To many people who met him, Ray Walker was a compelling character.
Victims of his frauds and friends alike describe the Newcastle accountant as genuine, likeable and to John he was a "good mate".
Even now John (not his real name) finds it hard to believe that Walker was a thief and liar.
The engineer's life savings of $500,000 are missing, his mother's estate worth about $600,000 is missing and his father-in-law's estate worth $294,000 - meant to be held in trust for his grandchildren - is also missing.
But John still finds it difficult to hear a word against the man entrusted with the more than $1.3 million nest egg of his extended family.
"Some people call him a grub or a scumbag and of course I understand it," he said. "But even now, knowing what I do, I can't help but hesitate to refer to Ray in that way. I thought of him as a good mate. It shows you the depth of the friendship that I thought we had.
"I credit myself with not being a total fool, but he certainly got us, he got everyone."
If he could hear it, that would be music to the ears of Ray Walker, a serial con man who killed himself after his Ponzi-scheme was on the verge of being uncovered in mid-2015. If he was alive to face the music, the only sound Walker would hear today is his victims, mostly ageing retirees from the Hunter, screaming blue murder. For many, their anger is palpable.
At last count, Walker's 70 known creditors were more than $10 million out of pocket and they are demanding to know what happened to their money.
Walker told John - and scores of other clients - that their savings would be as safe as if it was in the bank and they had "nothing to worry about". The 60-year-old medically retired underground miner said he trusted Walker implicitly.
But after his death, victims have discovered more and more of the disturbing reality behind Walker's affable facade.
John has since realised that he got lumbered with an $83,000 tax bill in 2014 because Walker was desperate for cash to keep his Ponzi scheme going.
For a Ponzi scheme to work, it needs a constant stream of new investors and, it usually collapses when the stream runs dry, or the operators spend all the money.
With the net starting to tighten on Walker's dodgy operation, he recommended to John in 2014 that he sell an investment property.
This was despite knowing that his long-time client had been medically terminated from work that financial year and received a higher than usual income because his unclaimed holidays and sick leave had been paid out.
The proceeds from the house sale got added to John's income and he got slugged with an $83,000 bill from the tax office.
"I can only deduce now that Ray recommended I do that because he knew I'd deposit the money from the sale of the investment property with him," he said.
"It was all so he could keep his Ponzi scheme going. I never gave it another thought. Why would I? I was talking to my professional accountant who I'd known for 30 years and I took his advice."
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Then there were the funerals.
John said he was shocked to read in the Newcastle Herald that Walker seemed to make a habit of attending victims' funerals without their family knowing the person's life savings were missing. He did the same to John twice. First at his father's funeral 16 years ago, and then at his mother's three years ago.
"I can still remember at Mum's funeral when we were all gathered there and Ray came over and we embraced, I got emotional, and I was honoured that he was there to support us," John said.
"In hindsight, he was there hugging me knowing he'd ripped me off and looking at mum in her coffin knowing he'd ripped her off too.
"What an absolute betrayal. That really sticks in my throat."
It was John's late mother's estate that was partially responsible for Walker finally losing his grip on the operation he'd masterminded for decades.
In early 2015 there was a problem. John's family needed to account for their mother's $600,000 estate so it could be disbursed between her four sons.
Walker responded characteristically. He stalled and he lied, claiming that there were delays because a group of investments were being realised at the same time.
John's younger brother, Guy, tried calling and emailing him repetitively. After months with no answers he made a complaint to the Professional Association of Chartered Accountants.
Twenty days before Walker killed himself, John sent him an SMS.
"G'day mate, could you PLEASE ensure you ring Guy TODAY either way as to what is happening?," it read.
"As you know I am very casual about the situation but my three brothers are very agitated about the lengthy delay. I feel I am in a very awkward position."
Walker ignored the message. Ten days later he received a bruising nine-page legal letter from Newcastle solicitor Rob Brook demanding the return of another elderly client's funds of more than $650,000.
Mr Brook's letter left no doubt that he knew that behind the fa??ade of the legitimate Newcastle accounting business, something sinister was going on and if his client did not get her money he was going to the police.
Walker now had to come up with more than $1.2 million and he couldn't find it. He killed himself 10 days later.
John said over decades he never suspected a thing. He said interest payments from his family's deposits were always paid on time by direct debit.
"There was no reason to question anything until right at the end when it was too late," he said.
"Ray was always welcome in our home. Most years he would come out to our home and as an aside he would do our tax. It was mainly a social visit, we'd have a few beers and we'd have dinner, we always looked forward to seeing him."
A public examination will be held by the bankruptcy trustee in Sydney next year in an effort to trace the missing money. Walker's wife of 40 years, Jennifer, and son, Brett, who worked as an accountant alongside his father for more than 25 years, will be called to give evidence.
John said he often asked Walker what would happen if anything happened to him.
"I asked him a lot about that because of the amount of money we had deposited with him and he used to always tell me that Brett knows everything and would take care of everything, that I had nothing to worry about," he said.
"Seems I had a lot to worry about. I worked my whole life to save for my family's future and it's just unbelievable that Ray could do this to us."
Brett Walker declined to be interviewed but has denied any knowledge of his father's fraud and said he never benefitted from it.
Several victims of Walker's deception - including Jim Todhunter, Mary and Bevan Hunter and David Bartholomew - have previously spoken to the Herald about the shock of losing their life savings to a man they trusted. Like John, some of those victims considered Walker a friend.
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