UPDATE, Wednesday, 9am: A coroner has determined a Melbourne man who
went missing in Heywood has died.
Coroner Paresa Spanos found it was unlikely that Robb Lawson could be
living off the grid.
"I find it unlikely that he could do so for such a long period of time
without coming to the attention of police, a mental health service or
any other public authority," he said, in finding just released.
"The weight of the evidence suggests a finding that Robb likely died in
late August or September 2007.
"The evidence does not enable me to determine the place of Robb's death,
the cause of his death or whether or not he inadvertently took his own
Previously: The family of a man who went missing at Heywood 13 years
ago is relieved to have some closure.
Robb Lawson's car was found near Heywood in July 2007 after family
members reported him missing from his Melbourne home.
Mr Lawson, who would now be 51, was located the next day by South
Australian police in a motel at Mount Gambier.
That was the last confirmed sighting of him.
The former newspaper IT expert had his share of issues but few would
have predicted what happened after his car was found near Heywood in
Now a Portland police detective has gone through an exhaustive proof of
life investigation and the case is before the Victorian Coroner.
The court is conducting an inquest into the death of Mr Lawson, despite
his body never being found. Coroner Paresa Spanos has indicated a
finding will be handed down within the month.
In early 2015, the investigation into Mr Lawson's whereabouts was taken
up by Detective Sergeant Jason Von Tunk, of Portland police crime
During Missing Persons week in August 2017, an extensive media campaign
was launched which involved the most recent photograph of Mr Lawson,
supplied by his family.
No new information was obtained.
Detective Sergeant Von Tunk organised a search of the area where Mr
Lawson's vehicle was found near Heywood.
The search involved more than 50 personnel from the State Emergency
Services, Victoria Police Search and Rescue squad officers and Victoria
Police personnel with the Coroner's Court (anthropologist) on stand-by
should any bones be located.
The search did not reveal any new evidence.
On October 16, 2017, Detective Sergeant Jason Von Tunk submitted a
to the Coroner's Court that the circumstances of Mr Lawson be considered
by the Coroner and investigated as a suspected death.
A full brief was prepared for the Coroner.
Inquiries have been made into Mr Lawson's bank account details, which
contains a substantial amount of money and has not been accessed since
he was reported missing.
In September 2018, under the direction of the Coroner, the coronial
investigator, Detective Sergeant Von Tunk commenced additional proof of
These included checks with Births, Deaths and Marriages records, change
of name, Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Centrelink, his
driver's licence and passport.
There was no further information or records found throughout Australia.
Police also obtained dental records and a DNA profile for Mr Lawson.
The summary for the Coroner's Court states that Mr Lawson had previously
made attempts to take his own life in different ways on at least three
"Since the 1st of July 2007, there has not been any confirmed sightings
of Mr Lawson," the brief states.
"It is likely, that he has taken his own life by his own hands either
deliberately or by misadventure. His remains have never been found," it
Mr Lawson's family is relieved to have some closure.
Mr Lawson's mother Marie said she was grateful to Portland detective
Sergeant von Tunk for re-opening the missing person's case into her son
and leaving no stone unturned.
"He has been marvellous," she said.
"I can't speak highly enough of him."
Mrs Lawson and her daughters Anne Lawson and Helen Hodson said they
believed the inquest would allow them to now focus on keeping Mr
Lawson's memory alive.
"We want to focus on the good parts and remember Robb," Ms Lawson said
of her brother.
She said he had an unparalleled zest for life and was a wonderful uncle
to his nieces and nephews.
He loved to travel and he loved watching his beloved Carlton Blues with
his dad Frank.
"He was jovial and he loved life," Ms Lawson said.
Mrs Hodson said her brother battled with mental health issues for many
years but he still managed to live life to the fullest in his almost
"At least we know that every avenue has been exhausted and the
probability of Robb being alive is very slim," she said.
"As much as we would like to believe in miracles, the reality is he is
probably no longer alive."
Mrs Hodson said police revealed at the inquest it was very unlikely
someone would be able to survive for 13 years living off the grid,
particularly when taking into consideration Mr Lawson's mental state.
