Witness hypnosis called for in lost girl case
By Greg Wendt -
November 6 2002
Deep inside her subconscious, Audrey Barnard could hold a clue which could unravel one of the Hunter's most baffling crimes - the disappearance of 16-year-old Gordana Kotevski.
Yesterday State Coroner John Abernethy and the missing schoolgirl's parents urged the 75-year-old widow, one of the last people to see her alive, to undergo forensic hypnosis to unlock her memory of that night.
Mr Abernethy told Mrs Barnard that her witness account of the last moments before Gordana disappeared without trace from a street in Charlestown almost eight years ago, was the most significant, reliable evidence he had.
"Your information is very important," he said. "Maybe there is something in your subconscious ... faces, a numberplate or markings on the vehicle, which could assist even further."
Mrs Barnard said she was apprehensive about having
hypnosis because "I do not like giving my mind over to
somebody". But Toronto Court heard that Mrs Barnard had very
good recall of the night she saw "a pretty young girl with a
spring in her step".
Mrs Barnard said, however, she did not realise at the time that what she saw on November 24, 1994 in the town was relevant.
She said she had driven past a white Toyota Hi Lux four-wheel-drive vehicle on 9pm and saw two athletic young men standing at the rear.
"I am certain of the make of vehicle, because my husband had only recently died and he had a Toyota Hi Lux which he used on our farm," Mrs Barnard said.
"I saw two figures standing at the rear. They were half turned towards each other and they were moving their arms about in an animated fashion."
Further up the street she saw a young girl walking on the footpath carrying a shopping bag.
"I was drawn to her because she was so attractive," Mrs Barnard said. "She had a shopping bag and she was walking with that spring in her step like the world was wonderful."
Mrs Barnard was not contacted by police at the time and she did not believe the information she had was sufficient to contact them. It was not until officers from Strike Force Fenwick contacted her in January 1998 that she gave her account. "I was aware a young lady had disappeared from the area, it was on the television and in the newspapers ... I really didn't think that my information was significant," Mrs Barnard said.
Gordana's sister, Karolina Jagurinoski, told the inquest of a phone call she received from Gordana about two weeks before she disappeared about a youth the family called "The Spook".
"Gordana said there was this fellow bothering her at work, hanging around and bugging her and she didn't like him," Mrs Jagurinoski said. She revealed that Gordana quit her part-time job at a delicatessen because of the youth's stalking. "She didn't know him. I think he just saw her at the deli once and got carried away with her," she said.
Mrs Jagurinoski said she believed in her heart that the person stalking her sister had something to do with her disappearance: "Gordana would never have gone with them willingly. She would have put up a fight."
The inquest continues today.
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/05/1036308311821.html
Thursday, March 6, 2003. Posted: 08:40:15 (AEDT) - SMH
Police search for man named at Kotevski inquest
Police are trying to locate a man named as a
person of interest during the inquest into the
abduction and presumed murder of 16-year-old Gordana
Kotevski at Charlestown, near Newcastle, in 1994.
NSW family wants cold case re-opened
Posted- December 1st 2008 - ABC
The sister of a missing Newcastle woman is calling on the New South Wales Unsolved Homicide Unit to examine the case of 16-year-old Gordana Kotevski.
Ms Kotevski vanished while walking to her aunt's house at Charlestown, in the state's Hunter region, in November 1994.
Her aunt said she heard a scream and saw a white Toyota Hilux speeding from the scene.
That information is still the only lead for police from Strikeforce Fenwick who worked on the case at the time.
A $100,000 reward was posted but the case remains one of the Hunter Valley's most baffling missing persons cases.
Ms Kotevski's sister Karol Jag is now calling for the Unsolved Homicide Unit to get involved.
She says the case might need a fresh look from another perspective.
"As a family you want to have tried everything," she said.
"The years go by and when things like this are available you want the best to have had a chance to give you some answers and closure."
But Detective Chief Inspector Wayne Humphrey says his team cannot intervene without new evidence or a directive from the State Crime Command.
"All active avenues of investigation have been followed so now it's up to the public," he said.
Anyone with new information is being urged to contact police on 1800 333 000.
