The investigation into the 1999 disappearance of Hayley Dodd was "written off" too early as a missing person case because of budget restraints - even though the police officers involved were convinced she had been murdered, according to the inquiry's lead detective.
In an extraordinary attack on WA Police hierarchy, former major crime squad detective- sergeant Eddie Rowe has broken his silence about the way the Dodd case was managed.
He said he and colleagues were certain they were dealing with a murder and were devastated when the inquiry, codenamed Operation Blue Gum, was wound up about two months after the 17-year-old vanished from Badgingarra.
"Both myself and my team did the very best we could given the restraints placed on us on what we believed, and what was clear from the beginning, was a homicide," Mr Rowe said.
"Those in higher positions back in Perth always labelled it a missing persons inquiry to justify closing things down."
Teams of police officers descended on a property east of Badgingarra on Wednesday and began a thorough search using ground-penetrating radar.
The property, which was sold four months after Hayley disappeared, has been searched before and is about 1km from where she vanished while hitchhiking.
Mr Rowe has told The West Australian that more could and should have been done in 1999 to solve the case.
"As you are aware, investigations are resourced on the type and or style of crime," he said.
"Operation Blue Gum was seen by many in the then hierarchy as simply a missing persons inquiry, not a homicide investigation.
"We, the investigative team, treated it from day one as a homicide but at the end of the day, budget costs were a definite issue.
"The decision to fold up Moora-based investigation was taken out of my hands. More can, or could have, always been done - but not from Perth."
Concerns about the police investigation have been raised by Hayley's grief-stricken mother Margaret Dodd over the history of the 14-year mystery but this is the first time someone inside the inquiry has gone public.
Mr Rowe, who resigned from WA Police in the mid-2000s, pursued the Dodd case as best he could for several years during his career.
"I do very much hope that they have some solid leads," he said.
"I hope for Margaret's sake that there is a real breakthrough."
A spokesman for WA Police said officers were committed to current developments and had no comment on Mr Rowe's remarks.
The search will continue today.