Stephen Neil White had a tiny, limp body in his arms and looked every part a rescuer as he carried the girl into the small country town’s emergency room.
She had a sheet over her, but it wasn’t enough to cover the gash that stretched 12 centimetres along the back of her head.
He dropped her, he told a staff member. The tiny five year old had hit her head and she needed help.
She was scooped up by hospital staff and taken away. It was bad, they would later say. She faded in and out of consciousness and her skull was exposed.
White stayed for a bit, just long enough for hospital staff to discover the girl bleeding elsewhere, before he slipped out the doors and back into the dark Kununurra streets.
The story of the young girl’s heinous rape and attempted murder by a blow-in to the town went virtually unnoticed, until now.
This is about a friendship forged in darkness between a little girl who was the victim of a horrible crime in desert Western Australia, and the detective tasked with investigating what happened.
At the heart of it all lay Kununurra
About 1000 kilometres east of Broome, the Kununurra of 2001 was an outback oasis on the rise.
It was known as the “fruit bowl" for its abundance of mangos and melons, and locals had no problem riding their bikes or walking home from work unaccompanied or staying out late at the Kununurra Hotel.
It was a unique time of economic prosperity for a town always cast as an understudy in the Kimberley story; but with Kununurra's burgeoning reputation came the blow-ins.
One resident who had lived in the area for 25 years said it wasn't unusual to walk down the street of the thousand-person town and not recognise the faces walking in the opposite direction.
"Socially it was pretty rough. There was a lot of itinerants, a lot of travellers, a lot of mine workers coming through ... for young people, it was fun,” she said.
A nomad at the time of his arrest, 35-year-old Stephen Neil White was one of those blow-ins.
With a distinct crooked nose, receding hairline and unkempt facial hair, White looked no different from the other backpackers and itinerants who came into town searching for work.
But with an extensive criminal history including the sexual assault of a girl under 16 when he was a teenager and rape of a 73-year-old woman in her South Australian home, White had every reason to keep his head down.
A camping trip
Rebecca* was five years old when her cousin Mary* met White after the two started a relationship, quickly moving in together.
While Rebecca said she knew the 35-year-old man was strange, she was excited when he said he was going to take their little family camping near the banks of the Lily Creek Lagoon over the weekend.
"I thought he was a good person, but you see, he's not," she said.
On the Sunday afternoon, White took Mary and Rebecca, along with her four-year-old cousin Caleb*, to a bush camp on the outskirts of Kununurra where the two children quickly set about casting lines from the banks of the Kununurra River as the adults began drinking.
When it hit 9pm and the sun had gone down, the mood turned.
"At night, we went to sleep in one tent and then he started acting funny," Rebecca said.
"Mary turned around and started asking him questions, and the next minute, I don't know what happened."
A WA Supreme Court sentencing transcript laid bare the details; Mary had chastised White about his behaviour and in retaliation he grabbed the sleeping Rebecca and tried to drag her from the tent.
Mary grabbed hold of Rebecca's legs and a struggle broke out over the five-year-old's tiny body, with White eventually pulling her loose of her cousin's grip and taking her into the dark, dense bushland.
He dragged Rebecca along a bush track about a kilometre away from the tent as she screamed and cried during his horrific assault.
White picked up a two-kilogram rock and smashed it against the back of Rebecca's head, then took out a length of rope and wrapped it around her neck, strangling her for two minutes until she passed out. Then, he raped her.
It's not known how long it took for White to dump Rebecca at the hospital late on Sunday evening, but when nurses discovered the deep ligature marks on her neck, the serious injuries to her genitals and 12-centimetre fracture at the back of her skull, Kununurra Police were already on the move.
The hunt for White
Detective Sergeant Ashley Goy was the only detective at the station and in the middle of dealing with the aftermath of the Ord River Mardi Gras celebration when the call came through.
The Mardi Gras was one of those events that could bring out the raucous side of town, and on the same weekend Detective Goy found out about the little girl raped and left for dead at the local hospital, thousands of East Kimberley locals had spilled out to celebrate the evening.
Within hours of the first call, Mary had given White's name to police and officers had put a helicopter in the air to scope out the camp for evidence.
Armed with a small team and no real contact from his Perth counterparts, Detective Sergeant Goy started asking questions.
Rebecca’s bloody clothes and the pile of rope were discovered just outside town by officers, and Detective Goy had instructed every roadhouse within 400 kilometres to keep an eye out for the scruffy White.
The roads out of town were shut down, and it wasn't long before White had run out of places to hide.
