Louise and Charmian Faulkner disappearance

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For other uses, see Faulkner (disambiguation).

Louise Yvonne Faulkner (aged 43) and Charmian Christabel Alexis Faulkner (aged 2 and a half) were a mother and daughter who disappeared without a trace from outside their residence at 39 Acland St, St Kilda, Victoria, Australia in 1980. Journalists have referred to the disappearance, which remains unsolved, as the "St Kilda Mum Mystery."

Background[edit]

Louise was born on 7 April 1937 in Colac, Victoria and was the youngest of three children. Both her hips were dislocated at birth requiring a plaster cast for the first few years of her life and she suffered from a chronic lung complaint. Louise described her childhood as having lacked attention and affection from her parents and a close relationship with her older brother and sister.

Louise moved to Melbourne in the late 1950s and obtained work as the program manager of radio station 3AK. In 1961 Louise met Barry Clark and they married in 1962. In 1963 Louise was employed as a typist at EM Purdy Auction House, and it was here that she first met George Sutherland, a married man 16 years her senior. Louise left her job later that year due to the birth of her first child. Whilst in hospital she and the new baby received numerous gifts, cards and flowers. Louise kept all of the cards as a memento, two of which were from George and his wife Beryl Sutherland.

Twelve years later in 1975 George met Louise again and he arranged for her to work at Mason and Greene, an auctioneering firm in North Melbourne. By this stage Louise had two further children, John and Rosalie, but her marriage to Barry had degenerated over time. After she began working at Mason and Greene, Louise appeared to become infatuated with George, and an intimate relationship developed.

In July 1975, Louise travelled to Adelaide with George where they stayed in a motel together. This resulted in the breakup of both their marriages. Louise never returned to her marital home but moved into a flat on Acland St, St Kilda. Her previous husband retained custody of their three children who would travel to Louise's flat for weekend access visits. By this stage Louise applied for and received social security payments due to her worsening arthritis.

According to her ex-husband, Louise had not been responsible with money, which caused financial difficulties and tensions in the home. He also described Louise as being manipulative and flirtatious with men, and resorting to violence during their arguments. Friends and associates of Louise described her as being a vivacious, generous, caring and good-hearted individual but with conflicting views of Louise's promiscuity.

Whilst the relationship with Louise continued, George separated from his wife Beryl, moving to his holiday home in Parkers Corner, a small settlement near Erica. The Thomson Dam was in the early stages of construction during this period and George obtained a fencing contract with the Board of Works for the dam township of Rawson and also with a local landowner, Geoff Maynard, a potato farmer. On this potato farm he had access to a white Holden Ute.

Although the Sutherlands' divorce became absolute in 1977, in 1978 Beryl reconciled with George and shifted into the Parkers Corner property. They never married but continued a de facto relationship.

Louise’s divorce came through in July 1977 and she stated in court that she was pregnant with George Sutherland's child. Louise would tell her friends she wanted to marry George but didn't think he would commit. After the divorce and heavily pregnant, Louise embarked on a two week holiday with George, driving through New South Wales to Sydney. On 30 October 1977 Louise gave birth to Charmian Christabel Alexis Faulkner. Louise named the baby after Charmian Clift, an Australian writer. George attended the hospital soon after the birth and paid the maternity bills, however he appeared uninterested in Charmian and never provided any maintenance.

The township of Erica

George continued his relationship with Louise after the birth of Charmian, visiting the flat on occasions. On other occasions Louise would travel to Gippsland and spend weekends with George in motels in the Erica, Moe and Yallourn areas. Louise did not have a car and had never held a driving license, relying on George to do considerable amounts of driving during the course of their relationship.

In January 1980, George and Beryl's teenage nephew came to live at the Parkers Corner property, helping George with the fencing contract and the potato farming. George would drive his nephew home to Woodend every three to four weeks, using the opportunity to visit Louise in St Kilda.

On 16 April 1980 Louise spoke to a long-term friend on the phone and informed her that she was going away with George to his potato farm at Erica for a few days on 22 April 1980.

Last confirmed sighting[edit]

The last confirmed sighting of Louise and Charmian was outside Leithen flats, Acland St

Whilst residing at Acland St, Louise developed a friendship with Corrine Wylde, a neighbour in the same block of flats. On 25 April 1980, Anzac Day in Australia, Louise and Charmian attended a first birthday party for Corrine's son. At the party Louise informed Corrine that she was excited about going to a farm with her "potato farmer" boyfriend the following day and that she was expecting to have a good time.

During the early evening of the following day 26 April 1980 Corrine was standing outside the "Leithen" block of flats on Acland Street. She saw Louise and Charmian also standing outside the flats. Louise told Corrine that she was going to the farm. Corrine told Louise to have a good time and Louise replied that she would.

Corrine also saw a white Holden Ute stopping outside the flats and double parking. Corinne saw the driver to be a "thick set, older Australian male." Louise placed her backpack in the rear of the Ute, then she and Charmian climbed into the Ute. The vehicle then travelled down Acland Street towards Fitzroy Street. This was the last known independent sighting of Louise and Charmian.

