Rose Rain HOWELL



Police are appealing for information on the 2003 disappearance of Rose Howell. Photo: Robert McKell

Rose Howell image four, c. 2003

 A coronial inquest in 2012 determined Ms Howell was no longer alive, but her body has not been found. Photo: Robert McKell

The mystery of missing Rose: girl with the distinctive mohawk likely  killed, says coroner

Maree Howell, with a picture of her daughter Rose Rain.


Rose Rain HOWELL
DOB: 1984
HAIR: dark brown/black Mohawk BUILD: med EYES: hazel/

Rose Howell was last seen in the Bellingen, NSW town-ship on Friday the 11th of April 2003. When last seen Rose was in good spirits and was organising her birthday party. At 5:30pm she was seen hitchhiking north on the Pacific Highway near the Old Pacific Highway turn-off to Perry Hill and Repton. She has not been spoken to or sighted since and there are concerns for her welfare
Rose i
s Aboriginal and is described as approximately 160-165cms tall, short dark brown/black Mohawk haircut on top and sides of head shaved (zero cut). She has hazel/green eyes, thin eyebrows, 2 small moles on her left forehead about 1cm apart below hairline, small mole on left side of neck and olive skin. She was last seen wearing a black tank top, dark grey jeans, black belt with silver buckle and black boots.


Reported missing to: Bellingen Police Station.


Name of Deceased: Rose Rain HOWELL

File Number: 2011/386556

Hearing Dates: 10 – 11 December 2012 and 27 June 2013

Location of Inquest: Court House Bellingen, and Coroner’s Court Glebe NSW

Date of Finding: 27 June 2013

Coroner: Magistrate P. A. MacMahon Deputy State Coroner

Findings made in accordance with Section 81(1) Coroners Act 2009:

Rose Rain Howell (born 20 April 1984) died on or about 11 April 2003 in the Bellingen / Coffs Harbour area of the State of New South Wales. As to the cause and manner of her death the evidence available does not enable me to make a finding. Recommendations made in accordance with Section 82 (1) Coroners Act 2009: To: The Commissioner of Police: That the investigation of the death of Rose Rain Howell be referred to the Unsolved Homicide Unit of the NSW Force for further investigation in accordance with the protocols and procedures of that unit.

Magistrate P A MacMahon Deputy State Coroner 27 June 2013

Reasons for Findings:

Rose Rain Howell (who I will refer to as ‘Rose’) was born on 20 April 1984 at Bundagen a small community village about 20 kilometres south of Coffs Harbour. She was the daughter of Malila Howell and Clifford Lambert. In 2003 her parents were separated. Rose was a young woman with a strong and independent personality. She was said to have a great sense of humour. She had a keen interest in drama, played the bass guitar and wrote songs. She suffered from autism however she did not let that interfere in her life. She was not known to use illicit drugs and only rarely drank alcohol. Rose liked to dress in distinctive attire and had a Mohawk style haircut. This made her fairly recognisable. In April 2003 Rose was planning her nineteenth birthday party. She was very excited at the prospect.

On 11 April 2003 she went into the Bellingen shopping area in order to make her birthday invitations on the Bellingen Library computers. During the day she was seen by a number of persons. She eventually left Bellingen and travelled in the direction of her home at Bundagen. She did not arrive at Bungagen that evening and has not been seen by any members of her family since.

Jurisdiction of the Coroner:

It is important to understand the role and function of the coroner that arises when a person is reported missing and is suspected to be deceased. The legislation governing the functions of a coroner is the Coroners Act 2009 (the Act). That legislation replaced the Coroners Act 1980 (the Old Act). Although Rose went missing in 2003 the Act governs the conduct of this inquest. Sections 18 and 21 of the Act gives a coroner jurisdiction to hold an inquest where the reportable death, or suspected reportable death, of an individual occurred within New South Wales or the person who has died, or is suspected to have died, was ordinarily a resident of New South Wales. Section 6 of the Act defines a ‘reportable death’ as including one that occurred ‘under suspicious or unusual circumstances.’ Section 35 of the Act requires that all reportable deaths and suspected deaths be reported to a coroner. Some inquests are mandatory. Section 27 of the Act sets out the circumstances where an inquest is mandatory. Those circumstances include circumstances where the date or place of death or the cause or manner of death has not been sufficiently disclosed. Where a person has been reported missing, and where it is reasonably suspected that the person is deceased and no body has been discovered it would be unlikely that the cause and manner of death would be sufficiently disclosed as a result in such situations an inquest is mandatory. Section 80 of the Act provides that where an inquest is conducted and where, on the evidence available, a coroner is not satisfied that a person suspected to be deceased is in fact dead he or she is required to make a finding that the person is not dead and terminate the inquest. Section 81(1) of the Act sets out the primary function of the coroner when an inquest is held. That section requires, in summary, that at the conclusion of the inquest the coroner is to establish, should sufficient evidence be available, the fact that a person has died, the identity of that person, the date and place of their death and the cause and manner thereof. Section 78(3) gives a coroner the discretion, where the requirements of Section 78(1)(b) have been met during the course of and inquest to either, continue the inquest and make findings in accordance with Section 81(1), or to suspend the inquest Section 78 (1)(b) deals with the situation where a coroner, having regard to the evidence available, forms the opinion that: (i) The evidence is capable of satisfying a jury beyond reasonable doubt that a known person has committed an indictable offence, and (ii) There is a reasonable prospect that a jury would convict the known person of the indictable offence, and (iii) The indictable offence would raise the issue of whether the known person caused the death with which the inquest is concerned. Section 78(4) provides that where a coroner exercises the discretion to suspend an inquest in accordance with Section 78(3) he or she is required to refer the evidence available to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Section 82(1) of the Act provides that a coroner conducting an inquest may also make such recommendations, as he or she considers necessary or desirable, in relation to any matter connected with the death with which the inquest is concerned. The making of recommendations are discretionary and relate usually, but not necessarily only, to matters of public health, public safety or the conduct of services provided by public instrumentalities. In this way coronial proceedings can be forward looking, aiming to prevent future deaths. Section 82(2) of the Act provides that a recommendation made in accordance with Section 82(1) includes a recommendation that the matter be investigated or reviewed by a specified person or body. Section 74(1)(b) of the Act provides a coroner with the discretion to prohibit the publication of any evidence given during the course of an inquest where he or she is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to do so.