Fresh lead in Kotevski abduction
February 26, 2009 06:32am
POLICE have reactivated an investigation into the 1994 abduction and murder of Newcastle teenager Gordana Kotevski, with the unsolved homicide team receiving fresh information about the case.
The 16-year-old Cardiff girl was forced into a car on Powell St, Charlestown, on the night of November 24, 1994, while walking home from the local shopping centre with her aunt.
While her body has never been found, a 2003 coronial inquest declared the teenager was dead.
Homicide Squad Commander, Detective Acting Superintendent Russell Oxford, said police had reactivated the investigation after being given fresh information about the abduction.
"Investigations such as this are never closed and information relating to unsolved homicides is regularly forthcoming from members of the public and other sources," he said.
"Obviously, we cannot comment on the precise nature or source of the new information for operational reasons.
"However, last year's formation of specialised Unsolved Homicide Teams has increased the capacity of the NSW Police Force to provide an effective ongoing response to such matters."
Det Super Oxford said the scene of Gordana's abduction has been forensically re-examined, while new forensic and fingerprint identification technology will be used in the new investigation.
Police believe at least two people were involved in Gordana's abduction, and hope someone in the Newcastle community knows who they are.
Police have urged anyone with information about the abduction to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
All information will be treated in the strictest confidence, they said.
Police re-open case after fingerprint find
Updated - ABC
New South Wales Police say the detection of new evidence in the case of a missing Newcastle teenager has strengthened their resolve to solve the case.
Gordana Kotevski, 16, vanished at Charlestown in 1994.
A partial finger print was recently detected on a shopping bag found at the scene, prompting police to reactivate the case.
Inspector Graeme Parker says detectives are determined to put the matter to rest.
"We would like nothing more than to give the family closure. We really would," he said.
"This is something that... has affected the investigators very deeply.
"I'm not trying to down-play the family, there couldn't be any more misery than the family goes through after an event like this, but as I said the investigators themselves that get tied up in long protracted investigations hold a vested interest."
Detective Senior Sergeant George Radmore has been attached to the Kotevski case since 1998 and says Gordana may have been targeted by two people she knew.
"The abduction itself would have been premeditated, whether or not Gordana was the intended target or just at the wrong place at the wrong time is still under investigation," he said.
Gordana's mother Peggy Kotevski says she has nothing but praise for the detectives who have worked tirelessly on her daughter's case.
"The guys that I have been involved with and have been part of the investigation, they become part of the family and they were quite supportive," she said.
"In the beginning there was a bit of a rough trot but once we established what we established, what we were all about and what, [our] goal was to find Gordana which ever way."
Police close missing schoolgirl cold case
Eight months after reopening the investigation into a missing Newcastle schoolgirl, the Unsolved Homicide Squad has conceded it does not have enough evidence to take the matter further.
It is nearly 15 years since Gordana Kotevski vanished while walking home from a Charlestown shopping centre.
Her disappearance has baffled police, with the only solid lead being a four-wheel drive seen leaving the area.
In February this year, cold case detectives said there was a breakthrough, with a partial fingerprint found on a shopping bag sent away for more advanced forensic testing.
Police also said they had identified possible suspects after receiving new leads.
But the new information has lead nowhere and police are now winding up the investigation.
Some of the detectives have been attached to the case since Gordana vanished and say even though the trail has gone cold, the case will be reopened if there is new information
Could the young woman walking along a deserted road have been Gordana Kotevski?
THERE were 30 metres between Gordana Kotevski making it home that night and disappearing, forever.
On November 24, 1994, the pretty teenager was abducted from outside her aunt’s house on Powell St, Newcastle, NSW.
She was so close to home, her family heard her screams.
There was a short, sharp ‘no!’, followed by a longer ‘noooo!’
Muffled male voices, grunts of exertion.
Evidence of a scuffle, as two unidentified men bundled her into a white Toyota Hilux.
Then, three car doors slammed shut and the car disappeared up the street and around the corner.
And with it, 16-year-old Gordana Kotevski.
Gordana was the last in a string of young women to go missing from the Hunter region over a 16-year period.
