Brett Peter Cowan was 24 when he led a six-year-old boy away from a Darwin caravan park and into the bush where he sexually assaulted the child on the rusty wreck of an old car.
It was September 1993 and the boy had come to know Cowan, who’d moved into a neighbouring caravan at the park.
The child was alone and looking for his sister when he approached Cowan to ask if he’d seen her.
But instead of helping, Cowan asked if the boy wanted to go for a walk to get a piece of an old car that had been left in nearby bushland.
After an horrific ordeal, the six-year-old was found wandering naked sometime later, bloodied, dazed and distressed.
Cowan had dumped him inside the rusted car, and had calmly returned to the caravan park to shower and change.
His young victim ended up in intensive care, where he was treated for wounds from the attack, including a collapsed and punctured lung, blackened eyes, large cuts caused by the jagged edges of the rusted hulk, and injuries to his neck that suggested “an asphyxial element”.
Documents from Cowan’s sentencing paint a disturbing picture of the man who was this week convicted of abducting and murdering Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe on the Sunshine Coast a decade ago.
They also detail Cowan’s conviction, a few years earlier, for sexually assaulting a seven-year-old boy in the toilet of a community swimming pool in Queensland when he was 18.
In sentencing Cowan to seven years’ jail for the Darwin attack, Northern Territory Supreme Court Justice Dean Mildren said he had a “a generalised erotic interest in children”.
Cowan was also found to be a “pathological liar” who’d led a “parasitic existence”, relying on social security and his parents when he quit his irregular jobs out of boredom.
Justice Mildren said Cowan had been a regular marijuana user since primary school and later began using acid and speed, with his drug use put up as an explanation for his attack on the boy.
Despite a strict upbringing by a father who was in the army, Cowan became a small-time dealer, who sold drugs to support his own habit.
His criminal record at the time of the Darwin attack included dishonesty offences, stealing, false pretences, break and enter and unlawful use of motor vehicle, and one drug conviction.
Justice Mildren ultimately supported a request by Cowan to serve his sentence in Queensland, where he would have access to a sexual offenders’ treatment program.
He noted Cowan had told police, after his arrest in Darwin, that he “needed help” and pointed to his guilty plea as evidence there was a “fair to good” chance of his rehabilitation.