The hunt for Jonathan Andrew Stenberg in the Darwin rural area went for six days. Art: Stuart Thornton
The hunt for Jonathan Andrew Stenberg in the Darwin rural area went for six days. Art: Stuart Thornton

From movie extra to murderer on the run

THE manhunt for Jonathon Andrew Stenberg, the man found guilty of murdering his next door neighbour, was one of the most extensive land and air searches in the Territory's history.

More than 100 officers were involved, tactical response officers from other states were also flown in to help with the search.

Over six days the Territory Response Group scoured the bushland of Berry Springs looking for Stenberg in June 2012.

Stenberg, then 47, had killed his next door neighbour 54-year-old Edward 'Ned' Kelly.

His decapitated body was found in his home at Broadwater New South Wales.

Mr Kelly's head has never been found.

The manhunt for Jonathon Andrew Stenberg in Darwin's rural area. Police applying camouflage face paint before leaving to search bushland. Picture: Justin Sanson
The manhunt for Jonathon Andrew Stenberg in Darwin's rural area. Police applying camouflage face paint before leaving to search bushland. Picture: Justin Sanson

 

Stenberg arrived in Darwin after applying for, and getting an extra role in the film Mystery Road as a tough bush cop. He had given a false name to the film crew - John Sergeant.

He didn't get his chance on the silver screen, instead choosing to flee to the Top End.

The TRG, were tasked to capture the fugitive, after he was spooked by plain clothes officers near Noonamah on the Stuart Hwy on June 26.

Stenberg, rattled that police were onto him, sped off in his car.

A picture from day three of the Stenberg manhunt in Berry Springs with police changing over their search duty on the helicopter.
A picture from day three of the Stenberg manhunt in Berry Springs with police changing over their search duty on the helicopter.

 

Superintendent Shaun Gill, who has a long career with the TRG, was the tactical Commander of Operation Inferno - to bring in Stenberg.

"He got a bit suspicious thinking the police were after him so he turn around and ran," he said.

"He turned around went back south on the Stuart Hwy down Cox Peninsula Rd and went off at speed.

"It was an unmarked police car, had nothing to do with the operation and he got spooked."

Supt Gill said the first thing the unit did was to do background checks on Stenberg and to prepare for every situation they might come across. They discovered he had a military background, had served in Iraq, had previously been treated for depression and was a recreational shooter.

Forensics found camping gear and long life food alongside the rifle in Stenberg's ute.
Forensics found camping gear and long life food alongside the rifle in Stenberg's ute.

They believed he had come to the Territory loaded with guns.

"We were wondering what he was coming to the Territory for. Formed part of planning process," he said.

"We always plan for a number of contingencies - arrest in the vehicle, arrest on foot, arrest in a place, so we had all this planned."

When you do this job things get really hard, I'm sending people into an area where there's an armed offender and there's every chance he's going to shoot at them

TRG members began searching for Stenberg, quickly coming across his ute, crudely covered with a camouflage net beside a creek near Cox Peninsula Rd and Kentish Rd.

"When we found the car I was worried that he was going to be in his car and try to escape so I approved TRG to shoot the tyres out so he couldn't get in the car and drive away," Supt Gill said.

Stenberg gives a peace sign on leaving Darwin Magistrates Court after being arrested in Berry Springs.
Stenberg gives a peace sign on leaving Darwin Magistrates Court after being arrested in Berry Springs.

"We hooked the car up to the Bearcat and dragged it out of the area so he had no way of escaping. "Not by vehicle anyway.

"He had firearms, he had pistols, he had all sorts of firearms on the back."

A search of the car found his phone, which detectives were able to access and find vital information such as the guns he owned.

Supt Gill authorised road blocks across the rural area and put out messaging urging people to stay indoors.

The plan was to pin him to the area and avoid allowing him to slip out.

"We were smashing the area with the helicopter," he said.

"We wanted him to keep his head down we wanted as much air cover as we could to limit his chances of being able to walk around.

Serious considerations were made as to whether plans be made to cancel cracker night -

We thought about it but we knew it was going to be catastrophic

"The whole idea was to pin him, keep him in the one area and we were going to get him from a piece of evidence or he was going to make a mistake and I was going to jump on him.

"It felt like cat and mouse."

Snipers sat on the helicopters as a precaution - should Stenberg decide to open fire.

"When you do this job things get really hard, I'm sending people into an area where there's an armed offender and there's every chance he's going to shoot at them,"

"It's quite stressful when you're sending people out on jobs that you don't know if they're going to come back from, but it is what we do," Supt Gill said.

Deputy Commissioner Shayne Maines and Crime Commander Richard Bryson give a press conference after his capture.
Deputy Commissioner Shayne Maines and Crime Commander Richard Bryson give a press conference after his capture.

The TRG team after working 20 hour days for several days straight were becoming worn out, so in an effort to bolster resources 30 -35 officers from Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales were called in and sworn in as special constables.

Territory Day posed another risk for the operation.

The threat of firecrackers going off all night meant officers wouldn't know if the bangs were guns being fired or fireworks.

It's crocodile infested water and he sat there as deep as he could for six days

Serious considerations were made as to whether plans be made to cancel cracker night.

"We thought about it but we knew it was going to be catastrophic," he said.

After six days of searching Supt Gill decided go back to the start point and go over the evidence again.

In the end it was the forensic photographer who found Stenberg - shaking uncontrollably in grass beside the creek. They alerted the tactical team who, at gunpoint, arrested Stenberg.

"The photographer went in to photograph the scene and as he was photographing it he focuses towards the water and sees something shaking in the grass," he said.

"What he did was he sat in the water the whole time.

Day two of the hunt for Stenberg with a section of Cox Peninsula Rd, between Reed Beds Rd and Southport Rd, blocked by police.
Day two of the hunt for Stenberg with a section of Cox Peninsula Rd, between Reed Beds Rd and Southport Rd, blocked by police.

"It's crocodile infested water and he just sat there as deep as he could for six days, but after six days he was completely hypothermia so he couldn't stop shivering."

Supt Gill was one of the first people to talk to Stenberg after his arrest.

Stenberg told him he had jumped out of the car and grabbed as much ammunition and guns as possible, but in hindsight would have opted for food and water.

It was revealed that Stenberg sat in the creek for as long as possible in an effort to avoid detection.

"There were two reasons for that, he wanted to reduce his heat signature because he thought we had satellites," Supt Gill said.

This gun found was found with some of the other equipment Stenberg used to survive.
This gun found was found with some of the other equipment Stenberg used to survive.

"He thought if we started shooting at him the water would slow down the bullets and not do as much damage to him."

Supt Gill said Stenberg elaborated that he had multiple opportunities to shoot TRG members.

"He said he was really conflicted, some of his desires was to shoot police and another part of his brain was I'm not going to shoot cops. He got really cranky when he shot the tyres on his car," he said.

Once Stenberg had been arrested and extradited, Supt Gill said it was a relief.

"The overwhelming feeling is just relief, when you catch someone like that," he said.

"Most people slept at work, I don't think anyone went home for six days.

"It was a tough job, but it's what the community expects of us."

Stenberg pleaded guilty to murder, and was sentenced to 25 years jail.

He will not be eligible for parole until 2031.



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