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By Greg Callaghan
April 14, 2017 — 7.55pm 2017-04-14 9.45am
The brutal murder of businessman Morgan Huxley drew feverish headlines that bore no resemblance to the real person. How did his family cope?
One last beer. Sitting alone at a small table in the front bar of The Oaks Hotel in Sydney’s Neutral Bay, Morgan Huxley sips from his schooner while checking text messages on his Samsung Galaxy phone. It’s just after 1am and the handsome, stubbled 31-year-old is still in the cargo shorts and blue T-shirt he wore to his best mate Chris Maroney’s engagement party in Lane Cove the evening before.
Barefoot – he left his thongs at the informal do – and with sunglasses perched on his head, Morgan texts a friend, Rebecca, apologising for not being here earlier to meet her and a couple of friends. He’s always had a spotty memory for social engagements and was having such a great time at the party he lost track of time.
‘His life was stolen by a worthless psychopath’
Morgan Huxley’s ex girlfriend, Jessica Hall reads out a statement after his killer, Jack Kelsall was found guilty of murder on Wednesday.
After sharing a taxi home with Chris and his fiancée Philippa, who live around the corner, Morgan had asked them to join him for a nightcap. “Nah mate, we’re done, catch up tomorrow,” said Chris, smiling as he watched his good friend walk up Watson Street towards The Oaks, without even ducking into his apartment to grab a pair of shoes.
Morgan looks up at a TV screen on the far wall. It’s well past midnight after the election of September 7, 2013: Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party has been swept from power, Tony Abbott named the new PM and, in the shock of the night, Clive Palmer set to become the MP for the Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax.
Victim: Morgan Huxley.
But Morgan probably has other things on his mind. After a slow month for his business, Huxley Marine, he’s confident he has nabbed a big contract building an ocean walkway on the Central Coast. He sends another text message – this time to an old friend, a woman he’s known since primary school, with whom he was in a relationship for four years.
Morgan isn’t aware of the stranger across the road, standing outside an Indian takeaway, the Curry Palace, waiting, watching. A skinny 20-year-old with curly ginger hair and glasses, who only 20 minutes earlier stood behind Morgan in the EasyMart as he tipsily tried to extract cash from an ATM machine.
A young man who then watched Morgan cross the road in his bare feet and get turned away from the swanky rear bar of The Oaks. A young man who’s already given Morgan a nickname – “No Shoes” – to a security guard outside the Indian takeaway. The pair exchange small talk as Morgan enters the less formal front bar of the hotel. A young man whose given name is Daniel, but whom everyone calls by his middle name, Jack.
Jack Kelsall may look like a typical nerd – docile and owlish – but inside he’s a seething mass of cold anger which, given the wrong twist of circumstance, can warp into something evil, repellent. He’s finished his shift washing dishes for a 21st birthday party at the cooking school opposite The Oaks, but he’s not ready to go home, not now that he’s seen Morgan.
Kelsall’s face might be vaguely familiar to Morgan, who often buys his coffees from the cafe at the front of the premises of the Sydney Cooking School, where Kelsall works washing dishes in a tiny kitchen out the back. Morgan also goes to a clutch of local takeaway stores close to The Oaks Hotel – Crust Pizza, the Curry Palace, and his favourite, the Noodle Star – that Kelsall frequents.
Morgan only manages to finish one beer before a young pony-tailed waitress informs him it is closing time. Morgan swings off the stool at 1.28am, hoists his shorts up from the back and steps onto Ben Boyd Road, the eyes of the CCTV cameras mounted above following him, remembering him. He pauses briefly outside, checks his pockets – has he left something behind? – and peers back through the window at table two, where he was sitting.
Across the road, Kelsall is watching him. Is this the moment when his long-held fantasy of stabbing a stranger, a “random”, to death suddenly snaps into place? Morgan may have a strapping 183-centimetre, 90-kilogram frame, but his defences are down – he’s had quite a few drinks – as he walks alone along Military Road, one of the busiest arterial roads on the lower north shore. Kelsall is coiled, sober, alert, breaking into a rapid walk – almost a jog – behind him. Slung over Kelsall’s right shoulder is a blue Phillips Fox bag, containing a chef’s apron, jacket, Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards and a large Japanese steel kitchen knife. Morgan reaches the lights and commences to cross, followed by Kelsall only moments later; the pair move out of sight of the seven CCTV cameras peering down from The Oaks and other shops.
