Janine Vaughan: Eight years on, the trail is cold

THE evening started out like any other for Bathurst woman Janine Vaughan.

The attractive 31-year-old knocked off from work as the store manager at Ed Harry’s, went home and got ready for a night out.

This wasn’t unusual. Janine was single, had a large circle of friends and enjoyed going out meeting new people.

It was December 6, 2001.

Janine was in a good frame of mind, Christmas was coming and she had plans to celebrate it at home with her family in Muswellbrook.

She caught a cab from her Rocket Street home to the Oxford Tavern where she met up with friends Jordan Morris, Wonita Murphy and Nicole Barrott.

Later in the evening the group moved onto the Metro Tavern, meeting up with another friend Mark Wright.

During the evening Janine lost her handbag which meant she had no money, no phone and no way to get back into her house. But she wasn’t letting it ruin her night.

When Janine left the Tavern at 3.36am on Friday, December 7, she yelled out to Wonita and Jordan, who were walking about 40 metres behind her, that she was ‘going for more drinks’.

But it was raining and the pair was distracted.

A small reddish car pulled up beside Janine in Keppel Street, and she jumped in the front passenger seat.

Jordan yelled out to her but she didn’t answer. She was never seen alive again.

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In the weeks preceding Janine Vaughan’s disappearance Bathurst police were concerned by reports of a male stalker harassing women in the CBD.

Accounts given to police had a common theme; the stalker drove a small red car.

In the minutes before Janine disappeared it is now known Lynette Boreland, another striking woman walking alone in the early hours of the morning, was followed by a man driving a small red car in William Street.

State Coroner Mary Jerram who presided over the inquest into Janine Vaughan’s murder earlier this year, found whoever was driving the red car stalking Ms Boreland also picked up Janine Vaughan.

Ms Boreland told the inquest she so frightened by the man in the car she hid behind a utility box on the corner of William and Howick streets, before running away, seeking refuge in the Shell 24 hour service station.

The stalking incident went unreported until December 13, when Ms Boreland first heard of Janine Vaughan’s disappearance.

As soon as she heard she went to the police immediately.

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Janine Vaughan was not the first young woman to go missing in Bathurst.

In October 1997, teenager Jessica Small was abducted after she and her friend Vanessa Conlon accepted a lift with a stranger. Vanessa made it out of the car and raised the alarm immediately.

Jessica was never seen again.

While both cases remain unsolved, the circumstances surrounding Janine and Jessica’s cases differ significantly.

Jessica was abducted by force, but eyewitness accounts suggest Janine got into the red car willingly and initially there were no concerns for her safety.

So it took about five-and-a-half hours – until 9.30am Friday – before anyone realised something was amiss.

The normally reliable store manager hadn’t shown up for work, and from the beginning her regional manager, Zarina de Souza, feared the worst. She contacted police and by Friday afternoon had reported Janine Vaughan as a missing person.

Police started inquiries with Detective Sergeant Brad Hose-mans leading the investigation.

With the Jessica Small case unsolved, Janine Vaughan reported missing and reports of stalking in the area, police feared a serial killer may have been at work, prompting officers to contact the State Crime Command for additional resources.

Enter one of the state’s top investigators, Detective Inspect-or Paul Jacob – who, coincidentally, reported to Brad Hosemans’ uncle, Assistant Police Commissioner Graeme Morgan in the State Crime Command.

Known as the mastermind behind the arrest of Victor Chang’s murderers Phillip Choon Tee Lim and Chiew Seng Liew and North Shore granny killer John Wayne Glover, Jacob is revered in both policing and civilian circles.

As far as investigators went, it didn’t get any better than this.

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One week after Janine’s disappearance, her case was taking absolute priority within the Chifley local area command.

But despite this focus, which included a massive ground and air search, flaws already existed.

On December 10 a bloodied knife was found in the grounds of a Bathurst nursing home.

It was taken to Bathurst police station and entered in the general exhibits book.

Sergeant Noel Paine, a forensics officer, visually examined the knife but recommended it be forwarded to the Division of Analytical Laboratories (DAL) for further tests. The knife was never examined again and was destroyed in February 2002.

Around the same time, an Ed Harry store diary was given to police.

