Lucy McDonald.Historic Lismore Heights woman Lucy McDonald has been missing since April 2002. Photo supplied

Son seeks answers on missing mum

LAST Friday was the eighth anniversary of Lucy McDonald’s disappearance from her Lismore Heights home.

For her only son, Colin, now 31 and living in Sydney, it has been a horrendous journey that has left him and his younger sister, Violet, desperate to find answers.

Mrs McDonald went missing from her home without a trace in April 2002, leaving police baffled.

It was the second blow to the family after Mrs McDonald’s cousin, Lois Roberts, was found murdered in 1999.

“I need to put mum to rest. I need to know where she is and what happened to her so my family and I can get some closure,” Mr McDonald said yesterday. “I feel like it’s time to give this another go.”

Mr McDonald was 24 and studying dance at the Conservatorium in Lismore when his mother went missing.

“From the outset I knew in my heart she wasn’t alive, and my sister felt the same,” he said.

After nine months of futile leads, he left Lismore to start a new life in Sydney.

“I decided to turn a negative into a positive and follow my dream of dancing,” he said.

“I pretty much left it alone for five years, but eventually it caught up with me.

“That’s when I found the support group, Friends and Family of Missing Persons, which was started by the Victims of Crime group, and through them I’ve learnt to let the process take its course.”

After the 2008 Coronial Inquest in Sydney returned an open finding, Mr McDonald was emotionally exhausted and retreated into his work.

“I should’ve chased it up then, but I didn’t have it in me,” he said.

“I needed to regroup – that’s a part of the process.”

Mr McDonald, who comes from a big local family, said his mother was very well known in the area.

“I find it hard to believe that someone like her can just disappear without someone knowing something,” he said.

“So many things don’t add up. She never left home without family or friends and never without her keys and wallet.

“I believe she left the house with someone she knew and trusted and I just hope someone might come forward.”

After reading three briefs of evidence and all the interviews, Mr McDonald believes the case should be reopened and reinvestigated.

“I thought, ‘who are these people’? They didn’t know my mum. Why didn’t they talk to my side of the family?”

After eight years of trying to move on, Mr McDonald has accepted it’s not that simple.

“It can return with something as simple as a song or a smell,” he said.

“I need to put mum to rest. I need to know where she is and what happened to her so my family and I can get some closure”

Missing since 2002: What happened to Lucy?

 - Northern Star

POLICE have used NSW Missing Persons Week to reappeal for information into the disappearence of Lucy McDonald.

Lucy was last seen on the morning of April 30, 2002 at her Lismore home.

Her daughter left for work soon after and when she returned that evening, Lucy was not home.

No clothing or personal belongings had been taken from her home.

Lucy was believed to have suffered severe anxiety attacks and there was nothing to suggest that she had taken warm clothing, money or food.

Following her disappearance police received a number of reports of her possibly being at various places, including Cowangla, Nimbin, Lismore and Tweed Heads areas.

Her disappearance is still a mystery.

It was less than a week before Christmas in 2012 when detectives from Maroubra police station in Sydney’s east spoke with a Long Bay prison inmate.

Days before the coronial inquest into Rose Howell’s 2003 disappearance, Crime Stoppers had received an anonymous call claiming the good-humoured and independent teenager from the small community of Bundagen on the NSW mid-north coast had been murdered by a prisoner there.

It would turn out the source of information was the prisoner himself.

Giving evidence at that inquest was Detective Senior Constable Peter Watt, who had travelled more than 500km from Sydney to the Bellingen court on the north NSW coast.

Detective Watt was put in charge of Rose’s case after an earlier investigation failed to locate the 18-year-old or establish any real circumstances around her disappearance.


Rose was last seen alive around 6.45pm on Friday 11 April, 2003, just nine days before her 19th birthday. She had been hitchhiking north along the Pacific Highway towards her home in Bundagen – a 30-minute drive from Coffs Harbour. She has never been heard from again.

In accordance with the Coroners Act 2009, on December 14, 2011 -  eight years after she went missing - Detective Watt officially listed Rose as deceased.

One year later, in mid-December 2012, the inquest was held.

