Husband declared ‘person of interest’

Ballarat mother of three Samantha Murphy has been missing for three weeks.
Ballarat mother of three Samantha Murphy has been missing for three weeks.

Samantha Murphy’s husband and ‘everyone’ close to her are being considered by police as a “person of interest” as part of the investigation into her disappearance.

Missing mum-of-three, 51, disappeared three weeks ago after she went out for a run in the Woowookarung Regional Park in East Ballarat at 7am on February 4.

Investigators revealed they are “very doubtful” they will find her alive and have launched a targeted search in the Mount Clear region, following new intelligence derived from Ms Murphy’s phone data.

Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt said “more parties” - meaning more than one person - are likely to be involved in her disappearance.

He said police are “certainly” looking into whether she was removed from the Mount Clear area.

“We are absolutely looking for a phone, we haven’t yet found that, we are [also] looking for a body,” Superintendent Hatt revealed on Friday.

Missing woman Samantha Murphy.
Missing woman Samantha Murphy.
Police will search a new area on Friday after phone data alerted them to new intelligence. Picture: NCA Newswire / Nicki Connolly

He told reporters Ms Murphy’s husband Mick Murphy and “everyone” in her personal life was now a “person of interest”, though he stressed Mr Murphy was not a suspect in her disappearance.

No arrests or charges have been laid.

“We have a number of people that we are speaking to and I can say the family have been absolutely fantastic in co-operating with police,” he said.

“At this stage he is not (a suspect). Everyone in relation to Samantha is a person of interest. In our investigation we are speaking to everyone that was in her life.”

The area police will be searching is not new and has already been searched extensively, however this time it will be searched for smaller items that could reveal what happened to Ms Murphy.

“That area has been searched for Samantha herself and we have not found her in that area,” Superintendent Hatt said.

“Unfortunately, given the time and the fact no trace has been found, we do have severe concerns and are very doubtful that she’s still alive.

“We are keeping an open mind, but believe the most likely scenario is that her disappearance involves one or more parties,” Superintendent Hatt said.

“Given the extensive and detailed search that has already been undertaken, and the fact no sign of Samantha or her personal belongings has been located, we have ruled out any type of medical incident.”

Police are speaking to everyone in Samantha Murphy’s life as part of the investigation into her disappearance, including family, friends and work colleagues.

Superintendent Hatt said police have been in touch with Samantha Murphy’s family “every day”.

“[They’re] obviously very upset.

“As time goes on the chances of finding Samantha are more limited, so they are very distraught, and we understand that.”

The Mount Clear area, south of the Canadian Forest where Ms Murphy was known to frequent, was highlighted by intelligence derived from phone data and will form the focus of searches on Friday.

The Missing Persons Squad, who are in charge of the investigation, as well as detectives, specialist and local police will take part in the search.

BALLARAT, AUSTRALIA - NCA NewsWire Photos FEBRUARY 09, 2024: The search for Samantha Murphy continues South West of Ballarat.  Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian Wilson
Ms Murphy went missing on February 4 after going for a run in the Woowookarung Regional Park. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian Wilson

No trace of Ms Murphy has been found in extensive searches of the Canadian Forest conducted by both specialist police units and local community members.

Police are treating her disappearance as suspicious due to the length of time she has been missing and given no trace of her has been found.

“There is also nothing to indicate that Samantha left the area of her own accord,” Superintendent Hatt said.

They are renewing calls for anyone who has information relevant to the investigation - whether it be a person or vehicle seen in the area that day, or something unusual such as a damaged vehicle or property - to come forward to police.

“Finally, it’s important that people continue to avoid unnecessary and unhelpful speculation because we don’t want that to detract from the genuine investigation or potentially prevent anyone coming forward with information because they have a misconception about what has happened to Samantha,” Superintendent Hatt said.

Samantha’s daughter Jess Murphy and husband Mick Murphy speak to media. Picture: NCA Newswire / Nicki Connolly
Assignment Freelance Picture Murphy search
SES crews during a large-scale search in Buninyong earlier this month. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian Wilson

“Police remain open to any and all possibilities, so if you know something or have seen something, then we want to hear from you.”

Police said they are doing everything they can to find Ms Murphy and provide answers to her family and the community.

“I know that a lot of people, particularly those who live in the local Ballarat community, are extremely concerned about the fact we haven’t yet located Samantha or who may be responsible for her disappearance,” Superintendent Hatt said.

Assignment Freelance Picture Murphy search
SES crews earlier this month. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian Wilson
Assignment Freelance Picture search
Overview of Buningyong with Mt Buninyong in background . Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian Wilson

Investigators are currently in the process of reviewing about 12,000 hours of CCTV footage and following up over 500 separate pieces of information.

Detectives have urged anyone travelling through the area, particularly between 7am and 7pm on February 4, who may have dash-cam footage, to also check this for possible sightings.

Several items have been found during the search for Samantha, however these have since been assessed and at this time are not believed to be related to her disappearance.

There is no evidence to suggest Murphy’s disappearance is linked to any other incidents in the area at this time.