“Could Martin Bryant have been stopped long before he came to Port Arthur?”
That’s the question posed by a new investigation from the Spotlight team at Channel 7.
25 years on from the tragic events of the Port Arthur massacre, new evidence has emerged suggesting that Martin Bryant, the shooter responsible for the deaths of 35 people, may have killed two other people before.
If true, it could mean that the killer may have been able to be apprehended before his infamous rampage that left a further 23 injured and changed Australia’s gun laws forever.
The leading theory in the investigation is that Bryant was a socially awkward individual without many friends, who had snapped when Seascape motel owners David and Noelene Martin refused to sell Bryant’s father their motel. The refusal of the sale is thought to have contributed to Bryant’s father’s depression and suicide.
Bryant himself had purchased an AR-10 assault rifle through a newspaper advertisement and was not required to register it due to Tasmania’s lax gun laws at the time. He may have been planning the shooting up to 12 weeks before it took place.
After killing the Martins, Bryant, who was 28 at the time, went on a vicious rampage through the seaside town of Port Arthur in the South-East of Tasmania in 1996. It was one of the deadliest shooting sprees in the world at the time and prompted then Prime Minister John Howard to enact sweeping gun law reforms that effectively outlawed semi-automatic weapons.
Helen Harvey: The first victim?
Now, Channel 7 has uncovered new testimony from friends and relatives of Bryant and his associates which suggests he may have been responsible for the death of his own father and that of an older woman who he had befriended.
A wealthy individual by the name of Helen Harvey had befriended the isolated Bryant after he was employed to do odd jobs around her home. She died in a car crash four years prior to the massacre in 1992 in what was believed at the time to be an accident. When she passed, Bryant was given all of her money and property, valued at the time at $500,000.
Bryant was in the passenger seat at the time of the crash and witnesses claim the car was swerving across the road before it crashed. Friends of Harvey told Spotlight that she had complained to them of Bryant’s erratic behaviour when driving with him in the car. According to them, he had a habit of grabbing the steering wheel and swerving the car while she was driving.
Barry Featherstone, one of Ms Harvey’s neighbours, said he had previously helped free her car from a ditch after Bryant pulled a similar stunt.
“I think very strongly he did it,” Mr Featherstone told Spotlight. “She was telling us how he used to grab the steering wheel and put her off the road.
“Well her exact words (were) one of these days, that little bastard is going to kill me.”
Mr Featherstone told police about three separate incidents where Bryant had grabbed Ms Harvey’s steering wheel.
Bryant’s father Maurice also died less than a year after Ms Harvey’s death. He was pulled from a dam on the family’s farm with Bryant’s driving belt around his neck attached to lead weights. His death was ruled a suicide by the coroner but Spotlight‘s own investigations suggest Bryant had a strong motivation for killing his father.
In the final will and testament of Maurice Bryant, Martin was to receive $250,000 from his father. He also gained a farm and a house from Helen Harvey, however, in her will, the properties were to be in the care of Maurice, with Martin unable to claim full ownership or power over them. The death of his father meant that Bryant now had two properties and $250,000.
Police were alerted to the scene of the apparent suicide after a neighbour found a note, written in Maurice’s handwriting, attached to the front door that simply read “call the police.”
Maurice’s death by suicide was thought to be linked to the fact that the Martins had refused to sell their hotel to him, but this new evidence puts the situation in a whole new light.
Where is Martin Bryant now?
Martin Bryant was given 35 life sentences for the death and destruction that he caused. He is currently 54 and will die in prison.
Tony Burley, a former Risdon prison guard, said Bryant has lived an uneventful life in prison.
“He wakes up, he goes to sleep basically,” Mr Burley said.
Recent photos of Bryant showed the mass murderer’s appearance has changed behind bars.
“He has … increased his calorie intake due to sexual favours from the prison canteen. His long blonde hair was gone and he began to put on weight – (he’s) virtually unrecognisable,” he said.