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It was a terrible place to dump a body. The clearing, off the road to Katherine Gorge, was often used by people looking for a free spot to camp near the national park.

The body looked like a swag or a bundle of sheets. As Darryl Hill approached he saw flies buzzing around the bundle. He lifted a sheet corner and saw a human foot. He tried to find a place with enough reception to call triple 0.

Darryl’s call came in at 10:15am on October 25, 2011. That same day, I came back from lunch to the ABC’s tiny, one person studio inside the tourist information centre in the tiny town of Katherine, three hours’ drive south of Darwin.

The manager asked me if I knew why the road to the gorge was closed. I didn’t, so I went for a drive to the spot 15 kilometres north east of the town.

The few dozen police there looked unimpressed to see a car with the ABC logo. None of them would talk to me, so I took a few photos and left.

Raffaele “Ray” Niceforo was dead. Within a few days three young men would be charged with his murder. Ray’s ex fiancee Bronwyn Buttery would be charged a month later. That’s almost the last certain, provable fact of this story.

The rough justice system of the Northern Territory is no place for nuance, but this is a story that lives almost entirely in the grey areas.

In it, a loving friend can become an abusive monster, depending on who’s telling it. A battered wife can become a conniving temptress. A joke between mates about the best way to dispose of a body becomes a conspiracy for murder in the eyes of another.

It’s a story where the bloke the judge reckons wasn’t there when the murder happened gets longer than the one who admits he was, while the person who paid for the murder beats them all out of prison.

Bronwyn and RayBronwyn Buttery told police she met Ray Niceforo in Adelaide four years before his murder. She was working at a Woolworths and he was working as a truck driver making deliveries.

They hit it off and saw each other for two and a half weeks. But Ray was from the Northern Territory and wanted to go home.

“He seemed like a really nice man, he made me laugh and even though I didn’t know him real well I wanted to get to know him better, see if there was a chance,” Buttery would later tell police.

She decided she wanted to give the relationship a go, leaving her two adult sons and the house she owned to move almost 3,
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000 kilometres to Katherine Ray’s home town.

Bronwyn got a job running housekeeping for a hotel, and it came with a place to live. Ray was working in Darwin and would come back every second weekend. Things were going well, Bronwyn said, until New Year’s Eve.

“He got fairly drunk and just changed from being a nice fella to being this man who called me horrible names, ignored me half the night, the other half of the night spoke to me as if I was just something to scrape off the bottom of his shoe,” she told police.

“In the end I got a text message from him [saying] why don’t I pack my shit and f off back to Adelaide. That was the first time he told me to f off.”

But she didn’t. She moved into a flat owned by Ray’s family. A week later he lost his job in Darwin and moved in with Bronwyn. Things went OK for a bit, but then got much, much worse.

“At the merest little thing he’d get angry and call me names, horrible names. He would belittle me, tell me to pack my shit and f off, he would grab me so that he knew it would hurt but not enough to leave a bruise.

“It just got worse and worse and worse, the fights got more regular, the abuse went from just pinching and a bit of a slap to breaking a finger.”

After a year in Katherine, Bronwyn made a decision that would make it harder to leave: she went into business with Ray. Sort of. She arranged a loan to buy the local laundromat from Ray’s brother Nino.

But in her police statement, Bronwyn said Ray shouted at her:

Don’t you know fing anything, you never use your own money, don’t you understand this you dumb c. You are nothing but a stupid cn ct.
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