The Heartache Of Just Not Knowing
Saturday August 4, 2007
It's a stunning statistic - 10,000 people reported missing to NSW Police in the past year. While many are found within a fortnight, those that aren't leave behind families with broken hearts and unanswered questions, as MICHELLE HOCTOR reports.
POLICE across NSW are undertaking mass DNA testing in the hope of finding new leads to the state's long-term missing persons cases.
Since Kay Docherty's disappearance 28 years ago, her family have had to hang their hopes on the slimmest of leads in the hope she was still alive.
Now the Dochertys, of Warilla, and hundreds of families like them have been given new hope through mitochondrial DNA testing.
The testing is specifically designed to link families with the remains of people who have died, but it at least offers closure for those who have had their lives put on hold for as many as 60 years.
Since 2000 many relatives of 660 long-term missing persons in NSW have had mitochondrial DNA samples tested in the hope new leads can be found.
NSW Missing Persons Unit Constable Joanna Williams said under normal circumstances nuclear DNA samples were taken because they provided a definitive result.
"With nuclear DNA, you can get a 100 per cent match," she said.
This testing fell down, however, when identifying missing persons because nuclear DNA slowly disappears from human tissue during decomposition.
As an alternative, a mitochondrial DNA sample was taken, which provides a connection through the maternal line.
"It's not 100 per cent definitive, but mitochondrial DNA can be detected in bones after decomposition," Const Williams said.
She said these family samples were being compared against any missing bones that had been found over the years, and will be accessed as new bones are found.
So far, a "handful" of cases have been solved through the process, Const Williams said.
Mitochondrial DNA samples, taken from a swab of saliva, are sent to the United States for testing before being returned as a DNA profile, a process that takes about six weeks.
Const Williams said police had been working way their way through a list of families, reaching Kay Docherty's 42-year-old twin brother Kevin on May 1 this year.
As yet, there have been no matches, a result Mr Docherty regards with mixed emotions. Either way, the news would not be good.
If you have seen any of these people, call 1800 000 634
Last seen: the 19-year-old was last seen in Tarrawanna on September 10, 2002.
Last seen: Warrawong in 1993
Last seen: Albion Park in 1989
Last seen: Unanderra in 1990
Last seen: July 27, 1979. The then 15-year-old left her Warilla home with friend Kay Docherty in the early evening.
Last seen: July 27, 1979. The 15-year-old left Warilla with friend Toni Cavanagh. Believed to have hitchhiked to Wollongong.
Last Seen: The 22-year-old was last seen on April 14, 1989 at Kiama. Police believe she met with foul play.