July 31, 2010
Megan Louise MULQUINEY
Age at time of disappearance: 16 years
Height: 157 cm
Megan commenced work at 8:25am on Saturday 28 July 1984 at Woolworths Big W, Woden Shopping Square, Canberra ACT. She ceased duty at 12:05pm and was later seen inside the Shopping Square about 12:15pm. She has not been seen since. Her mother stated that it was totally out of character for Megan to stay out late without contacting her.
Old exhibits, which police have kept in storage for many years, are being looked at again in the light of new forensic techniques which can pick up microscopic shreds of DNA.
The case of missing Canberra schoolgirl Megan Mulquiney is one of several cold cases being re-examined by ACT police. Megan vanished from a suburban shopping centre 22 years ago and has never been found.
The 16-year-old had clocked off from her part-time job at Big W in Woden Plaza and walked outside to catch a bus home to nearby Mawson. That was just after noon on July 28, 1984.
Her disappearance has long baffled detectives, who have had few leads to follow and never found a body.
Family and friends have said it was totally out of character for Megan to disappear without telling anyone.
For Megan's mother, Dorothy Mulquiney,the past two decades have been a roller-coaster of emotions.
On top of the grief and sense of loss, there have been unanswered questions and hope that Megan would one day come home.
In her quest for answers, Dorothy was lured in by clairvoyants and private detectives who cost her a fortune. She has been clutching at any straw that might lead her to her daughter.
''It is something that will never go away,'' she says. ''Things happen that trigger memories or you read about a missing person in the paper. You relive it every day of your life.''
The review of Megan's disappearance has been sparked by new forensic possibilities. During a visit to Canberra in May last year, British forensic expert Professor David Barclay examined the case. Barclay, a forensic scientist of 35 years, is a consultant to West Australian Police and has reviewed a number of cold cases in Australia. About the time of his visit, ACT detectives had also been looking at old exhibits in the Mulquiney case. It was suggested that those exhibits should be re-examined using low copy number DNA technology - the latest in forensic science.
Through the technology, DNA profile results can be obtained from microscopic amounts of DNA material. It was developed in Britain and used in the case of murdered British tourist Peter Falconio. DNA tests using the new technology were conducted on cable ties found around the wrists of Joanne Lees, Falconio's girlfriend. The results of those tests were presented as evidence during the trial of Bradley John Murdoch who was later convicted of Falconio's murder.
Some DNA testing on exhibits in the Mulquiney case is under way in Canberra but there are plans to send other items to Britain for specialist testing.
ACT police have interviewed a suspect possibly connected with Megan's disappearance and obtained a DNA sample from him.
The man in question is an inmate at Risdon Prison in Tasmania and has been convicted of rapes and abductions in the ACT and Tasmania.
Originally from Tasmania and now in his 40s, he was a suspect in the Mulquiney case in 1984. It is believed that he had been living in the ACT about that time.
Police obtained vacuumings and a number of items from his home and vehicle after Megan's disappearance.
Those exhibits had been kept in storage and are now being re-examined using the new DNA technology.
In the past 12 months, police have also been reviewing statements taken after the disappearance and speaking again to witnesses, Megan's friends and associates. Their investigations have taken them around Australia. And there has been discussion about holding a coronial inquest into the disappearance.
Police are preparing an updated brief of evidence and are expected to meet ACT Chief Coroner Ron Cahill this month.
ACT Deputy Chief Police Officer (Response) Commander Leanne Close said new forensic possibilities were exciting, but they could not on their own solve cases.
There is the possibility no DNA will be found on the items or that, given the time since it was taken, it may have deteriorated.
''It is an opportunity but there is no guarantee that this will assist in closing the case or bringing anyone to court in relation to it,'' Close said.
''But we are going to investigate every possible line of inquiry.
She revealed some reasons police had pinpointed a particular suspect in the Mulquiney case.