He was blank. No tears, no nothing. Just blankFormer WA police officer Ty Ahrens
A passerby saw him on Tuesday morning and reported to police he was walking near the radial gates at the Diversion Dam on Lake Kununurra.
"It separates the good crocodiles from the bad crocodiles," Detective Goy said. "There's just nowhere to go."
Police descended, and White was hauled into the Kununurra Police Station for questioning.
Former police officer Ty Ahrens remembered the unkempt itinerant sitting quietly in a holding cell while detectives and officers from the Northern Territory Sex Abuse Squad prepared to speak to him.
"He was blank. No tears, no nothing. Just blank," he said.
For the first hour, White repeated his assertion he had taken two unknown pills, and he had fallen over while carrying Rebecca.
Then, he broke.
He was arrested and taken to Broome Magistrates Court to face charges of unlawful assault, sexual penetration without consent and attempted murder, before eventually being taken to Perth due to the seriousness of his charges.
White was sentenced to 13 years behind bars for his crimes.
Detective Sergeant Goy said he never found out what had become of the monster who had visited the East Kimberley.
"I never saw him after that," he said.
An unlikely friendship
Rebecca was just 18 kilograms when Detective Sergeant Goy met her – about the size of a barramundi, he said.
She was heavily bandaged and so thin he couldn't believe it when he heard she was the girl who had escaped death at the hands of White.
But even with her gaping head wound and ligature marks around her neck, Detective Goy said he would never forget her big smile.
"She had a big, beaming smile. Big white teeth," he said.
About the same age as his youngest daughter, Detective Sergeant Goy said he still couldn't explain what happened over the coming weeks - it was "just natural" he wanted to help the young girl, he said.
In the weeks after White’s attack, Detective Sergeant Goy began to stop by Rebecca's community on the outskirts of town to pick her up for day trips with his family.
Locals said they still remembered the fatherly relationship that was struck up between the town's top cop and the little "desert kid", and soon Rebecca became a best friend to the detective's young daughters and a makeshift daughter to him and his wife Susan.
Detective Goy's daughters would help Rebecca pick out new dresses to wear, and little bowler hats to help hide the scar on top of her head from the local Target Country and VA Fashions store.
And like any dad, the detective would smile and hand over the cash.
The Goys would take Rebecca to the local melon farm and buy her smoothies, and back to their house where the girls would teach her how to bounce on a trampoline.
And for all her scars and trauma, Detective Sergeant Goy said he remembered Rebecca as "bubbly" more than anything, and his two daughters loved her company.
"I stepped out of that detective mode and became a person that could actually make some difference for good or bad, and had the opportunity and means to do so. It didn't cost anything at all," he said.
Rebecca's unlikely friendship with the Goy family continued, but Detective Sergeant Goy eventually got the tap on the shoulder to come back to Perth.
But over the last 18 years, he said memories of Rebecca came back vividly when White's dangerous sex offender order was again up for review in June this year.
It was in October when Rebecca and Detective Sergeant Goy were finally able to reconnect through a phone call to her new home.
Having not seen the young girl since she was five years old, a 2019 family photo of Rebecca, her now-five-year-old son and other relatives made him emotional.
"I never thought she'd actually be there like that, seeing her smiling with some family members because she never had that opportunity at that age,” he said.
“That's an absolute positive."
A new life for a once-broken little girl
Speaking to WAtoday from her new home in the Northern Territory, Rebecca, now 24, said she had only just started opening up about what happened to her to her friends and family.
"I kept it for too long, and now that I've become a mother to a boy, I want to talk," she said.
"I've opened up to a couple of my friends and family ... they asked me and I just told them something awful happened when I was young."
She said while she was slowly coming to terms with her trauma, her five-year-old son had brought her peace.
"He's a bright little kid, everyone loves him wherever he goes," she said.
"He reminds me of me when I was in my school days.
"I've got my beautiful son and my family. I'm just in peace right now."
And she will never forget the police officer who cared for her when she was a young girl recovering an unthinkably traumatic incident.
"I remember [Ashley] always,” she said.
“He was a great man. The first time I met him he told me everything's going to be alright. He was always checking up on me and picking me up."
The two intend to keep in touch, and Rebecca said she would continue to be grateful to Detective Goy for helping her navigate the most traumatic period of her life.
"He treated me like a daughter," she said.
Detective Goy's wife and daughter are now set to meet up with Rebecca and her family in two weeks time, at Turkey Creek.
*Rebecca and Mary's names have been changed to protect their identities.