Damon Frank Calanca was jailed for life over the death of Gabe Meyer. Photo / News Corp
Enraged by being left by the young woman he was obsessed with, Damon Frank Calanca killed her innocent teenage brother, Gabe Meyer.
Calanca was jailed for life, but every year Meyer’s parents live a nightmare as he applies again for parole.
They say he will kill again. And they made a vow when evil visited their family in the form of Calanca that he would never devastate a family again.
“Each time we plead with the parole board and try to point out what we know, which is that he will kill again on release. It’s just a matter of time,” Gabe’s father Doug Meyer told Channel Nine’s Murder Calls, a crime show which follows the trail of phone calls that brought Calanca to justice.
Gabe Meyer became Calanca’s innocent target. Photo / News Corp Australia
But that justice came 18 months too late for Meyer.
It was out of character, they said, and Sherrie spent a restless night trying not to panic. After a few hours they called all the hospitals, fearing an accident, but there was no sign of Gabe. She checked his bed periodically through the night.Alarm bells rang instantly for Meyer’s parents, Doug and Sherrie, when their 17-year-old son didn’t come home for dinner after his dad dropped him at his local gym in the Far North Queensland
town of Innisfail on February 12, 1993.
At dawn, worry boiled over, and the pair drove to the home of Gabe’s gym buddy, Calanca.
“Gabe didn’t get home last night, do you know anything about this?” Doug asked Calanca.
“He replied: ‘He was here, and when he left it was about dark and he was going to go over to the pontoon, I think he was going swimming.'”
The alarm bells sounded louder. Gabe loved water, but they knew he wouldn’t venture into the crocodile-infested Johnson River, especially in the dark.
When they reported Gabe missing to police, and revealed Calanca had been the last to see him, the alarm bells hit fever pitch.
Police knew the name Damon Calanca: 14 months earlier they’d charged him with the attempted murder of Paul Melling.
Melling had wound up at a farmer’s door, soaked in blood.
Calanca had discovered Melling was dating his ex-girlfriend, and decided he wanted her back. They’d gone for a drive to sort it out. Calanca stabbed Melling in the back. When Melling somehow got control of the knife and bolted, he tried to run him down in his car.
But in court, the attempted murder charge was downgraded, and Calanca received community service.
Which meant he was a free man when Gabe’s older sister, Fawn, then 19, met him at the gym and agreed to date him.
The Meyers weren’t entirely happy about the new relationship. They felt the 26-year-old was “really intense”, Sherrie remembers.
So they were relieved when, after just three weeks, Fawn left Australia to start a three-university course in Miami, USA.
But Calanca was devastated, and began a campaign to Fawn to return to Australia, bombarding her with letters and phone calls.
“It looked like we had a problem developing, He was a little too clingy,” Doug says. They advised Fawn to end it once and for all.
Sherrie Meyers believes Calanca started plotting Gabe’s murder the day after Fawn said she wasn’t coming back. Photo / Channel 9
She phoned, telling him to stop calling. He had to move on, she wasn’t coming back and she wasn’t coming back.
The only reason she’d come home, she said, was if something happened to her family.
Days later, Gabe went missing.
And as the investigation progressed – through crocodile-infested rivers, to a property in Tully, Calanca remained cool as a cucumber, saying he’d never hurt the family.
Police and the Meyers knew in their guts he’d done it, but they needed a breakthrough.
The first came with a young friend of Calancas relaying a trip to a property at Polly Creek.
James Potter told police Calanca had marked a place with two crossed sticks.
“He said he’d remember the spot. It was pretty weird at the time,” Potter said.
Then Calanca asked him could he borrow a shovel.
Police found an empty grave near the site, and two other smaller ones nearby.
“We just thought, ‘Oh my God, was he going to kill one of other kids too?” Sherrie says of the Meyers’ devastation when they saw them.
‘He will kill again on release. It’s just a matter of time,’ Doug Meyer says of Calanca. Photo / Channel 9
Gabe had been missing almost two weeks, and with no sign of a body the investigation was being wound down.
The Meyers were furious.
“You’ll never convince me Calanca is innocent,” Doug told police.
The breakthrough call came on Australia Day – a woman who lived next door to Calanca’s childhood home, telling police: “I smelt something on my walk last night and it does smell really bad. It does smell like a dead pig … I just hope it’s a dead pig.”
The following day, police found Gabe’s blanket-wrapped body.
The Meyers knew the second police pulled up at the family home their son was gone.
Police would ultimately discover Calanca had dosed a protein drink with cold and flu tablets to poison Gabe.
He’d bought them on January 6 – the day after Fawn told him the relationship was over, it was time to move on.
“It was like a switch was flipped,” Sherrie told Murder Calls.
“When that relationship was denied him he became angry and full of rage and started to plan Gabe’s death.”
The Meyer family before Damon Calanca’s devastating murder took their son, Gabe. Photo / Channel 9
Last year, on the 23rd anniversary of her son’s disappearance, as Calanca made his fourth bid for parole, Sherrie said her family still feared Calanca, and they would continue to fight his release for as long as they could.
“This man has committed a heinous murder against a 17-year-old and tried to kill another young man,” she told the Cairns Post.
In the wake of Gabe’s murder, Sherrie and Doug co-founded the Queensland Homicide Victims Support Group.
“I said when this happened our family would try our best to ensure that this never happened to another person,” Sherrie told Murder Calls.
“We made that promise and we will stay committed to that promise. We do not want to see Calanca kill someone else.”