Retired musician, Lawrence Fowler, came forward to say he and his friend Leah Munro had seen Rose as they drove from Coffs Harbour towards Bellingen on Friday 11 April, 2003.

Lawrence said he thought Rose was heading to Bellingen, and given it was raining and getting dark, he stopped to offer the teenager a lift. He remembered meeting her earlier that year in a Bellingen cafe where they chatted about music.

“The girl accepted and got into the car. She then changed her mind and told Mr Fowler and Ms Munro that she had to go to Bundagen. She then got out of the car and Mr Fowler and Ms Munro proceeded on their way,” Rose’s coroner’s report reads.

Another witness, William Robb, said he saw a girl fitting Rose’s description sitting on a wooden bench later that afternoon at a lookout near Perrys Road – an area just outside the township of Repton and less than 20 minutes from Bundagen.

William was on his way to pick up his daughter from his sister’s house at Raleigh, about a nine-minute drive away. On his return home, at around 6.15pm, he said he again saw Rose at the lookout and noticed a car parked nearby.

William said he couldn’t recall much about the car’s description, except to say it was “white” or “yellow”. He said he continued driving as it didn’t look like Rose was in need of a lift.

Alan Scott, a Bellingen tow truck operator, also came forward during the inquest. He had known Rose as she regularly walked past his workshop and said he remembered seeing her in the “early night time” standing on the bank of the Old Pacific Highway at Pine Creek.

Alan said she was about 100m to 120m south of the turnoff to Bundagen. When quizzed over the date, he first said he thought it might have been April 3 or April 13. He later said it could have been April 11.

It’s worth noting here that the body of 20-year-old Melbourne hitchhiker, Ineka Hinkley, was found in bushland near a truck-stop also at Pine Creek on November 6, 1996.

Back to Rose. There were reports of a number of other sightings of the teenager in the days after April 11, 2003. Though police have been unable to verify them.

As her inquest continued into the second day, it was abruptly adjourned when the Crime Stoppers call was revealed.

The individual behind that call has only ever been identified publicly as ‘Prisoner A’. Little is known about ‘Prisoner A’ other than he is serving time behind bars and is also a mental health patient at the Long Bay Correctional Centre Hospital.

During his first conversation with Detective Watt on December 19, ‘Prisoner A’ alleged Rose had been abducted before being killed. He also claimed he and another individual were involved in the teenager’s death and that he knew the location of her body.

‘Prisoner A’ was interviewed by detectives again on March 6, 2013 and one day later cops searched an area of Coffs Harbour which they thought could be Rose’s final resting place.

Six days later, the area was searched again with a police cadaver dog. No sign of Rose’s body was found.

It should be noted here that in the coroner’s report ‘Prisoner A’ was considered too mentally unstable by doctors to be allowed any sort of leave from the Long Bay Hospital and as such did not help with the search.

While Detective Watt accepted the prisoner appeared to believe the information about Rose was true, his account was found to have a number of “significant inconsistences” between the first and second interviews.

These inconsistencies included the prisoner’s mental state and that he had been associating with another prisoner who had been receiving “considerable media attention”. The name of this prisoner has also been kept confidential by authorities.

The coroner’s report suggested ‘Prisoner A’ may be using the information he provided to detectives to obtain “some kind of attention for himself”.

“It did appear to be the case that he had some personal knowledge of Rose and a sound knowledge of the geographical areas in which the killing of Rose and disposed of her body was said to have occurred,” the coroner’s report read. “That knowledge would not, however, be exclusive to ‘Prisoner A’.”

Now, while it could well be the case that ‘Prisoner A’ was delusional when he came to ring Crime Stoppers back in 2012 and truly had nothing to do with Rose’s disappearance - a thought has kept bubbling way at the back of my mind since reading Rose’s coroner’s report – what about the weather.

In the nine years since she went missing until her inquest, NSW had record amounts of rain, including, in 2012, the wettest March since 1956. While I do not doubt the thoroughness of the police search, could weather conditions over those nine years have shifted any remains in the soil?

Perhaps this is just wishful thinking on my part that searchers were in the right location but looking in slightly in the wrong spot.

