11 May 2006, Ross Schumacher was found dead in his home as a result of a gunshot wound to the back of the head. The weapon was found at the scene of the crime so the death was quickly ruled a suicide and authorities, for numerous reasons, did not seem to entertain the possibility of homicide. A recent inquest however, ruled that the possibility of suicide is the least likely conclusion based on the evidence, however the cause of death is still undetermined.
Photo: Screenshot of the inquest of this case.
Auchenflower, Brisbane QLD
Photo: Shows the suburb in which the deceased resided and was subsequently discovered.
Who was Ross Schumacher?
Schumacher was described by friends and family as being larger than life, highly driven, intelligent, motivated, competitive, charismatic and a loyal friend. Others described him as acting invincible, believing that no one could touch him. Schumacher was sometimes aggressive and demanding and was depicted by those that knew his as ‘never taking a backwards step, even in situations which would often create enemies’. Schumacher reportedly used recreational drugs (ecstasy and cocaine) on weekends, but some claim that he was not using drugs around the time of his death.
At the time of his death, Schumacher was in an intimate relationship with two separate women – and people close to him suggested there had been sexual relationship with others:
Megan Murphy: Schumacher met and began a relationship with Murphy in 2002. Murphy was incarcerated for 6 months in December 2003. Upon her release, Murphy moved in with Schumacher and they recommenced their relationship – Murphy was still living with Schumacher at the time of his death. Murphy received unemployment benefits and so worked unpaid as a bookkeeper and assistant for Schumacher, who would pay for all the household expenses in return. Murphy openly admits to the regular use of marijuana, stating that Schumacher would sometimes smoke with her. Murphy had the use of one of Schumacher’s company vehicles – a white Holden Commodore.
Stephanie Maragna: While Murphy was in prison Schumacher began a relationship with Maragna. Maragna had legitimate full-time employment and lived in her own house but would spend several nights a week staying with Schumacher. Maragna claimed not to know about the sexual nature of the relationship between Schumacher and Murphy, despite several of his friends knowing.
Business & Finances
Several years before his death Schumacher started his own construction project management business, the Schumacher Group. Schumacher’s accountant indicated that prior to his death the Schumacher Group was operating at a loss at he was unsure how Schumacher was supporting himself as he was not taking a salary.
In 2004, Schumacher began a business relationship with Rosario Baffi. A dispute over pay left Schumacher claiming to be owed between $500,000 – $1,000,000 by Baffi. This dispute left subcontractors unpaid, with one carpenter claiming to have been owed $56,000 by Schumacher. This carpenter subsequently went on to pursue legal action against Schumacher but ceased the legal action after a text message was sent from a Schumacher group phone stating ‘I know where your kids go to school’.
Baffi claims to have received text message threats from Schumacher in July 2005, however the phone number belonged to a Christine Cameron, who was never located. Schumacher denied any involvement with these threatening messages and claims that Baffi had made threats to him, even going so far as to attend a meeting between them with two ‘henchmen’, which Baffi denies. One week after Schumacher’s death Baffi removed a caveat that Schumacher had placed on their project and eventually the project was completed in 2007 after Baffi had to source another $450,000.
In 2005, the Schumacher Group began a partnership with Bazianas and his company to complete a six storey apartment block in Ellis Street, Kangaroo Point. Bazianas and Schumacher became 50% shareholders in Cube Global Corporation Pty Ltd. Bazianas lent Schumacher $60,000 early in the project in order to pay his legal fees against Baffi. Some of this money was still not paid back at the time of his death.
Bazianas observed a similar pattern of not paying subcontractors and also discovered that Schumacher was using money from his current project to pay subcontractors from previous jobs. When questioned about this Schumacher became very angry and abusive. Schumacher’s accountant also discovered that he had been claiming building costs before they should have been claimed.
Their project was six weeks to three months from completion at the time of Schumacher’s death, and Bazianas claimed that he had to use $800,000 of his own funds to finish the project, which he had discovered was substantially over budget. Bazianas is estimated to have lost $150,000 as a result of the project.
