HE 10-year anniversary of one of Mildura’s high profile missing persons cases has coincided with a national campaign aiming to shine a light on the impact such disappearances have on affected families.
The disappearance of Shelley Stephenson remains a priority for Mildura police’s Crime Investigations Unit (CIU) – even though her ex-defacto partner, Thomas Keith Halliday, was convicted of, and is currently serving a 28-year jail sentence for her murder.
Ms Stephenson was last seen on March 2, 2006, with police still trying to locate her body 10 years after the fact – a task that has had a tremendous impact on her family and friends over the years.
“We’ve done extensive searches of the river, and some bushland between here and Wentworth, and even had search and rescue come to the region,” Mildura police CIU Detective Senior Sergeant Scott Anderson said.
“This case is an example of the frustration some families and loved ones go through when it comes to trying to find answers, or even closure, when someone goes missing.
“To a certain point it also affects police members, who take a lot of pride in what they do, and want to achieve positive results for families.
“While members maintain professionalism, they do take it personally when a result can’t be achieved, and that’s because they deal with the families, and see the grief they go through and the concern that they have.”
Mildura, unfortunately, boasts “an extensive” long-term missing persons list, with some of those cases dating back to the 1960s.
Among the high profile cases are the disappearances of Noel Edward Humphreys, who was last seen hitch-hiking from Hattah to Mildura in 1964 at age 15, Andrea Louise Lorenz, last seen in 1976 aged 16, Dimitrios (Jim) Fitos, last seen in 1998 when he left home to attend an appointment and Brian George Killingbeck, who was last seen in 1986.
According to Mildura police statistics, 160 people were reported missing in the Mildura Police Service Area in the last 12 months alone, while another 33 people went missing in the Swan Hill area.
In Australia, more than 35,000 people are reported missing each year, and while a large percentage of these cases have a happy ending, a small portion end in tragedy, or with no answers at all.
National Missing Persons Week aims to raise awareness around the issues and impacts surrounding such disappearances, with this year’s theme urging people to ‘Stay Connected,’ and to remember that “missing persons leave frayed edges.”
The 2016 campaign also aims to enhance personal and communal support networks that assist those most at risk of going missing.
Mildura’s CIU team is primarily responsible for investigating missing persons in the region, with ‘cold cases’ reviewed periodically, or as new information comes to light.
Det. Snr Sgt Anderson, who has been a member of the Mildura CIU for 12 years, said that in terms of the region’s “handful” of long-term missing persons cases, it could take time for new information to come light.
“If any new information does comes in, whether it be through public information, Crime Stoppers or a new forensics development, then our CIU team follows it up,” he said.
“Certainly with some of the older cases – ones that originated in the 1960s or ‘70s – the methods used weren’t as advanced as they are now, or as precise, accurate or detailed as what they are now.
“Missing person cases are always subject to review, and while in some cases it can be quite upsetting for families and loved ones to be continually reminded of their grief, it at least gives them confidence that those cases are still being reviewed.
“While thankfully most people are found reasonably quickly, unfortunately some cases do end tragically.
“Some cases can go cold for some time – sometimes for years – before new information allows us to pursue the matter further, while other cases can go to an inquest.
“If that happens after several years without a result, it can certainly open wounds.”
Det. Snr Sgt Anderson said that not all disappearances were the result of foul play, with some people simply looking for an escape.
“Some people just don’t want to associate with family members anymore – which is their choice to make,” he said. “All we ask is that if you have made that choice, let someone know that you are safe.”
Det. Snr Sgt Anderson said it was important with any missing persons case that people with information came forward.
“Some people might know something, even it is from a long time ago,” he said. “Maybe at the time they didn’t feel comfortable coming to police, or maybe they didn’t want to get involved.
“We encourage anyone with any information to come forward at any time.”
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of a missing person is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or contact the Mildura Police Station on 5018 5300.
Victoria Police’s Missing Persons Squad is also establishing a new webpage which will be dedicated to not only publicising missing persons cases, but also providing information for families and friends of missing people to assist them in dealing with the situation.
As part of the National Missing Persons Week campaign, police are also reminding people there is no need to wait 24 hours to report someone missing.
A report can be made the moment a person’s welfare and/or safety is believed to be in jeopardy because their whereabouts is unknown.