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How Irishman Paddy Moriarty and his dog disappeared from an Outback town with a dozen residents

Paddy Moriarty was a creature of habit in a tiny Outback community where the publican would call police if one of his regulars did not show up at the bar. 

So everyone in Larrimah immediately knew something was wrong when Paddy and his dog could not be found in their town, about 500 kilometres south-east of Darwin.

More than 18 months after the last known sighting of the 70-year-old and his kelpie cross Kellie the dozen residents of Larrimah still don’t know what happened to the retired stockman.

He walked out of the Pink Panther Hotel at dusk on December 16, 2017, got onto his red quad bike with Kellie and was gone. 

Irish-born Paddy, who had no known family in Australia, was last seen wearing a singlet, dark shorts, silver watch and black thongs. 

The strange disappearance of Paddy Moriarty is one of 13 mysteries to be featured in a new book by crime writer Justine Ford called Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls.

Paddy Moriarty (pictured) walked out of the Larrimah hotel about five hours’ drive south of Darwin at dusk on December 16, 2017. He got onto his red quad bike with his kelpie cross Kellie and was never seen again. Police fear the 70-year-old Irish-born stockman met with foul play

Paddy Moriarty drank every day at the Larrimah Hotel, also known as the Wayside Inn and the Pink Panther. He would down eight cans of XXXX Gold beer then ride the 200 metres home

Paddy Moriarty drank every day at the Larrimah Hotel, also known as the Wayside Inn and the Pink Panther. He would down eight cans of XXXX Gold beer then ride the 200 metres home

Paddy Moriarty left his hat (pictured), keys, cash and cards behind at his home, items friends said he would never go out without.  Paddy's house was just 200 metres from the local pub

Paddy Moriarty left his hat (pictured), keys, cash and cards behind at his home, items friends said he would never go out without.  Paddy’s house was just 200 metres from the local pub

Ford writes that if the suspected murder of Paddy had taken place in a more genteel location the reader might think the story came from the pages of an Agatha Christie crime novel.

‘The tale of Paddy’s disappearance has all the ingredients of a classic whodunnit,’ Ford writes in Lost Boys, Gone Girls. ‘An out-of-character disappearance, a detective consumed by the case, colourful local characters, and long-held rivalries.’

Larrimah these days is little more than a pub, a garbage tip and a pie shop. 

When the first city detectives responded to a report Paddy had gone missing they had a five-hour drive down the Stuart Highway from the Northern Territory’s capital. 

Detective Sergeant Matt Allen took charge of an investigation which faced logistical challenges including the town’s extreme remoteness from the start. 

There was no CCTV, no mobile phone coverage and no other useful modern technology.

A forensic team sent from Darwin on Christmas Eve, nine days after Paddy’s last trip to the pub, searched his home, his yard and his Toyota HiLux.

'The tale of Paddy's disappearance has all the ingredients of a classic whodunnit,' true crime author Justine Ford writes in Lost Boys, Gone Girls. 'An out-of-character disappearance, a detective consumed by the case, colourful local characters, and long-held rivalries'

‘The tale of Paddy’s disappearance has all the ingredients of a classic whodunnit,’ true crime author Justine Ford writes in Lost Boys, Gone Girls. ‘An out-of-character disappearance, a detective consumed by the case, colourful local characters, and long-held rivalries’

Larrimah, on the Stuart Highway, is about 500 kilometres south-east of Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, and about 180 kilometres south-east of the municipal seat of Katherine

Larrimah, on the Stuart Highway, is about 500 kilometres south-east of Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, and about 180 kilometres south-east of the municipal seat of Katherine

Paddy Moriarty never left home without his 12-month-old kelpie cross Kellie (pictured)

Paddy Moriarty never left home without his 12-month-old kelpie cross Kellie (pictured)

His reading glasses were still on a table, Kellie had food in her bowl and Paddy’s hat, cash and cards were still in the house. 

A three-day search using motorbikes and a helicopter began on December 28 and covered 85 square kilometres but revealed nothing. 

The local tip, which was about a kilometre from Paddy’s house, was picked apart in January and again nothing useful turned up. 

Police found no evidence of a road accident, no sign Paddy and Kellie had been taken by wild dogs or pigs and no sinkholes that contained a body.

One of the strongest indicators that Paddy had met with foul play was a cooked Woolworths chicken in a bag dated December 16 which was found in his microwave. 

The chook had been bought by a tourist and given to Paddy the last evening he was seen at the pub.

Whatever happened to Paddy Moriarty is an Outback mystery which Ford and Northern Territory Police hope readers might help finally solve. 

