Her Last Lie – Amanda Brittany

Saturday, 23 July NSW Newsroom Online Serial killer Carl Jeffery convicted of triple hostel killings, granted appeal. Six years ago, the so-called Hostel Killer, Carl Jeffery, now thirty-one, was found guilty of the murders of Sophie Stuart, nineteen, Bronwyn Bray, eighteen, and Clare Simpson, twenty-six. He got three life sentences. Now his younger sister, Darleen Jeffery, hopes to get him acquitted. Mr Jeffery was accused of targeting women travelling alone in Australia. He would gain their trust, and when the women ended their relationship with Jeffery, he would tap on their window in the dead of night, wearing a green beanie hat and scarf to disguise his appearance, striking fear. He later killed them. The main prosecuting evidence came from his intended fourth victim, Isla Johnson from the UK, who survived his attack and identified him as her assailant. She suffered physical and psychological injuries. Following Mr Jeffery’s trial, she returned to England where she now lives with boyfriend Jack Green. During his trial, Jeffery broke down when questioned about his mother, who left the family home when he was eleven, leaving him and Darleen to live with their abusive father, who died three months before the first murder. Darleen, who penned the bestseller My Brother is Innocent, has campaigned for her sibling’s release for almost six years. She claims her brother’s DNA was found on Bronwyn Bray’s body because they had been in a relationship, and that this wasn’t taken into account fully at the trial. She also insists the court should re-examine Isla’s statements of what happened the night of her brother’s arrest, suggesting there is no proof that he started the ‘bloodbath’ that unfolded that night. Canberra’s High Court granted permission today for an appeal, agreeing there are sufficient grounds for further consideration of the case.

The hearing will take place on 30 September. Leaving court today, Darleen, wearing a two-piece royal-blue skirt suit, told reporters, ‘I’m over the moon. I believe we have a sound case, and I can’t wait for my brother to be released.’ We contacted Isla Johnson in her hometown of Letchworth Garden City, England. She told us she wouldn’t be attending the hearing. ‘They have my original statements, and I’ve no more to offer,’ she said. PART 1 Chapter 1 Tuesday, 26 July It was hot. Not the kind of heat you bask in on a Majorcan beach. No tickle of a warm breeze caressing your cheek. This was clammy, and had crept out of nowhere mid-afternoon, long after Isla had travelled into London in long sleeves and leggings, her camera over her shoulder, her notepad in hand.

Now Isla was crushed against a bosomy woman reading a freebie newspaper, on a packed, motionless train waiting to leave King’s Cross. The air was heavy with stale body odour and – what was that? – fish? She looked towards the door. Should she wait for the next train? She took two long, deep breaths in an attempt to relieve the fuzzy feeling in her chest. She rarely let her angst out of its box any more – proud of how far she’d come. But there were times when the buried-alive anxiety banged on the lid of that box, desperate to be freed. It had been worse since she’d received the letter about the appeal. Carl Jeffery had crawled back under her skin. She’d hid the letter, knowing if she told Jack and her family they would worry about her. She didn’t want that. She’d spent too much time as a victim.

The one everyone worried about. She was stronger now. The woman she’d once been was in touching distance. She couldn’t let the appeal ruin that. She ran a finger over the rubber band on her wrist, and pinged it three times. Snap. Snap. Snap. It helped her focus – a weapon against unease. ‘Hey, sit,’ said a lad in his teens, leaping to his feet and smiling.

Had he picked up on her breathing technique – those restless, twitching feelings? I’m twenty-nine, not ninety, she almost said. But the truth was she was relieved. She had been on her feet all day taking pictures around Tower Bridge for an article she was working on, and that horrid heat was basting the backs of her knees, the curves of her elbows, making them sweat. ‘Thanks,’ she said, and thumped down in the vacated seat, realising instantly why the bloke had moved. A fish sandwich muncher was sitting right next to her. Her phone rang in her canvas bag, and she pulled it out to see Jack’s face beaming from the screen. ‘Hey, you,’ she said, pinning the phone to her ear. ‘You OK?’ ‘Yeah, just delayed. Train’s rammed.’ It jolted forward, and headed on its way.

