Douglas McDonald BARR and Helen Victoria BARR
The Barr's dog Murdoch with their car.
Good Weekend Magazine, Edition 1
SAT 02 SEP 2006, Page 28
The Vanishing By: Andrew Rule
Thirty-one years ago a young couple with everything to live for went missing at this rural Victorian lake. Despite months of searching, their bodies were never found - and to this day family members suspect foul play. Andrew Rule tries to make sense of an unsolved riddle.
It began as a chance conversation with a quiet stranger at a party. He told the unsettling tale of a tragedy that had haunted his family since his childhood: his first cousin and her husband had disappeared one weekend in north-eastern Victoria. The missing woman's parents had died bitter and broken-hearted, not knowing what had happened to their only daughter and her partner. Months later, I pieced together the story of an event that two families have always feared is a murder mystery. But is it?
On Valentine's Day, 1975, a film crew had just finished shooting signature scenes of Picnic at Hanging Rock on location in the ranges north-west of Melbourne. In the suburbs a young woman called Helen Barr was preparing for a picnic of her own at Lake Eildon - in the ranges north-east of Melbourne.
Picnic at Hanging Rock, released later that year, would become an Australian classic. It was a potent blend of realism and fantasy that persuaded audiences it portrayed an actual event: the eerie disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher on Valentine's Day in 1900. But Helen Barr and her husband Doug never got to see it. Because, some time next day, they vanished without trace.
While the myth of the disappearing schoolgirls staked a lasting place in the Australian imagination, the real story of how a suburban couple never returned from a day trip in the country has been almost forgotten by all except those who loved them. The pain of not knowing their fate still haunts a dwindling group of family and friends.
There are several theories about the Barrs' disappearance but each has the same flaw: there is no evidence either to support or to disprove it. Strip away rumours, speculation, hunches - and the tattered hope that love clings to when logic says there is none - and it is still the riddle it was on a summer morning 31 years ago.
Were Doug and Helen Barr drowned? Did one or both of them fake their disappearance? Or were they abducted and murdered?
The first sign that something was wrong came just after dawn on Sunday, February 16, 1975, when Frank Burbury drove east from Eildon township, where he lived and worked as a welder. A keen angler, he was heading towards the massive dam wall that had been built in the 1950s to create Lake Eildon, one of Australia's great postwar projects. In summer the great man-made lake, a tangle of drowned valleys among the brooding mountains two hours from Melbourne, hummed with boat motors as visitors came to fish, waterski and holiday on houseboats. But, at this early hour, it was still quiet.
Burbury passed a caravan park and turned right, crossing a timber bridge over a deceptively peaceful-looking stretch of water called the "tail race", which channelled water released intermittently - and with great force - through the hydro-power generator in the dam wall a few hundred metres away.
The tail race widens into a broad stretch known as "the pondage" - in effect a valve between the giant weir above and the Goulburn River below, which it feeds gradually through a "gate", remote-controlled to prevent flooding downstream.
The pondage, though not deep, is notoriously cold: it is fed with freezing water drawn from the bottom of the dam to drive the generator. The coldness - often below 10(degrees)C - discourages swimmers more than the signs that indicate swimming and boating on the pondage are forbidden. But it suits trout well enough, which is what had lured Burbury out so early. He was checking to see if there were swans on the water. Local lore had it that where swans are swimming, fish don't bite.
Burbury pulled up just past the bridge to scan the water. He noticed a white Mini Minor car parked just off the gravel road, about 20 metres away. He thought he saw someone or something in the passenger seat, and that the driver's door was ajar. He told police later he also saw a big man wearing long trousers and a "reddy maroon" jumper walking towards the car. "I assumed they were simply people like myself looking for somewhere to fish," he said. He did not recall seeing a dog.
Swans were swimming nearby, so Burbury drove off to look for a better fishing spot and thought no more about it until the next day.
Soon after, about 7am, Scott Henderson drove across the bridge with his three-year-old daughter, Kelly. Henderson's wife was "a local" and they were up from Melbourne for the weekend, staying with her family. The toddler woke early and Henderson took her fishing so she wouldn't wake his wife and baby son.
He saw the Mini, parked where Frank Burbury had noticed it. He saw no one in it but there was condensation on the windows, implying it had been there some time. Closer to the water he saw a white Samoyed-cross dog sitting on a tartan picnic rug under an oak tree. When he started fishing from the bridge, the dog trotted over. His little girl patted the dog. Its coat was damp.
