A prospector whose body was found down an abandoned mineshaft in Western Australia was murdered but the death of his wife remains a mystery, a coroner has found.
Raymond Kehlet, 47, and Jennie Kehlet, 49, never returned from a March 2015 prospecting trip to Sandstone, about 660km north of Perth.
Mr Kehlet’s body was discovered about a month later, some 1.8km from their camp site, but his wife’s remains have never been found.
The couple’s friend and colleague Graham Milne – the last known person to see the couple alive – was a suspect but has never faced charges.
In findings published on Friday, coroner Ros Fogliani found Mr Kehlet – who had injuries to his face, neck and right hand – had been murdered “by a person or persons unknown”.
The coroner made an open finding in regards to Ms Kehlet’s death, saying it was impossible to determine how she died in the absence of her remains being found.
“It does not follow, from my finding in respect of Ray’s manner of death, that Jennie’s death was violent or as a result of trauma,” the coroner said.
“Jennie might have managed to escape immediate danger and then become disoriented and lost. It cannot presently be known.”
Ms Fogliani said a referral would be made to the director of public prosecutions.
While Mr Milne had been the subject of considerable publicity, she stressed that no person had been identified in connection with a possible offence.
“It is important for me to state that the referral … is not made by reason of any belief that I have formed concerning any action, or omission, on the part of Mr Milne in relation to Ray or Jennie,” she said.
Mr Milne was granted immunity so his evidence cannot be used against him in any future criminal proceedings.
He testified the last time he saw the couple they were chasing after their dog, Ella, on March 21.
Mr Milne said he spent 18 hours prospecting alone, then returned to the campsite in the early hours of March 22 and drove home.
Ms Fogliani found it was unlikely Mr Kehlet had accidentally fallen down the mineshaft, saying expert medical evidence pointed to him having sustained serious injuries and stood in a pool of his own blood shortly before his death.
“I am satisfied that Ray came to harm at the base of the mineshaft,” she said.
“His death was violent and attributable to trauma, from injuries sustained as a result of the actions of a person or persons unknown.”
Ms Fogliani described the couple as happily married, hard working and likeable with an adventurous spirit and love of the outdoors.
The “inseparable” pair had deserved better, their family said.
“Their love showed us what love really looked like,” Ms Kehlet’s daughter Kelly Keegans said in an emotional statement to the inquest.
“They should both still be here.”
Michael Ramsey – Australian Associated Press