What happens next on this mild spring night, as Kelsall catches up to Morgan on the median strip of Military Road, waiting for the lights to change? Does he say something to Morgan or stay back in the shadows, following his prey to the compact, two-storey townhouse apartment that Morgan rents with a flatmate on Watson Street, less than 100 metres away? Or does Kelsall already know where Morgan lives, from that other time, nearly six months earlier, when he probably followed him home? Either way, the choke hold on Kelsall’s inner fury is about to break, as he spends the next 20 minutes or so prowling outside Morgan’s unit.
Morgan was always such a positive, fun influence on everyone. It’s just a big emptiness for all of us since he’s been gone.
Dave Connaghan, partner of Morgan’s sister Tiffany
After opening his front door, Morgan switches on the light, pulls on a pair of white runners he’s left under the staircase (perhaps tossing up whether to go out again) and climbs the stairs to his bedroom. After opening a window, he finally surrenders to his weariness, collapsing on the double bed and falling deeply asleep, still in his clothes.
Hearing Morgan shuffling about in his room, his flatmate Jean Redmond, a 24-year-old Irish physiotherapist, gets up to close her bedroom door, blown slightly ajar from a sudden draft of air from the window Morgan has opened. She inserts her earplugs, sets her iPhone to Shuffle and drifts off to sleep, waiting for her boyfriend Ertan Ucar, who spends a couple of nights a week at the apartment, to arrive from his late shift at a kebab shop in Auburn. Redmond, a light sleeper, is awoken again about 15 minutes later by two knocks on the door downstairs. After checking her iPhone clock, she rolls over, imagining it’s a friend of Morgan’s, as Ucar has a key and isn’t due for another hour.
Kelsall is now on Morgan’s doorstep. After knocking twice, the second time much more loudly, he tries the door handle, perhaps with his shirtsleeve covering his hand; it’s either been accidentally left unlocked or not secured properly. Creeping up the carpeted concrete stairs in the dim light, clutching his knife, Kelsall pauses on the landing to get his bearings. Two bedrooms adjacent to one another on the left, a bathroom on the right. The first bedroom door is shut, the second ajar; he can hear a man’s loud snores from within. He puts his left hand on the door, this time leaving fingerprints as he pushes it open, and sees Morgan sleeping in the ambient light, face down.
Kelsall jumps on the bed, pulls down Morgan’s shorts, lifts up his shirt and gropes him. Jolted awake, Morgan lashes about in the dark, but Kelsall plunges the knife into his neck and back. As he desperately fights back, Morgan sustains deep wounds to his upper arms, shoulders and right hand. But the stabs keep raining down – 28 in all – his left and right carotid arteries severing with three-centimetre-deep gashes. One strike is so fierce the tip of the knife breaks, lodging in Morgan’s skull. His anguished screams fall silent; he’s unable to let out even a word because he’s choking on his own blood.
The savage explosion is over within minutes. Kelsall seizes Morgan’s phone and closes the front door behind him as he flees the scene. Tucking the bloodied, chipped knife under his shirt – he doesn’t return it to his shoulder bag – Kelsall emerges on to Watson Street. Here, he either crosses the road into the inky darkness of Cheal Lane behind the Cooking School, or he takes the more direct route home to his parents’ place in Spruson Street, 15 minutes’ walk away. He disposes of the knife somewhere along the way, perhaps in a wheelie bin or among rubbish piled up on the footpaths for a council clean-up. And Morgan’s phone, which he has turned off? Does he dispose of it in the same place as the knife, or hide it – in a place where it will never be found – as a memento?
Either way, at 2.29am, shortly after the attack, Kelsall bumps a button on his own phone, an old Nokia, inadvertently dialling his closest friend. He swiftly ends the call before it has a chance to ring at the other end.
