Phone records suggest brothel boss’s mobile was in vicinity of alleged murder, court told

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A brothel boss embroiled in an extortion attempt with a woman whose lavish lifestyle he was funding may have been near the scene of her alleged murder around the time of her death, phone tower records shown in court suggest.

Mark Gray maintains he was home in bed at his Brighton address when police believe his close friend Ellie Price, 26, was killed inside her South Melbourne apartment on April 29, 2020.

Witness Mark Gray leaves court wearing a beanie, sunglasses and face mask earlier this year.Credit: Joe Armao

Her then boyfriend, Ricardo Barbaro, was later arrested and charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty and is currently on trial.

On Tuesday, Gray told a Supreme Court jury he last saw Price alive eight days before her alleged murder during a visit to the Park Street home he was paying for.

Gray said it was later that night, in phone calls between about 6pm and 8pm, that Price threatened to report him for rape unless he paid her $100,000.

Defence barrister Rishi Nathwani said days later, on the morning of her alleged murder, phone tower records placed Gray’s mobile phone closer to Price’s house than his own.

Ellie Price and (inset) murder accused Ricardo Barbaro.Credit:  Supplied

“I dispute that,” Gray said. “I was home in bed.”

The court heard about 1.57am on April 29, 2020, records pinged Gray’s phone off an Elsternwick phone tower, near his Brighton home.

About 6.27am, records indicated Gray’s mobile phone was then pinging from the “Kings Way East” tower near Park Street, South Melbourne – about two hours after it’s alleged Barbaro murdered Price and left the scene in her white Mercedes-Benz.

The accused man maintains Price was still alive when he left her home.

Gray leaving the Supreme Court last week.Credit: Luis Ascui

Gray said he may have attended the brothel he was renovating with Price – Harem Palace, which is also located on Park Street – later that day, but could not recall.

He had denied being Price’s “sugar daddy” or any involvement in her death.

The court heard Gray’s final text to Price’s phone was at 11.43am on April 29, 2020, when he messaged about builders being at Harem Palace. He said he did not attempt to call her phone.

Gray denied this was because he knew Price was dead and had sent someone to her apartment to “deal with” her.

“Do you accept you were infatuated with Ellie Price and became upset and angry when she made you the bridesmaid again?” Nathwani asked.

“I don’t accept that, no,” Gray replied.

Gray also denied he was associated with bikies or underworld figures.

This was despite him sending messages to Price’s sister, Danielle, that he had the meanest people in Melbourne at his disposal, including an unlicensed security guard who knew Barbaro’s family, including his Mongol bikie brother, Harley Barbaro, who lives on the Gold Coast.

Text messages referred to in court showed that he told Danielle Price that if he’d known about potential issues between Price and Barbaro before her death, he could’ve called on his “security man” and “the problem would’ve been fixed forever”.

“We have these people who are available at a moment’s notice if we are attacked,” he wrote in a text to Price’s sister in June 2020.

The court heard Gray owns a string of brothels in Sydney, including Liaisons and A Touch More Class, which he runs online from his bedroom in Brighton.

The jury was also shown for the first time 14 pages of text messages between Gray and Price, which police had recovered from one of her phones after her death.

Gray spoke of purchasing Melbourne’s Daily Planet brothel, for between $11.8 and $12.8 million, as the building had been left in ruins.

“Good night my baby,” Gray wrote on February 26, 2020.

“Good night. I love you,” Price replied.

Gray in about 2014.

Gray’s friendship with Price has been thrust into the spotlight after Danielle Price earlier told the jury that the brothel tycoon had asked her to withhold evidence about him being a brothel boss.

He has maintained he was not romantically interested or infatuated with Price, but agreed if she sorted out her mental health problems he planned to discuss a future together when she turned 28.

Price, 26, was found dead in her apartment on May 4, 2020 – a week after police believe she was fatally stabbed.

Her on-again off-again boyfriend, Barbaro, was arrested in NSW on May 13, 2020, after hiring a van and driving interstate.

The trial continues.

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