The disappearance and subsequent suspected abduction and murder of 14-year-old Amanda Robinson, Gordana Kotevski, 16, Robyn Hickie, 18 and 20-year-old Leanne Goodall were investigated by police in isolation between 1978 and 1994.
Now, one of the nation’s most senior judicial figures, has made a startling revelation, confirming the unsolved homicides are potentially the work of a serial killer.
Former State Coroner John Abernethy, who presided over the inquests and 2003 Strike Force Fenwick review of the cases, has broken his public silence to reveal his belief the cases are the work of the one person or group.
“Of course I do, you can’t say for sure but of course I do, you’ve got to look at them as a package,” he says when asked whether the cases are linked.
Mr Abernethy maintains the commonalities between the cases are too hard to ignore, not least of all the disappearances occurring along just a 23km stretch of highway.
Amanda, Robyn and Leanne all vanished within four months between December 1978 and April 1979 while waiting for or getting off buses at bus stops on the Pacific Highway in Newcastle. Gordana was walking home from late-night shopping.
No trace of the women has ever been found.
“It was horrible,” says Gordana’s former best friend Belinda Miljkovic, softly.
“It’s amazing how somebody can just vanish, without any answers, without anything … it’s just like, how? How can that happen?” says Belinda, 40, her warm almond eyes revealing the turbulence of decades of questioning.
For 24 years, what happened to Gordana Kotevski and who took her has remained a mystery.
A 2003 coronial inquest found Gordana had been murdered, by person or persons unknown, but all leads have since dried up.
For years, the case has sat cold, among hundreds of others in the NSW Police unsolved homicides division, until a further development could help police unravel the riddle.
Now, through unprecedented media access, her family, friends and Newcastle locals shed fresh light on the case and reveal information that could catch her killer.
They confirm Gordana had a stalker — a man she nicknamed The Spook. And in the weeks and months before she disappeared a series of unnerving events occurred. Were these the signposts pointing to the horror about to befall the schoolgirl?
Darkness had begun to fall on that balmy November 24 summer’s evening as Gordana Kotevski left Charlestown Square shopping mall and made her way down the hill to her aunt Sonya Simonovich’s stately brick home.
It was just after 8.45pm and cicadas hummed from the bushland on either side of Powell St.
On the short seven-minute walk, Gordana swung a plastic shopping bag containing a pair of stockings, a black dress and a lay-by receipt for a new swimming costume.
Soon, that shopping bag would be found by the side of the road, its handle torn and imprinted with her finger marks, evidence she put up a fight.
Gordana had no idea of what lay before her.
A witness would later remark on her “happy gait” and the carefree demeanour of the young girl, jubilant about getting her first taste of adulthood that weekend.
Her parents, Peggy and Branko Kotevski, had given Gordana permission to attend her first concert on Saturday night and she had spent the evening shopping for an outfit.
It was a rare stroke of freedom for the Year 11 student whose strict immigrant parents didn’t allow her the same freedoms granted to many of her friends.
“She was excited. She was going to the Boyz 2 Men concert,” recalls Belinda.
“Whatever happened to her, whoever took her: I can guarantee it would have taken her by surprise.”
But there was something out of the ordinary about Gordana’s decision to walk that night. She had been offered a lift by her friend Betty Cocomanovski but turned it down.
According to all those who knew her, it was the first time she’d walked alone.
“To walk that late is very unusual for her,” says Gordana’s older sister, Carolina Kotevski, 45.
“This is a kid who would wake you up to go to the toilet at night, sort of thing, so there’s a lot of questions around that: why was she walking home?”
As Gordana trotted down the hill, a group of four male skateboarders, mucking around on Powell St, noticed her as she walked past.
One of the boys clocked a Toyota Hi-Lux four-wheel-drive as it travelled down the hill behind her.
When the car passed Gordana, it stopped, made a U-turn and parked at the bottom of the street, about 30 metres from Sonya and Greg Simonovich’s house.
The two men inside the car switched its lights off.
Sonya and Greg Simonovich were relaxing at home on the evening, when they heard a female screaming.
Mrs Simonovich was helping her daughter with homework when the increasing urgency of the screams unnerved her and she asked Greg to check what it was.
