true crime

What Denise Shipley did when she found out a man's body was in her boyfriend's freezer.

Warning: This post contains graphic details that may be distressing.

“There’s a man in the fridge.”

These were the words notorious killer Richard Leonard said to his girlfriend, Denise Shipley, in August 1994.

Shipley was seemingly unfazed by the callous admission, choosing to do nothing with the information. She did not go to police, she did not look much further into it, she did not bat an eye.

The body of a dismembered man was in her boyfriend’s freezer and 19-year-old Shipley did nothing.

The man in the fridge was the corpse of Stephen Dempsey, who Leonard had shot through the heart with a bow and arrow, at Deep Creek Reserve in Sydney.

Twenty-three years later, another Sydney woman by the name of Diane Barrera would blame Shipley’s refusal to act on her boyfriend’s confession for her father’s death.

As Barrera told Channel 9’s Murder Calls this week, when Shipley did nothing with the knowledge her boyfriend was a murderer, she allowed him to roam free with the potential to kill once again.

And that’s exactly what Leonard did.

Three and a half months after that initial admission, Shipley sat next to her 22-year-old boyfriend as he stabbed taxi driver and father-of-six Exxedine Bahmad 37 times.

Richard Leonard and Denise Shipley. Image: Screenshot/Channel 9.

“He (Leonard) showed his girlfriend the body of Stephen and she didn’t run away, she stayed there and that was before my dad died,” Barrera told the program.


“There was another person in the car that day, there was another person that contributed to my dad’s murder and she only got eight years.”

Diane Barrera was just 14 when her dad was murdered at the hands of Leonard.

“Before that our life was pretty amazing. We were happy, we were close, we did everything together. And the day he died the world stopped and shifted and everything changed.”

Diane Barrera and her late father. Image: Screenshot/Channel 9.

For Shipley, it wasn't just one conversation about the body that gave her insight into what her boyfriend, who worked in an abattoir, was capable of. In a secretly recorded conversation later in jail, Leonard told a cellmate how he would often take Dempsey's remains out of the freezer and play with them in front of his girlfriend.

“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.”

For the murders of Bahmad and Dempsey, Leonard received two life sentences. In comparison, Shipley was acquitted of Bahmad’s murder and pleaded guilty to two charges of accessory to murder. She was sentenced to eight years and served only three and a half of those years.

The Nine Network’s Murder Calls series airs on Wednesday nights at 8.30pm.

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