Gasping for breath, Morgan makes a superhuman effort to drag himself off the bed and get to his feet before slumping in the doorway and slipping into unconsciousness. His face and shirt are covered in blood, the bed and carpet around him soaked.
Redmond has already been woken by strange, muffled noises – is it a man’s voice? – in Morgan’s bedroom, followed by thuds, a strange screeching and an other-worldly snoring sound unlike anything she’s heard before. With her mind fumbling for explanations, and worried about Morgan, she gets up, opens her door and turns on the light. She is confronted with a horrific sight.
“Morgan! Morgan!” she screams, shaking his shoulder, before rushing back to her room to grab her phone, in her panic dialling 999, the UK emergency number. Realising her mistake, she calls her boyfriend Ertan, who’s now at Wynyard railway station waiting for a bus to Neutral Bay; in a shaking voice she tells him to call emergency.
When Ucar arrives, Redmond is giving CPR to Morgan on the emergency operator’s instructions. He notices that Morgan’s shorts are pulled down and his shirt pulled up, exposing his genitals. He grabs a towel to protect his dignity and rushes downstairs to wait for the ambulance, which arrives minutes later, at 3.05am. “Please hurry … this way, this way,” he begs them.
A paramedic checks Morgan – he’s alive, but barely. No breath, no pulse, and he’s in cardiac arrest. But he’s young and there’s electrical activity in his heart, so there’s still a chance. An ICU ambulance is called for back-up, arriving within minutes; upon walking through the front door, paramedic David Rigby is struck by the look of unalloyed terror on Jean Redmond’s face, which she is cradling in her hands, bloody from giving chest compressions to Morgan.
By the time the police arrive at about 3.15am, three ambulances are on the scene, and Morgan is stretchered into ICU ambulance 946. Still in her pyjamas, Redmond is driven to North Sydney police station to make a statement; by this time the area around the unit has been cordoned off.
Kelsall is now home in his pyjamas, playing with his games console, a PS Vita, and checking his email in his upstairs bedroom. He’s left some liquorice, which he bought in the EasyMart when he saw Morgan, on the kitchen bench for his mother. He’s either disposed of his clothes or hidden them. He’s not fussed: hanging in his wardrobe are six other sets of chequered chef’s pants and long-sleeved black tops. He barely wears anything else going to and from work; his dream is to become a chef. He can now hear the wails of ambulance and police sirens in the distance.
Across town, in a speeding ambulance, paramedics spend 23 minutes desperately trying to save Morgan, relaying an urgent message to Royal North Shore Hospital: “Male patient with multiple stab wounds, showing asystole on the monitor. CPR in progress.”
It’s 3.30am. Morgan is in an emergency room at Royal North Hospital, but the doctors can do no more. In the car park outside, the paramedics are cleaning up the inside of the ambulance. The pungent smell of chlorine fills the cabin.
Morgan is gone.
Apart from some quotes the Huxleys gave to a local paper, the Inner West Courier, for a December 2013 story to mark the family’s memorial to Morgan on the Balmain foreshore, this is the first formal interview they’ve granted, so profoundly distrustful are they of the press. Morgan’s murder received sensational media coverage. The headlines in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, in particular, were stark and lurid.
In the midst of their grief – as they set about making funeral arrangements – the media madness ushered in a second round of hell for Dee, Tiffany, Oliver and Morgan’s dad, Allan, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home (Dee and Allan split up when Morgan was in primary school). The shock waves of Morgan’s murder also spread havoc among his friends, who were bombarded with interview requests via social media platforms like Facebook.
“Why are they attacking Morgan, saying all this negative stuff about him?” his family and friends kept asking themselves, aghast at the way the media were trivialising a man who couldn’t defend himself. It was almost as if Morgan, an innocent victim, was being publicly shamed – and, by subtext, in part blamed – for what had happened to him. What if it had been their brother and son who’d been murdered? Would they be plastering a headline like STAB VICTIM’S FAIRYTALE LIFE (Daily Telegraph, September 12, 2013) on a story about a book Dee dedicated to her son, when he was a little boy, called Morgan and the Tooth Fairies?