Mrs Lawson said she hoped the Coroner would make recommendations that
may result in changes to the mental health system.
She said her son was released from hospital on several occasions when he
was very unwell because there was a shortage of beds.
The family also hopes people in similar situations are given regular
updates on the investigations being conducted into their missing loved
Mrs Lawson said she had many sleepless nights wondering if her son was
But she had come to the realisation now that he was no longer alive.
She hopes he has been reunited with his father, who died four years ago.
Robb Thomas Lawson, was one of seven siblings to parents Malcolm and
He was never married, has no known dependants and grew up in Malvern
where he attended St Joseph's Primary School.
Later, he attended De La Salle College and went on to Melbourne
University studying IT.
He was employed by Cyber Graphics in Sydney before joining News Limited
with the Herald
Sun as an IT programmer.
He was reported to be popular and well liked.
According to his mother, Mr Lawson was a victim of two incidents at the
Harold Holt Swimming Pool, in Malvern.
The first incident occurred when he was only eight or nine years old,
while at swimming lessons.
A male followed him into the toilet and showed him pornographic
material, which he found confronting.
The second incident at the pool happened when he was 11 or 12 years old.
Mr Lawson and two other boys were sexually assaulted by his swimming
coach who was a then serving police officer.
The incident was investigated by police, the offender was charged and
eventually imprisoned for the assaults.
Both his mother and brother Tom believe the incident changed Mr Lawson.
When Mr Lawson was 23 years old, he tried to take his own life.
He was transported to St Vincent's Hospital and treated for his mental
In June 2007 he told his psychiatrist Dr Keryn Fitzpatrick he was
feeling flat and stressed at work and it was apparent he was struggling.
A further appointment was made for July 2, but he failed to attend.
He drove to Daylesford, telephoned his mother and told her where he was.
She asked him to visit her brother in Ballarat and gave him the address.
On the July 4, 2007, Marie Lawson reported her son missing when he
didn't show up in Ballarat.
Police made inquiries and Mr Lawson was located the following day in
He told police he was heading west, just wanted to get away from his
family and said he didn't want his whereabouts passed onto family.
On July 9, 2007, Senior Constable David Tognon of Heywood Police
received a report from a local resident Barrie Hutchins of a suspicious
blue 1997 Volvo station wagon left unattended for two days in Kentbruck
Road at Heywood.
The police officer went near a limestone quarry and noted the unlocked
Volvo was purposely parked on top of a stump, with the wheels off the
The ignition key was located in the boot.
The immediate area was then searched without Mr Lawson being found.
The keys to the vehicle were seized and held pending the owner attending
Heywood police station but Mr Lawson never claimed them.
By August 11, 2007, his family had still had not heard from Mr Lawson
and he was again reported missing.
A police officer spoke to Mr Lawson the next day on his mobile phone and
confirmed he was safe.
The file was marked as complete.
The following day Dr Fitzpatrick recommended Mr Lawson be detained for a
psychiatric assessment due to chronic schizophrenia.
A constable then attempted to contact Mr Lawson but there was no answer
and a message was left for him to return the call.
Mount Gambier police were also notified and checked Mr Lawson's last
address but he was no longer there.
Further checks revealed the mobile was disconnected and attempts to
locate the whereabouts of Mr Lawson were unsuccessful.
On July 22, 2008, the missing person file was marked as complete.
The reasons for this were due to him being located by South Australia
police on July 5, 2007, at Tower Motor Inn, in west Mount Gambier.
It appeared that Mr Lawson was voluntarily separating himself from his
family and it was deemed he was no longer a missing person in Victoria.
On April 19, 2012, the family contacted Mount Gambier Police to again
formerly report Mr Lawson missing.
They had not heard from him since police spoke to him in Mount Gambier
on July 5, 2007.
An officer from the South Australia Missing Persons Investigation
Section conducted checks of the local hospitals, banks and conducted a
Centrelink search which failed to yield any information.
That led to the involvement of Portland police and eventually the
Mr Lawson is still considered a missing person and anyone with
information about him should contact Detective Sergeant von Tunk at the
Portland police station on 5522 1500.
If you or someone you know needs help contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or
beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.