History of the Investigation:

Rose’s disappearance was reported to police at the Bellingen Police Station on 15 April 2003. NSW Police, under the direction of Detective Senior Constable Anthony Murphy subsequently undertook an investigation into Rose’s disappearance however that investigation failed to locate Rose or to establish the circumstances of her disappearance. Responsibility for the investigation of Rose’s disappearance was subsequently allocated to Detective Senior Constable Peter Watt. DSC Watt reported Rose’s suspected death in accordance with the Act on 14 December 2011. The inquest was listed for hearing at Bellingen and commenced on 10 December 2012 before me. On 10 and 11 December 2012 evidence was taken from DSC Peter Watt, nine persons who had reportedly seen Rose on or after 11 April 2003, together with evidence from Rose’s mother Malila Howell. In addition to witness evidence relevant documentary evidence was tendered and a view undertaken that sought to retrace, in part, Rose’s last known movements. The inquest was adjourned on 11 December 2012 to enable further investigations to be undertaken by DSC Watt following the receipt of additional information. On 27 June 2013 the inquest was resumed at the Coroner’s Court Glebe. DSC Watt was recalled and gave evidence as to the results of his further investigations. The inquest was then concluded.

The Evidence:

Malila Howell gave evidence as to Rose’s personality, circumstances and background. She confirmed that Rose did not, to her knowledge, use illicit substances nor did she consume alcohol often. She said that she last saw Rose on 11 April 2003 before she left to go to Bellingen. At that time Rose was very excited as to her upcoming 19th birthday and the party that was to occur at Bundagen on Monday 21 April 2003 at 6.30pm. Ms Howell in evidence and in the statements she had previously given said that she had a good relationship with Rose and that it was unusual for her to not maintain contact with her. She said that whilst Rose had at times in the past engaged in attention seeking and risk taking behaviour she had not shown any signs of being suicidal or engaging in intentional self harm. Ms Howell would love to think that Rose was alive and well, living under a new identity, but did not think that that was likely. She was ultimately of the opinion that Rose was deceased and that it was likely she had been the subject of foul play.

The investigation established that Rose was able to get a lift from Bundagen to the Bellingen turn off with another Bundagen resident Malcolm Wood. In his statement Mr Wood said that he picked her up at about 10.50am and subsequently dropped her off at the Waterfall Way roundabout on the Old Pacific Highway at Raleigh. He said that she was in good spirits and spoke enthusiastically about her upcoming birthday party. Mr Wood also remembered seeing Rose in Bellingen about 4.00pm that afternoon.

The investigation identified a number of other people who saw Rose in Bellingen throughout the day on 11 April 2003. Maureen McCarthy made a statement on 28 May 2003 and gave evidence at the inquest. She was a teacher. She had first seen Rose in Bellingen early in 2003 and had noticed her on 7 or 8 occasions around town prior to 11 April 2003. She observed that Rose wore distinctive clothing, had a Mohawk style hairstyle and walked with a distinctive manner. On 11 April 2003 Ms McCarthy was returning to Bellingen from Bowraville. She estimated that she arrived between 5.00pm and 5.30pm. As she did she saw Rose standing on Waterfall Way near the intersection of Prince Street. She knew the location to be a popular place for people who wanted to hitch a lift to wait. Ms McCarthy had picked up hitchhikers from the location previously. Ms McCarthy thought that Rose was trying to hitch a ride.

Stuart McDade gave evidence at the inquest. He stated that he, and his partner Amanda Wood, moved to Bellingen in February 2003. He did not know Rose but had seen her around town and knew that she was a local girl. He stated that about 5.00pm he was driving past the Bellingen Golf Club on Waterfall Way and saw a girl hitching a ride. He stopped and gave the girl a lift. When he reached his destination at 838 Waterfall Way she got out and continued walking in the direction of the Pacific Highway. When he subsequently saw posters seeking information as to her whereabouts he realised the girl he had given a lift to was Rose.

Stephen Hull gave evidence at the inquest. In 2003 he had lived in the Bellingen area for about 8 years. In 2003 he played soccer in an over 35’s competition for the Bellingen Soccer Club that was conducted in Coffs Harbour. On days that there was a game he would car pool to Coffs Harbour with other team members. They would meet at Connell Park off Waterfall Way about 5.00pm prior to travelling to Coffs Harbour. Mr Hull gave evidence that about 5.00pm on 11 April 2003 as he pulled into Connell Park he observed a girl who appeared to be hitching going in an easterly direction. Mr Hull and his teammates subsequently left for Coffs Harbour about 5.15pm. As they were travelling along the Pacific Highway approaching the Pine Creek State Forest he again saw the girl walking northwards on the western side of the highway. Mr Hull did not know Rose however he subsequently identified the girl he had seen at Connell Park and walking along the highway to be Rose.

In 2003 a statement was taken from Lawrence Fowler. Mr Fowler stated that in early 2003 he was in a café in Bellingen and had a conversation with a young woman about music. He was a retired musician. He found out that her name was Rosie. On 11 April 2003, just as it was getting dark, he and his friend Leah Munro were travelling from Coffs Harbour towards Bellingen. As he approached the Repton turnoff he moved to the turning lane in order to turn off onto the Old Pacific Highway prior to entering Waterfall Way. As he did so he saw the girl he knew as Rosie standing in the rain. Mr Fowler turned into the Repton Road and stopped. Because of the direction the girl was walking Mr Fowler thought she was going to Bellingen. He offered her a lift. 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. The evidence was that sunset in Bellingen on 11 April 2003 was at 5.17pm.

William John Robb made a statement on 3 July 2003 and also gave evidence at the inquest. On 11 April 2003 at about 5.00pm he was driving travelling to pick up his daughter from his sisters home at Raleigh. As he came to the intersection of Perrys Road and the Old Pacific Highway he saw a girl with a Mohawk haircut sitting on a wooden bench at the Perrys Hill lookout. As far as he could see the girl was alone. Mr Robb stated that after he had collected his daughter he was returning home about 6.15pm. When he turned into Perrys Road he noticed a car parked at the lookout. He thought it was either white or yellow but did not take much notice of it. He continued along Perrys Road for about a 100 metres and then he noticed a girl with a Mohawk style haircut walking in an easterly direction. He believed it was the same girl he had previously noticed at the lookout. Mr Robb did not believe that at the time she was seeking a lift. Mr Robb travelled around her and then proceeded home. Mr Robb was confident about the date and times he observed the girl because it was his wedding anniversary and his daughter was performing in a dance demonstration that evening and had to be at the performance by 7.00pm. Mr Robb did not know Rose however he had seen her in Bellingen earlier in the year. He was able to recognise her as the same girl as he had seen on 11 April 2003 because she was wearing the same clothes and hairstyle.