“I could tell it was a female screaming and it was continuous. It got continually louder and lasted for about 30 seconds,” Mrs Simonovich would later tell police.
She accompanied Greg outside to their front lawn where the couple could look onto Powell St.
A white vehicle was driving slowly up the street. They watched it turn the corner and disappear.
Not noticing anything out of the ordinary, the Simonovich’s assumed the noise was teenagers mucking around and they went back inside.
Only in retrospect did they realise they were watching their niece’s abduction.
Shortly after 9pm, Carolina phoned Mrs Simonovich.
Gordana’s big sister had driven up to Newcastle from Sydney, where she now lived, and wanted to pick Gordana up so she could play with Carolina’s newborn baby, Stevie.
But Gordana wasn’t home — a second phone call confirmed she wasn’t at her best friend, Belinda’s house, either.
A minute later Mrs Simonovich phoned Carolina back.
“You better come here,” she said. “We’ve found her shopping and her purse on the side of the road.”
“That was the beginning of our worst nightmare,” says Carolina.
In the early 90s, the Newcastle suburb of Charlestown wasn’t the sort of place where people locked their doors.
The area was mainly populated by the close-knit and closed Macedonian community. People knew their neighbours, most of them had lived there for decades.
It was far-fetched to imagine a young girl could get kidnapped from a busy suburban street — and Gordana Kotevski was a particularly unlikely victim.
She didn’t have enemies or mix in dodgy circles. She didn’t drink. She’d never tried drugs. She didn’t have a boyfriend.
“I couldn’t even pinpoint anyone,” says Belinda who, like all those who knew and loved Gordana, has spent the past two decades trying to figure out who would want to do this to her friend.
“There was only one thing that I thought of: there was this guy, she named him The Spook. He started to hang around,” she says.
“We just started to notice him being around, he’d be at the Pizza Hut, he was at the deli, we just started to notice him,” she says.
The Spook was in the supermarket and at the shops, he’d turn up in the shopping centre car park.
After Gordana’s abduction several family members and friends told police they had seen The Spook. She had pointed out the man, who she knew by name. Later, Belinda and Peggy were hypnotised in a desperate bid to remember the name Gordana had mentioned but no-one has been able to recall it.
But they could describe a Middle Eastern looking man, in his early 20s, and that he was often seen with a blonde, surfie-looking “mate”.
In the weeks leading up to Gordana Kotevsksi’s abduction the schoolgirl had become increasingly unnerved by The Spook. She felt she was being watched.
“She was afraid of him,” says Carolina.
“She started telling me she was feeling uncomfortable at work, that this guy kept coming in.
“She was working at the deli in Jesmond at the time, and she didn’t know his name or anything, she just said, ‘he keeps coming and bugging me and telling me he wants to go out with me’.”
When Gordana changed jobs after two months to work at Pizza Hut with Belinda, The Spook started showing up there.
Belinda remembers Gordana suddenly asking her to take the counter one evening so she could avoid serving a particular male customer.
When the man left, Gordana looked at Belinda.
“That was The Spook,” she said.
Her mother, Peggy, remembers Gordana pointing out the man in Woolworths. She recalls the man was “eyeing” Gordana off, as if to say, “she looks nice”.
Gordana had also told her aunt about The Spook.
On numerous occasions, Belinda and Peggy saw The Spook and “his mate”, a guy, aged 20-24, with blonde scraggy hair.
But it wasn’t until the inquest that a chilling revelation was made by Detective Senior Constable Kristina Illingsworth: there seemed to be a match between the description of The Spook and his mate and the two men driving the Toyota Hilux.
The frequency with which The Spook appeared and the unsettling nature of the encounters is enough to terrify most adults.
But in the days before mobile phone cameras, no one thought to get a picture of the man.
Belinda recalls one incident when the girls were shopping at Just Jeans.
Gordana was in the changing rooms, trying on a skirt.
When she walked out to get Belinda’s opinion, The Spook stepped out from the next cubicle.
“That looks nice,” he said.
“I just remember how quickly she wanted to get out of there,” Belinda says.
On another occasion a family friend told Carolina he had to hide a “terrified” Belinda and Gordana in his shop, when the teens rushed in, flustered and afraid of a man following them.