‘Ooh, we’re moving, thank the Lord. Should be home in about an hour.’ ‘Great. I’m cooking teriyaki chicken. Mary Berry style.’ She laughed, scooping her hair behind her ears. ‘Lovely. I’ll pick up wine.’ The line went dead as the train rumbled through a tunnel, and Isla slipped her phone in her bag, and took out her camera. She flicked through her photos.

She would add one or two to Facebook later, and mention her long day in London. Your life is so perfect, Millie had written on Isla’s status a few months back, when she’d updated that she and Jack were back from France and she was closer to finishing her book. It had been an odd thing for Millie to say. Her sister knew Isla’s history better than anyone. How could she think Isla’s life was perfect, when she’d seen her at her most desperate? Felt the cruel slap of Isla’s anger. Eyes closed, Isla drifted into thoughts of Canada. She was going for a month. Alone. Canada. The place she would have gone to after Australia if life hadn’t forced a sharp change of direction.

Going abroad without Jack wouldn’t be easy. But then he couldn’t keep carrying her. She had to face it alone. And it would be the perfect escape from the pending appeal. With a squeal of brakes, the train pulled in to Finsbury Park, and fish-sandwich man grunted, far too close to Isla’s ear, that it was his stop. She moved so he could pass, and shuffled into the window seat. Through the glass, overheated people poured onto the platform, and her eyes drifted from a woman with a crying, red-faced toddler, to a teenage boy slathering sun cream onto his bare shoulders. ‘Isla?’ Someone had sat down next to her, his aftershave too strong. She turned, her chest tightening, squeezing as though it might crush her heart. ‘Trevor,’ she stuttered, suddenly desperate to get up and rush through the door before it hissed shut.

But it did just that – sucking closed in front of her eyes, suffocating her, preventing any escape from her past. ‘I thought it was you,’ he said, as the train pulled away. He was still handsome and athletic. Gone were his blond curls, replaced by cropped hair that suited him. He was wearing an expensive-looking suit, a tie loose in the neck, his tanned face glowing in the heat. Her heartbeat quickened. It always did when anything out of the ordinary happened, and seeing Trevor for the first time in years made her feel off-kilter. The man she’d hurt at university was sitting right next to her, his face creased into a pleasant smile, as though he’d forgotten how things had ended between them. ‘You haven’t changed,’ he said. ‘Still as beautiful as ever.

’ He threw her a playful wink, before his blue eyes latched on to hers. ‘I can’t believe it’s been eight years. How are you?’ She’d forgotten how soft his voice was, the slight hint of Scotland in his accent. He’d always been good to talk to. Always had time for everyone at university. But the chemistry had never been there – for her anyway – and they’d wanted different things from their lives. ‘I’m good – you?’ she said, as her heart slowed to an even beat. He nodded, and a difficult silence fell between them. This was more like it. This was how things had been left – awkward and embarrassing.

An urge to apologise took over. But it was far too late to say sorry for how she’d treated him. Wasn’t it? ‘I’ve often thought about you,’ he said, and she tugged her eyes away from his. ‘You know, wondering what you’re up to. I heard what happened in Australia.’ ‘I prefer not to talk about it.’ It came out sharp and defensive. ‘Well, no, I can see why you wouldn’t want to. Must have been awful for you. I’m so sorry.

’ Quickly, Isla changed the subject, and they found themselves bouncing back and forth memories of university days, avoiding how it had ended. ‘You’re truly remarkable,’ Trevor said eventually. ‘You know, coming back from what you went through.’ After another silence, where she stared at her hands, she said, ‘It was hard for a time … a really long time, in fact.’ She hadn’t spoken about it for so long, and could hear her voice cracking. ‘But you’re OK now?’ He sounded so genuine, his eyes searching her face. She shrugged. ‘His sister . ’ Would it be OK to talk to Trevor about the appeal? Tell him about Darleen Jef ery? Ask him what kind of woman fights their brother’s innocence, when it’s so obvious he’s a monster? There was a huge part of Isla that desperately needed to talk. Say the words she couldn’t say to Jack or her family for fear they would think she was taking a step back.