The investigation into Rose’s disappearance also identified a number of people who believed that they had seen Rose after 11 April 2003. Mr Alan Amos Scott came forward during the course of the inquest. He was a Bellingen resident and operated tow trucks. He knew Rose because she had regularly walked past his workshop. He remembered that the last time he had seen her she was standing on the bank of the Old Pacific Highway at Pine Creek about 100-120 metres south of the turnoff to Bundagen. He said it was early nighttime. He said that he saw her standing on the steep slope and he wondered if she was going to jump. She did not do so. He was unsure of the date but having looked at his records he initially thought it was either 3 or 13 April 2003 however later he thought it could have been on 11 April 2003. He had not seen Rose since that time.

David Leonard Fergusson was a resident of Bellingen. He gave evidence at the inquest. On 11 April 2003 he was required to attend the Bellingen District Hospital for day surgery. Evidence tendered to the inquest confirmed the date of his surgery. His evidence was that he had seen Rose around town on numerous occasions. On the day of his surgery he remembered speaking to her. Their conversation was mainly about music but she mentioned that she was having a birthday party and was really excited about it. Mr Fergusson stated that the next morning he came into Bellingen and whilst there saw Rose walking past the courthouse. He did not speak to her on that occasion. He said that the clothing she was wearing was similar to the clothing that she had been wearing on the day previously. He thought that he saw her between 11.00am and 1.00pm.

Leanne Gai Walmsley made a statement to police on 27 May 2003 and gave evidence at the inquest. She did not know Rose. She saw her photograph in the local newspaper after she went missing and contacted the police. She said that she had seen Rose on 3 or 4 occasions in Coffs Harbour but had never spoken to her. She said that on 16 April 2003 whilst travelling to the Bunnings store at Coffs Harbour as part of her employment she was stopped in her car in the southbound lane on the Pacific Highway back from the lights at Combine Street waiting for them to change. As she waited a girl, who she believed to be Rose, walked past her. The girl was wearing a black tee shirt and black denim jeans. She was carrying a guitar over her back and had black closely shaven hair. The girl passed Albany Street and then continued in a southerly direction on the Pacific Highway. Ms Walmsley did not think she was hitchhiking. When the lights changed Ms Walmsley continued on her way.

Shaylee Anne Smith made a statement on 30 May 2003 and gave evidence at the inquest. She said that she had met Rose at Tormina High School when they commenced in year seven. She said that she knew Rose well but was not close to her. She said that about two weeks before 5 May 2003 she, and her boyfriend Peter Hopwood were travelling in a car along the Pacific Highway Coffs Harbour when she saw Rose walking along the footpath on the eastern side of the highway. She recognised Rose, in part, because of her distinctive walk. She observed that she had her head shaven except for a Mohawk bit along the top of her head. She said that she was wearing the same type of clothing as she usually did. Ms Smith also said that on Monday 5 May 2003 she and Mr Hopwood were again in Coffs Harbour as she had a doctor’s appointment. About 4.00pm she and Mr Hopwood were walking along Grafton Street Coffs Harbour. When they passed the Pizza Haven she thought she saw Rose sitting on the plastic chairs in front of the kebab shop. She said that she was wearing the same clothes but did not have the Mohawk haircut. Ms Smith said hello to the girl she thought was Rose however the girl did not respond. Ms Smith thought this was unusual because previously when they had met Rose would ‘speak for ages.’ As they passed the location later that day the girl was still there but had her back to them. They did not make further contact. Ms Smith also gave evidence that two or three days later she once again saw a person she believed to be Rose as she was travelling in a car in Grafton Street Coffs Harbour. She said that she recognised her because of the same distinctive walk, the way she looked and the clothing that she wore. At that time she said Rose was walking north along the eastern footpath of Grafton Street in the company of a blond haired woman. She thought that the woman looked like a ‘feral or a hippy.’ Rose appeared to be happy and as far as she could tell the two women seemed to be mucking around. When she gave evidence Ms Smith also remembered that she had seen Rose giving out birthday invitations outside Tormina High School. She said that at the time Rose was out the front near the bus stop. She was unable to give a date or time. Peter Hopwood also gave evidence. He had not made a statement at the time of Rose’s disappearance. He did not know Rose but knew of her. His recollection was vague but he gave evidence of seeing her in the Mall at Coffs Harbour but did not remember what she was wearing at the time. He remembered that it was on a day when he and his partner were attending a doctor’s appointment. He said that his partner was about six weeks pregnant at the time. The child was born on 23 December 2003.

Sarina Baker made a statement to police on 29 May 2003 but did not give evidence at the inquest. In 2003 she was a nineteen year old. She had attended Tormina High School and had known Rose at school. She did not know if Rose had been in her year. She did not know Rose very well. She said that on 2 May 2003 she was in a bus that was travelling north on the Pacific Highway. At a point near an antique shop south of Bray Street the bus passed Rose who was walking south on the footpath. Ms Baker said that she was able to get a good look at Rose as she was walking towards the bus and the bus was not travelling very fast. Whilst she was ‘100% sure’ that the girl she saw was Rose she was only ‘pretty sure’ that the date was 2 May 2003.

A statement prepared by Constable Troy Briggs was also tendered to the inquest. Constable Briggs is currently part of the Missing Persons Unit of the NSW Police. As part of his duties he undertook a number of searches with various governmental and other institutions to determine whether or not Rose had had contact with them. The result of those searches was that since 11 April 2003 Rose had not left Australia under her name, had not come to the attention of any State or Territory Police Force, did not conduct an account with any financial institution, was not on the electoral roll and had not sought to receive benefits from Centrelink or the Health Insurance Commission.

