‘No stone unturned’: Desperate search continues

The search continues to find a missing mum’s body. Picture: Joe Armao/ POOL/ NCA NewsWire
The search continues to find a missing mum’s body. Picture: Joe Armao/ POOL/ NCA NewsWire

A bush tracker who has led a Victorian community in extensive searches for missing mum Samantha Murphy has given insight into the conditions on the ground.

The Ballarat mother of three has been missing for almost seven weeks and is presumed dead after she did not return from a morning jog on February 4.

Police allege she was murdered by Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, on the day she vanished.

A major search effort got under way on Wednesday, with police using detection dogs capable of sniffing out mobile SIM cards.

Bush tracker Jake Cassar, who has worked closely with local community search crews, told Today on Friday morning that they needed “all hands on deck”.

Bush tracker Jake Cassar. Picture Today
Bush tracker Jake Cassar is helping in the search. Picture: Today

“Of course safety first, you want to make sure you’re not getting other people lost, injured or bitten by a snake in that area,” he said.

“There’s incredibly thick scrub throughout that area. There’s an area that hasn’t been back-burned for probably at least a decade.

“You want to make sure it’s well co-ordinated, as the community did only a few weeks ago on the Saturday, they had a big community search with a couple of hundred people.

“There’s quite a lot of untouched scrub throughout that area.”

Mr Cassar said finding anything would be “incredibly important”.

“It may be the earbuds, the mobile phone, anything which can give the authorities the information they need to be able to really reopen that search and get the professionals in there searching as much as they can,” he said.

“Somebody has either got to know something or by covering as much ground as you possibly can, something’s got to turn up.

“We just need to need to leave no stone unturned and just continue going until we find something so we can give answers to the family.”

On Wednesday morning, dozens of police began searching a new section of bushland near Buninyong, about 10km from Ballarat, sparked by recently obtained “intelligence”.

Within the Buninyong Bushland Reserve, units from specialist branches of Victoria Police, including the search and rescue squad, mounted branch, dog squad and off-road motorcyclists, scoured bushland.

Members of the public, including volunteer search teams, were urged to stay away from the area.

But on Wednesday afternoon, a Victoria Police spokeswoman said the effort had ended for the day.

“Sadly, we did not locate Samantha,” she said.

“At this stage there is no search activity planned for tomorrow; however, we expect to continue searching over coming weeks.”

The search area was several kilometres east of the Buninyong Golf Club, the focus of initial search efforts where Ms Murphy’s phone last pinged.

The search then moved to Mount Clear, further north of Buninyong and closer to Ms Murphy’s home, without any success.