Suspect revealed 47 years after alleged gay-hate murder

Photo of gay man Ernest Head, whose 1976 murder is under the spotlight of the LGBTIQ hate crime inquiry (pictured)
Images: Supplied/Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ Hate Crimes

A NSW inquiry has identified a murder suspect in a forensic breakthrough more than 40 years after the suspected gay-hate murder of Sydney man Ernest Head.

Ernest Head (pictured above) – a “soft-hearted, shy and good-natured” gay man – was found dead in his Summer Hill apartment in Sydney’s inner west in June 1976.

The 48-year-old died after his killer stabbed him 35 times in a “frenzied” knife attack.

The inquiry heard the circumstances of the killing could indicate the crime was motivated by gay-hate bias.

Ernest’s unsolved case is one of dozens being examined by the New South Wales special inquiry into suspected hate crimes between 1970 and 2010.

The inquiry heard initial police investigations into Ernest Head’s death were thorough. Police ultimately couldn’t identify any suspects despite interviewing more than 100 people.

But the NSW inquiry has named a suspect after a re-examination of three bloody palm prints found near his body at the time.

In 1976, detectives examined the prints with a magnifying glass. But modern technology can digitally enhance them, the inquiry heard.

Forensic breakthrough in Ernest Head’s murder

The hate crime inquiry ordered a new analysis of the evidence this year. The print was matched to a man named Engin Simsek.

Mr Simsek had lived on the same street as Ernest Head at the time, the inquiry heard. Mr Simsek left Australia for Turkey in 1994 and died by suicide in 1999.

Engin Simsek’s sexuality was unknown. The inquiry found no evidence he and Ernest Head had a relationship.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Kathleen Heath said it was also impossible to tell if one or multiple attackers killed Mr Head.

“Mr Simsek’s palm print in blood on the kitchen wall above Mr Head’s body powerfully indicates [he] was at least involved in the events surrounding Mr Head’s death,” Heath said.

The match was only possible due to a 2015 database upgrade. Heath told the inquiry NSW Police should not be criticised for not finding it earlier.

However, other key forensic evidence that may have explained the circumstances of Ernest Head’s murder was lost.

That lost evidence included “high yield DNA sources” like penile and anal swabs, a handkerchief, cigarette butts and human hair.

Significant forensic testing opportunities were now lost as a result, Heath said.

“The loss of exhibits was not consistent with proper police practice, including judged by the standards of 1976,” she said.

“Had Mr Simsek been alive, the loss of the exhibits might have seriously impaired the prospects of a successful prosecution against him.”

LGBTIQ hate crimes inquiry to report in December

The Special Commission of Inquiry is continuing its 17th block of hearings. The hearings are examining dozens of cold cases as well as the police response to the historical crimes.

Commissioner John Sackar, who’s heading the inquiry, will deliver his report in December.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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