Shortly before the inquest began in Bellingen on 10 December 2012 a person contacted Crime Stoppers and provided information concerning the death of Rose. The caller did not identify himself but identified a person alleged to have been involved in her death. The person identified was a person then serving a sentence of imprisonment and was also a mental health patient at the Long Bay Correctional Centre Hospital. Further investigation was able to confirm that the source of the information was, in fact, the prisoner himself. Having been informed of the health and circumstances of the informant I formed the view that it would not be in the public interest for the evidence of his name to be published. I came to this conclusion for several reasons firstly because if the information was credible it would likely lead to the commencement of criminal proceedings and I did not want any evidence given in this inquest to interfere with such proceedings in any way. Secondly I was informed that there was some concern expressed by corrective service officers that the informant, who had been associating with another prisoner who had been receiving considerable media attention, may be using his disclosure to obtain some sort of attention for himself. If this was the case I did not want the inquest to provide him with such attention. I therefore ordered, in accordance with section 74(1)(b) of the Act, that evidence of the name of the informant not be published and that in the proceedings he be referred to by the pseudonym ‘prisoner A’. I propose to continue that prohibition following the delivery of these findings. Following ‘Prisoner A’ being identified he was spoken to by detectives stationed at Maroubra. He provided certain information that related to his involvement in Rose’s death. He said that Rose had been abducted and subsequently killed and then buried and that he and another person who he refused to identify had been involved. This information was provided to me and I considered it appropriate for the details, to the extent that was known at the time, to be communicated to Malila Howell. The information provided was such that it needed to be investigated prior to the inquest being concluded. I therefore decided to commence the inquest, receive all the evidence then available and then adjourn the inquest to allow that investigation to occur. I asked that the police undertake the further investigation necessary as soon as possible.

On 19 December 2012 Detectives Watt and Wallington interviewed ‘Prisoner A’. During the interview he made certain claims as to his involvement in Rose’s death and gave information as to the location of her body. ‘Prisoner A’ was interviewed again on 6 March 2013. On 7 May 2013 a search was conducted at the location that ‘Prisoner A’ had nominated as the site of Rose’s burial. On 13 May 2013 a further search was undertaken this time involving the use of a Police Cadaver dog. The searches undertaken were extensive and did not locate Rose’s body or any other relevant evidence. DSC Watt was cautious in attributing credibility to the information given by ‘Prisoner A’. He accepted that ‘Prisoner A’ appeared to believe that the information he gave was true. That information however contained a number of significant inconsistencies between his first and second interviews. It did appear to be the case that he had some personal knowledge of Rose and a sound knowledge of the geographical area in which the killing of Rose and disposed of her body was said to have occurred. That knowledge would not, however, be exclusive to ‘Prisoner A’. ‘Prisoner A’ also suffered from significant mental health issues. His medical condition was such that his treating doctors would not approve his leaving the Long Bay Hospital and travelling to Coffs Harbour to assist the police search for Rose’s burial site. DSC Watt concluded that whilst the information supplied by ‘Prisoner A’ could not be completely dismissed there were serious credibility issues associated with it.

Consideration and Conclusions.

As I outlined above the first matter I have to deal with is the question of whether or not I can be satisfied, to requisite standard of proof, that Rose is deceased. If I am so satisfied then I am to proceed to make findings in accordance with Section 81(1) of the Act as the evidence allows. If I am not so satisfied then Section 80 of the Act requires me to find as such and terminate the inquest. That Rose travelled from her home to Bellingen on 11 April 2003 is without doubt. It would seem that late in the afternoon she began the journey towards her home. She was hitchhiking. McCarthy saw her waiting for a lift and McDade and Wood picked her up. They dropped her outside 838 Waterfall Way. She appears to have obtained another lift from an unknown person and is subsequently seen around 5.00pm on or near the Old Pacific Highway by Hull, Fowler, Munro and Robb. I am satisfied that the last time she was seen alive on 11 April 2003 was by Mr Robb when he drove passed her on Perrys Road at about 6.45pm. At the time she was travelling in the direction of her home at Bundagen. After 11 April 2011 there have been a number of reported sightings of Rose. Mr Ferguson in Bellingen on 12 April 2003, Ms Walmsley in Coffs Harbour on 16 April 2003, Ms Smith in Coffs Harbour on three occasions, two weeks before 5 May 2003, on 5 May 2003 and 2 or 3 days after 5 May 2003 and finally Ms Baker once again in Coffs Harbour on 2 May 2003. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not these sightings occurred there has been no evidence of Rose being alive since the early part of May 2003.

On 11 April 2003 by all accounts Rose was in good spirits. She was excited about her forthcoming Birthday party. She had a good relationship with her mother and friends. There was no evidence to suggest that Rose would be likely to leave the Coffs Harbour/Bellingen area and seek to establish a new life elsewhere. Even if she wished to do so there would be some question as to whether she would be able to do so without assistance because of her autism. In any event even if she were inclined to do so why would she do so after organising and then inviting her friends to her birthday party? I do not think that she has done so. The evidence is that she has not left Australia, has not conducted any financial account and has not sought the assistance of Centrelink, Medicare or come to the attention of the Police in the ten years since. I am satisfied that if she were to be alive she would have more than likely made contact with her mother and her close friends. I am satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities, Rose is deceased. Having concluded that Rose is deceased I am required to make findings, if evidence is available, as to the date and place of her death and the cause and manner thereof in accordance with Section 81(1). The determination of the date and place of Rose’s death requires an evaluation of the evidence of the sightings after 11 April 2003.

David Ferguson believed that he saw Rose in Bellingen on 12 April 2003. He did not make a statement at the time of her disappearance and in recalling this sighting he was doing so many years after the events. There was some support for his memory because of the association between his hospital procedure that was confirmed to have occurred on 11 April 2003 and his memory of seeing her the next day. He had, however, seen her around Bellingen on previous occasions and may well have confused the dates. I accept that Mr Ferguson was trying to assist the Inquest with his evidence however given the time between the events and his trying to remember them I could not be satisfied, to the required standard of proof, that his sighting of her on 12 April 2003 was accurate.

Ms Walmsley believed she saw Rose on 16 April 2003. She was at Coffs Harbour on the Pacific Highway. She did not know Rose but thought she had seen her before in Coffs Harbour. She came forward when she saw a photograph of Rose in the newspaper. The woman who she saw on 16 April 2003 had some resemblance to Rose. She also had a guitar on her back and Rose was keen on her music. None of the evidence of Rose’s movement on 11 April 2003 suggested that she was carrying her guitar at that time. The evidence was that she had not been home between 11 and 16 April 2003 so she could not have recovered her guitar. Indeed Rose was reported missing to the police on 15 April 2003. On the evidence available I am not satisfied that the person seen by Ms Walmsley on 16 April 2003 was Rose.

