Large areas of bushland have remained uninvestigated in the search for missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy, with volunteers left scouring the area after police scaled back their active search.
Ms Murphy, a 51-year-old mother of three, disappeared on February 4 while out for a run in Woowookarung Regional Park. Police suspect one or more people were involved in her disappearance.
On Sunday she will be missing for four weeks.
Bush tracking expert and visiting volunteer Jake Cassar said he and other volunteers turned over several items of potential evidence to authorities in areas of the dense undergrowth that had not previously been searched.
“When I arrived there were many dense areas of bush that had not been recorded,” he said.
“Through my monitoring experience, you can clearly tell when bushland areas have not been disturbed.”
Police have scaled back the search for Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy and volunteers have largely taken over.
Volunteers invited tracking expert Jake Cassar to Ballarat to help find Ms Murphy
Mr Cassar was invited to Ballarat by volunteers who paid for his airfare and accommodation. While he recruited and trained volunteers, he began scouring areas of the park that had not yet been found in searches.
“I was able to find areas that were not disturbed and I was able to find things, and the person who was with me was able to find things that certainly should have been turned over to the police,” he said.
Cassar could not confirm what those items were so as not to interfere with the investigation, but said there was one main item of interest and confirmed that the area had not yet been fully searched.
Police told NCA NewsWire they would not provide further details on intelligence received or items found in the case “unless it is determined that this will assist the investigation to progress.”
The area where Cassar investigated on Wednesday. He discovered vast expanses of unexplored bushland.
Teams on the ground have been searching for Ms Murphy for almost four weeks.
A spokesman for the volunteer ground team confirmed that there were many bushes that had not been thoroughly searched.
“Jake found a lot of virgin bushes as they like to call them, meaning they haven’t been touched,” they said.
More than 200 volunteers attended the search last Saturday. Outside the area they covered, “maybe 10 percent” of virgin bush remained, but other areas still have large amounts of bush they haven’t reached.
The ground team made the decision to suspend their latest search on Saturday due to bushfire conditions, but will reconvene on Friday now that the fire has been declared under control.
After six days of active searching, police announced on February 10 that the search would be “scaled down.”
“As new information arrives that identifies areas of interest, the search will expand,” they said.
Since then, specialists have been seen investigating nearby bushland and mines with technology such as metal detectors.
Cassar said it was possible to find Murphy in those mines and also suggested checking isolated areas between 5 and 20 kilometers from Ballarat.
“I have great respect for the police and SES records,” he said. “I think they’ve done a wonderful job.”
However, he added that governments should fund larger and longer efforts to find missing people for “at least 14 days.”
Mrs Murphy disappeared under suspicious circumstances
Cassar said Murphy could be found anywhere, and mentioned the time he spent searching for missing boy AJ Elfalak.
“I was very involved in that search,” he said, and after three days people had “pretty much resigned themselves to the fact that he had been kidnapped.” And at that moment I told everyone: ‘no, please don’t give up.’
AJ was found shortly after and Cassar believes he had been living off the land during the days he was missing.
Cassar said that while it was unlikely Murphy was still alive, he remained open-minded about her whereabouts.
“Anything is possible and let us never underestimate the human spirit,” he said.