Police found no evidence of a road accident, no sign Paddy and Kellie had been taken by wild pigs and no sinkholes that contained a body. Whatever happened to Paddy Moriarty is an Outback mystery which Ford and Northern Territory Police hope readers might help solve

Police found no evidence of a road accident, no sign Paddy and Kellie had been taken by wild pigs and no sinkholes that contained a body. Whatever happened to Paddy Moriarty is an Outback mystery which Ford and Northern Territory Police hope readers might help solve

A search of Paddy Moriarty's home (pictured) in Larrimah revealed no signs he had intended to go away. His cash and cards were still in the house and his reading glasses were on a table

A search of Paddy Moriarty’s home (pictured) in Larrimah revealed no signs he had intended to go away. His cash and cards were still in the house and his reading glasses were on a table 

The following is an edited extract from Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford (Macmillan Australia) RRP $32.99, available now: 

‘He was a terrific bloke, one of the best blokes living in this town, bar none,’ says Barry Sharpe, the former owner of the gloriously quirky bush pub the Larrimah Pink Panther Hotel, which has – no surprise here – a giant Pink Panther out the front. The pub is also home to the Big Stubby and has a zoo full of rescued wildlife – including a three-and-a-half-metre saltwater croc called Sneaky Sam.

Paddy Moriarty worked for Barry, but they were also best mates. ‘I’ve known him a long time, since before he came to Larrimah,’ says Barry, who met Paddy years earlier in Daly Waters, another roadside community an hour or so south of Larrimah.

In his late teens Paddy emigrated to Australia from Ireland with nothing more than a few bob in his pocket, a sense of adventure and a cheeky grin. It was 1966 and he could not have found a place less like the gentle green hills surrounding his hometown of Limerick than the remote, hot, dusty and dangerous Northern Territory outback. But in this new land he could create the kind of life he wanted, far from the crushing poverty of his childhood. There was plenty of work in the Top End for someone who wasn’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and Paddy became a sought-after stock worker, known as a ‘ringer’ in the Northern Territory.

The Larrimah hotel, which has a giant Pink Panther out the front, is home to the Big Stubby and has a zoo full of rescued wildlife including a 3.5 metre saltwater crocodile called Sneaky Sam

The Larrimah hotel, which has a giant Pink Panther out the front, is home to the Big Stubby and has a zoo full of rescued wildlife including a 3.5 metre saltwater crocodile called Sneaky Sam

Paddy Moriarty's glasses were found where he left them at home. Every morning he put his kelpie cross Kellie on his quad bike and drove to the pub to clean the toilets and do odd jobs

Paddy Moriarty’s glasses were found where he left them at home. Every morning he put his kelpie cross Kellie on his quad bike and drove to the pub to clean the toilets and do odd jobs

Paddy lived by himself but was never short of company. In the decade he spent in Larrimah, which has a population of twelve, people gravitated towards the cheerful Irishman. Aside from the locals, Larrimah attracted a steady influx of tourists and truck drivers along the Stuart Highway, and if Paddy liked you, he was always up for a bit of banter and a laugh.

There was much about life in Larrimah that suited Paddy, who was a stickler for routine. Every morning he put his red kelpie cross, Kellie, on the back of his shiny red quad bike and drove to the pub where he cleaned the toilets and did odd jobs. When the clock struck midday he downed tools, put his debit card on the bar and withdrew twenty dollars. He then used his card to buy four cans of XXXX Gold beer. Once he’d drunk them he’d use the cash he’d already withdrawn to buy four more. It was a funny system, but it was Paddy’s way.

With eight beers under his belt, Paddy – who bore more than a passing resemblance to the late country singer Smoky Dawson – would turn to his dog and say, ‘All right, it’s time to go!’ Kellie would then jump on the back of Paddy’s bike and they’d ride the two hundred metres home and settle in for the night. He’d had one-year-old Kellie for a couple of months; prior to that a border collie named Rover had been his faithful companion for sixteen years.

One of the strongest indicators that Paddy had met with foul play was a cooked Woolworths chicken in a wrapper dated December 16 which was found in his microwave (pictured). The chook had been bought by a tourist and given to Paddy the last evening he was seen at the pub

One day, when Paddy failed to turn up at the pub, his mate Barry knew something was up. Paddy was not at home either, and nor was Kellie, whose lead was inside the house. Knowing better than anyone that Paddy was a creature of habit and would not go anywhere without telling him, Barry reported him missing at four o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesday, 19 December 2017.

As his fears mounted, Barry called the police twice more and asked them to send the sergeant from the nearest police station in Mataranka to investigate, which they did. It took Sergeant Tom Chalk about an hour to drive to Larrimah and when he arrived locals were searching the bushland for their neighbour. A search and rescue team, police tactical response officers and emergency services volunteers joined in. The hope was that Paddy and Kellie might still be found alive. Even as the mercury soared and hope started to fade, the searchers did not stop scouring the bush on foot, on motorbikes and from the air.