Ms Smith gave evidence that she saw Rose on four occasions. The first was outside Toormina High School when Rose was handing out invitations to her birthday party. The subsequent occasions were about two weeks before 5 May 2003, on 5 May 2003 and two or three days after 5 May 2003. Each subsequent sighting was in Coffs Harbour. The evidence of Ms Smith seeing Rose outside Toormina High School was not provided in her initial statement but given for the first time at the inquest. The only evidence of Rose giving out invitations for her birthday was on 11 April 2003. That was the last day of school for the first term in 2003. Although Ms Smith was not precise as to the time from the description given by her it would seem that it occurred as students were leaving the school. School ordinarily concludes about 3.00pm however as it was the last day of term it may have been earlier. Toormina High School is between Coffs Harbour and Bellingen. Coffs Harbour is 10 kilometres to the north and Bellingen is 31 kilometres to the southwest. There is evidence of various confirmed sightings of Rose in the Bellingen CBD at various times during the morning and afternoon on that day. She was then seen hitchhiking at 5.00pm. It would seem unlikely, if not impossible, for Rose to have travelled to Toormina High School to hand out invitations and then to have retuned to Bellingen. In any event there would be no need for her to do so if she was wishing to return home as to travel to Bellingen would be to effectively pass her home. I do not believe that Ms Smith saw Rose at Toormina High School on 11 April 2003 as she believes. Ms Smith gave other evidence of seeing Rose on various occasions after 11 April 2003. Ms Smith’s evidence was that she knew Rose quite well from their time at school. On each occasion she said she recognised Rose because of her attire, her hairstyle and the manner of her walk. On 5 May 2003 she said that she spoke to the person she believed to be Rose but the person did not respond. She found this unusual because Rose was fairly gregarious and when spoken to would respond and in the past Ms Smith said she had difficulty ending the conversation. I am satisfied that Ms Smith must be mistaken and the girl she saw was not Rose. Apart from the uncharacteristic response to being spoken to by the time of these events there was an active police search for Rose that was accompanied by considerable media activity. Were it to have been Rose it would be reasonable to think that she would have responded and contacted her mother or the police. She would certainly have attended her birthday party. I am satisfied that Ms Smith is mistaken when she says that she saw Rose on the three dates that she has mentioned.

Ms Baker’s stated that she saw Rose as a bus that she was in passed her on the Pacific Highway at Coffs Harbour. Ms Baker stated that she had a good vision of Rose. She had been with her at school but did not know her very well. She thought that the date she saw Rose was 2 May 2003. She was very sure that it was Rose that she saw but was less sure of the date. I am satisfied that Ms Baker was trying to assist the police investigation by her evidence however I could not be satisfied, on the basis of the evidence available, that she saw Rose on 2 May 2003. If she did see Rose then it may well have been on a date prior to her going missing. Ms Baker was not available to give evidence at the inquest so these matters could not be examined and without such examination I could not be satisfied that the date was in fact 2 May 2003.

In the circumstances I am satisfied that the last confirmed sighting Rose being alive was when she was seen by Mr Robb a little after 6.00pm on 11 April 2003. I am satisfied that had she been alive after that date she would have been in contact with her family and friends and would certainly have attended her birthday party. She did not do so. It is therefore more probably than not that she died at or about the time of her disappearance and that her death occurred in the vicinity of where she was last seen. I therefore propose to record that Rose died on or about 11 April 2003 and that her death occurred in the Bellingen / Coffs Harbour area of New South Wales.

This brings me to the question of the cause and manner of Rose’s death. Her body not having been located there is no evidence on which I could make a finding as to the cause of her death. That is a matter that will need to be left open until additional evidence becomes available. The situation as to the manner of Rose’s death is similar. The manner of a person’s death can generally be classified as being one of four alternatives. These are natural cause, misadventure, intentional self-harm or the result of action of a third party. In Rose’s case there is no evidence to suggest that her death was due to natural cause or misadventure. Rose was in apparent good health on the day she went missing and there was no evidence to suggest she suffered from any underlying medical condition that might have resulted in her sudden death. Were Rose to have suffered sudden death, due to either underlying medical condition or and accident or injury it is, in my view more likely that her body would have been found well before now. I am satisfied that this is not the case. As to intentional self-harm I am satisfied that this is also unlikely. All the evidence available to me is that Rose was in good spirits on 11 April 2003, was looking forward to her upcoming birthday party, had not displayed any suicidal ideation in the period prior to her disappearance and when last seen appeared to be, if not on her way home, at least travelling in the direction of her home without any apparent distress. I am therefore satisfied that it is likely that Rose’s death occurred at the hands of some unknown third party or parties.

This leads to a consideration of the information given to police by ‘Prisoner ‘A’. Were I to be satisfied that the evidence available with respect of the alleged involvement of ‘Prisoner A’ in the death of Rose was such as to meet the requirements of Section 78(1)(b) then I would suspend the inquest and refer that evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration. The evidence available however does not meet that standard. Having reviewed the information given by ‘Prisoner A’ I agree with DSC Watt that it cannot be ignored. In spite of the extensive investigation undertaken by DSC Watt there is no objective evidence available to support the claims made by ‘Prisoner A.’ There is also a serious question as to whether or not he had the opportunity to be involved in Rose’s disappearance due to the restrictions that were placed on his movements at about the time Rose went missing. I am therefore satisfied that the information provided by ‘Prisoner A’ it is not of such a standard as to be capable of being relied on by me to determine either the cause or manner of Rose’s death. Whilst it is likely that Rose’s death was brought about at the hands of a person, or persons, unknown there is also insufficient evidence available for me to make a positive finding that this was the case and in such circumstances the manner of Rose’s death will necessarily also be the subject of an open finding.

Future investigations

At the end of an inquest dealing with a missing person where a coroner is required to make open findings as to cause and or manner of death although the inquest is concluded the investigation is not. The investigation remains open by the police and the State Coroner may, where new evidence becomes available, order a fresh inquest. This will be the situation in this case, one can only hope that in the future such evidence will be come available and Rose’s family will be able to at least be comforted by the knowledge of the circumstances of her death. Section 82


I do not consider that any matters have arisen in this inquest that would necessitate me making any recommendations in accordance with this section other than that it be referred to the unsolved homicide unit of the NSW Police for further investigation in accordance with the protocols of that unit.

Magistrate P A MacMahon

Deputy State Coroner

27 June 2013



Police Renew Appeal For Missing Woman - Coffs Harbour

11 April 2005

On the 12 April 2005, Rose Rain Howell has been missing for 2 years . Operation Chelonia was established to investigate her disappearance. Police believe she may have been the victim of foul play.
On the morning of Friday 11 April, Rose left her mother's home in Bundagen, about 20km south of Coffs Harbour. She went to the library in Bellingen and worked on invitations to her 19th birthday party, (Monday 21 April 2003). After Rose left the library an unknown person drove her from Bellingen and dropped off about 5:00pm at Marx Hill, several kilometres away. It is unclear how Rose left Marx Hill but it is believed she was picked up by another motorist.