Tragically, it is at this point in the series where Rhoda Roberts re-enters.

In July 1998 Rhoda lost her twin sister Lois. Her bound and tortured remains were found in the thick scrub of the Whian Whian state forest six months and 10 days after she was reported missing.

On April 30, 2002, six years after Lois’ murder, her family was dealt another nightmare blow when Rhoda’s cousin and mother-of-two, Lucy McDonald, vanished from her Lismore Heights home without a trace.

Tragically her daughter returned home from work that evening to find Lucy’s keys and wallet but no sign of mum.

“Poor Lucy,” Rhoda tells me, her voice drained. “Her body has never been found”.

A spokesperson for NSW State Crime Command says local police conducted numerous inquiries to locate Lucy, including following up sightings at various places, including Cowangla, Nimbin, Lismore, and near Tweed Heads. But she was never located.

After exhausting “all lines of inquiry”, detectives referred the case to the NSW Coroner with an inquest into her disappearance held in 2008. The NSW Coroner returned an open finding.

As to where that investigation is up to now, I’m told Lucy’s disappearance remains under the responsibility of Lismore detectives and that is all I’m told.

For the families of Lois Roberts, Lee Ellen Stace, Ineka Hinkley, Margaret, Rose and Lucy McDonald the search for answers never stops.

“Since the coroner’s inquiry (we haven’t heard) a bloody word from them (the police). Not a word,” Rhoda tells me.

The inquest into her twin sister’s murder was held 15-years ago and returned an open finding.

“The cold case unit (detective) came and spoke to us (back in 1998) and then they were disbanded … and he basically told us we’d have to wait three years because there was so many more (cases) they had to investigate before her.”

While the waiting is agonising for Rhoda and her family, a part of her understands. She says that one of the investigation officers undertook in the years since Lois’ murder resulted in a husband being charged with the cold case murder of a local Ballina girl.

“They can have an effect all those years later but we’ve never heard from the Lismore police since that coroner’s inquiry and yet time and again there are more girls missing and murders,” she says.

“So, I just think the level of police compassion is zero when it comes to Aboriginal murder victims.”

Rhoda then mentions Lynette Daley and her six-year wait for justice.

The young indigenous mother-of-seven died from severe blood loss after she was violently sexually assaulted during a camping trip on a north coast beach near Iluka in 2011.

In November, it took a jury 32 minutes to convict Adrian Attwater – Lynette’s then boyfriend – and his friend Paul Maris. Attwater was this month sentenced to more than 14 years jail for manslaughter while Maris was handed almost seven years jail for tampering with evidence. Both men were also found guilty of the aggravated sexual assault of Lynette.

“They knew who the perpetrators were and they still waited six years and they have no idea what that does to families. They have no idea what it does,” Rhoda says.

“We will never, ever, ever be the same people we were (before Lois’ murder). Ever.”

When I ask the NSW State Crime Command for an update on the status of the victimscovered in this series, the response is less than heartening.

Lois, Lee, Ineka, Rose and Margaret’s cases are all with the Unsolved Homicide Team for further investigation. As mentioned, Lucy’s disappearance remains in the hands of Lismore detectives.

To this day, Terri Blackwell, has much anger. She has ongoing trauma from having to identify her best friend Lee’s belongings as well as sitting through the 14-day inquest in 2009 at the end of which the coroner returned an open finding.

Without missing a beat, she recalls how the open hearing was told Lee lost her life to “means other than natural causes”.

If that wasn’t enough, Lee’s family was forced to mourn her death a second time when, four years after her murder, her bones were finally returned to the family for burial.

When I ask the NSW State Crime Command about any hope the families might have these cases could one day be solved, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Olen tells me that reality comes down to people coming forward with information. If officers are presented “fresh and compelling evidence” it will be actively pursued, he says.

Gary McEvoy, a retired Coffs Harbour senior police officer who supervised detectives investigating both Rose’s disappearance and Lee’s murder, is more optimistic.

“Nowadays all documents are scanned so there’s the paper copy and the scanned copy and there’s a computer case manager. There are quite a few systems that would still be there now, probably even better than when I was there and it’s very easy to reactivate,” he says.

