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Huge blind spot in missing mum search

Volunteers in the search for a missing mum found potential evidence in several spots that were not yet covered by previous searches.
Volunteers in the search for a missing mum found potential evidence in several spots that were not yet covered by previous searches.

Large areas of bushland have remained uninvestigated in the search for missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy, with volunteers left scouring the area after police scaled back their active search.

Ms Murphy, a 51-year-old mother of three, went missing on February 4 when she went on a jog through Woowookarung Regional Park. Police suspect one or more persons were involved in her disappearance.

On Sunday, she will have been missing for four weeks.

Bush tracking expert and visiting volunteer Jake Cassar said he and other volunteers delivered several items of potential evidence to authorities in areas of the dense scrub that had not been previously searched.

“There are many thick areas of bushland when I turned up that had not been searched,” he said.

“Through my tracking experience, you can clearly tell when areas of scrub have not been disturbed.”

The area where Mr Cassar investigated on Wednesday, still finding large sections of unexplored scrub. Picture: Facebook / Jake Cassar
The area where bush tracking expert Jake Cassar investigated on Wednesday, still finding large sections of unexplored scrub. Picture: Facebook / Jake Cassar

Mr Cassar was invited to Ballarat by volunteers who paid for his airfare and accommodation. While he was recruiting and training volunteers, he began scouring areas in the park that had not yet been turned up by searches.

“I was able to find areas that were undisturbed to the tune of me being able to find things, and the person that was with me being able to find things, that certainly should have been handed over to the police,” he said.

Mr Cassar could not confirm what those items were so as to not interfere with the investigation but said there was a main item of interest and it confirmed that the area had not yet been fully searched.

Police told NCA NewsWire they would not be elaborating on intelligence received or items found from the case “unless it is determined this will assist the advancement of the investigation”.

MEGA GROUND SEARCH SAMANTHA MURPHY
More than 200 volunteers were still moving through the bush to look for Ms Murphy last Saturday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling

A spokesperson for the ground team of volunteers confirmed there was a lot of scrub that hadn’t been thoroughly searched.

“Jake found a lot of virgin bush as they like to call it, which means it’s been untouched,” they said.

More than 200 volunteers attended the search last Saturday. Out of the area they covered, “maybe 10 per cent” of virgin bush remained – but other areas still have large amounts of scrub that they haven’t reached.

The ground team made the decision to pause their latest search on Saturday due to bushfire conditions.

While the fire is now under control, the ground team is instead using the weekend to meet with volunteers and recruit more team leaders.

They are looking for experienced navigators who are comfortable with navigating into denser bush to lead smaller groups within the team.

“We want to perform thorough line searches and cover as much of the bushland (as possible),” they said.

“Systematically ruling out that nothing relevant to Samantha’s case has been left unfound.

MEGA GROUND SEARCH SAMANTHA MURPHY
Jake Cassar visited Ballarat to help recruit more volunteers for the search effort, hoping to create a template for future searches. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling

After six days of an active search, police announced on February 10 that it would be “scaled back”.

“As any new information comes to hand identifying areas of interest, the search will be scaled up,” they said.

Since then, specialists have been spotted investigating the bushland and nearby mines with technology such as metal detectors.

Mr Cassar said it was possible Ms Murphy could be found in those mines and also suggested checking isolated areas 5-20km out of Ballarat.

“I’ve got a great deal of respect for police and SES searches,” he said. “I think they’ve done a wonderful job.”

However, he added that governments should be funding larger and longer efforts to find missing people for “at least 14 days”.

Ms Murphy has been missing for almost four weeks under suspicious circumstances. Picture: Supplied
Ms Murphy has been missing for almost four weeks under suspicious circumstances. Picture: Supplied

Mr Cassar said Ms Murphy could be found anywhere, mentioning his time searching for missing child AJ Elfalak.

“I was heavily involved in that search,” he said, and after three days people had “pretty much resigned to the fact that he’d been kidnapped. And at that point I was saying to everybody, ‘no, please don’t give up’.”

AJ was found shortly after, and Mr Cassar believes he’d been living off the land for the days he’d been missing.

Mr Cassar said while it was unlikely Ms Murphy was still alive, he remained open-minded as to her whereabouts.

“Anything is possible and never underestimate the human spirit,” he said.