She never had a chance: Inside the evil world where nine-year-old schoolgirl Charlise Mutten met her heartbreaking end

When a Gold Coast couple agreed to let their precious granddaughter fly to New South Wales for a Christmas holiday they couldn’t have predicted the dangerous world she was entering.

Nine-year-old Charlise Mutten was excited about the trip and her legal guardians, Clinton and Deborah Mutten, had been assured by the young girl’s mother, Kallista, that she was no longer addicted to methamphetamine.

On the face of it, the Muttens were sending off Charlise on a fun holiday with Kallista and her reportedly wealthy fiancé, Justin Stein, who were enjoying a ‘fairytale’ romance after her troubled years on drugs and in jail.

Kallista and Stein had FaceTimed Charlise and promised she could stay at one of the three homes that the Stein family owned – the house in Sydney, the luxury estate in the Blue Mountains, or the cabin on a bend of the Hawkesbury River.

In reality, Charlise was entering a lion’s den with her ice-injecting, paranoid and unstable mother, and gun-loving convicted drug dealer ‘stepdad’ who regularly smoked cannabis and was on medication for schizophrenia.

Charlise Mutten holds up her literacy award from Tweed Heads Public School in 2021

And as Stein’s murder trial would hear there were hints of something more sinister, although nothing was spelt out as a motive for the murder. 

Stein was found guilty on Wednesday of murdering Charlise by shooting her in the face, and dumping her body in a barrel on a riverbank back in January 2022.

Weighted down with sand, the schoolgirl’s body had been wrapped in tarpaulins and a hessian bag that had been bound with tape before being put face-down in a foetal position in the barrel. 

It was an unthinkable end to what had at times been a trip filled with innocent fun for Charlise.

There had been Christmas day in Sydney, staying with Stein’s exotic flame-haired antique dealer mother Annemie, who encouraged the little girl to call her ‘Narelle’, an affectionate name derived from a TV commercial for socks in the 1990s.

Annemie and her son called each other ‘Narelle’, taped prison phone calls would later reveal, and for Charlise it might have seemed like joining a new club.

Although Annemie did not like Kallista ‘from the start’, Stein revealed in court, she found Charlise ‘intelligent, polite and a little bit cheeky’.

Justin Stein (above) was Kallista Mutten's fiance from a wealthy family, but in reality the former couple were drug offenders and had met while serving prison sentences

Justin Stein (above) was Kallista Mutten’s fiance from a wealthy family, but in reality the former couple were drug offenders and had met while serving prison sentences

Then there was one of Annemie’s dinner parties at the Mount Wilson property, Wildenstein, where Charlise was happy and affectionate with the guests. 

At his trial, Stein said that Charlise  was happy to ‘play with the dogs, go through garden, go down to the chickens, feed them, watch TV, play games on my phone’ while staying at Wildenstein. 

But there was a sinister underbelly.

Stein, then aged 31, was also on Buprenorphine for his heroin addiction which had begun at the age of 12.

The private schoolboy had ‘a tortured childhood’, his mother revealed after he was charged with Charlise’s murder in 2022.

A man who lived next door to the Wildenstein property, which had operated as a celebrity wedding venue until Charlise’s murder, had made allegations about Stein’s love of guns and drugs.

He claimed that Stein – who had met Kallista while he was serving a sentence for trafficking cocaine – had dealt drugs from the cottage he lived in on the sprawling property. 

Charlise (above as a toddler with mother Kallista) did not see much of her mum growing up but had been 'excited' to visit NSW on what turned out to be her final holiday

Charlise (above as a toddler with mother Kallista) did not see much of her mum growing up but had been ‘excited’ to visit NSW on what turned out to be her final holiday

Firearms were hidden over the mountain in the bush, the neighbour claimed, and he blamed Stein for shooting native birds. 

When Stein went to prison for drug dealing, it was a quirk of fate due to new Covid rules that he met Kallista, the pair locking eyes while both male and female inmates shared a visitors room at Kempsey jail.

Meanwhile, Kallista’s only contact with her daughter for the past two years had been by phone from prison.

She was serving time for dangerous driving occasioning death after killing her friend Karen Bunch by rolling her car into a river while high on ice.

Since her release on parole in 2019, Kallista had only occasionally seen Charlise after she lapsed back into intravenous drug use and argued with her parents. 

On Stein’s release from prison in 2021, Kallista lived with him in NSW and the pair became engaged.

When Charlises’ grandfather, Clinton, was asked at Stein’s trial if he had any concerns about sending the little girl ‘to an environment that at best was maybe questionable’, he said he was ‘under the impression that both had cleaned their act up’.

