There’s over 38,000 Australians reported missing each year, and while many of them are located in a short period of time, there’s currently around 1600 people on the long-term missing persons list. That is, people who haven’t been seen for three months or more.
Three women on this list all vanished within four months of each other, with two of them seen on the same road — the Pacific Highway, which snakes 790km down the east coast of Australia. These women vanished within a cluster of suburbs in Newcastle‘s Eastlakes area, and have never been seen again. We cover the case on the latest episode of our true crime podcast, All Aussie Mystery Hour, discussing the disappearances of:
- Leanne Goodall, 20, who was last seen at Newcastle’s Star Hotel on December 30, 1978. She was thought to be heading from Newcastle to Sydney for NYE via her parents’ home in Swansea (a suburb south of Newcastle), but Leanne, who was known to hitch-hike, never made it. Her case was dismissed as a runaway case and was never investigated by detectives.
- Robyn Hickie, 18, arranged to meet a friend at the Belmont Hotel, a pub near her Belmont North home, on April 7, 1979. She left her house at 7.15pm and was last seen walking on the Pacific Highway near her place. Robyn never made it to the Belmont Hotel and though she was reported missing, her case was again dismissed as a runaway case, with detectives only taking two statements before seemingly giving up.
- Amanda Robinson, 14, was headed home from a school dance to her family home in Swansea on April 21, 1979. She was last seen walking along Lake Road, just off the Pacific Highway, only 400m from her home. But she was never seen again. While two detectives were sent from a homicide unit in Sydney to investigate, they only looked into the disappearance for two weeks and failed to link Amanda’s disappearance to Robyn and Leanne’s.
An inquest run by then state coroner John Abernethy saw police from the original investigations questioned over their inaction, with Abernethy finding that their lack of evidence-gathering meant it was incredibly hard to ever pin the crimes onto a person if interest, with a 2002 Sydney Morning Herald article quoting him as saying:
[This] severely hampered police ability to identify and properly investigate the information relevant to each identifiable person of interest. Such further investigations may have served the purpose of eliminating or otherwise confirming the status of any individual as a person of interest.
One such person of interest was notorious serial killer Ivan Milat, who in 1996 was convicted of the seven “Backpacker Murders” and is currently serving seven life sentences.
Milat worked for the Roads Authority and in the late 70s was known to be living and working in Newcastle, even frequenting the Star Hotel (where Leanne was last seen) and the Belmont Hotel (where Robyn was headed the night she vanished).
Milat was brought to the stand during the inquest, refusing to answer questions and instead upsetting the women’s parents with the Newcastle Herald quoting Milat with comments like: “I could ask how could they let a 14-year-old [Amanda Robinson] run around to midnight?”
However, Abernethy still believed Milat to be a strong person of interest in the three women’s disappearances.
To find out more about the case, the letter Milat wrote to police about it and other main suspects, check out Season 2 Episode 12 of All Aussie Mystery Hour, entitled: In The Space Of 4 Months, 3 Women Disappeared On This NSW Highway.