30am his office called while he was in court, saying that Corryn’s work was askng about her because she’d missed an appointment.
After calling friends, colleagues and family, Lloyd visited her office and asked for police to be present while he checked her calendar and email for clues about where she might be. By 2:30pm he was at a police station with his sister and Corryn’s father to report her missing.
At 5:30pm a detective attended the Rayney house to speak to Lloyd, the kids and Corryn’s sister Sharon and her family. He asked about her wallet and passport, which both turned out to be missing (she didn’t usually take her wallet with her to bootscooting). They looked for clues about whether or not she’d actually been home the night before or during the day, but it didn’t seem like she had.
Over the next week the family made appeals to the public for information and police investigated her movements.
On the 15th August, someone living on Kershaw Street in Subiaco reported a car which might have been abandoned there. It turned out to be Corryn’s car, and had been there for a few days. Later, detectives discovered it had been there from about 2:30pm on the night Corryn went missing. Her wallet was found inside, on the back seat floor with the contents pulled out and tossed around. Her boots were in the back seat as well.
The car had an oil leak caused by damage to the transmission. It would have been making a horrible noise as it was driven, and wouldn’t have been able to go much further if the driver hadn’t stopped. Police traced the oil leak back to Kings Park, a large area of bushland and parkland overlooking the city centre. It seemed the transmission damage was from driving over a not-fully-lowered bollard in front of a walk trail. Searching the bushland area, police found Corryn’s body in a grave a short way from the track.
A post mortem exam showed that she had been killed by damage to the back of her head, she had a previously undiagnosed heart condition, and she had seed pods from a Liquidambar tree stuck in her hair. Her belt was undone and her jeans were unzipped, but her underwear wasn’t disturbed and she didn’t appear to have been sexually assaulted.
Later, forensic analysis showed scrape marks on her boots plus microscopic paint chips and soil in her bra straps. The Rayney home had Liquidambar trees (which are very common in that suburb) but there are none in Kings Park. The paint samples matched the paving outside the home as well, although the soil couldn’t be ruled in or out and no drag marks were found when the property was searched two weeks after she went missing. Altogether the evidence shows that it’s very likely she made it home and was attacked in her front yard.
- Where was the driver planning to take the car? Subiaco is on the opposite side of Kings Park from Como.
- Where did her passport go?
- What happened to the shovel which would have been needed to dig the grave? Nothing was found near the gravesite or car.
The main types of perpetrators in this kind of situation that I can think of are:
- Violent offenders who lived in the area. Police questioned known offenders and ruled them out, but it’s possible someone was new to that kind of thing. In support of that idea is that she wasn’t sexually assaulted – if someone was planning that and accidentally killed her, they might panic and make stupid decisions. Against that theory is that burying the body in Kings Park and trying to dispose of the car is pretty elaborate for someone who hadn’t meant to kill anyone that night. Alternatively, the police might have ruled out someone more experienced that they shouldn’t have.
- Someone with a grudge against Corryn or Lloyd hrough work or for personal reasons. Police did investigate this angle but didn’t come up with much. Someone lying in wait outside her home and attacking her seems plausible, but then why hide the body and try to hide the car?
- A husband or lover. This is the direction the police took. They questioned a man Corryn had a flirtation with, but ruled him out. They spoke to the woman Lloyd had an affair with a few years before. But when a woman is murdered while she’s in the process of leaving her partner, it’s very common for the partner to be the killer. The attack had happened in their front yard. Lloyd did have betting accounts he hadn’t told Corryn about, and had been secretly recording her conversations with him and other people. So the police had good reason to investigate him. People like to think that violence doesn’t happen in “nice” well-off families, but it’s not true.
The trial and appeal
After 3 years, Lloyd Rayney was charged with murdering his wife Corryn. Then there was another long wait as one of his clients, Gina Rinehart, tried to get all details of her work with him suppressed from the media coverage of the trial. There was also a lot of wrangling over which of his home and office files were protected by legal privilege.
Eventually Lloyd got a judge-only trial in 2012. There was no jury as there had been a lot of potentially prejudicial news about every part of the story. The judge was Brian Martin, brought in from the Northern Territory because nearly everyone in the Western Australian legal community knew the Rayneys.
Judge Martin acquitted Lloyd on charges of wilful murder and manslaughter. You can read the trial summary (PDF) because it was a judge-only trial. He had some harsh words for the police involved in the case, and seemed unimpressed by the prosecution’s argument. The state government appealed this decision, but the court (this time 3 judges from the Supreme Court of NSW) upheld Martin’s original decision.
Then there was more legal wrangling. Police had charged Lloyd with phone tapping earlier but waited until the murder trial was over to proceed to court. He was acquitted of knowingly breaking surveillance laws. Then Lloyd sued the police for defamation over the “prime and only suspect” announcement, and won. He didn’t get the damages he wanted though, so that’s still going. The Legal Practice Board Of WA cancelled his practising certificate over the phone tapping, and after appeals back and forth he is currently not practicing law. He’s also sued for defamation against a forensic scientist for remarks made at a conference, a publisher over implications made about him in one chapter of a true crime book, and some of Corryn’s family for comments they made to the media on the day he was acquitted of murder.
There is still no official solution to this crime. Corryn Rayney’s murderer has gotten away with it, so far.