The daughter of a murdered Olinda chef believes mistaken identity was behind his 1976 disappearance.
Coroner Sarah Hinchey handed down a finding into the death of Cuckoo Restaurant founder Wilhelm ‘Willi’ Koeppen on Wednesday 11 July.
The celebrity chef’s body has never been found but Judge Hinchey found that he was dead and “his death is suspected to be the result of homicide”.
Daniela Koeppen Rosenfeld was 11 years old when her father vanished on 29 February 1976.
“I actually thought they were going to press charges,” she said of the findings.
“My theory is it was an accidental, mistaken-identity murder.”
She believes the target was “somebody else who owed money for gambling debt to a consortium in the city”.
“I think they thought that they’d come up here and get the money from this particular person and he wasn’t here,” she said.
“My father was locking up and leaving and they probably took him away.
“I don’t think that he was murdered here.
“I do believe he was murdered.
“There’s no way he would have left us.
“He loved his kids.
“His relationship wasn’t great with his wife but he was still here.
“He had no money, no passport. Where do you go? How do you get anywhere?”
Ms Koeppen Rosenfeld said that “as a child, you just cope”.
“You wonder and you ask questions: where’s daddy? What’s going on?” she said.
“Nobody could tell me because nobody knew.
“That was hard – the not knowing, and all the possibilities.”
She hopes this renewed publicity will encourage someone to come forward with new information.
“I would like more investigation into the women who came here the day after, for dinner – the call girls who turned up and said ‘we’re here to see him’,” she said.
“Who were they?
“Why were they here? What was the connection?
“I would like to know more from the people who saw him in his last 24 hours.”
According to the coroner’s report, Mr Koeppen drank with family friend and local GP Dr Bernard Butler at the Cuckoo in the early hours of Sunday, before they drove about 750 metres to Dr Butler’s house in their respective cars.
Dr Butler saw Mr Koeppen leave in his Volkswagen Kombi van between 3am and 4am.
“This was the last known sighting of Mr Koeppen, alive,” Judge Hinchey said.
A cleaner arrived at the Cuckoo about 4.30am and found Mr Koeppen’s van in the car park, the door open.
“In the days leading up to his disappearance, Mr Koeppen was said to have been in a depressed state and made several references to heading to Poole Island, Queensland, with two unknown women,” Judge Hinchey said.
The 46-year-old owned a holiday home there.
But police in 2012 said that a review of the file indicated it was more than likely the case was a homicide and that it would be re-investigated.
They referred the case to the coroner the following year.
“Mr Koeppen was suspected of having connections with a person who died in prison in 1988,” Judge Hinchey found.
“A person of interest was interviewed in 2014, however no charges have ever been laid in relation to the death.”
Alex Tsakmakis was beaten to death in prison in 1988.
“I do think he was involved in it,” Ms Koeppen Rosenfeld said.
“He was killed by the Russell Street bomber.
“He admitted to (Mark) ‘Chopper’ Read that he was up to his neck in the disappearance of Willi Koeppen.”
She said a former Pentridge prison warden visited the restaurant some months ago and said he, too, believed Tsakmakis was involved.
Ms Koeppen Rosenfled said the coronial process had been stressful for her mother Karin, now aged 84.
“As a mother of three children running a business, she had to survive and keep her chin up and continue working,” she said.
“She had to put bread on the table for her children and her customers.
“Most people would curl up in a ball and suck their thumb.
“She still comes in every day.
“She did love him.
“They had their differences and it was a difficult time because of the fame that he was having around his career, but they were still living together.
“They were sharing a business and sharing a family.”
Ms Koeppen Rosenfeld took the helm as Cuckoo manager earlier his year and said the restaurant was going strong.
“I’m here as the daughter, fulfilling the initial dream,” she said.
“I’m bringing the Cuckoo back to the way my dad did – the food, the atmosphere.”
Mr Koeppen learnt his trade in Berlin, Germany, before moving to Australia in 1955 and working in Melbourne’s hotels.
He was soon hosting a popular German show on radio station 3XY and became Melbourne’s first television celebrity chef on Channel Seven show The Chef Presents.
Mr Koeppen and Karin married in 1957, and bought the run-down Quamby cafe in 1958 following a day trip to the Dandenongs.
They lived in its basement as they turned it into the Bavarian-themed buffet.