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Mozambique Murder: What Really Happened To 20 Year Old Aussie, Elly Warren?

Nearly eight years after 20-year-old Melburnian was discovered in Mozambique, her devastated family are still fighting for answers and to keep the unsolved murder case open.

When Paul Warren first visited the tropical paradise of Tofo, Mozambique, in 2018, his heart was heavy but his adrenaline was “pumping”. It was there in 2016 that his daughter, aspiring marine biologist Elly Warren, was found dead, partially naked – her T-shirt ripped, her underwear down near her knees – and her throat jammed with sand.

Local police called it an overdose. Retracing the final days of his daughter, who had gone to Tofo for a volunteer ocean research mission, Paul visited the beaches Elly swam at, the ramshackle bar where she gathered in the sultry evenings with friends, and the beachside lodge where she stayed.

But the most painful part of his pilgrimage was stepping onto the hard dirt ground outside a public toilet block, a short stroll from Tofo’s main beach and its endless roll of waves. It was there that the body of his 20-year-old daughter was discovered face down by a local fisherman at dawn on November 9, 2016.

Paul knew the precise location because the fisherman had taken a photo of the young woman in situ, and the man’s nephew had sent the photo to Paul for a modest – if not sensitive – fee of 200 meticals (about $5).

Elly Warren Mozambique .
The location where Elly’s body was found. (Credit: ellywarren.net)

“The first time I walked up and saw where Elly’s body had laid,” begins Paul, before his voice catches and he stops. Taking a breath, he starts again. “Imagine if you’re a father and if you’ve seen that photo, and you knew your daughter’s body was lying there … it was hard, it was really hard.”

The pain of losing his “adventurous and intelligent” daughter has been exacerbated by a local investigation that first called Elly’s death an “overdose”, and what he claims to be a lack of proactive involvement on the part of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) – the authority that can assist investigators in foreign jurisdictions in crimes against Australians.

In a further blow to the divorced dad, a Victorian coroner found it was “possible that a person or persons unknown caused or contributed to Elly’s death”, but fell short of ruling it
a homicide. The December 15 finding followed a three-day inquest last year, which was also attended by Elly’s mother and stepfather, Nicole and David Cafarella, and Elly’s sister Kristy (who declined marie claire’s request for an interview).

“I can’t understand it,” says Paul, a former industrial engineer who has undertaken his own investigation into his daughter’s mysterious death. “Her top was ripped [and] her mouth was packed with sand, as if someone was pushing her face down in the sand. You can’t say her death isn’t suspicious.”

Elly arrived in the African country in October 2016 for a six-week volunteer mission with the marine conservation group Underwater Africa, staying at Tofo’s Casa Barry Lodge.

It was no surprise to Paul that his daughter was drawn to Africa. During a family trip to the continent as a teen in 2012, Elly was in awe of its people and wildlife. The trip also awakened an adventurous spirit in her, and she worked part-time to fund trips to Bali, Thailand and Central America – all before she’d finished Year 12.

“There was no stopping her,” Paul, 63, tells marie claire from his home in Melbourne’s Seaford, on Port Phillip Bay. “She was a daughter any dad would be proud of.”

Her role in Tofo was to help a team of scientists research the bustling marine life in the Indian Ocean waters off the Mozambique coast, ahead of starting a marine biology degree at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, in 2017. “She loved every minute of it,” says Paul, who shared a love of AFL with his daughter. “Deep-sea scuba diving with whale sharks and manta rays – this was her domain.”

On the day her work finished, Elly, some of her fellow volunteer friends, and Jade O’Shea, a traveller who worked at the Casa Barry Lodge and whom Elly had befriended, met up at the lodge at 6.30pm for drinks.

Jade told the inquest that Elly, who was scheduled to depart Mozambique four days later (on November 13), drank only water there because she was going scuba diving the next day and didn’t want a hangover.

(Image: ellywarren.net)

Later, the group had more drinks at the tin shed beachside bar Victor’s, before they visited the home of a local friend. But Elly left early and planned to meet her friends back at Victor’s. When Elly returned to the bar (Paul says she had first gone to the lodge to get her phone) she saw the group drinking on the sand outside and went inside to get a drink. “She was planning on coming back to us,” said Jade.

They never saw Elly alive again. Six hours later, her body was found outside the public toilets, less than 40 metres from the bar. “Elly definitely wasn’t drunk,” Jade told the inquest. “She was completely coherent and sober.”

Charlie Bezzina knows a crime scene when he sees one. The retired Victorian homicide detective investigated 150 murders during his time on the force, including the 1998 killing of Melbourne underworld figure Alphonse Gangitano (sparking the city’s notorious gangland war), and the Paul Denyer serial killings in Melbourne in 1993.