At the time of his death it was clear that Schumacher was having some financial difficulties. Maragna had lent Schumacher a total of $80,000 in late 2004, and at the time of his death approximately $20,000 of this had been repaid. In 2005 Schumacher borrowed $50,000 from his sister and brother in law, which had been paid back prior to his death. In late 2005 Schumacher was charged and convicted of an assault in relation to an incident where he had punched a debt collector.
Schumacher owned 2 properties and had listed them for sale. In 2005 Schumacher applied for and was granted a home loan of $231,000. He sold one of his properties for the price of $540,000 and the settlement date was 30 June 2006. Schumacher had planned to live in one of the apartment buildings that he was working on. Murphy states that at the time of his death he was borrowing money to pay for his living expenses. This all seemed to stem from the dispute with Baffi, although Schumacher was seemingly unconcerned as he believed that he would win the court case against Baffi and recover $750,000. Although there were some credit cards with some debt, and the home loan, it does not appear that Schumacher’s financial issues were motive for suicide.
Buying, Uisng and Selling Firearms
People close to Schumacher became aware of his gun possession around the time of his dispute with Baffi. Schumacher is said to have purchased a gun because of a business deal that had gone bad involving a large amount of money and some ‘seriously bad guys’, with Schumacher claiming that in July 2005 that Baffi had threatened his life.
Schumacher was described as being ‘flippant towards the handling of guns’, ignoring basic gun safety and lacking caution. Murphy recalled that when Schumacher first purchased a .45 pistol in 2005 he had accidentally discharged the weapon in the home. Schumacher liked carrying his guns around the house and was frequently heard by Murphy racking the guns and clicking the trigger – believing there was no ammo in the guns. There were several bullet holes found around the house that support this. Murphy also recalls Schumacher sleeping with the .45 handgun in his bedside, once cocking the gun and discharging it in his sleep – only weeks before his death.
Photo: A .45 handgun like the one Schumacher reportedly fired in his sleep.
Schumacher was known to visit Caxton Street regularly, particularly Gambaro’s Seafood Restaurant and the Velvet Cigar (a strip club). Schumacher had a reputation in this scene as being the ‘go-to guy’ that could get things done – legitimately or otherwise. Schumacher was believed to have sourced guns and drugs for individuals. On one occasion he had fulfilled a customer’s desire to own a vicious guard dog by providing them with an ex-police dog. He also tried to purchase pepper spray from a police friend, who had refused.
Photo: Caxton Street where Schumacher was known as the ‘go-to guy’.
At one time, Schumacher was refused entry into an event at City Hall for having two guns in his possession. The owner of the Velvet Cigar also recalls Schumacher trying to sell him a gun, which he had refused. There is further evidence of Schumacher purchasing and selling guns and at the time of his death there were a number of weapons located throughout the house.
Did Schumacher have Cancer?
Schumacher confided in close friends and family that he was suffering from cancer and that he was receiving treatment at Greenslopes Hospital, as early as five years prior to his death. The treatment for the cancer was confirmed by red/black patches underneath his armpits, black ankles and needle marks on his back, as well as symptoms of physical illness. Interestingly however, Greenslopes Hospital have no record of any treatment and his medical doctor had only seen him recently for insomnia and other minor ailments. Other than his word there is no record of Schumacher ever being diagnosed with cancer. The fabrication of this story is also suggested by the lack of any evidence of cancer during the autopsy.
Other Possible Motives…
There was only one other known incident involving allegations of threatening behaviour towards Schumacher. In 2005 Trista Goodacre, a stripper at the Velvet Cigar, showed up at Schumacher’s home. Schumacher told Maragna that she was having some problems with an abusive boyfriend that was getting out of prison and said that he was helping her out. Schumacher denies any sexual relationship with the woman however he had previously mentioned to friends that he was in a relationship with a dancer from the Velvet Cigar. Goodacre was in a relationship with Nathan Hill. When Hill was released from prison an argument ensued, in which he allegedly threatened to kill Schumacher. Goodacre’s tyres were slashed, but Hill claims that there were never any threats exchanged between him and Schumacher.
