When Damien Dickie visited his father's property there was an eerie stillness.
His father Robert Dickie, known to friends and family as Bob, lived on an off-grid property in the rural Hamlet of Elong Elong, 50 kilometres north west of Dubbo.
But as Damien walked around the Wattle Road home on June 16, 2016, there was no sign of Bob. His pigs were out, his dogs were in their pens and there was a bowl of eggs left out on the bench for breakfast.
But Bob wasn't there. And he would never be seen again.
Damien and his then-girlfriend had travelled to Elong Elong from Cessnock under the urgence of his aunt Annette O'Reilly, who was concerned about the welfare of her brother.
"We didn't see a lot of Bob ... but he phoned very regularly," Ms O'Reilly told the Supreme Court in Dubbo, during the trial of his accused killer.
"He would always answer the phone. On the odd occasion that he didn't, he would return our calls within 15 minutes or half an hour."
June 15, 2016 was different. When she tried to phone Bob with urgent news about a family member's health, all she heard was the country music track Bob had set as his ringer.
"I left a message and I didn't hear back, so I continued to try to ring. But after the first call, the calls went straight to the message bank," she said.
She tried for more than six hours to reach her brother with no answer. Becoming concerned, she contacted local police to perform a welfare check.
Later she received a curious phone call from the police. They told Annette they visited the property and a woman there told them Bob had gone to a party the night before and said he would be back by 10pm but hadn't returned.
But Bob wasn't the sort to party, or so his family thought, and he wasn't in a relationship.
This raised further alarm with Annette who hoped a visit by Damien would provide answers.
Who was Robert Dickie?
The last contact Damien recalls having with his father was in 2015. Damien had asked Bob if he might be able to look after his son, Dylan, who was struggling with drug addiction - but "they were both dead against that".
Coincidentally, nine days after Bob went missing Dylan Dickie, aged 19, did too.
He was reported missing on June 23 and his motorcycle was later found abandoned at Watagans National Park, south of Cessnock. He has not been seen since.
According to a coronial inquest the two disappearances are unrelated.
Those close to Bob knew him as an animal lover, a car enthusiast and a man of habit and routine.
The twice-divorced father of seven would wake up early to feed his animals and was always back home to lock them in their pens in the evening. He kept his house clean and, according to a neighbour, drank bourbon every day out of a glass he never washed.
Before settling down on Wattle Road in 2012, Bob lived at Laheys Creek near Gulgong where he was a shift supervisor at a mine. Family say it was there when Bob's easy-going attitude to life turned upside down.
In the 1990s Bob was shot in his home by escapees from a nearby boy's home - an event which left him security conscious.
That's why it was strange to Damien when an unknown woman showed up at Bob's house as darkness fell on the evening of June 16, despite his absence. He said his father would "never" leave someone at home when he wasn't there.
As the woman climbed over the front gate and walked up the driveway towards the home Damien stopped her, demanding to know where his father was.
"She said 'Bob's not coming home' and I said 'yes he is, he needs to come home, there's people worried about him'," Damien told the court, becoming emotional on the stand.
"She said he'd gone to a party and he wouldn't be back for a couple of days. She said a couple of blokes picked him up from the side of the house.
"She wasn't very with it ... she was acting a bit weird, very tired looking."
That stranger was Kylie So, a 50-year-old New Zealand national and "very good friend" of Bob ... or so he told his neighbour, Sandra Weavers.
Who is Kylie So?
Too well dressed and softly spoken, Kylie stuck out in Elong Elong, a rural community of just over 100 people.
She was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1972 but her family moved to Vietnam while she was young to escape the brutal Pol Pot regime. She and her siblings completed their schooling in Vietnam before the family migrated to New Zealand.
It was in New Zealand when Kylie, who was assigned male at birth, began her gender transition and got into the sex industry. Eventually she underwent gender confirmation surgery and changed her name to Kylie.
She was a regular visitor to Australia and, in 2011, met Bob while she was working in Dubbo under the name Angelina. Bob found her number on an adult services listing in ACM's Daily Liberal's classifieds section.