Vocalise the fears that hovered under the surface. The desire to tell someone about the Facebook message she’d received from Darleen Jeffery several months ago was overwhelming. ‘I need to discuss the truth, Isla,’ it had said. ‘His sister fought for an appeal and won,’ she went on, wishing immediately that she’d said nothing. ‘Jesus.’ He looked so concerned, his eyes wide and fully on her. ‘When is it?’ ‘The end of September.’ The words caught in her throat. ‘Are you going?’ She shook her head. She’d contacted the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Told them she wouldn’t be attending, that she didn’t want to know the outcome. Being in a courtroom with him again would be like resting her head on a block, Carl Jeffery controlling the blade. ‘I can’t face it,’ she said, her voice a whisper. ‘I don’t blame you.’ He shook his head. ‘It’s sickening that he killed three women. Unbelievable.’ She thought of lovely Jack, knowing how hurt he would be if he knew she was keeping the appeal – and the way it was affecting her – from him. He would be hurt if he knew that within a few minutes of meeting her ex, she was confiding in him – letting it all out. But there was something oddly comforting in the detached feeling of talking to an almost-stranger on a train – because that’s what he was now.

Someone she probably wouldn’t see again for another eight years. ‘I’ll be in Canada when it takes place. I can forget it’s even happening. And I’ve told them I don’t want to know the outcome.’ She pinged the band on her wrist, before turning and fixing her eyes hard on the window, a surge of tears waiting to fall. She needed to change the subject. ‘So what are you up to now?’ ‘I’m a chemist,’ he said, his tone upbeat. ‘Not a forensic scientist, then?’ That had been his dream. ‘Never happened, sadly,’ he said. ‘I’m working on a trial drug at the moment.

’ ‘Sounds interesting.’ Her eyes were back on him. He shrugged. ‘Not really. Not as interesting as travel writing.’ She stared, narrowing her eyes. ‘You know I’m a travel writer?’ He smiled. ‘I guessed.’ He nodded at her camera. ‘You wanted to be the next Martha Gellhorn.

’ ‘You remember that?’ He nodded, entwining his fingers on his lap, eyes darting over her face. ‘You haven’t changed,’ he said again. She knew she had. Her blonde hair came out of a bottle these days, and there was no doubting she was different on the inside. She looked away again, through the window where fields were blurs of green. As seconds became minutes he said, ‘Maybe we could catch up some time. Now we’ve found each other again.’ Words bounced around her head, as a prickle of sweat settled on her forehead. She didn’t want to be unkind, but she was with Jack, and even if she wasn’t, there was nothing there – not even a spark. She turned to see his cheeks glowing red, and an urge to say sorry for hurting him all those years ago rose once more.

‘I’m with someone,’ she said instead. ‘That’s cool. Me too,’ he said, with what seemed like a genuine smile. ‘I meant as friends, that’s all.’ He pulled out his phone, the yellow Nokia he’d had at university. ‘We could exchange numbers.’ His shoulders rose in a shrug, making him look helpless. ‘It would be good to meet up some time.’ *** Triple-glazed windows sealed against the noise of heavy traffic rattling along the road outside, and a whirring fan that was having little effect, meant the apartment felt even hotter than outside. Isla hated that she couldn’t fling open the windows to let the fresh air in.

Sometimes she would grab her camera, jump into her car, and head to the nearby fields to snap photographs of the countryside: birds and butterflies, wild flowers, sheep, horses, whatever she could find – pictures she would often put on Facebook or Instagram. ‘Can you open that, please?’ She plonked the chilled bottle of wine she’d picked up from the offlicence in front of Jack on the worktop. ‘I desperately need a shower.’ He looked up from chopping vegetables. ‘Well hello there, Jack, how was your day?’ ‘Sorry,’ she said, tickling their cat, Luna, under the chin before stroking her sleek, grey body. ‘I’m so, so hot. Sorry, sorry, sorry.’ She disappeared into the bedroom, stripping off her clothes, and dropping them as she went. Fifteen minutes later she was back, in shorts and a T-shirt, damp hair scooped into a messy bun. She picked up the glass of wine that Jack had poured.

‘God, that’s better,’ she said, taking a swig. She smiled, and touched Jack’s clean-shaven cheek. ‘Well, hello there, Jack, how was your day?’ He laughed, and plonked a kiss on her nose. ‘Well Tuesday’s done. I’ll be glad when I’m over hump Wednesday.’ ‘Wednesday’s the new Thursday, and Thursday’s the new Friday.’ ‘Must be the weekend then.’ He raised his glass. ‘Cheers.’ She pulled herself onto a stool.

