When Merle Dutton walked through the backyard of his mother’s remote NSW home in late March last year, nothing could have prepared him for what he would find.
“I looked and I spotted a dog chewing on what I thought was a kangaroo, but it wasn’t a kangaroo,” Merle said.
“I didn’t think anything of it until I got up a bit closer, then I realised it was a human being. I just ran out screaming and screaming.”
It was the decomposed body of Merle’s 31-year-old niece and mother-of-two, Lasonya Dutton, who had not been seen or heard from in four days.
DYING ROSE: LISTEN TO EPISODES 1 & 2
She was lying in short grass, just four metres from the family’s kitchen window in the remote NSW town of Wilcannia.
Lasonya is one of six Aboriginal women whose stories are being investigated in Dying Rose, a new true crime podcast in which their families question whether they were murdered and whether police properly responded to their deaths.
Lasonya’s mysterious death sent shockwaves through the tiny community.
Her father, Keith Dutton, has spent more than a year fighting for answers from police and asking how his daughter could possibly have been there for so long without her family seeing her.
Keith believes that, within hours of arriving at the horrifying scene, police ruled Lasonya’s death to be suicide.
Police said she was found with an electrical cable wrapped around her neck which they believed was used to hang herself from a fence post, just a metre-and-a-half high.
But Keith did not believe this theory. He began conducting his own investigation – asking those in the tight-knit tiny town about his daughter’s final days.
He learned that one neighbour had seen two people appearing to attempt to enter Lasonya’s home the night before her body was found.
He also heard rumours of locals seeing Lasonya being assaulted on the Friday night she was last seen, and a bloody knife found at the town’s oval.
He attempted to present this theory and the information he had gathered to police, but said officers “didn’t want to hear it”.
The only time NSW Police spoke to Lasonya’s uncle Merle, who found her body, was “when they asked him to leave” the home in the moments following her death.
In Lasonya’s autopsy report, it was revealed the coroner “could not rule out third-party involvement” in Lasonya’s death and deemed the circumstances of her death to be suspicious.
In the report, NSW Police claimed they had conducted a proper investigation – a statement that left Keith baffled.
“Me and my family believe that she has been murdered. In that autopsy report, it states that you can’t exclude a third party and it goes on to say that it was thoroughly investigated,” Keith said.
The NSW Coroner’s Court has now taken over the investigation from the NSW Police and is working toward a coronial inquest.
For Keith Dutton, that might be the only closure he can find for his little girl.