The death of Claire Hockridge can now be revealed as the result of a major drug smuggling operation gone drastically wrong.
The death of Claire Hockridge can now be revealed as the result of a major drug smuggling operation gone drastically wrong.

Doomed outback ‘camping trip’ a ruse for drug smuggling

Alice Springs woman Claire Hockridge, whose death in the outback last December made international headlines, met her fate while taking part in an elaborate drug smuggling effort, investigators have concluded.

The shady circumstances surrounding Ms Hockridge's death were, until now, known only by a handful of detectives and a small circle of relatives.

While her death - and the "miracle" survival of her travelling companions - was portrayed at the time as a case of innocent misadventure, the detailed police investigation that followed found Hockridge, 46, travelled to Henbury Station near Alice Springs in an effort to avoid authorities and sneak into town with a $100,000 stash of methamphetamine she had earlier purchased in Adelaide.

She had a history of heroin and methamphetamine use dating back more a decade.

Some of the investigation findings cannot be published for legal reasons.

The first sign police had that Ms Hockridge and her companions' disappearance from Alice Springs was something other than a camping trip gone wrong was when uniformed officers knocked on the door of the her unit in Elder St, Alice Springs, after receiving a missing person's report.

The unit was found ransacked, and her security camera recording box had been unplugged.

The ransacked unit began to make more sense to police when a backpack found beside Ms Hockridge's body was found with $70,000 worth of meth and a small amount of heroin in it.

The investigation into Ms Hockridge's death - conducted by police for the Northern Territory Coroner - revealed that she had driven from Adelaide to Alice Springs on a drug run about a week before her ill-fated trip into the desert.

Claire Hockridge’s sister, Melinda Leslie speaks to media in Alice Springs after a marathon search to find her sister ended with the discovery of a body. Photo: EMMA MURRAY
Claire Hockridge’s sister, Melinda Leslie speaks to media in Alice Springs after a marathon search to find her sister ended with the discovery of a body. Photo: EMMA MURRAY

Concerned she might be pulled over on her way into Alice Springs, she turned off the Stuart Hwy about 130km south of town and cached the drugs, burying them in sealed PVC pipes and marking their location with arrows drawn in the dirt.

The spot is further south than where Alice Springs police typically pull over suspected drug runners.

Ms Hockridge, a mother of two, told friends in Alice Springs a week later she was heading out into the blistering desert for a "camping trip out of town", a cover for her to dig up the drugs she had buried and to make her way back to town along rarely-patrolled dirt roads.

Ill-prepared for misadventure, Ms Hockridge packed a single pack of noodles and half a packet of biscuits.

The Mitsubishi Triton was instead loaded with supplies including drug paraphernalia, binoculars and a spotting scope.

She and her travelling companions became lost while trying to find Maryvale Rd, and when they drove into the dry bed of the Finke River, the tyres of their 4WD sank into the soft sand, becoming bogged.

All three became violently ill after running out of water and drinking from a stagnant pond.

The 4WD then ran out of fuel after the trio ran 4WD's engine so they could turn on the airconditioner and get some reprieve from the heat, with temperatures reaching 40C in the shade.

Claire Hockridge missing on November 19. Picture: Supplied
Claire Hockridge missing on November 19. Picture: Supplied

In the two weeks in the outback, Ms Hockridge smoked as much as 110 hits of meth, investigators estimate.

The footprints that led to her body show she was "confused and disoriented" in her final moments, and it was concluded she died of "environmental heat injury".

There had been some speculation the NT Coroner, Greg Cavanagh, might hold a public inquest into Ms Hockridge's death following other cases of travellers dying in Central Australia, but in March his office told Ms Hockridge's family that a public inquest would not be held, since it would not uncover any new information about her death.

Ms Hockridge is survived by two triplet sisters, Sarah Hockridge and Melinda Leslie, two children, Teagan and Tahlia, and a grandchild.

 

How Claire Hockridge really died

 

October 2019

Ms Hockridge drives a Ford Falcon to Adelaide to buy methamphetamine.

 

November 1 2019

Ms Hockridge flies from Adelaide to Perth to visit family.

 

November 7

Ms Hockridge buys a Mitsubishi Triton in Adelaide and registers it for three months.

 

November 14

Ms Hockridge leaves Adelaide, and stashes $100,000 worth of meth drugs at Henbury Station.

 

November 19

Ms Hockridge tells friends she is going on a "camping trip" out of town.

 

November 20

The Mitsubishi Triton becomes bogged in the Finke River bed.

 

November 21

Ms Hockridge and her companions become ill from drinking pond water.

 

November 24

The Mitsubishi runs out of fuel and the group set up a camp nearby. Several days later, Ms Hockridge and one of her companions decide to walk for help.

 

November 26

Police search Ms Hockridge's unit and find it ransacked

 

December 1

A helicopter spots the bogged Mitsubishi

 

December 4

Ms Hockridge's body found, with $70,000 of meth in her backpack

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Doomed outback 'camping trip' a ruse for drug smuggling


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