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Mark Haines was out on the town in Tamworth as Glenn Bryant started his overnight shift as stationmaster at West Tamworth Station at 11pm on January 15, 1988.
As the clubs and pubs fell silent, and Mark and his girlfriend Tanya White walked home together, the rattling sounds of Glenn at work shunting trains echoed across the sleeping regional New South Wales town.
Through the early humid dawn, trains came and went through Tamworth station. The stationmaster was catching up on book work and preparing to finish his shift when a call came in about 6.05am. It was the driver of a freight train which Glenn had earlier shunted. He had just passed over a body on the tracks.
Glenn knows what happens to a human body when it's hit by more than 300 tonnes of metal travelling at speed: "It really does make a mess of you."
Glenn phoned the police, then got on his motorbike to ride to the scene, about 4 kilometres from the station. "I thought to myself, 'well, I'd better go just in case the person is still alive'," he says. What he would see on that morning has stayed with him for three decades. "That was probably my second or third body that I had seen and it stuck in my head how unusual it was," Glenn says, now talking publicly about the case for the first time. "I just did feel that there was something wrong."
Was Mark's death foul play?
Within hours, the news had spread around town — the body was that of Mark Haines, a popular local Aboriginal teenager. He was 17 and charming, good at school, good at sport. "I never saw Mark have an enemy," says his best friend Jason Wann. "His personality was so gregarious and so outgoing that people just had no choice but to be friends with him."
And in a town divided along racial lines — the train track separates the white community from the Aboriginal community centred in Coledale, known as "Vegemite village" — the Gomeroi teenager had friends on both sides of the track. His girlfriend Tanya was a popular local white girl. His cousin Leah Craigie, who was out with him on the town a few hours before he died, remembers Mark as a happy-go-lucky character. "I always stuck with my cuz, always went everywhere with him." She remembers him always smiling, and his lovely teeth.
Mark's uncle Don 'Duck' Craigie, who considered Mark as virtually his own son, says it was hard to fathom what happened. "We were just stunned, just stunned that this could have occurred," he says. "I couldn't believe it was him, that this has really happened. I had to go to the morgue myself and have a look at him myself."
Police settled on a theory that Mark was responsible for his own death. They suggested a scenario in which, after his night on the town, he had stolen a car, gone joyriding and crashed outside town. They thought that he'd then got out of the car and walked for more than a kilometre along the train line before either falling and not being able to get up, or deliberately lying down in between the tracks.
Ten months after Mark's death, in October 1988, the coronial inquest returned an open finding. But for 30 years, Mark's family has disputed the police version of events. They say police ignored their concerns. His parents, Josie and Ron, are now dead but in the family's campaign for justice, his uncles, Duck, Jack and Craig, have doggedly carried out their own investigation. The family has always believed that Mark was killed by someone and placed on the tracks afterwards.
"We do not believe the boy went out there alone," Duck says. "We have maintained since then our boy has met with foul play."
Journalist Allan Clarke has spent five years immersed in the story. Now, for Australian Story and Unravel, the ABC's collaborative multi-platform true-crime unit, Clarke and an investigative team have returned to Tamworth to dive deeper into the 30-year mystery of Mark Haines' death.
Clarke's reporting has sparked a resurgence of interest in the case. The original police investigation has been reviewed and in January this year, police announced a $500,000 reward for information that could help solve the mystery of what happened to Mark Haines on that hot Tamworth night.
'There's no way' a train killed Mark
Just after 6am on January 16, 1988, as the southbound freight train picked up speed on a lonely stretch of track outside Tamworth, the driver spotted a pile of clothing on the tracks. Then he panicked: they weren't clothes, he realised, but a person lying in between the tracks. The driver yanked the emergency brake but it was too late — the length of the train had passed over the body.
It had rained overnight and was still drizzling when Glenn Bryant arrived at the scene. He left his motorbike on the side of the road, climbed over a fence and walked across muddy ground to the track. "There was red mud, and I did notice on my railway clothes that I had mud probably halfway up my legs just from walking across that short distance," Glenn says.
He could see a body on the track about 30 metres back from the rear of the train, which had come to a stop a little way on from the point of impact.
Glenn was in his 20s at the time and would go on to have a distinguished career in the railways. When he retired, he was a senior manager in Railcorp's safety division based in Sydney. Through the course of his career, he has attended many train fatalities but he still vividly recalls what he saw that day in 1988.
Everything was unusual about the scene, from a white folded towel propping up Mark's head and strewn items including broken presents, a broken teapot, a watch face and a section of white lace, to an almost complete absence of blood.
"Most incidents I've been to where people have been killed by trains, there's always hair and blood samples and flesh and bits of skull," Glenn says. "It'll be stretched over the track from when the train hit it. And there was just none there, which I found quite strange."
There is another characteristic of rail deaths that Glenn has observed: "After being struck by a train, [people] seem to come out of their shoes all the time, which is probably the force of the train hitting them." But not only were Mark Haines's shoes still on, they were also clean. There was no mud on the blue and white sneakers, nor on his jeans, despite two days of steady rain. "I just thought, 'well, if he's walked here, then he certainly should have had mud on him'."
Looking at Mark's body, Glenn could see that he had sustained a massive head injury which was not consistent with being struck by a train. "Just on the hairline and it was like a crushed eggshell," he says.
Mark also had several deep cuts on his body, including a gash on his thigh so deep that the bone was almost visible. "[It] could have been the brake gear under the train or something under the train that could have got the leg but there was no blood at the scene," Glenn says. "So I would assume that he sustained the injury after his heart had stopped pumping."
It was the lack of blood at the scene and the towel that played on Glenn's mind. "I thought it was unusual, very, very strange that a person would be on the track with a towel under his head. [It] had to be placed there by someone or something," says Glenn, who, at the inquest, challenged the idea that Mark had caused his own death.
"There was no way the train contributed to his death," he says. "I felt that he was put there by someone whilst he was dead, to try and make it look like he had committed suicide."
Was abandoned car linked to Mark's death?There would be something else that added to the mystery of Mark Haines' death: On a grassy verge about a kilometre and a half from the spot where the freight train screamed to a stop, a white Holden Torana with manual transmission was found. It had clearly been in an accident — its windscreen was shattered — and it was later discovered to have been stolen.
The car would become one of the subjects that riled Mark's uncles. In the police scenario of the night's events, it was the car that Mark Haines had stolen. But his friends and family refused to believe it. "There is not a chance that he could drive a manual car," says his friend Jason Wann. "I mean, not even under instruction. He just didn't have it, he didn't have the basic skills at that point."
The family hopes that 30 years since Mark's death, they might be close to a resolution. "Things are happening, the police are being looked at and, for once, listening to us," says Mark's sister Lorna Haines. "Hopefully someone comes forward, someone must know something."
Watch Australian Story's two-part special Blood on the Tracks at 8pm on ABC TV and ABC iview.
Next week: A twist no-one ever expected. Blood on the Tracks is part of a seven-episode podcast series by the ABC True Crime unit, Unravel.
Subscribe on ABC Listen or wherever you get your podcasts.
CreditsProducers: Allan Clarke, Suzanne Smith, Rebecca Latham
Photography: Greg Nelson
360 video: Greg Nelson, Gina McKeon, Yale Macgillivray
Editor: Stephanie Wood
Digital producer: Megan Mackander
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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