A three-day search using motorbikes and a helicopter began on December 28, 2017 and covered 85 square kilometres but revealed nothing. The local tip, which was about a kilometre from Paddy's house, was picked apart in January (pictured) and again nothing useful turned up

A three-day search using motorbikes and a helicopter began on December 28, 2017 and covered 85 square kilometres but revealed nothing. The local tip, which was about a kilometre from Paddy’s house, was picked apart in January (pictured) and again nothing useful turned up

Paddy Moriarty's home (pictured) had not  been disturbed.  Police found no evidence of a road accident, no sign Paddy had been taken by wild pigs and no sinkholes that contained a body

Paddy Moriarty’s home (pictured) had not  been disturbed.  Police found no evidence of a road accident, no sign Paddy had been taken by wild pigs and no sinkholes that contained a body

Local police also contacted the Missing Persons Unit in Darwin, and officers there conducted proof of life checks of Paddy’s bank accounts, phone and Medicare records. They found that Paddy had not used any of his accounts and there was no evidence he had travelled anywhere either. On paper, his life seemed to have come to a standstill. When the sun went down on Saturday, 23 December, police reluctantly called off the search. Paddy had a heart condition and was on medication at the time of his disappearance and could not have survived any longer in the elements. His friends were devastated.

The investigation, however, was far from over, and was promptly handed to the Northern Territory Major Crime Squad. Paddy Moriarty’s disappearance had been deemed suspicious.

So if Paddy met with foul play, who was responsible? And why would anyone want to harm him? It might come as a surprise to learn that such a jovial, knockabout character could have rubbed someone up the wrong way, but sometimes he did. ‘He spoke his mind,’ Matt says. ‘Over the years tourists have pulled up and parked out the front of his home and if he didn’t like where they’d parked he’d let them know.’ Paddy’s outspokenness didn’t end there. ‘If he didn’t like you, he’d let you know, before or after a few beers.’

Among the locals who Paddy did not like was Fran Hodgetts, the septuagenarian owner of a pie and scone shop called Fran's Homemade Devonshire Tea House (pictured) across the road from Paddy's place. Fran is well known on the tourist trail for her buffalo and camel pies

Among the locals who Paddy did not like was Fran Hodgetts, the septuagenarian owner of a pie and scone shop called Fran’s Homemade Devonshire Tea House (pictured) across the road from Paddy’s place. Fran is well known on the tourist trail for her buffalo and camel pies 

Among the locals who Paddy did not like was Fran Hodgetts, the septuagenarian owner of a pie and scone shop called Fran’s Homemade Devonshire Tea House across the road from Paddy’s place. Fran is well known on the tourist trail for her homemade buffalo and camel pies. Paddy, however, had made no secret of the fact that he didn’t care for Fran’s pies and had even said so in an ABC tele­vision interview seven years prior to his disappearance. ‘They had an ongoing feud to the point where Paddy allegedly affected Fran’s business,’ Matt says. ‘It wasn’t that they didn’t like each other; they hated each other.’

Adding fuel to the fire, Barry’s pub had started selling pies and scones. It was all fair trade according to both Barry and Paddy, but Fran did not see it that way, particularly when Paddy erected a sign outside his house which promoted the ‘best pies in town’ over at the Pink Panther. Yet while Fran is the first to admit to the animosity between her and Paddy, she has consistently maintained that she had nothing to do with his disappearance. ‘I don’t know anything,’ she says. ‘I don’t know what happened to him. I didn’t even know he was missing ’til the 21st [of December].’

While pie shop owner Fran Hodgetts (pictured) is the first to admit to the animosity between her and Paddy Moriarty, she has consistently maintained that she had nothing to do with his disappearance. 'I don't know anything,' she says. 'I don't know what happened to him'

While pie shop owner Fran Hodgetts (pictured) is the first to admit to the animosity between her and Paddy Moriarty, she has consistently maintained that she had nothing to do with his disappearance. ‘I don’t know anything,’ she says. ‘I don’t know what happened to him’

Theirs had been a uniquely outback feud. ‘On the 12th of December [2016],’ Fran alleges, ‘he threw a kangaroo under my bedroom window.’ She says it wasn’t the first time. ‘In 2017 he threw two dead kangaroos under my shop window. He didn’t like me but I didn’t like him either. But I didn’t do nothing to him.’

Fran – who has lived in Larrimah for forty-five years – urges us not to listen to the rumours surrounding Paddy’s disappearance. She has her own theories about what happened to him but does not believe he was murdered. She thinks it is more likely Paddy met with misadventure in the bush; perhaps he tried to stop his dog chasing a kangaroo. ‘I reckon he’s got lost and frightened and had a heart attack. I don’t believe anyone’s done anything to him,’ she says. ‘The pigs have him now.’

If you have any information about the disappearance of Paddy Moriarty please call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.  

Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford (Macmillan Australia) RRP $32.99, is available in all good bookstores from Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford (Macmillan Australia) RRP $32.99, features Paddy Moriarty's story and is available in all good bookstores from Tuesday, June 25

Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford (Macmillan Australia) RRP $32.99, features Paddy Moriarty’s story and is available in all good bookstores from Tuesday, June 25

 

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