The Huxleys accept that the press has to do its job, but they did expect a modicum of empathy. The Morgan they saw portrayed in media stories was a person they didn’t recognise. When they think of Morgan, they think of the man who toiled six days a week building jetties, ramps and boat sheds around Sydney Harbour, who was so respected by his clients that one left a plaque in his memory on a jetty in Northbridge. They think of the man who loved animals, who adopted a lion and elephant in Africa, who’d made plans with Tiffany to go to Cape Town the following year to take part in a volunteer conservation research project. They think of Morgan’s side-splitting impersonations of Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, how his deep, throaty voice could turn into a high whisky laugh.
Later the same morning that Morgan was killed, Maroney woke up early and he and Philippa decided to go on a long walk to his parents’ place in Lane Cove, where he’d left his car (Morgan, also, had left his car – a new Ford ute – at the party).
He reached Morgan’s street and found it blocked off to traffic, with forensics teams scouring garbage bins, garden beds and drains. He phoned Morgan to tell him about the police activity in his street, but the message went straight to voicemail.
Across town, Dee Huxley was receiving the news that would slice through her soul from two Balmain police station officers, just as she was about to go out her front door. Maroney received a call shortly after arriving at his parents’ place.
ntiDetective Sergeant Mark Dukes’ eyes sweep the contents of Daniel Kelsall’s small bedroom – a single bed, a large bookcase of science-fiction paperbacks, and a laptop – as the young man pulls two ornamental samurai swords out from a black sheath on his bedside table. Kelsall has been asked by Dukes and his partner, Detective Senior Constable Kelsey Priestly, whether he owns any knives.
With his glasses and deferential, if odd manner, this callow, meek youth, who has no criminal history or record of violence, couldn’t be more helpful, good-naturedly escorting the two officers into the kitchen, where he shows them two chef’s knives, a 15-centimetre Scanpan and a Victorinox. Minutes later he pokes his head in the living room, chirpily telling his dad, Mark Kelsall, that he’s popping down to North Sydney police station to make a statement.
Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Dukes secured damning evidence of Kelsall’s fantasies of killing from the latter’s GP and psychiatrist.
Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Dukes secured damning evidence of Kelsall’s fantasies of killing from the latter’s GP and psychiatrist. CREDIT:JAMES BRICKWOOD
Days earlier, after hours of trawling through CCTV footage, detectives zeroed in on a young man in chef’s pants and black top, apparently running after Morgan on Military Road. While not jumping to any conclusions – the mysterious man could be sprinting for a bus at the nearby interchange, for example – they canvassed local business owners around The Oaks, showing them the footage on a laptop. Kelsall was identified by a barista working in the cafe at the front of the Sydney Cooking School and his identity confirmed by Brett Deverall, Kelsall’s boss, who gave the police his employee’s contact details. Dukes was paying Kelsall a house call for routine questioning.
At North Sydney police station that night – the nerve centre of the investigation into Morgan’s murder, which has been code-named Operation Bandt – Kelsall is shown the CCTV footage, and asked why he’s running behind Morgan during an interview that runs for 90 minutes. “It was cold,” he says. “Mum always tells me, if you’re cold, go for a jog.”
CCTV footage of Morgan Huxley walking barefoot outside The Oaks in Neutral Bay at 1.32am on September, 8, 2013.
CCTV footage of Morgan Huxley walking barefoot outside The Oaks in Neutral Bay at 1.32am on September, 8, 2013.
When questioned why he was walking in that direction, when a more direct route home to Spruson Street was via the crossing at Ben Boyd Road, he claims he was going back to the cooking school to check that he’d switched the lights off. He saw Morgan earlier at the EasyMart; Morgan had asked whether he wanted to use the machine. Kelsall replied no, and bought a drink and liquorice for his mother. He saw Morgan again on the median strip of Military Road and smiled at him, but the pair never spoke. He claims it took him longer to walk home than the usual 15 minutes because he’d been distracted by items left out for the council pick-up.
