Killer dumped mum’s body in croc-infested pond – only caught by tiny rope fibre

Four years ago, a killer who murdered a 42-year-old woman in a botched extortion plan, was caught through the discovery of his DNA on a tiny rope fibre.

Though no one can say if Matthew Ross White thought he would be caught, he probably didn't expect it would be his mum who unknowingly dobbed him in.

When Donna Steele was found floating face down in a crocodile-infested waterway in Cooktown, Queensland, police divers found a piece of red twine on a nearby riverbank.

Understanding the material to be part of the murder weapon, Police urged the people of Cooktown to come forward and give DNA samples.

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Detective Sergeant Scott McGrath said: “There was quite a bit of motivation on the part of the Cooktown community to have the crime solved, there was the perception there was a killer in the community whose identity was unknown."

In a fortunate twist of fate the mother of 27-year-old Matthew White who voluntarily gave her sample was found to have similar DNA to the one found on the twine.

Police then approached White and in the "first few minutes" of their conversation, he confessed to killing Steele and weighing her body down with rocks that submerged her in the Endeavour River.

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White had not initially intended to kill Steele when he was hidden under her bed in Cooktown, his plan had been to extort money out Steele who he had met once at a party before.

His bid to ambush her and tie her up before demanding money was disrupted, however, when Steele pulled the stocking obscuring his identity off his head.

"I started freaking out she would recognise me," White said in a video of his conversation with the police, "I ended up grabbing this silk scarf instead of the twine and started to strangle her with that."

Before losing consciousness, Steele said the words, "I can't breathe."

Though White's trial in the Supreme Court for the murder of the mum-of-two was due to last a week, White changed his plea from not guilty to guilty two days in.

Matthew White was then sentenced to life imprisonment after the judge told him his actions were "cruel and callous."

Last week Donna Steel's brother, Jason Steele, publicly recalled his memories of the tragic event which had a "profound and devastating impact" on the family, for which "nothing will will ease the pain," he said.

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When Jason arrived at his sister's house after her death, he found the home which he had helped to paint was covered in black carbon dust as police worked to find any fingertips.

“It was tough to see, every little bit. It was horrendous, it was chilling to walk into that house where it all happened.”

But understanding the marvel of DNA tracing he emphasised how thankful he was for the arduous process that established White's involvement in the crime.

“With DNA technology, once upon a time it could be you and 100 people, now it’s you and only you.”

“I had some closure, they found the person through DNA to convict, we’ve had a little bit of closure to a certain point, some people never get that.”

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