Are we doing enough to track down missing people?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

Jenny Karmas came home from work one evening to an unlocked, empty house. Although her husband Sam had left his keys, wallet and ute at home, he was nowhere to be seen. He is still missing.

Around 35,000 people go missing in Australia every year. Nearly 1,600 remain missing long term.

How do those left behind deal with the disappearance of their loved ones? Are we doing enough to support them?

In the lead up to National Missing Persons Week, Insight reveals that there is still no adequate national system to track these people down.

Speaking to families of missing people, police from missing persons units, as well as a person who has been 'found’, Insight looks at why people go missing and whether enough is being done to find them.

Presenter: Jenny Brockie  
Senior Producer:
Jodie Noyce  
Associate Producer:
Amanda Xiberras

Where do I get help?

Missing Persons Units

National Missing Persons Unit
Ph: 1800 000 634 (toll free)

New South Wales Police Missing Persons Unit
Ph: 1800 025 091 (toll free) or (02) 8835 7656

Victoria Police Missing Persons Intelligence
Ph: 1800 333 000 (Crime Stoppers)
Ph: (03) 9247 6666 (general)

Queensland Police Missing Persons Unit
Ph: 1800 017 744
Ph: 07 3364 6213

South Australia Police Missing Persons Investigation Section
Ph: (08) 8172 5467

Northern Territory Police
24hr hotline: 131 444

Tasmania Police Missing Persons Unit
Ph: (03) 6230 2343

Australian Capital Territory Police Missing Persons Unit
24hr hotline: 131 444

Western Australia Police
Ph: (08) 9351 0699

Support and Counselling

Families and Friends of Missing Persons Unit (NSW only)
Ph: 1800 227 772 (toll free)
New South Wales is the only state in Australia that has a government support system like FFMPU.

The Salvation Army Family Tracing Service
Contact numbers vary from state to state

Lifeline
24hr helpline: 13 11 14

Sane Australia
Ph: 1800 18 SANE (7263)

Black Dog Institute
Clinics: (02) 9382 2991

beyondblue
Ph: 1300 22 4636

Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE: Hi, I'm Jenny Brockie, welcome everyone, good to have you here tonight. Helen, your sister Sally went missing in Victoria five years ago. Now when was she last seen?

 

HELEN CHEONG: So my sister Wendy she last saw her on the 2nd of April at about 3 am, she saw a man in front of her bedroom and I don't think she saw Sally specifically but she saw someone in front of her room and that was the last time anyone has had in contact with her I suppose.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And this was in the house she saw someone?

 

HELEN CHEONG: Yes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Did she know who that person was?


HELEN CHEONG: Well, she couldn't really see that person - it was sort of like a silhouette because there was something in front of her bedroom, her bed, so it was sort of covering who that person was.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you have any idea what might have happened? Anna, it's your sister as well, do you have any idea what's happened to Sally?

 

ANNA CHEONG: Um, I think our main assumption right now is that she probably ran away. Mainly because she took her blanket or what basically was what was left behind. She took her blanket actually she's had ever since she was a baby and that was basically about it.

 

HELEN CHEONG: That was a big factor, yeah.

 

ANNA CHEONG: And that was the biggest factor where we were like if she had ran away, that's probably what she would have taken instead of being abducted.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Now she'd been living in China for a year just before this had happened?

 

HELEN CHEONG: Correct.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And she'd been in a relationship there in China?

 

ANNA CHEONG: Yes. We don't know much about it. In terms of we know she had someone over there.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How old was she?

 

HELEN CHEONG: She was 22 when she disappeared.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Is it out of character for her to just go off like this, was she close to the family?

 

HELEN CHEONG: I think something must have changed her when she went to China. She must have felt a bit of freedom, independence, I think that's, that's probably what influenced her to run away, possibly.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So you're quite convinced she's run away?

 

ANNA CHEONG: That's what we really hope.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Now your mum had a polygraph test done on all the siblings?

 

HELEN CHEONG: That's right.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: By a private investigator.

 

HELEN CHEONG: Correct.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Why?

 

HELEN CHEONG: I think 'cause it was upon the private investigator's suggestion that we should cancel out all immediate family in case we knew something and then move on to anyone outside the family - that was just their standard procedure.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And what happened with that test?

 

HELEN CHEONG: Basically all my sisters and brothers went through the test and they passed and I didn't. But I think it's because I was really nervous at the time and I was an emotional wreck. But I don't know. Look, to this day I don't know why I failed it.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: What was it like for you?

 

HELEN CHEONG: It was a big shock. Like I didn't expect to fail it and I honestly did not know anything so to me I just couldn't understand it, I can’t explain it.

 

ANNA CHEONG: I think it's like - it kind of was a shock as in parents asking us because they don't trust us. That's what we felt like.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: I mean this is really interesting because it really shows the ripple effects that some of these things can have.

 

ANNA CHEONG: Correct.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Ron, what did police make of this case in Victoria?

 

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES, VICTORIA POLICE: Look, these are very difficult cases but right from the start, on the basis that Wendy had seen a man in the house at about, I think it's 1.30, 2 o'clock, she was actually on Skype and talking to someone in America and she made a comment, "I think Helen's boyfriend's here." So all of a sudden the following morning Sally is no longer there. So we have some information, we know that there's a man in the house early hours of the morning. I think initially the family probably weren't happy with the police response and they engaged a private investigator.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: What weren't they happy with Ron?

