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Murder or misadventure? 50 years after the event, Coroner sheds light on NQ mystery

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Five decades after a North Queensland mother and grandmother perished at sea, a Coroner’s inquest has helped untangle the mystery, as Cindy Wockner reports.

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Enid Cecilia Hyde was, according to her children, a loving mother who would do anything for them.

For the past 50 years they have been tortured by not knowing the truth of how and why she drowned at sea east of Cairns.

Now, seven months after the 50th anniversary of her death, the family finally has some answers, after a State Coroner handed down findings of a reopened and long-awaited inquest.

Enid, aged 36 and her brother in law Norman Reeve Hyde, 24, known as Albert, died at sea on March 28, 1972 off False Cape, Trinity Inlet, in far north Queensland.

Now, the findings of the original inquest have been set aside and, after a new inquest held this year, new findings have been made by Northern Coroner Nerida Wilson.

Coroner Wilson said “the hallmark of these tragic events is what has not been said”. She said Enid’s adult children have grown up without knowing the truth and have not reconciled the events of that day for themselves.

At the time of her death, Enid had six children, two of whom are surviving, along with a granddaughter. Her daughters did not accept the original inquest findings and expressed concern that their mother’s life was intentionally taken by another or resulting from the actions of another and that her body was in fact on land and not at sea at all.

During three days of hearings this year, the events of the fateful day were recounted. However only one eye-witness, now aged 80, is surviving. Conrad Yeatman, Enid’s brother, is now a Christian pastor and committed to helping others.

The inquest heard that on the day in question, Enid, her husband Charlie and Yeatman travelled by dinghy from Yarrabah to Cairns and returned the same day. On the return journey they were joined by Albert, and another man.

Enid and Albert never arrived home from the boat trip and the new inquest heard the original versions of events, provided by the three survivors, did not resolve the issue of how and why Enid and Albert went overboard.

The inquest heard the group had been drinking and that Yeatman, the only person now surviving, had been asleep at the time and did not see Enid and Albert going overboard. Two days later Albert’s body was discovered but Enid’s remains were never recovered.

The Coroner found that Enid and Albert entered the water in the context of an argument with Charlie in the boat during the return journey. She said immediate family members held the key to aspects of the events of that day and did not or had shared the full story with Enid’s children.

“Unfortunately, the passage of time has caused them to fear the worst, that their mother came to foul play. They have not let go of concerns that Conrad was directly involved. I find that he was not directly involved, he may know more than he had previously disclosed, although even of that I also cannot be sure,” Coroner Wilson said in her findings.

“The only people who know the whole truth are all deceased, including Enid and Charlie and Cecil and Albert.”

Wilson said Enid’s husband Charlie had taken to his grave information that may have further clarified what happened.

She said differing versions of events inferred that Charlie was jealous and arguing with Enid and had antagonised Albert and Enid by poking them with an oar to the point where they jumped from the boat to get away from him.

“Enid could not swim, certainly not well enough to survive in open waters. With the benefit of all the evidence which now includes a further version from Conrad … I have formed a view that she would not have gone overboard unless she felt forced or compelled to do so and combined with a level of intoxication, such may explain her out of conduct behaviour.”

Coroner Wilson said Enid’s daughter Dianne spoke at the inquest of “a loving mother who would give you the shirt off her back, do anything for her children, her irreplaceable loss as the heart of their family and the traumatic separation from her siblings that resulted upon the death of her mother”.

The Coroner found, on the balance of probabilities, that both Enid and Albert jumped from the boat to get away from Charlie and that Enid is presumed drowned about 100 metres off False Cape.

 

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