Henderson put down his rod and walked to the rug. He saw there was dew on it and some clothing left with it. The dog ran to and from the water. Henderson did not approach the Mini because he did not want to seem nosy, and it was faintly possible - despite the unlikely hour and the car's tiny size - that lovers could be busy in the back seat. He wondered if the driver were fishing nearby, although that would not explain the loose dog: surely it would follow its owner. It looked as if the car, the rug and the dog had been there all night.
Two hours passed and no one turned up. By the time Henderson returned to his father-in-law's house at mid-morning, he was troubled. He told the family about it. Later, he and his wife Julie, her father Gavin Hallet and her sister Glenys went back to the bridge to see if anyone had turned up.
Julie would recall: "The dog was going stupid, barking and running from the car to the water all the time." She says they didn't touch anything in the car or on the rug. "There were sneakers and thongs and a few clothes. It looked as if they had gone swimming with nothing on."
Another angler, Eric Elliott, saw the dog next to the car when he walked past after midday. He talked about it to some people from Bendigo, fishing on the other side of the bridge. About 1pm Elliott went to the local police station. It is not clear whether he was the first to do so, as Glenys Hallet also recalls going to the police.
Sergeant Max Moate, Eildon's resident policeman, was sitting down to lunch when he answered a knock at the door and heard about the strange case of the car, the rug and the dog in the night-time.
At first, the sergeant was resigned to wasting the afternoon looking for stray picnickers. By evening the nuisance had become bad news. The unexplained absence of the dog's owners hung more heavily by the hour.
The car registration and a few telephone calls soon established who they were looking for: Douglas McDonald Barr, 29, and his wife Helen Victoria Barr, 27, of North Balwyn.
Nothing obvious about the Barrs aroused suspicion of foul play. Barr was a car dealer, his wife a nurse. They had no criminal history and no obvious problems, although their backgrounds would soon be raked over for any hidden skeletons.
There was no sign of a struggle. No blood. No torn clothing. The dog ("He was called Murdoch - he was pleased to see us," Moate would recall) was uninjured. The only evidence was circumstantial - it looked as if the couple had gone into the water and not come out, most likely the previous afternoon. It seemed obvious the rug had been put under the tree for shade, implying the sun was still strong at the time.
In the Mini were women's underclothes, a floral bikini top, a long-sleeved top and a pair of men's underpants. Helen Barr's purse, in her handbag, held $13.49. There was a handwritten recipe and a copy of the previous day's Sun newspaper. On the rug, 30 metres away: a pair of sunglasses, a towel, a pair of women's jeans, women's lace-up shoes, men's thongs, a dog lead - and a flask of cold coffee. Missing: car keys and Doug Barr's wallet.
Moate's first instinct was that the Barrs had gone in the water and probably drowned. If they had gone walking and got lost, why would the dog stay behind? Any other scenario seemed unlikely in the first few hours, though not ridiculous.
The suggestion, unspoken at first, was that people could stage their own disappearance. The scandal of the runaway British MP John Stonehouse had dominated the news that summer: he had been unmasked living with his mistress under a false identity in Melbourne on Christmas Eve, 1974, a month after his clothes were found abandoned on a Miami beach. Celebrity fugitives Ronnie Biggs and Lord Lucan had also caught the popular imagination.
If the bodies had been found quickly, it would have been just another sad summer story about the danger of swimming in strange places. But no bodies turned up - and that left a vacuum soon filled by a cycle of speculation, gossip and fear, amplified by media hungry for more than a few dry facts.
Next day, engineers dropped the pondage level three metres by lifting the gate across the spillway into the Goulburn River, about three kilometres from the picnic rug.
The normal trickle allowed under the gate swelled into a torrent as millions of litres of water escaped, revealing most of the pondage bed scraped by bulldozers building the dam wall in the 1950s. It also exposed the deep water of the old river course, normally hidden. Five police divers and an aircraft arrived. The pilot scanned the surface for floating bodies; the divers searched the deep water. They found nothing -nor would they when the pondage was drained again three months later.
Public statements about the search were understandably positive: a police spokesman would say after several days divers were "95 per cent" sure they had searched the old river bed thoroughly. This overstated the beliefs of some divers, who found murky water in deep holes too dirty and dangerous to search properly. Cold water cut time spent on each dive.
