Bernadette DONALDSON

                                                    

*A huge thanks to Channel 7's Sunday Night TV show for these images.

http://au.news.yahoo.com/sunday-night/features/article/-/21467745/meet-mark-donaldson-vc/

 

 

Bernadette Donaldson was 46 years old when she was last seen in Dorrigo, northern NSW on April 29th or 30th 1998.

 

Unsolved Homicide Team detectives conduct search relating to historic suspicious death

Monday, 03 Nov 2008 05:20am

 

NSW Unsolved Homicide Team detectives will today begin an extensive excavation of bushland at Bellingen as part of ongoing investigations into the suspicious death of a woman in 1998.

Northern Region Unsolved Homicide Team detectives are leading investigations into Strike Force Hoopeston, which was originally established by detectives at Coffs/Clarence Local Area Command in June 1998 to investigate the incident.

Detectives believe Bernadette Donaldson, who was 46-years-old at the time, had planned to fly to the Gold Coast on 30 April 1998, where she planned to meet with friends for a holiday.

However, police were contacted by a male boarder after he returned home to find Ms Donaldson’s luggage still at the Dorrigo residence. It’s understood Ms Donaldson never made her flight and has not been seen since.

Strike Force Hoopeston detectives will today begin an extensive search for skeletal remains, involving the excavation of bushland in Bellingen. The search is expected to take about a week.

Today’s search follows a Coronial investigation that was conducted in 1999.

Previous investigations by detectives located a yellow Suzuki sedan at a home in Grafton in May 1998, containing forensic evidence which was linked to Ms Donaldson.

Coffs/Clarence Local Area Commander, Superintendent Mark Holahan, said, “Strike Force Hoopeston detectives are working tirelessly to investigate this historic case.

“Detectives are following all lines of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Bernadette Donaldson and will continue to conduct inquiries into the matter.

“Strike Force detectives are hopeful this search may lead to further developments into the case,” Superintendent Holahan said.

NSW police scour bush for remains of woman, presumed murdered
3rd November 2008, 17:15 WST  - The West.com.au

The remains of a woman believed to have been murdered more than a decade ago lie in bushland in northern NSW, police say. 

A team of homicide investigators today started combing bush near Bellingen where they said the skeletal remains of Bernadette Donaldson, aged 46 at the time of her disappearance in 1998, are hidden.

Ms Donaldson has not been seen since April 1998 when she had planned to fly to the Gold Coast to meet friends for a holiday.

However, she never made the trip and her luggage was found at the boarding house she owned at Dorrigo in the state’s north, not far from Bellingen.

A coronial investigation in 1999 provided little insight into her fate but Superintendent Mark Holahan said the unsolved homicide squad had taken on the case and was confident of finding answers.

“It’s not so much fresh evidence, but the unsolved homicide squad has taken the opportunity to reopen the matter 10 years on, in light of a few changes to the ways we can look at evidence,“ Supt Holahan told AAP.

“We have identified an area that may bring some results. All we can say at this stage is that it is an area in bushland near Bellingen but we are not saying specifically because we don’t want to risk contaminating the area.”

Supt Holahan would not be drawn on whether it was forensic evidence that led investigators to the area.

However, he conceded detectives were no longer pursuing forensic evidence linked to Ms Donaldson, found inside a yellow Suzuki car at Grafton the same year as her disappearance.

Ten officers today started combing bushland and that work is expected to step up tomorrow.

“Tomorrow we expect to move on to a hand dig,” Supt Holahan said.

Detectives expect to spend all week in the area.

“Ms Donaldson is survived by relatives who would obviously like to know what happened to her or at least recover her remains, and the investigation team is hopeful the search will find valuable new information,” Supt Holahan said.

10 years on, Police dig for remains

 
POLICE are looking for the skeletal remains of a Dorrigo woman who went missing in suspicious circumstances 10 years ago.

Unsolved Homicide Team detectives yesterday began an extensive excavation of bushland on Bellingen's outskirts as part of the ongoing investigation into the death of Bernadette Donaldson, 46.

The search is expected to last a week.

Detectives are leading investigations into Strike Force Hoopeston, which was originally established by Coffs/Clarence police in June 1998.

Investigators believe Ms Donaldson had planned to fly to the Gold Coast on April 30, 1998, and was due to meet friends for a holiday.

However, police were contacted by a male boarder after he returned home to find Ms Donaldson's luggage still at her Dorrigo house.

