Norman James LAWSON




Date of Birth: 1970 - 16 years old when missing.
Build: Slim
Height: 180 cm
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown

Norman is Indigenous.

Norman James LAWSON was last seen alive on about 21-22 October 1986. He was on a fishing trip with four other people in the area of the Old Jim Jim Road of the South Alligator River, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory. His companions claimed he ran off down the road leaving his possessions behind.


Norman Lawson Case

QUESTIONS - Wednesday 24 February 1988


Has he formally rejected a request from Mr Henry Lawson for a coronial inquiry into the suspected death of his son, Norman, and if so, can he explain on what basis?

 ANSWER Mr Speaker, I thank the member for Arafura for giving me the courtesy of advance notice of this question. The Norman Lawson case is a very tragic one, particularly for the family concerned. To remind honourable members, on Sunday 19 October 1986, Norman Lawson went to the old South Alligator crossing with 4 other persons. On Wednesday 22 October 1980, he was seen to walk away from the river crossing carrying a throw net. Since then he has not been sighted. An extensive police search and investigation has failed to locate Norman Lawson. The latest development is a recently reported sighting of Norman in the Darwin area and that is being investigated by the Darwin CIB. The investigation is being conducted as a missing person inquiry and is not subject to a coronial inquest. To answer the honourable member's question specifically; the coroner has perused the file and has found that there is insufficient evidence to reach the conclusion that Lawson is deceased. It is not, therefore, within his jurisdiction to conduct an inquiry and that is why there has been no coronial inquiry. The matter has been referred to the coroner and he has said that there is insufficient evidence that young Norman is in fact deceased and therefore he could not conduct an inquiry. The matter is being treated seriously by the police as a missing person inquiry and the latest sightings are being investigated with vigour by our CIB.




October 21st, 2009

Norman Lawson was 16 when he disappeared in Kakadu.

His younger brother Murray, who now goes by the last name Cooper, was just 14 when his brother disappeared without a trace

THE brother of a Territory teenager who mysteriously disappeared in Kakadu National Park 23 years ago today wants police to re-open the cold case and find his killer.

He said his distraught family wants answers - and closure - over what really happened to his brother.

Norman Lawson was 16 years old when he went missing while camping in the national park on October 21, 1986.

His camp mates told police they last saw him walking towards the South Alligator River about 5.30pm carrying a cast net.

Norman hasn't been seen since.

Theories about his fate have been numerous.

A coronial inquiry found it was possible the bush kid was taken by a crocodile while police said he was likely a teenage runaway.

But his family has remained adamant from day one that he was murdered.

His younger brother Murray told the Northern Territory News yesterday it was time for police to re-investigate the matter.

"Twenty-three years on and we still have no answers," he said.

"There is no hope he is still alive - we've accepted that he is dead.

"But we want closure, we want to lay my brother to rest.

"We need to know what has happened to him."

Murray, who now goes by the last name Cooper, was just 14 when his brother disappeared without a trace and says there is not a day goes by he doesn't think about him.

He said he was "absolutely disgusted" by the NT Police investigation.

"The whole investigation was a sham," he said. "They first kept saying he was just a runaway, then they said it was a crocodile attack and then it was just put in the too hard basket."

Mr Cooper, 37, who admitted to having a criminal record but says he is a changed man, said all the evidence in his brother's disappearance pointed to foul play.

He believes Norman was shot in the back of the head with his own .22 Magnum rifle and that his body was buried in the Outback.

These claims are backed up by the fact the 1990 coronial inquiry found that his brother's rifle was sold for $170 just days after his disappearance - and it was later discovered the barrel on the gun was packed with yellow dirt, indicating it may have been used for digging.

Mr Lawson's murder theory rang even truer when in 1990, skeletal remains that were found at Lake Bennett - but are still yet to be identified - showed evidence of a bullet hole in the skull.

"The remains included ribs, vertebrae, leg and arm bones as well a skull, which had a shot in the back of it from a .22 magnum - Norman had owned a gun exactly like that," he said.

