Rebecca Agheli was camping when she saw her missing mother, Samantha Murphy, running by the day before she disappeared.
A camper who saw missing mother Samantha Murphy run past her 24 hours before she disappeared has told of a terrifying encounter she had with a “disheveled man” in the bush just days before.
Rebecca Agheli and her partner, Michael, hired a caravan for a long weekend trip to Ballarat for a gold hunting excursion near Woowookarung Regional Park, arriving on February 1.
Ms Murphy disappeared in the regional park after leaving her home shortly after 7am on Sunday, February 4, and no trace of her has been found since.
Last night police said they would scale back the search for the missing mother-of-three in a devastating blow to her family.
Agheli said he only learned Thursday that Murphy was missing and discovered he had seen her running past their campsite Saturday morning before she disappeared.
SPECTACULAR ENCOUNTER BEFORE MOM DISAPPEARED
When they arrived on February 1, about 15 minutes from the state forest, Mrs. Agheli prepared to search for gold while her partner explored the area.
He quickly returned to his car after seeing a strange man.
“He’s a big guy, he’s not normally afraid of anything, but he told me he’d seen a strange, scruffy man come out of the bush talking to himself with the crotch of his pants ripped,” he told Daily Mail Australia.
Ms Murphy had disappeared in Woowookarung Regional Park after leaving her home shortly after 7am on Sunday and no trace of her has been found since.
The 51-year-old man has been missing for six days and police called homicide detectives to assist in the investigation.
The couple decided to pack their bags and go to another area, which Agheli guesses was about a seven-minute drive away.
He said his partner had warned him about mining pits in the area and suggested they go somewhere else, but Agheli wanted to take a quick look and walked a little away from the car.
“Then I saw the same guy again, even after driving for about seven minutes,” he said.
‘His whole face lit up when he saw a woman alone.
‘I was thinking how did this guy get here so fast. You must know a shortcut. He had both hands behind his back and started walking towards me very fast.
Agheli said he then called the man to ask if there was gold in the area, loud enough so his partner could hear him.
Michael immediately ran towards Mrs. Agheli. She said the man quickly put his hands in his pockets and fled into the bush.
Agheli described the man as white and with medium-long hair. She suspects he may have been mentally disabled.
The couple then drove 15 minutes to the lookout at Woowookarung Regional Park, where they camped overnight on Thursday and Friday last week.
Both Agheli and her boyfriend said they heard strange sounds throughout the night on Friday, leading Michael to even sleep with a cheese knife under his pillow.
“On Saturday morning, Michael said, ‘I don’t feel comfortable here, we should leave. Last night I kept hearing things, let’s pack up and leave,” he said.
“It takes a lot to make a man afraid.”
Mrs Murphy (pictured) was known as a keen athlete who visited the woods almost daily.
THE MOMENT THE COUPLE SAW MRS MURPHY RUNNING THROUGH THEIR CAMPING SITE
Before the couple left the state forest, they saw Ms. Murphy running past as the mother of three wished them good morning.
Agheli has spoken to detectives investigating Murphy’s case about what he saw.
Michael also lost his Apple Watch and Agheli said police had told him the last one rang in a similar area to where Murphy’s phone had also rang in the nearby suburb of Buninyong.
Agheli hopes what he saw can help in the investigation into Murphy’s whereabouts.
“I’m worried that something similar could happen to someone else,” he said.
“That was my first camping trip and I’ll never go back there.”
HORRIBLE ATTACK IN THE NEARBY FOREST IN FEBRUARY
Last February, 29-year-old Sissy Austin was beaten unconscious by an unknown man while running through the nearby Lal Lal State Forest.
Austin was running along the motorcycle trail through the woods, just 20 kilometers from where he was jogging, when he suddenly encountered a stranger.
She barely caught a glimpse of him before he lashed out and hit her on the head with a rock tied to the end of a stick.
The blow knocked her unconscious and left her face bruised and bloody, before she woke up minutes later, dazed but alone.
She said her attacker was a white man. No one has been charged for the attack.
Sissy Austin posted photos of herself before and after last year’s attack by a man armed with a rock tied to a stick.
Late on Friday, Victoria Police confirmed the “current phase of the active search” for Ms Murphy would be scaled back over the weekend.
“An extensive search has been carried out that has lasted six days, in which the local police have participated, together with personnel from the search and rescue team, the mounted brigade and the canine squad, in addition to significant help from members of the SES and the CFA,” reads a statement.
‘Police continue to be in regular contact with Samantha’s family regarding the development of the search and the status of the investigation.
“The investigation stage continues and, as new information arrives that identifies areas of interest, the search will be expanded.”
Specialist teams will continue searching despite the number of volunteers reducing over the weekend.
After an extensive search of the surrounding area turned up no clues, missing persons squad detectives took control of the investigation on Friday.
“Although no sinister factors have been identified in her disappearance at this time, there are significant concerns given that six days have now passed without her being seen or any sign of her current whereabouts,” police said in a statement.
SES volunteers are seen scouring farmland as the search for Ms Murphy enters its sixth day.
The squad will have the ability to expand the resources of specialized investigation units throughout the criminal command.
“It is especially concerning that we have gone six days without any contact from her or any potential sightings,” Acting Detective Superintendent Mark Hatt said in a statement.
It comes less than 24 hours after Acting Inspector Lisa McDougall told media the disappearance was not being treated as suspicious.
“We have not identified any suspicious circumstances at this time,” he said.
But police insist his disappearance is not yet being treated as “sinister”.
“We have not received any information relating to his movements since the time he left his home on Sunday morning,” Acting Detective Superintendent Mark Hatt said on Friday morning.
Detective Hatt added that missing persons investigators had more resources and experts who could help with the search.
“There will certainly be additional crime command detectives attending the Ballarat area today and in the coming days,” he said.
The focus has moved to the town of Buninyong, 15 minutes south of Ballarat.
Anyone who drove through the area with dash cam footage from 7am to 7pm on Sunday is asked to come forward.