It's understood Ms Donaldson never made her flight, and she has not been seen since.

This week's search follows a coronial investigation in 1999, with previous investigations locating a yellow Suzuki sedan at a Grafton home in May 1998. The car contained forensic evidence linked to Ms Donaldson.

“Strike Force Hoopeston detectives are working tirelessly to investigate this historic case,” Coffs/Clarence local area commander Superintendent Mark Holahan said.

“Detectives are following all lines of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Bernadette Donaldson and will continue to conduct inquiries into the matter.

“Strike force detectives are hopeful this search may lead to further developments into the case.”

It is understood Ms Donaldson's family had been contacted about the excavation

Police re-visit Donaldson case

4/11/2008 10:34:00 AM - Bellingen Shire Courier Sun

 

Unsolved Homicide Team detectives have begun an extensive excavation of bushland near Bellingen as part of ongoing investigations into the suspicious death of a Dorrigo woman in 1998. Northern Region Unsolved Homicide Team detectives are leading investigations into Strike Force Hoopeston, which was originally established by detectives from the Local Area Command in June 1998 to investigate the incident. Detectives believe Bernadette Donaldson, 46-years-old at the time, had planned to fly to the Gold Coast on April 30, 1998, where she planned to meet with friends for a holiday. However, police were contacted by a male boarder after he returned home to find Ms Donaldson's luggage still at the Dorrigo residence. It's understood Ms Donaldson never made her flight and has not been seen since. Strike Force Hoopeston detectives will begin an extensive search for skeletal remains, involving the excavation of bushland on Kalang Road, previously used by Council to dispose of euthanased dogs. Detective Pat Gleeson said: “We will definitely uncover bones. We will have the help of a specialist”. Police are hopeful of determining reasonably quickly if human bones are present, although they have set aside a week for the work. The search follows a Coronial investigation that was conducted in 1999. Previous investigations by detectives located a yellow Suzuki sedan at a home in Grafton in May 1998, containing forensic evidence which was linked to Ms Donaldson. Coffs/Clarence Local Area Commander, Superintendent Mark Holahan, said: "Detectives are following all lines of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Bernadette Donaldson and will continue to conduct inquiries into the matter.

 

Animal graveyard searched in suspicious death probe

Posted Wed Nov 5, 2008 10:08am AEDT - ABC

Excavations are continuing near a former animal graveyard on the outskirts of Bellingen as police look for clues in a 'cold case'.

The old pound site on the Kalang Road has been identified as an area of interest in the probe into the suspicious death of a local 10 years ago.

The Unsolved Homicide Squad is trying to find out what happened to Bernadette Donaldson in April 1998.

Local area commander Mark Holahan says new technology helps with old cases.

"We've changed the whole way in a lot of ways in which we investigate and technology continues to change," he said.

"Probably 10 years when this murder occurred DNA was only in its infancy and now DNA is an area where we rely upon in some investigations. It's just an indication that as technology evolves that the way we investigate and the evidence that's available to us in the future well probably be much different than it is today."

Superintendent Holohan says the work is hard and often unpleasant.

"We're searching an area which has previously been used by the Bellingen council to dispose of dead animals, so as you can probably imagine as we dig through those pits it's not the nicest of environments to work in and that will take us some time," he said.

"So we continue to work through a number of those pits at this stage and we forecast we should be finished by the end of the week and we'll be in a lot stronger position from then."

The private pain of a national hero

 
January 24, 2009 - SMH
 

This solitary young rebel surprised his loved ones by enlisting, writes Matt Buchanan.

 
WHEN Trooper Mark Donaldson showed the extraordinary courage, character and inner strength that resulted in him being awarded the Victoria Cross, it was not the first time.

Those same qualities had been forged earlier, in the mysterious and tragic circumstances of his family life, circumstances that utterly transformed him.

Donaldson and his older brother, Brent, lost both parents between 1995 and 1998, when the boys were 16 and 17 respectively.

Friends of the Donaldson family from the small town of Dorrigo, near Coffs Harbour, believe the sudden death by heart attack of their 47-year-old Vietnam veteran father, Greg, in a dentist's chair, sent the "mischievous", "carefree" and "creative" young boy into a dark period of introspection and solitariness.

And the disappearance three years later, in April 1998, of their mother Bernadette - who is still missing and now presumed murdered - is credited with wrenching Mark Donaldson from art college in Sydney after only six months, and initiating a period of wandering in the wilderness for the young man.

