When John Copik decided to cast his nets for the day's catch what emerged when the net was hauled from the deep foam-flecked water left him shocked. It was a body of a man. Who was he?
The summer of 1996 had been a disastrous season for Devon fisherman John Copik. Day after day, Copik and his son Craig had set out out into the English channel in their fishing boat Malkerry from their home port of Brixham hoping for a fat haul of cod, only to return home disappointed with barely enough fish to cover the day's fuel costs. But now, on a bright July morning, it seemed their luck had finally turned. From the moment they shot their nets, about ten miles offshore, John and Craig Copik had been hauling in cod and by lunchtime the boat's hold was full of prime fish.
It would be one of the most profitable trips of the year and John Copik decided to cast his nets once more, before turning for home. It was a decision he would have mixed feelings about for the rest of his life. For what emerged when the net was hauled from the deep foam-flecked water was the body of a man. He was middle-aged, dressed in a blue and white checked shirt, and leather-belted green cord trousers with the pockets pulled out. John Copik could see at first glance that this was no accidental drowning: the man had a savage wound on his head and his hands were bound together by wire. Worst of all, he had been held on the seabed by a heavy anchor tied to his waist.
Staring into the lifeless face the fishermen knew that their day's catch was ruined — the contamination of the corpse in the net meant that the fish were no longer fit for human food.
"Some people would have just chucked the body back and said nothing, John Copik said. "But I couldn't do that. Someone somewhere would be waiting for news of what had happened to him. I knew we had to take him ashore." John Copik radioed ahead to the authorities and by the time he arrived in Brixham, police were waiting on the dockside to take the body for forensic examination.
It was found that it had been in the water for at least a week, there were bruises on his hip and legs and a four-inch gash on his head. He had been unconscious when he entered the water and cause of death was drowning.
But who was he? An expensive Rolex watch provided the first clues: examination of the manufacturer's records showed it had been sold to 50-year-old Ronald Platt, whose last address was in Essex 300 miles away. Police found he lived alone on the edge of a small village and references for the rented property had been provided by a David Davis, a 50-year-old Canadian retired financial adviser now living in the UK with his 21-year-old wife and her two young children. When Devon detectives contacted him by phone, David Davis confirmed that he knew Ronald Platt, with whom he had business dealings, but hadn't seen him for three months. Told that Platt's body had been recovered by fishermen off the Cornish coast. Davis appeared devastated. He said he had known Platt for years and had lent him money to start his first business. As far as Davis knew, Ronald Platt was now living in France. Convinced that they would learn more by interviewing David Davis face-to-face, Devon police sent an experienced detective, Ian Clenahan, to interview him. When Clenahan arrived in the leafy Essex village of Woodham Walter, looking for Little London Farm, he knocked on the next door neighbour's door by mistake and was told: "The man in the farm? He's not David Davis. He's a man called Platt..."
What could that mean? Why was Davis using a dead man's name. As police began an undercover investigation, they came across some startling facts. First, Davis owned a sailing boat, the Lady Jane, which was moored in Dartmouth, Devon, only a few miles from where Platt's body had been found. Second, it was discovered that Sheena wasn't Davis' wife but his daughter. Third, Platt had been the front man for a financial organisation called the Cavendish Corporation, suspected of being involved in multi-million dollar currency frauds. And the man thought to be behind the operation: David Davis...
When, armed with all this information, from his boss, Detective Chief Inspector Phil Sincock, Detective Clenahan went to question David Davis in his impressive 18th-century farmhouse there were even more surprises in store. Davis, obviously alerted that police were arriving, had planned his getaway, but had left it too late. When detectives apprehended him stepping into a taxi outside the house, the vehicle was found to contain canvas bags stuffed with gold bars and currency worth $200,000.
With Davis in custody, a full-scale investigation was launched into his operation and background and enough evidence was uncovered to hold him for fraud while his links with the discovery of Platt's body were being investigated. Mobile phone records showed that Davis had made numerous calls from his yacht Lady Jane between July 7 and July 23, placing him in the area where Ronald's Platt's body was recovered. Meanwhile forensic experts under Dr Bob Allen were examining the 10-pound anchor found tied to the corpse. In one test, Dr Allen attached a ten-pound anchor to his belt and sank into a tank with currents similar to those on the day Ronald Platt died.
The anchor held him to the bottom, proving that Platt's body hadn't been moved by the currents. And when Davis' boat was searched a tiny hair sample on a cushion was found to match Platt's and his fingerprints were found on a plastic bag. Finally the satellite navigation system on the boat showed that it had been switched off just a mile from the spot where the body was found. Witnesses were found in Dartmouth who testified that on July 20, Davis had gone sailing apparently on his own, and had headed out to sea. He came back 12 hours later looking "scruffy and windswept".
But perhaps the biggest surprise in this extraordinary case came when DCI Sincock provided Interpol with Davis' fingerprints and asked for an identity search —which quickly revealed that the suspect wasn't David Davis or even Ronald Platt. In fact he was Albert Walker, a Canadian who was one of Interpol's top ten most wanted men, still being hunted for embezzling $5 million from investors in a massive financial scam and who had fled to the UK, taking his daughter with him. Police believed that Walker had distributed the stolen money around various European accounts with Platt's help. Then, when Platt's usefulness had expired, Walker got rid of him.
As the net closed around Walker, police got help from an unexpected quarter. In return for immunity from prosecution, his daughter Sheena, who previously claimed she knew nothing about her father's activities, now changed her testimony and made a statement saying that Ron Platt had been on the boat with her father when he left Dartmouth on July 20 but wasn't on board when it returned. She claimed that Ronald wasn't supposed to return to the UK and when he did so, his fate was sealed: there couldn't be two Ronald Platts... Sheena Walker told police that her father had admitted that he had invited Platt aboard Lady Jane for a day of sailing, knocked him unconscious, tied an anchor to his belt and tipped Ronald Platt overboard to a certain death.
When Albert Johnson Walker appeared before Exeter Crown Court in June, 1996 accused of the murder of Ronald Platt he still denied all knowledge of Ronald Platt's death. It was his daughter's evidence that finally destroyed the edifice of lies and evasions behind which he hoped to hide. Walker was found guilty of murder and jailed for a minimum of 20 years. In 2004 he was returned to Canada where he faces nearly 40 fraud and theft charges. At least half the stolen money was never recovered. Sheena Walker and her children were allowed to return to Canada where they now live under new names and identities. Her father is expected to spend the rest of his life in jail, caught by a victim supposed to sleep with the fishes and yet who rose from the deep to ensure that justice was done.