Warning: Distressing content.
A Belgian backpacker has spoken for the first time about the harrowing kidnapping ordeal she suffered at the hands of a South Australian farmer.
And Davine Arckens, 26, revealed the panicked messages she was able to send to friends and family on the other side of the world – messages that led to her rescue and undoubtedly saved her life.
Travelling to Australia for the adventure of a lifetime in February 2017, Davine decided to post an ad on Gumtree looking for farm work during her trip.
The post, however, attracted a monster.
Responding to the advertisement was 54-year-old hobby farmer Gene Charles Bristow, who lured the young backpacker to his 40-hectare property in Meningie, about 140 kilometres southeast of Adelaide.
After being picked up at a bus stop at Murray Bridge, Mr Bristow drove the 24-year-old to his property, stopping at a filthy old pig shed that sat away from his home.
His route to the property had been designed to disorientate his passenger — the pair boarded two seperate ferries and, by the time Davine arrived at Bristow’s home, she felt she must be in the middle of nowhere. In fact, she was on the outskirts of the South Australina town of Meningie — and less than a kilometre from a police station.
Once inside the pig shed, Mr Bristow asked to check the soles of her feet for needle marks — he said he’d had problems with employees using drugs before. A nervous Davine complied, laying on a couch in the shed to show him her bare feet — and that’s when Bristow pounced, pressing a replica gun against her shoulder and threatening to shoot her if she tried to leave the farm.
Sitting down with Channel 9’s 60 Minutes, Davine has spoken for the first time about her abduction and the horrors she experienced while shackled inside the pig shed.
“I was struggling and then he put something against my back and I thought it was over,” she says through tears while being interviewed by journalist Tara Brown.
Mr Bristow kept Davine’s presence on his property a secret from his wife and son, who both lived on the farm inside the family home. Both were present on the property while Davine was kept in the shed, and both were unaware of what was going on.
The man, who was sentenced to 18 years in jail for his crimes in March, told Davine he was working with others in a kidnapping ring that included members of police and that she would be shot if she tried to flee.
At the time of his sentencing, Davine told the court how Mr Bristow bound her hands behind her back with cable ties, shackled her feet with chains and stripped her naked before sexually assaulting her multiple times.
Speaking of the ordeal, Davine said Mr Bristow told her to “stay still” while she was bound in chains.
“I was struggling and he put something against my back. He said it was a gun,” she said.
During the exclusive interview, Davine explained how she outsmarted the hobby farmer to break her hands free from the chains by using discarded hooks she found in the pig shed.
Still not knowing where she was or when her captor might return, Davine made the decision not to attempt escape once out of her shackles.
Instead, she exploited Bristow’s one critical error: He had left her laptop and Wifi stick in her bag.
She used them to send distress signals on Facebook and contact police.
“I have been kidnapped in South Australia. Please, I’m on a farm somewhere. He drives a red pick-up. Please help look for me. Please, please I’m so afraid,” she wrote to friends and family on the other side of the world.
“I described the roads I crossed. Like, went from Murray Bridge, across two ferries,” Davine recalled on 60 Minutes. “Told them I was taken in a red pickup car, that I’m very scared to run off, that he has a gun.”
One friend the messages reached was fellow backpacker Echo Wang, who was in far north Queensland. With the threat of her Davine’s kidnapper returning at any moment, the two friends frantically messaged each other.
And then — the signal died. With darkness setting in for the night, Davine made the agonising decision to reshackle herself, praying that she had done enough to be found.
She had. Echo immediately contacted police, who swung into action “within 10 minutes.” Using Davine’s phone signal bounced off nearby towers, police were able to identify a specific area in which to search.
When police started searching the area, Mr Bristow fully unchained Davine and drove her back to Murray Bridge, where he checked her into a motel and left.
During Mr Bristow’s month-long trial in March, Davine returned to Australia to give evidence about her ordeal — saying she felt “powerless” like an “animal or slave”.
“What happened to me was really horrible, terrifying and deadly,” she said in a victim impact statement read by a prosecutor.
“I was afraid I would never see my family again because I thought I would die in Australia.
“I tried not to think of them because it was just too painful but it was because of them that my instincts to survive kicked in.”
Mr Bristow was found guilty of one count of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of rape, two counts of indecent assault and one count of attempted rape. Helped by his own son’s evidence against him, last month Gene Bristow was sentenced to 18 years in jail. He won’t be eligible for parole until 2032, and then most likely sent back to his native Britain.
Davine faced her tormenter during his trial.
“When I saw him, I had to look twice, like, ‘Is that him?’” she said.
“Because he was very skinny and he looks very terrible and awful. And actually, I was quite happy that he had a hard time, that he has to pay for what he did.
“So, when I saw him, I was like, ‘This is what you deserve. You should feel awful.’”
Davine’s full interview will appear on 60 Minutes on Channel 9 at 8.30pm Sunday.