It is believed the diary contained handwritten statements from Janine Vaughan alleging she was being stalked by Brad Hosemans.

But the diary went missing, never to be found.

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In June 2005, the NSW Commissioner of Police received an anonymous letter alleging Brad Hosemans was involved in Janine Vaughan’s murder. There were also allegations of a police cover up.

Subsequently the Police Integrity Commission, an independent body established to detect, investigate and prevent police corruption, launched a massive investigation before announcing a public hearing into the disappearance of Janine Vaughan would be held in Orange in May 2006.

While 25 witnesses were called to give evidence, the most significant were Brad Hosemans and Paul Jacob.

During the hearing, Mr Hosemans admitted he was in Bathurst the night Janine Vaughan disappeared, despite making a police statement to the contrary in 2002.

He also admitted that while he did not know Janine Vaughan, he knew “of her” before she disappeared.

Under cross examination, Mr Hosemans wasn’t able to recall his movements in the early hours of December 7, 2001 but he told the hearing he knew “what I didn’t do”.

On the stand, Inspector Paul Jacob defended the work done by Strike Force TOKO, detailing the enormous workload of a team of eight investigators who literally worked around the clock.

He said leaving Mr Hosemans on the case was an “oversight”.

The hearing was adjourned until August, when the most explosive of allegations were made.

An unidentified witness, RA1, claimed she’d seen Janine Vaughan, bound and gagged, with Brad Hosemans in the days after her disappearance. The claims were denied by Hosemans and the woman’s evidence was later discredited.

Ritchie Sim, who took over the investigation from Paul Jacob, also gave evidence during the second hearing.

On the stand he admitted he misled the state coroner and the Vaughan family by saying Mr Hosemans’ alibi for December 7, 2001 “checked out”, despite the fact he knew it didn’t.

As a result of the PIC investigation, a number of recommendations were made but the PIC found no credible evidence linking Mr Hosemans to Janine Vaughan.

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Following the PIC findings a second investigation team – Strike Force Mountbatten – was established in October 2006 as a covert operation.

Seven months later the operation was made public with the announcement police had received credible information suggesting Janine Vaughan’s remains were buried in a shallow grave in the White Rock area.

On Monday May 28, 2006, police found bones in a shallow grave on Montavella Road, Gorman’s Hill.

A crime scene was established and the area remained under police guard overnight.

Even then, however, police knew that if the bones were human, they were too small to be the remains of an adult.

The next day the bones were taken to Sydney for analysis, where it was confirmed they were not human. It was just another dead end.

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TWO-and-a-half years after Strike Force Mountbatten was established, police had re-investigated every piece of information regarding Janine Vaughan and had exhausted all leads.

The investigation concluded and a brief was prepared for the State Coroner.

An inquest into Janine Vaughan’s disappearance was held in Bathurst over two sittings, and concluded in September 2009 with State Coroner Mary Jerram handing down an open finding: That Janine Vaughan disappeared at 3.47am on December 7, 2001 from the corner of George and Keppel streets and was murdered by a person or persons unknown and her body disposed of in such a way that it has not been found.

Ms Jerram reviewed the work done by Strike Force Mountbatten, which included interviews with 170 persons of interest, of whom 47 formed the main part of the investigation process until June 2009, when two – Denis James Briggs and Andrew Donald Jones – formed part of the formal inquest.

She sympathised with the family who had to wait eight years in the hope the inquest would provide answers. Sadly, it did not.

“There can be nothing worse than to lose a loved family member without knowledge of what happened to her... and the family’s frustration is totally understandable,” Ms Jerram said.

She said there was “no doubt” the initial TOKO investigation into Janine Vaughan’s disappearance was flawed in several ways.

“Whether without those flaws the outcome may have been different cannot be known,” she said.

“I hope the Vaughans will accept it is not because of a lack of effort on the part of those in Strike Force Mountbatten, or indeed the Crown or Counsel assisting me.”

After almost eight years, the trail had gone cold.

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While Strike Force Mountbatten has disbanded, the Janine Vaughan case remains open in the hope that one day someone will give in to the weight of their conscience, and come forward to police.

A $100,000 reward still stands for information leading to the discovery of Janine Vaughan’s body. Information can be passed on to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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