Above - age enhanced photo of what Ian may look like
Significant identifying feature:
Tattoo - Cartoon style round bomb with lit fuse located between the
forefinger and thumb of left hand measuring 2cm x 2cm
Ian Stanton went missing from Bundanoon in the NSW Southern
Highlands, just after his 23rd birthday. The last person to see him was his
dad Norm, on Friday, May 9, 2003. On the following Tuesday, Ian's mother Jean
went to see him and he wasn't there. On the sink were the groceries and mail
his parents had left earlier — it wasn't touched. His credit card, wallet and
keys were still there. He was a bit short of money, yet there was a $10 note
and quite a lot of change lying around. All his clothes were there and
everything was left with the door unlocked. Ian has not been seen since this
Ian Stanton went missing from Bundanoon in the NSW Southern
Highlands, just after his 23rd birthday. The last person to see him was his dad
Norm, on Friday, May 9, 2003. Since then, Norm and his wife Jean have feared the
worst — just knowing Ian's okay would bring them enormous relief. Norm tells his
"He had a good 23rd birthday, spent at home. Ian was in good spirits, saying it
was his best birthday ever.
A week later I took some mail and food to his flat and we had a brief chat. He
wasn't quite with it. He was probably smoking dope at the time.
Our son started smoking marijuana at a young age and he graduated to heroin in
his mid-teens, which he kicked when he was 19. I've no doubt marijuana triggered
a schizophrenic condition — I don't know whether there's a gene or whatever, but
it has definitely presented problems for our young man.
On the following Tuesday, my wife Jean went to see him and he wasn't there. On
the sink were the groceries and mail we'd left earlier — it wasn't even touched.
His credit card, wallet and keys were still there. He was a bit short of money,
yet there was a $10 note and quite a lot of change lying around. All his clothes
were there and everything was left with the door unlocked. He'd just gone.
It led me to fear the worst. He probably decided to pull the pin. Since then
we've experienced the rollercoaster of emotions. You hope, but the police
haven't been able to shed any light.
He was very much a loner; we were probably his best friends. Ian had been
involved with WIRES — he loved animals and rescuing wildlife, and he had a brief
stint on a local FM station. He was in and out of different jobs, and there were
times he had his life on track. But unfortunately he'd slipped away a bit in
those weeks prior to him leaving.
He was living a kilometre from Morton National Park and looking for him in there
is like looking for a needle in haystack. Ian did a lot of bushwalking and he
knew the area well. The ranger told us Ian would know where to go where no-one
would find him.
It's the not knowing that's the killer for us. It's a tough time, but you try to
If you have any information, call the NSW Police Missing Persons Unit on 1800
- with thanks to WOMAN'S DAY magazine
Hope for posters to aid missing man search
Posters of a missing man will be distributed in the New
South Wales Southern Highlands after concerns were raised by the man's father.
Ian Stanton was last seen seven years ago.
He was living in an apartment above a newsagency in Bundanoon. His father,
Norm Stanton, says his son had drug and mental health issues but was in good
spirits just before his disappearance.
Earlier this month, Mr Stanton spoke to the national media regarding an
Australian Federal Police campaign to circulate age-enhanced images of his son.
But he is concerned that none of the posters had been circulated locally.
Police from the Goulburn local area command have confirmed that they have
received posters of Ian Stanton and will circulate them in the Southern
Highlands this week.
His father is hoping the images will lead to further information.
Missing: broken hearts keep asking why
This story first appeared in the Mercury on June 2, 2013.
Three years after his son went missing, Norm Stanton found himself walking the
paths of a Buddhist monastery poised on the edge of the Morton National Park.
As he walked and meditated on his loss, he heard the words repeated like a
mantra inside his head:
"I'm still with you, Dad."
This was the moment when he could walk no more, when he found a log, when he
collapsed and sobbing engulfed his body.
"I felt there was an element of truth," Stanton, a retired primary school
"His presence was with me even if he is missing, Ian's memory is still with me
in my head and heart, and I thought, 'Let's inscribe it on my body and get a
So it was that, a few weeks ago on his son's 33rd birthday, Stanton found
himself sitting in a tattoo parlour for his first piece.
Rolling up his sleeve, this gentle, thoughtful, sad and compassionate man
reveals the blue-black ink still fresh on his skin:
"I am still with you Dad." The Grebe.
Ian Stanton was a challenging son, who carried the family nickname of a bird
whose portrait appeared on a stamp when he was a baby - a bird with a small tuft
of hair like his own.
He was adored and happy as a child, but started smoking marijuana as a young
teenager and later became so difficult that he left home for a refuge before he
was 17 years old.
Probably an undiagnosed schizophrenic, he led a chaotic life. He grew dope and
may well have sold drugs for a while.
Sometimes he worked, sometimes he did not. Sometimes he had a girlfriend, but
none lasted. He developed a heroin habit for a while, but kicked it.
