Cold case breakthrough: Property owned by accused paedophile’s grandfather linked to the disappearance of two children 41 years ago

Published September 18, 2014 by JS2

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  • Cold case of missing Adelaide girls reopened after 41 years
  • Detectives searching property of suspect who died in 1999
  • The girls were last seen in 1973 at Adelaide Oval during a SANFL game 
  • Witnesses reported seeing a ‘thin-faced, middle-aged man’ with the girls 

A police investigation into the disappearance and presumed murder of two girls in South Australia 41 years ago has focused on a home owned by the grandfather of an accused paedophile.

The abduction of Joanne Ratcliffe, 11, and Kirste Gordon, 4, from Adelaide Oval in South Australia shocked the country and became one of the nation’s most infamous murder mysteries.

The girls had gone to the toilets together while watching an Australian Rules football game with their parents on the 24th August 1973. They never returned and their bodies were never found despite a nation-wide search.

Police have chased more than 2000 leads of inquiry since the girls disappeared 41 years ago.

Intensive investigations by police recommenced in 2012 after members of the public reported new information to Crime Stoppers.

This week, the focus of the search turned to a farm house in Yatina in South Australia’s mid-north, 250km from Adelaide, whose previous owner died in 1999 and was a suspect in the case before his death.

Stanley Arthur Hart was named by his grandson, convicted paedophile Mark Trevor Marshall, in a 2007 confession provided to the Mullighan Inquiry into abuse of children in state care.

A letter penned by Marshall, which was sent to the Adelaide Advertiser before being handed over the police, claimed that his grandfather had abducted the girls and that Marshall had been present as a young boy.

While police have previously labelled the confession ‘fantasy’, Hunt’s house has been visited several times since 2012 in relation to the girls’ disappearance.

Detective Inspector Greg Hutchins, who is leading the investigation, said this morning that police ‘couldn’t rule out that he was involved’.

The girls disappeared from the iconic Adelaide oval more than 40 years ago, during an SANFL game which they were attending with their families.

Joanne, aged 11, and Kirste, aged 4, went to the bathroom during the game and were never seen again.

Since that date, police investigators have followed more than 2000 lines of inquiry, and the South Australian government has offered a million dollar reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for their disappearance and likely murder.

Suzie Ratcliffe, who was born a year after her sister Joanne disappeared, made an impassioned plea for information via a social media campaign in 2012.

‘While people are talking about the case, there is always hope,’ Ms Ratcliffe said.

‘It’s time Joanne came home. We are over wanting to know who did it, how they did it and why they did it.’

‘We want to be able to lay (Joanne) to rest and lay my dad’s soul to rest also.’

Police detectives have returned to a property in Yatina, in South Australia's mid-north

The detectives have examined two wells on the property, whose previous owner died in 1999 and was a suspect in the disappearance of the two girls

Police are again appealing for anyone with information about the case to come forward.

Detective Inspector Greg Hutchins said that the searches are the result of a call to Crime Stoppers and the culmination of information police have gathered over time.

‘The previous occupant of the Yatina property is one of a number of people who have been linked to the girls’ disappearance over the years, but to date police have been unable to substantiate his involvement,’ he said.

‘The man has previously been interviewed by Detectives, but died in 1999.’

Major Crime Detectives, aided by STAR Group officers and forensic investigators have inspected several sites, including two wells.

Forensic Sciences of SA (FSSA), the South Australian Ambulance Service and the State Emergency Service (SES) assisted with the searches.

‘Considerable time and resources have been committed to these searches as police have undertaken to never give up the hunt for the girls’ remains and their abductor.’ Detective Inspector Hutchins said.

Police are again appealing for anyone with information about the case to come forward.

Information can be given by calling Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or on their website.

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