‘Someone knows what happened to our son’
SOMEONE on the Gold Coast knows what happened to Jason Vance, his parents say.
And yesterday they vowed they're coming for them.
Mr Vance, a 42-year-old father-of-three, went missing in the Barakula State Forest one summer night in October 2013.
His father and mother, Lester and Debra Marriage, believe he was murdered and are pushing for the investigation into his death to be reopened.
"The one thing that is not true is that he did not walk off into the bush and vaporise into thin air," Mr Marriage said.
"I can tell you somebody in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast knows what happened to Jason."
Mr Vance lived on the Gold Coast in the weeks leading up to his disappearance and travelled to the state forest near Chinchilla with two other people, Alex Thorton and Megan Pitt - though the coroner did not suggest they were involved in his death..
"Despite a very extensive search, his body and any other physical evidence of him have not been found," Deputy State Coroner John Lock last year found. After an inconclusive police investigation, the 2017 inquest investigated whether Mr Vance was dead and if so, the circumstances around his passing.
"My primary conclusion is that Jason John Vance is in fact deceased," Mr Lock found.
"On the evidence before me I find it is most likely that Jason died of misadventure rather than foul play, although this cannot be excluded."
But Mr Vance's family believe foul play is the only plausible explanation.
They are calling on the Attorney-General to offer a reward for information.
Mr and Mrs Marriage point to key areas in the investigation that could be revisited, including reports of a black 4WD being in the vicinity of Mr Vance's last know whereabouts.
They say a man who believed he knew who killed Mr Vance also died under suspicious circumstances in Brisbane, four months after making a statement to police.
"There might not be enough evidence to charge anyone with murder but we're nearly there," Mr Marriage said.
"There are some people out there who breathed a sigh of relief after the coroner's findings, who think they got away with it, but we're telling them: 'We're coming'."
MR Vance grew up in Rockhampton but his family lived for several years on the Gold Coast.
He was a well-regarded stonemason and worked on some of the city's most notable buildings, including the Marriott Hotel.
"Jason excelled at everything he did in his life," Mrs Marriage said.
"He could have gone to university, he was Australian motorbike champion, he was a barefoot waterskiing champion, he was a representative rugby player. He had everything at his feet."
At age 15, Mr Vance's problems with alcohol began.
They escalated into drug use into his late 30s.
He had several stints in rehab, where his parents say he was introduced to ice users.
"It's not just shit-baked families that it happens to. Drugs aren't discriminatory," Mrs Marriage said.
"It doesn't matter whether you come from a good family, a feral family, an affluent family. You don't have to be deprived of a good childhood to become addicted to drugs."
Around August 2013, Mr Vance's housemate said the 42-year-old told him he was headed from Rockhampton - where he had been living - to the Gold Coast after hatching a plan to use his tax return to make money selling speed and ice.
On October 20, 2013 Mr Vance told his housemate he "had a few things to sort out on the Gold Coast" before he would be returning north.
Despite not living with his family for several years, they were often in contact with his friends and reported him missing after being informed their son had not been in contact with his housemate.
Four days after telling his housemate he would be returning north, Mr Vance and two other people - Megan Pitt and Alex Thornton - drove from the Gold Coast to Barakula State Forest, about 70km from Chinchilla.
The forest covers more than 260,000ha and is the largest state forest in the Southern Hemisphere.
The environment is harsh and the inquest heard the search for Mr Vance's body had been difficult because of a large amount of animal activity in the area.
Ms Pitt and Mr Thornton both had a history of drug offences, the inquest heard.
The inquest was told they'd met Mr Vance through the drug scene and planned to cook drugs out of cold and flu tablets in the rural area.
Mr Vance's parents say their son believed he would continue on to Rockhampton after stopping in the forest with the pair.
Mr Vance and Ms Pitt travelled in one car, and Mr Thornton in a stolen vehicle.
The inquest heard they set up camp at an old school hut, where they intended to spend the night of October 24, 2013.
"Jason has not been seen by anyone since that night and there have been no signs of life," Coroner Lock said.
"His bank account has remained untouched and his telephone, medical and Centrelink records show no activity."
MEGAN AND ALEX
MEGAN Pitt and Alex Thorton told police Mr Vance went for a walk into the forest and never returned.
The pair said they looked for him in the morning but left a few hours later.
They have not been charged in relation to Mr Vance's death, and the coroner did not suggest they were involved in it.
"That is not to say that the response of Pitt and Thornton after Jason went missing was responsible or reasonable. Most people would have done more," Coroner Lock found.
" ... They really only cared about themselves."
What Mr Thornton and Ms Pitt said they did after Jason went missing was described by Coroner Lock as "bizarre".
The inquest heard that after searching for Mr Vance, they drove to another abandoned forestry house to carry on the plan to cook drugs.
However, Mr Thornton's car got bogged near the abandoned building.
"The pair stayed in the house and spent some days digging it out. Thornton then left Pitt at the house," the inquest heard.
He told her he'd come back and never did.
"After some three days staying in the abandoned house with little food available, Pitt decided to leave the house," the inquest heard.
She was found in a dishevelled state on a remote road with her dog on October 29.
Mr Thornton was arrested on unrelated matters when he returned to the Gold Coast.
SEARCH AND RESCUE
A SEARCH of the forest did not start until November 28.
"A number of scenarios were taken into consideration planning the search, including lost person behaviour; misadventure; head injury; snake bite; third party involvement causing injury; or murder of the missing person and subsequent removal of the body," the inquest heard. SES workers started using trail bikes, before they continued on foot and horseback.
More searches were conducted over the years to 2017, when divers searched an area known as Cutthroat Creek.
No items of interest were located.
"Jason always wore shorts, a T-shirt and thongs; he wouldn't have walked far in that," Mr Marriage said.
"They searched 35,000ha by helicopter, quad bike, trail bike, horseback and in the water. The police aren't convinced and they think they should have found something, a thong or something."
TWO witnesses told the inquest a dark-coloured 4WD was seen following the trio inside the Barakula State Forest that October day in 2013.
"We've always believed there is a third party," Mr Marriage said.
"There was another vehicle that was out there identified by forestry and farm workers.
"People have seemed to sort of pass it off but if you're out in a forest like that, very seldom would you come across another vehicle without saying: 'Please explain that'."
Coroner Lock found it was "unknown if that dark-coloured 4WD utility had anything to do with the group of three".
Mr Marriage said there were several other loose ends that could help get to the truth.
"The police and the search teams did an amazing job," he said.
"But we've got a lot of information and there is a few interesting things.
"There was a person who gave police a statement, who was a friend of Jason's.
"Within four months of him giving that statement to police he died in suspicious circumstances in Brisbane.
"In that statement he pointed to people that ... could have been implicated in the murder of our son."
Mr and Mrs Marriage say the past five years have been a "rollercoaster" but they are determined to get justice for their son.
"You go through extreme sadness and anger and then you put that to the side and you say: 'Our son's life was worth something'," Mrs Marriage said.
"He wasn't just a throw away piece of garbage and there are people out there who actually know what happened to him.
"I'm going to try and lobby our federal and state member, I'd like to see a reward."
"We hope someone down here who knew Jason might have some information," Mr Marriage added.
"I want to stir somebody's guilt because all roads lead back to the Gold Coast."