Meanwhile, well-meaning police virtually were assuring the stricken relatives that bodies could not escape the pondage and so - if present - should eventually be found. So when the bodies did not turn up, police command was obliged to treat growing speculation about murder, abduction and faked disappearances as seriously as the more likely drowning scenario.
The longer it went unexplained, the more sinister it seemed to the family and friends of the missing - and to the media. That is why, within 48 hours, and against the wishes of the homicide squad commander, police HQ would order a homicide investigation. The mundane had become a murder mystery.
Max Moate took Murdoch the dog home with him. Later, press photographers took pictures of his children playing with the dog. "If only he could talk," one caption read.
When the police called Ken Barr late that Sunday to say his brother and sister-in-law were missing, he was shocked but at first accepted they had probably drowned. So did Harry Costello, Doug Barr's partner in the car yard they had run for several years before selling up only two weeks before.
The Barr brothers and Costello were mates - Ken Barr and Costello still are, half a lifetime later. Both still sell a few cars in Melbourne's northern suburbs. In fact, they were minding a car yard in Fawkner for an absent friend when Good Weekend found them last month. Underneath the salesman bonhomie their sorrow still shows.
The Barr boys had grown up in East Brunswick, served apprenticeships as electricians with the State Electrical Commission and raced bikes at the local velodrome. Enterprising and ambitious, they bought and sold cars on the side. Doug, the older one, took up dealing full-time with Costello and did well.
It wasn't long before the son of the battling wharfie's widow was paying off a house in middle-class North Balwyn. He had a heated pool at the back, the pick of the yard's cars in the double garage, and a wife who earned good money as a private nurse. Financially, at least, life was good - and never better than when they went missing.
The morning after they got the news, Ken Barr and Costello left Melbourne at 4am to go to Eildon and search. Meanwhile, on the far side of Melbourne, Helen Barr's father, Harold Ashton, a staid company secretary with a city firm, was also making the trip, the first step in a soul-crushing journey towards a breakdown.
When Barr and Costello reached Eildon they went straight to the boat harbour, on the lake proper three kilometres uphill from where the Mini had been found. They went there because they knew Doug had gone to Eildon on the Saturday to check on mooring a boat.
Doug, cashed-up from his share of selling the De Ville Motors yard in Essendon, had just bought a luxury cabin cruiser: a "21-footer" Haines Hunter that cost $6500, an average worker's annual wages in 1975. At the suggestion of Helen's father, the couple had gone to Eildon to check if they could launch it there.
No one whom Costello and Ken Barr spoke to at the harbour recalled seeing the missing couple, so the two worried men went to the pondage, where the Mini, the rug and the clothes were still sitting ready for forensic police to check.
When he saw the scene, Barr was immediately sceptical about the swimming scenario. He would recall: "As soon as we saw where they were supposed to have had a picnic I said to Harry, 'This isn't right.' The car was parked off to the left side of the road, too far from the rug. I said: 'Doug wouldn't park over there and walk all the way back. He'd park closer.' "
Ken Barr, a pleasant and apparently sensible man, still insists "something didn't gel". He saw ominous signs, apparently too subtle for police, that the picnic scene had been staged by some unknown person to disguise a crime.
"All the shoes were laid out tidy on the rug, as if they had been put there for sale. It was too neat. It didn't fall into place," he says. Doug used to "kick off" his shoes carelessly and Helen was also fairly untidy, he says.
Time has not shaken Ken Barr's view that his brother and sister-in-law met foul play. He attaches weight to what others might see as inconclusive, at best. He insists Doug would not have swum in the tail race because "he hated cold water" - it was a standing family joke that he insisted on heating his backyard pool before getting in, and sunbaked while Helen swam.
He also argues the tail race flowed too fast for anyone to risk swimming. This was (and is) true of the stream at the times when the hydro-electric station runs, and is part of the reason swimming is banned in the pondage. But when the power station isn't running, the water is "like a mill pond" and would look inviting to a stranger on a hot day, says the former policeman Max Moate. Locals knew better than to swim there - but visitors might not.
By the time the Melbourne Sun found Ken Barr that afternoon, his mind was made up - and his sensational interpretation of the scene did not lose anything in translation into a tabloid news story. In the paper, under the headline Lake Riddle - Wealthy Pair Vanish on Car Trip, Barr was quoted as saying: "There is no way they would have gone swimming there in a million years. I had accepted that they drowned when I went up there today but now I am sure they have met with foul play. All we can think of is that someone might have tried to get at Helen and forced Doug away."