 

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: Well they weren't happy that we hadn't located Sally. Sometimes I think there's a communication problem. I always insist that the guys who work with me keep the family updated. I think the police officer who originally did this job, because of some communication barriers, maybe not had communicated properly, but the whole thing for us to was to determine whether or not she'd met with foul play. But if you go back to some of the things - she took her baby security blanket with her. If someone's come in the house to abduct her and drag her out of the house, you're not going to go and get your security blanket. We've forensically examined the house, there is no blood, there is no sign of a struggle. She normally slept with the bedroom door open. That night, for whatever reason, she had the bedroom door shut. She left her dad's keys just outside the door for his BMW. It was like well dad, there's the keys for the car, I won't be coming back. Now sometimes it's difficult for families to comprehend or understand she didn't want to work in her dad's business, right?

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that right Helen?

 

HELEN CHEONG: I can't confirm that I but I guess - I personally worked at my parents and I didn't enjoy it but that's a personal choice. So I don't know.

 

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: So here's a girl who's gone overseas, got a little bit of freedom, saved up some money, did have another relationship with someone in China, doesn't want to work in the family business. We've eliminated to the best we can foul play - I think what's happened is she's gone away and started a new life.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And Helen and Anna, your response to that?

 

ANNA CHEONG: You're asking us five years down the track.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes.

 

ANNA CHEONG: I would agree. Yeah, I probably wouldn't have side that two, three years ago.

 

HELEN CHEONG: Yes.

ANNA CHEONG: All you can hope is she'll come back and say hi to us again.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Jenny, your husband disappeared two years ago. Describe that last morning that you saw him? What happened?

 

JENNY KARMAS: It was just like any other morning. We got up, we, I was getting ready to go to work, we had breakfast together. Sam was a self employed builder so he was staying home that day just to order some materials for the job he was working on that week. We had, as I said we had breakfast together. I kissed him goodbye, he answered back, see you darling, have a lovely day and I went off to work about quarter past 8.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And when did you realise he was missing?

 

JENNY KARMAS: Well I came home from work around about 5.30 in the evening and I noticed that the radio was still on in the house, the house was unlocked. His, his shed in the back where he keeps all his tools was open and all the tools were exposed to the air. His work vehicle, his ute was parked across the driveway and all his toolboxes on the back of the ute were wide open, his keys were at home and yeah, so from that point I thought this is funny, something's happened here, he's not here. So I tried calling his mobile phone, it was switched off. Um, couldn't get through to him.

So from then I thought well, he's gone off, he's gone to, something's come up that he's had to go and rush to, to go and help someone, maybe a neighbour. He couldn't have gone too far because he left the house open, left his keys at home so, he'll be back, he's always back.

Um, fell asleep on the couch waiting for him, I thought oh, he'll be home, something's come up, he's had to rush out. But when I finally woke up it was about 5.50 in the morning and that's when I realised no, this is wrong, something's happened here.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And when did you report him missing to the police?

 

JENNY KARMAS: I think after we initially tried everything and exhausted all avenues of finding out where Sam was, we contacted one particular neighbour who said that he had seen Sam yesterday, sorry, the Thursday afternoon around about 2 o'clock in the afternoon and that person was the last person to see Sam. So at that point I thought no, we need to call the police now and we did that.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Let's have a look at what it's been like for you in those two years.

 

JENNY KARMAS’S STORY:

 

JENNY KARMAS: Sam was such a family man he really appreciated family.

'A bit of chicken so may as well finish it, come on, any more.’

And when we are together at Christmas time and at birthdays, these special occasions are times when you miss that loved one who is not here anymore. Every day I think of Sam, he is a part of where I’m living, in this house everything around us reminds us of Sam. When we are sitting around having coffee or eating, something will come up and we’ll remember something of Sam and that memory will come back and we will have a good laugh about it.

Sleeping, sleep in the bed on my own - that was hard. Sam"¦we have always been together. Learning to do manual things around the house, Sam would fix everything – his boat is still here, he loved fishing and the boat I can see from the kitchen window, the ute is in the same spot that he always parked it. Those sort of things are there now as a reminder of Sam.

With Sam’s clothes and his belongings, I have packed them away, that was kind of one of the hardest things I have had to do, as your sorting through the clothes you see things that he’s worn on special occasions or we have been together with and he has had that shirt on, or those pants on or"¦ I haven’t been able to get rid of those yet because I don’t know what has happened and I don’t feel I can until I really know what has happened to Sam.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jenny that must be so hard. Are there any clues about what's happened?

 

JENNY KARMAS: It's an on-going police investigation, yes. So the police, with the homicide squad, we suspect Sam has been murdered. So yes, but it's on-going, so the police are following up every lead that they have.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And obviously we can't go into that because it is an on-going investigation, but when did you find out that it had turned into a homicide investigation?

 

JENNY KARMAS: It was quite quickly actually. It was quite evident from what the police discovered in those early days that foul play had been, had happened to Sam.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And what was that like for you when you found that out?

 

 

JENNY KARMAS: It's like this can't be happening, this is just like a movie, it's not real.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Paul Roussos, you are from the New South Wales Missing Persons Unit which oversees these kind of cases.

 

 

 

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS, NSW POLICE: I am.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: I mean I appreciate the delicacy of this situation, given that it is an on-going investigation, but what can you tell us just about when something does become clear that it should be a homicide investigation?