The last sighting of Rose was at 5:30pm on 11 April when she was seen hitchhiking north on the Pacific Highway near the Old Pacific Highway turn-off to Perry Hill and Repton.

Rose is 20-years-old, she is described as being of white appearance, about 160-165cm tall with olive skin, hazel/green eyes, thin eyebrows and 2 moles about 1cm apart below the hairline with another mole on the left side of her neck. At the time of her disappearance she had short dark brown hair with the sides shaved and a Mohawk on top. She was wearing a black tank top, dark grey jeans, a black belt with a silver buckle and black boots.

Anyone with information regarding
the disappearance of Rose Rain
Howell is urged to contact Coffs
Harbour Police on 6652 0299 or
Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000

Appeal from Rose's mother

An outgoing woman with a short, dark mohawk and hazel-green eyes, Rose Howell was last seen on Friday, April 11, 2003, walking along Perry's Road in Repton, NSW. Rose turned 20 in April this year, and at the time she disappeared had just been invited to join a band. Her mother Malila tells her story ...

As my daughter Rose left with friends for Bellingen, I said to her, "Let me know if you need a lift home."

Rose, my youngest of four, was planning a big party at home on April 21 — the day after her 19th birthday. We live at Repton, which is about a 15-minute drive from Bellingen in northern NSW.

Rose spent the day in town making invitations on the Bellingen library's computer and personally delivering them to her friends. She didn't come home that night, but she often stayed in town overnight. However, by Sunday morning I was seriously worried.

Though Rose is a determined and independent young woman, I knew she hadn't run away — her mobile, electric bass and the rest of her belongings were at home. She was looking forward to her party and was excited because she'd been invited to join a band. When she didn't turn up for her appointments in Coffs Harbour on Monday, I went to the police. They didn't think she'd run away, either.

We found out Rose had been coming home when she vanished. She had hitched to the corner of the Old Pacific Highway and Perry's Road at about 5.30-6pm and started walking. Rose was within five kilometres of home — but she didn't make it there.

It was dusk and raining when someone saw her at the top of Perry's Hill. This was the last time anyone saw her.

I put up posters in Bellingen, describing her — 160-165cm tall, hazel-green eyes, with a very short, dark mohawk and wearing a black singlet top, charcoal-coloured jeans and black boots.

The police don't have any clues. Their only lead is an anonymous letter from May 28 last year but no-one came forward when I went on television to appeal to the writer.

The local community has raised a $20,000 reward for accurate information about Rose's location.

All I can do is keep putting up posters and talking to the media. I'll never let go of hope. Rose, if you're out there somewhere, please let me know. I miss you.

If you have any information, please call Coffs Harbour police station on (02) 6652 0299.

- with thanks to WOMAN'S DAY magazine


Rose Howell

By Liz Keen - ABC

2 August, 2011

It's Missing Person's Week and Katya Quigley spoke to the mother of a Bellingen woman who has been missing since 2003

One of the worst fears for any parent is the thought of their child going missing. Around 35,000 people are reported missing in Australia each year - that's one person every 15 minutes. While 95% of missing persons are found within a week, there are currently 1,600 people who have been missing for more than six months.

It's missing person's week and the slogan for the week this year is "When someone goes missing. More than one person is lost"

Detective Inspector Cameron Lindsay told Elloise Farrow Smith that there are more than 20 long term missing people on the Coffs Coast. He said that people shouldn't hesitate to contact police if they are concerned about a family member or friend who is missing. "What we say to people is not to wait 24 hours to report that someone is missing. If they've actually got fears for their safety and their location is unknown. It's not a crime to go missing," he said.

Rose Howell went missing in the Bellingen area on Friday April 11 2003, she was only 18 at the time. Her mother, Malila Howell, told Katya Quigley she felt worried about Rose the day she went missing when she didn't come home or call.

"After three days it was something's wrong, something's gone wrong, what's going on? Where is she? And then you kind of get desperate as the time goes past and you haven't got an answer to this right in your face, really important question and there's no way you can get an answer," she said.

"She was last seen on Perry's Hill on the evening of the day she went missing," Malila said. "Some weeks afterwards the police got an anonymous letter with details in it that they tried to follow up that intimated that she was dead."

"I went to all her haunts and places that she knew and talked to all her friends and I put posters up around Bellingen and around the area."

She said she is always wondering, and thinking about Rose. "You go on with life because that's what you do and it's like all the time you carry along this black hole with you," she said.

Detective Inspector Lindsay appealed for anyone who has any information about Rose Howell to please contact Coffs Harbour police on 6652 0299. He also said that anyone who is missing to please contact family or friends. "We would appeal to any person that hasn't been in contact with their family and next of kin for a long period of time to get in contact."

Malila said that if Rose is listening, she would like to send her love to her. "If you're alive I'd really like to know that you are and there's a big hole in life where you used to be but I hope your life is going well," she said.

Inquest underway into the disappearance of Coffs Coast teen

AN INQUEST is underway into the disappearance of Coffs Coast teenager Rose Howell, who was reported missing a few days short of her 19th birthday, nine years ago.

Evidence into her disappearance is being heard in the Bellingen Court today and tomorrow. 

A police investigation into the case found Rose left her mother's home at Bundagen on the morning of Friday, April 11, 2003.

She travelled to the Bellingen Library where she worked on invitations for a planned birthday party.

After leaving the library, an unknown person drove Rose from Bellingen and dropped her off at Marx Hill at around 5pm.

It is believed Rose was then picked up by another motorist and she was last seen about 6.45pm, hitchhiking north on the Pacific Highway near the Old Pacific Highway turn-off to Perry Hill and Repton.


Coroner has doubts over missing girl confession

A CONVICTED armed robber has admitted he was involved in the abduction and murder of a Bundagen teenager 10 years ago but the Coroner has expressed his doubts.


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.