"We believe they are the remains of Norman. Back then testing was conducted and they said it wasn't him. But we then asked for them to be sent south for a second opinion and we were told it was him."

"We are just confused and are calling on them to test the bones again."

Police said yesterday Norman's disappearance was still an open missing persons case.

They said the Coroner's Constable would be conducting a project, overseen by the Major Crime Division, where a number of old unidentified skeletal remains, including those found at Lake Bennett, would be tested by new technology.

But they said the results are not expected to be known until next year.


Norman vanished when he was 16. His family wants to know why

Norman Lawson disappeared in Kakadu National Park more than three decades ago. His family still doesn’t know what happened to him and is appealing for answers as his story is told in a new book.

Published 6 July 2023 5:49am
By Emma Brancatisano
Source: SBS News


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains photos of people who have died. 

Susan Lawson would give anything to know what happened to her younger brother, Norman.

He was a “caring, gentle soul” the 54-year-old says. He was her “big protector”.

She was 17 when Norman disappeared while on a trip with four other people to the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park in 1986. He was 16.

“It’s an unbearable pain,” she says.

“If I could give anything in this world for another family to not have to go through this, I would do it.”

The disappearance

Susan and Norman, and their other brother Murray, moved around a lot when they were younger.

Their father was Aboriginal, from the Iman People of Central and South Western Queensland, and they grew up mostly in the Northern Territory.

As children, the three siblings spent time on riverbanks and learned to live off the land. Norman would often go off on trips, Susan says.
When their parents separated, Susan and Norman lived with their father, and Murray lived with their mother.

“He was my life. We were very close - as close as brother and sister could be,” Susan says of Norman.

She says Norman had always wanted to leave school and get a job to put himself through university. He’d started a timber and fencing business but “he wanted to become a doctor or a lawyer to help people … and then come back and live with his family,” she says.

In 1986, Norman had been living in a camp in Howard Springs, about 30 kilometres from the centre of Darwin, and close to his father’s house in nearby Palmerston. Sometime after 19 October that year, he went on a trip with a group of four other people from the camp — two men and two women.

The group travelled to the area of the Old Jim Jim Road in Kakadu, near the South Alligator River. The national park is about three hours from Darwin and is a known habitat for saltwater crocodiles.
Susan says when Norman didn’t return to their father’s house as he was expected to after the trip, their father notified police.

A Coroner’s report would later find the four people Norman was with on the trip failed to “properly notify anyone in authority” at nearby Cooinda or Jabiru that Norman was missing.

Two of the four people did not return to Darwin.

The search

A search of the area started on Monday 27 October and continued for five days.

A helicopter was called in to help, but Susan alleges that was under the pressure of the family.

“We had to fight to get the helicopters in. We had to fight for this, fight for that. It was terrible,” she says.

Norman was never found.
She believes Norman’s heritage played a role in the subsequent investigation.

“I do believe that at the top, it was ‘just another black kid gone missing. Don’t worry about it’. The runaway sort of thing, you know?” she says.

“The problem is there are so many people, so many families in the same boat.”

The theories

In June 1990, following an inquest, the NT Coroner ruled Norman had died during the trip.

Norman “died in the area of the Old Jim Jim Road Crossing of the South Alligator River” on or about Tuesday 21 or Wednesday 22 October 1986, the Coroner’s report says.

“Over three years have elapsed since Norman Lawson disappeared and despite an extensive ongoing investigation by the Northern Territory Police, no factors have emerged which would tend to indicate he may still be alive,” the Coroner said.
The Coroner said it was possible Norman was taken by a crocodile on the day he disappeared from his camp, but that they were unable to make a conclusive finding about the cause of death.

They said while the behaviour of the people Norman was on the trip with when “viewed in isolation may be regarded as questionable, when the whole of the evidence is examined there is not sufficient evidence to commit any person for trial”.

But Susan suspects foul play.

“We believe in our heart of hearts, there was no way in the world he was taken by a crocodile,” she says.

If he was, she claims, it would have been if he was killed by someone first and then “fed to the crocodiles”.

