Muesli company founder charged with murder 'argued over botched export delivery'
They were lifelong friends who turned a local muesli business into an international brand. He had a key to her house. She drove him to work most mornings.
Now she is dead and he stands accused of her murder.
Jennifer Borchardt, 49, failed to show up for work on Tuesday morning. That afternoon, around 4pm, she was found in a pool of blood on her kitchen floor in Richmond, stabbed to death.
Her long-time business partner, 75-year-old Peter Pavlis, was charged with her murder on Wednesday.
Investigators are now probing whether a work dispute sparked the vicious stabbing. It is understood the pair argued recently about a botched shipment to China.
For 18 years, Ms Borchardt and Mr Pavlis were directors of The Muesli Company, which stocks its cereal products in Coles, Foodland and IGA outlets, as well as specialty stores.
Started by Mr Pavlis in his Fitzroy kitchen in 1984, the company now runs out of a Thomastown factory and exports to the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and “will be in China soon”.
Gates at the factory were padlocked on Thursday. The company’s phone also rang out.
Ms Borchardt’s boyfriend, Robert Hansen, discovered her body on Tuesday.
He said she and Mr Pavlis had gotten into an argument a week ago over a consignment of muesli to China which needed to be shipped back and replaced.
Mr Hansen said Mr Pavlis was angry and had wanted to sack the staff responsible for the costly error.
“She told him ‘don’t fire anyone because you’ve done worse, this was only a mistake’,” Mr Hansen told Fairfax Media. “She became friends with the people on the floor [of the factory], she always protected them.”
Mr Hansen, 51, said he returned home from work on Tuesday to find the security door unlocked. Ms Borchardt was lying on the floor of the Westbank Terrace house.
He ran to a neighbour and called triple-0.
“She was in the kitchen. I saw her and I left. I knew something was wrong and I freaked out,” he said.
“I’m wearing the same clothes I was when I walked in on her and I want to get them off.”
Ms Borchardt had worked with Mr Pavlis since she was 18, Mr Hansen said, and the pair had been long-time family friends, close enough that Mr Pavlis had a key to her house, he said.
Ms Borchardt would drive him to work regularly, as they both lived in Richmond.
Mr Hansen said Mr Pavlis had disapproved of his relationship with Ms Borchardt, which began about six months ago.
He said the couple had become close in a short space of time and liked to exercise together. They moved in together and he would cook for her every night. He said Ms Borchardt was not a reclusive person but enjoyed her privacy.
“Jennifer is the most beautiful soul I’ve ever met,” he said. “Everyone in her life, they didn’t like her, they loved her.”
“Everyone knows it, she’s got the biggest heart in the world. She would always help or do anything for anyone.”
Mr Hansen said workers from The Muesli Company had called him in the aftermath of Ms Borchardt’s death to ask what had happened.
He said one had told him that Mr Pavlis was absent for several hours on Tuesday and had returned to work with a bleeding hand, which he blamed on a hammer.
Mr Pavlis appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday with a bandage on his left thumb.
He entered the dock holding his pants up with his hands and said nothing during the short administrative hearing.
A prosecutor told the court police needed longer than usual to wait for the results of pathology and forensic reports, and that investigators wanted to analyse a mobile phone and a computer.
Mr Pavlis, who appeared frail, made eye contact two women and a man in court to support him.
His lawyer said Mr Pavlis had problems with sleep apnea, high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis and was on prescribed medication. This was his first time in custody, the lawyer said.
In Thomastown, a businessman who knew the pair, but did not want to be named, said Mr Pavlis had recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on security and lights because he was worried someone was going to steal from him.
“She used to be the forklift driver, always seemed shy and quiet and kept to herself,” he said.
Company records show Mr Pavlis has been a director for 21 years and Ms Borchardt a director for 18 years.
Ms Borchardt’s shares equal around 25 per cent of the company.
Magistrate Franz Holzer remanded Mr Pavlis in custody until his next court date in December.