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Bail for accused in cold case murder of wealthy Gold Coast inventor

A man accused of murdering of a wealthy Gold Coast retiree almost three decades ago has been granted bail amid claims detectives made cash payments to witnesses for statements.

Apr 06, 2022, updated Apr 06, 2022
Hugo Benscher was found dead at his Paradise Point home on June 1992. He was 89. Photo: ABC

Hugo Benscher was found dead at his Paradise Point home on June 1992. He was 89. Photo: ABC

Philip Michael Stearman is charged with murdering 89-year-old Gold Coast inventor Hugo Benscher in June 1992.

The high-profile crime baffled investigators until a cold case breakthrough when Stearman, 64, was arrested in Tasmania and charged with murder in 2020.

The former Gold Coast resident has been in custody since his arrest.

But Supreme Court Justice Peter Callaghan on Wednesday granted Stearman bail following a hearing last month.

Stearman’s detention could no longer be justified because of the weakness of the prosecution case, defence barrister Tim Ryan argued during the earlier proceedings.

“The investigation that lead to Mr Stearman’s arrest was a relatively superficial one,” he said.

The prosecution case is based on alleged admissions made to several friends and associates in the years after Bencher was killed.

The court was told the case relied on admissions by some witnesses with extensive criminal histories and substance abuse issues who were paid by police.

Justice Callaghan described the payments as “extraordinary”.

“I certainly have never seen the like,” he said earlier.

The Crown did not comment on the “propriety or otherwise” of the cash transactions, but argued the payments were “relatively small”.

“You say that, but $200 can be a fortune to people with a substance abuse issue,” Justice Callaghan added.

“If the payments were being made on the day a statement was made, it’s hard to resist the inference.”

A committal hearing in December was told Stearman boasted of “killing a guy on the Gold Coast”, discussing it “three or four times” over the years.

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But when asked if he believed the story the witness said “not really”.

“I thought he was a bit of a bragger … it wasn’t something I was overly concerned about.”

Police previously alleged Stearman had been involved in a botched robbery of Benscher’s home.

Born in Hamburg in 1903, Benscher emigrated to Australia in 1948, where he made his fortune by inventing the inflatable ball bladder and valve.

After living most of his life in Sydney, he retired to the Gold Coast in 1986 where he lived alone until his death.

The widower’s body was found by Benscher’s now-deceased former assistant on the kitchen floor of his plush Paradise Point home, tied and gagged with evidence of head injuries.

Footprints found in the canal sand leading to Benscher’s home prompted speculation that more than one person was involved.

Detectives found no fingerprint or DNA evidence at the crime scene.

Only a bedroom where Benscher hid cash was disturbed, with a canvas bag, cash and traveller’s cheques stolen.

-AAP

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