Australia

Hunt for killer of musician whose body was found in a gutted bungalow

Connor Tolson worked as a kitchen helper, but dreamed of shining in stadiums.

He was just 21 and the drummer in the Melbourne band Riders Of Sin when his body was found in the burnt-out remains of a bungalow at the back of his childhood home.

It was September 19, 2015, and to this day exactly who, why and how he died remains a mystery.

Now police are offering a $1 million reward in hopes of finally solving the case.

Police are offering $1 million for information to help resolve the suspicious death of young Melbourne musician Connor Tolson (above) following a fire at his home more than six years ago

Police are offering $1 million for information to help resolve the suspicious death of young Melbourne musician Connor Tolson (above) following a fire at his home more than six years ago

In 2015, Connor is said to have died in a fire after returning home from a party

In 2015, Connor is said to have died in a fire after returning home from a party

On Wednesday, the Victoria Police announced it would award a $1 million reward for information leading to the conviction of Connor’s killer.

Homicide detectives have long suspected who had the motive to kill him.

Connor’s sister, Alanna, and mother, Karen Mantello, were awakened at 5 a.m. on the morning of the fire by the smell of smoke.

They desperately tried to save Connor, but forensic experts would later determine that he was dead before the fire started.

His skull appeared to have been cracked by a blunt object and he had probably been strangled.

The police were initially willing to pass on Connor’s death as a simple tragedy.

The young musician had no known enemies and a toxicology report indicated he had THC in his system and a blood alcohol level of 0.12 – the telltale signs of a night out.

There were no signs of breaking into the bungalow where he lived and nothing appeared to have been stolen.

The bungalow had been a typical jumble of wires and clutter, with ten guitars and two amps in it.

Connor had lived on the property and in the bungalow all his life since he was 17.

An investigation into Connor’s death in 2017 learned how detectives quickly discovered that the young musician was in a loving relationship with his mother, sister and father Bill, who was separated from his mother, but his relationship with his older brother James was less than cordial. .

Friends of Connor would later tell police it was in fact totally broken, with the couple getting into violent fights before dying, the inquest heard.

James had been diagnosed with ADHD and police were advised that he had misused his medications prior to Connor’s death.

Ms. Martello stated that James had become too hard to live with, the inquest learned, with police records showing officers had been called to the family’s home in Malvern East at least eight times because of James’ behavior in the previous two year.

Connor Tolson was an avid musician with a fondness for Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys

Connor Tolson was an avid musician with a fondness for Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys

Connor Tolson's band was featured on triple J's Unearthed, a competition for undiscovered Australian artists.

Connor Tolson’s band was featured on triple J’s Unearthed, a competition for undiscovered Australian artists.

Connor Tolson (pictured) could play almost any instrument he picked up

Connor Tolson (pictured) could play almost any instrument he picked up

On January 28 – just eight months before he was due to die – Connor reported an alleged assault to his brother.

The inquest heard Connor tell the police that he was terrified of his bigger and stronger brother.

“I didn’t know what he was going to do next,” he told police.

“During the attack I feared for my safety and I was afraid.”

After their father rounded them up, Connor claimed his brother returned to his bedroom and punched him in the face.

An intervention order was successfully placed on James, which would not expire until 2016.

James faced court in July of that year over the assault and walked away without a conviction.

Intervention orders had not gone down well with James, an inquest into Connor’s death would be told.

He had gotten one a year earlier after an incident involving his mother.

James became homeless, but would still violate the warrant “three to four times a week,” Ms Mantello told the court. The violations had resulted in a conviction and a fine.

Despite the continued intervention orders, the court heard that James was continuously allowed back into the family home.

He had only been evicted by their mother three days before the fire.

When Homicide Squad detectives caught up with James, he refused to speak to them. Years later, he would reluctantly agree to make a statement.

He claimed he did not know where he had slept the night of the fire.

“We had different interests, but we got along well, I thought,” he said in 2017.

However, an investigation into the death in 2017 found it to be suspicious and referred it to the Victoria Police Arson and Explosives Squad to investigate.

However, an investigation into the death in 2017 found it to be suspicious and referred it to the Victoria Police Arson and Explosives Squad to investigate.

Now a recent autopsy report has revealed that Connor had died before the bungalow fire started

Now a recent autopsy report has revealed that Connor had died before the bungalow fire started

Investigating Conner’s movements the night he died turned up nothing special.

He was drunk at a birthday party in Brighton before hopping into an Uber, which dropped him off at home just after midnight on the morning he was due to die.

The inquest was told the detectives were unable to gather enough evidence to charge Conner’s brother, their only suspect.

On February 3, 2017, the case was finalized and handed over to the state coroner for investigation.

Coroner Audrey Jamieson was told that Connor had been a calm, passive person with no trace of an enemy in the world.

“If he ever got into a fight, it wouldn’t be his choice,” said a friend.

“Everyone loved him.”

The only person who would make him angry was his brother James, the court was told.

The court heard that James repeatedly threatened his family in the months before the fire.

“I’m going to burn the house down. I’m going to kill you,” James warned them, the court heard.

Connor had done his best to hide the fear he felt for his brother, a friend told the court. But a fight just weeks before his death had upset him.

The court heard that James had routinely tormented his brother by spitting on him while he meditated in the backyard.

When police initially spoke to James just over a day after the fire, he reportedly showed no emotion at the news that his brother was dead.

On January 28, 2018, Judge Jamieson sent the case back to prosecutors so that the police could continue their murder investigation.

James was identified as a suspect, but no charges were ever filed.

Prior to the fire, Connor had attended a party celebrating a friend's 21st birthday in Brighton

Prior to the fire, Connor had attended a party celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday in Brighton

Detectives Senior Sergeant Mark Kennedy urged anyone with information about Connor's death to contact police

Detectives Senior Sergeant Mark Kennedy urged anyone with information about Connor’s death to contact police

On Wednesday, Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Kennedy said those responsible for Connor’s death may have spoken to someone about it and hoped the reward could lead them to come forward.

“People’s circumstances can change over the years and someone who previously may not have wanted to provide information to the police may now feel ready to do so,” he said.

“No matter how insignificant you think the piece of information is, it could be exactly what our researchers need to make a breakthrough in this case.”

Tolson told reporters he didn’t expect justice for Connor’s death, but hoped for answers for his family.

“I’m over it now, I’ve realized the world is a pretty horrible place and I’m just accepting the new world I’m in, but it would be great to have a conclusion for family,” he said.

When questioned about his son James’ possible involvement in the crime, Mr. Tolson refused to accept that he was a murderer.

“(He’s) a suspect, you should say that. But again, nothing is conclusive and if that were the case, it would obviously make a very sad situation sadder,” he said.

Anyone with information on the case should contact Crime Stoppers at 1800 333 000.

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