How amateur sleuths caught a killer Nazi

CONVICTED killer Robert James Wagner loved Hitler. This is the story of two men who befriended the man in order to elicit his confession to the grisly murder of his uncle.

More than 20 years on, Wagner, now 57, has been jailed for the horrific murder.

Adolf Hitler's infamous memoir Mein Kampf. Picture: Dapd, Lennart Preiss
Adolf Hitler's infamous memoir Mein Kampf. Picture: Dapd, Lennart Preiss

A Supreme Court jury this week found he killed his 61-year-old uncle with a hammer, dismembered his body with an axe and dissolved parts with acid before dumping the remains in the Glass House Mountains and the Brisbane River.

Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Mail days after Wagner was sentenced to life behind bars, Mr Doyle, who testified against the man, has revealed how he got inside the mind of a killer and gained his trust before working with his now deceased friend Peter Snow to elicit a confession.

Mr Doyle, from Bracken Ridge, first met Wagner around 1996 through his mate, self-styled private eye Peter Snow.

Mr Snow had become his lunch buddy and the pair often got together at Brisbane's famous Breakfast Creek Hotel to have a steak and talk horse racing.

Murder victim Gerhard Wagner. Picture: Supplied.
Murder victim Gerhard Wagner. Picture: Supplied.

"After a short time, Wagner started meeting us for coffee," Mr Doyle, 60, explained.

He said Mr Snow had met Wagner around the traps and he was a bit younger than the pair.

"He was a blonde-headed fellow, he was fit, wasn't a bad-looking dude, but we had nothing in common. I had a personality clash with Robert," Mr Doyle said.

He said Wagner was an avid rock climber who carried a lot of cash, but he never bought a drink.

"He just couldn't contribute to the conversation. He had Hitler's book sitting there on the table when we went to lunch, which was odd," Mr Doyle said.

"He said his relatives were from Germany. He said his grandfather was Hitler's chef and some time later he told me he was Hitler's driver.

"Robert was a racist person. He wouldn't talk to girls with brown hair, they had to be blonde with blue eyes. I later found out his own blonde hair was dyed."

As time passed, it got harder to be around Wagner, Mr Doyle said.

"One day I said to Snow: 'Do we really need this guy in our company?' That's when Snow said: 'I've got something to tell you'. He said, 'I've just got this gut feeling that he's responsible for his uncle's disappearance."

Robert Wagner being arrested over his uncle’s murder in 2014. Picture: Steve Pohlner.
Robert Wagner being arrested over his uncle’s murder in 2014. Picture: Steve Pohlner.

A short time later Mr Snow revealed more, saying Wagner had once claimed he killed his uncle, "cut him up and put him in hessian bags and put him in the Glass House Mountains".

The pair resolved that they would try and collect enough information about the killing to go to the authorities.

Mr Doyle said he then began playing up to Wagner, hoping he would confess.

He lied about his time in the police force, saying he was in the drug squad and was once a homicide detective.

"I told him a couple of guys I used to know in the force had a drug habit and I supplied them with stuff. Of course that was all bullshit," Mr Doyle said.

"I just slowly tried to gain his confidence. Every time I'd see a cop, if Wagner was in the car I'd spit out the window and say: 'Those bastards'.

"Every time I said something like that, it opened him up, as awful as it was."

After a few months, the three men attended a function in the Brisbane CBD.

Wagner was drinking scotch and it was the first time he had ever seemed drunk.

"I said to Snow: 'Bring up uncle Wagner'," Mr Doyle said.

Wagner appeared uncomfortable. He left the table and went to the bar, Mr Doyle said. The pair followed him.

The boat belonging to murder victim Gerhard Wagner – the killer sold his uncle’s yacht for $95,000 in 2001 after advertising it under his mother’s name. Picture: Supplied
The boat belonging to murder victim Gerhard Wagner – the killer sold his uncle’s yacht for $95,000 in 2001 after advertising it under his mother’s name. Picture: Supplied

"I started asking questions. I said: 'Listen, Snow's told me a few things and just tell me, did you kill your uncle? I couldn't give a f---'," Mr Doyle said. "He didn't answer me, so I started yelling at him. When I screamed at him for a third time, the watery eyes appeared.

"Just when I was getting somewhere, a man behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Would you mind keeping your voice down?'.

"I said to Snow, 'Just let it go and we'll get him next time when he's sober'."

It wasn't long until next time came around. A few weeks later, Wagner called Mr Snow, desperate for help to move his uncle's boat, saying he didn't want his uncle's family to have it and needed Mr Doyle to help tow it.

Mr Doyle agreed to go along with a plan where he would fool Wagner into thinking he would move the boat, hoping it would force the man to confess to the killing.

Gerhard Wagner was an avid sailor and Wagner was in a dire financial position when his uncle vanished.

During his murder trial, the court heard he owed his uncle about $80,000 but there was evidence the debt could have been $300,000.

Wagner sold his uncle's yacht for $95,000 in 2001 after advertising it under his mother's name.

Murder victim Gerhard Wagner.
Murder victim Gerhard Wagner.

But years earlier, when Mr Doyle and Mr Snow turned up to a location in Brisbane, they found yacht already on four wheels out of the water.

Mr Doyle quickly found a way to get out of actually stealing the boat and told Wagner he wouldn't be able to tow it unless he enlisted the help of another friend, he said.

As the pair stood next to the boat, the ex-police officer said he confronted Wagner again about the killing.

"I said, 'Tell me the real story," Mr Doyle said. "I said. 'Spit it out … I told you I've got the police contacts and one of them owes me a favour. He can't take your name off the file, but he can ring me if a convoy of coppers are coming to pinch you' - and Wagner believed all this.

"I said, 'Did you kill him?' and Wagner nodded and he said, "Yeah, I knocked him, I knocked off my uncle'."

Mr Doyle, who said he went to police about the killing in 2000, has told his story as a tribute to his friend Mr Snow, who died two years before Wagner was convicted and was unable to give evidence in the trial.

"He planted the seed and he just kept drilling me to do something and without Snow I never would have gone ahead with the plan," he said.

Wagner was sentenced to life behind bars for murdering Gerhard Wagner.

There was evidence during his trial that he had years later told another friend he had killed his uncle and dismembered his body.

Wagner's legal team has indicated he plans to appeal the conviction.