A McDonald’s worker convicted and then acquitted of the brutal 2005 murder of a lonely widower remains fearful she may be put on trial again for the fifth time.
Katia Pyliotis, now aged 40, was jailed for 19 years in 2020 for the murder of Elia Abdelmessih, 69, whose bludgeoned body was found alongside a tin of mangoes and a Virgin Mary statue on September 18, 2005.
The evidence against her had been damning.
Her DNA had been splattered across Mr Abdelmessih’s house, found inside a bloody glove and her defence was hampered by a homicide detective’s missing diary.
But when that diary turned up midway through 2020, Katia was finally set free.
At the time she had been facing her fifth Supreme Court of Victoria murder trial.
A new podcast series titled The Confession has delved into the extraordinary circumstances that saw Katia not only convicted, but set free.
Katia Pyliotis (pictured) was jailed for 19 years in 2019 for the murder of lonely widower Elia Abdelmessih
Mr Abdelmessih’s bludgeoned body was found alongside a tin of mangoes and a Virgin Mary statue
The bloodied tin of mangoes used to murder Elia Abdelmessih in 2005.
Katia’s version of events in her own words has remained untold until now.
When prosecutors dumped her case on February 8 last year it was largely ignored as it coincided with the first day of a Covid-19 affected Australian Open.
She had been arrested in 2016 after South Australian police picked her up on a minor driving offence and took her DNA.
It matched what the mystery blood Melbourne detectives had found 11 years earlier at Mr Abdelmessih’s home.
The match had been a stroke of luck in what had become an ice cold case.
Walkley award winning reporter Richard Baker tracked down the elusive Katia, who to this day cannot, or will not, say how or why her blood was found splattered across Mr Abdelmessih’s home out of fear she may be prosecuted again.
A recording of Katia speaking to her sister while caged inside Dame Phyllis Frost Centre remains the only clue as to what went on.
In it, Katia claims to have attended Mr Abdelmessih’s home with an unnamed person, but cannot recall much else due to some sort of post traumatic amnesia.
‘Even if I did do it, I can’t remember. That might be a possibility, but I still don’t think I did it, I think, you know, I’d remember,’ she told her sister.
‘I reckon if I was to do such a thing to a person I would have a reason, you know. And I don’t. I don’t have a motive … yeah I’m scared and I ran.’
Katia’s escape from what would have been a near life behind bars could have come straight from the script of a Hollywood movie.
In her own words to Baker: ‘It was a stitch-up’.
‘Idiot me had it stuck in my head that the situation and whatever was happening would be sorted out that day, or the next day,’ she told Baker of her thoughts upon being arrested.
‘It didn’t make sense … I knew I wasn’t capable of homicide. It just was ridiculous. It was just absurd.’
With her DNA found throughout the crime scene and a scar on her finger matching the exact position of a cut found in a bloody glove there, Katia’s only hope of acquittal had been word of a supposed confession by a drug addled prostitute named Susan Reddie.
But Reddie was long dead and former Victoria Police homicide squad detective Senior Constable Warren Ryan assured the jury she had quickly recanted it and was never a real suspect.
The detective swore under oath he had taken notes in his diary about it – a diary that had remained missing throughout Katia’s four trials.
The DNA of Katia Pyliotis was found inside a glove left at the murder scene. Her DNA would be found after a routine stop in South Australia years after the murder
A statue of the Virgin Mary was used to bash the lonely pensioner’s skull in (stock image)
WHAT THE ‘MISSING’ DIARY REVEALED
Katia’s barrister Dermot Dann, QC revealed the notes in Senior Constable Ryan’s diary contained information on a confession by Sarah Reddie at 20:35 pm on September 28, 2005.
It was the same day that Reddie had participated in a record of Interview with detectives.
Notes of the confession at 20:35 pm contained ‘highly significant details about the circumstances of Mr Abdelmessih’s death’, Mr Dann said.
‘Firstly, there is an indication that Susan Reddie assaulted Mr Abdelmessih after she had had sex with him on 18 September 2005.
‘Secondly, there was an indication that she had been paid $20.00 for providing these sexual services to Mr Abdelmessih.
‘Thirdly, there was an indication that Susan Reddie had used a religious statue to assault Mr Abdelmessih,’ Mr Dann said.
‘Finally, the notes in the diary indicate that Susan Reddie had hit Mr Abdelmessih multiple times with the statue.’
Prosecutors quietly dumped their case against Katia on February 8 last year.
In 2009, Senior Constable Ryan left Victoria Police and joined the Queensland Police Service.
After three bungled trials, Katia’s last chance at freedom came by chance when the now retired Justice Paul Coghlan made several fatal blunders of his own in her final trial.
At one point when Katia’s trial barrister Richard Edney was questioning a witness, Justice Coghlan interjected to tell him ‘this is even more boring than the other parts of your cross-examination’.
He made other remarks in front of the jury, including that they’d ‘still be here 13 years later’ hearing crime scene evidence, and that ‘I’ll have to start answering these questions myself’.
The comments were enough to see Katia’s conviction overturned on appeal, but prosecutors were adamant on seeing her convicted after a fifth trial.
In what can only be described as one of the rare cases where the slow pace of Victorian justice was welcome, police took another look for the missing diary.
And found it.
What was contained within it was damning to the prosecution case.
Armed with the information, Katia’s new barrister Dermott Dann, QC made an application to the court for a permanent stay in the proceedings.
But the prosecution marched on.
In submissions made to the Supreme Court in September 2020, Mr Dann was scathing of the detective’s sworn evidence.
