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Death On the Ice
4:00AM Sunday Mar 15, 2009
By David Fisher
Rodney Marks was buried for a second time under the warm Australian sun, in a bush cemetery not far from the beaches he surfed as a boy.
On a hill above the grave, a gum tree stands against blue skies. Close by is the beginning of the Great Ocean Rd, which chases the sun and surf west as Marks once chased his dreams, all the way to Antarctica.
It was there, in one of the world's coldest and most remote terrains, that Rodney Marks was buried for the first time. He died suddenly, and of all the questions that still surround his death, the most chilling is whether he is victim of Antarctica's first murder.
Marks, 32, died in May 2000 at the frozen Amundsen-Scott Station, the American base at the South Pole. His body trapped for the winter, Marks' friends made him a coffin of oak scavenged from around the base, planing and polishing rough wood into a 200kg casket.
As they mourned their friend, the elite American agency that runs the base, the National Science Foundation, issued a statement saying Marks had died of "natural causes". The statement was wrong, but it would be months before this was discovered.
In March each year, the sun sets on Amundsen-Scott Station, and in October it rises again. The 50 people, including Marks, were there for the long, isolated winter.
It wasn't until late October, on one of the first flights out, that Marks' body left Antarctica, travelling from Amundsen-Scott Station, through McMurdo Station to Christchurch in New Zealand.
There, an autopsy by Christchurch forensic pathologist Dr Martin Sage found that Marks died from somehow ingesting the equivalent of a large glass of methanol.
By the time this was discovered, the 49 people who left the South Pole alive had scattered across the world. Marks' living quarters had been cleaned up, and potential evidence discarded as rubbish.
With witnesses gone and evidence trashed, finding the answer to Marks' death fell to Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Wormald of the New Zealand Police. The investigation was to take eight years and, in the end, the questions remained.