5/8/2020 - NSW Police -

Police are appealing for information, as part of Missing Persons Week, to help locate a teenager who went missing from the state’s north over 17 years ago.
Rose Howell, then aged 18, left her home in the Bellingen township of Repton on the afternoon of Friday 11 April 2003.
Her mother believed Rose had intended to meet friends in Bellingen, and it was not unusual for her to spend the night at one of her friends’ homes.
On Sunday 13 April 2003, Rose was reported missing to police after she failed to return home and meet her mother for an 11am appointment.
At the time of her disappearance, Rose was described as being of Caucasian appearance, with an olive complexion, about 160-165cm tall, with hazel eyes and short, dark hair worn in a Mohawk.
Rose also had a condition in her right leg which caused her to walk with a slight limp.
During the investigation into her disappearance, police received reports that Rose was seen hitch-hiking on the southbound lanes of the Pacific Highway, near the Bundagen turn off, on Friday 11 April 2003.
In December 2012, a coronial inquest found that it was likely Ms Howell had died, but the date, place and cause of death was undetermined.
The NSW Police Force Missing Persons Registry Manager, Detective Inspector Glen Browne, said police continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding Rose’s disappearance and urge anyone with information to come forward.
“At the time of her disappearance, Rose was excited about her upcoming 19th birthday party. Today, she would have been be 36 years old,” Det Insp Browne said.
“Rose was a strong, independent young woman in the prime of her life. She had a keen interest in local theatre, played the bass guitar and wrote songs.
“We encourage anyone in the community that may have information to come forward, regardless of how insignificant you think it may be.
“After a 17-year search for answers, that small piece of information may be a step towards providing some peace to Rose’s mum and loved ones,” Det Insp Browne said.
Anyone with information about Rose Howell’s disappearance is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Information is treated in strict confidence. The community is reminded not to report crime via NSW Police social media pages.


Coffs teen was in ‘good spirits’ when she disappeared

Rose Howell was seen hitchhiking back to her Repton home 17 years ago. She hasn’t been seen since.

Jasmine Minhas


Coffs Coast Advocate


ON April 11, 2003, Coffs Coast teenager Rose Howell was said to be in 'good spirits' when she left her Repton home.

Her 19th birthday was just around the corner, so she'd decided to spend the morning designing invitations for her party at Bellingen Library and had plans to meet up with friends.

The teen, a bass guitar player and a lover of local theatre, was recognisable to many with her distinctive clothing and mohawk hairdo.

A number of people reported seeing Ms Howell in Bellingen throughout the day.

Eventually Ms Howell left the town with a plan to hitchhike her way back home, and was seen heading north on the Pacific Hwy near the old turn-off to Perry Hill and Repton at around 6.45pm.

She has not been seen or heard from since.

A coronial inquest into Ms Howell's disappearance in 2012 determined she was no longer alive - however the date, place and cause of death remains undetermined.

The inquest heard she had a good relationship with her mother and friends and she did not appear to be struggling with mental health issues. There was no evidence to suggest she left on her own will.

In December, 2012, a convicted armed robber, who was also a mental health patient, contacted Crime Stoppers claiming responsibility along with an unidentified accomplice for Rose's disappearance.

The coroner however expressed doubts over the confession, believing he only put himself forward to get media attention.

Today, Ms Howell would have been 36-years-old.

As part of Missing Persons Week, NSW Police are appealing for information to help locate the teen.

At the time of her disappearance, she was described as of caucasian appearance, with an olive complexion, about 160-165cm tall, with hazel eyes and short, dark hair styled into a mohawk.

She also had a condition in her right leg which caused her to walk with a slight limp.

The NSW Police Force Missing Persons Registry Manager, Detective Inspector Glen Browne, urged anyone with information to come forward.

"Rose was a strong, independent young woman in the prime of her life. She had a keen interest in local theatre, played the bass guitar and wrote songs," Det Insp Browne said.

"We encourage anyone in the community that may have information to come forward, regardless of how insignificant you think it may be.

"After a 17-year search for answers, that small piece of information may be a step towards providing some peace to Rose's mum and loved ones."

NSW police call for DNA samples in bid to solve missing person cases

More people go missing in Northern NSW than any other area in the state – and police can’t explain why. In a bid to give names to more than 300 sets of unidentified human remains, police have launched a bold DNA collection program.

Ava Benny-MorrisonCrime reporter
The Sunday Telegraph



Rose Howell walked out the front door of her home on April 11, 2003, with birthday invitations at the front of her mind. She was on the cusp of celebrating her 19th birthday and had planned a party at home in the tiny community of Bundagen on the Mid North Coast.

“Theme Party!” the black and white invitation read.

“Bundagen, the Banana village, at the end of the road follow the balloons and streamers.”

The 18-year-old made it to Bellingen, where she handed out the invites to her friends, and was seen hitchhiking on the road towards her home. But she never made it there.

“It kind of gnaws at you all the time and even after 18 years, it doesn’t stop,” mother Malila Howell told The Sunday Telegraph.

“There is still this big hole in your life.”

Ms Howell, 71, has spent countless hours searching the forest that surrounds her home for her daughter. She plastered missing person posters all over town and shuddered every time she heard news about a body found on the Mid North Coast. Even though it’s been 18 years since her only daughter vanished without a trace, there is a part of Ms Howell that expects Rose to walk through the door.

“I still think of her every day and think she is going to walk around the corner,” she said.

Rose is one of 192 long-term missing people in NSW’s northern region. More people have gone missing in the region, which stretches from Newcastle to the Queensland border, than anywhere else in NSW.

People are harder to find too with the area also having the highest number of historical missing person cases in the state. Reflective of the North Coast’s transient population, from tourists to wanderers and nomads, many of those historical cases involve young hitchhikers.

While hitchhiking is now approached with great caution, 20 years ago it was a popular way of getting between the idyllic towns dotted across the North Coast.

Rose was meant to get a lift home with a friend from Bellingen to Bundagen on April 11 but it turned it down because she wasn’t ready.

The last confirmed sighting of Rose was about 5.30pm that night on the Pacific Hwy near Perry Hill — about 5km from home.

“Immediately after she went missing, there was a time of frantic madness of not being able to stop looking for her,” Ms Howell said.

“I probably did that for nine months to a year, searching the forest. I would see a rag by the side of the road and wonder if it was jeans. It was crazy.”

In 2013, after a coroner found Rose had likely met with foul play, the case was referred to the unsolved homicide team. Many theories have run through Ms Howell’s mind, some bearable and others unspeakable, but she doesn’t believe her daughter committed self-harm or ran away.

Rose, who had Asperger’s syndrome, had close friends, a sense of humour, loved playing guitar and had been invited to join a band.

Immediately after she disappeared, Ms Howell provided a DNA sample to police and officers collected Rose’s hair brush and some of her books. But with the advancement of forensic science in mind, Ms Howell has booked an appointment at the missing persons DNA collection centre to provide a new sample, alongside her son — one of Rose’s three brothers.

