Locals searching for missing mum Samantha Murphy were left horrified after a sign 12 miles from where she was last seen was vandalized with a sick joke implying she met a gruesome fate.
The mother-of-three, 51, was last seen leaving her home on Eureka Street in Ballarat East, country Victoria, to go jogging at Woowookarung Regional Park at around 7am on February 4 .
Her husband Mick Murphy, 53, raised the alarm when she did not return home for their family lunch at 11am
Police, the Country Firefighters Association, State Emergency Service volunteers and hundreds of locals organized a widespread search, but investigators scaled back efforts over the weekend.
Some were surprised by the decision to end the official search and decided to take matters into their own hands, scouring the area in small groups in search of the missing mother.
It was during an independent search that locals found a defaced council sign about a water quality issue at Dean Reservoir, north-east of where it disappeared.
Samantha Murphy, 51, went missing while out for a run in Woowookarung Regional Park on February 4.
Pictured: A council sign which was vandalized with a cruel joke about missing mum Samantha Murphy.
Pictured: Dean’s Reservoir, where the council sign was placed.
The sign read: “Please note that the water quality issue is currently impacting water clarity at Dean Reservoir.”
Below the paragraph, in black Texta, the vandal wrote: “Thanks Sam.”
The resident reported the vandalism to police and posted a photo of the shocking act on a social media group dedicated to the search.
One group member wrote: “The implication is that the reservoir is closed because of Sam.”
‘I’ll let you find out why. If it’s a bad joke, it’s not funny.
Others suggested it could be a hoax, but agreed it should still be reported to the police.
Another team of volunteers found a black bra cut in half and hanging from a pole in a nearby bush, which was also reported to the police.
Prayers were held for Ms Murphy and her family at Buninyong Anglican Church on Sunday morning, as the downgraded search entered its eighth day.
The Rev. Mark Schnerring did not include Mrs. Murphy in his sermon, but he did tell parishioners that the family was in his prayers.
Samantha Murphy was last seen leaving her home on Eureka Street in Ballarat East to go for a run in the Canadian State Forest around 7am (CCTV pictured)
Local volunteers involved in the search for Samantha found a black bra (pictured) cut in half and hanging on a fence.
After the service, he told Daily Mail Australia he does not believe the missing mother will be found alive.
“Well, it doesn’t look like anything good can happen now,” said Reverend Schnerring.
“It seems that she herself was in some kind of accident and died, or that she was killed, I guess they are looking into possibilities.”
The Rev. Schnerring said he did not know her circumstances well enough to speculate whether she escaped or was kidnapped.
“I think people want to hold on to hope and that she’s still okay, but the realism is that it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a good outcome,” he added.
The Rev. Mark Schnerring is pictured during his Sunday sermon. He told parishioners that the Murphy family would be in his prayers.
Pictured: A small group of volunteers at the Buninyong police station on Sunday morning.
Investigators called in an army of telecommunications technology experts to try to reconstruct Ms. Murphy’s movements from the phone data they had at their disposal.
Crime Command Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt confirmed last week that Ms Murphy was carrying an Apple Watch and her mobile phone with her when she disappeared.
It is understood that a local mobile tower recorded a ping from Ms Murphy’s phone on Sunday, after she disappeared, but police declined to say more about the timing or location of the phone.
“We can’t respond to that at this time,” Superintendent Hatt said. ‘Obviously, this is going to happen to our telecommunications technicians.
The official police search for Ms Murphy will be handed over to the Missing Persons Team.
Investigators have now turned to CCTV footage and dashcams to try to piece together Ms Murphy’s final movements, saying a full-scale search will only resume if new information emerges.
According to Seven News, hundreds of hours of CCTV have already been submitted to police.
Police have urged anyone with footage in the Ballarat East, Mount Helen and Buninyong areas taken around the time of Murphy’s disappearance to come forward.
Pictured: A local man looking for Samantha Murphy on his bike on Saturday.
Police believe images of vehicles, other runners and pedestrians could be crucial in finding witnesses or people who may have more information about their whereabouts.
“Even if the footage does not show Samantha, detectives are keen to review all footage in the areas between 7am and 7pm on Sunday 4 February,” police said in a statement.
“Despite extensive searches in the area over the past six days, no sign of Samantha has been located.”
Premier Anthony Albanese, who was in Ballarat on Sunday, passed on his thoughts to Murphy’s family and friends.
“I’m sure it’s been a very difficult time,” he said.
‘I thank all those people who are involved in the search and I hope it has a good result.’