DETECTIVES believe that a young footballer waited in a mother’s house before he murdered her in a robbery gone wrong.
Matthew Ross White, 25, was arrested at his Cairns home on Friday night and charged with the murder of Cooktown mum Donna Steele, whose body was found dumped in a crocodile-infested lagoon seven months ago. He is also charged with interfering with a corpse and entering a dwelling with intent.
Police say they have DNA linking Mr White to the scene where Ms Steele, 42, was found.
The grisly discovery of Ms Steele’s body was made around 15km from her home, near the far north Queensland town of Cooktown on August 6.
Just one week after police offered a $250,000 reward for information about her killer, Mr White was arrested.
He remains in custody after facing court for her murder and police have now revealed that the young sportsman and the missing mother were known to each other. It is understood that the accused murderer’s mother lives near Ms Steele and the families also know each other.
The Courier Mail reports that Mr White had been an Australian rules football player in earlier years and was described by people who knew him at the time as “quiet” and “pleasant”.
A friend told the newspaper that Mr White was a stay-at-home father-of-two and they were shocked to hear of his arrest.
“He doesn’t like or do drugs, smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol,” the friend told the Mail.
Detectives say that evidence would prove Mr White was in Cooktown on August 2, when Ms Steele was last seen at the local IGA.
Her body was found in the Endeavour River four days later, sparking a massive seven-month investigation that involved aerial and ground searches of homes, properties and waterways.
Detective Inspector Geoff Marsh told reporters in Cairns that police believe Mr White was alone when he allegedly killed Ms Steele, but would not comment on his motive.
He dismissed suggestions a $250,000 reward offered led to the breakthrough, saying all information had been “supplied freely”.
Ms Steele was a cabin cleaner at Cooktown’s Peninsula Caravan Park and went to work as usual on August 2 and left at about midday.
Police believe Ms Steele returned home after the last sighting of her — at Cooktown’s IGA supermarket at 12.15pm — and left the home “peacefully”.
There was no sign of a struggle at the home, and that there was nothing to suggest her husband, Tony Brown, was involved.
He was working away from Cooktown and returned home on Thursday to find her missing.
Heartbreakingly, her two boys, aged 8 and 10, came home from school on Wednesday and found their mum gone. They ate biscuits for dinner and put themselves to bed, and then got up and took themselves to school the next day.
The boys got themselves to school the next day, but didn’t tell anyone at the school or any teacher they’d been alone.
Det Marsh said Ms Steele’s family, including her husband and their two sons, were relieved by news of the arrest.
“Mr Brown is also extremely relieved that he can now tell his sons what happened to their mother and they can move on,” he said.
Mr White appeared in the Cairns Magistrates Court on Saturday morning and was remanded until May 2.
HOW THE INVESTIGATION UNFOLDED
August 2: Donna Louise Steele is last seen at the Cooktown IGA around midday.
August 3-5: Her husband reports her missing; emergency authorities conduct aerial and ground searches of the Steele’s family property and surrounding areas.
August 6: Ms Steele’s body is found in the Endeavour River.
August 9: Ms Steele’s brother Jason makes a public appeal for anyone with information to come forward.
August 11-25: Further searches carried out in the Leggett’s Crossing and Endeavour River area; trace DNA evidence is found on some of the 200 items that were scientifically examined.
October 31: A man’s shoe is found in the Endeavour River area.
February 23: Police Minister Mark Ryan announces a $250,000 reward for information leading to the identification and conviction those responsible for Ms Steele’s murder.
March 2: Police confirm they have received new information and believe Ms Steele’s killer is from Cairns; police attend a Cairns address and arrest a 25-year-old man.
March 3: The man faces the Cairns Magistrates Court charged with murder, interference with a corpse and enter dwelling with intent.
— with Andrew Koubaridis and AAP