An inquiry into the disappearance of a World War II veteran will focus on a fake train ticket bought in his name, suspicion that his daughter lied to police, and an alleged confession by the man’s son-in-law.
Leslie Ralph Ball, a retired builder who served with the Royal Australian Air Force in Darwin in 1944, was reported missing by his daughter, Michelle, on May 22, 1993, from Townsville in north Queensland.
Aged 73 at the time, Ball was living with his other daughter, Leanne Phillips, and her husband, David Phillips.
However, he told the Department of Veterans’ Affairs he was moving into a new home by himself in Cardwell, between Townsville and Cairns in Far North Queensland, on April 19.
Leanne claimed she last saw Ball at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane on April 21, 1993, where she had been admitted for an operation.
A coronial inquest into Ball’s disappearance was held in 1994 and 1995. However, new information uncovered by state homicide detectives during two later case reviews has prompted a new coronial inquest.
Barrister Sarah Lane, assisting coroner Stephanie Gallagher, said the previous coronial inquest determined that a train ticket bought in Ball’s name was a forgery.
A train ticket purchased on April 19, 1993, in Mr Ball’s name – for travel from Townsville to Brisbane, departing April 20, 1993 – was described by the investigating coroner as a forgery, Lane said.
Train attendants who gave evidence to police and were shown photographs of Mr Ball stated no one travelled in the seat booked for Mr Ball, and no one of that description was seen travelling anywhere on the train that day.
Ball’s sedan was found abandoned in the train station carpark in Townsville.
He also owned a trailer, which he kept at the house belonging to the Phillips. That trailer contained his personal effects.
The charred remains of the trailer and Ball’s personal belongings were subsequently found in bushland about 10 kilometres from the Phillips’ home.
The investigating coroner found this to be strong evidence that a person or persons unknown had attempted to destroy and conceal the whereabouts of Mr Ball’s trailer and personal effects, Lane said.
The coroner stated it was clear the missing person was, at the time of his disappearance, preparing to leave his daughter and son-in-law’s premises, and there were strong indications to suspect the disappearance may be other than by his own intentions, and that Mr Ball may be deceased.
The two case reviews conducted by state homicide detectives raised suspicion against the Phillips. These reviews were summarised in a report in May 2017.
That report outlined new evidence obtained which police say suggests David Phillips may have been involved in Mr Ball’s disappearance, Lane said.
In addition, Brian Murphy, who was a friend of the Phillips, previously told police that David Phillips confessed to him that he killed his father-in-law.
David Phillips died in 2015 from natural causes.
He is survived by his wife, Leanne Phillips, whom police allege has knowledge of the circumstances of her father’s death and has not provided truthful accounts to police in relation to his disappearance, Lane said.
Leanne and David Phillips did not give evidence at the 1993/94 coronial inquest for health reasons.
A one-day coronial inquest into Ball’s disappearance and suspected death will be held in Brisbane on August 22. It will hear evidence from Leanne Phillips, Brian Murphy, and Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Knight.