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18 September 2014

Excavation in South Australia’s mid-north for clues to 1973 abduction of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon from Adelaide Oval

Major Crime Detectives, with the help of STAR operations and forensic investigators, have inspected several sites at Yatina.

POLICE are excavating sections of Yatina in the state’s mid-north in a search for clues to the 41-year-old cold case abduction of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon from Adelaide Oval.
STAR Group officers and SES workers have supported Major Crime detectives in digging out a well and searching other parts of the remote outpost near Orroroo, but police say they have not found anything of significance.

Excavation have began at several sites around Yatina.

The search centres on the former farm house property of Stanley Arthur Hart, who died in 1999 and who was named by his grandson, convicted paedophile Mark Trevor Marshall, in a confession provided to the Mullighan Inquiry into abuse of children in state care in 2007.
Detective Inspector Greg Hutchins said the searches were the result of a call to Crime Stoppers as well as other information police had gathered over time.
“The previous occupant of the Yatina property is one of a number of people who have been linked to the girls’ disappearance over the years, but to date police have been unable to substantiate his involvement,” he said.
“The man has previously been interviewed by detectives, but died in 1999.
“I stress that the current owners of the property being searched are in no way involved in the girls’ disappearance.

Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon disappeared at Adelaide Oval in 1973.

“Police are keeping an open mind of who may have been involved and won’t rule anyone in or out. “To date no evidence has been found at the well site, so there’s a possibility the man who owned the property years ago may not be responsible for the girls’ disappearance. “This search is about finalising one line of inquiry.”
Detective Inspector Hutchins said police had not ruled out returning to Yatina, even if nothing was found during this search.
“Considerable time and resources have been committed to these searches as police have undertaken to never give up the hunt for the girls’ remains and their abductor,’’ he said. “The search and excavation process has been extremely slow due to safety concerns.”

Major Crime police have previously labelled the confession by Mark Trevor Marshall as “fantasy” and in 2012 suggested Hart’s house, Yatina and nearby Pekina dam, along with items provided to them by a team of private investigators were irrelevant.

Excavating one of the wells near Yatina.

Police now say, over the past year, they have examined numerous sites at Yatina as they follow a line of inquiry on one of Australia’s most baffling crimes. Forensic Sciences of SA and staff from South Australian Ambulance Service, along with the State Emergency Service also have assisted with the searches.
Police moved to assure the South Australian public that they had never stopped looking for Joanne, 11, and Kirste, 4, who disappeared from Adelaide Oval more than 41 years ago.
On 25 August, 1973 they were at a SANFL game at the Oval with their families. The older girl took the younger to the toilet during the game and they disappeared.
They were last seen towards the end of the match near the southern gates of the oval.
Witnesses reported they may have been seen later with an unknown man near Port Rd, Thebarton.
Since that day more than 2000 lines of inquiry have been followed by investigators. A $1 million dollar reward is on offer by the SA Government for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for their disappearance and likely murder.

Police photo-fit of a suspect.

The investigation identified that the girls may have been forcibly removed from the Oval by a man thought to be aged in his 40s.

Key dates in the Adelaide Oval abduction case

  • August 25, 1973 — Joanne Ratcliffe, 11, and Kirste Gordon, 4, go missing during the ¾ time break at a football final at Adelaide Oval when they go to the toilet.
  • July, 1979 — An inquest concerning the disappearance of the girls and the actions of Adelaide Oval staff and police working on the case is held.
  • July, 1999 — Stanley Arthur Hart dies while living in Queensland and is buried in Yatina.
  • January, 2007 — Convicted paedophile Mark Trevor Marshall writes a confession naming his grandfather Stanley Arthur Hart as a suspect in the abduction and murder of the girls. He names Pekina Dam near Orroroo and the Yatina farm house of Hart as sites of interest in the murder of the girls and provides various hand drawn maps in the confession.
  • March, 2007 — Marshall speaks to his confession before Commissioner Edward Mullighan QC as part of the Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry.
  • Late 2007 — Marshall’s hand written confession and maps are removed from state archives and copies are distributed to a number of parties, including The Advertiser.
  • December 2008 — Major Crime detectives, led by private investigators who were given the documents, search the Yatina farm house and Pekina Dam and remove a number of items.
  • January, 2009 — The private detectives return to Pekina Dam and recover two barrels hidden in a sealed tunnel of the dam wall where Marshall suggested the bodies of the girls were disposed of. Tests conducted by SA Police on the contents revealed a weak trace of blood, but they were later determined to be of no significance.
  • December, 2011 — Mark Marshall, on the cusp of release from Yatala, is caught stockpiling child pornography in his cell.
  • April, 2012 — The Advertiser first reports news of the confession by Marshall in which Hart is named as a suspect. The document is provided to Major Crime Police who label it “fantasy”.
  • August, 2012 — Joanne Ratcliffe’s sister, Suzie, has started a memorial page on Facebook and passes information on to police following a phone call in response to this. The Advertiser reports this fact. Police respond to say that there is no new clue in the cold case.
  • August, 2013 — The Advertiser reveals details that a third adult had been with the Ratcliffe family at the football when the girls disappeared, but that man had never been mentioned in any coverage of the 40-year mystery and the family were unaware if he had been questioned. A member of the public also comes forward to say he saw the girls with the suspected abductor in Prospect and drew sketches. The information was passed on to police.
  • August, 2014 — The team of private investigators send the contents of the barrels found in the Pekina Dam wall off for further forensic testing. It is understood nothing of note has been found with the tests of the acidic substance.
  • September 16, 2014 — Police return to Yatina to search for clues in relation to the cold case.