 

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: Look, I think that's a perfect example of how things escalate based on the circumstances. So the system seems to have worked well to get straight onto the case, even though we haven't had an outcome yet and we still hold out hope, the system has worked in that case.

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: Jenny, in Victoria we monitor all missing persons and we pick up maybe 8 to 9 that are homicides a year that have gone missing.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Eight to 9 out of how many?

 

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: Out of 3,000 so it's less than 1 percent but we've got to make sure that those ones don't slip through the cracks because they're the ones that yeah, yes everyone wants their loved one back but they're the runs where there's a criminal offence and we've got to make sure that those ones just don't go by the wayside.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: But this is a terrible situation for you, isn't it?

 

JENNY KARMAS: Every day I'm thinking is the phone going to ring today? Are they going to say they've found Sam or they've found his body? Are the police going to ring and say yes, we've laid charges? So I'm just waiting every day for that call.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: John, your daughter Bethany who's 13 has gone missing in Kiama on the New South Wales South Coast very recently. Tell us about her and tell us about what happened in the run up to this?

 

JOHN NEVILLE: She'd run away, she basically said to her mother she was going to school, which she didn't, and she got changed, hopped on the train and into Sydney and then she was last seen at Central Railway Station.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And we have a picture of her at Central Railway Station?

 

JOHN NEVILLE: That one there, yeah, that's correct, exiting through the turnstile and onto Eddie Avenue and that was the last anyone seen her in that photograph there.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Who last saw her, do you know?

 

JOHN NEVILLE: Someone met her as she come out of the station.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And do you have any idea who that might be?

 

JOHN NEVILLE: No, I'd suggest it's a bit planned. But that's all I can say.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So how are you coping?

 

JOHN NEVILLE: Oh, I think work keeps my mind away from the topic, right? If it wasn't for work I'd, you know, you'd probably fall to pieces.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Paul, how often do you deal with teenagers?

 

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: Ah, unfortunately they're one of the higher categories of missing persons, out of a total of around 12,000 that are reported missing every year in New South Wales.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And are most of those teenagers found?

 

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: The vast, vast bulk of them are found.

 

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: I checked our stats this morning, we had about 15 people reported missing overnight in Victoria. Of those, nine were teenagers under 15.

 

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: Okay.

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And again, most of them found?

 

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: Most of them found, 24, 36 hours.

 

 

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: Jenny, we encourage people to come forward and report and report to police because if there is something that we wish is not happening, we want to be there as quick as we can.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Rachael, your 16 year old brother Donny disappeared when you were on a camping trip. Tell us what happened?

 

RACHAEL O’KEANE: We went to Echuca to camp on the river for a weekend, my 16 year old brother had had a few drinks throughout the day, gradually, and then towards the night pretty much as soon as it got dark time he started acting very paranoid and freaking out and basically just wanted to go home but myself I'd been drinking throughout the day as well and I was unable to drive.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And he ran off?

 

RACHAEL O’KEANE: Yes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: He ran off into the bush?

 

RACHAEL O’KEANE: Yeah, in a heated argument between us and he just threw his hands up in the air and ran.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Were there drugs involved as well as alcohol in this situation?

 

RACHAEL O’KEANE: He's smoked marijuana, yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: When did you start to really worry and think he was missing?

 

RACHAEL O’KEANE: We waited three hours before we called the police, just we were hoping that basically he would calm down, he needed to just time to himself and he would return back to the camp site and three hours later when he hadn't returned, I started getting very worried and that's when we called the local police.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So what do you think happened to him?

 

RACHAEL O’KEANE: Really, I have no idea, because we have had nothing since.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How long has it been?

 

RACHAEL O’KEANE: Ten months.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Terrible for you and your family, I mean just shocking not to know what's happened. Ron, you're aware of this case too?

 

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: I'm aware of it and sadly though, those that smoke marijuana, one in five will end up with a psychotic disorder because marijuana, because the way in which it's grown now the THC content is so high, they end up with paranoid schizo. Now on this day there had been a lot of drinking, there had been a lot of drug taking, and he became paranoid and believed that the group that he was with were going to attack him and harm him. Now he's run off in the middle of the night. Now we're very close to the Murray River, we very close to water holes and lagoons and the most likely thing sadly is he's probably ended up in the river.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Have you contemplated that idea?

 

RACHAEL O’KEANE: Absolutely. I kind of get a sense of hope that he's still alive because the next day there was a report to the police, a 92 year old lady reported that she'd fed a young boy who she believed to have been Donny, she gave pretty much close to his description of what he was wearing before she'd seen a photo of him. So we kind of have a hope that that was Donny and that he's not in the river, he's not in the bush, he's not in the water holes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Christine, your sister Sandrine disappeared in July last year. What was going on in her life just before she disappeared?

 

CHRISTINE DAY: At the time Sandrine had just broken up with her partner.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Are you okay Jessie? Do you want to go? Yeah, you'd feel better about going, I'm so sorry. Jessie is Sandrine's daughter, yeah?

 

CHRISTINE DAY: Sorry, yeah, it's been, it's been very difficult because of the circumstances of how she went missing. No one's heard, she hasn't touched her bank account, nothing, nothing's been done. Her children now live with family members or friends of the family.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And I know Jessie really wanted to talk about this tonight?

 

CHRISTINE DAY: Yeah, she did.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: But we've got someone looking after her now, I should say to everybody.