Two friends of Schumacher came forward saying that they had been approached by him and asked to ‘soften’ up a man who had just got out of prison was jealous of his relationship with Goodacre. They had refused to assist.
It was suggested that Schumacher may have even provided one of the friends with a loaded gun and a note with a name and an address on it, implying that Schumacher may have wanted this person killed.
Motive for Suicide
Schumacher had suffered from mood swings leading up to his death, which friends and family believed was due to the cancer and dispute with Baffi. Schumacher was reportedly happy in the two weeks prior to his death as his project was moving forward. Maragna says that the two had spoken about having a baby, and Schumacher had been talking positively of building a new home. Schumacher’s last journal entry on 6 April 2006 stated that he was happy about the sale of one of his properties.
Both girlfriends seemed under the impression that they were going to live with Schumacher and the inquiry suggests that some sort of disagreement about this had arisen. People that saw Schumacher on the days leading up to his death believed that he was tired from all of his hard work and thought that he needed a break.
There was no evidence however, that indicated that Schumacher was about to take his own life.
Day of the Death
7:10am Schumacher phones Murphy and requests that she pay a bill using his Amex and call the banks to see if he could withdraw $10,000 cash.
7:10am Schumacher speaks to Jozef Gaperak – a plasterer to whom Schumacher owed approx. $25,000.
7:15am Schumacher phones Murphy back and tells her to go to the dentist.
8:09am Call takes place between Schumacher and an unknown person using a phone registered to Schumacher Group project manager.
9:07am Call takes place between Schumacher and the same unknown person using a phone registered to Schumacher Group project manager.
9:13am Call takes place between Schumacher and the same unknown person using a phone registered to Schumacher Group project manager.
9:17am Call takes place between Schumacher and the same unknown person using a phone registered to Schumacher Group project manager.
9:30am Schumacher phones Murphy to discuss a cheque for JTM Lining for $10,000, he also asked her to withdraw $5,000 for her dental work and to cash a cheque for $1238.50
9-9:30am Schumacher is overheard on the phone saying ‘no I don’t want anyone to know about that money, I’m trying to hide it from the tax department’.
9:54am Schumacher speaks to Gaperak again.
10-10:30am Murphy cashes a cheque for $1238.50, returns home and leaves this in his study with a note. This was the last time Murphy claims she was in the study and she notes that the study was tidy.
10:00am Bazianas meets with Schumacher at the construction site and notes that Schumacher appears in good spirits.
10:30am Schumacher calls Murphy to advise her that he is on his way home and he would not like her to be home when he arrives as he had a business deal to attend to.
10:35am John William Pascoe calls Schumacher (it is unclear who this is).
10:51am Call takes place between Schumacher and the same unknown person using a phone registered to Schumacher Group project manager.
10:56am Call takes place between Schumacher and the same unknown person using a phone registered to Schumacher Group project manager.
11:00am Schumacher is seen by a neighbour in his garage talking on the phone.
11:01am Call takes place between Schumacher and the same unknown person using a phone registered to Schumacher Group project manager.
11:38am Schumacher calls Murphy and asks her to withdraw $700 from his debit card.
12:00pm Neighbours spot Schumacher in the rear of his car looking for something. Schumacher smiles and waves to the family indicating nothing out of the usual.
12:15pm Schumacher is seen by a neighbour in his front yard talking on his phone.
12:26pm Maragna calls Schumacher to let him know she was heading back to the office. She asks him how his day is going and he states that his day is not going well and a lot of things were going wrong. He seems angry and upset but this is not unusual. This was the last phone call answered by Schumacher, all further telephone calls were diverted to voicemail.
12:30pm A neighbour reportedly sees a meter reader walking down the street and into Schumacher’s property. The man is described as wearing Energex style clothing, a goatee beard, a light blue work shirt, king gee pants, a dark wide-brimmed hat and black boots.
12:40pm A neighbour hears a very loud bang like a car backfiring but no car is seen
12:44pm Murphy texts Schumacher about the money she had withdrawn but this was never read.