‘I saw an old boyfriend on the train home. Trevor Cooper.’ The guilt of talking about the appeal made her want to tell Jack. ‘The bloke you went out with at uni?’ ‘Aha.’ ‘Should I be jealous?’ he teased. ‘God no.’ She took another gulp of wine, before adding, ‘He was suggesting I meet with him some time.’ Jack’s eyebrows rose, and a playful smile dimpled his cheeks. ‘Do you fancy him?’ She shook her head. ‘Of course not.

’ He laughed as he put chicken onto plates. ‘Well, go ahead then; you have my blessing.’ ‘I’d go without it, if I wanted to,’ she said, with a laugh. They’d been together two years. He should be able to trust her. ‘To be honest,’ she continued, ‘I’m not sure I want to meet up with him. I’ll think of an excuse if he texts. Maybe come down with something contagious.’ Jack smiled and shoved a plate of delicious-looking food in front of her. She picked up a fork and began tucking in, making appreciative noises.

‘I probably shouldn’t have given him my number.’ ‘And you did, because?’ She shrugged, remembering. ‘I suppose I didn’t want to hurt his feelings again.’ There was a clatter, and Luna, green eyes flashing, jumped off the worktop with a huge piece of French bread in her mouth. ‘Luna, you little sod,’ Jack yelled, diving from his stool. ‘Has that “how to train a cat” book arrived yet?’ Isla didn’t respond, deep in thought. ‘If you don’t want to meet him, Isla,’ he said, long legs leaping after Luna, ‘just ignore him if he texts.’ He grabbed the cat, wrestled free the bread, and chucked it in the bin. ‘Simple.’ ‘Maybe,’ she said.

Later, Isla sat on her mobile phone watching cute cats on YouTube, as Jack watched a documentary about Jack the Ripper. Her phone buzzed. Trevor had sent her a friend request on Facebook, and a message saying how great it had been to see her again. She stared at the screen for some moments, and then looked at Jack sprawled full length on the sofa. Trevor was just being friendly, and anyway, her conscience wouldn’t allow her to ignore him. She had loads of friends she barely knew any more on Facebook. What harm could another person do? She added him as a friend. Chapter 2 Three months later Tuesday, 25 October Isla dashed towards Heathrow Airport’s luggage claim conveyors, and eased her tired body between a heavy man in his fifties with a mobile pinned to his ear, and a family with two teenage daughters staring at phone screens. She sighed. Just a solitary red case was going round and round and round.

The cases hadn’t been released yet. Heavy-man turned and flashed her a smile. He’d sat next to her on the plane, taking up part of her seat as well as his own, his sickly aftershave making her head throb. ‘Hold this,’ one of the girls said, handing her sister an energy drink and stomping away, eyes still on her phone. ‘I need the loo.’ Isla closed her eyes. Her head ached worse than it had on the plane. Drinking several small bottles of wine hadn’t been a good idea. Her mouth was dry, as though someone had installed a dehumidifier on her tongue. Thirty-six hours ago she’d been snapping incredible photographs from a train window.

The icecapped peaks and remarkable alpine lakes of the Canadian Rockies had been just two of the many things that had made the leap of faith to jump on a plane alone worth it. ‘I landed about an hour ago, Sean, mate.’ Heavy-man’s tone jarred. ‘Should be at yours by ten if the traffic isn’t shit.’ A trolley bumped her ankle. ‘Fuck,’ she muttered under her breath, turning to give the culprit her best cross look. But the man was elderly with white hair and wire glasses, reminding her of her granddad. She would let him off, but still needed to free herself from the people-coffin she’d found herself in. The eight-hour flight from Canada had been bad enough, but this, when she was tired and hungry, was too much. She rubbed her cheeks and neck.

She wanted to be at home in her shower, letting water flow over her, and then to fall into bed next to Jack and enjoy a long uninterrupted sleep. At first she’d missed having Jack by her side, like a child deprived of her security blanket. Taking off on the trip alone hadn’t been anywhere near as easy as it had been eight years before, when she’d raced into the unknown after university for what was meant to be a gap year, but had drifted into two. Back then, she’d travelled alone, clueless about where her next bed would be, or what job she might pick up along the way, all without fear. She longed to be that person again: the girl with her life ahead of her, before Carl Jeffery took a metaphorical sledgehammer and wrecked the mechanics of her mind. She pinged the rubber band on her wrist and, taking a long, deep breath, tucked her hair behind her ears, and moved away from the crowd, clinging to how perfect Canada had been. She pulled her phone from her carry-on bag and turned it on. She’d avoided the Internet and social media while away, worried she might find out something about the appeal. But now a month had passed. Whatever the outcome, it would be old news.

