Catching Brett Peter Cowan, a suspect in the disappearance and alleged (at the time) murder of Daniel Morcombe, was no easy task for police.
The thirteen-year-old boy vanished from a bus stop on Woombye-Palmwoods Road in Narbour, Queensland on December 2003. He was on the way to Sunshine Plaza to buy his family Christmas presents.
Cowan, who is now in prison serving a life sentence for the young boy's murder, was one of thirty-five suspects in the police investigation.
The latest episode of Casefile True Crime podcast walks listeners through the entire crime and investigation.
Most Australians would have heard the vague details before. What most Australians wouldn't have heard, is the secret recording of undercover police officers coaxing a confession out of their prime suspect. And the genius way they got him to believe they were on his side.
Cowan, referred to by investigators at the time as 'P7' (person of interest number seven) matched the police sketch of a man passers-by witnessed standing behind Daniel at the bus stop prior to his disappearance: he had a tattooed shoulder, and a messy-looking goatee.
Investigators couldn't get a confession out of him at the time. But there were holes in his alibi; his story of where he was on the afternoon of Daniel's disappearance didn't match the recount given by his wife, or his drug dealer (whose house he said he attended around the time Daniel was taken).
He had 45 minutes unaccounted for.
After subpoenaing Cowan and failing to get a confession, police were forced to let him fly back to his hometown. On the plane, Cowan was sitting next to Joe Emery, a man who happened to be a career criminal. Bonding over past crimes (Cowan was a convicted sex offender), the pair hit it off, and stayed in touch.
According to Casefile, "Cowan was desperate for money. Emery introduced Cowan to his friend, Paul Fitzgerald - 'Fitzy' as he was known. Fitzy was the boss of a crime gang that Emery was a member of. After spending a few weeks getting to know Cowan better, Cowan had earned his respect, so Emery thought he would be a good fit for the gang."
The podcast goes on, "Fitzy started him off with some small jobs, to make sure that he could be trusted. As Cowan's involvement increased, he earned the trust and respect of the other gang members."
Whilst Fitzy was the boss of the local branch of the gang, a man called Arnold was the regional boss. Fitzy answered to Arnold.
Arnold had his ear fairly close the ground, and soon heard about Cowan. While "the boys [within the gang] spoke of him very highly", Arnold had received a tip-off from the Police force that another subpoena was coming for Cowan, who by this point had legally changed his name to Shadow Nunya Hunter to throw off Police.
This was the first Arnold heard of Cowan being a suspect in the Daniel Morcombe case.
Arnold, the regional boss of the gang, met with Cowan one-on-one: Cowan was a part of his organisation now, and there were any loose ends tying him to the Morcombe case, police would come sniffing.
"Is there something you need to tell me?" Arnold asks Cowan in the recording on Casefile True Crime podcast. "Bearing in mind, what we do is based on respect and honesty... I don't care what you done. I got no qualms at all... I've had a lot of real bad cun*s on my books. What they do doesn't phase me at all. All I'm lookin' for is loyalty, respect and honesty."
Arnold goes on, "From the information I've got, I'm told you've done the Daniel Morcombe murder... like I said, it doesn't bother me at all... I can sort this for you, sort alibis and whatever... I just need to know what I need to fix."
At this stage, Cowan denied his involvement in the Daniel Morcombe case to Arnold, as he'd done when taking the stand in court. He maintained he had no involvement. Then, Arnold read Cowan an e-mail he'd received from inside the police, about the holes in Cowan's alibi and how he's the prime suspect.
Then he pushes further:
"Like I've said, I can't sort out what I don't know. So, look. What happened, and how can I sort it out. Like I said, honesty, trust, respect... I'm told your pretty loyal, and that you've built up a good relationship with some of the boys and they speak very highly of you. So what do I need to fix?"
You can listen to Casefile True Crime podcast for the full audio recording.
And with that... Cowan came clean. He, without a shred of emotion, detailed each and every step he took in murdering Daniel Morcombe. We won't share them here.
He did so not because of guilt; not because he wanted Daniel's family to have closure. Rather, he did so because he thought crime boss Arnold could help him cover up the killing. Arnold was connected, after all.
Except, he wasn't. Arnold wasn't real.
Fitzy wasn't real. Joe Emery wasn't real.
They were all undercover members of the Australian Federal Police, a 35-man fictional crime gang. For months, they led Cowan on. They built his trust. They convinced him he was committing crimes when in reality, he wasn't at all.
Arnold asked Cowan to lead him to where he'd buried the body, under the guise of 'making sure there were no remains that could be found'. It was then that Arnold revealed his identity.
Police were waiting. Along with 'Arnold', they placed Brett Peter Cowan under arrest for the murder of Daniel Morcombe.
On March 13 2014, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
It's not a day longer than he deserves.
Listen to the full recording of the coaxed confession on Casefile True Crime Podecast - Case 54: Daniel Morcombe.
The Daniel Morcombe foundation was established by Daniel's parents in an effort make Australia a safer place for children. You can donate here.
You can listen to this week's full episode of Mamamia Out Loud below...