The diary revealed that not only had Reddie repeatedly confessed to the murder, she had described the murder weapon as a ‘blue and white statue or ornament’.
The detective had also failed to make any note of Reddie’s supposed recantation of her confession.
Reddie’s blood-spattered shoes, which were found by police on September 28, 2005 were ‘lost by police’ and no forensic testing was ever able to be conducted on them, Mr Dann told the court.
Senior Constable Warren Ryan (pictured) helped convict Katia Pyliotis on the back of evidence he claimed was contained his his missing diary. When the diary was found, Katia walked free
Barrister Dermot Dann QC used information contained in homicide investigator Warren Ryan’s missing diary to get prosecutors to finally dump their case against Katia
Police had also failed to examine at the scene a used condom and a chair containing a bloodied handprint.
‘When previously challenged on the truthfulness of this evidence Senior Constable Ryan has pointed to the fact that the contents of his diary would put an end to any such challenge,’ Mr Dann told the court.
‘Knowing what we know now about the contents of Senior Constable Ryan’s diary, it can be seen just how unfair the previous trials have been.’
The former Kew McDonald’s worker had met Mr Abdelmessih at work shortly after his wife’s death.
Police had claimed it was his love of God, women and Big Macs that led to his brutal murder.
The Egyptian-born pensioner was a lonely man, who attended the same fast food outlet up to three times a day, everyday.
Such was his love for the ‘Golden Arches’ he would be waiting at the door at 6am when it opened.
Mr Abdelmessih would eat his breakfast before ducking off to church and returning when the menu changed to the lunch offering.
Staff described the regular as friendly, but noted his conversation would often slip into inappropriate areas.
He’d sing romantic songs to them, try to kiss their hands and ask the girls to marry him.
On the last day Mr Abdelmessih was seen alive he attended the McDonald’s restaurant at 6am like every other day.
CCTV showed he ordered his breakfast and sat down to eat it.
He spoke to a female staff member and began to sing to her.
The worker told him he was being inappropriate and told him to stop.
He did, but told her he’d be back later after he attended church.
It was the last time Mr Abdelmessih stepped foot in his beloved restaurant.
Witnesses claimed he attended church as expected and neighbours later noticed he had parked his car oddly outside his home.
He was found by detectives brutally beaten and face down in a bowl of liquid.
Justice Paul Coghlan called murder accused Katia Pyliotis’ defence a ‘red herring calculated to mislead’ and told lawyers that’s what he would tell the jury
Detectives attend the 2005 crime scene of Mr Abdelmessih. His murder would remain a mystery for more than a decade
Katia’s DNA was located inside a discarded glove, in the bathroom, on a laundry tap and on the bloody statue.
Both police and Victoria’s Director of Public prosecutions Kerri Judd, QC were loathe to dump the case against Katia even after the missing diary was found.
‘A fifth trial is not unjustifiably oppressive, nor does it constitute an abuse of process,’ prosecutors argued in September 2020.
Prosecutors refuted allegations by the defence that Senior Constable Ryan had in any way attempted to perjure himself in the witness box during Katia’s trials.
In October and November that year, Senior Constable Ryan was again brought before the Supreme Court.
On December 4, Mr Dann applied to the DPP for a notice of discontinuance.
Katia was already free on bail in February last year when she learnt her fifth trial had been abandoned.
Months later, the Supreme Court of Victoria would deny her application for the DPP to pay her legal costs.
Justice Elizabeth Hollingwood noted at the time she had no knowledge of the particular reasons why the DPP determined not to proceed with what would have been Katia’s fifth trial.
‘I am in no position to make a finding that the Director only discontinued because she “saw the writing on the wall” with respect to the way the stay application was proceeding, as the applicant suggests,’ Justice Hollingworth stated at the time.
‘In the circumstances, it is not appropriate for the court to speculate on the reasons for the decision to discontinue.’
After spending years behind bars on remand, Katia confided in Baker the terrible toll it had had on her.
‘They had the wrong person. It was a mistake. I gave up hope . It got to a point where I was saying to myself that I’d rather die,’ she said.
While the case against Katia has been ‘discontinued’, she lives in knowledge prosecutors could bring it back on and again turn her life upside down.
TIMELINE TO A WRONGFUL CONVICTION
2004: Melbourne man Elia Abdelmessih’s wife dies
2005: Mr Abdelmessih, who lives at East Kew, starts visiting a local McDonald’s several times a day, serenading the staff and making inappropriate comments.
He visits an agency in Box Hill ‘providing Asian girls’ but abandons the idea as ‘shonky’. His house becomes a ‘pigsty’ and he pays $20 for sex with Sue Reddie – a woman with an acquired brain injury who he meets outside a supermarket
September 2005: Mr Abdelmessih is found dead at home, face down in a bowl of water. He is dressed only in a shirt and underpants with a black glove. Nearby is a dented can of mangoes and a bloodied statue of the Virgin Mary
2012: Sue Reddie dies of natural causes
2016: Pyliotis is linked to the crime scene by her DNA when she gives a saliva sample to police after being caught driving an unregistered car in South Australia. She is extradited to Victoria
May 2017: A Melbourne Magistrates Court hearing is told that a month before his death, Mr Abdelmessih spoke about a ‘crazy woman’ who told him to stay away or she’d kill him
October 2017: Pyliotis, 35, faces a Supreme Court murder trial. Her legal team points a finger at Ms Reddie, but the jury is discharged. Another two juries are empanelled and discharged
December 2018: Pyliotis found guilty of murder by a fourth Supreme Court jury, prosecutors having been unable to provide a clear motive
April 2019: Pyliotis is sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 15- and-a-half years.