“It is 18 years later, they may have new modern DNA technology and it could be helpful,” she said.

Family of Rose Howell missing since 2003 desperate for answers as $750,000 reward announced

ABC Coffs Coast
By Nick Parmeter July 24th 2023

The mother of a NSW mid north coast teen missing for more than 20 years hopes a reward for information about her disappearance will finally provide answers.

NSW Police have established a task force and announced a $750,000 reward for information about the disappearance of Rose Howell.

Ms Howell was 18 when she was last seen at about 6:45pm on Friday, April 11, 2003 walking towards her home in Bundagen — about 25km south of Coffs Harbour.

Her mother, Melila Howell, hopes the reward will provide fresh incentive for new information. 

"Somebody must know something, somebody somewhere around the area where we live has got some idea of what would've happened," she said. 

Ms Howell said her daughter's family and friends were desperate for answers. 

"We'd really like to know. Her father died before knowing what happened, she's got three brothers who don't know what happened to her," she said.

"It still hurts 20 years later."

Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said even the smallest piece of information could be crucial. 

"Any bit of information [that] comes to hand, [that] people provide to Crime Stoppers or in person, that will be acted upon straight away," he said. 

"That could help us provide those answers, not only to Melila but also to the rest of the community."

Presumed dead

A 2012 coronial inquest led by the deputy state coroner, Magistrate P. A. MacMahon, heard the teen had been planning her 19th birthday party, and had hitchhiked her way to Bellingen on the day she went missing. 

Her mother said it wasn't unusual for her daughter to stay with friends in Bellingen, and she reported Rose missing two days later when she failed to meet her for an appointment.

At the time of her disappearance, Rose was described as being of Caucasian appearance, with an olive complexion, between 160 and 165cm tall, with hazel eyes and short, dark hair worn in a mohawk.

Magistrate MacMahon said in 2012 he was satisfied the last time Rose Howell was seen alive was by William Robb, who saw her walking along Perrys Road at Repton as he drove past on his way to his daughter's dance demonstration.

The magistrate concluded on the balance of probabilities Rose Howell had died, but could not determine the circumstances on evidence provided. 

The inquest also heard from several locals who believed they saw Ms Howell after April 11, including a former schoolmate from Toormina High School. 

Shaylee Smith, in the same year as Ms Howell, said she saw her twice in Coffs Harbour on Monday, May 5 in 2003 and possibly again several days later. 

Magistrate MacMahon, however, said he was satisfied Ms Smith was mistaken.

'Prisoner A'

The inquest also heard evidence from "Prisoner A", an inmate at a Sydney prison and a mental health patient. 

Prisoner A told police Ms Howell had been abducted, killed and buried, and that he and another person were involved.

Two extensive searches at the site nominated by the prisoner as Ms Howell's burial site did not uncover her body or any relevant evidence.  

The inquest heard that Prisoner A's information had "significant inconsistencies", and they suffered from mental health issues. 

In his findings, Magistrate MacMahon said there was no evidence to suggest Ms Howell's death was due to natural causes or misadventure, and self-harm was an unlikely cause. 

Magistrate MacMahon did not find evidence provided by Prisoner A met the standard required for a referral to the Department of Public Prosecutions. 

The investigation has been open ever since. 

Police offer $750k reward for information on missing teen Rose Howell two decades after disappearance

The mother of a teen who vanished days before her 19th birthday more than two decades ago says she still hopes her daughter might “reappear”.

Nathan Schmidt

The mother of a “quirky” teen who vanished 20 years ago has made a desperate plea for answers as police offer a hefty reward for information.

Rose Howell, 18, was last seen walking east on Perrys Rd in Repton, south of Coffs Harbour, shortly after 6pm on April 11, 2003.

Police believe Ms Howell was at the time walking in the direction of her home in Bundagen, a small town 25km south of Coffs Harbour.

Ms Howell’s mother, Malila Howell, told police she believed her daughter had intended to meet with friends in Bellingen.

She said it was not unusual for her daughter to spend the night at a friend's home but raised alarm bells only two days later.

Ms Howell was reported missing to police on April 13 when she failed to return home and meet her mother for an appointment.

At the time, Ms Howell was only days away from her 19th birthday, with celebrations planned with friends and family.

Police revealed on Monday a $750,000 reward has been offered for information about the disappearance.

Ms Howell’s mother Malila hoped the reward might “jog people’s memories” 20 years after her daughter went missing.

“Somebody must know something – someone from where we live has got some idea what happened to her,” she said.

“(Rose’s) father died without knowing what happened, and she has got three brothers who don’t know either.

“It still hurts 20 years later.”

Malila Howell described her daughter, who lived with Asperger’s, as “eccentric” and “quirky”.

She said the 18-year-old would “march around the world” and her good humour was well known locally.

“I still have this kind of feeling that maybe she‘s just gonna walk around the corner one day and reappear,” she said.

“It’s quite hard to accept that she might be dead or she’s probably dead because while she’s not around I don’t have to believe that.”

Malila said having answers would put an end to the “always wondering”.

“We may never know exactly what happened,” she said.

“But, if it was discovered that she is in fact dead … I don’t really know what it’s going feel like it or what it means.

“I’m not there. I’m here in this situation where I don’t know.”

NSW Police homicide squad commander Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said police were working hard to find answers.

“We’re trying to put the jigsaw puzzle together to try and provide some answers,” he said.

“I think there‘s people out there in the community who may have held on to a bit of information or dark secret.

“They may have information that really could put that to light and give us something.”

Superintendent Doherty said people might have not been in a position previously to provide information to police.

For others, he said there might be information that at the time – and in a tight-knit community – was overlooked or forgotten about.

Police Minister Yasmin Catley said she hoped the reward announcement would encourage anyone with information to come forward.

“Police haven’t given up on finding answers for Rose’s loved ones,” Ms Catley said.

“We hope that a $750,000 reward will encourage people to cast their minds back to 2003 to (remember) anything suspicious or untoward they might have heard or seen at the time.”

The plea comes more than 10 years after a coronial inquest ruled Ms Howell had likely died in the Bellingen or Coffs Harbour area.

The 2012 coronial inquest found Ms Howell had been hitchhiking that day, but fell short of ruling how or where she died.

Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon determined it was unlikely Ms Howell would have left to start a new life elsewhere.

“I am satisfied that had she been alive, (Ms Howell) would have been in contact and would certainly have attended her birthday party,” he said.

“It is therefore more probably than not that she died at or about the time of her disappearance, and that her death occurred in the vicinity of where she was last seen.”