1:00pm Murphy withdraws $5,000 cash from the Schumacher Group’s cheque account for the dentist. She drives home but remembers that Schumacher had told her not to be there so she drives to the gas station. She does not remember seeing any cars present at the property as she passes.
1:30pm Murphy texts Schumacher again and then goes to West End to buy shoelaces
1:45pm A postal worker delivers two parcels to Schumacher’s residence, he remembers a white car parked at the property with the ‘Schumacher’ logo on it – suggesting that Murphy was home, and a dark late model sedan was parked in the left side of the carport.
1:53pm Murphy tries to call Schumacher again and leaves a voice-message.
2:03pm Murphy text’s Schumacher complaining about driving around in circles.
2:10pm Maragna leaves work and drives to Schumacher’s house.
2:12pm The unknown caller registered to Schumacher Group attempts to call Schumacher again.
2:15pm Murphy goes to buy marijuana at the Greenslopes Bowling Alley.
2:28pm Gasperak tries to call Schumacher.
2:30pm Maragna arrives at Schumacher’s property with flowers, surprised to see his car in the carport. The door is locked, however the alarm system is turned off. Everything appears normal until she goes to the study and finds the deceased body of Schumacher, with blood coming out of his ear, mouth and nose. The computer was on and the email was open. The study was a mess, not how Murphy recalls it being in the morning.
2:37pm Gasperak tries to call Schumacher.
2:43pm Maragna calls the police.
Maragna was advised on the call to 000 to lie the body flat, causing her to move the body from where it had originally been found. When paramedics arrived they dragged the body into the dining room – moving furniture out the way, in order to try and resuscitate him. Once he had been pronounced dead officers wiped away congealed blood from the base of the skull in order to identify a bullet wound – which could have potentially contaminated the evidence.
Schumacher had been shot with a 9mm Parabellum calibre Beretta model 92 FS Centurion self-loading pistol. The exact location of the gun was not photographed as when police arrived as they had rendered the weapon ‘unsafe’ and it was placed under a cabinet in the dining room.
Photo: A 9mm Berette the same as the weapon used on Schumacher.
As well as the mishandling of a potential murder weapon police incompetency meant that the crime scene was not secured, and at one time it was estimated that between 8 and 10 police officers were crammed into the small study. Any evidence that could have potentially have been collected could now be rendered useless due to contamination.
One officer on the scene recalled checking Schumacher’s phone and seeing one missed call on the phone screen – this does not match the personal accounts of the day and suggests that someone had checked the phone, or that the phone calls were never made.
When searching the property police found a .45 handgun loaded underneath the bed sheets in Schumacher’s bedroom, a .22 rifle with a silencer was located in a draw at the bottom of the stairs and a .45 handgun and ammunition were located in Schumacher’s safe.
Gunshot residue (‘GSR’) swabs were taken from Schumacher and the two women, neither of whom objected. Several hours had elapsed for both women before the samples were taken, and Maragna had even been home and showered prior to the sample being taken, significantly affecting the reliability of the swabs. The reliability of the swabs taken from Schumacher is also questionable as they were taken over seven hours after the body was discovered. Forensic analysis showed that there was GSR present on the right hand of Schumacher – which would indicate that he had fired a weapon recently and suggests suicide or accidental death. However, GSR was also found of the right hands of Maragna and Murphy. This would indicate that both women had also fired, or been in contact with, a weapon recently.
Maragna’s jacket appeared to have blood stains on it but this was not questioned until 2011 when she stated that she must have been wearing the jacket while helping Schumacher. This contradicts an earlier statement in which she said that she had taken the jacket off and placed it in the dining room before entering his study – which is where the jacket was found when the police arrived. DNA examination confirmed that this was Schumacher’s blood, this is highly suspicious unless there is evidence to suggest that she had taken the jacket off later. GSR was also found on the right sleeve of Maragna’s jacket which could imply that she had fired a weapon recently.
