Fatal attraction



"Never get involved with patients" was one of the first things 23-year-old Kylie Labouchardiere was taught when she started work as a trainee nurse at Sutherland Hospital, in the Caringbah suburb of Sydney, Australia in 2003, but when she met handsome debonair Paul Wilkinson a few months later, that advice quickly went out of the window.

She would later admit to friends that she should have known better. After all, she had been married for two years to a naval officer, they had recently bought a house and intended to start a family.

Paul Wilkinson, 28, a police liaison officer, should also have known better. He was married and had a family. But when they met in December 2003 at the hospital where Wilkinson was a patient, Kylie's world was turned upside down. Within days they were meeting secretly.

She realised how unsatisfactory her own marriage had become. Wilkinson was everything her husband wasn't — he was funny, attractive, charming and kind. The fact that he was cheating on his own wife and family was something she tried not to think about. From the loneliness of an unhappy relationship, Kylie was now showered with text messages and phone calls — the lovers regularly sent each other more than 100 texts a day.

And on Valentine's Day 2004 Kylie put two messages in her local newspaper. One, to her husband, simply said "I Love You". The other, to her lover, read: "I know there is a future for us and can't wait to spend it with you."

Wilkinson, she believed, felt the same way. His marriage, he said was boring and loveless and all he wanted was a new life with his new love.  And when in March, 2004, Kylie found she was pregnant with Paul Wilkinson's baby, she finally left her husband and went to live with her grandmother until they could make arrangements to be together.

They decided to leave Sydney and move to Dubbo, one of Australia's fastest-growing inland cities and start a new life together. Paul had agreed to tell his wife he was leaving and Kylie happily set about finding a house  and arranging to have her furniture transported.

On April 28, Kylie packed two suitcases and took a bus to the train station telling her grandmother that she was travelling to Dubbo and would let her know when she arrived. She never did. The following day Kylie's grandmother received a call from the furniture removal company saying that Kylie was not at the house in Dubbo and they couldn't reach her on her mobile. Kylie's parents and brother were now thoroughly alarmed. Her brother looked at his sister's phone bills, found that she had been in constant contact with one number until the day she left Sydney and rang it.

The phone was answered by Paul Wilkinson, who said that he had just received a text from Kylie saying she had gone to Adelaide with another man. Now thoroughly alarmed and suspicious, Kylie's family went to the police.

When detectives interviewed Paul Wilkinson he had an unlikely tale to tell. He claimed that Kylie and her new lover had visited the Wilkinson home and set it on fire. Luckily his wife and son were out. The new man in Kylie's life, according to Wilkinson, was a Sydney police sergeant named Geoff Lowe.

Detectives found Wilkinson's story hard to believe. The house had caught fire the previous day but there was no evidence that it had anything to do with Kylie's disappearance or Geoff Lowe.

They had no body, no crime scene and no forensic evidence. What they did have was CCTV footage of Kylie boarding a train, but after that she vanished, apparently into thin air.

Time passed, and Kylie's parents struggled to come to terms with the torment of not knowing what had happened to their daughter. Police kept the file open but no new clues emerged and there was no evidence against Paul Wilkinson to make him a prime suspect.

It might have remained like that, but the publicity-seeking Wilkinson just couldn't keep quiet. On the first anniversary of Kylie's disappearance he came up with an even more astonishing tale. He told police that two days after Kylie vanished, Geoff Lowe had kidnapped him at gunpoint and taken him to a remote picnic hut in a nearby national park where they found Kylie bound and gagged but still alive.

Wilkinson said that while he watched in horror, Lowe bludgeoned Kylie to death with a shovel and buried the body. Police searched the area but found no grave and no traces of violence in the picnic hut.

Detectives had no option but to investigate Geoff Lowe, a highly respected policeman, and found him completely innocent of all Wilkinson's lurid allegations. But the slander had a disastrous effect on Lowe and his family. He suffered a breakdown and his marriage ended in divorce. The agony caused by Kylie's disappearance spread through her family — her father lost his job because he couldn't concentrate on his work, couldn't pay his mortgage and the family house was repossessed. Her mother also had counselling for depression.   

Meanwhile the case was getting nowhere — until in the autumn of 2005 it was taken over by Senior Detective Glenn Smith who switched to a new line of inquiry.

Smith contacted Wilkinson's estranged wife who told him that Wilkinson had asked her to phone the police pretending to be Kylie and tell them she was happy and well and didn't want to be found.

Lynda Wilkinson refused. She agreed to keep in touch with Wilkinson and report any developments. Detectives also found that Kylie had a second mobile phone which contained several texts from Wilkinson saying that he planned to leave his wife so that they could be together. Finally, in April 2007, Smith was confident he had a strong case — and charged Paul Wilkinson with the murder of Kylie Labouchardiere.

At first Wilkinson denied all charges but as the case dragged on he changed his plea to guilty and said he had killed Kylie because she had threatened to pay a hitman to kill his wife and child. Wilkinson told the court: "She said: 'If you're not going to have your wife killed, then I will. I've already organised it.' The next thing I knew my hands were around her throat. I didn't mean to kill her.

"Afterwards I panicked and took the body to some bushland where I buried Kylie who was carrying our unborn child." He then drew a map to show the exact spot, but when police searched the area they once again found nothing.

Nine days later he sent police on another fruitless search for Kylie's body and in December 2008, fired his lawyers and told the court he wanted to revert to his not guilty plea.

Saying that he was weary of Wilkinson "playing games at everyone's expense," Judge Peter Johnson refused to accept the plea.  After prosecutor John Keily had said that despite constant pleas from Kylie's family, Wilkinson had refused to say what had happened to the body and that he was "a heartless and evil killer," the jury found Wilkinson guilty of murder and he was jailed for a minimum of 24 years. Outside the courtroom, Kylie's mother Carol said: "Whatever sentence Wilkinson got it would never compare with the life sentence of grief he has given to me"       

Kylie's family weren't the only people affected. Geoff Lowe, although completely cleared of any implication in the case, resigned after 25 years in the police because of the stress of being under investigation for nearly five years.     

"I've lost my wife, my job and I've lost everything basically," he said. "I'm just a normal bloke who had the bad luck to cross paths with Paul Wilkinson."  


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