At the time of the disappearance, Louise's remaining children were Melissiah (16), John (13) and Rosalie (9). They had last seen their mother and half-sister in the weekends before 26 April. At John and Rosalie's last access visit before the disappearance, Louise had told John that she would be going away with George to his farm.

Police investigation[edit]

Charmian Faulkner at around 2 years of age

On 9 June 1980 preliminary investigations of the disappearances began. Inquiries were conducted over the following 12 months with friends and associates of Louise, but failed to interview Louise's three children at this time.

Louise's walking stick and Charmian's stroller were found in the flat and food had been left on the kitchen table. Her children had noticed a number of odd things in relation to their mother's flat after the disappearance. The TV which had been supplied to Louise by George was missing, along with a large suitcase, an amount of clothing and Charmian's birth certificate. Drawers from a bedside table in the bedroom were strewn across the bed and appeared to have been ransacked. There was no sign of forced entry into the flat. A number of pension checks had accrued in the letter box and Louise's bank accounts had remained untouched since 11 April. No arrangements had been made for anyone to take care of Louise's two cats. Louise did not contact her children on Mother's day 11 May and friends and associates voiced their concerns that her and the toddler's disappearance was very out of character.

Various members of police have speculated during the course of the investigation that Louise and Charmian may have been disposed of in or around the Thomson Dam which was undergoing construction during the period. A number of psychics and psychic detectives also offered widely varying insights into the possible location of the bodies.

Louise's eldest daughter Melissiah was unsatisfied with the original police investigation and lobbied the Ombudsman, the Police Commissioner and Steve Bracks, Premier of Victoria to have the case re-opened. In 2001 the Victoria Police Homicide Squad Missing Persons Unit recommenced investigations regarding the disappearance of Louise and Charmian. George Sutherland was reinterviewed at Burnie, Tasmania, in relation to the disappearance. George denied being the driver of the Ute who had picked up Louise and Charmian and subsequently denied any involvement or knowledge regarding the disappearances.

In 2006 police were notified of a garage containing a mechanic's pit that had been filled in on the Sutherland's former property at Parkers Corner. In 2007 police excavated the garage but nothing was found.

Criticisms of police investigation[edit]

The family of Louise and Charmian have claimed the Victoria Police have made several blunders during their investigation. Louise and Charmian were first reported missing on 3 May 1980 by Louise's eldest daughter and her grandmother at St Kilda police station, however the officer on duty failed to make a missing person report on that day. The missing person report was not compiled until almost six weeks after the disappearance by Louise's estate agent on 9 June 1980. By this stage Louise's telephone line had been disconnected due to non-payment of the account, making it impossible to determine the last calls received or made on the line.

The victim's flat was never declared a crime scene and no forensics were ever carried out on the premises. The investigating Detective Sergeant John Smith took only five photographs of the interior of the flat. No police or SES were ever deployed to search terrain near the suspect's residence and potato farm. The decision not to instigate a search was in stark contrast to the extensive searches used in other missing person/children cases such as the Beaumont children, Azaria Chamberlain, and Jaidyn Leskie. The Victoria Police and Australian Federal Police also failed to produce missing person posters for Louise and Charmian.

After the initial investigation the case file then went missing from the Homicide Department and key witnesses in the case were not interviewed for some 21 years after the disappearance. By this stage many potential witnesses had died and Louise's second youngest daughter Rosalie had committed suicide.

Eventually, Louise's remaining children reluctantly accepted that Louise and Charmian were murdered and that their bodies may never be found.

In August 2007 both the Victorian State Government and Port Phillip Council refused to erect a memorial plaque at the place of Louise and Charmian's disappearance. The family considered this a cruel blow considering that memorial plaques had been erected for other missing persons in Australia such as Harold Holt, Sarah MacDiarmid and the Backpacker victims.

12 September 2007 marked 10,000 days since the disappearance and a campaign named 10,000 days of injustice was launched. As no finding of death had been made at this stage, Louise's remaining children were still ineligible to receive crimes compensation or counselling.

Prime suspect[edit]

George Sutherland[edit]

George Sutherland has been the only suspect named by police in the investigation. In his first police interview, George Sutherland stated, "I don't know where Louise would have gone to, because she didn't indicate that she was planning to go anywhere then. I find it strange that Louise has not tried to contact me because we were such close friends".

George said he last saw Louise in 1980 when he accompanied her, Charmian, John and Rosalie to the St Kilda Festival on the 22nd or 23 March 1980. George said that he last stayed with Louise when the two of them travelled to Gippsland around Easter that same year, and that he last spoke to Louise by phone on or about 14 April 1980, one week after her birthday. George further stated to police that he was at the Erica Hotel on 25 April and on 26 April he was working on his property, however no witnesses have come forward to support his alibi.

After the disappearance, some of Louise's friends say that George made no attempt to contact them or help with the search for Louise and Charmian. George did not contact Louise's three other children. George did not participate in cleaning up Louise's flat after the disappearance and made no offer to store any of her goods or the furniture he had bought for her.