“I’m sure the police would encourage anyone with information to come forward and they would make a prompt assessment of the information and reopen the investigation if required.”

Which also to me begs the question, what about advances in DNA technology.

Associate professor of forensic genetics with University of Canberra, Dennis McNevin, tells me it is indeed possible for DNA evidence to be retested after all this time, though it all depends on the quantity of the sample and how it has been stored.

“If evidence is stored appropriately, it should yield a DNA profile for many years,” he says.

“We often obtain DNA profiles from 20- to 25-year-old blood stains in our laboratory.”

While Dennis, who has worked with the Australian Federal Police and trained members of the Indonesian, Thai and Iraqi police services, says the same “basic technology” used at the time of the murders continues to be used today, he points to the fact now a profile “can be generated from one billionth of a gram” of DNA.

I ask him if evidence was retested today for traces of DNA, would that testing provide better results, or offer greater possible matches.

He breaks it down for me.

“The only thing ‘better’ would be the sensitivity, that is, the ability to obtain a DNA profile that might not have been detected previously,” he says.

“Remember, the point of DNA profiling is to restrict a match to one individual - either the victim or the perpetrator.  Things get a little more complicated if there is a mixed DNA profile - that is, more than one person contributed DNA. This could be the case if the victim’s DNA is mixed with the perpetrator’s DNA or if there were multiple perpetrators.”

DNA procedures have been a consistent source of mystery for families of the victims featured in this series. For those I have managed to track down, they all adamantly claimed DNA retesting has not taken place in the cases involving their loved ones.

The NSW State Crime Command could not give a definitive response on whether or not the DNA in these cases has been retested.

Another blow for the victims' families.

When I ask Terri if she has a message for anyone who has information that could help detectives solve Lee’s case, her voice is clear and direct.

“Put themselves in Lee’s shoes, like what if it was one of their family members,” she says.

“How would they feel if someone was nervous or uncomfortable about saying something? Someone knows something. No one can ever keep something to themselves. They’ve got to have told at least one person.”

Rhoda has a similar response.

“The more you ‘um’ and ‘ah’, the more this person is out there and they could be committing this crime time and time again,” she says.

“By keeping quiet, you’re allowing the particularly perpetrator to continue doing what he or she obviously gets off on. If you’ve got the slightest bit of information, you might not think it’s anything great, but it could just be that tiny little thing that triggers something else. And, would you want your daughter to be murdered?”

When Rhoda speaks these words, I think back to the first time I heard about Lois’ murder two years ago around the fire in a friend’s backyard.

At the time, it seemed unthinkable that anyone could go more than a year, let alone a decade, without any answers to what happened to their sister, daughter, mum and friend in Lois. Next year, it will be 20 years since Lois’ murder. That’s two decades without answers for Rhoda and her family.

Tragically, the families of Lee, Ineka, Margaret, Rose and Lucy each have experience of what it’s like to perpetually wait for any news as to the killer or killers responsible for taking their loved one.

It just makes you think again and again – someone, somewhere, must know what happened to them.

Senate should investigate 'missing, murdered, maimed' Indigenous women, Linda Burney says

Exclusive by the Specialist Reporting Team's Sarah Collard and national Indigenous affairs correspondent Isabella Higgins ABC


A Senate inquiry is needed to understand the extent of violence against Indigenous women "right across Australia", Labor MP and shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has said.

Ms Burney said the rate of Aboriginal women going missing or being murdered in Australia warranted "greater attention and consideration".

"There is certainly a lack of urgency, a lack of recognition of the broader issue of violence in Australia and the amount of women who lose their lives," she said.

"People need to recognise that for Aboriginal families, these are not statistics, they are real people. They're sisters, mothers, cousins, aunties."

The shadow cabinet minister said the true impact of the violence was far from being understood.

"It's not just people murdered or people missing, but it's the injury as well that goes unnoticed," Ms Burney said.

"The thing that I am very incensed about, it's not just the murders, but the actual hospitalisations, permanent disabilities, and the maiming that takes place."

