Ben Ryan was just 24 years old when his father Jeffrey was murdered by a contract killer paid for by his ex-wife and her cold-blooded family.
Jeffrey, 48, a respected grazier and cattle breeder died alone in the darkness at his 485-hectare property, Callemondah, at Duri, near Tamworth in northern NSW, after a 12-gauge shotgun blast blew apart his back around 9pm on Friday, October 23, 2009.
His wounds, though extensive, weren't enough to kill him instantly and it took him many agonising minutes to die, his blood soaking into the soil that he worked and loved.
"Nobody deserves to die that way," Ben, Jeffrey's 27-year-old son from his first marriage, tells the September issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.
"When I'm lying awake at night, I think about what it was like for him, out there by himself. How could anyone do that to another human being?"
It was a cowardly assault, carried out next to farm sheds and a shipping container in which Jeffrey had been sleeping following the breakdown of his marriage. His wife, Helen Ryan, then 48, was in their marital home just 400 metres away, but said she heard nothing.
Jeffrey died in a calculated conspiracy, a deadly web of intrigue inspired by greed, jealousy and revenge.
Police eventually identified a tattooed former truckie named Ken Brooks as the man who pulled the trigger. However, Brooks was a bit player in comparison to Jeffrey's wife.
Despite her denials in court, Helen Ryan had the lead role in this rural tragedy which might smack of a Hollywood plot if it wasn't based in such grim reality.
Helen Ryan played the grieving widow, but she masked a darker character as a femme fatale, a woman with a spectacular talent for lying and an inexplicable hold over men, who hired a hitman to kill her husband, even as he was in the throes of divorcing her.
Her 42-year-old younger sister, Ganene Coulter, became Helen's weak, easily manipulated pawn, a former prostitute and drug user with the right criminal connections to "get the job done".
Their 70-year-old mother, Coralie Coulter, filled the role of the cynical crone, an eager accomplice who not only helped conceal the crime, but also provided $10,000 of the $30,000 payment to the hit man.
They were an alliance united around Helen in a quest to kill Jeffrey, to make Callemondah — in her words — "all mine" and set her up for life, complete with discussions about future "boob job" surgery and tropical holidays.
"My dad was a good man," says Ben. "Helen told lies and manipulated people to get her own way, to get the property from under Dad's feet. It was all about money, greed and control.
"I think about the man we've lost. The local high school has named a perpetual trophy after him, that's how much people thought of him.
"But Dad wouldn't want us to let Helen beat us. He'd be saying, 'Keep your chin up and keep walking forward'. That's what we're doing. We're okay and we'll be okay. For him."
Read more of this story in the September issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.
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