DEath has never been far behind Kevin Knowles. It was there when he and his partner, Amanda Bourke, spent the day drinking with Stephen Johnston in 2016. Johnston was savagely beaten at his home in southwest Victoria and left with 101 separate injuries; he died in hospital. Knowles was the prime suspect.
Death was near again when Bourke drowned while swimming with Knowles at a rugged, secluded beach two years later. With it died almost any chance that Knowles would be prosecuted for Johnston’s death.
But death caught up with Knowles on July 22, when he was shot and run over on a single-lane country road near Kirkstall, northwest of Warrnambool. The suspected shooter, who also allegedly killed another man found dead with Knowles, returned home and turned the gun on himself.
While local residents expressed shock at the carnage that unfolded in such a peaceful part of the state, no one, even with a passing acquaintance of Knowles, was surprised he had met such an end. .
Johnston described Knowles in his diary as “the devil”. Despite these reservations, Johnston spent the last hours of his life drinking with Knowles and Bourke on December 7, 2016.
In 2020, a coroner, Simon McGregor, discovered that Knowles and Johnston had an argument over Bourke and that Knowles caused Johnston’s injuries by assaulting him while high on drugs.
Bourke was regularly bullied by Knowles, McGregor found. Johnston even wrote in his diary that he twice drove Bourke to the police station so she could report Knowles for assaulting her.
Knowles would later be imprisoned for giving Bourke a black eye, threatening to kill her with a knife and burying her, and grabbing her by the throat while covering her mouth to try to stop her from to breathe.
Handwritten letters sent by the couple while Knowles was in jail came to light during the inquest.
The letters showed Knowles had repeatedly urged Bourke not to be a “dog” when speaking to the “valets” about his involvement in Johnston’s death.
McGregor noted at the inquest that while the case against Knowles was circumstantial and Knowles had the right not to testify during the proceedings to avoid incriminating himself, he would refer the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions to review. the charges against Knowles.
The investigation also uncovered another letter that Bourke had written to his mother. She told him that Knowles had “become very mean several times” towards her and that she had filed a complaint with the police.
Officers had wanted her in “witness protection,” she wrote, because they feared Knowles might kill her, but she refused because she wouldn’t be able to see her daughter.
Within months, Bourke, 44, died on a secluded beach. And Knowles was by his side.
The Cutting is a stretch of rugged coastline almost directly midway between Warrnambool and Port Fairy which is rarely frequented by swimmers.
According to coronary findings, on January 18, 2018, as the temperature soared towards 40 degrees, Knowles and Bourke decided to go swimming. Knowles said Bourke suggested the Cutting rather than other beaches so the couple wouldn’t bump into people they didn’t want to see.
They went into the water in the late afternoon and Knowles said Bourke jumped on his back. A witness at the time who was walking on the beach with his wife said he saw a couple cuddling in the water and they “appeared to be fine”.
But Knowles said he quickly lost his footing and then realized he could no longer touch the seabed. He went underwater and Bourke slipped off his back.
He said she called for help, he grabbed her, but the moving waves broke his grip and he momentarily lost sight of her.
When he saw her again, she was 20 meters away and appeared to be floating.
Knowles then cried out for help. The same witness who had seen the couple earlier came to their aid, crossing a wide channel which contained a dangerous tear, before locating Bourke. She could not be revived.
Bourke and Knowles were engaged and living together in Kirkstall. But her family was so concerned about her history of abuse against them and being the only witness to Johnston’s death that they urged a coroner to hold an inquest into Bourke’s death.
They later withdrew the claim and a coroner, Caitlin English, made a finding in the death – without holding an inquest – which cleared Knowles of any involvement despite a number of ‘unusual aspects’ of the drowning during of the “first examination”.
She was convinced that Knowles had been violent towards Bourke and that as the only witness to Johnston’s assault she could implicate Knowles in the death, but found no evidence that the drowning was anything other than an accident. “caused by dangerous sea conditions”.
Despite being linked to two suspicious deaths in as many years, Knowles carried on as before. At the time of the Johnston inquest, he had a criminal record of over 50 pages and was due to appear in court again three days after his death.
But at some point on July 22, it appears he got into a run-in with another Kirkstall man, Travis Cashmore.
Knowles, 49, walked more than an hour from Kirkstall to the larger town of Koroit most days, often with her companion Benjamin Ray, local residents told Guardian Australia.
Cashmore found them on the road between towns that morning and ended their lives. We may never know why, but the police are preparing a report for the coroner.
At some point in the days following the deaths, a sign was screwed to Cashmore’s door.
“Free,” it read in big black letters, “Trav! You and the Kirkstall community are now free from Kevin Knowles. TO TEAR APART.”