Several weeks before his body was discovered off a bush track near Gisborne in the summer of 1984, Bernie Williams had told his mother he was “in big trouble”.

When Pauline Williams asked her son if she could help, he said: “No … it’s something I have to do for myself.”

Williams, a strapping 25-year-old ruckman from Melton, was a man with a big reputation in a small town where the football club was a social hub. This reputation extended beyond football to his interest in the girlfriends and wives of other men … in the parlance of the times, Williams was a ladies’ man.

It meant that police had several obvious suspects – too many to ensure an easy arrest.

Williams was the doting father of a three-year-old daughter. He was married to the girl’s mother, but they were separated. They remained on good terms.

He was a strapping ruckman who had been expected to captain the Melton Football Club that season.

He was one of the most talented and feared players in Riddell Football League.

Shortly before his death, Williams was led by his killer to a scrubby patch of bushland.

Evidence suggests that he knew he wasn’t coming home. It appears his hands may have been bound as he was walked towards the site of his execution. A pistol was used to kill him.

Five days later, his body was found hunched over, about 20 metres from Hobbs Road in Bullengarook.

A $50,000 reward was posted, but did not yield a conviction. Now, over three decades later, police are offering a much bigger sum – $1 million – in the hope it will encourage new information to emerge. It is one of several cold cases the police are reopening.

There are several suspects. One witness told police about a man he saw talking to Williams, and how it was unusual the man had greeted Williams as Bernard, not Bernie.

Williams worked as a plumber for his older brother, Mick.

It was Mick who had to identify the body. Today, the mystery of who killed his brother still perplexes Mick.

“For 32 years, it’s gone nowhere,” Mick Williams said.

“Obviously nothing is going to bring him back, but with all the suspicions and everything, we just want to make some sense of it all.”

By Nick McKenzie, Nino Bucci, The Age