 

CHRISTINE DAY: Yeah, she's with Rebecca.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: But I mean obviously these things are much harder to talk about than you think they might be when you get here.

 

CHRISTINE DAY: It's one of those things where with Jessie, she wanted to talk to and listen to everybody else's stories to see if what we've been dealing with is the same thing as everybody else and listening to everybody else, it is the same.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Just tell me a little bit more about Sandrine, what was going on in her life immediately before this?

 

CHRISTINE DAY: Okay, just prior to her going missing, four weeks prior to that she had broken up with and on and off relationship she had had. At that time the children lived with their dad and Jessie was in the process of coming back to live with her mum and so was Sam the 14 year old. So at the time, last time I heard is she was getting a Housing Commission organised, she had applied for TAFE, she was trying to get things sorted out. She'd even done a website for her art because she was an artist. Things like that, she had done all of these things but now the police are telling us that she's a walk off or a suicide is what the police classed her as of, that's what we were told.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think has happened to her?

 

CHRISTINE DAY: To tell you the truth, honestly I don't think she would walk off and if she was a suicide or she had attempted that in the past, but she left us a note. She left us all notes last time.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So she'd had mental health problems prior?

 

CHRISTINE DAY: She did have mental health problems.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And your case is in Queensland?

 

CHRISTINE DAY: My case is in Queensland, yes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Sarah, you're a counsellor and you used to work for the AFP in this area, the Australian Federal Police?

 

SARAH WAYLAND, COUNSELLOR: That's right.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: You're doing research into what families go through when someone goes missing. What have you found in your research?

 

SARAH WAYLAND: What I found over the last ten years is that the experience of loss that families live with is not a sense of grief when we talk about, you know, the finality that comes with a grief or when we experience that. But is a sense of loss that's unresolved and ambiguous because people don't know if they can really accept whether or not a loss has happened because they aren't being given all the pieces of information within that puzzle to be able to accept what's happened for them. So it's, it's different in a sense where it's not a loss that gets easier to live with, it's almost a loss that gets more difficult to survive.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that right, is it something that gets more difficult? What do you think?

 

JENNY KARMAS: Yeah, the longer you don't hear any news, the harder it gets. You know, in those first early days you're hoping and you're actually looking and you're looking out the window and thinking that that person's walking past and you know, a number of times we're sitting on the couch, is that Sam? Is he walking back in and he's not? And then you get people telling you oh, I think I saw someone looking like Sam in the shopping centre, but you know it's not. And as time goes on it gets harder and then you're still thinking well, what happened to my loved one on that day? What happened to the person, this person, what were they involved with on that day that caused them to become missing?

 

SARAH WAYLAND: And living with that imagined trauma, because for families they don't just have to contend with what they know about the case, they have to contend with what they don't know about the case and all of those imaginings of what might have happened to the person makes it really difficult to sit with those images of what that person's last moments might have been like. Or if they're still out there, who's assisting them? Are they warm, are they safe, is someone looking after them?

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Sue, what did you want to say?

 

SUE NEVILLE: Yes, I just wanted to add at that stage of the conversation you become hyper vigilant. Everywhere you go you think you see them. My son, our son Bobby is missing, he's been missing for five years, almost five years now, and I've, I've had to stop the car, pull up, get out of the car, walk up to someone and I've come within this distance, between you and me, and until I was really close I still thought it was him. It's something you have to turn off. I actually had a car accident as a result of being hyper vigilant and that's what me stop and think and say I'm not going to find him that way and anyway, if that is him he's okay.

 

BOB NEVILLE: She nearly killed herself, she did.

 

 

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we're talking about why 35,000 people go missing every year. Jessie, welcome back, I know you want to be here and you want to talk about this so thank you very much for coming back and I appreciate that it's probably been a lot harder than maybe you thought it might be. Tell me a little bit about what it's been like for you when your mum went missing?

JESSIE BULLA: Well I thought that she'd kind of just went off to cool off. She'd been a little funny a couple of weeks before I saw her and she just wasn't herself so I thought maybe she just needs some space from the family, need time to cool off and then she'll come back. And then when we got the news that she hadn't touched her bank account, that was the time when I started suggesting, well, suggesting to myself that something's wrong and it's just been an emotional roller coaster trying to keep it together.

JENNY BROCKIE: How long has it been now?

JESSIE BULLA: It's nearly been a year, three days and it's been a year.

JENNY BROCKIE: So keep going, what's it been like for you?

JESSIE BULLA: Oh, it's kind of hard. I think I've kind of just took on the role model with my brothers and sisters to shield my own pain and shield my own, like I don't really want to confront it.

JENNY BROCKIE: You're the eldest, yeah?

JESSIE BULLA: Yeah, I'm the eldest, and now that I actually have to step back and say well, I've got to start doing my own life, then that's when realisations really beginning to hit me that this is real and it's not just a little thing anymore. So yeah, it's been pretty up and down but I'm dealing with it.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think has happened? Do you think about what's happened?

JESSIE BULLA: I honestly think that she's either been abducted or she's just deceased because it's just not like my mum just to leave us kids and not tell us. If anything, she'd take us with her, but as bizarre as that sounds. But, yeah, it's just really out of character.

JENNY BROCKIE: Reuben, you went missing a month ago. Where did you go?

REUBEN SCOWN: I went into the bush. Originally it was meant to be on my own but I somehow managed to find a really accepting group of people who kind of took care of me and I brought myself back after that.