Bob and Kylie rekindled their connection online in 2016, exchanging emails and texts for a few months before he eventually invited her to Elong Elong with promises of marriage.
"He said 'come back with me and be my wife'," Kylie told police in a video recording of an interview played for the court.
"He told me he is my boyfriend...He said we will get married soon, but not now. He had plenty of girlfriends but I don't care, he said he loved me."
Kylie arrived in Australia just days before Bob was reported missing.
'She killed him, get her the f-k out'
In the morning of June 16, 2016, Kylie had hitched a ride to Dubbo with a man from Dunedoo.
He remembers Kylie well. When he picked her up she was wearing a blush pink coat and a matching hat more befitting for a day at the races than a day of shopping in Dubbo.
In her broken English told him she wanted to buy groceries and a new mobile phone which would get phone reception. Phone records show the first thing Kylie did when she got her new phone was try to call Bob - to no avail.
The same Dunedoo local then drove Kylie back to Elong Elong. He said Kylie seemed wary when they pulled up at the gate to see that other people were there.
Kylie said when Damien confronted her he was furious, and snatched her phone from her hand.
"He said 'where's my father' ... 'I'll kill you' and he took my phone away. His girlfriend said 'calm down, calm down'," she told police.
But before anything could escalate the police arrived on scene again, and the group, to question them separately. Kylie was taken back to the police station where she slept overnight in the lobby and Damien and his girlfriend returned to Cessnock.
"[Damien] said 'Get the c-t out of my father's house, she killed him, get her the f-k out'," one police officer on scene recalls Damien as saying.
"I said just settle down, we're trying to establish what happened and where your father is."
And so the fruitless search for information began.
The Bob his family never knew
In the weeks and months following Damien's visit to his dad's place, police and emergency volunteers scoured the property and neighbouring properties for any sign of what could have happened.
Police divers searched dams, septic tanks were drained and volunteers combed the area on foot. A search of the house turned up a number of suspicious items including a suitcase found to belong to a male Thai masseuse, an intravenous needle and a firearm magazine.
But no signs of Bob, alive or dead, were found. Even his phone - which mobile tower records show remained in the Elong Elong area until it ran flat - was not recovered.
One thing the investigation did turn up was an "undercurrent" of Bob's life that he kept hidden from most in his family.
"Bob often said he would never have another relationship with a woman at all, that he would only ever have them for sex," Ms Weavers recalled to the court.
"He said all [women] were interested in was his money. He said he'd rather buy sex."
Bob was known to pick up young women from the Dubbo and Forbes area and give them drug money in exchange for sexual favours, including one who in 2012 alleged he sexually assaulted her.
He never told his sisters about these encounters.
Ms Weavers told the court of an instance in 2016 where Bob rang her asking if she had Oxycontin or any other pain medication that he could take to give to a young woman who was staying at his house.
"I told Bob to put the young girl on the phone - she was very strung out, very stressed. She said she was on a methadone program and was trying to go cold turkey," she said.
"I told [Bob] to take her back to Dubbo ... he said he's not taking 'it' back. He treated all the girls like pieces of meat. He had no respect for the people who came."
The needle found at Bob's house was later discovered to have the DNA of that woman. Her partner was a man known to police who had family relations living across the road from Bob.
Police also received an intelligence report in 2010, when Bob lived in Laheys Creek, that suggested he was involved in the marijuana trade. Though the veracity of the report was never determined.
Because of Bob's connections to Dubbo's drug underbelly the rumour mill around town churned after he disappeared.
When the case reached court, locals recounted hearing people known to Bob talking about doing something to him in the weeks leading up to, and immediately after, his disappearance.
Some of these leads were followed up by police, others weren't. Either way the trail went cold.
'The dogs ate dad'
It wouldn't be until 14 months later when police investigators found what they thought to be a breakthrough.
A more thorough search of Bob's bedroom turned up what Sergeant Scott Gane described as a "significant blood shedding event".
A blue light investigation revealed specks of cleaned-up blood on three of the bedroom walls, on the bed frame and on the mattress. And light patches of apparent bleaching on the surface of the carpet corresponded with bloodstains on the underside and underlay.
