- Published: Friday, 17 August 2012 13:38
17 August 2012
This is an interesting account of tracking and counter-tracking after an ugly murder in Australia. It was sent to me by The Scott Donelan Tracking School. It is very difficult to evade a skilled tracking team -- something I learned at the British tracking school in Brunei, on Borneo Island. The man they were tracking was using shrewd counter-tracking but they still got him.
Jonathon Stenberg is suspected of killing 54-year-old Edward "Ned" Kelly at his home in Broadwater, a small town on the NSW north coast, in what is believed to be a neighbourhood dispute. It is believed that this occurred on the 21st of June 2012.
Kelly's headless corpse was found in his kitchen, with a hat placed on top of his body. His head has not been found.
Detectives conducted inquiries and identified Stenberg as a suspect in the murder. Inquiries later suggested that Stenberg had travelled by vehicle into the Northern Territory (NT) and the NT Police were subsequently notified.
On the 26th of June Stenberg was observed by an off-duty Police officer driving his vehicle in the Berry Springs area South of Darwin, NT. Stenberg drove his vehicle from the main road and onto a dirt track where he made an attempt to camouflage his car.
Members of the NT Tactical Response Group (TRG) arrived at the area a short time later in an armoured Bearcat and located Stenberg’s abandoned vehicle. A search of the area was conducted which including the use of a tracking dog however Stenberg was unable to be located. The vehicle was removed from the area and items located within it included a bolt action rifle, solar panels and food supplies.
Further searches were conducted over the following days utilising aircraft and ground searches. Road blocks were maintained around the 45sq km search area.
Stenberg is a 46 year old male approximately 5 foot 5 inches tall of solid to heavy build with size 7 feet.
He served in the Australian Army as a combat engineer before discharging in the early 90’s.
He lists his achievements as a field engineer engaging in demolitions, laying of booby traps and being trained in reconnaissance and explosives. He also completed a course in hand-to-hand combat and it is believed he recently worked in Afghanistan or Iraq as a security contractor with a private company.
It is believed he trained at the Kokoda Barracks where soldiers partake in a wide variety of combat and war games courses, many with a focus on survival skills, including how to find food, water and shelter.
He was also a keen hunter who possessed numerous rifles and pistols and rated himself highly as an experienced bush man.
Use of Tracking Team
Request for assistance:
NT Police made a request to the WA Police to provide additional officers and this resulted in several Tactical Operators being flown to Darwin. 5 of these officers were recently trained as Tactical Trackers by David Scott-Donelan of the Scott Donelan Tracking School.
The tracking Patrol:
On Sunday the 1st of July (Day 6 of the search) a team consisting of WA TRG trackers and one NT TRG member were given the task of providing a clearing patrol on the opposite side of the river to where Stenberg’s vehicle was located. Up until this time a dedicated tracking team had only been used to examine tracks found on areas several kilometres away.
We parked our vehicle on the Cox Peninsula Road verge and walked down the track to where the vehicle had been located. On arrival at the scene we could see shattered vehicle glass and a lot of tyre and foot tracks on the ground.
We confirmed with the NT member (a non tracker and the only NT member in our patrol) the direction where the previous patrols had been conducted. During our initial search of the area one of our members located a fresh looking meat pie wrapper and sauce packet stuffed into a tree hollow. At this point we developed a belief that the site had not been as thoroughly checked as we thought. We were unable to obtain further information regarding any purchases that Stenberg had made from his petrol station stop prior to dumping his vehicle.
We then requested some additional time to look around the area and were subsequently granted permission. As the previous search focus seemed to be towards the North West we commenced a patrol in the opposite direction towards a bridge on Cox Peninsula Road.
To begin with 3 of our trackers essentially alternated between conducting lost spore procedures and front flank security whilst 2 other members provided overwatch and rear security from the higher ground. As we patrolled, the Darwin River was to our left and higher ground to the right. We were moving in a South Eastern direction on the North side of the river. We had previously been briefed regarding the danger of salt water crocodiles along the river and that it was extremely unlikely that Stenberg would spend any longer than necessary there.
After some time and approximately 100 metres from where the vehicle had been, we located some spore that appeared to be from a small work boot (Stenberg was a size 7 US). There had been many other boot prints in the vicinity of where the vehicle had been however we felt that this spore was different and seemed to be of a person travelling alone.
Locating spore from this point and throughout the rest of the day proved a very tedious task due to the nature of the terrain and the careful manner in which the quarry moved around. Most of the spore located consisted of stones out of place and scuff marks on branches and the majority of these marks were up to 6 days old. There were very few partial boot prints and definitive marks left on the terrain. The bulk of our time was spent micro-tracking and conducting the lost spore procedures that we were taught on our Tactical Mantracking Course.
After the initial boot scuffs we continued to locate spore until we discovered a perfect boot print amongst bushland not far from the river bank. It looked to be approximately a size 7 and was different to the Police boot prints we had found in the area. We were confident that this particular print was likely to be from Stenberg so the NT member attempted to gain communications to pass on the information and arrange for forensic officers to attend. Due to our remote location he was unable to establish clear communications so it was decided that he would return to our vehicle with one of our members to convey the message.
It was at this stage in our patrol that we consolidated and discussed the situation whilst waiting for the return of the remaining 2 members. It was later discovered that Stenberg was hiding on the waters edge behind a very well constructed bush screen that was only approximately 5 metres from some of our members. There were no tracks into or out from his hide and we later learnt that he had been using the waterways for all his movement after the initial move across land.
After approximately 20 minutes the other 2 members returned and we continued following the spore toward the bridge. We later discovered that Stenberg had moved across land to the bridge and at one point even moved up to the road to see what was going on. He then returned to his bush hide by walking through the shallows of the river.
Near the bridge one of our members located a black Tikka rifle in approximately 70cm of water (This rifle was later proven to be unrelated to Stenberg). After locating this rifle we were then required to wait at that location for forensic officers to attend. The Tactical Commander was contacted and he arranged for forensic members to retrieve the rifle and also gather evidence at the boot print location.
Some other officers arrived including a NT TRG tracker and forensic officers. One of the forensic officers was lead to the rifle in the river and the other was lead along with the NT tracker and another NT officer to the location of the boot print. The forensic officer at the boot print location began processing the scene and the tracking team were told to continue tracking from the last known spore under the bridge.
The forensic officer at the boot print site was later left by himself whilst other officers remained near the road. This forensic officer was not wearing body armour or carrying a firearm. Whilst taking photographs and measurements of the boot print the forensic officer saw movement near the river (It was later learned that this was from Stenberg shivering uncontrollably as he had spent a large amount of time hiding in the water). The forensic officer pretended that he was there with someone else and said he was going to get additional equipment. He casually walked away and then once out of sight ran to the road to alert other officers.
Officers immediately called over the radio that there had been movement in the bush and subsequently the helicopter moved to the area. TRG officers moved to the location in company with the forensic officer and on approach they still couldn’t see anyone behind the bush screen (One officer was within a couple of metres but couldn’t see Stenberg). As they closed in on where the movement had been seen, an officer in the helicopter gave directions to something that looked out of place. TRG officers moved the bush that had been screening Stenberg and located him lying by the river.
He was apprehended without incident and had a loaded pistol in a holster with him. There were two other pistols, a hunting rifle and a large quantity of ammunition located hidden in bushes several metres from him. Stenberg was also equipped with a thermal monocular. He was aware of methods to evade detection from thermal imaging and submerged himself in the river at times when the helicopter passed over or when he heard movement in the area.
Overall the Tracking Team was in the area for almost 8 hours prior to Stenberg’s apprehension.