Examiners were initially unable to determine whether the wound was close contract, intermediate or distant – which would helped determine the cause of death. It was eventually ruled that this was not a contact wound, which would have been more concurrent with suicide. The forensic pathologist was of the opinion that it was a distant gun-shot wound, which would indicate a third party. Due to the distance between the muzzle of the weapon and the back of the head, it would be unlikely the injury was intentionally self-inflicted. The distance of the muzzle of the gun from the back of Schumacher’s head was 35cm. Although it may have been physically possible for the gun-shot to have been self-inflicted it would have been difficult and highly unusual. During a re-enactment the individual was able to get into the position required for the trajectory, however he was unable to maintain the weapon steadily to fire the shot. Could the weapon have been accidentally discharged by Schumacher while stretching or whilst playing with the weapon as he has been previously known to do?
Photo: Shows an example of a close contact gun-shot wound that would indicate suicide.
Enquiries were made by the police regarding Baffi’s whereabouts at the time of Schumacher’s death – he supposedly had an appointment with a client, but no statement was ever taken from the client as to whether this meeting had taken place, and at what time. Baffi was not formally spoken to by the police until 2009.
Confession of a murder?
November 2006 an email was sent indicating that the landlord of the property that Murphy was now residing in with several of her friends believed that the tenants had been involved in a murder. One of the tenants confessed landlady that she had overhead Murphy and Castillo – another of the housemates – discussing how they had ‘knocked off a man’. No action was taken by the police at this point.
In 2007 this was finally followed up. Castillo was suspected of being a painter that was hired by the Schumacher group but he denied ever having worked for Schumacher. Castillo and Murphy both indicated that they did not meet until after Schumacher’s death, and there was no evidence to suggest that they were engaged in any sexual relationship.
The landlord stated that 2 months after the property was rented out she received a text message from one of the tenants saying she wanted to break the lease because she was scared of Castillo. She said that Castillo had bashed another tenant with a baseball bat and she had overhead Castillo and Murphy confessing to murdering someone. The tenant had heard them talking about murdering a building or a developer.
When questioned about this the tenant denied hearing this conversation and said that she had never confided in the landlord about any incident like that. Was she changing her story because she didn’t want to be implicated in anything and was scared for her own safety – it seems like an unusual story for a landlord to construct out of nowhere.
Where There’s a Will There’s a Way…
After Schumacher’s death a will was found locked in his safe dated 25 December 2005. No one appears to have any prior knowledge of this will and Maragna was surprised the majority of the distribution of the estate was left to her and Murphy and no provision was made to family members. Both Maragna and Murphy claim to have never seen the will prior to Schumacher’s death.
There were concerns over how accurate the will was however, and Schumacher’s mother disputed this, stating that she was uncertain that it had been made and signed by Schumacher himself. The will was not drafted in a formal form, was not witnessed, and contained basic spelling errors – which is uncharacteristic of Schumacher. A diary entry for 25 December makes no mention of a will either.
Maragna was appointed as his executor and it was estimated to be about $141,000 to be distributed after liabilities were settled. Schumacher’s mother lodged a caveat due to the suspicious nature of the will and so Maragna renounced her rights as executor. Murphy then became executor and the caveat was eventually removed.
Forensics confirm that the will was signed by Schumacher but knowing that Murphy is able to forge his signature it might be worth comparing her forgery to see how good it is. Forensics also found two latent prints on the will, and in May 2009 it was confirmed that these prints belonged to Murphy – who had previously indicated that she had never seen the will prior to Schumacher’s death.
Suicide VS Homicide
Even with all the information provided it is difficult to come to any definitive conclusion as to whether Schumacher accidentally or intentionally shot himself or if the gunshot wound was inflicted by another person.
The most compelling piece of evidence is the consistent scientific testing confirms that the minimum distance of the gun muzzle from Schumacher’s head at the time of discharge was 30 to 35 cm. Therefore, for the gun-shot wound to have been self-inflicted he would have had to have held the weapon at a distance of a minimum of 42 to 47 cm from his head which is an extremely unusual and difficult position to self-inflict a gun-shot wound.
Due to the current state of the evidence and no public access to autopsy reports or formal statements it appears that this cold case is reliant on further investigation – something which doesn’t appear likely at this stage. Any relevant information regarding the crime is to be reported to CrimeStoppers.