The missing

Thirty-seven years on, Norman’s story is being told in a new book, released last month. Vanished explores lesser-told stories of missing persons from the perspectives of their siblings.

“I wanted to tell stories that people don’t already know,” the book’s author Nicole Morris says.

“These families are just as important as the high-profile cases.”

Morris, too, suspects there is more to Norman's story.

“This is a 16-year-old boy who was murdered and no one is remembering him,” she claims.
“People need to recognise what happened instead of just thinking he was another missing Indigenous kid, which is so unfair and diminishes his value as a person,” she says.

“Norman’s life meant something”.

In 2005, Morris set up the Australian Missing Persons Register, a not-for-profit association that provides information on missing person cases and support to their loved ones.

Fifteen years later, Norman’s brother Murray got in touch.

“Murray messaged me and said, ‘That's my brother you’re talking about, and you’ve got it wrong,’” Morris says.

“Everybody says that he was on a fishing trip. And he wasn’t,’” he told her.
In the book, Murray and Susan say their brother was always described as being on a “fishing expedition” when he disappeared, including in the Coroner’s report and in Morris's appeals for information, but that he was only camping.

“People get the wrong impression, that they were in a boat — there was no boat. They were on land … There’s a lot of untold stories, untold truths,” Murray says in the book.

“Someone has to know something,” he told SBS News.

Morris has a specific page in her database for missing Indigenous people, which she estimates to be “a couple of thousand”.

Her database is different to the official Australian Federal Police (AFP) National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC). Norman does not appear on the AFP’s database.

The remains

A person is still considered missing until their remains are found. It is something that Susan still struggles with.

In 1990, skeletal remains were found at Lake Bennett, about a 300-kilometre drive from Old Jim Jim Road. The family were told “conflicting information about the identity of the remains,” Morris writes in the book.

“We were told it was Norman, then we were told it wasn’t,” Susan says.

“From my understanding, to this day, I believe those remains still haven’t been identified … We haven’t actually had a formal answer.”

But when SBS News contacted NT Police, Detective Acting Sergeant Glen Chatto said the remains had been identified and confirmed they were not Norman.

“This particular case is not related to Mr Lawson and is a separate ongoing investigation,” Chatto said via email.
A spokesperson for the Coroner’s office also confirmed to SBS News the remains located at Lake Bennett were formally identified and found not to be Norman.

Chatto said: “I’m not aware of the conflicting information and I would be happy to meet with [Norman’s] family to discuss this”.

Murray told SBS News he had already been made aware that the remains were not Norman, but Susan said it was new information to her.

“I have never ever been told that. That’s why I’ve always had that glimmer of hope that it might have been, and that one day, I would get the good news.

“I hope whoever’s family it was were able to put their loved one to rest.”

The aftermath

Chatto said “significant investigations” took place to find Norman and “to date have not been able to determine exact circumstances around his disappearance”.

“Numerous calls for information through media campaigns were conducted including a reward of $50,000 for information offered in 1990.”

Norman is not listed on the AFP database as it did not exist at the time of the investigation, he said.

Norman is today considered a Long Term Missing Person (LTMP).

“The NT Police Missing Persons Unit are in the process of auditing all NT LTMP cases and updating the database through written requests to the AFP on a case-by-case basis”, Chatto said.

“Four LTMP cases have been resolved by UHR [unidentified human remains] identification in the last two years. No UHR located within the NT has been identified as Norman Lawson.”
When asked whether Norman’s Indigenous heritage played a role in the response to the investigation, an NT Police spokesperson said: “All reported Long Term Missing Persons cases remain open and are investigated by NT Police without fear or favour”.

Susan says not knowing what happened to Norman is a burden that has passed onto her relationship with her children and grandchildren.

“All I want to do is keep them safe and not let anything happen to them like my brother,” she says.

“Mum and Dad died not knowing what happened to their son. I would not like to die not knowing what happened to my brother.”

Vanished: True stories from families of Australian missing persons, by Nicole Morris, is published by Big Sky Publishing.

If you have any information on missing persons, contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.