Then there were the phone calls.
About six weeks before Gordana was abducted Peggy Kotevski answered her home phone to a male caller, asking for Gordana.
He claimed to be calling from a new store called Gum Leaf but Gordana wasn’t home so Peggy passed on Belinda’s phone number.
Belinda still remembers the “strange” phone call because Gordana hung up when the caller began asking intimate questions. Did she like swimming? What did her swimwear look like? What size was her bra?
When detectives investigated, they discovered no shop called Gum Leaf ever existed.
‘Girl’s killer is in my family’: new suspect in Gordana Kotevski case
FOR almost 24 years, no one has known what happened to Gordana Kotevski.
On November 24, 1994, the popular teenager was abducted just steps away from her aunt’s house on Powell Street, Newcastle, NSW. Decades later, her body has never been found and the investigation was deemed a cold case — until now.
During True Crime Australia’s investigation, a woman and her son have come forward, willing to give evidence about a family member they believe is responsible.
The family, who cannot be named for legal reasons, allege one of their relatives, who molested several children in their family and was known to collect child pornography, spoke often about his desires for Gordana.
They contacted Crime Stoppers with the information roughly a decade ago but were never called back and understand the man has never been interviewed in relation to the case.
According to the informants, the suspect bears a striking resemblance to the Penri sketch released by police.
They also confirm he owned a white ute, similar to the vehicle witnesses watched drive away with Gordana.
“He’s known for getting obsessed with people,” says one female family member.
The woman can still recall the unusual way her relative spoke about Gordana, after she went missing.
“She’s so gorgeous. She’s got this shy smile”, she alleges he said.
The suspect’s relatives also cite Gordana’s strong, “almost identical” resemblance to the alleged sexual predator’s then 17-year-old ex-girlfriend, as more than coincidental, and reveal he was heartbroken when the girl had ended the relationship.
This new information, combined with a commitment from the NSW Police to review every cold case in the Unsolved Homicide division dating back to the early 70s, could mean the longstanding mystery may finally be solved.
A 2003 coronial inquest found Gordana had been murdered, by person or persons unknown. Then, after years lying dormant the Kotevski investigation surged back to life in 2009 when forensic detectives retrieved a fingerprint from the torn shopping bag she left behind.
It was of a good quality and suitable for matching but when the print was run through the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System, no prints were matched.
Every set of prints taken since 1980 is housed within the database but unlike DNA, fingerprints have to be manually matched.
Each day, in NSW alone, 200 new fingerprints are added to the system.
And every evening, the computerised system runs the identified and unidentified fingerprints, including the one from Gordana’s shopping bag, against the new prints from the day.
Any similar fingerprints, which may be in the hundreds, are then spat out of the system and a forensic pathologist manually assesses both sets of prints to see if there is a close enough match.
In Gordana’s case, that means human error, or lack of resources, may mean a match has been overlooked. It also means that each day in NSW there are 200 fresh chances of catching the man or men responsible.
For the Kotevski family, a conviction would mean the end to more than two decades of suffering.
“There’s stages of grief, and when you lose someone you go through them,” says Carolina Kotevski, 45, Gordana’s older sister.
“When there’s grief with no closure you’re always in that grief process — psychologically, emotionally — it’s always hanging over you.”
Gordana’s mother, Peggy Kotevski, 62, still lives in the South Cardiff home where she raised her family, and where Gordana once lived.
She and Branko Kotevski, 65, have since split — the strain of Gordana’s disappearance wreaking havoc on their once loving home.
“She was a happy child, actually,” says Peggy, looking at a collection of framed photographs of Gordana.
One shows a five-year-old Gordana, dressed in a white lacy dress — a flower girl at a family wedding. Another shows the long-legged teen sitting on the edge of a couch with Carolina, the girls all dressed up for a Macedonian dance.
Like all the Kotevski family, Peggy will never give up hope she will one day find out what happened to her daughter.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to why they took her. And you think: how many monsters are out there?” she says.
She is currently pushing the government to put up a $1 million reward for information.
“While I’m alive I’ll keep pushing and making noise until they do something, until we have an answer,” says Peggy.
“I’m not dead, not yet,” she says with a smile.
