true crime

Mark Haines was found dead on the train tracks. But nothing about the scene made sense.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains names and descriptions of people who have died.

The sun is rising on the morning of Saturday, January 16, 1988, and light rain drizzles over Tamworth, a city in northeast New South Wales. 

A freight train driver pulls out of Tamworth, heading to Sydney, and keeps his eyes up ahead. He sees something in the distance - a pile of clothes, perhaps. But as he edges closer he realises that lying on the train tracks, about seven kilometres outside of Tamworth, is the body of a young man. 

By the time he pulls the brake, it’s too late. The body disappears under the train. He doesn't see what happens to the man. But he can imagine. 

Soon after, Glenn Bryant, a Tamworth station master, receives a phone call. There’s been an accident. When he arrives at the scene, he is the first to discover the body of 17-year-old Mark Haines. 

But it's nothing like he expects. 

This isn't the first time Bryant has been called to a body on the tracks. He has come to know what it looks like when a person is hit by a train weighing 300 tonnes. For starters, there's blood. Usually lots of it. 

But when he edges towards this young man, sludging through the muddy ground, he notices there is barely any blood. Mark has sustained a clear head injury, and there are several cuts. The lack of blood is perplexing. 

And there's more that baffles him. Looking down at his own muddy shoes, he thinks it's strange that Mark's shoes are clean. How did he walk to the tracks in the rain without getting his shoes dirty? And then there's the white towel. Beneath Mark's head, is a towel propping him up. How strange, to lie down on a train track, and fold yourself a makeshift pillow. 

Speaking to the ABC more than 30 years later, Bryant said: "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... There was no way the train contributed to his death.

"I felt that he was put there by someone whilst he was dead, to try and make it look like he had committed suicide."

Not long after Bryant, the police arrive. The train tracks where Mark's body lies, somewhat symbolically, divides Tamworth into two. An Aboriginal community resides on one side, and a largely white population on the other. Mark himself was a Gomeroi man. 

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It's 10 days out from January 26, 1988 - an especially fraught day for the Indigenous community. The date will mark the bicentenary of British invasion. While Mark's family mourns, putting pressure on police to search for answers, the rest of Tamworth will be alive with celebration. The white population will cheers to an Australia they 'founded' 200 years ago. The Gomeroi population will reflect on their violent dispossession, aware that one of their own was killed, and still all these years later, no one cares. 

Listen to Mamamia's true crime podcast, True Crime Conversations, where we explore what happened to Mark Haines. Post continues below. 

The night Mark Haines died.

At 9pm on the evening of January 15, 1988, Mark, his cousin Leah, and her boyfriend, walked into town. 

While Leah wanted to go to the Workman's Club, Mark was interested in having a drink with his friends. When they reached town, Leah's boyfriend gave 17-year-old Mark his birth certificate, so he could get into a nightclub. They parted ways, and Mark met up with a number of friends at Tamworth's town hall at 10pm. 

A group of Mark's friends then entered a nightclub, including his girlfriend, Tanya White, and his friends Terry Souter and Greg Jones*. 

They stayed out late. Eventually Mark walked his girlfriend home towards South Tamworth, and said goodbye at about 3:30am. 

That was the last known time Mark was seen alive. 

How did Mark Haines end up on the train tracks?

It didn't take police long to land on a theory. 

About a kilometre and a half from the scene, police found a stolen vehicle. Witnesses told authorities that in the early hours of Saturday, January 16, they heard teenagers joyriding around Tamworth.

With no fingerprints, DNA or eye witness reports, police believed that Mark had stolen the white Torana, crashed it, and then abandoned the vehicle. Afterwards, the theory went, he walked a kilometre and a half and laid down on the train tracks, tucking a towel under his head. 

But Mark's family weren't convinced. 

First, Mark was unable to drive a manual car according to his best friend Jason Wann. It was a running joke. Second, the walk he allegedly undertook was not an easy one. It would have required Mark to walk along a narrow bridge, balancing only on tracks, in total darkness. When his uncle tried to retrace his steps in broad daylight, he was unable to. Third, his shoes. Clean. No mud. 

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No arrests were made, and the investigation went quiet. 

According to Mark's uncles, Duck and Jack, police didn't even search the car. It was them who forced open the boot. "It looked like to me and my brothers that there was stains on the mat and the tyre. And they were dark stains," Duck told Australian StoryPolice told them it was probably just animal blood. 

Then, six months later, two teenagers turned up at the police station. They'd heard a rumour at a party. Apparently, Mark had been placed on those train tracks. And they had an idea about who did it. 

A cover up gone wrong?

