Hilda Billman was a frail 73-year-old when she
disappeared from a Bendigo psychiatric centre on a wintry afternoon
on September 6, 1996.
After discussing treatment options with her doctor and
family, the Quarry Hill grandmother asked to leave the consulting room
at the psychiatric unit of Bendigo Health Care Group in Eaglehawk to
make a drink.
That would be the last time her family, including husband
of 53 years, Syd, saw her.
A week-long search ensued, with police, state emergency
service personnel and members from the Melbourne search and rescue
squad scouring bushland across the region with the help of a police air
wing and the dog squad.
The search for Mrs Billman gained renewed impetus five
days into the operation, when she was seen leaning against a backyard
fence in Wesley Street, Kangaroo Flat.
The woman who sighted Mrs Billman offered her a cup of
tea, but was unable to strike up a conversation with her and she
eventually ran off.
Another three sightings proved fruitless for the search
party, with search coordinator Senior Sergeant Gordon MacKenzie telling
Advertiser he had never been involved in a search like that before,
suggesting it would be easier to find a prison escapee whose actions
were more predictable.
“But in this case we have frail 73-year-old woman
and it’s impossible to predict what she might do,” he said on
Mrs Billman’s disappearance featured on the
missing persons week media campaign in 2000, was revisited in
2002 and 2004 and was transferred to a cold case operation in
In 2015, a Bendigo detective met with Mrs
Billman’s son, who provided DNA to help with the
investigation and affirmed his belief his mother had fallen down
a disused mine shaft, according to Coroner Peter White.
In mid-2017, twenty years after Mrs Billman’s
disappearance, Coroner White was asked to provide a finding on
her suspected death.
A report detailing Coroner White’s inquest into
the death of Mrs Billman was published late last month.
In it, Coroner White stated:
“I am satisfied that although I am unable
to determine the place, cause and manner of her death,
Mrs Hillman, late of Harkness Street, Quarry Hill, is
likely to be deceased.”
Coroner White reached the conclusion
based on the fact Mrs Billman, who would now be 95 years
of age, had not accessed the public health system since
her disappearance, and police had received
no information on her whereabouts since 1996.
Coroner White also suggested efforts made
by Victoria Police to locate Mrs Billman were
“reasonable in the circumstances”.
Since 2014, all deaths of people placed
in custody or care required a mandatory inquest, unless
the Coroner was satisfied the death occurred due to
Advertiser attempted to contact the detective who
reported Mrs Billman’s suspected death to the Coroner in