Some four months after the disappearance, on 27 August George and Beryl sold their premises at Parkers Corner. The estate agent said that it was unusual for someone to drop the price so heavily as to make a sale.

On 5 October 1980 George and Beryl travelled to the USA with witnesses from the local area later commenting on the pair's secretive and hasty departure. The suspect and his wife later told police that they had gone to the USA to help their daughter Barbara Sutherland, a nutritionist, with her newly opened pie business. During September 1982, Victoria Police Detective Sergeant Smith received a postcard from George which was addressed to "The Seaside Sherlock". Both George and Beryl were denied permanent residency in the USA and returned to Australia in the early 1980s. Beryl later stated to police she did not know about Charmian's disappearance until arriving back in Australia.

Police interviewed George again in 1991 and the interview was covertly recorded. George laughed and joked about Louise being promiscuous and stated that it was possible he was the father of Charmian, but not certain. The officer who interviewed George noted that, "he talked freely but appeared nervous". In 1992 George received a bequest from Louise's will but did not contact Louise's other three children.

George was again interviewed by police in 2002. When asked if he loved Louise he replied, "Well that's a peculiar word, in my opinion ... it's just a matter of attraction and that's it." George said that Louise had planned to go away on the Ghan, and that she had also planned a trip to Mildura with a neighbour. He also said that he thought Louise may have "shot through" (run off) with another man.

In 2006 a journalist at the Herald Sun received an anonymous letter from a person alleging that Sutherland had made a confession to him in May 1980 about "getting rid of" Louise and Charmian. A media appeal was launched to persuade the writer of the letter to come forward.

Louise and Charmian Foundation[edit]

In 2006 Louise's eldest daughter Melissiah launched her own investigation into the disappearance of her mother and half-sister and lobbied various government departments about the mishandling of the case. A petition was launched to Sutherland urging him to reveal what had happened to Louise and Charmian. He subsequently denied to the media that he had received the petition.

During the course of her investigation, Melissiah spoke to a number of witnesses who provided her with statements. She was shocked to learn that several of them alleged to have initially contacted police or Crime Stoppers but had been ignored. Melissiah also discovered that Louise and Charmian were not listed as missing persons with the Australian Federal Police and their details had never been included on any AFP missing persons posters.

During her investigation, Melissiah undertook numerous searches throughout bushland in the vicinity of Parkers Corner, including the areas of Rawson, Erica, Walhalla, Tyers and the Thomson Dam. The sheer ruggedness and vastness of the terrain - much of which was state forest - further compounded the difficulty of the searches. At one stage Melissiah and her brother believed the bodies may have been dumped in a mineshaft in Rawson which had been filled in, but after three days of excavation no remains were found.

Melissiah became convinced that the bodies of her mother and sister had been disposed of on Sutherland and his ex-wife's former property. A Current Affair subsequently aired the story House of Horrors on 11 June 2007 and in September 2007, Melissiah demanded that the suspect and his ex-wife pay the costs for exhumation of Louise and Charmian's remains. The demands were refused, with Sutherland citing that he had not been charged with any offense relating to the disappearance of Louise and Charmian and that no finding had yet been made by the Coroner.

Louise and Charmian campaign poster, released October 2007.

In 2007 Melissiah set up The Louise and Charmian Foundation to continue the investigation into her mother and sister's disappearance. The Foundation also aims to solve the considerable number of other long-term missing person cases in Australia.

Coronial inquest[edit]

In August 2006 a Coronial Inquest was held into the disappearance and death of Louise and Charmian Faulkner. George Sutherland refused to take the witness stand at the inquest on the basis of self-incrimination.

Beryl Sutherland took the witness stand. When questioned over George's involvement with Louise, she told the court she did not mind that her husband was having a relationship with Louise whilst he was living with her. At the time of the inquest another witness had made a statement to police alleging that she had also engaged in a relationship with George and one night had been threatened by Beryl over the telephone for a period of several hours. Beryl denied any knowledge of the situation and the phone call to the court.

Louise's son John told the court he believed that his mother and sister had "met with foul play and that George is responsible for this in some way". "George's actions after my mother's disappearance appeared to me to be one of guilt," he said. "George sold his property, as I understand it, at a heavily reduced price shortly after her disappearance and proceeded to travel to the USA and live in a campervan for a number of years after."

Melissiah told the court, "I can recall being there one day with George and it appeared that Charmian was scared of him because she would cry if he went near her. My mother would say, 'She doesn't even recognise you; that you are her father, she doesn't see you enough'."

The inquest was adjourned with the Victorian State Coroner Graeme Johnstone requesting further information. The inquest was again postponed on 16 August 2007 to allow further investigation. The inquest was reconvened on 25 February 2008 but was adjourned until 7 March to give the suspect's lawyer time to review statements from new witnesses.

On 25 February 2008, Louise's daughter Melissiah released a CD single titled Louise and Charmian at the Victorian State Coroner's Court. The CD was released to raise funds for the Louise and Charmian Foundation.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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