Australia Mysterious disappearance of elderly Goldfields woman baffles authorities for decades

09:55  19 february  2020
09:55  19 february  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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It was meant to be a regular walk home for Kate Haythornthwaite, but what happened next has baffled authorities and tormented her loved ones for decades.

The 72-year-old widow from Boulder in Western Australia's Goldfields was last seen alive in 1968 walking home from a local pub.

Mary Morris et al. posing for a photo: Kate Haythornthwaite, pictured far right, at a wedding two years before her disappearance. (Supplied)© Provided by ABC NEWS Kate Haythornthwaite, pictured far right, at a wedding two years before her disappearance. (Supplied) Days later the alarm was raised, but rain had already washed away any footprints, there was no evidence to be found, and her pet cockatoo was dead.

Ms Haythornthwaite's disappearance was examined in Kalgoorlie yesterday as part of a series of special inquests across the state, aimed at clearing a backlog of long-term missing persons cases.

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The Missing Persons Advocacy Network said last year these inquests would bring much needed resolution to these cases and give the families the chance to mourn.

But Ms Haythornthwaite's three children never discovered what happened to their mother, and they searched for her until their own deaths.

"Every day [her son] would look for her after work … it took over his life," said relative Audrey Saccani.

While it is obvious she would not be alive today — she would be 125 this year — the inquest aimed to find as many answers as possible.

But coroner Evelyn Vicker issued a warning to the family.

"It's not going to be solved …[but] I can't help thinking something untoward happened to her," she told the court.

If the coroner can establish beyond all reasonable doubt that a death had occurred, a death can be registered and the case can be put to rest.

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While relatives and witnesses did not expect any new information, there were some revelations yesterday.

Ms Haythornthwaite was four years older than her family had thought and she was last seen at a pub and not a bakery.

Media reports at the time said she was last seen buying bread, but it was made clear in court she had regular Friday night beers with a friend and was last seen walking home from a pub.

Some family members were visibly upset at the suggestion she was a regular drinker, and the coroner had to reassure them there was no suggestion she had more than a couple of drinks.

Many theories, no evidence

A Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper clipping from 1968. The inquest into her disappearance has found she was four years older than her family thought.© ABC News A Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper clipping from 1968. The inquest into her disappearance has found she was four years older than her family thought. For weeks after her disappearance, an extensive land search was carried out by police, State Emergency Services, Aboriginal trackers, family, and volunteers but no evidence was ever found.

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A 1968 statement from a police inspector was read out to the court that said it was "peculiar" that very little information came forward from public appeals "giving the impression she completely vanished".

Various theories surrounding her disappearance were mentioned in court but none had backing evidence.

Was she a hit-and-run victim on a road known for drink driving and accidents?

Did she fall down one of hundreds of abandoned mine shafts, now covered by the Super Pit gold mine? Police only checked 50 mine shafts because "it was deemed financially prohibitive and unsafe to search each".

Her best friend told police she would never have accepted a lift because she was known to be "very independent" and retired police officer Joseph Keely said they "weren't worried about a sex offender".

An examination of Ms Haythornthwaite's home showed no signs of foul play and Ms Vicker said it was clear she did not return home.

WA coroner Evelyn Vicker and Counsel Assisting Craig Robertson.© ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke WA coroner Evelyn Vicker and Counsel Assisting Craig Robertson. Was there a murder confession?

Counsel assisting the coroner, Senior Constable Craig Robertson, said there was one piece of evidence he was still unable to track down — a police file relating to a search.

Ms Haythornthwaite's grandson, Glenn Haythornthwaite, said police told him a woman came forward claiming her husband made a deathbed confession to murdering the woman and burying her in a Boulder backyard.

At least two family members were contacted by police in 1995 who said they were digging up a backyard at a Boulder home after the woman's tip-off.

But no trace of the police excavation records can be found by the Coroner's Court.

When Glenn Haythornthwaite asked in court where the file was, the coroner replied "we have no idea".

Senior Constable Robertson said he was convinced the file existed.

"I will take it as far as I possibly can … to find that file," he told the court.

The evidence must be finalised by May for it to be considered as part of the inquest's findings, due to be released by midyear.

Indicating what would come from the report, the coroner said she was satisfied Ms Haythornthwaite died within two days of her disappearance.

Missing 15-month-old's mom arrested, accused of lying to police .
The girl, Evelyn Mae Boswell, remains missing. The sheriff has said that the mother gave information that was not thought to be accurate.The child, Evelyn Mae Boswell, was last seen in December but was reported missing only this month, authorities have said.

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