Depraved trucker killed stranger after her good deed – then moved into her home

There was a note on the door of Julie Anne Cooper’s home that read, “Dear visitors, I’ve gone away for two weeks with my wonderful new partner.”

No one would have wanted to deny her the chance of happiness, but it was very unlike the 55-year-old grandmother to just go away without telling her family and friends properly.

And neighbours soon noticed some strange comings and goings at Julie’s home – a man had moved in and they didn’t recognise him.

Something clearly wasn’t right. But as the story unfolded, no one could have guessed the horrific truth.

Julie was living alone in August 2018, her children having grown up and started families of their own. She was known for offering help to anyone who needed it and always being accepting of others – even strangers.

Neighbours would say that if she borrowed $20 from you, she’d pay you back $50. Sadly, it was that generosity of spirit that would seal her fate.

On 17 August, Julie went to the Saint George Hotel in Innaloo, Perth, where she met truck driver Mathew Hemsley, then 33. He mentioned he needed to charge his mobile and Julie offered to let him do it in her car.

The next thing her neighbours knew, Julie had left to be with her “new man” and Hemsley was living in her home in Doubleview, a suburb of Perth.

When they asked why he was there, Hemsley said he was looking after it for Julie while she was away with her boyfriend. He was even driving around in her silver Toyota and eating her food.

One neighbour was horrified when he looked inside Julie’s home and saw it was ransacked and untidy, with food left out and drawers flung open. Julie was always so houseproud and they knew she’d be devastated.

Then, one of Julie’s friends got a text to say she was out of town on holiday. Julie was a grown woman and had a right to go wherever she chose.

But after a week, she was missing appointments and her son visited her home to try to find out where she was. Hemsley had gone and, concerned at the state of the home, Julie’s son reported her missing.

Body in bushland

Police in Western Australia questioned Hemsley about three weeks after Julie was last seen. He told them he’d been in a casual sexual relationship with Julie for a few weeks and had been staying at her home.

He claimed she then told him to move out because she was getting back together with an ex-partner and moving to Sydney. Hemsley said he didn’t know where she was now.

But in reality, he’d only met Julie on 17 August at the pub where she’d offered to let him charge his phone. So why had he lied?

Tragically, a week later Julie’s body was found, dumped in a gully in bushland in Ashendon, east of Perth. She’d been sexually assaulted and strangled.

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So, had Hemsley simply taken advantage of an empty house, or had Julie’s killer moved into his victim’s home? A murder investigation began and officers started to piece together a series of events that would explain Julie’s death – with Hemsley the prime suspect.

They believed that Julie had met him the day she died, that he had offered to take her to his campervan in bushland and, while there, he had sexually assaulted her and strangled her with either a ligature or a collar.

He had then, they believed, thrown Julie’s body down the three-metre gully and gone to a service station to buy petrol so he could set his car on fire at the crime scene. And they said he had then moved into Julie’s home and claimed she’d gone away.

But Hemsley denied killing Julie. When confronted with CCTV of him driving her car to buy petrol, he changed his story and said Julie’s death was an accident and she had effectively “choked herself” to death.

He said they had driven to bushland for sex and Julie had put a dog collar around her neck as part of an act of autoerotic asphyxiation. He said she had done it too tight and stopped breathing so, in a panic, he threw her body down the hole.

But investigators didn’t believe Hemsley’s version of events. He was arrested and charged with murder.

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And while in prison, Hemsley told yet another story about what had happened. He told an inmate that he’d become angry with Julie and had choked her to death with the cord of a sleeping bag. He said he’d “strung her up in a tree” before throwing her in a hole.

It would be up to a jury to decide which version of events was true.

In August 2019, Hemsley pleaded not guilty via video link from prison. In court, Julie’s family audibly gasped. Their agony was prolonged even further knowing that they would have to go through the ordeal of a trial.

Hemsley faced court in 2020 and his defence said that although he had given many inconsistent versions of what had happened, the “death by sexual misadventure” narrative was the truth. The lawyer said that while Hemsley was a drug-using “opportunistic small-time criminal”, he was not a killer.

When Julie had struggled to breathe, Hemsley had tried to get the collar off her neck but couldn’t, he claimed.

‘Depraved and ruthless’

The prosecution disagreed. While the exact cause of death could not be determined in an autopsy, it was clear she’d suffered a sexual assault and strangulation.

But if Julie’s death had been an accident, and he’d panicked, why did Hemsley then callously move into her home? And why had he cruelly trashed the place she cared so much about while lying to everyone with fake notes and messages?

The prosecution said it was Julie’s willingness to help that had ultimately led to her death, after seeing Mathew “carrying on” about his flat phone. “She made a fateful decision to offer him an act of kindness,” the prosecution said.

The jury dismissed Hemsley’s claims that Julie had choked herself during a sexual act and concluded that her death was unlawful – finding him guilty of murder.

At the sentencing in February this year, the judge said Hemsley, 34, was “depraved and ruthless”.

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He said Julie had been killed in remote bushland where her “screams would have gone unheard” and then subjected to further indignity as he disposed of her body and desecrated her home.

The judge pointed out that Hemsley would refer to Julie as “it” and that this was telling. “You regard women in a misogynistic way, you regard them as a lesser person,” he said. “You have not shown any remorse.”

As the judge dismissed Hemsley’s claims of sexual misadventure and outlined the crime, Hemsley started yelling from the dock. “I don’t know how you work that out,” he shouted. “There was no sexual assault.”

When the judge spoke of the emotion of the impact statements from Julie’s family, Hemsley shouted again, saying they “did not know the truth”. He looked at them and added, “You mother was a lovely lady, a beautiful person. I did not kill her.”

The judge had him removed from the court and only brought him back after he promised to stay silent. He said that Hemsley had betrayed Julie’s trust, adding, “She had shown you kindness. Although you were a stranger, she had trusted you.”

Hemsley was sentenced to life in prison and told he would serve a minimum of 23 years before being considered for parole. The judge added that he would be a threat to the public if released.

Outside the court, Julie’s son, Jake Day, said the family were happy with the outcome and described his mum as a beautiful, kind, caring woman who would do anything to help anyone.

Tragically, it was the selflessness and kindness that defined Julie that sealed her fate.

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