Thu. Jun 30th, 2022

It’s a blip on the highway, 500 miles south of Darwin.

Blink and you’ll miss it.

But the tiny town of Larrimah – with a population of less than a dozen people – holds the key to solving one of the Northern Territory’s biggest outback mysteries: the disappearance of Patrick ‘Paddy’ Moriarty.

The Northern Territory Coroner hopes to finally uncover what happened when he today reopens the coronial inquest into the 70-year-old’s suspected death.

A composite image of Paddy Moriarty and his dog Kellie.
Mr Moriarty and his dog Kellie have been missing for more than four years.(Supplied)

Beers, pies and a bitter feud

It was dusk on December 16, 2017, when Mr Moriarty finished a beer at Larrimah’s Pink Panther-themed hotel and rode his quad bike a couple of hundred meters home, with his kelpie Kellie by his side.

The remains of a barbecue chicken in its original bag sit inside an open microwave, on a cluttered counter
Leftovers of a barbecue chicken were in a microwave in Mr Moriarty’s Larrimah house.(Supplied: NT Police)

It appeared he heated himself and Kellie some dinner, then disappeared without a trace.

A cooked chook was still in the microwave, food on the table, and his ute untouched outside.

There was no sign of a struggle.

No sign of Mr Moriarty or Kellie.

Most days in the dusty little town looked the same for Mr Moriarty: he would go to the pub in the morning, help with some odd jobs, sink a few beers and have a yarn with tourists who stopped in to see the iconic pink hotel in the middle of nowhere.

Larrimah pub, south of Katherine
Known as the Pink Panther pub, the Larrimah Hotel has become a popular road trip destination.(Supplied: Tom Lewis)

He had no known family in Australia or his home country of Ireland and was a “happy-go-lucky” kind of man, according to his friends.

Mr Moriarty was not immune to the bitter tangle of neighboring disputes which plagued the Larrimah community around the time he went missing.

In fact, according to one neighbor, he was the instigator.

Five people sit around an outback pub drinking stubbies or beer held in coolers.
Mr Moriarty drank at the pub every day.(Supplied: Barry Sharpe)

The 70-year-old Irishman and his neighbor, Devonshire Tea House owner Fran Hodgetts, were physically separated by the Stuart Highway, which ran between their properties.

But there seemingly was a river of bad blood and allegations of petty crime that kept the pair further apart than any road could have done.

Ms Hodgetts has claimed Mr Moriarty tried to sabotage her business by rubbishing her homemade pies in front of potential customers.

In an interview with ABC journalist Murray McLaughlin in 2011, Mr Moriarty was quoted as saying:

Ms Hodgetts also claimed Mr Moriarty stole her sun umbrella, left a dead kangaroo on her property and poisoned her garden.

When the coroner first looked into Mr Moriarty’s disappearance, during a part-heard inquest in Katherine in 2018, other Larrimah residents told the court Ms Hodgetts “used to say ‘I’ll kill Paddy'” and that the pair “detested” each other .

A woman stands outside a shop with her arms folded.
Ms Hodgetts has strongly denied any knowledge of what happened to her neighbor.(ABC News: Marc Eiden)

A few months before Mr Moriarty disappeared, Ms Hodgetts hired a gardener, Owen Laurie.

Mr Laurie told the inquest he was joking when he told Ms Hodgetts “if anyone touches my garden it’ll be the first murder in Larrimah.”

Both Ms Hodgetts and Mr Laurie have denied having anything to do with Mr Moriarty’s disappearance and police have never named either as a person of interest.

The police investigation and $ 250,000 reward

To Detective Sergeant Matt Allen, Mr Moriarty’s disappearance is an unsolved homicide.

“Somebody out there knows what happened to Paddy and Kellie,” he told the ABC in 2018.

Larrimah Hotel owner and friend of Mr Moriarty, Barry Sharpe, told the ABC in 2017 he thought his mate had “been done in.”

In the Northern Territory outback, along the Stuart Highway, disappearances and murders aren’t unheard of.

There are long stretches of road with nothing but dust and distance as far as the eye can see.

A poster with an image and details of a missing man is tied to a fencepost.
Mr Moriarty’s abandoned property, with a missing persons poster outside, has become a tourist attraction.(ABC News: Neda Vanovac)

It is not hard to go missing where there is no one to find you.

But last year, Detective Sergeant Allen said, “A 70-year-old man does not just disappear from a tiny outback town.”

Dozens of police, community members and search and rescue crews have spent countless hours over the past four years trying to pinpoint Mr Moriarty’s final moments.

His mysterious disappearance captured media attention across the globe, with a book, podcast, mini-series and an American documentary published about his story.

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A $ 250,000 reward for information that leads to locating Mr Moriarty’s body and convicting the responsible person was offered last year, as investigating police urged people to come forward.

“It’s hard to keep a secret. Someone out there knows what happened. We want them to come forward. Help us solve a murder,” Detective Sergeant Allen said.

He is expected to provide evidence when the inquest resumes today.

A town reunited

A lot has changed in Larrimah over the years since Mr Moriarty went missing.

Ms Hodgetts now lives in Melbourne, receiving medical care.

Her grandson, Brent Cilia, has taken over the running of her tea house and together with some other new residents, the average age in Larrimah has dropped dramatically.

a young man at a tea house
Mr Cilia moved to Larrimah to manage his grandmother Ms Hodgetts’ tea house.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

“It’s put us on the map, that’s for sure. Most people are like, ‘We came here because of the podcast’ or ‘We came here because of the book or the doco’. It’s funny in that sense.

“We want people to say good stuff about Larrimah when they come to town.”

Barry Sharpe sold the Pink Panther-themed Hotel, along with his pet crocodile Sneaky Sam, before he passed away a few years ago.

Gardener Owen Laurie has left town too.

In a roundabout way, Mr Cilia said Mr Moriarty’s disappearance has brought the town back together.

an elderly skinny man sits outside a house
Bill Hodgetts, Mr Cilia’s grandfather, still lives in Larrimah. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

“Town’s great, town’s all together [now]. We had the last two Christmases with everyone invited to the pub for dinner… I think the last time they were all together was at the [2018] inquest, “Mr Cilia said.

Some former Larrimah residents are expected to be among the witnesses called when the inquest resumes in Katherine today, before Coroner Greg Cavenagh.

What more they’ll have to say remains to be seen.

But if there’s one thing the entire town can agree on, it’s that something sinister has probably happened to Patrick Moriarty.

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