This - along with the lack of activity on Bob's bank account and Bob's lack of contact with family - was enough for investigators to determine Bob had met with foul play, and they had one primary suspect. Kylie.
Kylie had become so enraged when Bob tried to kick her out of his home, prosecutors would allege, that she killed him. As for Bob's body, prosecutors claimed, she chopped it up and fed it to Bob's dogs and pigs.
This was the theory Damien suspected too.
"I told the police and they told me not to think of it... I thought the dogs ate my father ... that an evil person had done it," he told the court.
The only trouble is, there was no evidence a fight had taken place. No traces of teeth or bones were found in the animal pens. And police noticed nothing unusual in the house in the days following Bob's disappearance.
No blood was found anywhere else in the house either, apart from a single speck on Bob's iPad.
Kylie herself had no history of violence and was cooperative with police until she returned to New Zealand on June 23, 2016.
"I was satisfied she was comfortable in the presence of the police ... She didn't seem like she was hiding anything and she seemed genuinely concerned with the plight of Mr Dickie," one officer who spoke to Kylie on the night of Annette's call told the court.
"Her demeanour appeared normal ... she seemed to legitimately believe Mr Dickie was due to return any time," added another.
Regardless, the circumstantial case against Kylie was strong enough that she was arrested at her home in Auckland, New Zealand on April 7, 2020 and extradited to Australia where she was charged with murder.
She would remain behind bars for three years before the trial began at the Supreme Court in Dubbo on August 14, 2023.
A trial of twists and turns
Originally expected to last just five weeks, the trial dragged on for a marathon eight weeks.
Due to the complexity of the case and the difficulty of finding jurors from the local area who wouldn't be biassed, Supreme Court justice Mark Ierace presided over the case in a judge-alone trial.
Throughout the course of the trial, the court heard from members of Bob's family including Annette and Damien, his ex-partners and a colourful cast of neighbours from the Elong Elong area.
Blood spatter experts debated whether the blood seen in the bedroom was enough to say for sure the person who lost it was dead and blood-stained carpet taken from the home was unfurled in the courtroom for the judge to examine.
Crime scene investigators were interrogated over minute details of their reports like the precise location a fudge wrapper, orange peel and Bunnings stubby were found.
Kylie, wearing a string of white rosary beads, sat in the dock every day of the trial where she was assisted by Vietnamese interpreters. A luxury which was not afforded to her in her early interviews with police, leading to some confusion about her testimony.
But as the trial reached its tail end there would be a twist. New evidence came to light which pointed to an "alternative hypothesis" around Bob's disappearance.
Many of the witnesses called to give evidence during this part of the trial, and the evidence they gave, cannot be shared outside the courtroom.
Many unanswered questions
At the end of the eight weeks there were more questions than answers.
What evidence was there that the blood found in the bedroom was related to the disappearance?
If Kylie killed Bob, how did she dispose of his body and clean up so thoroughly that the police visiting the property the day after he was supposedly killed noticed nothing suspicious?
If the pigs and dogs did eat Bob, how did they devour his body in such a short time without leaving a trace?
And, if Kylie was telling the truth about Bob saying he was going to a party before leaving ... where was Bob actually going?
The questions were enough that on Friday, November 10, after a four-week deliberation, Justice Ierace said he could not say beyond reasonable doubt that Kylie killed Bob and found her not guilty.
"Mr Dickie had associations with multiple local people who had long-term issues with prohibited drugs, who in turn had strong connections with criminals," Justice Ierace said.
"There is a reasonable possibility that he had agreed to meet a person ... and that they killed him, disposing of his phone either with or without his body in a catchment area of the Telstra cell tower at Elong Elong.
"I consider it unlikely that [Ms So] could have disposed of Mr Dickie's body in the time frame in which it must have occurred, if the accused had killed Mr Dickie."
With the not guilty verdict, mystery still remains - what happened to Robert Dickie?
Support is available for those who may be distressed:
- 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
- National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028
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