Nationally, Indigenous women make up 16 per cent of all female murder victims, despite comprising less than 3 per cent of the population.

The ABC obtained exclusive data revealing, in some states, Aboriginal women also made up 10 per cent of unsolved missing persons cases. These women were often presumed dead.

Advocates have called on the Federal Government to assemble a national taskforce to address the problem, as Canada and the United States have done.

Ms Burney cautioned against Australia launching a national taskforce before fully understanding the issue, but she did suggest an inquiry.

"It seems to me that a taskforce is an easy option to go to," she said.

"We need to understand the problem better before going to a taskforce. A much better option would be for a Senate inquiry."

'They just disappeared off the face of the Earth'

Human rights advocates in Australia said they had watched as Canada and the United States moved to tackle the scourge of violence and murder destroying the lives of Indigenous people and it was time for Australia to follow suit.

The Federal Government must investigate the crisis that has been "neglected" for too long, human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade said.

"We have so many Aboriginal children who are being deprived of their mothers who are victims of homicide, who are victims of rape, who carry that damage with them through life," she said.

"It also says we are not a country that respects our Indigenous women and children."

Widjabul woman Rhoda Roberts has worked as a journalist, broadcaster, director and festival programmer in the arts and says two women in her family have just "disappeared".

Her twin sister, Lois Roberts, was 39 years old when she disappeared off the main road in Nimbin trying to hitchhike to Lismore, in northern New South Wales, in the winter of 1998.

Lois had been in a car accident at just 20 years old, which left her with an acquired brain injury and very vulnerable.

"'We were absolutely beside ourselves wondering what had happened. She was very habitual in her behaviour, when her groceries weren't picked up and things like that — we knew something had happened."

A desperate search by her family and friends ended in tragedy.

Lois's badly mutilated body was found six months later in remote bushland in the Whian Whian State Forest, north of Lismore.

"It was brutal and horrible to know that, but at the same time we knew what happened," Ms Roberts said.

Her killer has never been found.

Ms Roberts said more needed to be done in Australia to address an "epidemic" of violence targeting Indigenous women and girls.

"It's bigger than domestic violence. There is violence against Aboriginal women every day, in every sector of Australia," she said.

"It's a black mark [on Australia] and those are just the ones we know about. Our community is often in very vulnerable in their lifestyle ... and they just literally disappear off the face off the Earth."

Lois's murder isn't the only tragedy that has befallen the family.

In 2002, Ms Roberts's cousin, Lucy McDonald, vanished from her Lismore home.

The mother of two children has never been found and the family continues to wait for answers.

"There is an absolute silence and no compassion, and that's what's most hurtful," Ms Roberts said.

"When two Aboriginal women have disappeared in a very short length of time, you'd think they'd be more discussion, more investigation.

MeToo did not help Indigenous women: lawyer

Ms McGlade said despite an international push to end violence against women in the #MeToo era, the rights and safety of Aboriginal women had been ignored.

"What an Aboriginal woman faces is not just sexism without racism, it is a combination and very often vulnerability, poverty and disability is all going to be in the mix, so it's a completely different experience," she said.

"Aboriginal women are still experiencing racial stereotyping, which can negatively affect their experience of justice.

Ms McGlade said Australia was not a country as committed to human rights "as we say we are", and called on all state governments and the Commonwealth to formalise their approach to the problem.

The Minister for Indigenous Australians and state-based counterparts needed to act and create a national taskforce to properly assess the scale of the problem, she said.

"They really need to take a serious look at this issue, because it is a severe human rights issue that is affecting our community at a very serious level," Ms McGlade said.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said the disproportionate rate of Indigenous women in long-term unsolved missing cases was unacceptable.

"Any woman who is missing or murdered is totally unacceptable, and all governments need to work to tackle this collectively," he said in a statement.

Mr Wyatt said reducing the rate of violence against women was a "national priority for all Australian governments".

Ms Burney said she was not surprised to find Aboriginal women were at greater risk than non-Indigenous women.

"On all the social indicators, be it housing, health, educational outcomes, the statistics for Aboriginal people are worse," she said.