Academic tortured in ‘horror movie’ killing
A MURDERED Australian academic and her sister are suspected to have been horrifically tortured before their deaths allegedly at the hands of a relative who sought to blame street gangs for their disappearance.
Police in Argentina have been left distressed by the finding of the bodies of University of New England academic Lily Pereg and Israeli-based sister Pyrhia Sarusi, the scene so horrifically disturbing it has been likened to an unbelievable horror movie.
News Corp Australia has chosen not to publish the details of the initial autopsy report prepared by Argentine authorities into the final moments of the women who were discovered in the city of Mendoza, in the west of Argentina close to the Chile border.
Authorities however have described the detail as "too graphic and deranged" even for the officers and forensic specialists who had made the gruesome discovery of the women in a shallow grave almost one week after they were last seen alive on a CCTV security camera entering a property owned by Ms Pereg's nephew and Ms Sarusi's son, 36-year-old Gilad Pereg.
Such was their "extreme state", DNA matching continues to establish who is who and whether their wounds were suffered post or ante mortem. It was known they had been held against their will and one had attempted to fight off their attacker. Both women had been shot and also were staked with iron spikes.
Known locally as Nicolas Pereg, the former Israeli army officer who had lived in Mendoza for a decade has been charged with the murders and is under 24-hour watch in Boulogne Sur Mer prison as police continue to comb through his property. He is also being psychiatrically assessed.
The families of the women from both Australia and Israel including Prof Pereg's Armidale-based partner have travelled to Mendoza to assist police in their investigation which has painted a disturbed picture of the former Israeli army officer alleged killer.
John Finlay, who spent two weeks in Argentina looking for his beloved partner Lily, spoke to Channel 7 back at the couple's Armidale home.
He said she had the "soul of an angel".
"It's a nightmare that won't go away," he said.
"Lily was a beautiful soul and I probably will never find someone as loving as Lily again actually."
Police have also travelled from Israel and Australian Federal Police liaison officers based in South America and are assisting with issues such as phone records. There appears to be inconsistencies when the women including the Armidale-based Prof Pereg, 54, and her Israeli-based 63-year-old sister last had contact with relatives.
The women disappeared on or about January 11 after they went to visit their son/nephew at his compound-like home in an industrial quarter east of the city opposite a local cemetery. What they found was squalor, with a dozen malnourished cats and dogs roaming about, others dead, others stuffed and poor living conditions with no clear bedrooms or beds or toilet facilities.
Police had conducted three searches of the property including with cadaver dogs but found no trace of the women but did find CCTV footage which showed them entering the property and never leaving. However their bodies were found in an adjacent desolate property.
It was Pereg who first reported the women missing but his family and police already suspected he may have more knowledge than he was letting on before he was formally interviewed twice. It was during one interview he claimed the women may have come to harm at the hands of Bolivian criminals who lived in the area and had repeatedly robbed him.
SUSPECT 'LIVED A HERMIT'S LIFE IN SQUALOR'
The increasing desperation in the Facebook messages from Pyrhia Sarusi's daughter Vered Sarussi who set up a Facebook page to report the pair missing and appeal for help was clear.
"My mother and aunt disappeared in Mendoza, Argentina. Please help us find them! Since they weren't in contact with the family in Israel and Australia. Have you been to Mendoza in the last few days? Have you met or seen them? Do you know anyone in the area right now? If you have any information that can help us please share it!"
The site, which attracted hundreds of likes and messages of support from across Australia and Israel, predominantly Sydney and Newcastle and Rehovot and Tel Aviv, also provided details of where the pair were staying at a rented apartment, less than a 20-minute drive from where they were eventually found.
Prof Lily Poppy Pereg had only just been made a professor at the University of New England specialising in microbiology, when she travelled to the US and onto Argentina to catch up with her sister, travelling in from Israel, and her son.
She herself had moved to Australia from Israel in the 1990s on a scholarship to complete a PhD at Sydney University and quickly fell in love with the country and eventually became a dual Australian-Israeli citizen. She transferred to UNE a decade later and was a popular member of staff.
On January 11 the pair contacted family and advised they were going to visit the estranged Nicolas Pereg who lived on the outskirts of town in Guaymallen opposite a cemetery. They were never heard from again; Pereg reported them missing to police about three days later after visiting their apartment in an apparent attempt to trace them.
He confirmed to police they had visited him at his home but left late in the evening, about 9pm, to catch a bus back into the central part of the city; CCTV footage however showed the women entering his property but never leaving.
Pereg moved to Mendoza about 10 years ago and is listed as being the head of five companies which his mother had provided finances to help set up in a variety of entrepreneurial businesses such as engineering construction and trucking and property buying and football field making.
But he lived a hermit's life; several dogs and cats were found on his property, most starving and close to death, others already dead and scattered about his home. His makeshift home was squaller and an animal cruelty officer was preparing a case against him for how his animals were kept.
According to records, he was 9 million pesos ($337,000) in debt and was being pursued by various creditors. Neighbours reported just days after the women disappeared he had changed his appearance from having long hair and a long beard and dishevelled appearance to clean cut and relaxed in Bermuda shorts and T-shirts. This may have been for the media where he gave TV and newspaper interviews appealing for help to find his family.
"For me someone forced them to do something they did not want, some criminal or someone forced them and hooked them to do things they did not want," he said.
He later added to the conspiracies alleging a Bolivian group may have kidnapped and robbed them or an Israeli assassin was sent out to kill them.
"Someone, who may have come from Israel, went after them to hurt them, or it may be someone who hates me here in the province, he hurt them to take revenge on me," he told media. The claim immediately saw him hauled in by police for reinterview.
Moshe Pereg, the 66-year-old older brother of the pair, travelled to Mendoza to help police find his sisters.
"I would say two things to my sisters, first I would ask them to come back, second, we are not going to rest until we find them, we need the help of the people of Mendoza, we look for information on whether someone saw it on that Saturday or even later. We, or the police, will reward anyone who can give us information, " he said as the government and his family both offered cash rewards for information.
Moshe Pereg has now linked with his sister's Australian family in grief as they try to help police - Argentinian, Australian and Israeli - unravel what had happened and prepare to take bodies back home for burial.