After Elly’s death, Bezzina, who now works as a security and risk consultant and private investigator, reached out to Paul after seeing him interviewed for a TV news report on Elly’s death. “I saw him having difficulties and I offered my support and advice,” says Bezzina. Having delved into the case, Bezzina is in
no doubt how Elly died. “It’s a homicide,” he tells marie claire. “One hundred per cent.”

If the 37-year decorated police veteran is right, the investigation was off track from the start. Given the way Elly was found, media reports spread that she had possibly been raped and murdered, which appeared to rankle local police detective Juma Dauto.

He expressed concern to The Age in November 2016 that such reports would give the tourist town “a bad name, like it’s not safe”. Said Dauto: “She didn’t have a scratch, didn’t have a bruise on her indicating there was violence or rape.”

Elly Warrren.
(Image: ellywarren.net) (Credit: ellywarren.net)

But Elly did have injuries. Two pathologists would later observe abrasions to Elly’s knees, face, mouth and nose. Yet despite a local autopsy on November 16, 2016, finding that Elly had been the victim of a violent homicide, the first police report put the cause of death as “probable overdose”. Four days later, the report was changed to “homicide” to reflect the autopsy’s conclusion. The local police investigation file has never been shared with Australian authorities.

“From the get-go it wasn’t identified as a potential murder,” says Bezzina. A second autopsy in South Africa, by forensic pathologist Dr Patricia Klepp, returned a negative result
for any prescription or illicit drugs. Klepp also found that Elly’s death was “consistent with aspiration of sand”, and told the inquest that her throat was “absolutely chock-a-block” with sand, as if it had been packed in there.

For Bezzina, the curious detail points towards an assault and a fight back. “Possibly she’s screaming and they’ve got to quieten her down [so] they’ve just got a handful of sand and pushed it into her mouth,” he says.

With the mere possibility of such an attack, Bezzina says that Elly’s clothes should have been forensically examined, but they were incinerated after the local autopsy. “Clothes are significant pieces of forensic evidence,” says Bezzina, who adds that Australian authorities should have acquired the clothing for examination, such as DNA testing, in Australia. “The AFP should have said, ‘We’ll take possession of the clothing,’” he says.

The AFP declined an interview with marie claire, but in a written response a spokesperson said that an AFP senior liaison officer “made representations to authorities in Mozambique to retrieve Elly Warren’s belongings immediately following her death in 2016, and again in 2017.”

Otherwise, the AFP’s role is “very limited” in foreign jurisdictions, its current commander of international engagement, Andrew Smith, told the inquest in 2023. The one official option the AFP has in crimes against Australians overseas is to issue what’s known as a Mutual Assistance Request (MAR) to the foreign government. But the inquest heard that no MAR was made.

Elly Warren.
(Image: ellywarren.net) (Credit: ellywarren.net)

“The AFP will consider the circumstances of the criminal matter, including the nature of the incident, the location and the AFP’s relationship with local law enforcement authorities,” the AFP spokesperson told marie claire.

The apparent outcome of this was that the AFP did not launch a criminal investigation, which is required for a MAR to be made. Why an investiga­tion was not opened remains a mystery. As reported in the coroner’s findings, the AFP’s Smith was “unable to shed any light on the initial decision by the AFP not to commence an investigation” (the inquest heard that Smith was not involved in the decision in 2016).

It’s a point that frustrates and infuriates Paul. “The AFP has to establish that a crime has taken place to send an MAR,” he says. “The police and autopsy reports both stated homicide. Why was this not enough to say a crime has taken place?”

As he waits for an instructing judge in Mozambique to make a determination for the future course of the case, Paul says that he and Elly’s loved ones are now the only Australians fighting for answers in the case of her death. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Elly,” her mother, Nicole, told the inquest last year.

In November 2018, Nicole launched a change.org petition pleading for then-prime minister Scott Morrison to intervene in Elly’s case. Bezzina says, “The only thing keeping this investigation alive is the Warren family.”

Just after midnight on June 24, the day Elly would be turning 28, Paul will take a candle down to Melbourne’s Seaford Pier. In a ritual he has performed every year since her death, he will light the candle, pull out his phone, write a happy birthday text to his daughter and send it to her number. “In one of her diaries, Elly wrote that she was happy she got a message from me on her birthday,” he says. “So I like to do that every year.”

In all of the days in-between, Paul will continue agitating for answers about the loss of the daughter he calls his “soulmate”. “I’ve done a lot but Elly would do the same for me,” he says. “But it’s not good enough. The AFP just don’t care. It’s like it’s too much of a diplomatic nightmare for them.

As Charlie Bezzina said, I shouldn’t have to do the investigation into my daughter’s death.”

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