A MELBOURNE woman was murdered in Portugal and her death covered up by police there, a Sunday Herald Sun investigation has found.
Former international model and fashion executive Jacinta Rees was hacked to death with an axe at her cottage in the Algarve, in southern Portugal, two years ago.
In a sequence of events chillingly similar to the death of Britt Lapthorne, local police claim the death was a suicide - despite a coronial examination in Australia finding she died of extensive injuries caused by repeated blows with an axe and evidence of defensive wounds on her arms and legs.
Family members have been investigating the mystery of her killing ever since. They say they have received little help from the Australian Government.
Portuguese authorities contacted by the Sunday Herald Sun would not provide any information.
The family claims consular officials botched its initial dealings with the Portuguese and have abandoned the family in its search for the truth.
"All we want is to know the truth about what happened to her. She was our sister and our parents' child - she deserves better than this," said Jacinta's brother, Cameron.
Jacinta died in April 2008, in the courtyard of her home at Sao Bras de Alportel, near the city of Faro.
Portuguese police told local reporters her death was an accident, then said it was suicide.
But a Victorian Coroners' report says she died from "blunt force injury to the left side of the head".
"This injury pattern with trauma to both head and the left arm raises serious concerns. Further investigations are being undertaken via the Victorian Police Department's homicide squad," it concludes.
An initial Portuguese autopsy report also suggests Jacinta's death was a murder.
"There are signs highly probable of defense being the elements of the autopsy suggestive of homicide with data that favour extreme violence highly difficult to attribute to the self ... ," a translation reads.
Despite those reports, the Portuguese police closed the investigation and passed the case on to the Interior Ministry as a diplomatic matter.
Police spokesman Comandante Guerriero, of the GNR - the Portuguese national police - told a local newspaper "There is no suspicion of murder" and that there was no suspicion of robbery or any other crime.
Mystery surrounds the case. Locals were reticent to speak about it.
Did she know too much?
One theory about Jacinta's death was that she found out something that cost her life.
The area where she lived is a trafficking route from North Africa and the Middle East for the illegal trade in drugs - mostly hashish - and also in stolen children.
The village of Sao Bras de Alportel is 30km from the resort of Praia de Luz where British child Maddy McCann disappeared.
Her family said child smuggling was an issue Jacinta was concerned about and might have spoken up about.
"Jacinta may have stumbled across something," brother Cameron said.
"She left a note for someone saying she was leaving and she did not know how things would work out and asked that they forgive her, but the police construed it as a suicide note," he said.
"It wasn't a suicide note - she was scared of something.
"Jacinta may have stumbled across something."
The Rees family said they felt let down by the Federal Government.
They said the Lapthorne family and the victims of the Kokoda air crash were given appropriate help and compassion while they had received little help.
The family had to pay for the repatriation of Jacinta's body and was eventually reimbursed by the Government.
"We were contacted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in April 2008 to say that Jacinta had passed away. We were told she had committed suicide," Cameron's wife, Louise, said.
"It took us a month to bring her home. It was a while before her body arrived home."
Two days before bringing Jacinta home, the Rees family asked the Victorian Coroner to do an autopsy.
"The Coroner agreed and there was a DNA test done first which identified the remains as Jacinta," Louise said.
"At the start of the autopsy, the Coroners' office called in the homicide squad.
"Her injuries were so apparent and appalling - it was obvious she had been brutally murdered.
"It clearly was not a suicide."
Government 'abandoned us'
The Portuguese police had said she died from a self-inflicted wound to the forehead and there were no signs of attack or defence.
"But Jacinta's skull had been caved in with an axe. She clearly had defensive wounds also.
"Her elbow had been shattered, her knee was damaged and there were four separate wounds to her head - each of which could have killed her.
"She suffered a horrendous death and she most certainly fought for her life.
"The GNR determined this was a suicide and our embassy concurred.
"To this day, no one has given us an answer as to what happened to Jacinta. We've sent off letters to heaps of people in positions of influence. No one's interested, absolutely no one," she said.
The family received the Portuguese Assistant Prosecutor's report into Jacinta's death in December 2009 - almost two years after her death.
They have been quoted up to $19,000 to get it translated into English. The Federal Government has refused to help.
The family said DFAT's mismanagement of the case had cost it financially and caused much heartache.
"Despite all the facts, DFAT has never acknowledged Jacinta's death as a murder," Louise said.
"It was going to cost $4000 each to send Cam and his brother Phil to Portugal and then another $15,000 to bring Jacinta home.
"We based our decision not to go to Portugal on the embassy's advice; we decided we couldn't afford for Cam to go and there was nothing we could do anyway.
"Had we known that Jacinta had been murdered, or at the very least that her death was suspicious, we would definitely have found the money for Cam to go.
"We based our decision not to go to Portugal on the embassy's advice. We trusted their information. But as the weeks went by and we received more unofficial information it was clear the embassy hadn't looked into this properly, they had just acquiesced to what the Portuguese police had told them.
"The AFP was not advised Jacinta had passed away and there's no AFP presence in Portugal."
Along the way the funeral director would not release the body because it had not been officially identified.
"We phoned DFAT and were told they would take care of it. But we found out later they didn't identify her, they just gave some sort of authority to release the body," Louise said.
"Apart from the trauma and heartache, the financial impact on the family has been gruelling. Sorting out Jacinta's affairs meant Cam wasn't working and we had to cash in his long service leave to be able to afford to bring her home.
"We didn't qualify for victims of crime compensation in Australia because the crime occurred in Portugal and we didn't qualify for a similar scheme in Portugal because we are Australians.
"We have been impacted by a murder in a foreign country we've never visited committed by a person we do not know.
"We watched as tragically, nine Australians were killed in the Kokoda plane crash. Our Government flew them home.
"When Britt Lapthorne disappeared Kevin Rudd said 'we will leave no stone unturned'.
"It took us 24 days to bring Jacinta home. We had no idea what we were doing, we did it on our own and we had to pay for it.
"When loved ones die, the pain and grief is difficult enough, but the murder of a loved one is almost too much to bear. Our trauma is as much about the fact the Government abandoned us and we've been left to pick up the emotional, psychological and financial pieces.
"We were visited by DFAT officials eight months after Jacinta died, but we felt we were just being 'handled'. We have never had a condolence message from either the Australian or the Portuguese government."