Age - 16 years when missing.
Missing from Coober Pedy since August 1990.
Feb 4th 2010 - ABC
South Australian police say they have a fresh lead on a Coober Pedy teenager's disappearance 20 years ago.
Major Crime investigators have received an anonymous letter they hope will throw more light on Karen Williams' disappearance.
The 16-year-old was reported missing in August 1990 when she failed to return home from a disco at the Coober Pedy Hotel.
Detective Inspector Denise Gray says the letter giving new information on Miss William's disappearance will be investigated.
"I'm hoping that the person that provided the letter will come forward and give us some more information," she said.
"The details are quite scant and the more information we have relative to it would assist us and I would ask for anybody with any information come forward."
She says police are working with the family.
"The loss of a child is devastating for anyone and even though it's 20 years ago I don't imagine that pain would dull too much," she said.
"But bits and pieces come in all the time that we're hoping one day we will provide a solution to the disappearance."
Now her brother Kim Williams has told The Advertiser he is afraid the same thing will happen to the rest of their family, who have spent the past 22 years trying to put the pieces of her unsolved disappearance together.
"He (father Kingsley Smith) used to wait all the time for answers," he said.
"He never gave up; it was on his mind every day. I want to know something before mum goes too."
This weekend Major Crime detectives revealed a new lead in their investigation and say they have extracted a DNA sample from their key suspect.
"Now there's a glimmer of hope and that's something," Mr Williams said.
The fun and friendly teenager, then 16, had spent the evening of Friday August 3, 1990, at Coober Pedy's Opal Inn and Sergio's restaurant.
She was last seen by friends early the following morning in a car with a man who said he would drop her home.
Mr Williams and his mother Eva said they hoped a renewed investigation would help solve the mystery.
"Please come forward and open up, if you know something; why hide it? Now is the time," Ms Williams said.
"I remember her going to a disco and the last thing I said to her was 'I'm going home do you want to come', but she said she was enjoying herself. "We had a very close relationship with her. We never argued; this was so uncharacteristic of her."
The family is convinced there are people in the community withholding information about the crime.
Mr Williams's message to those people is simple: "I'd say walk in my shoes, see how it feels," he said.
"Walk in my mother's shoes after all these years."
Ms Williams agreed, pleading with the public to finally close the chapter on the unsolved crime that has tortured their family for more than two decades.
"They should be brave enough to own up to the truth or say what they know and tell the police if they know anything," she said.
Major Crime Detective Brevet Sergeant Paul Ward said police were seeking a red or orange Datsun 180B sedan as a vehicle "of interest".
Anyone with information is asked to contact Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.
Police believe they are a step closer to solving the disappearance more than two decades ago of Coober Pedy teenager Karen Williams.
Major Crime detectives say they have identified a suspect and taken a sample of his DNA.
It is 22 years since teenager Karen Williams, 16, was last seen alive.
Her disappearance from the South Australian outback opal mining town in the early hours of August 4, 1990 has baffled detectives.
Now a review of the case has given them a new lead, says Detective Brevet Sergeant Paul Ward of SA Police.
"As a result of those enquiries early in August this year, Major Crime detectives interviewed a person who we are now treating as a suspect," he said.
"As you can imagine the family of Karen has gone through some pain over the past 22 years and it's our aim to bring the investigation to a satisfactory conclusion."
The suspect, aged in his 40s, was spoken to during the initial investigation.
He used to live in Coober Pedy and knew Ms Williams and her family.
The man has provided police with his DNA, but detectives still need more information to solve the case.
There remains a $200,000 reward on offer for anyone who provides information leading to an arrest.
Detectives say a red or orange Datsun 180B was seen in the area at the time of Ms Williams' disappearance.
In a significant development in the 22-year-old mystery, Major Crime detectives have questioned the suspect, a former resident of the opal mining town now aged in his 40s. Police have taken a DNA sample from him.
The man was identified when detectives uncovered fresh information implicating him in the long-running case during a comprehensive cold case review this year. The nature of the new information remains confidential, but police have revealed it has given the investigation a "renewed focus and direction" that could result in an arrest.
Major Crime Detective Brevet Sergeant Paul Ward said a vehicle "of interest" in the case - a red or orange Datsun 180B sedan - had also been identified and was now being sought.
The vehicle was seen near Tomcat Rd and the Oodnadatta road, several kilometres from Coober Pedy, in the early hours of August 4, 1990 - the morning Ms Williams disappeared.
Sgt Ward said police had conducted investigations in Victoria, Western Australia and at several locations in SA in recent weeks. Detectives had discovered the 16-year-old had been at Coober Pedy's Opal Inn on the night of Friday August 3, 1990. She left the premises in the early hours of Saturday, August 4 with several friends and went to Sergio's Restaurant in Hutchinson St. Between 5am and 6am that morning, Ms Williams left the restaurant with three friends on foot.
They were collected by a young male and driven to the corner of Medway Dr and Lehman Pl. Her friends left the vehicle and the man drove several hundred metres along nearby Dawes St , where he said he dropped off Ms Williams. She has not been seen since.
"We have already identified people who have given us new information ... and believe there are others who may have information that can assist us," Bvt Sgt Ward said.
"It's now 22 years since Karen vanished. Friendships and loyalties between people alter over time and it is possible people with information that can help us are in that situation now.
"I would urge them to contact us and I remind the public there is a $200,000 reward for any person who provides information that leads to an arrest."
He said solving the case was of importance to Ms Williams's family and the Coober Pedy community.
Anyone who may have seen Karen Williams on the morning of August 4, 1990, or has any information on the movements of the Datsun sedan is urged to contact Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.
They have begun excavating an old mine on the outskirts of the town and expect to retrieve the 16-year-old's remains.