So far, so plausible – just. If Dukes had one word to sum up Kelsall, however, it would be “strange”, and when he asks him whether he’d volunteer a DNA sample, the question hangs in the air before Kelsall politely declines. He’s just one of several persons of interest, including an infatuated ex-girlfriend who turned up on Morgan’s doorstep uninvited one afternoon when he was out, and the landlord from whom Morgan leased his business premises, as they’d had a heated dispute. Despite a wide sweep of the area in the hours and days after the killing, the murder weapon and Morgan’s phone were not found.
Dukes doesn’t consider Kelsall a central suspect until he receives an odd phone call two days later. “I wasn’t telling you the entire truth,” Kelsall blurts out. “You know when I said I hadn’t spoken to that guy – well, I did.”
“Where are you?” asks Dukes.
“In the car park behind Woolworths in Neutral Bay.”
Within minutes Dukes is at the car park with Senior Constable Iain Adcock, interviewing Kelsall for a second time. He tells them he did speak to Morgan – on the median strip on Military Road. “I started talking to him and he was like, upset and depressed, so I said to him, ‘Can I cheer you up?’ ”
He claimed the pair had consensual sex back at the Watson Street apartment, after which Morgan fell asleep and he decided to leave. As he was going out the door, he saw a blonde woman walking towards the unit. “I think that’s why he got murdered,” explains Kelsall, breaking into tears.
“Why didn’t you report this earlier?” asks Dukes.
“I was scared,” he replies.
But Dukes doesn’t believe a word of it. Morgan’s killer is standing right in front of him. Realising his DNA will soon be found inside Morgan’s unit, Kelsall has concocted this story to explain how it got there. Dukes informs Kelsall that he’s under arrest, seizes his shoulder bag, and while he’s at the station between 4pm and 10.30pm executes a search warrant on the Spruson Street apartment, removing his clothes, laptop and the two knives in the kitchen.
In the next couple of weeks, as results from the forensics lab come back, Kelsall’s DNA will be matched to that found on Morgan’s penis; spots of projected blood – Morgan’s – will be found on Kelsall’s shoulder bag, which he’s attempted to wash off; and his fingerprints will be identified on Morgan’s bedroom door. His laptop contains ghoulish autopsy photos and animated child pornography.
But Dukes secures perhaps his most damning pieces of evidence from a tip-off. He contacts Kelsall’s GP and psychiatrist. Only 15 months before, Kelsall had confided to his GP, Dr Susan Allman, about having “intrusive thoughts” of killing someone with a knife on his way home at night. A month later he told psychiatrist Matthew Boulton that he “had thought of killing someone else, for the thrill of it – it sounds psychopathic. No idea why. Going to jail would depend on whether I wanted to get caught. It would probably be a total random, with a knife. I could hide the body.”
While Dukes compiles all this evidence, Kelsall goes to work at the cooking school, visits his psychologist and sees an older friend, whom he’d met a year earlier through the gay hook-up site Squirt. He tells the friend someone has been stabbed and he’s afraid of walking home at night. Kelsall has already stalked at least two more men: one he followed home the week after killing Morgan, almost to his front door, before being told to “f… off”; the other, two months before the murder – a man who was having a smoke outside his unit on Spruson Street, not far from Kelsall’s parents’ home. Kelsall jumped out from behind bushes, but the man chased him away.
While Kelsall is at the cooking school one afternoon, after the second interview at North Sydney police station, his boss, Brett Deverall, asks him whether he murdered Morgan. He looks Deverall straight in the eye and says he didn’t, but adds, “If I did do it, there’s no way they’ll ever catch me.” Deverall knows he is a huge fan of forensics shows such as CSI.
But time has run out for Jack Kelsall. On October 8, exactly one month after the killing, he’s taken into custody. “They’ve got him,” Oliver Huxley tells his mother after taking the call from police.
NSW Supreme Court, Monday March 16, 2015
Every eye in the oak-panelled courtroom is fixed on the young man sitting in the witness box. Daniel Jack Kelsall, the first and only witness to speak in his defence over the murder of Morgan Huxley, is about to give testimony near the end of a harrowing two-week trial. Pleading not guilty to murder and indecent assault, Kelsall appears to be relishing the attention, and is fully prepared for this moment, having taken copious notes during the earlier testimonies of Morgan’s family, friends and colleagues so that his story is rich in detail.
