Cricket bat killing: Dunedin murder victim Brent Bacon loved, missed

Brent Bacon came to Dunedin for a fresh start in 2018, a move that brought him closer to family and gave his life stability. But within months he was dead, beaten to death with a cricket bat. Rob Kidd looks at how the tragedy unfolded and speaks to a family left clutching the memories of a larger-than-life personality.

After John Collins was found guilty of murdering Brent Bacon, he bustled downstairs from the courtroom, refusing to look his betrayal in the face.

In the space of just an hour, the jury had time for lunch and to reach a unanimous verdict.

The victim’s sister, Lia Bezett — someone who had fed him and offered him work — had positioned herself in Collins’ eye-line, her glare boring into him, willing him to glance her way.

“People would always say I looked like my brother. I hated looking like my brother,” she said.

“The first time in my life I was happy to look like him was in that courtroom when I could face John and haunt him with my similarities.”

On February 4, 2019, Bacon had visited his friends Collins (39) and Aleisha Dawson (32) at the couple’s Lock St unit in St Clair.

Several hours later, the pair were driving north in the victim’s Toyota people mover before they dumped his battered corpse under a kānuka tree on a gravel road a couple of kilometres off the main highway.

Collins admitted he had beaten Bacon to death with a cricket bat, later found snapped in two inside a rubbish bag in the kitchen of the address.

His claim he was defending himself against a paranoid scissor-wielding assailant were rubbished by the Crown and quickly dismissed by the jury.

The man

Murders always make headlines, but Bezett knew the case would not be one that gripped the nation.

“This whole case could get painted as three druggies who lost their s… but actually he was better than that,” she said.

“He wasn’t bad.

“He still had a job, he still had a relationship, he was still a dad. It speaks volumes for Brent as a person.”

Bezett spoke to the Otago Daily Times to set the record straight on her brother.

Sharp, funny, pragmatic and with an iron will, Bacon is lucky to have her in his corner.

“I feel like I’ve got to protect my brother. I’ve got to honour this dude,” she said.

“He’d be doing the same for me. And you’d know about it.”

The siblings had lived the archetypal Kiwi childhood.

Their parents had split when they were young — a broken home, “but there was nothing broken about it”, Bezett said.

Living in Mt Maunganui. Bacon developed a love of the ocean, a sense of freedom that did not always gel with being confined to the classroom.

The surfing culture, however, brought him into contact with cannabis.

While the defence tried to paint Bacon as a split personality, supposedly angry and unpredictable while on drugs, Bezett said that simply was not the case.

He went through mental health struggles in his life but always came through them, she said.

“He had an innate capacity to pick himself up when he crashed, and rebuild his life and be functional again.

“And actually, doesn’t that make him more resilient than us, who get to live this smooth, easy ride with a few ups and downs here and there?” Bezett said.

“I guess we can view him, as a society, as kind of living in the lower levels of our social caste system but … his resilience far exceeds anyone else I know.”

Dunedin

It was in 2018, after suffering one of those crises in Christchurch, that Bacon asked his sister for help.

It was the first time in their lives he had made such a request.

Bezett and her husband Sam did not hesitate, offering Bacon a room in their home and a job in their construction business.

The qualified builder soon proved his worth and the bond with his three nieces blossomed.

“The relationship they developed with him in Dunedin was amazing. He was the fun-loving, joking, play-fighting uncle; practical jokes, get up to mischief, rough and tumble,” Bezett said.

“They got a really nice condensed version of my brother to really connect with — it’s the definite silver lining.”

The time together reminded Bezett of the exuberant but laid-back bloke with whom she had grown up.

And she refused to sugarcoat it: Bacon’s extroverted attitude was a strength and a weakness.

“He was a good bugger. He was a good dude to have around. He’d drive me mad because he wouldn’t stop talking,” she said.

“It was just an inherent desire to connect. Some people just need it. Brent needed it. It fuelled his soul … and that was part of his demise, sadly.”

Collision course

In November 2018, when Collins and Dawson also made the move down from Christchurch, Bacon was enthusiastic.

