27-year-old electrician Andrew Dymott went missing in Melbourne in 1999. Image: Australian Federal Police.
27-year-old electrician Andrew Dymott went missing in Melbourne in 1999. Image: Australian Federal Police.

Huge question in 20-year-old mystery

Andrew Dymott was attending a family barbecue in the affluent Melbourne suburb of Mt Eliza when he vanished forever, leaving no clues behind.

It was January 10, 1999, and the qualified electrician, a tall man with green eyes, was 27 at the time.

Just over two decades later, there have been no clues to indicate where he might have gone or what might have happened to him.

The Dymotts were, and still are, a close family. While Andrew was growing up, he and his siblings would have picnics, play in the sprinklers, and enjoy long afternoons at the botanical gardens.

He was at his sister's house the day he disappeared. There were no fights. No-one argued. He simply said he was going to go down to the shop, and then he headed down the driveway.

The last person to see him was his father, who says he was walking toward his car parked out on the street in the early afternoon.

Nothing about his behaviour suggested their lives were about to change forever.

According to Mr Dymott's sister, Rachel Grace, their parents still live in the same house, frightened to leave in case he inexplicably returns home one day. His family actively runs a Facebook page to search for clues.

Tragically, the man with the distinctively crooked smile is just one of 2600 long-term missing persons in Australia.

"Long term" in this instance simply means someone missing for longer than three months.

Mr Dymott's case is one of eight the Australian Federal Police has selected to highlight as part of Missing Persons Week.

It's a nationwide initiative that attempts to reunite people with their families, or at least gain some new leads that may help bring closure.

"The people captured in the statistic are not just missing persons, they are fathers, daughters and sons, students, chefs and academics, and we don't want people to forget that," says AFP Commander Justine Gough.

However, it's not just about solving 20-year-old cases where the trails have long run cold.

GONE WITHOUT A TRACE

Peter English, for example, vanished on February 12 this year.

The 37-year-old, from Caboolture in southeast Queensland, was travelling alone to Mount Isa in a dark grey Ford Falcon when he last made contact with his family.

The next day, his car was seen 661km offcourse at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, but Mr English hasn't been seen since.

Peter English went missing in Queensland earlier this year. Image: Australian Federal Police.
Peter English went missing in Queensland earlier this year. Image: Australian Federal Police.

People disappear in Australia all the time, with about 38,000 reported missing around the country every year.

According to NSW Police statistics, some 160 people are reported missing in NSW each week, while Queensland Police data shows about 16 people go missing every day.

According to Australian Institute of Criminology data, about half of all missing persons are found safe and well within the first 48 hours of a missing persons report being filed.

Some 86 per cent of missing people are successfully located within one week. In total, about 99 per cent of all missing people are eventually found with the help of the community, leaving one per cent missing forever.

Some of these cases fascinate Australia endlessly.

MOST ENDURING MYSTERY

The search for Adelaide's Beaumont children, for example, is one of Australia's most enduring mysteries.

On Australia Day in 1966, Jane, 9, Arnna, 7 and Grant, 4, caught a bus by themselves from their home to Glenelg beach.

Their parents, Grant and Nancy, expected them home by 2pm but they never returned. Crowds of volunteers helped police conduct the largest search in South Australia's history and hundreds of witnesses came forward but ultimately, the trail ran cold.

Jane, Arnna and Grant Beaumont went missing in Adelaide on Australia Day in 1966. Image: Australian Federal Police.
Jane, Arnna and Grant Beaumont went missing in Adelaide on Australia Day in 1966. Image: Australian Federal Police.

Police suspect the children were abducted and murdered. Several witnesses saw them near the beach with a tall, blond and thin man in his mid-30s.

However, police have continually come up empty-handed despite extensive and ongoing investigations and a $1 million reward for information.

According to the Australian Federal Police, their elderly parents remain in contact with authorities to this day. They have never given up hope that their children will be found.

Other cases, however, slip from the public's mind and are all but forgotten.

24-HOUR MYTH

The key is to act immediately, says Michael McTiernan, a former AFP investigator who served almost 20 years as a police officer.

He recently moved to Uber to head up its law enforcement operations in Asia-Pacific and speaks to news.com.au from his hotel room on a work trip to Hong Kong.

He says one of the biggest misconceptions about missing persons is that you don't have to wait 24 hours to file a report.

"That's actually some of the most crucial hours in an investigation," he says.

"If you have concerns for someone's safety and welfare and their whereabouts are unknown you should go and file a report. The freshest information can make a big difference in finding them.

"[People] tend to think they have to wait 24 hours, but that can frustrate an investigation."

If people have genuine concerns over the wellbeing of their loved ones, he says police will act on it "pretty much straight away".

Officers will identify lines of inquiry to determine things like when the person were last seen, what they were wearing, why they are missing and where they might go.

NEW HOPE

Technology plays a big part. Financial records can show when and where bank accounts were last accessed and social media can give important clues about factors like wellbeing and motivation.

Uber is also joining the cause. Its network of 82,000 drivers and delivery partners operate in 37 cities and towns around Australia and help about four million people safely get from A to B each year.

Mr McTiernan says it's "a good network of eyes and ears".

"The community plays a big part in [finding missing persons]. How can we get the word out quickly? The longer it gets, the harder it gets. It's important to activate the community, to raise awareness and put those images [of missing persons] out as soon as possible."

News.com.au understands there are also strong calls within Australia's scientific community to create a dedicated national laboratory solely focused on missing persons casework.

Experts estimate there are some 500 unidentified human remains archived around Australia which, if identified, could lay to rest a huge number of cases by matching the DNA of the remains to Australia's national database.

TRAUMA NEVER HEALS

Missing persons leave an irreparable mark on the lives of those left behind.

Wendy Dalla was last seen on September 25, 1975. The slim woman, from Cook in the Australian Capital Territory, was 30 years old at the time and married with three children.

She left to walk to the local shops just a short distance away but was never seen or heard from again, leaving her family heartbroken.

Dr Karen Phillip is a sociologist and counselling psychotherapist based on the Central Coast of NSW.

She has worked with people suffering trauma from having a missing person in their life and says the grieving process when someone goes missing can be worse than when someone dies.

Mother-of-three Wendy Dalla went missing in Canberra in 1975. Image: Australian Federal Police.
Mother-of-three Wendy Dalla went missing in Canberra in 1975. Image: Australian Federal Police.

"The devastation of missing a loved one seems far greater and deeper than a loss, as you have no idea where the person is. Are they hurt? Distressed? Killed? Did they suffer? Are they even alive? The questions affect every minute of every day," she tells news.com.au.

She says this kind of trauma can divide families as each member processes the loss differently.

In her experience, it's not uncommon for relationships to break down, friendships to become estranged and siblings to be divided as people learn to deal with what has happened at different rates.

Perhaps the worst part is that closure can sometimes re-open old wounds.

"Discovering the fate of the [missing] loved one, which is essential, can add a new dimension to the trauma. [If] they are definitely dead [families] must process this all over again."

 

Visit the website for more information on National Missing Persons Week. If you have information that may assist police in an investigation, please call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Kirrily Schwarz is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @kirrilyschwarz



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