He was a WIRES volunteer, was artistic, became an amateur actor and community
He was a talented cartoonist and - at his best - gentle, funny and clever.
The last time the family were together was a happy occasion, his 23rd birthday,
but a week later he was short and dismissive when his father turned up at his
home in Bundanoon to deliver some mail.
A week later, he was gone - no-one knows the precise date of his disappearance -
and, like 12,400 people every year in NSW, he was reported missing.
His sister, Alex Speed, later described the experience as "living with a
permanent bruise under our skins".
The first and most important fact to realise about missing people, according to
Chief Inspector Paul Roussos, manager of the Missing Persons' Unit in Sydney, is
that the vast majority turn up again.
Of the 12,400 reported missing, only about 30 people remain missing after a year
- though some are found dead through accident, suicide or misadventure.
"If you have a concern for someone's welfare, then that starts to become a
missing person matter," Roussos said.
"That's why we say, if you have a concern for a person then report it, don't
"It's important not to wait because if there is foul play, or if something's
gone wrong, it's important to have the authorities on the matter as quick as we
If police treat reports of missing people differently now, it may be partly due
to the efforts of Stanton, who tells his family's story to all new recruits
passing through the NSW Police Academy at Goulburn.
It would be fair to say, however, that the Stantons' experience was not a good
"I say to cadets 'Don't treat people like I was treated. Don't make assumptions
that that person is going to turn up'," Stanton said.
"When I reported Ian missing at a police station, the officer didn't take any
details and just fobbed me off. It was a really lazy approach."
Worse still, there were only cursory search attempts at the most likely location
for Ian, the Morton National Park, where he used to go for long rambles through
So Stanton, his wife Jean, and other family members found themselves bashing
through the undergrowth in a desperate attempt to find Ian.
"Those early days were heart-breaking stuff, not knowing what had happened, not
knowing what to do," Stanton said.
"We did our own searches but we're not bushwalkers and we're not trained to do
They eventually stopped when they realised they were lost in the bush, and saw
the irony of the parents of a missing son going missing themselves.
It was up to Stanton to ring police stations, refuges, hospitals and mental
health institutions in a vain attempt that any had seen his son.
Even now, Stanton hands out photos of Ian when he talks to service clubs,
because, as he says: "You never know".
You never know.
Stanton calls it the Clayton's Loss - after the non-alcoholic drink
advertisement, whose line was "The drink you have, when you're not having a
"For me, this is the loss you have when you don't really know if it's a loss,"
And that is the point.
That, according to Liz Davies, the co-ordinator of the Family and Friends of
Missing Persons, is what makes the fact of a missing person so hard.
The group is the only one of its type in Australia, and was founded in 2000
after lobbying by families of missing people and is funded by the state
Quoting an American expert, she calls it "ambiguous loss" for that state when a
loved one is both psychologically present but physically absent.
"The struggle for families is finding a way to sit with not knowing," Davies
"They have to find a way of living with the ambiguity of the missing person.
"The recipe is a very challenging one.
"We talk with families about finding a place of comfort with themselves, of
sitting with the not knowing and lack of clarity, of being able to move forward
with their lives.
"If you come at missing from a problem-solving, solution-focused perspective, it
"There may be no solution, though we would love for it to be possible.
"The solution is that the person returns, so families work to find a way of
waiting that is tolerable, to find a way of living with not knowing."
The group provides a range of support, including helping support groups such as
the one that attracts up to a dozen people to share experiences every couple of
months in Corrimal.
"I don't believe we have the right to ever say to a family that there is no
hope," Davies said.
"I don't believe families ever give up hope, though the nature of their hope
Yet hope is no simple proposition.
Bob and Sue Neville have travelled around Australia, looking for their son,
No-one knows this better than Bob and Sue Neville, whose son left the family
home in Coledale with the words: "I'm just going for a walk, Mum".
That was one warm September day in 2008, leaving behind him parents tormented by
questions that may very well never find an answer.
It was not unusual for Bobby to leave, though he would always be in touch
eventually, but this time, Sue felt a mother's intuition when walking the next
day with Bob.
"I just had this overwhelming feeling that he's not coming back and that
something had happened. I almost dropped to my knees," she said.
Is he alive? Is he dead? Would he leave without explanation? Does he want to be
found? Did he kill himself?
Bobby Neville’s boat is still in their yard, last used a couple of weeks before
His old bomb of a car waits for the return of its owner. The fence and the
sandstone terrace he built on the property are reminders of his presence.
‘‘He is so embodied in our property that we stay, even though our property is
getting very difficult for us to manage now,’’ Sue, a retired teacher from
Figtree High, said.
Like the Stantons, the Nevilles are torn apart by the love for their child and
have only lately learned that they sometimes need to put him to one side if they
are to retain their sanity.
