An elderly tourism operator has been charged with the alleged murder of a mother-of-four whose body was discovered in bushland in NSW’s north west last year.
Christine Neilan, 39, was found dead by the side of a road in Lightning Ridge on January 9, 2020, with significant injuries to her head.
After conducting an extensive search of a local property and surrounding bushland last week, police on Monday arrested the owner of popular tourist attraction Amigo’s Castle, Vittorio Stefanato, 79.
‘[Ms Neilan’s] head injuries were caused by a gunshot wound,’ Homicide Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said on Tuesday.
Christine Neilan (pictured), 39, was found dead in bushland at Lightning Ridge, western NSW on January 9 2020
‘I can also disclose that during the three-day crime scene search a firearm was located and that will be ballistically examined.’
Detective Superintendent Doherty said there was no direct relationship between Ms Neilan and her alleged killer, but noted Lightening Ridge is ‘a reasonably small township where everyone knows each other’.
He said police will allege Mr Stefanato shot the mother and alleged that police have ‘uncovered something in relation to motive’.
‘There’s no evidence to suggest any other person is involved except the person who has been charged with murder,’ he said.
Mr Stefanato was taken to Walgett Police Station and charged with murder.
He appeared at Walgett Local Court on Wednesday, where he was refused bail.
Vittorio Stefanato,79, (pictured) was arrested on Monday and charged over the alleged murder of Ms Neilan
Mr Stefanato is the owner of Lightening Ridge tourism attraction ‘Amigo’s Castle’ (pictured), which he hand-built in the 1980s
Mr Stefanato, known locally as ‘Amigo’, immigrated to the opal mining town from Italy in 1973.
The former miner began hand-building his castle – which is now heritage listed – from local rocks in 1981, finishing the project 20 years later.
The site – originally built as a private residence – is now a popular tourist attraction, which has featured on Better Homes and Gardens.
The castle – which has a 4.5 rating on Trip Advisor – won the company’s travellers’ choice for 2021.
Photos posted online show signs erected around the red-brick fortress urging trespassers to stay away, with one reading: ‘Beware electric lazer [sic] beams activated at night, 380 volts’.
Detectives have spent the past five days scouring a property and bushland (pictured) as part of an investigation into the mother-of-four’s death
NSW Police say they uncovered ‘a number of exhibits of note’ during the search of the local property
Photos posted to Tripadvisor by tourists show signs around the castle warning people to beware of ‘laser beams’
Detectives from the State Crime Command’s Homicide Squad and Central North Police District last year established Strike Force Bullarook to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ms Neilan’s death.
Over the past five days, strike force officers were joined by specialist forensic police, bomb squad, dog unit, and Marine Area Command to search the area where it is alleged the mother was killed.
Detective Superintendent Doherty said ‘a number of exhibits of note were recovered’, including the firearm.
Ms Neilan moved to Lightening Ridge with her mother in later 2019 – just months before her death.
Mr Stefanato will next appear in court on October 25.
Ms Neilan moved to Lightening Ridge in late 2019 – just months before she was found dead in bushland near Amigo castle. She is pictured in CCTV from a supermarket – which was the last time she was seen