Missing former cop likely killed by wife’s lover

Ethan James |

An air force veteran and ex-police officer who disappeared without a trace more than 50 years ago was likely shot dead by his wife’s lover.

Vincent Edward Down, 43, was last seen at his home in the small Tasmanian coastal town of Bridport on August 7, 1969.

Mr Down was reported missing by his wife Doreen in the early hours of the next morning, prompting a search and investigation.

Police at the time interviewed the couple’s then-25-year old neighbour Alvin Feuerhammer but the overall probe “‘petered out” without a body being found. 

In findings published on Thursday, coroner Simon Cooper ruled Mr Feuerhammer most likely shot Mr Down and then disposed of his body using his ute.

Mr Feuerhammer died by suicide in 1994 in Queensland after murdering his wife with a .22 rifle. 

Mr Down’s disappearance was reported to the coroner in 2020, prompting an inquest which held a public hearing in February.

The initial police investigation had a “sharpened” focus on Mr Feuerhammer after it became apparent he may have been the last person to see Mr Down alive. 

Officers also uncovered Mr Feuerhammer was having an affair with Mrs Down, something she ended not long before her husband’s disappearance.

Mr Cooper said Mrs Down had told police “something to the effect that he would cause her as much pain as she had caused him”.

Mr Cooper described Mr Feuerhammer’s accounts to police as inconsistent. 

Mr Feuerhammer told investigators he invited Mr Down to his home on the night of August 7, 1969 to repair a TV cabinet, which he said had a bullet hole in it from an earlier accident.

He said Mr Down, who was a truck driver with the Royal Australian Air Force in Japan after WWII, left without repairing the cabinet. 

Before a formal interview with police on August 18, Mr Feuerhammer visited a constable’s home and said “I have been thinking about (Mr) Down and I might have done something to him”. 

He also said “I keep thinking I may have washed out the back of the ute that night (Mr) Down went missing … but I don’t know if it really happened”. 

Mr Cooper said Mr Feuerhammer’s comments were not raised during the formal interview and it was unclear whether the interviewing detectives were aware of them. 

“(He) made a number of statements … that must then, and certainly now, have caused suspicion that he was responsible for Mr Down’s disappearance,” Mr Cooper said.

Mr Feuerhammer’s usually muddy ute was found “remarkably clean” the day after Mr Down’s disappearance. 

A witness said about 9.30pm on August 7 he saw Mr Feuerhammer driving between Scottsdale and Bridport with the ute’s tray cover in place. 

Mr Feuerhammer said he went driving at 9pm to get a packet of cigarettes.

Mr Cooper said the police response in 1969 was prompt and comprehensive by standards at the time and reviews had uncovered no new information or a potential grave site.

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