The police admit there were several flaws in the original investigation into Gordana’s abduction.
Pieces of evidence went missing or were handed back to the family prematurely, a statement lost from one suspect, and — through no fault of the police — the CCTV footage from Charlestown Square was taped over by the shopping centre.
“Turmoil,” says Peggy Kotevski, when asked to describe those first few days after Gordana was kidnapped.
“I don’t even have a word for it to be honest with you. All of a sudden my world turned upside down and all I can remember now is a lot of people around me, and I was oblivious.
“I was in that much shock. But at the same time you still had to push the police, and retain some kind of normalcy for the other kids.”
Carolina had just celebrated her 22nd birthday when Gordana was taken; little brother Damian was 10, perhaps too young to truly understand the ramifications of his sister’s abduction.
Damian was so traumatised by what happened he refused to speak about it for almost a decade.
In the days, then weeks, that followed the abduction, the Kotevski family’s living room became ground zero of the investigation. For six weeks, 16 detectives were assigned to the case full time and the tight-knit Macedonian community rallied around the distraught family.
Each day a group of civilians would set out in entourages of four-wheel-drive search parties, scouring the Hunter Valley scrub for clues.
Police canvassed the area, interviewing anyone with a Toyota Hilux in a 50km radius, they set up a special hotline for information and dressed up a mannequin in Gordana’s clothes to put at Charlestown Square, hoping it would trigger someone to remember something.
They hypnotised witnesses, praying it may help them recall a numberplate or a better description of the offenders.
But little was gained other than dead ends, and no arrests were made.
Frustrated by the lack of progress in the case, Peggy and her husband Branko established the Gordana Kotevski Trust, uniting with the families of other missing children from the area.
Thanks to pressure from the group, police set up Strike Force Fenwick in 1998 to investigate the disappearances of 10 young people from the Hunter Region, who vanished during a 16-year period.
Backpacker killer Ivan Milat was believed to be a suspect in the disappearances, with police confirming he had lived and worked in the region during the 70s and 80s.
However, meticulous detective work saw Milat ruled out as a suspect.
Former assistant police commissioner, Clive Small, headed up Strike Force Fenwick, and is still plagued by questions raised by Gordana’s disappearance.
Although the 2003 inquest confirmed Gordana had fallen victim to “stalking incidents”, the extent to which the attack was premeditated remains unseen.
“I don’t know if (the offenders) knew her aunty’s place or whether they actually knew her, but what I can’t understand is how they might have known parking in that spot would result in her walking past them. It raises a number of questions,” says Mr Small.
“Having said that, it doesn’t seem practical that two young men would sit in the car in a public street and just wait for some young person to walk past so they could abduct her, just by chance.”
“It’s a genuine mystery to my way of thinking,” says Detective Inspector George Radmore, who worked on the investigation for three years.
“And that’s despite all the evidence we have. Many, many cases like this are solved without the evidence that we have.
“They deserve to find out what happened to their beautiful daughter, sister and niece,” he adds.
But until there is a conviction or someone proves Gordana is truly gone, the family cannot rest.
Branko Kotevski never returned to work after his daughter went missing and he’s never stopped looking for her. He’s consulted dozens of psychics, hired private investigators and has personally followed every lead, every sliver of information.
His obsession with the case, leaving Peggy to support the family as the primary breadwinner, created a divide within the household and contributed to the loss of their marriage.
But Branko’s unwavering focus has never shifted.
“I’ll never give up. Never stop searching,” says Branko Kotevski, in broken English.
“I don’t care how long it takes. I’ll find my daughter and who do this,” he says.
Every year, on 29 December, Gordana’s friends and family get together to celebrate her birthday.
Last year, for her 40th, Belinda Miljkovic made a chocolate mud cake with 40 candles and gathered her family around to sing to her long-lost best friend.
To a certain extent, life has had to move on, but photographs of the missing teen hold dear memories of the vivacious young girl, known for her smile and boundless positivity.
“There’s always hope,” says Peggy, who still has Gordana’s clothes folded in the cupboard.
“I don’t think I’ll ever lose hope really. Best case scenario is she’ll come home … but that will be a miracle.”