A convicted rapist says he was the last person to see a mother-of-two before she disappeared from the small Victorian country town of Whorouly.
Michael Cardamone told Fairfax Media he was not involved with Karen Chetcuti’s disappearance, now the subject of a homicide squad investigation, but he was the last person to see her before she went missing.
“I don’t know what’s happened,” he said.
Mr Cardamone, who was released from jail last year after serving nine years for rape, lives around the corner from the 49-year-old month in the town of Whorouly, near Wangaratta.
Their properties share a boundary.
Mr Cardamone said he had invited Ms Chetcuti to his home to collect some tomatoes that he had grown and she was at his property from 8.40pm to 9.15pm on Tuesday.
“When she left here, she took off towards home,” he said.
He said the container of tomatoes she had taken was later found on a bench in Ms Chetcuti’s home.
Mr Cardamone was also interviewed by other media on Friday, telling them he had spoken to Ms Chetcuti over the fence at 9.15pm on Tuesday after he had been picking tomatoes.
Police searched parts of Mr Cardamone’s property on Friday and he said detectives had questioned him.
“I’m stressed out to the max, I haven’t been sleeping,” he said.
Mr Cardamone said he was being targeted because of his “incarceration”. He said investigators were welcome to search his home.
He said a white car had been seen leaving Ms Chetcuti’s home on Tuesday night, with her red car following behind. Her car was found burnt-out in Myrtleford, about 20 kilometres away, at 5.15am on Thursday.
Mr Cardamone said he saw Ms Chetcuti’s red car parked in a side street near the Target store in Myrtleford sometime before it was set alight.
It is understood another neighbour saw a white car leaving the Ms Chetcuti’s home on Tuesday night, but it is unclear as to what time.
Police said they were speaking to a number of people in relation to the disappearance.
Earlier on Friday, homicide squad detective Sergeant Sol Solomon said suspicions were raised about the disappearance when Ms Chetcuti did not turn up for work on Wednesday.
He said police checked her home and found the lights had been left on, and her handbag and wallet were still there. At that stage, her car was still missing.
“It certainly paints a picture of the involvement of a second party in her disappearance,” he said.
“There was no sign of any struggle or disturbance having occurred there.”
Ms Chetcuti, the mother of two teenagers, is well-known and liked in the Whorouly and Wangaratta area.
She had moved from Melbourne to Whorouly with her husband, who she is now separated from, to run the pub about two decades ago. The pair were publicans for about five years before Ms Chetcuti began working for the City of Wangaratta, where she had most recently been a records coordinator.
“Karen is a popular and valued member of staff,” City of Wangaratta chief executive officer Brendan McGrath said.
Friend Greg Haysom said Ms Chetcuti, who serves on a number of committees, is a “major part of Whorouly” and recently helped raise over $20,000 for the football club change rooms.
Mr Haysom described Ms Chetcuti as a “great mother” to her two children.
“I don’t think you will find anyone who would say a bad word about her, she has the most infectious smile,” he said.
Detectives asked anyone who saw Ms Chetcuti from Tuesday night, or her red Citroen, to come forward.
Investigators urge anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or via http://www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.