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Into the light

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Career criminal David Holmes thought he might be getting his just desserts when he was abducted and tortured. But in the aftermath he has turned his life around.

Good Weekend. David Holmes who was torchered and left to die in the Currumbin Valley in the Gold Coast hinterland. Picture by Paul Harris. Monday 10 February 2014.

Hard rain … former standover man David Holmes in the rainforest where he was tortured and dumped. Photo: Paul Harris



David "Hippie" Holmes leads the way up a rainforest track at Currumbin Falls behind the Gold Coast. The setting is a sort of in-between zone: only a short drive from the venal distractions of the glitter strip, yet on the edge of the daunting wilderness surrounding the McPherson Ranges, whose craggy peaks – spanning the hinterland of the Queensland-NSW border – rise to the sky ahead of us.

A few hundred metres up the steep track from the public car park, Holmes stops and looks about. "This is where they brought me," he says. "It was just getting light, and when I saw more of them coming out of the bush I thought, 'Hello, I'm in for a floggin' here.' " He gives one of his oddly timed laughs.

The bikies who snatched Holmes from his home that morning had something far worse than a flogging in mind. High on ice, the Lone Wolf outlaw motorcycle club members believed he'd swindled them in a $40,000 amphetamine deal a few days earlier and had worked themselves into a vengeful fury. But even when the torture began, Holmes kept silent. "I wasn't giving them nothing," he says. "I wasn't gunna cry, I wasn't gunna beg. Call it false bravado, or whatever, but the thought that was in my head was 'God hold me.' " He laughs again. "Just, 'God hold me now.' "

David Holmes who was torchered and left to die in the Currumbin Valley in the Gold Coast hinterland, pictured here in 1975 with a pet kangaroo. Copy Picture by Paul Harris. Monday 10 February 2014.

True roo … Holmes as a child.

With his arms bound behind him, Holmes refused an order to drop to his knees on the track. So one of the bikies bashed him on the side of the head with a pool cue, fracturing his cheek. "After that," he notes, "I was on me knees all right."

Urged on by the others, Lone Wolf Aaron Scheers then used a box cutter to slice off Holmes's ear lobes, followed by his entire left ear. Scheers slashed Holmes's forehead from hairline to eyebrow, and cut a long perforation through his left cheek. "The others were all shouting out things like, 'Cut his Achilles! Cut off his finger!' " says Holmes. "They had a go at one digit" – he holds up a scarred finger – "and they kept talking about the nice little grave they'd dug for me nearby."

It's a lot more peaceful on the track today. When Holmes stops talking, my recorder captures the cry of an exotic bird rising with bell-like clarity from a gully below us. Holmes is by all accounts a different man now to the one he was on that day in November 2007, when Aaron Drew Scheers forced him further up the track towards the chosen "grave" site. "I didn't think I'd survive then," he says. "And I thought that after the things I'd done in my life, I probably didn't deserve to live."

But that afternoon, after an inch-by-inch struggle through almost impenetrable undergrowth, Holmes emerged into the same car park where the bikies had unloaded him from their vehicle eight hours earlier. Caked in blood and covered with leeches and ticks, he was wearing only the tattered remains of his Thai fishing pants – "They don't call me 'Hippie' for nothing!" – when horrified picnickers saw him stagger from the jungle and collapse unconscious before them. For weeks, Holmes – known only as "the earless victim" in media reports – refused to tell police what had happened to him or identify his attackers.

It was only after some of the bikies involved made admissions, and broke their so-called code of silence to identify others present during the attack, that Holmes made a statement to the Queensland police task force investigating the crime. "He came in and said he was either going to do something stupid [to the bikies involved] and end up in jail, or let us take care of it," said Detective Sergeant Terry Fergusson of Taskforce Hydra in 2010.

Since then the bikies involved have all been dealt with by the Queensland justice system. Aaron Drew Scheers, now 30, was sentenced to 13 years' jail in 2010 over the attack on Holmes (reduced to 10 years on appeal). Dyslexic and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder-diagnosed, the baby-faced Scheers was later placed in solitary confinement on a 22-hour-a-day lockdown under Premier Campbell Newman's controversial new anti-bikie legislation.

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Writer: Frank Robson