A Perth man adopted at a young age has uncovered a devastating revelation about his birth mother in his search to find her.
Teacher Matthieu Heimel, who was born in the Philippines and lived in an orphanage until he was about one-and-a-half years old, decided to look for his birth parents in 2018 after his two sons started asking questions about his origins.
A DNA search in 2018 led the 41-year-old to his biological father, but he had only met Mr Heimel’s mother a handful of times.
After discovering her identity however, he was able to make contact with other members of his family in the Philippines through Facebook.
But it was then he discovered his mother had vanished without a trace and was possibly murdered after she moved to Melbourne.
On the SBS program Every Family Has a Secret, Mr Heimel then travelled to Melbourne to uncover the truth about what happened to his mother, Nenita Evans.
The lead-up to mum’s mysterious disappearance
Ms Evans moved to Melbourne in 1985 and married a man, Greg Evans, after meeting him in Manila years earlier. She got a job at the illustrious Melbourne Club as a housekeeper.
She worked under a man named Vicenzo Leonardi, who migrated to Australia from Italy, and he continued to promote her.
According to The Age journalist following the case, John Silvester, Mr Leonardi would drive Ms Evans home and there were rumours the pair were having an affair.
Once Mr Leonardi put Ms Evans in charge of floral arrangements at the gentlemen’s club, she started attending night school to become a florist.
But when she returned to the Melbourne Club to show off her portfolio on January 8, 1987, it was the last time anybody ever saw her.
Disturbing twist in Mum’s disappearance
Ms Evans’ husband Greg was initially the prime suspect in her disappearance, but the case was never solved by Victoria Police.
However, through Mr Heimel’s search for answers, he discovered other disturbing details that could be linked to his mother’s disappearance.
Another woman who worked at the Melbourne Club, Milagros Dark, was found murdered in 1990, just three years after Ms Evans disappeared.
She too had become close with Mr Leonardi and he would drive her home from work.
Then Mr Heimel discovered a third woman linked to the Melbourne Club boss had also disappeared without a trace in 1954.
Anna Maria Pontarollo had been living with Mr Leonardi in Melbourne when the pair had two children. His wife then migrated from Italy and he lived with the two women under the same roof.
Once Ms Pontarollo disappeared, Mr Leonardi and his wife decided to tell his children his wife was their biological mother.
In 1995, Mr Leonardi attended the Coroner’s Court during hearings into the disappearance of Ms Evans, but he did not give evidence and cited his rights to avoid self-incrimination.
Mr Heimel is now continuing to unravel the clues to seek answers and justice after Mr Leonardi died in 2009.
Teacher’s search for the truth
Mr Heimel told Yahoo News Australia he had to control his emotions as he discovered each stunning revelation.
“I move on from one discovery to another, it’s hard for me to show my emotions,” he said.
“When I started to look for my birth mother I was hoping that it wasn’t too late.”
Mr Heimel added by finding out what happened to his mother he could close this chapter of his life and tell his children he did everything he could to find out the truth about what happened to his mother and where he came from.
“I would be very proud – I have been able to stand up and face the challenges, even if it wasn’t easy to hear,” he said.
During his search for the truth, which will air on the SBS program Every Family Has a Secret on Tuesday night, Mr Heimel was given a crocheted blanket his mother made – an emotional moment for the Perth teacher.
“It was the first time I could touch something that was made by my mother, it was quite emotional,” he said.
Mr Heimel’s search for his birth mother and answers about his origin is just “the tip of the iceberg” and he said there was a lot more to his story.
“People will see during the TV show me trying to find closure, but it’s not only about me searching for my origins, it became about me fighting for my birth mother as well as two other women who disappeared,” he said.
In Mr Heimel’s pursuit for the truth as to what happened to the three women, he convinced Victoria Police to revisit all three cases.
“It’s trying to find justice for these three women – the objective has changed dramatically from the beginning of the search,” he said.
Watch Matthieu Heimel’s story on Every Family has a Secret on SBS on September 29 at 7.30pm. Episodes are encored on SBS VICELAND on Thursdays at 11pm.
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