JENNY BROCKIE: And why did you go away without telling anyone?

REUBEN SCOWN: I was in a really negative head space and quite depressed and needed to kind of clear that, I guess.

JENNY BROCKIE: So how long were you missing for?

REUBEN SCOWN: Only about a week or a bit over I think.

JENNY BROCKIE: Your dad's here, Mark. What was that week like for you and your wife?

MARK SCOWN: I was absolutely devastated. Oh you know, previous incidents had lent a lot of weight to it being very serious and so of course we were just in the worst possible state and now we thought that the worst, you know, the worse possible thing was on the cards so we were very worried.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you were worried about Reuben's mental state?

MARK SCOWN: Yes, absolutely.

JENNY BROCKIE: And Reuben, what’s it been like listening to these stories tonight?

REUBEN SCOWN: Um, well, it's really full on. Like a lot of these stories are really sad and makes me think that what I did was pretty selfish and ignorant and also would like to give hope to other people out there.

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: In Victoria, like the current statistics are 60 percent of our people that go missing have depression or a mental illness so we're talking over 50 percent that aren't in the right head space and they don't think about the people around them when they actually go away. And I had a guy who said to his wife: "I'm just going to go for a ride on my push bike"; eight months later he turned up in Brisbane. He wanted to check out and he said I don't want to be in the marriage anymore and she had no idea any more. So for eight months she doesn't know and he's on his pushbike riding to Queensland.

JENNY BROCKIE: And there are some people who just want to disappear?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: They just want to disappear.

JENNY BROCKIE: Claire, what was it like for you when your son went missing, when Reuben went missing, what it was like for you?

CLAIRE SCOWN: It was terrible. It was terrible.

JENNY BROCKIE: How did you find him in the end, or did you let them know what you were Reuben? What happened?

REUBEN SCOWN: I end up bringing myself back, yeah.

CLAIRE SCOWN: Yep, in the end that's what happened.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how are you going now Reuben?

REUBEN SCOWN: I'm really great, you know? 300 percent better than I was then.

ANNA CHEONG: Sorry Jenny, can I ask the question, how did you feel when Reuben actually came back because I think that's the one thing, if my sister came back, I don't know how I would feel, I don't know if I'd feel angry that she didn't leave a message or emotionally just happy that she's back in my arms kind of thing.

MARK SCOWN: Yes, the first thing Reuben said to me was: "I know you probably don't want to see me but I just wanted to ring and let you know that I am okay." By that stage he must have seen, you know, all the palaver on Facebook and the dozens and dozens and text messages to his phone, et cetera. I wanted to come and embrace him back into the family and help him become well again.

JENNY BROCKIE: It's worth pointing out here it's not a crime to disappear, is it Paul?

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: I grew up to the age of 35 with an uncle that had been missing and that when I was 35 he walked back into the scene and said he wanted to die under his real name. And that was the excuse for reappearing and everyone had thought he'd died years ago and he'd just given himself another identity. But you're right, it's not a crime to go missing and some people definitely make a conscious choice to do that.

JENNY BROCKIE: Kate, your brother Dan was just a few years older than Reuben when he went missing two years ago. Now he'd also been suffering from depression, yeah?

KATE O'KEEFFE: That's right.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you have of any idea what might have happened to him?

KATE O'KEEFFE: Well one theory in the beginning was that he had decided to mix in with the homeless and have a life on the street, which I found extremely hard to believe. He had been diagnosed with depression and me not thinking it was very severe, but once this happened, after a few weeks I did start to think the worst and that he could have possibly taken his life. Once we saw CCTV footage of someone that matches his description because the way he moved, this person on the footage, the way he sat down, his mannerisms, his gestures, it really looked like him. So it was, it's a really hard thing, when I had sort of come to terms with the fact that he was most likely no longer alive.

JENNY BROCKIE: And Ron, you're aware of this case too?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: I'm aware of it and you know, it's a difficult case but again it has to be put into context with the background of the person. Right? When we go and we look at risk assessments and we look at the background of the person, yes, he was suffering depression. Yes, he was involved in a police pursuit about two to three weeks before where he ultimately wanted the police to do something to him, to take his life. Now I can't change those facts. Three days before he disappeared he went to a friend who is an Ambulance Officer and said I want to know the best way to commit suicide.

A Coroner's Inquest is a final resolution and a Coroner will make a determination about whether, on the balance of probabilities, Daniel's deceased. Now the families don't want that because I can't give them the answer, I can't tell you where he is.

BOB NEVILLE: Yeah, but it doesn't just stop there. Because you say"¦.

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: No, it doesn't stop there.

BOB NEVILLE: No, so don't make it so pointed that when you say or you make up your mind that he's dead or deceased"¦.

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: No, I don't make it up. The Coroner makes it up on the balance of the evidence that I"¦.

BOB NEVILLE: I know, from the evidence, from the brief that you provide.

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: But that doesn't stop us from looking or working.

JENNY BROCKIE: It's a very difficult situation on both sides in a sense, isn't it?

KATE O'KEEFFE: That's right, and we really would like the police to work in partnerships with us and help one another because we feel that we're alone in this. We actually wouldn't have seen that CCTV footage most likely if the person that reported it to the Crime Stoppers then actually got in touch with us because she called Crime Stoppers after a few weeks to see what had happened with her report that she'd made and they said it's none of your business. Then she contacted us directly and told us. So we just feel like there's not, there needs to, we all need to work together with the police.