But he also admitted Kallista was ‘not particularly honest’ about her drug use.

Kallista Mutten's father admitted his daughter Kallista (above) was 'not particularly honest' about her drug use

Kallista Mutten’s father admitted his daughter Kallista (above) was ‘not particularly honest’ about her drug use

The long-awaited holiday for the Gold Coast schoolgirl had already been postponed once because of Kallista’s drug use.

Charlise was meant to fly south for a holiday over Easter in 2021, but the trip was postponed after her mother had two drug episodes.

It was not revealed in court if Charlise’s grandparents were aware that Kallista’s drug problems were the reason for the delayed holiday.

Flights had been booked and as Charlise’s grandfather told the court, the schoolgirl had ‘cried herself to sleep’ when it was cancelled.

Just before the scheduled Easter holiday, Kallista had been in a meth-fuelled psychotic episode, lying shoeless in the lane outside Wildenstein incoherent and babbling ‘did I hurt anyone, am I in a plane?’

She went to Katoomba Hosital for treatment. She had been released from Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital just four days earlier after, medical records read to the court said, she had been taking 17 points of methamphetamine daily.

Detective Sergeant Bradley Gardiner, the officer leading the investigation into Charlise’s alleged murder, agreed in court that was ‘very high’, with one point equal to .1 milligram of the drug.

At RPA, she admitted she had ‘hypersensitivity to interpersonal conflict’ which caused her to ‘cut myself’.

Charlise Mutten with grandmother Deborah Mutten, her legal guardian along with her grandfather Clinton

Charlise Mutten with grandmother Deborah Mutten, her legal guardian along with her grandfather Clinton

‘I cut myself to try and stop them leaving the relationship and it tends to work,’ she told RPA staff.

‘That’s not right. It’s a form of manipulation… that paranoia can last for days.’

Charlise’s trip was rearranged for the Christmas holidays and her grandfather said the youngster was ‘happy and excited’ about it , and ‘had packed her favourite toys’.

However in November 2021, just a month before Charlise was due to visit, Kallista had gone back into drug rehab at the exclusive Sydney Clinic in the beachside suburb of Bronte, a stay paid for by the Stein’s.

A man who was in the Sydney Clinic for substance abuse at the same time told Daily Mail Australia how Kallista had boasted to other patients about her ‘rich boyfriend’.

On one occasion, she had returned to Bronte after a visit by Stein, and told him that she had ‘smoked ice and had sex’ in the back of his ute.

The edge of the Colo River, near where nine-year-old Charlise ended up inside a barrel after she was shot dead with a rifle at close range

The edge of the Colo River, near where nine-year-old Charlise ended up inside a barrel after she was shot dead with a rifle at close range

Charlise’s grandfather told the court about the ‘unconditional love’ between the girl and Kallista, and of the child’s growing affection via the FaceTime calls for Stein.

‘She said she really liked Justin and she asked me if he would be a good dad,’ Mr Mutten said.

The jury heard that Charlise had only ever met her biological father once, and like her mother, he had also been an ice addict.

Also unknown to the Muttens was the alleged burglary by Kallista and Justin, when the two ex-jailbirds broke in to a neighbouring Mount Wilson property in August 2021.

Stein testified at his trial that it was his idea to steal the firearms and Kallista’s to take the silverware from the neighbour’s house.

Police believe one of the stolen firearms – a BSA .22 long armed rifle – was used to murder Charlise.  

When Charlise did eventually come down to NSW for the holiday, she had finished a successful school year in which she had won a literacy prize.

Her grandfather told the court the young girl loved animals and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian surgeon.

Police allege that Charlise was shot dead at the Stein family estate (above) in the Blue Mountains in January 2022 and then put in a barrel

Police allege that Charlise was shot dead at the Stein family estate (above) in the Blue Mountains in January 2022 and then put in a barrel 

By the last week of Charlise’s life, the court heard, the romance between Stein and Kallista was all but over.

She was 12-16 weeks pregnant with Stein’s child, the jury heard, but he didn’t want the baby, nor did he want to see Kallista, although he did concede that ‘part of me’ still loved her.

On one call between Stein and his mother while he was in jail, he claimed that in the final week of Charlise’s life, Kallista had been ‘three days deep into an ice bender’.

‘I was so close to getting rid of her (Kallista), a couple more days and that girl would be on a flight,’ Stein said in the call.