It stems from a major development in the 23-year-old cold case last August , when Major Crime detectives received new information and identified a suspect after an extensive review.
Major Crime detectives expect an arrest to be made if Ms Williams' body is found.
The suspect - who police have revealed as "not a member of the Aboriginal community" - had lived in Coober Pedy at the time of Ms Williams' disappearance, but has not lived in the opal-mining town for many years.
He remains in South Australia.
Ms Williams' family yesterday said finding her remains - and seeing a suspect arrested - would take a huge weight and tension off a community that has leveled blame at one another for two decades.
A Coober Pedy family member of Karen's - who did not want to be identified - said the breakthrough could bring the town peace.
"When she gets found, it will be something lifted from the community - a dark cloud has hung over it for 23 years," she said.
"I'm happy for (the family) that they can finally put her to rest.
"I have mixed emotions. I feel happy and sad at the same time."
The woman said she would not be getting her hopes up until police confirmed they found Karen.
"I feel really empty," she said.
"Now the truth will come out, what's going to happen to people blamed before?
"Too many people have been getting blamed."
Many members of Karen's close family, including her mother Eva Williams, live in Adelaide.
Detective Superintendent Des Bray, officer-in-charge of Major Crime, says there are three mine shafts at the site in which Ms Williams' body is likely located.
The current shaft - in which mine rescue workers, along with local police and SES workers have begun the slow excavation process using buckets by hand - is less than 1m wide and about 35ft deep.
"I'm very happy that we've progressed to the point that we're here today and while nothing is ever certain and we can't be 100 per cent that Karen is buried at this site, we have every expectation and we genuinely believe this is the most likely place in South Australia that we'll find Karen Williams," he said.
Ms Williams had been at Coober Pedy's Opal Inn on the night of Friday August 3, 1990. She left the venue in the early hours of Saturday, August 4 with several friends and went to Sergio's Restaurant in Hutchinson St for a private gathering.
Between 5am and 6am that morning, Ms Williams left the restaurant with three friends on foot.
They were picked up by a young local man and driven to the corner of Medway Dr and Lehman Pl.
Ms Williams' friends left the vehicle and the man drove several hundred metres along nearby Dawes St, where he said he dropped off Ms Williams near a family member's home.
The 16-year-old has not been seen since .
Police hope to gather more evidence to strengthen their case once Ms Williams' body is located.
Last year's review led to a number of new witnesses, persons of interest and the suspect. More than one person may have been involved in Ms Williams' disappearance.
Det-Supt Bray said the collective information led them to search the mine site.
The owner of the property has not been implicated in Ms Williams' disappearance.
"We have DNA on record and if we're fortunate enough to find Karen's body, there's every likelihood we will recover DNA from the scene," Mr Bray said.
"If you look at this site today, it didn't look like this in 1990 - it was unfenced, there was no shed over the mine and obviously had not been partially filled in.
"We're quietly confident we're in the right place."
Det-Supt Bray said he believed there were still people in the town who withheld information at the time of Ms Williams' disappearance and urged them to come forward because they had nothing to fear.
A $200,000 reward was put on offer for information that led police to locating Ms Williams' body.
"You just can't imagine what it's like for the family to have someone you love murdered and secondly not to have the body recovered and see people apparently who've got away with it," he said.
"I'm very confident the people who did this will not get away with it."
If you know anything about this crime please call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or report online at www.sa.crimestoppers.com.au if you can help.
The police operation - which expects to uncover the remains ofthe missing teenager and presumed murder victim - is now in day three with no clear end in sight.
The first mine shaft - considered the most likely location in which the 16-year-old's body was dumped 23 years ago - turned out to be much larger than first anticipated and did not contain any human remains.
At about 2.30pm on Friday, the volunteers finished searching the first shaft and moved on to a second site.
SES and mine rescue volunteer Andy Sheils - a 41-year resident of Coober Pedy - said the painstakingly slow process was very difficult for the volunteers.
"We started pulling most of the dirt using a 20L bucket and that was very slow, and there's a lot of rubbish in it so it's very hard to dig," he said.
"We got the blower in yesterday, which is basically a giant vacuum cleaner with nine-inch pipes.
"It's very hard work - we have to change over fairly regularly.
"We've had a lot of compacted ground, which has made it very slow."
Mr Sheils said the first shaft's small opening - about 80cm wide - made the job even more difficult.
"We're pretty used to that, it doesn't worry us, but it makes the job very difficult - we've got to bend down and it's hard to breathe," he said.
"And when the blower's not working, it gets really hot.
"It's very restrictive and if it's compacted ground it's very tough physical work - you get tired out very quickly."
Excavation efforts also have been hampered by mechanical difficulties associated with the old blower.
"You never know, every time we think we've got an idea on what's going on, all of a sudden it changes again - we hit rubbish and we have to slow down," Mr Sheils said.
Police and forensic teams have begun bagging random objects from the excavated dirt, in case they are related to the crime.
"I've always wanted to get some type of closure, especially for (Karen's) mum, brother and friends," Mr Sheils said.
"You want to close that book so it'll be good if we can do that."
Detective Superintendent Des Bray, officer-in-charge of Major Crime, has praised the efforts of volunteers and remains confident they will uncover Ms Williams' remains at the current site.
That find will likely lead to the arrest of a key suspect and a resolution to the 23-year mystery.
"We're into day three but we can say that there is nothing that has dampened our enthusiasm," he said.
"(The SES crews) have just been excellent. They make significant sacrifice to be here and do this, as do all volunteers, and they've done a tremendous job.
"They are working in very confined space, at depths, very cramped conditions, it's hard work. I'd suggest (Mr Sheils) is understating the effort they put in."