August 2, 2006 - 8:00AM
TEN years after the discovery of the skeleton of a 40- year-old-man, a
Murwillumbah woman still questions whether it might be her missing son.
The body was found near Maitland in the Hunter region of NSW and in the
middle of National Missing Person's Week Judith Leape has revealed DNA
testing to verify the identity of the skeleton has never been done.
She has been told a lack of government funding is to blame.
Her son Richard went missing 13 years ago.
"It's not that I dwell on it," she said. "But it just sits there with me
all the time."
Richard Leape was born and bred in Murwillumbah and grew up to become a
maths and science teacher living in Sydney with his wife and young
But at the age of 37 something went astray in Mr Leape's life. Mrs Leape
believes depression set in, resulting in her son living on the streets
"My daughter and son saw him in April 1993 when they took him some
clothes and tried to get him medical help," she said.
"But unless he went voluntarily, there was nothing more they could do."
All contact was lost despite the family's tireless efforts to track him
down. But in 1996 a national television program caught Mrs Leape's
"Something grabbed me," she said.
A reconstruction of the skeletal remains from Maitland was displayed on
television in an effort to identify the man. It looked like Mr Leape.
Contact was made with the authorities but normal DNA testing was ruled
out as the body was too decomposed and dental records proved
The only avenue left apparently was a bone DNA test and that meant
samples would have to be sent to New Orleans in the United States.
But the case seemingly stalled until last year when Mrs Leape, after
years of hope, was led to believe the DNA samples finally were on their
way to New Orleans.
But in April this year the family discovered the samples had never been
sent due to a lack of funding. So Mrs Leape continues to wait.
Newspaper articles at the time said the man found near Maitland had been
living as a hermit near a sawmill.
"I heard that the man would wait until the workers had gone home and he
would then go in looking for food scraps," said Mrs Leape. "Knowing
Richard as that happy, placid little boy, it's hard to see how this
would have happened.
"I really feel it is Richard," she said.