Charlise lived with her grandparents on the Gold Coast but had been looking forward to the visit since it had been postponed because of her mother's drug issues

Charlise lived with her grandparents on the Gold Coast but had been looking forward to the visit since it had been postponed because of her mother’s drug issues

Police allege Charlise's body was inside a barrel under the blue tarp on the back of Justin Stein's ute (above)

Police allege Charlise’s body was inside a barrel under the blue tarp on the back of Justin Stein’s ute (above)

The court heard that discussions about Charlise’s return home to her grandparents home in Coolangatta had included the need for a Covid test.

As it turned out on January 15, 2022, all domestic travel restrictions were removed from Queensland borders.

By then, however, it was too late – Charlise was dead and had been so for days.

Crown prosecutor Ken McKay SC said that Stein was the last person to see Charlise and had the opportunity to kill her between 7.16pm on Tuesday, January 11 and 10.06am on Wednesday, January 12.

Stein’s defence argued that Charlise was still alive on the Wednesday and was shot by Kallista near the chicken shed on Wildenstein.

When Stein’s counsel suggested to Kallista while testifying that she had killed her daughter, the 40-year-old cried out ‘are you serious’ and ran crying from the courtroom.

Under cross-examination, Stein said that Charlise slept in her own bedroom at the property but would not always remain in her room all night.

He said that when Charlise became ill with vomiting, she had gone into his bed, meaning that he had to change the sheets in the morning after she was sick on them. 

Prosecutors suggested that it was Stein who drugged the girl ‘by design or accidentally’ with his schizophrenia drugs, Quetiapine, sold under the brand name, Seroquel.

Police on the road outside the Stein family estate after Charlise Mutten vanished. Days later the schoolgirl's remains were found in a dumped barrel 50km away

Police on the road outside the Stein family estate after Charlise Mutten vanished. Days later the schoolgirl’s remains were found in a dumped barrel 50km away 

Kallista Mutten (above)) prior to her daughter's alleged murder

Charlise, known as 'Charsy' loved animals and wanted to be a vet when she grew up

Kallista Mutten (left) had been in jail for two years  while her parents looked after Charlise 

Toxicology tests at the child’s post mortem had found Quetiapine had been found in her system.

Mr McKay also asked Stein about the fact that post-mortem forensic examiners had found Charlise was clothed, but wearing no underpants.

‘Do you know if anything happened to her underpants?’ Mr McKay asked Stein, who replied, ‘No, I have no knowledge’.

The pitiful end to Charlise’s short life of less than a decade can be read in the details of the police and forensic officers who had to retrieve her remains and examine them.

The schoolgirl’s tomb, a reddish-brown plastic barrel had to be winched off the Colo riverbank, it was so heavy with sand.

Miraculously for investigators, it had not rolled off into the Colo River.

The nine-year-old’s final journey was a 90km ride, still inside the barrel, and transported to the mortuary and forensic laboratory at Lidcombe in western Sydney.

Scientists examining the corpse found that Charlise had been shot twice, once in back above her left hip, which would not have killed her, and again in the face at close range, the court heard.

Kallista Mutten (above at the trial) had a massive ice addiction which saw her go into rehab and suffer from drug psychosis

Kallista Mutten (above at the trial) had a massive ice addiction which saw her go into rehab and suffer from drug psychosis 

Mother of the accused, Annemie Stein (left) described Charlise as 'very polite and a little bit cheeky' during the girl's stay at her property in 2022

Mother of the accused, Annemie Stein (left) described Charlise as ‘very polite and a little bit cheeky’ during the girl’s stay at her property in 2022

As the news of Charlise’s death and terrible end spread, weeping students, parents and teachers gathered at Tweed Heads Public School with candles, balloons and flowers.

Handwritten notes, toys and bouquets began to pile up around a makeshift shrine bearing a photograph of Charlise.

One of her teacher’s told the crowd gathered for the vigil on the evening of January 19, 2022 that Charlise’s ‘enthusiasm, positivity and warm, genuine and bubbly personality made our school a much better place’.

One girl said: ‘Charlise has touched many lives on her journey throughout this world.

A swimming cap and a pair of flippers with ‘Shine on Charlise’ also hung from the school’s gate.

A card on one bunch of flowers read: ‘RIP Little Lady. May your Grandma’s family find strength to find peace.’

By then, Stein was already under arrest for Charlise’s murder.

He will be sentenced at a later date.

Mourners embrace at the vigil outside Tweed Heads Public School for Charlise Mutten, a day after the nine-year-old's body was found in a barrel abandoned on a river bank

Mourners embrace at the vigil outside Tweed Heads Public School for Charlise Mutten, a day after the nine-year-old’s body was found in a barrel abandoned on a river bank 

 

 

 

 

 

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