''It's more events after what happened after Megan's disappearance - the fact that [the suspect] has been charged with other rapes and abductions,'' she said. ''Through looking at his profile, looking at circumstances of those other offences, that is why we are looking at him as a person of
''But we are also not just focusing on this person. We have to make sure we discount any other suspects. There have been other persons of interest in the past.''
The DNA testing being undertaken was complex, expensive and lengthy, and it formed only part of a broad investigation.
''We can't really put a time frame on it because as well as forensics issues there a whole range of investigative lines of inquiry we really want to follow,'' she said.
Advances in DNA technology were exciting, given their potential to help police in their quest to solve cold cases.
''The possibility for historic homicides with the new forensic technology, particularly DNA, really does give us some new avenues of inquiry,'' she said. ''But we still have to temper that ... we can't just rely on forensics.
''There are all the other investigations we have to compile and bring before a court to prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone has committed an offence.''
Dorothy Mulquiney is desperately hoping a DNA development will provide her with some form of closure. But she understands that that may never be a reality. ''I would love for there to be closure but it will have to have some very solid foundations,'' she said. ''At the moment all we can do is just
wait and see - we are trying not to get our hopes up.''
During Missing Persons week in 2004, she approached Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty asking for an inquest into her daughter's disappearance.
So recent discussions about the possibility of holding such an inquest have provided her with some hope.
''At least we will know what exactly police have done ... the whos and the whats,'' she said.
''An inquest really should have already been and gone.''
Police were not prepared to disclose details of other cold cases in the ACT now under review. But they did say several such reviews were under way, largely as a result of new forensic possibilities.
''What we've done is gone through our exhibits and identified cases where we believe there might be some strong possibility to get some DNA,'' Close said.
Murder inquiries were a particular focus at the moment. But police hoped to take a fresh look at more historic missing-person cases in the future.
''Looking at the list of missing people, a lot of cases haven't gone to inquest,'' she said. ''I'm not saying we can do it straight away but we need to start assessing some of these.''
ACT Chief Coroner Ron Cahill said it was important that cold cases in the territory were reviewed and coronial inquests considered.
''I think it is important we do it but it is a question of looking at each individual case and assessing it to see if anything can be gained from an inquest,'' he said. ''If there appears a crime is involved we should try and get closure on those cases.''
Paul Vincent Phillips, 49, will likely be brought to Canberra to give evidence at a coronial hearing into 17-year-old Megan's disappearance and presumed death when it resumes in January.
Megan, a Year 12 student at Narrabundah College, was last seen about noon on July 28, 1984, shortly after completing her shift at Big W at Woden Plaza.
Her mother, Dorothy Mulquiney, told The Canberra Times yesterday that the hardest thing for her family was that they may never know what happened to Megan that day.
''She was just a loving, kind, good person,'' she said.''There was no conflict at home, there was absolutely nothing that I could put my finger on. There's no way she would run away.''
She said Megan had always been so reliable and punctual that she knew something was wrong within two hours of Megan not returning home from work.
The inquest, which began in February last year after police reopened the case in 2006, resumed yesterday, with updated evidence relating to the police investigation.
Counsel assisting the coroner Marg Hunter took the step of recommending to Chief Coroner Ron Cahill that Phillips be subpoenaed to give evidence in January
A violent rapist, Phillips had been living in Canberra at the time of Megan's disappearance.
In March 1985, he was jailed for four years for abducting and raping a young Canberra woman, two months after Megan disappeared.
Phillips spent seven years in Tasmania's Risdon jail, after being sentenced for the rape of a teenage hitchhiker in 1998. He also served jail time for assaulting a woman in New Norfolk in 1988, four months after being paroled in the ACT.
Police took samples vacuumed from his car and unit after Megan vanished, although subsequent DNA testing revealed no link to Megan.
According to police, inquiries have also implicated Phillips in three other cases an abduction and rape in Canberra in 1983, a rape in Queanbeyan a month after Megan's disappearance, and an attempted abduction in Fyshwick weeks after that.
