Brendan Leigh Russell’s world unravelled before being found guilty of manslaughter

In the curious world of the body modification industry – where people allow their flesh to be sliced, diced and carved – a man from NSW’s Central Coast was somewhat of a household name.

Known as BSlice Dot Com, the charismatic Brendan Leigh Russell travelled around the globe showing off his skills with tools such as scalpels and body hooks at modification expos.

Pictures of the procedures he performed in his Transitions business, set up at a local shopping centre in Erina, were posted to social media feeds where fans lauded him as an expert of the trade.

Body modification artist Brendan Russell (right) with a client.
Body modification artist Brendan Russell (right) with a client. Credit: Supplied

A court would later hear those procedures included tongue splits, elaborate scarification, skin peels, earlobe reconstructions, eyeball tattooing, removing belly buttons and inserting body implants.

He even amassed a legion of “groupies” to whom, according to a former partner, he gave off “sexual vibes” to charm them into getting procedures he wanted to try out.

One woman in particular, who underwent at least nine different body modifications by Russell, saw him as a “God”.

As his star rose, however, friends and colleagues began to raise concerns about what they called unsafe working conditions and even a flippant attitude toward his clients’ safety.

Many of them testified against him at a District Court trial that ended with the 40-year-old facing several years in jail after he was this week found guilty of charges including manslaughter over a series of botched procedures on three women.

The witnesses came forward after the woman who held him in a godlike status died from a blood infection in April 2017, just weeks after Russell inserted a silicone snowflake into her right hand.

Brendan Russell denied being responsible for harming the women. NCA NewsWire / James Gourley Credit: News Corp Australia

One witness, John “Ox” Brady, said he had seen Russell working on clients wearing thongs and a singlet which Mr Brady knew was not hygienic.

Whenever he pulled up Russell for it there was “always an excuse” and he would boast at being “better than a doctor” despite having no real medical training, Mr Brady claimed.

“Basically, he’d just talk himself up,” Mr Brady said.

“To him he was the best.”

Russell’s partner at the time told the court he began to go “too far” and not even his close friends could rein him in.

“If a customer would come in for something, he would try to talk them into something else,” she told the court.

“One person wanted to get scarification lines and Brendan was like, ‘That’s boring let’s chop your ears off’.”

More than that, she said Transition didn’t have a consent form for body modifications as Russell “knew it was a grey area” legally and said “you don’t want to trace that”.

It was during one of Russell’s jaunts to Italy on November 29, 2016 when his cavalier ways started to catch up with him.

The frantic husband of a woman Russell gave a tummy tuck inside the tattoo room of Transition about two weeks earlier sent a message to him on Instagram.

It included a graphic image of the woman’s stomach wound, showing signs of blood oozing from under blackened stitches.

Russell’s then partner, she told the court, replied on his behalf: “That’s is (sic) totally normal … it’s looking awesome.”

The woman who went under the knife claimed at trial Russell told her she would look like Elle MacPherson after he offered his services to slice off a piece of her belly skin.

She said despite her nerves, Russell was “so confident” and convinced her to trust him, giving assurances there would be no serious side effects.

After he stitched her up, he said to wear a compression bandage and not to see a doctor if any issues arose, but to come to him instead.

Russell, 40, was first charged in 2018 over mutilating a woman’s genitalia.
Russell, 40, was first charged in 2018 over mutilating a woman’s genitalia. Credit: Supplied

She had the $800 procedure on November 13, 2016 and by December 7 the pain and bleeding in her belly became so bad she saw pieces of her stomach coming away in the shower.

She finally caved and went to Gosford Hospital, where she would undergo emergency surgery after it was identified a gaping hole in her stomach had become infected due to a sliced muscle.

Out of loyalty to Russell, she never told incredulous hospital staff who performed the crude operation.

But when she saw news reports in 2018 that he had been charged with mutilating a woman’s genitalia, she came forward to tell her story to police.

She said the other woman who was the subject of the charge was being “annihilated” on social media and felt if someone else spoke up “people would understand these things happen”.

Russell in 2015 had taken a branding iron and scalpel to a woman’s labia at a Newcastle studio.

As with all the procedures Russell went to trial over, this was done by consent but the woman claimed to have been left in pain for 12 months.

Judge Helen Syme ruled Russell was guilty of the rare charge of female genital mutilation as he was not a doctor qualified to perform the procedure for medical reasons.

She also ruled Russell was guilty of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to the woman on whom he performed the botched tummy tuck.

Judge Syme concluded Russell knew the procedure performed in unhygienic conditions was “clearly dangerous” and had convinced the woman she was in safe hands.

Finally, it came to the manslaughter charge for the death of a young mother on April 12, 2017.

A silicone snowflake like the one inserted into a woman’s hand by Russell.
A silicone snowflake like the one inserted into a woman’s hand by Russell. Credit: Supplied

The woman, who like Russell’s other victims can’t be named, had been complaining of severe pain in her right hand for weeks and suspected it was infected.

According to her mother and neighbour, they saw the wound as being green and yellow in colour with the hand eventually ballooning to three times its normal size.

Despite her visiting Russell on several occasions for him to take a look at it, he never encouraged her to seek proper medical help.

In fact on April 10, two days before her death, he reopened the wound to clean it and moved the snowflake around. He also inserted another implant into her thumb.

The woman’s mother told the court her daughter knew the procedures were illegal but Russell was the only person she trusted with her body.

“She said, ‘To me Brendan’s a God. And a lot of people think so’,” the court heard.

The woman called Russell the night before her death, with the conversation relayed to the court by his former partner.

Russell (right) with a client at his store Transition at Erina.
Russell (right) with a client at his store Transition at Erina. Credit: Supplied

“She rang and it was night time and she sounded very groggy, and she was really concerned about her hand and she didn’t know what was going on,” the witness said, fighting back tears.

“She was like, ‘I think I’ve got a really bad infection’.

“He used to tell everyone the same line, ‘It’s just irritated, it’s not infected’. He had this way of sort of shutting you down.”

He told her to take some painkillers and go to bed, and arranged to see her at 9am the next day.

She never made it.

Her neighbour, who discovered the woman’s body at 6am, would tell the court the young mum refused an offer to be accompanied to hospital because she was waiting to see Russell.

When he learned of the woman’s death, a “panicked” Russell allegedly said to his partner “What if it comes out it was something I did?”

Medical experts who testified at trial said the cause of death was likely sepsis, an infection stemming from a foreign body in her hand.

But when talking to others who knew the woman, Russell callously claimed she had died from a prescription drug overdose, according to several witnesses who spoke at trial.

Brendan Russell has been taken into custody ahead of a likely jail term. NCA NewsWire / James Gourley Credit: News Corp Australia

Russell pleaded not guilty to all charges, arguing he was not responsible for the ghastly side effects of the consensual procedures.

His lawyer argued the witnesses who came forward were motivated by ill feeling toward the former body modification star, either due to personal fall outs or for their own business interests.

In her judgment, Judge Syme noted the many grievances but found them all to be reliable witnesses.

She found Russell guilty of manslaughter, saying his dangerous work and repeated failure to encourage the woman to seek urgent treatment constituted a “gross breach” of his duty of care.

“The accused’s breach of his duty of care was at such a gross level that his actions and omissions were causative of her death to a significant or substantial degree,” she said.

Russell was taken into custody on Monday afternoon, leaving behind his heavily pregnant wife, and faces serious jail time, the likelihood of which Judge Syme said was “inevitable”.

Sentence proceedings are set to start in March.

Author: Shirley