Above - Sherrlyn's mother Betty (photo from www.thecourier.com.au)
The Facebook page can be viewed here: The case of missing girl Sherrlynn Leigh Mitchell
A family friend of Sherrlynn Mitchell, Alex Girle, set up the page last week in an effort to put pressure on police to further investigate the disappearance of the then 16-year-old, who was last seen waiting for a bus on November 22, 1973.
"I feel for Sherrlynn's family, particularly her mother. The not knowing would be terrible," Ms Girle said from her New South Wales home yesterday.
"I gave this a lot of thought before I set it up. I had a child who died, but it would be the not knowing that I couldn't stand."
Ms Girle's baby daughter died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2003. Another daughter, aged in her teens, has also been a run-away, but has since returned.
"Sherrlynn's family still holds out hope that one day she will be found," Ms Girle said.
"There are still a lot of unanswered questions, so by starting up this page, I hope to put pressure on police to do more about their investigation into this case.
"If Sherrlynn is still alive, I hope she may see this Facebook page, or I want someone who knows something to come forward."
In 1973, 16-year-old Ballarat girl Sherrilyn Mitchell disappeared. Now, 37 years later, DNA evidence could be used to solve the mystery.
Sherrilyn Mitchell went missing on 21 November 1973.
According to a Facebook group created to help solve the mystery, the teenager left her Ballarat home to meet a friend at a bus stop, but family or friends never saw her again.
The Belier Taskforce is investigating whether the body of a woman found in the United States - murdered seven years after Ms Mitchell's disappearance - could be her.
"Detectives are investigating possible links between her and an unidentified body located in Nevada, USA in 1980," a Victoria Police spokesperson said.
"The investigation is only in its preliminary stages and the gathering and testing of DNA is expected to take some time."
Australian Missing Persons Register founder Nicole Morris says DNA is transforming the ability to solve missing persons cases, but it doesn't hold priority over other cases.
"With increased government funding so that there are more labs and lesser waiting time for DNA testing to be completed, it will certainly revolutionise the waiting for the families."
Ms Morris says DNA testing is vital in cases that are up 30 and 40 years old.
"DNA testing particularly with human remains is really the only definitive way of identifying someone that has been missing a long time. These cases that we're talking about are 30 and 40 years old, and so DNA testing is absolutely vital."
Ballarat father Jason Richards, 28, remains missing after being last seen on June 21 near Woomera in South Australia.
Meanwhile, a 19-year-old Ballarat man is still missing after falling into the Murray River north of the Nyah Recreation Reserve on Monday.
Their stories are sadly not alone.
On Ballarat Cup Day, November 21, 1973, Sherrlynn Leigh Mitchell, 16, left her Eyre Street home in Ballarat to meet a friend at a bus stop.
When her friend’s bus arrived, Sherrlynn was not there to meet it and hasn’t been seen since.
Her mother Betty Hill, 80, has kept a constant vigil for her daughter, but says the pain is still as raw as it was 38 years ago.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
“I’m still hoping she comes through the door on a birthday or Christmas one year.
“It hurts in your heart every day – it doesn’t get any better even after all these years.”
Mrs Hill, who lost another daughter in a car accident a few years later, said she has not given up on one day reuniting with Sherrlynn.
“The worst part is not knowing whether something has happened, whether some bloke has got a hold of her or something like that,” she said.
“No, you’ve just got to live in hope – and it’s heartbreaking.”
Following her daughter’s disappearance, Mrs Hill went on a frenetic campaign to find her, searching local areas and following up on leads further away.
“We looked everywhere – in old houses, burnt out cars, out in the bush,” she said.
“We were looking for any sign at all, even some bones that might be her’s.”
Unfortunately her search, and that of the police, was unsuccessful.
Mrs Hill said she could sympathise with the plight of two Ballarat families, currently involved in their own search for loved ones.
“I can understand what they’re going through,” she said.
“All I can say to them is just don’t give up hope – because I’m still hoping.”
Anyone with information on the disappearance of Sherrlynn Mitchell can call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
- The Courier
Betty Hill has kept an eye on her front door for a heartbreaking 39 years, praying her daughter will open it and step back into her life.
But for all those years, Mrs Hill’s door has remained closed.
On Ballarat Cup Day, November 22, 1973, Sherrlynn Leigh Mitchell, 16, left her Eyre Street home to meet a friend at a bus stop. When the bus arrived, Sherrlynn was not there to meet it.
She didn’t go back to work at Ballarat Woollen Mills or collect her wages and holiday pay.
Her devastated family has not seen or heard from her since.
Mrs Hill, 81, maintains a constant vigil for her daughter from her Wendouree home and says the passing of time hasn’t made her pain disappear.
“It never gets easier, it’s really hard all the time,” she said.
“It feels like it was just yesterday . . . you always get that feeling that she could walk in the front door.”
Mrs Hill, who lost a second daughter in a car accident a few years later, said she had not given up on one day reuniting with Sherrlynn.
She said the formation of a new police unit dedicated to missing persons gave her hope of one day hearing news of her daughter.
“It’s good news, it’s just that it will bring up the worry all over again,” she said.
“It brings up a lot of pain, but it would be lovely if they found something.”
Mrs Hill said she hadn’t heard from police since the previous missing persons unit, the Belier taskforce, was disbanded in 2010.
She said she hoped the new team could help put her mind at ease.
“Sometimes I think she went away of her own accord, other times I think she would have told me she was going,” she said.
Sherrlynn’s brother Gerard Mitchell said he was happy with the new missing person’s unit.
“That’s great,” he said. “I got upset when the old taskforce closed,” he said.
Mr Mitchell said while many theories existed about his sister’s mysterious disappearance, the family had never given up hope.
Investigators refuse to give up hope
Detective Sergeant Dave Butler has made a career solving cold cases.
He has spent time during the past two years investigating one of Ballarat's biggest mysteries: what happened to Sherrlynn Mitchell?
The teenager vanished on November 22, 1973. Her family, friends and work colleagues never saw her again.
To coincide with National Missing Persons Week, Victoria Police yesterday launched a dedicated Missing Persons Unit within the Homicide Squad.
Unit member Detective Sergeant Butler said there was still hope for the Ballarat family.
He was assigned the Mitchell case after an inquiry from the US about two years ago.
"They had a Jane Doe in the US they thought may have matched Sherrlynn," he said.
"From Interpol we were able to obtain a copy of the DNA profile and to compare that with the DNA we obtained from her mother."
Sherrlynn was not a match, but with her DNA now in the database, new technologies evolving and an ongoing review process, Detective Sergeant Butler says investigators always hold out hope.
"We have a never give up attitude with missing persons," he said.
"You can't just give up, because history tells us there are times when we're able to solve cases years after the event."
Detective Sergeant Butler said computerisation and the creation of greater national links were big game changers.
For the investigators that live these cases, these things represent hope.
"These cases break your heart," Detective Sergeant Butler said.
"With a case like this, where the family has been tortured over years about what may have happened to her, of course we'd like to give them an answer.
"We keep our eyes on anything that might be new and emerging with science and technology to help us. We live it as well."
In Australia a person is reported missing every 18 minutes, with Victoria Police investigating about 6000 missing person cases annually.
Each year only a few of those people remain missing. They eventually join the long-term missing persons list and these are the cases that will be the focus of the new unit.
To report someone missing, contact your local police. If it is an emergency situation, such as a child or elderly person who has gone missing, call 000 for assistance. If you know the whereabouts of a person who has been reported missing or have information about a missing person, call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.