DES O'KEEFFE: Just a point with what Ron said, I'm not disputing anything you said Ron but there's more to it than just the experts advice on the height of the person that was in that video. There were a number of factors that were relevant to that episode which would point the basis of what I believe, that was Daniel.

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: I could never say it's not him but I've had it examined and they say on the balance of probabilities, it's not him. If it's him, well where is he? Has he contacted his family? No. Maybe he has decided to check out and he wants to be left alone. If that's the case, he has to support himself. Hasn't touched a bank account, hasn't used his Medicare card, hasn't bought a new phone, we've checked all that. Now sadly families have a very high expectation and we have limited resources. We will do the best that we can with what we've got and as someone said it's not a crime so we've got competing priorities.

JENNY BROCKIE: What has your experience been of dealing with police overall? Jenny?

JENNY KARMAS: Well, I can say our experience has been good. The police that came looking out for Sam were straight away on the job. They asked all the right questions. It's moved on very quickly and I'm happy to think that they are doing their very best under sometimes a tricky legal system to get the result that we need. And I know that that's going to take time for our police.

JENNY BROCKIE: Helen and Anna, what about you?

HELEN CHEONG: Yeah, well when Sally first went missing we were pretty sure she went missing and that night we went to the local police station and they pretty much told us that she has to be missing for at least twenty four hours for them to do anything so at that point we just had to go home and wait for the next morning to report that she was still missing, which she was.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that right that somebody has to be missing for twenty four hours?

REBECCA KOTZ, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE: it's not true anywhere in Australia, in every state and territory police force is on board with that. It comes from American TV, it comes from 48 Hours, the programs they put out from America where they say you have to wait 24 hours. It has never been the case in Australia and it definitely is not now.

JENNY BROCKIE: Given how stretched police can be, how do you decide in that very early period, what to throw resources at and what not to throw resources at in terms of missing persons?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: So it's about risk assessment, looking at the profile or the background of the person and making a judgment.

JENNY BROCKIE: Bob and Sue, your son Bobby disappeared five years ago. I'm interested in what you did to try and find him and why you did some of the things that you did. I mean you travelled, you've travelled all over Australia, haven't you?

SUE NEVILLE: We have a caravan and so we've packed up many times and left on our trips to try and find him. We've been to the centre of Australia, we've been to Lake Eyre, we've been to Perth, to Albany, we've been all around New South Wales up and down the coast.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you made up posters of him?

SUE NEVILLE: So we would take posters around to police stations and leave them there and then they often would know all the people in the town, they'd know if there were any newcomers to the town and we found that one of the most efficient ways.

JENNY BROCKIE: But when you went from state to state you realised that the other states didn't know?

SUE NEVILLE: No, that's right and so we realised we'd need to do a lot more. But also in this time we've joined the Family and Friends of Missing People and we found that through educating the police and through a number of reasons, I suppose, they seem to be improving a lot and our last trip over to Perth we actually went into the police station there and here was a picture of Bobby on the wall so we were really pleased that things are improving, maybe not fast enough for our son.

BOB NEVILLE: Yeah, and at that visit at Albany.

SUE NEVILLE: Albany as well.

BOB NEVILLE: The policeman in charge there, he had computer knowledge as well and he talked us through it and he said look, what I'll do for you is I'm going to put it in motion and get in touch with all of our police stations throughout the state and when they turn the computers on, it was late in the afternoon, the evening, he said the first thing they see when they turn on tomorrow is this.

JENNY BROCKIE: But this is, this sounds like it's very much dependant on an individual police officer actually doing that?

BOB NEVILLE: It is. Some of them are - if you go in there and if it's their lunch time and they're having a sandwich, they'll tell you to go to buggery. Just like that. And you know"¦

SUE NEVILLE: We met all sorts of people.

BOB NEVILLE: I've had some ding dong blues with them but I mean, by the same token"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: But what I'm interested in though is this idea that you're relying on goodwill in a sense or you're relying on an individual. I mean how does the system work? If you go missing in New South Wales, it's not automatically going to everybody in every other state? Does everybody download everything onto a national system automatically?

CHRISTINE DAY: I was told that there's a national record but then there's nothing, but I've got an instance where we had a possible siting in Byron Bay. We actually rang the Byron Bay police station and we were told that my sister was not even on their register. So the national system where I was told by the police officer in charge at the time that there is a national system but it's up to each state to actually put that missing person, if there's been a report of them, on their system.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that right Paul?

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: There are numbers of systems, okay so let's - it's probably good to distinguish between them. One is a police system and that's the one that has an automatic download. So if someone comes to attention then that person will register as a missing person from another state. There is the missing person database and I talk about New South Wales which is a police system which all police have access to. So if it's reported in New South Wales, a picture and all the details go onto that missing person database and any police officer in New South Wales can access that information and there is an equivalent in the other states.

CHRISTINE DAY: Okay.

JENNY BROCKIE: And do they all work the same way though, that's what I want to know. Ron, is there a consistent system for dealing with missing persons?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: No, no, there's not, because if I was to check Daniel O'Keefe in Queensland"¦

SUE NEVILLE: There was no record.

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: No, no, there'll be a record that he's a missing person. There won't be a record about everything else. But the problem is not every state is signed up to that system, right?

JENNY BROCKIE: There is CrimTrac, is this the system called CrimTrac?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: CrimTrac is a different system again.