In The Herald the next day, Ken Barr repeated his theory that the couple had been murdered or kidnapped: "One can't help playing detective and from what I've seen there is every reason to believe something sinister has happened." Sober coverage of the story in The Age, based on the police view of events rather than on agitated relatives, reported only that the search had so far found nothing.
But the doubt had been planted. It took root in the imaginations of Helen Barr's family and friends.
The first job facing the two homicide detectives handed the case was to trace the Barrs' movements before their disappearance. Second, and more difficult, was to find if there were any motives for anyone to harm them - or for Doug Barr to kill his wife and then flee.
Publicity produced some witnesses who had seen the Barrs the day they vanished, and others who (mistakenly) thought they had seen them the next day. A little door-knocking and a lot of sifting of supposed "leads" let the detectives reconstruct events - up to a point.
The last people known to have seen them alive were Llewellyn Albert Lloyd and his wife, whose name was not recorded by police. The Lloyds also lived in Balwyn, at 38 Belmore Road, walking distance from the Barrs at 38 Kenny Street. By coincidence, on Saturday morning, February 15, both Balwyn couples were getting ready to drive to Eildon for the day.
The Barrs left early. At 8.20am neighbours saw Helen's Mini reverse from the Spanish-style house they had bought when they married in 1969. In the drive was the new cabin cruiser, hitched to Doug's Valiant Regal sedan. (Several people who knew him later remarked on the fact that he had driven the Mini on the long trip to Eildon, as he usually preferred big cars - notably a Cadillac convertible from the car yard.)
In the back seat was Murdoch the dog. Left behind was their cat, Sylvester. Helen Barr, childless, was devoted to her pets; proof she intended to be home that night was that she had not asked the Wilsons, next door, to feed the cat.
When the Lloyds reached Eildon boat harbour about 1.30pm they parked their car behind the Barrs' white Mini. There was no doubt about this - they later told police - because they had seen the big white dog in the back seat, and chatted to the young couple who owned it. They last saw the Barrs walk towards the kiosk, holding hands and carrying towels, about 2pm. The Mini was still in the car park, windows left open for the dog, when the Lloyds left about 4.30pm. They later confirmed the identity of the car and the Barrs from photographs.
Another Melbourne couple - a Mr and Mrs Guldemond - told police they also saw the Mini with the dog in it at the car park about 4.30pm. They thought the Mini was still there that evening - 7.30pm or later - but police were not certain this was correct. Either way, after 4.30pm and probably before dark, the Mini was driven about three kilometres from the boat harbour to the picnic spot near the tail race, where it was found early next morning.
So what happened that afternoon? Had the Barrs gone out on the lake on a hired "picnic boat"? One theory ran that Barr could have drowned his wife in deep water out on the lake, then moved the car to set up the picnic scene before making his escape to start a new life, presumably with another woman.
Another theory was that someone who thought Doug Barr was carrying a lot of cash - which he often did while car-dealing - had killed them for the money, and then staged the scene. Such a crime could have been spontaneous - presuming that a homicidal robber happened to spot the Barrs at Eildon - or committed by someone who had deliberately stalked them.
A variation on the double murder theme was that it was an underworld "hit", which would presuppose that somehow the suburban couple had fallen out with heavy criminals. Or that it was a spontaneous attack by a psychopath who had managed to strike without leaving a clue, as clinically as a trained assassin. Each scenario was faintly possible but seemed unlikely.
Or, of course, the Barrs might have drowned. But where were the bodies?
Sex and money are the classic motives for murder. But retracing the homicide investigation of 1975 does not turn up any evidence that either motive applied in the Doug and Helen Barr case.
As a second-hand car dealer, Doug Barr might have met people with criminal connections - but so did police, lawyers, publicans and reporters. The question was: could he have upset someone dangerous - enough to get him killed?
In an industry of extroverts and hard cases, Barr struck most people as inoffensive. He didn't smoke or gamble and barely drank. There were no whispers in the car business - then or now - that he did anything shady.
As for sex, Barr's brother and Harry Costello insisted then - and still do - that his private life was blameless. No one else could point to an affair that might have tempted him to throw away his hard-won assets by killing his wife, faking his death and assuming a new identity. He had banked the cash from selling out of the car yard and had just bought his expensive cabin cruiser - hardly the actions of a man planning to run away.