Although not charged, police say that Phillips has admitted his involvement in one attack and has been identified by the victim in a second. Phillips served out his sentence and was released without parole in January this year. He has been placed on the Sex Offenders Register for the maximum 15 years.
The court heard an updated report yesterday from a now retired detective, Peter Baldwin, noting the striking similarities between many of the victims and the behaviour of the attacker. Several of the victims were teenagers with a petite build and dark colouring, a description matching that of Megan.
The inquest is set to resume in January.
Week a time for soul searching
July 31, 2010
SOMEWHERE stashed away in evidence storage are Megan Mulquiney's nightie, bed linen and hairbrush.They've been there for 26 years now; it's been that long since their owner had need of them.
Megan Mulquiney has not been seen since July 28, 1984.The then-17 year old finished her shift at the Big W in Woden Plaza shortly after noon, but never made it home.
She is one of the seven ACT people listed by the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre. Six women, one man.The disappearance of Kate Alexander stretches back more than three decades. For the family of Laura Haworth the pain is much fresher, much rawer.
Statistically, all seven are anomalies.In 95 per cent of the 35,000 missing persons cases reported each year one every 15 minutes the individual is found within a short period of time.But there are 1600 of these nightmarish rarities, the "long- term missing" cases.
This week is doubly significant for Megan's mother Dorothy.Today is the start of National Missing Persons Week, and last Wednesday Mrs Mulquiney marked 26 years to the day since her little girl vanished.
Megan's disappearance has been the subject of a cold case investigation. A coronial inquest ended in January 2009, returning an open finding. The last person of interest in the case, convicted rapist Paul Vincent Phillips, was hauled before the inquest last year.The inquest found Megan was probably murdered by persons unknown, and Phillips remained a person of interest. But that's as far as it went. And for Mrs Mulquiney, closure is nowhere in sight.
"There's a big hole there for me. In one way, I suppose I'd like not to think [Phillips] did what they say he did to Megan."Mrs Mulquiney wants to know what happened in her lifetime.
"Really, now that the coronial inquest has happened, Megan's case is hidden in a box somewhere.It's a sleeper."
The disappearance of mother- of-two Laura Haworth is the territory's most recent long- term missing person case.Beth Cassiles last saw her daughter Laura at a Christmas lunch in 2007. Ms Haworth was in good spirits. She was in the midst of moving house, and expressed relief when her mother offered to pay to keep larger items in storage temporarily.
"Looking back, I think she might have known she was going away and was relieved someone would be taking care of her things," Ms Cassiles said."She was quite attached to her things."
On the day she went missing Ms Haworth and a friend were headed to the Cotter Dam for a swim. It is believed they returned to her friend's home in Queanbeyan.During the day Ms Haworth received a call from someone, who she went out to meet later that evening. She has not been seen since.
Her car was found dumped at Kanangra Court in Reid two weeks later, with paperwork and clothes neatly arranged inside.Her two children are now six and nine years old. Every time they visit their grandmother in Curtin, they have new theories about where their mother might be. Sometimes she's on a skiing holiday. Sometimes she's dead.
"I'm really hopeful that she's alive, and [has] made a new life for herself somewhere," Ms Cassiles said.National Missing Persons Week has, in years past, been a time for Ms Haworth's family to get a measure of "recognition and acknowledgement" for their suffering.
But Ms Cassiles is upset about a decision not to hold the traditional service for the families at the All Saints Church in Ainslie. Police this year decided not to ask the church to host the event, and Ms Haworth's mother is hoping to negotiate some other way to mark the occasion in Canberra.Whether two years have elapsed, or 26, or more, the families of the missing maintain hope.
For Mrs Mulquiney, it's about closure, and the promise of that crucial piece of information that could help police close the case."Somebody out there must know something," she said.
And Ms Cassiles has a message for her daughter Laura."I'd like her to know that I'm waiting for her call. And I'll wait forever."
Do you know something?Visit the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre at www.missingpersons.gov.au/home.
All information will be treated as confidential.