that's life (Australia)
26-year cold case – Who killed my little sister?
Peter and his family want justice
My sister Melissa cradled the newborn lamb in her arms. ‘I’m going to call her Nancy,’ she beamed.
Our family had rescued the lamb from a nearby abattoir, and even though Melissa was only eight, she’d taken to mothering the animal immediately.
After having me and my older sister, Jenny, my parents, Ron and Jan, had adopted Melissa when she was just six weeks old.
I was nine years older than her, so growing up, she looked up to me.
Despite the age gap, we were so close. We played ball together, went swimming and, now, we looked after Nancy the lamb.
Melissa was bright, bubbly, and doing well at school.
She was learning to play the piano and excelled at anything creative.
But when she entered her teens, the trouble started.
By then, I’d left home, and moved to Canberra with my partner, Judy, but Mum and Dad told me Melissa was being bullied at school.
She was also coming to terms with being adopted and struggling with her sense of identity.
She fell in with a bad crowd. Smoking and drinking escalated into disappearing for days.
Aged 16, she moved out.
Just a few months later, she was back.
‘I’m pregnant,’ she announced.
My parents supported her and showered her with love, believing perhaps that becoming a mother could be the making of her.
After her daughter came along, Melissa had a little boy.
But, still restless, she could disappear for weeks on end.
When she did come home, we’d be full of hope that she was ready to make a change – then she’d be gone again. It was heartbreaking. Thankfully, on Christmas Day in 1993, she seemed to be in a better place.
We spent the day together as a family – exchanged gifts, played games and had a delicious festive lunch. I took a photo of Melissa smiling on the lounge and, when I looked back at it, I thought it was the happiest I’d seen her in a long time.
In the evening, I dropped Melissa back at the place where she was staying.
‘You know how much we worry about you,’ I told her, gently. ‘I’m worried your time is going to run out…’
Melissa hugged me silently before going inside.
Someone knows something. I hope they come forward
A couple of months later, Melissa met a man, Scott.
They had a whirlwind romance and, just before they married in March 1994, Melissa wrote me a letter.
He’s the most wonderful man I know, it read.
I prayed things would work out for my sister.
But, six weeks later, on Anzac Day, my dad rang me as I was getting into bed.
‘Peter, it’s Melissa…’ he choked. ‘She’s dead.’
I felt like I was looking down at myself as he told me her body had been found in a dam.
An autopsy revealed Melissa had been beaten.
She’d died from severe head injuries, before her clothes were weighed down with rocks and she’d been thrown in the dam.
She was just 22.
I felt sick.
Who would want to kill my baby sister?
Police began an investigation. It turned out, Melissa had told Scott she was leaving.
She’d packed her things and gone to stay with friends. During that time, she’d reconnected with an old boyfriend.
He said the last time he’d seen Melissa was when she’d left his house at 1am on April 18.
No-one had seen her since. Time passed, and no arrests were made.
In 1998, there was an inquest – but the coroner suspended it, stating there was enough evidence to charge an unnamed person of interest.
The case was referred to the Of ce of the Director of Public Prosecutions, but they disagreed.
And that was it.
For years, nothing happened.
I never stopped thinking about Melissa, never stopped missing her.
I had such a strong sense of guilt that I could have done more to save her, I barely slept.
In 2018, there was a turning point.
Driving to visit Melissa’s grave one day, I decided to visit the dam where she’d been found instead.
In the 24 years since her death, I’d never been there, but I knew it was time.
As I stood looking out at her nal resting place, I felt empowered.
I can do this, I told myself. I can get justice for Melissa.
So, a few months later, I made a video of the dam and uploaded it to my blog.
It got the media interested in the case again, and put pressure on police.
In time, the unsolved homicide squad agreed to reopen the case and, in December, a $1 million reward was offered to anyone with information about Melissa’s murder.
It’s the most hopeful I’ve felt in the 26 years since we lost her.
Melissa deserves justice. She deserves that her life not be summed up by being found dead in a dam.
I know someone knows something – I hope they come forward. ●