Cold case murder: the recluse and a Hollywood link

By NZPA, Anna Leask

The Auckland man charged with murdering his estranged Kiwi girlfriend and running from police for almost 24 years is Grant David Mitchell - a virtual recluse nicknamed "Badges" by locals in a northern Queensland town.

On the rare occasions people saw him, he would sometimes mumble about killing someone in a previous life - but no one took the eccentric seriously until he finally summoned up the courage to confess to the murder of his ex-girlfriend Nella Celeste Poli, 19, in Sydney in 1987.

Mitchell, who used several aliases, had been a virtual recluse in the old mining town of Irvinebank.

One resident said he would hide under floorboards when locals ventured too close to the abandoned cottage he took over.

The Herald can also reveal that Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett later lived in the Sydney bedroom where the murder took place.

Blanchett, due in New Zealand next month to film The Hobbit, moved into the house and into Miss Poli's bedroom soon after the killing.

"I lived in a house, in a room actually, where a girl had been murdered. I found that out late one night, watching TV," she told Vogue in 2004.

"Australia's Most Wanted had been through before I moved in and done a re-enactment, and there was my room and the bed exactly where it was, and the person climbing through the window to strangle the girl."

Blanchett said she had to stay in the house as she could not afford to move elsewhere.

"The rent was 40 or 50 bucks, the house was condemned. But it was a huge party house, not creepy; it was always filled with people, and there was always a lot of great energy mobbing through."

Miss Poli, who grew up in Avondale, had been living in Sydney for only a couple of years when she was killed. The young barmaid was found dead in her bed by her mother, who went to check on her after she failed to report for work.

She had a 20cm burn mark around her neck, leading police to believe she had been strangled with a piece of rope or cord.

Mitchell disappeared the day Miss Poli was killed and was not seen again - until he walked into an Atherton police station in north Queensland seven days ago and gave himself up.

Only once the arrest was publicised did residents in the closeknit community of Irvinebank, 130km southwest of Cairns, twig that the man involved was their unusual neighbour.

"Someone did say he'd mentioned he'd killed someone - they just thought he was crazy, no one believed him," said David Johnson who runs Irvinebank's one-stop shop, pub, garage, post office and supermarket.

"He was a strange guy, I think he was scared of people. If people were driving around his place he'd go and hide under the floor boards."

He was nicknamed Badges because of the number of pins that adorned his favourite cap.

A friend of Mitchell's contacted the Herald, shocked at his out-of-the-blue return.

"I thought it was him when I read the story," she said.

She called Mitchell's family yesterday.

"It will be a relief to them to know he's alive ... It will be a relief for them in that respect, but not a relief to know what he's done."

One of Miss Poli's close friends was also shocked about the arrest.

"Nella was murdered on my birthday and every year I have remembered her death and how long Grant Mitchell has eluded the police," she said.

- NZ Herald

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