Denise Shipley and psychopathic lover Richard Leonard loved taking LSD and watching the film Natural Born Killers before they disposed of the bodies of two men he murdered. Photo / News Corp Australia
Denise Shipley was 19 years old when her boyfriend Richard Leonard told her about the body he had put in the freezer.
The couple was at his Warriewood flat in Sydney’s northern beaches and the man in the freezer had last been seen alive just a short drive away at Deep Creek reserve, in North Narrabeen..
What Shipley was to do, or rather her inaction, would change the world of a girl she didn’t know, 14-year-old Diane Barrera.
And as Ms Barrera told Channel 9’s Murder Calls this week, Shipley had the power to prevent a second body turning up but she did nothing and so another man died.
Shipley and Leonard, who were madly in love, had met as teenagers at the Mona Vale Christian Life Centre and harboured secret crushes on each other.
When they met up again, Shipley had turned 18 and Leonard was a secret devil worshipper who had a fascination knives and bows and arrows.
Denise Shipley, girlfriend of psychopathic killer Richard Leonard. Photo / News Corp Australia
The 22-year-old abattoir worker loved keeping his knife so sharp it could “slice a tomato
Shipley liked him, Leonard’s father later claimed, “because he was steady, he had a trade and was very articulate. He was very good looking and he appeared to have a future”.
The couple started spending time together and taking drugs, in particular amphetamines and LSD.
Shipley would later say she was attracted to Leonard’s violence and the couple loved Natural Born Killers, the cult film about two lovers who become mass murderers.
On August 2, 1994, Leonard fatally shot Stephen Dempsey with a high-powered compound bow at Deep Creek Reserve.
Initially, he had put Dempsey’s body in creek waters by the reserve, but he returned and dismembered it.
He ferried the body parts back to his Warriewood unit on the back of his motorbike and put them in the refrigerator of the Warriewood flat.
When he told Shipley “there’s a man in the refrigerator”, her response was not to say much.
But she didn’t disbelieve him.
In a secretly recorded conversation later in jail, Leonard would tell a cellmate about how during the four months he kept Mr Dempsey’s remains in the freezer he would take them out to play.
“You know sometimes when I got, when I got bored … I’d bring him out and roll his head across the floor and bring his arms out and try to stick his arms and play jigsaws,” Leonard said.
“Denise sort of sat there. She was completely freaked out. Jesus, she couldn’t cope. She couldn’t cope, she just freaked.”
But she was not “freaked” enough to leave or tell the police. She kept quiet, leaving Leonard to kill again.
It was November 18, 1994, and Shipley and Leonard again bought drugs – confetti impregnated with LSD, known as microdots.
In the afternoon, the couple took a taxi to Collaroy Plateau, 7km from Leonard’s flat.
Migrant father of six Ezzedine Bahmad was the taxi driver and when Leonard took to him with his sharpened meat knife, 42-year-old Bahmad valiantly fought for his life.
Leonard stabbed father of six, taxi driver Ezzedine Bahmad 37 times and slashed his throat before he and Denise Shipley disposed of the body at Pittwater. Photo / News Corp Australia
Leonard stabbed Mr Bahmad 37 times and slashed his throat.
It was later claimed in court that Shipley helped Leonard by trying to grab the knife from the driver during the struggle and turned off the taxi’s ignition, but a jury would reject that Shipley was guilty of the murder.
After the killing, Shipley helped Leonard get medical attention for a stab wound to his chest. Police questioned her at St Vincent’s Hospital about how Leonard was injured, but she lied. When Leonard returned from hospital, Shipley helped him dispose of Mr Dempsey’s remains at Pittwater.
Later, the couple discussed the idea of making a movie about the killing of a taxi driver.
And two weeks later, Leonard with Shipley’s help would dispose of “missing” Palm Beach man Stephen Dempsey’s remains, taken from the freezer and wrapped in chicken wire, weighted them down with rocks at dumped at Pittwater.
Weeks later Mr Dempsey’s torso wrapped in wire washed ashore, and police began investigating his disappearance as murder.
They started closing in on Leonard and by late April 1995, realising his arrest was imminent, Leonard confessed to his father.
Then he and Shipley took off to try to get married.
Bingeing on drugs, they lived it up in hotels in Sydney, dining out and drinking.
Unable to find anyone to marry them, Leonard bought two silver rings and they prayed and committed themselves to each other for life.
When they returned home, they went to the Christian City Church at Brookvale and told the pastor about the killings.
In police interviews played on the Nine Network’s Murder Calls series this week, Leonard boasts to detectives about his knife and telling Shipley about Mr Dempsey’s body.
Lulu Dempsey holds a picture of her murdered son Stephen. Photo / News Corp Australia
Leonard: “My knife is very sharp. “I had a steel that I use and I always had my knife sharp. It was my favourite knife.
“And, it actually cost me $90 that knife, and you could get a tomato and slice it like a razor blade. It was really good.”
Footage of the detectives’ interview with Shipley, show her recounting the moment when Leonard told her “there’s a man in the fridge”.
Leonard received two life sentences for his crimes, but Shipley was acquitted of Mr Bahmad’s murder and pleaded guilty to two charges of accessory to murder.
Mr Bahmad’s family were outraged by the shortness of her sentence – eight years, and she served only three-and-a-half years.
Mr Bahmad’s daughter Diane Barrera described how her father’s murder had torn a whole in her life, and her family’s lives.
She blamed Shipley for not going to the authorities after Leonard revealed there was a man’s body in the freezer.
She described her father as a wonderful man, whose murder had left a terrible loss that could not be replaced.
“He was so kind and so considerate and he really loved being around people, but his biggest passion was his family,” Ms Barrera said.
At Leonard’s murder trial, forensic psychiatrist Bruce Westmore described the killer as a psychopath whose own grandmother had encouraged him to mutilate kittens and had helped him cut off their tails and ears.
Lovers Richard Leonard on home video at Christmas kissing his girlfriend Denise Shipley. Photo / News Corp Australia
But DR Westmore also said Leonard had severe disturbances about his own homosexuality, “a very strong sadistic element to his behaviour”.
In the secretly recorded conversation between Leonard and his cellmate, the killer said, “There’s nothing better than seeing the complete look of f … ing fear on somebody’s face, you know.”