He had a partner and young daughter he planned to reunite with, and he believed the couple were on a similar journey: getting some stability in their lives so they could have their five children back in their care.

The Bezetts had Collins and Dawson over for a roast, would regularly take food over to the Lock St flat and even offered them work.

Dawson turned it down but Collins agreed to repaint an office and a bedroom.

It would be easy for the victim’s family to portray the killer as a monster, recast him as the embodiment of evil.

But it was not like that.

“I had some conversations with him when he was working on our place. He was chipper, chirpy … singing along to the radio,” Bezett said.

“He’s a human. He wasn’t a person waiting to murder someone.”

Things behind the scenes, though, were unravelling.

Bacon talked about the couple’s increasingly fraught relationship, and Collins appeared to be becoming progressively more desperate to get his hands on methamphetamine.

His anguish was clear in how he left the bedroom after painting it and his repeated requests for payment.

Bezett said no tradesman would have left the work site in the state they found it.

A week later Bacon was dead — not that his family knew.

Evidence

His disappearance raised concerns the next day when he was due to oversee a big project at work and failed to show up.

Bezett notified policeher brother was missing and the mystery deepened when Collins and Dawson also vanished.

The curtains at their home were pulled and, as time went by, the victim’s family had a growing inkling the answers to their questions lay inside.

Two weeks after Bacon had gone missing, with some Dutch courage following a wedding reception, Bezett made a late-night walk to Lock St and smashed his way in.

“I remember thinking that’s too much blood to survive,” he told the court of what confronted him.

On the carpet, in the midst of all that blood, were Bacon’s jandals.

Hours later, the man’s body was found by a cyclist at a rural location and forensic scientists converged on the crime scenes.

It was the medical evidence, particularly, that made the case against Collins so strong.

ESR’s Rosalyn Rough, through her painstaking analysis of blood spatter on the walls, ceiling and furniture, showed it was most likely Bacon was struck while he was sitting on the couch, rather than in a stand-up confrontation as the killer had suggested.

And while Collins would only admit to three or four blows at the most, pathologist Dr Charles Glenn said it was probably many more blows that caused the catastrophic damage to the victim’s head.

Computer-generated three-dimensional imaging showed a massive piece of skull missing on the right side, which the witness compared to the type of injuries seen in plane-crash or gunshot victims.

For the jury, it was stark evidence of murder; for Bezett, it was harrowing.

”You can’t unsee it. I’m never going to forget that,” she said.

A legacy

Despite the extent of the damage and the callous way her brother was treated after his death, Bezett was able to put it in perspective.

Collins, she said, was the product of a broken childhood, someone whose brain, probably hindered by long-term drug use, was unable to “put the brakes on”.

“I don’t really look at him like he’s this raging psycho murderer, who’s been waltzing the streets, waiting for someone to murder. He’s not a psychopath,” Bezett said.

“I don’t think he got up that morning wanting to murder my brother.”

But he did — and nothing could change that.

One of the unanswered questions at trial was why Collins had done it.

Crown prosecutor Richard Smith theorised it could have been a standover for cash gone wrong, perhaps Bacon had refused them a ride to buy drugs, or maybe the defendant was jealous of the friendship between Dawson and the victim.

If Bezett had the chance to confront Collins, she said she would not hound him for a motive.

“I don’t actually need John’s version.

“I’d probably like to sit in front of him so that he actually is accountable to reality,” she said.

Most tragic was the fact Bacon’s three children were robbed of a father.

So what would be his legacy?

He was a man who would farewell mates by pulling a burnout on their driveway, someone unafraid to rip out an air-guitar solo with a broom on the building site if the mood took him, the life of the party, a man who loved people and was loved.

Bezett said: “I want his legacy to be for his children, for them to know that he was a good man despite his ups and downs. And underlying all of that was a loyal, caring, compassionate, vivacious, outgoing, hard-working soul.”

Collins will be sentenced in May. Dawson pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder and was jailed for two years, three months in November 2019. She comes up for parole next month.

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