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Mystery solved? New hope for Australian cold case murders
It took more than two decades, but this week the man who killed Pia Navida was finally brought to justice.
Steve Isac Matthews was sentenced to a minimum jail term of 16 years and three months at the NSW Supreme
Court on Thursday for the 1992 killing of Ms Navida, a 37-year-old Filipino woman.
She was found dead in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney, on February 1, 1992, but
the case went unsolved until 2011 when advances in DNA technology allowed police to match semen found on Ms Navida’s body.
Matthews’s sentencing was a big win for the many cold cases that weigh heavily on the minds of investigators around Australia.
There are many murders that remain unsolved — and it’s not through lack of effort. Despite thousands of
hours of police work, offers of rewards, desperate appeals for information, certain cases haven’t been closed by police.
Charlie Bezzina, a former Detective Senior Sergeant with 38 years policing experience, has a message
for the killers who still walk free: “Murder doesn’t go away” and “Watch your back”.
“They’ve got to live with that guilt for the rest of their lives knowing that one day they will get that knock on the door.”
Some murderers couldn’t handle that pressure and told people what they’d done and even
confessed to police when interviewed about other crimes.
“The perfect crime is when you do it alone and tell no one.”
Mr Bezzina told news.com.au it was not difficult at all to stay motivated on cold cases.
“You’ve got a personal attachment to it and you build up a strong relationship with the
family of the deceased ... You have those strong ties and want to get a result.”
That determination was also driven by basic human nature. “It’s the thrill of the chase and no one likes to be beaten.”
But unlike the CSI-type crime shows on television, real life homicides weren’t solved in a short amount of time.
“Investigators know full well the level of evidence required to reach that bar,” Mr Bezzina said.
To get there everything from using listening devices to following people were used,
“and every little step gets you a little closer to a solution”.
In that regard there was a bit of “Sherlock Holmes stuff” and “mind games”
going on until finally you could build a case.
“There is a bit of cat and mouse going on.”
When he began policing in the 1980s they relied on fingerprints to help catch
criminals — but advances in DNA technology had put previously difficult cases back in the frame to being solved.
Hopefully the jailing of Matthews for the murder of Pia Navida may give some
hope to the families of dozens of other homicide victims where police have some
evidence but not quite enough to put the killers away.
MORE AUSSIE COLD CASES
Man jailed over the ‘barbaric’ rape and murder of Filipino prostitute Pia Navida in 1992
Pia Navida’s naked body was found by bushwalkers in Royal National Park in 1992
The case went unsolved until 2011 when advances in DNA technology saw a match to Steve Isac Matthews
Matthews was today sentenced to 21 years jail
More than two decades after Pia Navida’s naked, battered body was found lying off a NSW bush track, a man has
been sent to jail for her “barbaric” rape and murder.
Steve Isac Matthews, 43, was sentenced to a minimum of 16 years and three months behind bars in the NSW Supreme
Court on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to the aggravated sexual assault and murder of Ms Navida, a 37-year-old Filipino woman, in 1992.
Justice Geoffrey Bellew said Matthews’s maximum sentence of 21 years and six months was appropriate given the
“barbaric” and “horrendous” nature of his crime.
Ms Navida was found dead in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney on February 1, 1992.
She was known to Police for soliciting for sex and was last seen alive on the afternoon of Friday, January 31,
that year near Sydney’s Central Railway Station.
Her naked body was found by bushwalkers in scrubland near Bundeena, inside the Royal National Park, around
midday the following day. The contents of her handbag strewn on the ground around her.
Justice Bellew said Ms Navida, who arrived in Australia in the early 1980s from the Philippines as a young
bride, lived a nomadic lifestyle, was involved in drugs and worked as a prostitute near Sydney Central.
The cold case went unsolved until 2011 when advances in DNA technology allowed police to match semen found
on and inside Ms Navida’s body to Matthews and another man, Rodney James Paterson.
Paterson maintained his innocence and was acquitted in March when Justice Bellew upheld his application that
the evidence was incapable of convincing a jury of his guilt.
Justice Bellew said on Thursday Matthews had taken a girlfriend for picnics to Bundeena, where Ms Navida was
found, when he dated her in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Matthews told her he had killed a person in a bush area and demonstrated to her what he had done.
The court heard Matthews was himself a victim of a major assault in 2005, which had left him with a serious
brain injury and little memory of his life prior.
But Justice Bellew said that while Matthews had recently shown remorse, saying he was “sickened and disgusted”
by his actions, his criminal history did not allow for leniency in his sentence. Matthews will be eligible for
parole in November 2027.
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