“I want to make amends and tell the truth about the terrible lies I’ve told,” he tells the court and Justice Hulme. He claims he struck up a conversation with Morgan on the median strip of Military Road. “He’d been smiling while we were conversing and he lost his smile a bit and said he’d had a stressful week.”
He claims that within minutes Morgan had invited him into his living room to continue talking, where Kelsall asked him how he relieved stress. “I said, ‘Do you want to do things with me?’ ”
Kelsall says he “fondled” Morgan for about 10 minutes in his bedroom, until he felt something hit him hard on the head; he realised someone else was in the room. “It looked like this other person and Mr Huxley were fighting. I then got out of there – I stood up and ran out.”
Under cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Peter McGrath asks him why he didn’t notice the attacker approaching. “I was concentrating on other things,” replies a smirking Kelsall. When the court is told he is of high intelligence, above 90 per cent of the population, he smiles.
Kelsall claims he lied to police about having gone to Morgan’s unit because he was scared of having anything to do with a murder. The jury do not know about the second set of lies he told in the Woolworths car park, disallowed as evidence because the interview was not recorded. “What a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive,” declares McGrath, quoting Sir Walter Scott, and looking straight at Kelsall.
The jury doesn’t buy Kelsall’s fanciful story. There’s not a shred of evidence that Morgan was anything but heterosexual. Sitting in the courtroom, only a couple of metres from their son and brother’s killer, Dee and Tiffany shrivel as they listen to Kelsall’s testimony.
The court is told how Kelsall, variously diagnosed with Asperger’s, bipolar, autism and depression by different doctors and psychologists, was weaned off Seroquel, an antipsychotic medication for bipolar disorder, and was also prescribed the antidepressant fluoxetine.
Asked why he moved from his birthplace of New Zealand two years earlier, he tells the court that he missed his parents, who had relocated to Sydney. “I wasn’t coping without their support,” he says.
The evidence from Kelsall’s GP and psychiatrist nearly doesn’t make it to court. Two days before the trial, Kelsall’s legal team applied to have the evidence of Susan Allman and Matthew Boulton excluded on the grounds of “protected confidence”.
On March 18, a jury of five men and seven women deliberates for little more than two hours before finding the now 22-year-old Kelsall guilty of murder and one count of indecent assault. He is led out to a prison truck. Kelsall’s father Mark walks up to Crown prosecutor McGrath and thanks him for arguing a fair case against his son. He is devastated, but accepts the court process.
Only a couple of weeks before he is sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison, Kelsall is visited by a psychiatrist at the Remand Centre in Silverwater. Kelsall’s manner is curiously at odds with someone facing the prospect of a life sentence: he is upbeat, chatty and polite. She asks him, as part of a psychiatric test, to define the word “terminate”, to which he responds “to kill. To completely extinguish the life source”. The answer surprises the psychiatrist, who knows the usual response – even from violent criminals – is a simple “to end” or “to stop”. An earlier psychiatric assessment says he exhibits “callous-unemotional traits”. Kelsall has told one doctor: “I don’t get angry… I go into a rage.”
Jack Kelsall being led to a prison van on March 16, 2015, during his trial for Morgan Huxley’s murder at the NSW Supreme court.
Adopted at birth, Kelsall was brought up in a loving, upper-middle-class home and attended a small Montessori school. He went on to study hospitality at Wellington Institute of Technology. The Kelsalls ran real-estate firms in Wellington, offering a very comfortable childhood to Daniel, his younger sister and older brother.
You could spend a lifetime trying to understand the demons in Kelsall’s mind. But in the end, it all boils down to what prosecutor McGrath calls “the prophecy”, the key to it all. Did Kelsall decide to kill Morgan on that night, was he really just a “random”? Or had Kelsall been watching Morgan on and off for months?
Only one person knows the answers to these questions. And he’s sitting in a jail cell in Goulburn.