Helen, quiet, clever and a hard worker, had never been suspected of anything untoward. Her best friend (and bridesmaid) Eril Harrower knew she had been unhappy following a miscarriage, but that made her no different from thousands of other women.
The two nurses had trained together at Austin Hospital. Eril thought Doug took Helen for granted but doubts he was capable of a crime. When Helen visited Eril's house in suburban Surrey Hills the day before the Eildon trip, she had been subdued but said nothing that hinted anything dramatic was ahead.
The police found later that Helen had chatted to her mother on the telephone that Friday night. She'd said she was doing the ironing, and had promised to call on her parents after returning from Eildon next day. When detectives searched her house, they found the pressed clothes still on the ironing board. They judged this was not the action of a woman planning to run away.
In fact, apart from the miscarriage, the Barrs seemed to be going well. Both not yet 30, they had enough cash and assets to be planning to move to Queensland to live on the rent they planned to collect from a commercial property they had bought in Ascot Vale.
They owed about $12,000 on a house worth $50,000 and had borrowed to buy the Ascot Vale block but had $20,000 in the bank and owned the boat and two cars. Their assets were almost double their liabilities - prosperous but not so wealthy that police suspected the sort of lucrative criminal activity that could get them killed.
There was one jarring note. On the missing persons file is a reported "tip" from a police sergeant with underworld sources, saying he had heard the missing man was a "hoon" and a "skirt chaser". The implication was that he might have staged his disappearance. Nothing about Doug Barr's finances supported this and it would have been ignored but for a false lead that hijacked the inquiry - and revived the theory that the couple were alive somewhere.
On April 28, 10 weeks after the disappearance, a man publicly identified only by the name "Brian" made headlines by claiming he had seen the Barrs in Wangaratta. The police chased the lead because Brian, who had worked in the motor trade, said he knew the Barrs by sight. He also described, in detail, a NSW-registered 1973 red Volvo sedan he claimed they had used to drive away. It seemed too good to be true. It was.
Brian was deluded. When Good Weekend found him in rural Victoria last month he happily repeated his story of the Wangaratta "sighting" - but insisted the "Volvo" was a BMW. But, back in 1975, it took weeks for the police to realise the alleged red car was a red herring.
Eventually, one of Brian's relatives told police he was "a romancer", but not before they had traced the owners of dozens of red Volvos. It was a huge waste of resources, but neither the police nor the media had any reason to reveal they had been duped because no one had checked Brian's credibility. Because his fantasy was never publicly disowned, it left an impression that distorted public perceptions, and raised false hopes among some members of the grieving families.
Ken Barr says it smeared his missing brother as a cowardly runaway. "I hated [the newspaper] for never retracting it."
It is a winter weekday in Eildon. Mist hangs around the ranges and a chilly breeze sneaks across the pondage into empty streets. Dharrol Ashton is in shirt sleeves but doesn't notice the cold, even though he is sitting outside a cafe wishing he could break doctor's orders and have a smoke. The grandfather and retired builder is 63, a little older than his brother-in-law Doug would have been. Being here stirs emotions he has tried to hide for decades. A quiet man, he struggles to convey his anger, love, confusion and grief, but they are marked on the weather-beaten face and in the halting voice.
His mother died early this year, his father four years ago, so he is Helen's closest surviving relative. Time is running out to find answers to the question that has overshadowed his life. A dutiful son, husband and father, in 1975 he did what his parents thought best and kept going to work every day, unsure what was happening in the search for his only sister. Devastated then, he now realises his mother was reluctant to involve him. He feels he was kept in the dark, though in truth there was nothing new to know.
Helen's disappearance didn't kill his parents but it sentenced them to life in the hell reserved for families of the missing. If Helen's name was mentioned, their father burst into tears. After his mother died in January and they packed up her house, they found none of Helen's possessions, things the old lady had treasured all those empty years. Even the wedding certificate had gone. They can only guess that towards the end she threw everything away - a symbolic end to the long torment of unanswered prayers and crushed hopes.
Unresolved grief, as perverse as superstition, can drive out logic. Dharrol Ashton still frets over loose ends, some of which only he can see. He is the keeper of unprovable fragments of information, imagination and speculation that have been passed around the family and repeated until they seem almost true.
