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Police admit devastating truth in Sam search

Police are appealing for public assistance to help locate missing Ballarat East woman Samantha.
Police are appealing for public assistance to help locate missing Ballarat East woman Samantha.

A fresh search in a new area of bushland for missing Victorian woman Samantha Murphy has ended without finding any trace of the allegedly murdered mother.

On Wednesday morning, dozens of police began searching a new section of bushland near Buninyong, 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.

Patrick Orren Stephenson (left) has been charged with the murder of Samantha Murphy.
Patrick Orren Stephenson (left) has been charged with the murder of Samantha Murphy.
Police have still not found Samantha Murphy’s body. Picture: Supplie
Police have still not found Samantha Murphy’s body. Picture: Supplie

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.

The new search area was highlighted in “intelligence derived from a number of sources”, a police spokesperson said.

The mother of three was reported missing by her concerned family when she did not return home from a jog on February 4.

Police riding off-road motorcycles were involved in the search. Picture: Supplied/ Victoria Police
Police riding off-road motorcycles were involved in the search. Picture: Supplied/ Victoria Police

The 51-year-old was seen alive leaving her Ballarat home to go for a run through the Canadian State Forest, about 120km west of Melbourne.

Police allege she was murdered by 22-year-old Patrick Stephenson the day she vanished.

Police are hoping to locate her body more than six weeks since she was last seen.

The dog squad joined the search. Picture: Joe Armao/ Pool/ NCA NewsWire
The dog squad joined the search. Picture: Joe Armao/ Pool/ NCA NewsWire

Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt said police were committed to “doing everything we can to locate her and return her to her family”.

“We will have a range of specialist resources involved; however, as we are searching for Samantha’s body, we ask that members of the public do not try and join today’s search,” he said.

“Hopefully, today’s search will benefit the investigation or provide further avenues of inquiry for police. We will also look at further searches in the Ballarat area as the investigation progresses.”

Mr Stephenson was charged with Ms Murphy’s murder on March 6 and was remanded into custody until his next court appearance on August 8.

Police allege the son of former AFL player Orren Stephenson killed Ms Murphy in a “deliberate attack”.

One of the last images of the missing mum. Picture: Supplied
One of the last images of the missing mum. Picture: Supplied

His identity was briefly suppressed by the court over fears for his safety, but the decision was overturned within 24 hours.

“We’re saying this was a deliberate attack on Samantha,” Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said.

“He’s been located through a range of investigative outcomes that have come together, and as you are aware, we have been pinging phones and following up on investigation reports from members of the public,” he said.

“We have done ground searches, we have done door knocks, so it’s a whole range of information that has come together.”

Police initially said the 22-year-old man had never met the 51-year-old missing mum, but it has since been revealed they may have briefly crossed paths.

More than a decade ago, Ms Murphy volunteered in the uniform shop at St Francis Xavier Primary School while Mr Stephenson was a student.