Bizarre mentality of confessed Cooktown killer

 

WHAT was he thinking?

Matthew Ross White will have the rest of his life to mull that question, raised by most who watched his trial for the 2017 murder of Cooktown mum Donna Louise Steele.

White, 27, was jailed for life yesterday after he changed his plea to guilty midway through his trial in Cairns Supreme Court.

Matthew Ross White (right) confesses to the murder of Cooktown mum Donna Louise Steele.
Matthew Ross White (right) confesses to the murder of Cooktown mum Donna Louise Steele.


In hindsight, his was a plan that was ill thought out, had little to no chance of success and every likelihood of ending in disaster or tragedy.

Justice Jim Henry was scathing in his judgment of White, who had displayed an "egocentric naivety and shallowness of thought" in his approach to the crime.

Jason Steele (left), Donna Steele (centre) and Brendan Steele (right). Picture: Supplied.
Jason Steele (left), Donna Steele (centre) and Brendan Steele (right). Picture: Supplied.

"A trait I perceived in your odd approach to the trial," Justice Henry said.

With a vague hope to regain custody of his firstborn son, White planned to extort what he thought was a Cooktown drug network, starting with family acquaintance, Donna Steele.

He knew Ms Steele was a recreational user of methylamphetamine and assumed she would have access to the $20,000 he needed.

Detective Sergeant Scott McGrath
Detective Sergeant Scott McGrath

"The main goal was cash … for custody of my son," White would tell police seven months after Ms Steele's body was recovered.

"My goal was to get him back and take off somewhere."

The court would hear that White - "who had rarely held a job and even when it came for an elementary existence was dependant on his girlfriend" - borrowed a "footy mate's car" and drove the 300km to his Cape York home town in August. But when it came to execution, White fell on his face.

Donna Steele. Picture: Supplied.
Donna Steele. Picture: Supplied.

Armed with a length of red twine from Bunnings, he waited until Ms Steele - a former friend of his mother's who had gifted his own partner baby clothes - left her Poison Creek Rd address on August 2.

Laying in wait under her bed, did White think through the shaky scheme?

Police and SES search the banks of Isabella Creek near Leggett's Crossing, investigation into the suspected murder of Donna Steele, Cooktown. Photographer: Liam Kidston.
Police and SES search the banks of Isabella Creek near Leggett's Crossing, investigation into the suspected murder of Donna Steele, Cooktown. Photographer: Liam Kidston.

In his confession he told Detective Sergeant Scott McGrath: "I thought I would be all right, that they wouldn't contact police and say 'someone has come and taken our drugs."

Justice Henry picked apart White's sketchy gambit to in "some unexplained way lure or trick them".

Donna Steele. Picture: Supplied.
Donna Steele. Picture: Supplied.

"If this was your motivation it was superficially considered and did not consider the complex array of consequences," he said. "It is astonishing that you did not consider she would not be so easily subdued."

Murder victim Donna Steele's brothers Brendan and Jason Steele outside the Cairns Courthouse. PICTURE: ANNA ROGERS
Murder victim Donna Steele's brothers Brendan and Jason Steele outside the Cairns Courthouse. PICTURE: ANNA ROGERS

The plan would go pear-shaped in short order; Donna Steele would fight back and rip off White's stocking mask.

He would panic and strangle her to unconsciousness.

Puzzlingly, White would carefully bleach the house and remove anything he may have touched in their struggle, but then dumped the murder weapon in bushes at Leggett's Crossing, where he submerged Ms Steele's body.

Donna Steele's brothers Jason and Brendan Steele. PICTURE: ANNA ROGERS
Donna Steele's brothers Jason and Brendan Steele. PICTURE: ANNA ROGERS

Police would capitalise on his oversight with DNA testing of the twine.

White soon reinforced failure by calling his girlfriend on his mobile phone.

Crown prosecutor Nathan Crane told the court a call was registered by the Cooktown tower at 5.14pm.

Brendan Steele (left), Donna Steele (centre) and Jason Steele (right). Picture: Supplied.
Brendan Steele (left), Donna Steele (centre) and Jason Steele (right). Picture: Supplied.

"(He said) he had cleared everything up and dumped the body," Mr Crane said.

Justice Henry noted that his psyche was "worthy of further investigation". His catastrophic legacy is still felt by Donna Steele's family


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