And being off the Internet meant she’d immersed herself in her Canadian adventure, and also worked on her book. Her phone adjusted to the London time zone, and picked up her network, bleeping, pinging, buzzing, as she was sucked once more into the frenzy of social media. Within moments she was blocking newsfeeds on Facebook and Twitter, muting notifications – hiding friends who continually shared news articles – she didn’t expect there to be any news about the appeal; it had been a month, after all – but she was taking no chances. On WhatsApp, Millie had added her to a chat about a six-part murder mystery on Netflix. Isla hadn’t seen it, but her sister had given away so many spoilers, adding emoticons, that it probably wasn’t worth watching it now. Julian had added a comment: You’re totally useless, Millie. Isla sighed. Why did her sister stay with him? On Instagram, Roxanne had put on a stream of photographs of struggling refugees – another cause for her best friend’s overcrowded, want-to-help-everyone head. Millie had put on twenty-or-so photographs of her new puppy, Larry, who looked good enough to eat. And Isla’s mum, who didn’t understand Instagram, and was pretty rubbish with anything to do with social media, had added a photograph of a chicken casserole for no apparent reason.

Twitter was dominated by Roxanne’s pleas to save foxes and badgers, and there was a string of Tweets by a magazine Isla regularly wrote for, and several updates from UK Butterflies. Facebook was crowded by engagements and late holidays to the Mediterranean all jostling for attention. There was a wedding of an online friend Isla had forgotten she had, and another friend’s mother had passed away – Expected, she was 91, but still gutted – feeling sad. There was a rare update by Trevor Cooper – Really must get on here more, and stop being an Internet dinosaur. Nobody had liked it, but then he didn’t have many friends. When he’d failed to get in contact again three months ago, after their chance meeting on the train, Isla hadn’t thought any more about him, pushing him far from her thoughts. Maybe she could unfriend him now. As she scrolled, she realised she could whittle her eight hundred-or-so friends, mainly picked up from university and her travels, down to a hundred, and still not recognise some of them in the street. She wasn’t sure she even liked Facebook. In fact, sometimes she’d go on there and feel exposed.

‘Isla, nobody’s looking at you, lovely lady,’ Roxanne had said, when Isla had tried to explain her feelings. ‘And I mean that in the nicest way. They’re just having fun sharing what they’ve been up to.’ There was a thump behind her, and she turned to see a black case rumble down the conveyor. Heavy-man barged forward, grabbed it, and once it was on the floor in front of him he yanked out the handle as though gutting a fish. He pushed past the teenage girls and the elderly man, veins in his forehead pulsing as he marched towards Isla. ‘Facebook,’ he said, nodding towards Isla’s open screen as he walked by. ‘Dangerous place the Internet. You heard it here first.’ She watched him rush through Nothing to Declare.

Not if you use it right, surely. Sidling up behind the elderly man, she waited for her case to appear, her eyes back on her phone world. She began typing: WhatsApp: Hi, Jack, I’m back. Hope you’re OK. I’m SO tired, and probably won’t be home until gone midnight. Don’t wait up, as you need your beauty sleep. Not that you’re not beautiful, of course. Love you, Isla XX Text: Hi, Mum, back safe. I hope you and Dad are OK. I’ll call you soon.

Love you, Isla XX Facebook: Landed in the UK – Canada was a-ma-zing. I’ll upload some photos here on the train home. Feeling exhausted, but still have to tackle the underground. AHHHHH! She was about to close the Facebook app, when she noticed Trevor had liked her status, and that Julian had left a comment. Does this mean you’ve FINALLY finished your book? Before either could properly sink in, her phone pinged. WhatsApp: Welcome back, gorgeous lady. I’m not at home, won’t be back until tomorrow. My mum was taken ill so had to go down to Dorset. Will fill you in more in the morning. Should be home around ten.

Luna’s with your mum. I’ll pick her up on my way home. Hope you had a great time. Love you, Jack x.

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