This period took him from working on power lines in the Snowy Mountains to making snow in Canada.

Word of his decision in 2002 to join the army, at the age of 22, came as a shock to those who knew him growing up as his mother's son, full of fun, with a wild streak. "When I was sent a letter telling me he'd joined the army I just fell off the chair," says Bob Denner, the secretary of Dorrigo RSL sub-branch.

Denner, a former lieutenant, served in Greg Donaldson's unit in Vietnam, 176 Air Despatch, though at a different time. As a member of Legacy, he helped look after Mark and Brent when Greg suddenly died. Denner became Bernadette Donaldson's legatee, and the boys, Mark and Brent, became junior legatee wards at the Coffs Harbour Legacy Club.

"He'd sort of slipped away before the HSC." Denner says. "And I just thought Mark was not the sort of person to join the army at all. He was fiercely independent, a typical country boy. And there was a real softness about Mark, too. I remember he 'inherited' a Kelpie puppy, shortly after the loss of Bernadette, that he loved. But he wasn't someone, from my recollection of his relationship with his dad, who responded to discipline and conformity."

Mark's early nonconformity was evident at school.

When one old school friend, who does not wish to be named, saw "a clean-cut, super-fit looking" Donaldson on the television receiving his Victoria Cross last week he could barely believe the transformation from the year 12 student at Dorrigo High School who had just lost his father.

The Mark Donaldson he remembers was "an anti-authority, anti-military sort of guy with wild hair" who "painted black pictures of skulls",

whose manner and appearance attracted mockery from other students, but whose ability at martial arts meant that comments eventually came at a cost.

"I was in year 10 and I knew to stay out of his road. Other kids would want to pick on him. And I remember my design and technology teacher telling this young kid to leave Mark alone because 'he'll take it, and he'll take it, but one day he'll floor you'. This was like a red rag to a bull for this kid, who went straight after Mark, who finally just gave this kid a split-kick to the guts and just felled him.

"When the kid went back to the teacher to tell him what had happened, the teacher just said, 'Well, I told you.'

"If I saw Mark now I'd say to him, 'Wow, awesome! You've just done so well."'

Brent Donaldson, a physical education teacher, said he and his family were extremely proud of his brother.

"The events that happened had an effect, as it would on anyone, and I don't think it matters at what age it happens," he says of the loss of their parents. "I think for us it gave us a more steely resolve and a stronger-than-average coping mechanism."

His brother's joining the army had surprised him.

"He was definitely good at art, and that's a tack we were thinking he might take. But he still always had loved running, and being outside. And being in a country town you do a bit of everything. You don't specialise like you do in cities, just finding friends who like one thing, because if you did you'd have no friends."

Mark Donaldson's enlistment in the army made some sense to a family friend, Jo Beaumont, 52.

Along with a former Dorrigo GP, Peter Vandyke, who trained the boys in rugby, Jo Beaumont and her husband Gary were the only Dorrigo representatives Mark invited to his VC ceremony last week.

After the death of both parents, the Beaumonts looked after the boys. Greg Donaldson and Gary Beaumont had grown close while fishing in local streams, sometimes with Mark.

The Beaumonts remember the family as hard workers, with Bernadette taking on three jobs at one stage. "Both boys had very high work ethics as a result."

Jo Beaumont, who lost an 11-year-old son 20 years ago, sees Mark's decision to join the army as a turn towards the stability of his father's example.

"He got a bit rebellious there at one stage, but nothing out of the ordinary, and it probably had a lot to do with losing his mum, as it would. But at 15 I didn't ever think he'd take an army career. But there's probably another family for him there in the army, in the SAS, the discipline of his dad."

The townsfolk of Dorrigo fiercely protect the Donaldson boys' privacy, and especially the memory of their parents.

In November the police reopened the case of Bernadette Donaldson, digging in bushland without success.

In 1998 traces of her blood were found in the car of Christopher Watt, the branch manager of the Banana Coast Credit Union in neighbouring Bellingen.

The two had struck up a friendship after Bernadette was widowed and working in the Bellingen Shire Council office. Days after Bernadette went missing Watt committed suicide by drug overdose in Brisbane.

"I know Mark is very, very private, which is something I want to respect," Jo Beaumont says. "At the ceremony I was talking to another SAS soldier who was at our table, and he asked me, 'Where are Mark's parents?' Mark hadn't even told him."