JENNY BROCKIE: Goodness me.

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: There is legislation around private details, right? Victoria police take on the responsibility to take on your information; we're governed by an act of Parliament as to what can actually happen with that. Now before it can go to all states, all chief commissioners must agree to each person's act of Parliament. So to some extent we're hamstrung by legislation. But we've got a reasonable system that we can put it in - the name in and find that they're a missing person in New South Wales, Queensland.

JENNY BROCKIE: What about photographs, what about identifying features, what about, you know, tattoos or things like that?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: Well then you're talking CrimTrac and it's a long way off coming to what we call having a system whereby it would be Australia wide. It would have dental records, DNA and all the rest.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you haven't got that at the moment?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: No, we don't.

JENNY BROCKIE: On a national basis?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: No.

JENNY BROCKIE: But the state databases aren't automatically all linked together into one national system?

 

 

 

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: Yes, they are on the very basic information. But there's a difference there.

JENNY BROCKIE: Sorry, I'm just going to try and clarify this because I think it's really important.

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: It is.

JENNY BROCKIE: If I go into a police station and a loved one is missing and I give them photographs, I give them everything I can give them, descriptions, what they were last wearing, everything like that, that person is missing. I go to my local police station, does that automatically get uploaded into a national system so if that person has gone from say Melbourne to Perth, it would pop up the next morning in Perth?

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: Not all the information you just gave, but there are about, off the top of my head, about a dozen points of information that will be exchanged and the important bit is that they are missing and some other basic descriptors. But it's not the case that you get all the information that goes with a missing person.

JENNY BROCKIE: And does that happen in every state in Australia?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: As far as I know, yes, because I can go in and check and I can get Western Australia.

CHRISTINE DAY: Okay, because we contacted the Byron Bay police, we called them, told them our sister was a missing person, gave her the name. The police officer typed her name in, she goes oh, she's not in our system. Please get the police officer that's in charge of your sister's case to contact us.

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: But he might have checked, like there's about four systems. Like unless he checks the CrimTrac one that's Australia wide it's not going to come up.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. Mark, you're a former New South Wales police officer with the Missing Persons Unit and you wrote a report which highlighted some of the issues around these investigations. Is the system working as well as it could do you think?

MARK SAMWAYS, FORMER NSW MISSING PERSONS UNIT: I've been out of the system for a while Jenny but what I used to refer the system as it was a lottery and I think the people's stories today, a lot is dependent on that initial contact with the police. It appears that that it is improving but it is still dependent, the system is dependent on that first contact with police. It shouldn't be a lottery for the loved one. If you go into a police station in Perth, in Brisbane, in Melbourne, in Sydney, you should get the same response for your missing person’s case. It shouldn't be dependent on state based systems. It shouldn't be dependant if the constable is eating the sandwich or anything like that.

Or another example where a person say wanders into a hospital in Adelaide, doesn't know who they are, it shouldn't take a week for police or authorities to identify that that is a missing person from Sydney.

JENNY BROCKIE: What sort of priority is missing persons given do you think in the police sort of, in the range of police activities?

MARK SAMWAYS: I think part of the problem is, and this is speaking from my experience as a police officer, is the fact that most missing people return home quickly, safe and well in the back of most police officer’s minds unless there is something that really sticks out this is suspicious. It is a low priority.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ron, what about, what do you think about the priority that it's given within the police service missing persons?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: I think over the last ten years we're improving and we're still improving.

JENNY BROCKIE: Julie Clark, you've also done research into missing persons. I wonder what you think about the national database that does exist here in Australia?

JULIE CLARK, GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY: There is a national database, I think it doesn't work as it was intended and I don't think it works operationally to the extent that it ought to be working. I think Australia could provide leadership in the area of responding to missing persons and to some extent it does. And to some extent people in New South Wales are way better off than anybody else in Australia because they have resources that no other state has. But I've seen better databases and I've seen databases used in different ways that I think we could learn from and we could use them to develop what exists in Australia.

JENNY BROCKIE: In what sort of ways? What do you think we could be doing that we're not doing?

JULIE CLARK: Well, I think, you know, I think a number of people in the audience will have heard of Nameth and Claimeth. They're the databases that are run in the United States and that enables a number of people to have access to the databases and a number of people to enter data and retrieve data from the databases. There are some components of Nameth that is restricted to Coroners and medical examiners but there are other components of that database where family members can check and update and correct information and police can access information. So they, in essence, have civilian personnel helping them with the accuracy of information that may assist them to match and locate people who are missing. So I think there are other ways of doing things that exist in other jurisdictions that we could accommodate. I don't think that missing persons is strategic priority in Police Services.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ron, would you like to see more biometric data and things like that being used on the national database?

DET. SNR. SGT. RON IDDLES: You're talking about the national database, we're moving to having DNA and things like that. But if you're talking about airports and facial recognition and getting people to put their DNA, there's a whole range of other agencies and issues involved in that and I can't see every John citizen wanting to be involved in that.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, Paul?

CHIEF INSP. PAUL ROUSSOS: And the simple fact is it's not as easy as it originally sounds, all these things are good and they have a potential but often with missing persons it's good old foot slogging and investigative work that is supported by some of these biometric things so it's the other way around, it's not the biometrics driving the resolution.

 

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we're talking about what happens when people go missing and whether the system is working as well as it could. One thing I think that people don't think about is the privacy laws and the impact that they can have on these situations. Now Jenny, you told us earlier that your husband's disappears is now the subject after homicide investigation. How difficult is it then for you to move on with your life in a practical sense?

