More than two years after the rotting foot of an alleged swindler washed ashore on an Australian beach, a coroner has delivered her findings in a case that has long captivated the country.
New South Wales deputy state coroner Elizabeth Ryan found Thursday that despite fanciful theories that self-declared financial consultant Melissa Caddick may have evaded authorities by faking her own death, the evidence suggests that she is indeed dead.
“Perhaps the most persuasive evidence that Ms Caddick is deceased, is the fact that she has not made any contact with her son,” Ryan said, according to court documents.
“Deeply attached to him as she was, it seems to me most unlikely that she would not have reached out to him in some way, were she still alive.”
However, Ryan was unable to say how and why Caddick died, leaving questions in a mystery that inspired a hit podcast and TV dramatization, along with hours of speculation by amateur sleuths.
Ryan said it was “possible” Caddick fell from the cliffs near her home into the sea with the intention of taking her own life, having seen it was the only way out of the “personal and professional catastrophe which overtook her.”
What is known is that Caddick worked hard at the illusion of financial success – she was well-dressed in high-end luxury brands and jewelry, lived in a spacious suburban house and went on overseas holidays – to create an image “clearly integral to the confidence which Ms Caddick inspired in her clients,” the coroner found.
But in the months leading up to November 2020, her carefully crafted image began to unravel as police investigated her for financial fraud.
According to the coroner’s findings, Caddick used a fraudulent investment scheme to cheat her family and friends out of huge sums of money – $13 million to $19 million (20 to 30 million Australian dollars) – to fund her “very expensive” lifestyle.
“Ms Caddick’s clients were shocked and felt a profound sense of betrayal when they discovered that the money they had invested with her had gone,” Ryan said.
“For many, their losses represented all the money they had saved for their retirement or for their children’s education. The financial and emotional harm they have suffered will reverberate for many years to come.”
Caddick likely knew her business dealings were about to be exposed when police and the corporate regulator raided her suburban Sydney home on November 11, 2020, the coroner found.
Australia’s financial watchdog had been tipped off that she had been using a friend’s financial adviser’s license, and that Caddick had faked her documents to run the alleged con operation.
As police closed in, Caddick disappeared, leading to months of speculation that she had fled the country, was hiding or was dead.
The case took a gruesome turn in February 2021 with the discovery of a decomposing foot inside a sports shoe on Bournda Beach, 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Sydney.
Forensics experts matched the body part to Caddick using DNA tests but an autopsy couldn’t determine if it was deliberately severed or separated through decomposition.
The coroner’s findings – though uncertain about the circumstances of Caddick’s death – contained scathing comments about Caddick’s husband, Anthony Kolleti, a hairdresser and part-time DJ.
He only reported her disappearance to police 30 hours after his wife went missing, the coroner said.
Koletti frequently contradicted himself as to when he last saw his wife following the police raid, and told officers he was too busy with work to go the station to give further information, according to court documents.
“He appeared strangely unperturbed about his wife’s disappearance,” Ryan said in her findings.
She added that the lack of reliable information made it difficult for police to conduct a search, as they were unable to identify a time and place to start looking.
At the inquest, Koletti denied withholding information from police or the court, and he said he “most definitely did not” help his wife to disappear or delay reporting her absence to give her time to vanish, according to court documents.