For instance, his mother once told him that when they got the Mini back from the police, she found cigarette butts in the ashtray. Neither Helen nor Doug smoked - proof, to the Ashtons, that the butts were left by the nameless, faceless assailant of their nightmares. But if Mrs Ashton kept the butts, let alone handed them to police, her son doesn't know about it.
He says his mother also claimed police "told her" the case could have been about mistaken identity, that the Barrs might have been executed by a hit man who mistook them for the drug couriers Doug and Isabel Wilson, murdered in 1979 on the orders of the notorious "Mr Asia" drug syndicate.
The supposed reasoning for this was that both men were called Douglas and that Isabel Wilson had once been a nurse, like Helen. The fact that the Wilsons were New Zealanders - and killed four years after the Barrs disappeared - makes the theory sound bizarre.
The surviving Barr and Ashton don't stay in touch now. But Ken and Dharrol, best man and groomsman at Doug and Helen's wedding at St Mark's in Camberwell in 1969, can't bring themselves to believe it was a simple drowning. Neither can identify a suspect or a motive for foul play, but they cannot let the idea go.
Whereas Ken Barr thinks both are dead, for years Dharrol Ashton nursed a hope that by some miracle his sister was taken away and kept alive somewhere. Asia, maybe. Or the Middle East. "You know, white slavery ..." he murmurs uncertainly.
Then he says the saddest thing. "When Mum died this year and Helen didn't turn up at the funeral, I realised she wouldn't be back." His voice trails off and he looks out over the cold, grey water, blinking back tears.
Picnic at Eildon Weir ... a mystery unravelled?
When the Barrs' bodies were not found, people imagined the worst. But the suspicions of foul play rested on two flawed assumptions - that drowned bodies are nearly always found and that bodies could not escape from the pondage into the Goulburn River.
The two surviving police closest to the case privately think the Barrs probably drowned, and say the homicide inquiry - including a reward - was largely a PR gesture for upset relatives.
Max Moate, Eildon sergeant in 1975, says: "It's important to appease those who might criticise you later. Dead people don't lay complaints, but their relatives do." One of the two homicide detectives on the case, Neil MacDonald, says he and his sergeant (since deceased) had the Goulburn River searched in case the bodies had escaped the pondage.
But even if the bodies had stayed in the pondage there was no guarantee of finding them, say search and rescue divers who dived for them. Bodies in extremely cold fresh water - as in alpine areas - often do not float as they do in warmer coastal rivers and bays, because they do not putrefy and create gas.
Then there is the "yabby factor": yabbies, freshwater crays and some fish eat flesh. If they pierce the stomach lining, a body will not float. Soon it would be stripped to bones, virtually impossible to find in the mud.
Many drowning and accident victims in Lake Eildon have never been found. The bodies usually do not float, and divers report zero visibility near the bottom. Snags and murky water make diving slow and dangerous. The pondage is much shallower than the lake but the water is equally cold and murky.
The danger posed by cold, fast-flowing water was underlined last March by the death of a woman who slipped into the pondage while feeding ducks. Her body was swept more than a kilometre towards the Goulburn.
So what happened to the Barrs? The circumstantial evidence suggests they reached the picnic spot soon after their car was seen at the boat harbour at 4.30pm. At 5.30pm the hydro-generator started on schedule, sending a surge of freezing water down the race. If Helen - keener swimmer of the pair - had been in the water at the time she might have panicked and called for help.
No matter how much he "didn't like cold water", Doug Barr likely would have jumped in to try to rescue her - then both could have been swept away and drowned. The bodies may have lodged in a deep hole in the submerged river bed, or were carried downstream through the "gate" when engineers hastily drained the pondage over the next 24 hours.
The fact their car keys and Doug Barr's wallet were reportedly missing fits the theory that he jumped into the water with them in his pocket. Alternatively, if the wallet was left on the rug, it could have been stolen by an unknown person later that evening or early next day.
Denis Young, a former police diver who looked for the Barrs, says: "We'd prefer to believe they were on a deckchair in Queensland somewhere but you are never sure you haven't missed something in a search. Cold water kills: the gasp reflex gets people into trouble immediately." Other divers concede it is likely the Barrs drowned.
In the unlikely event any remains are ever found, Helen Barr will be identified. After his mother died last January, Dharrol Ashton arranged for a DNA sample to be taken from her to be stored for comparison. Just in case.