JENNY KARMAS: Okay, we do our best to move on and I've encouraged the three children to continue their studies and working and whatever we need to do. I've got a problem now with, with his ute, his work vehicle, the ute and also his boat in that they were both registered in his name with the RTA and I thought well yeah, I can sell them. My daughter, youngest daughter Sarah got married in April so I needed to pay for that wedding. So I thought yeah, I'll sell the boat, sell the truck - that will cover it.

Rang up the RTA and asked what happens in this situation and the problem of having to explain your situation over and over again to not only RTA but say phone companies, electricity companies, all that type of thing, gets very monotonous and you know, at one point I contacted one particular phone company and they said - I actually said to the guy: "Look, can you please Google Sam Karmas and you'll find out that I'm telling the truth?" So he actually did that and he rang me back and he said: "Oh, I can help you now because I can see your situation."

JENNY BROCKIE: So have you been able to sell those things?

JENNY KARMAS: I haven't yet because, because our investigation is on-going, it hasn't actually gone to Coroner's Court so even though we're assuming that Sam is deceased, I don't have anything to prove that and I don't have a death certificate to say yes, he's deceased and therefore I can continue on with what I need to do. So in order to sell the boat and the ute, I have to actually take out a Supreme Court order to give me the rights to manage Sam's affairs, which to me seems very extreme to have to go that far to do that.

I assume that the truck and the boat would just sit there deteriorating in value. I'm paying the registration every year on them, I'm paying maintenance on them to keep them running at least so that in the future I can sell them but I don't know how long I have to wait until"¦.

JENNY BROCKIE: And meanwhile you're still looking at them out that window every day?

JENNY KARMAS: Yeah, every day.

JENNY BROCKIE: Norm Stanton, your son Ian went missing ten years ago, I mean do you relate to any of this?

NORM STANTON: Certainly do Jenny. The privacy issue was an enormous source of frustration for us, particularly in the early days when the police investigation was so tardy. Just a couple of examples if we'd been able to find out Ian has accessed his bank account it might have given us some indication of where he was, but we weren't able to get any information about his banking account at all. CentreLink were not just uninformative, they were quite rude and obstructive.

But probably the worst example is that we, Ian had been seeing a counsellor and we tried to get some details of those sessions to find out what his state of mind was at that time so we could better understand why he'd gone missing and we were unable to get any details at all of those sessions. But what is disturbing is that when the Coronial process came up four years later, we were given a police brief which contained two pages of a statement from the counsellor divulging all those details that might have helped us a little bit understand what was going on in the early stages. Suddenly now it's not a privacy issue and it comes up in the brief. So we found that quite disturbing.

JENNY BROCKIE: It's been ten years now?

NORM STANTON: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you still have hope? What do you feel you know at the end of that ten years?

JEAN STANTON: Actually ten years for me particularly is easier now because I accept that he's dead. So, and dead's being saved so that's fine. The early years are the hard ones and it's hard talking about it because it's something you keep close to your heart I think. But, and it's hard seeing him up there so that's hard. But no, I think we have a lovely family, we have four other children and grandchildren and we get on with our life. And you must make the most of each day because they're precious days.

JENNY BROCKIE: And Norm, do you have a similar view to your wife? Do you still have any hope at all?

NORM STANTON: Probably not Jenny and that's one of the issues around, for families I think around missing persons. The fact that everyone responds very differently, I think, and there's no right or wrong way of doing it. Sue Neville would no more get a tattoo on her forearm as I have, than what I would go knitting Sue's quilt.

SUE NEVILLE: It's not knitting, sewing.

NORM STANTON: Sewing a quilt, there you are. So I think it has the potential, this kind of situation, for families to be really harmful to relationships certainly but Jean and I are tight and we've survived.

JENNY BROCKIE: What's the message you want to get out tonight, Helen, Anna?

HELEN CHEONG: I just felt like Sally was a very private person, like even though she was really friendly, outgoing and talk a lot about everything, she didn't really talk about her personal life to people close to her. And just be aware if you have families or really close friends that don't say much about their personal life, that maybe you should try to get to know them a little bit better because they might be having issues or depression that you don't even know about.

JENNY BROCKIE: Anna?

ANNA CHEONG: I think out of the experience, I was in year 12, I have changed a lot since then and I've been a little bit more open - told my sister a lot more than I would have when I was younger. I was a grumpy person, didn't talk, didn't say anything, and I think now it's helped a lot and"¦.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you've learned something from it?

ANNA CHEONG: Definitely, yeah, definitely.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jessie, what message would you like to get to out tonight?

JESSIE BULLA: That for the people that are missing, you aren't alone really, you have someone to lean on you, someone that cares. Family will always be there for you no matter what, like through thick and then. You have don't have to go through it by yourself, ask someone for help, they want to.

JENNY BROCKIE: John, to Bethany, what would you want to say to her?

JOHN NEVILLE: I would want to say that, you know, you've got to contact home, think about what you're doing or where you are and just let us know that you're safe, right, and think about all the things that, or all the people that you're touching in your absence.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Thank you so much for joining us tonight, everybody, thank you for sharing your stories, very difficult to talk about and we do appreciate it and we do have wrap it up here now but you can keep talking on-line. Go to our website, Twitter or Insight's Facebook page. Thank you everybody.