Bob is a retired draftsman and courier, a bearded bush character who is a
straight-talker and a man proud to set his own course, but in constant physical
pain from an old work injury.
The mental pain, too, is becoming hard to mask or to endure.
Bob admits that the void is ‘‘tormenting to the extreme’’ and that he’s finally
made an appointment with a counsellor to get help.
He reveals that he is on medication to settle him down for the interview
because, that morning, he was ‘‘shaking like a dog shitting razor blades’’.
‘‘Sometimes, I talk to him while I am doing things, it’s just a thing we do,
like going to the grave and putting flowers there,’’ Bob said.
‘‘I had got to the stage where I’d tell him I’d have to go away for a week or
two – ‘You look after yourself and I have something I have to do’.
‘‘I have found the spectre of it is too great at times.’’
This is the dark side of parental love, revealed by the constant and desperate
searching of two parents who would give anything to hold their son in their
embrace once more.
The Nevilles have travelled all over Australia in search of Bobby.
They’ve been to Adelaide, travelled the Ghan to Alice Springs, driven up to
Queensland and the NSW North Coast.
They would turn up to police stations, caravan parks, taxi ranks – anywhere –
always armed with flyers showing photos of Bobby.
Every time their hopes are raised with a possible sighting, or the discovery of
bones in an outback grave, they are smashed once more.
One time, they had only just returned from a trip up the North Coast when they
received a phone call from a caravan park owner who reckoned she had seen him.
It sounded hopeful – a man with a skateboard under his arm, talking about
fishing and wondering if he could have a shower and a coffee.
So Sue turned right around again, seeking leave from her job, and travelled for
five hours to Laurieton.
When she arrived, she showed the owner more photos of Bobby and suddenly the
certainty faded. Maybe it wasn’t him after all.
But hope would not stop tormenting the parents, so they returned six months
later and traipsed seven kilometres up the beach, searching the scrub where
homeless young men were living rough.
The adrenaline of hope pushed Bob on until he remembered his pain and knew he
could not return, hoping only that there would be help further on.
‘‘You do lose your equilibrium and that’s where I am at the moment,’’ Bob said.
‘‘It’s not good is it? I have lost my equilibrium, I bloody have.’’
Because another strange torture of missing is that – in many ways and in
contrast to other forms of grief – it becomes harder to bear over time.
Another member of the Corrimal support group is Karen James whose father, former
serviceman and taxi driver Leslie Hicks, vanished shortly after breakfast on
Easter Sunday, 2008.
He left his Woonona retirement village on a short walk to his daughter’s house
and has never been seen since.
For three years, James was convinced her father was alive, despite that fact
that he was nearly blind and needed daily medication for his diabetes.
She believed he may have forgotten she was away at her caravan down the coast
that day, and instead attempted the journey to his son’s house on the mid-North
It took three years for her to buy a burial plot at Kembla Grange – her hand was
forced because they were selling fast and she wanted him buried near her mother,
who died in 1989.
‘‘That was when I started to accept that I had probably lost him,’’ James said.
‘‘I wanted some place to go, but I have nothing to write on the headstone
because I have no date of death.’’
James only found out about her father’s disappearance on the Easter Monday, and
still regrets those 17 lost hours when he was gone but not yet reported missing.
Like the Nevilles, she has had hopes raised and then dashed.
‘‘If I am driving, I am still looking the whole time,’’ she said.
‘‘If I see an old man the right height, if I can’t see him properly, I have to
do laps until I can get a good look. I am always on the lookout.’’
She’s been to see three clairvoyants, but has never had a message from the other
One saw his body in thick lantana and brambles in bush between the Bulli Pass
and Pope’s Road, where he used to live.
But when police searched the area, they found nothing.
Until the past few months, James was reluctant to leave the house in case she
missed a phone call from her father and medication to combat anxiety has
increased in strength as time passes.
‘‘It’s funny, because when you lose somebody from death, it gets easier every
day,’’ she said.
‘‘Because you have put them to rest, and you know they’re gone.
‘‘With this, as time goes on it gets harder. You think about all the what-ifs.
‘‘The hope starts to fade and you wonder if there might have been foul play.’’
She hates the rain or when it’s really cold because the part that thinks he’s
still alive worries that he is cold. The part that thinks he is dead doesn’t
want his body laying out there.
‘‘I feel despair,’’ she said.
One of the men in the Corrimal group recently heard that his wife’s remains had
been found and the other people congratulated him.
The wait was over, even if the questions were not.
But although James would welcome the news that her father’s body had been found,
she knows that would not be the end.
‘‘Everybody says that you’ll have closure, but that’s a word I hate,’’ she said.
‘‘You won’t have closure because you don’t know what happened.
‘‘You don’t know how they died or what they went through.’’
The only truly happy ending for any of these families would be if their loved
one walked in through the door.
And even then, the questions may never have answers that satisfy.