A CHARTERS TOWERS pensioner, who was reported missing in 2008, is likely dead, a coroner ruling his former housemate either caused or concealed his death to obtain his pension.
Coroner Jane Bentley, in her findings, said there were “only two reasonable possibilities” in relation to the disappearance of Van Edward Caulton, 60, whose last confirmed sighting was at Charters Towers Hospital on March 22, 2006.
“Firstly, that he died from natural causes and Mr (Peter) Westlund failed to report his death and disposed of his body in order to obtain the carer’s pension and Mr Caulton’s pension or, secondly, that Mr Westlund caused the death of Mr Caulton and then disposed of his body, with the same motivation,” Ms Bentley said.
The court heard Mr Caulton, who was on a disability pension, suffered from an intellectual impairment, was unable to read or write, could not use bank ATMs and suffered epilepsy and a heart condition.
He was regularly in contact with family in Brisbane, Townsville and Mount Isa.
Mr Caulton’s sister Larraine Chandler became concerned after her brother was befriended by a group of men she believed were taking advantage of him and his money.
Mr Caulton moved to Mt Isa to live with his brother and got a job at Malbonvale Station, about 30km from town.
In early January 2005, Mr Caulton moved from Mt Isa to Charters Towers with Barry Kunde, the brother of the manager at Malbonvale Station.
In March or April 2005, Mr Caulton and Mr Kunde got a job picking watermelons and met
Peter Westlund, whom Mr Caulton moved in with in August 2005.
One month later, Mr Westlund applied for a carer’s payment, telling Centrelink he was Mr Caulton’s carer.
The last time Mr Caulton was seen by his family was October 2005.
Between that time and 2007, Mr Westlund told Mr Caulton’s family he could not come to the phone for various reasons, including that he was working on a farm or he had gone to Tasmania with his girlfriend.
Queensland Transport records showed a Mitsubishi Magna was registered in the name of Mr Caulton on October 10, 2005, despite the pensioner being unable to hold a licence.
On January 27, 2006, Mr Westlund was nominated, on Centrelink records, as a person to assist Mr Caulton with Centrelink forms.
When family arrived to visit Mr Caulton for his 60th birthday in July 2006, the shed where he had been living was empty. Mr Westlund told them he had gone to Hughenden.
Mr Westlund said he didn’t know which station he was working on and hung up.
Ms Bentley said she was satisfied Mr Caulton was no longer alive by July 2006, with Mr Westlund likely aware of Mr Caulton’s death, concealing it to obtain his benefits.
Among the purchases attributed to Mr Westlund, using Mr Caulton’s bank card after his suspected death, were a car, glasses, and other transactions in Tasmania in 2008.
Mr Westlund also nominated Mr Caulton as a rental reference in January 2008 and as the driver of a vehicle issued a speeding ticket in April 2008.
Tasmanian police were told by Mr Westlund that Mr Caulton had gone “walkabout” with his girlfriend but neighbours reported never seeing Mr Caulton at the address.
Mr Westlund received a carer’s pension for Mr Caulton from September 2005 until January 2008.
In August 2008, Mr Westlund claimed a carers’ pension for Clifford Williams, who told police that he had never been his carer.
The court heard Mr Westlund had previous convictions for dishonesty and violent offences, and was jailed for assault occasioning bodily harm in 1997.
Ms Bentley recorded a finding that Mr Caulton died in the Charters Towers area between March 22, 2006 and July 31, 2006. His cause of death was not determined.