The anonymous police statements named Eddie Davis, a young Indigenous boxer, as the perpetrator. According to their statements, Mark had been planning to steal some marijuana from local drug dealers, and it was Eddie's job to scare him off. Apparently, he'd accidentally killed him. In an attempt to cover it up, he'd placed Mark on the tracks. 

There was no evidence to support this theory and Eddie always fiercely denied any involvement. 

For Mark's family though, it was all they had. Finally, a name. A face. A number of violent altercations between Mark's uncles and Eddie took place in Tamworth, which resulted in police calling a "mediation". Tensions escalated inside the police station, and the meeting was ultimately called off. 

Eddie's named was eventually dropped, and it looked like Mark's family might never find answers. 

That's when journalist, producer and presenter Allan Clark, a Muruwari man, came across the case. While working at various media publications including NITV, Buzzfeed and the ABC, he looked more closely into the death of Mark, building relationships with his family and the Tamworth community. Articles were published. And people started talking. 

One of those people was Fay Souter. She had a feeling her son had something to do with it. 

"I think he was involved."

Terry Souter, Fay's eldest son, was a friend of Mark's. They were out together on the night of January 15, 1988. 

Six months after Mark's death, Terry took his own life. 

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He left a note that said he loved his family very much, but couldn't handle life anymore. 

Speaking to Australian Story, Fay said: “He couldn’t do anything, he couldn’t even kill a rat. But I think he was involved... I think Terry was with all these people and he was the driver of the car that manoeuvred everybody to and from and the dumping of Mark Haines’ body."

Fay had more than a gut instinct. After Terry's death, her youngest son Mick told her a story. 

It was the early hours of Saturday morning in January 1988, and Terry had woken him. Next thing he knew he was at the railway tracks, and Terry told him to wait behind the gum trees. He remembers being scared. And curious. He followed his brother, and recalls seeing him crouching down next to a body. 

Speaking to Allan, Mick said he thought he saw his brother place his jacket under Mark's head. All these years later, he thinks it could have been a towel. 

Allan has always believed that towel could have contained vital DNA evidence. Perhaps enough to solve the case. But police have since lost the towel, and they'll never know whether or not Terry's hands had touched it. 

A man named Greg*

Jason Wann, Mark's best friend, had spoken at length to Allan. But one day, everything changed.

He told Allan he had something he "needed to get off [his] chest".

Growing up, he said, Mark and Jason had a friend named Greg*. His boss owned that white Torana - the one that was stolen and abandoned. 

10 years ago, a female acquaintance arrived at Jason's house. She was visibly upset. She told him that Mark's friend, Greg*, had had too much to drink, and confessed to being there when Mark died. Allegedly, he told her there had been a car accident. And he'd placed Mark's body on the tracks. 

Greg* had told this woman that a white box had been placed on Mark's body, a fact one could only know if they were there. The driver of the train had recalled seeing a white box on the tracks that morning. 

How did Mark Haines die? 

Allan maintains that the biggest oversight in Mark's case is the autopsy report. 

Mark suffered a subdural hematoma - the type of injury usually sustained from a blow to the head. It's often seen in one-punch victims. Or a car accident, when a skull collides with the windscreen. It is not what happens when someone is hit by a train. 

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Allan worked on a two-part Australian Story documentary exploring what happened to Mark Haines. He won a Walkley Award alongside Yale Macgillivray for his work on Unravel season 1: Blood on the tracks. Through his investigative reporting, he now has his own theory about what happened to Mark. 

To Allan, the story that makes the most sense is that Mark was picked up by Greg* in that white Torana after he left Tanya's house. Witnesses heard engines revving. Perhaps Terry was driving a car ahead or behind them. At some point, it seems most likely that there was a car accident, and Mark's skull hit the windscreen. 

Greg* denies this account. 

Even if that is what happened on January 16, 1988, there are still questions.

Why did Terry (if at all) place a towel under Mark's head? Did he go back to check on Mark, hoping he'd still be alive? Was it an act of compassion? 

The most unsettling question is one we probably have an answer to.

Would this investigation have been different if Mark had lived on the other side of Tamworth? If he were a 17-year-old white boy? 

Would they have been as quick to assume he stole the white Torana? Would evidence have gone missing? Would his family have been ignored, and left to put together the pieces themselves? 

Probably not. 

His Uncle Duck said, looking back on the treatment of Mark's death in those early days, "they weren’t interested in a dead black boy". 

Perhaps that's at the heart of this case. And too many since.

* Greg Jones is not his real name, and is a pseudonym used in Allan Clarke's reporting. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

You can listen to our interview with Allan Clarke on True Crime Conversations, Blood on the Tracks: What happened to Mark Haines.

You can listen to season one of Unravel: Blood on the Tracks. 

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