Mother’s fate still a heavy bur­den

Sunday Territorian - - NEWS -

VIC­TO­RIA Cross hero Mark Don­ald­son has opened up about the pri­vate pain he has car­ried for 15 years — that his mother was pre­sumed mur­dered and her body has never been found.

The elite sol­dier ad­mits her death has stained his life with sad­ness but also driven him to ‘‘put the universe back in bal­ance’’ by try­ing to pro­tect oth­ers.

It was an early morn­ing phone call in April 1998 when a 19-year-old Don­ald­son’s ‘‘heart was thump­ing in my throat’’ af­ter a friend told him his mum, Ber­nadette, was miss­ing.

Don­ald­son, who was in Syd­ney work­ing as a kitchen hand, made his way back to Dor­rigo in north­ern NSW and went to the fam­ily home with his un­cle and aun­tie, where po­lice told them it was a mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The sus­pect was Chris Watt, who had be­friended Ber­nadette when her hus­band, the fa­ther of Mark and his older brother Brent, had died of a heart at­tack three years ear­lier.

A man­hunt be­gan but a cou­ple of days later Watt was found dead in the car park of an RSL club in south­east Queens­land. He’d over­dosed on pills and left two sui­cide notes, nei­ther about Ber­nadette.

For weeks the po­lice, Mark, Brent, and mem­bers of the lo­cal com­mu­nity searched for Ber­nadette but her body has never been found.

There were two coro­nial in­quests. The last one in 2009 con­cluded that Watt had prob­a­bly mur­dered Ber­nadette.

But the for­mal find­ings have never healed Mark’s wounds.

‘‘(The 2009) in­quest was clo­sure in one as­pect in that ev­ery­thing pointed to Watt as the per­son who did it,’’ he said. ‘‘We al­ways sus­pected it but at least this was an of­fi­cial de­ci­sion. But that’s half clos­ing a book. Where is she? She hasn’t got a rest­ing place.’’

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