true crime

Belgian backpacker Davine thought Australia was safe. Then she was kidnapped and raped in a pig shed.

Warning: This article deals with sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. 

Chained to the wall by one arm and a leg, Davine thought this was where she was going to die – laying on a grubby black sofa on top of hay and animal faeces in a filthy abandoned pig shed in rural South Australia.

The walls were stained with bird droppings. On the dirt floor exposed to the elements, she could see dead insects and piles of cables. There was a chicken coop and animal pens that clearly used to house farm animals. A dirty fridge sat in the corner.

And there was Max, the middle-aged man who’d lured her to the rundown hobby farm, just five minutes from the country town of Meningie, with a Gumtree ad promising a job rearing baby calves for a company called Genesis Inc.

A job that would help the now-26-year-old Belgian backpacker qualify for a one-year visa extension to continue travelling around Australia, a country she’d come to know as a “safe place”.

But as Davine quickly found out, Max was in fact 54-year-old Gene Bristow, and there were no baby calves to be fed.

Instead, Bristow sexually assaulted Davine several times, raping her with his fingers on that black sofa over a 24-hour period.

davine-gene-bristow
“I thought, ‘This is it. This is where I'm going to die,’” Davine said of her unimaginable ordeal at the hands of Gene Bristow. Image: 60 Minutes.

We know this because Davine managed to escape. In February, two years after the ordeal, she travelled back to Adelaide to testify to the abuse she experienced at the hands of Bristow in front of a District Court jury.

Davine told the court that when she and Bristow pulled up to the pig shed in his dusty red HiLux ute after taking a two-and-a-half-hour extended route designed to show her just how isolated the area was, the man she knew as Max asked if he could check the bottoms of her feet for needle marks.

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He wanted to make sure she wasn't a drug user, like the many other backpackers that had messed him around before, so he requested she lay on the sofa face down, before grabbing her arms and holding what he said was a gun to her back.

Before now, Davine was known as Lucy, her identity protected from the media. But on Sunday night's episode of 60 Minutes, Davine will show her face and speak for the first time about how she escaped her abuser.

“I thought, ‘This is it. This is where I'm going to die,’” Davine tells reporter Tara Brown in a promo video for the interview.

“You don't want to die somewhere - not like that. Not there in the middle of nowhere.”

In a piece titled I’ve been kidnapped. No joke’ in The Weekend Australian Magazine in March, 2019, Walkley Award–winning journalist and author Richard Guilliatt explores the frightening story of how a a worldly, well-travelled young woman found herself conned and kidnapped by Bristow.

Davine told Guilliatt that despite having a lot of experience travelling in Central America, China and South Africa, she didn't think anything untoward of Bristow's offer.

You can watch a promo for the 60 Minutes interview with Davine below, post continues after video.

Video via Nine

She needed to get 88 days of farm work under her belt so she could continue exploring Kangaroo Island before heading up through central Australia. He needed a female to work on the farm because women were generally gentler with the calves, or so he said. So, she hopped on a bus from Adelaide to Murray Bridge to meet him, not suspecting at all that she was walking willingly into a trap.

"I think that for a lot of people like [Davine], Australia is seen as this very safe destination where there haven't been major terrorist attacks. Crime is quite low compared to a lot of overseas destinations and there's a feeling that you're very safe here... in fact she did say later on that her image of Australia was of an incredibly friendly safe place," Guilliatt told Mamamia.

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"And so like a lot of young women who are travelling here, I think there's a kind of false sense of security which led to her putting herself in a quite a dicey situation because she actually didn't know who Max was and she just took on face value what he was saying."

As Guilliatt observed, overseas backpackers visiting Australia fear the possibility of being attacked by a wild animal more than any serial killer or sexual abuser.

Even though our country has a dark history of backpackers being murdered in rural Australian locations. Ivan Milat killed seven backpackers in New South Wales' Belanglo State Forest between 1989 and 1993. English backpacker Peter Falconio was murdered by Bradley Murdoch in 2001. There was the 2013 kidnapping and sexual assault of a 19-year-old German backpacker in Queensland by Peter Van de Wetering, and in 2016, the kidnapping and sexual assaults of 23-year old German and Brazilian backpackers in South Australia's Salt Creek, by Adelaide man Roman Heinze.

