Former cop's Samantha Murphy theory on why iPhone discovery didn't help crack case

Despite another two-day 'targeted' search in Ballarat for the missing mum this week, her body's still nowhere to be found.

Samantha Murphy seen in two side by side images, as a former police officer reveals his theory of her disappearance.
Samantha Murphy, 51, has not been seen since early February. Source: NCA Newswire

As authorities allocate more resources toward locating the body of missing Victorian mother Samantha Murphy, a former police officer said there's only one conclusion to be drawn after months of countless failed search attempts.

Murphy, 51, vanished without a trace on her morning run in February until detectives found her iPhone in May — one of the most significant developments in the case so far. This week, officers spent two days searching another "targeted" area in Ballarat, which again returned no results. Despite 22-year-old Patrick Orren Stephenson being charged with her murder, and officers now being in the possession of her phone, Murphy's body still has not been located.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Nigel Phair from UNSW's Institute for Cyber Security, a former Australian Federal Police officer, said "the more I think about it" it's likely police are considering all possibilities, including the possible involvement of more than one person in her disappearance.

Police divers seen near the lake where Samantha Murphy's iPhone was found.
Despite a two-day 'refocussed' search this week in Ballarat, Murphy's body has not been found. Source: 9News

Phair claimed "as every day goes on, it's less and less likely" detectives will ever find the mother-of-two's body, five months into their investigation.

"The phone was obviously the interesting one because the assumption was that the body would have been in that lake, near where they found it. I'm guessing the divers have gone through that multiple times and haven't found anything."

While many had hoped the discovery of Murphy's phone would lead to a major breakthrough, Phair said that weeks on, those hopes clearly haven't been realised. While most people nowadays back up their devices via cloud services, the former officer said Murphy's physical phone still could've been useful when it comes to app data and geolocation.

"Health apps that are already part of the device would give you a whole lot of information, geolocation and otherwise. So that's why it all hinged on the phone," he said, adding that if Murphy did use iCloud, detectives probably wouldn't necessarily need the phone to access her data.

Missing mother Samantha Murphy in the last known photo of her taken on the morning of her disappearance.
Missing mother Samantha Murphy in the last known photo of her taken on the morning of her disappearance. Source: NCA Newswire

He said that while police can essentially keep the case open for as long as there's a will to continue searching, it's likely that as little progress continues to be made, "search efforts will be scaled down" and resources redistributed to "other priorities".

"I think they can keep searching for a lot longer," he said. "It's the resourcing they put into that, to prioritise this over rather, what are going to become more urgent matters, that's going to be the issue.

"There will always be a detective assigned to the case. But whether it's the sole case or becomes one of their many cases, that's what's going to happen over time as the next priority overtakes."

Search efforts in a field in Ballarat to locate 51-year-old Samantha Murphy.
Search efforts to locate the 51-year-old have been ongoing since February: NCA Newswire

Asked if based on the information publicly available, it seemed that the investigation had made any real progress since the discovery of Murphy's phone, Phair said: "No, not at all".

"The thing is, they've charged the person, they would have to have been given a date to hand the brief of evidence into the court for a subsequent committal," he said. "So they're going to require a lot of resources to build that brief and obviously, they're trying to get as much corroborating evidence to go with that as possible.

"But I suppose there's a difference between what we hear in the media and what might be going on in the background — it might be two different things. So I'm hopeful that they've got some irons in fires that they're looking at."

Do you have a story tip? Email:

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.