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Davine was held on this couch in a pig shed and sexually assaulted multiple times over a 24 hour period. Image: SAPOL.

Davine told Guilliatt she could sense something wasn't quite right when Bristow led her into the pig shed, and later felt stupid for allowing herself to be manipulated into such a dangerous situation.

“Sometimes I think it’s a curse to be born a woman... I think we are not safe at all," she told the journalist.

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In the next 24 hours, Davine was forced to endure Bristow's sexual abuse. He took her phone, and told her he worked for an organisation that collaborated with police to kidnap young women. Even if she managed to escape, she would simply be taken to one of the other nearby farms to be tormented by far crueler men. She'd never make it out alone either, he warned her, in the harsh elements of the deserted area, far from civilisation and riddled with poisonous snakes.

As it grew dark, Bristow left Davine chained up in the pig shed and went back home to his wife and son. What he didn't know was that he'd left Davine in the same room as her backpack. He hadn't bothered to check it when he took her phone, but inside were her laptop and an internet dongle.

"This was the thing that struck me about this whole bizarre case was Bristow's complete incompetence. You just couldn't fathom how he thought he was gonna get away with this. And you couldn't fathom his complete lack of thinking through. He certainly was no criminal mastermind," Guilliatt told Mamamia. 

With her one spare hand, Davine reached across to the fridge and found a hook with which she was able to free herself from the chains bolting her to the wall. She grabbed her laptop and dongle, and began messaging anyone she could think of over Facebook to let them know she'd been taken.

'I have been kidnapped. No joke. Got my chains loose. On laptop now. Call police and my parents,' she messaged to both a friend and her aunt in Belgium, Guilliatt learnt. She also managed to speak to a friend in Cairns who contacted the police.

Davine also used Google to find a South Australian Police Association website, which she messaged: 'Been kidnapped. Murray Bridge to Lameroo I think. A cow farm. Crossed two ferries. Got chains loose. Afraid to run away. He might chase and shoot me. Please help look for me. Please, please, I’m so afraid. Please. I’m on a farm somewhere. He drives a red pickup.'

She then closed her laptop and chained herself back up, and waited for Bristow to return.

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Davine was able to use her laptop and an internet dongle to send messages for help. Image: 60 Minutes.
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Davine's messages were heard. As Bristow was feeding her breakfast and sexually assaulting her again the next morning, police planes were circling the area and Davine's face had been plastered on the front of the Advertiser newspaper.

After being pulled over and catalogued by police near Meningie later that day, Bristow returned to the farm and told Davine they had to leave immediately. He dropped his captive at a motel in town and left her there. She then went to her room, had a shower, and was walking back from McDonald's when an off duty cop spotted her.

"[Davine] was absolutely petrified of the police. And in fact, she really wouldn't let this guy approach her. Even when he pulled out his badge, she said to him 'how do I know that's a genuine police ID?' Eventually, a female police officer was brought in to talk to her and she described [Davine] as just shaking with fear even talking to the police. But they eventually convinced her that their intentions were good and they showed her a photo of Bristow and she identified him. So that's when they definitively knew it was him."

In May, Bristow was found guilty of aggravated kidnapping, rape and indecent assault, and sentenced to 18 years in jail with a non-parole period of 12 years and six months for his crimes.

Despite Davine's compelling Victim Impact Statement, in which she "described the terror that she'd felt when she was being held in this shed by this guy and that she would never see her parents again", Bristow maintained his innocence. He claimed the whole story had been completely made up.

On 60 Minutes, we'll hear firsthand from Davine about how she outsmarted her captor and narrowly avoided becoming a statistic.

How she had no idea when she travelled to Australia that she would come dangerously close to joining the ranks of the many backpackers killed by men in the bush before her.

Davine's 60 Minutes interview airs on Channel Nine on Sunday night at 8:30pm. You can also read Richard Guilliatt's full article I’ve been kidnapped. No joke’ in The Weekend Australian Magazine here.

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault, please seek professional help and contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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