The disappearance of Samantha Murphy has gripped the nation with many left baffled as to what has happened to the missing mother-of-three.
The 51-year-old hasn’t been seen since the morning of February 4 when she vanished while going on an early morning run in the Woowookarung Regional Park, around two hours northwest of Melbourne.
She’d left her house in Ballarat East to go for a jog as she did everyday, but when she failed to show up for an 11am brunch, her family raised the alarm.
A major search operation was launched with several police units involved along with SES volunteers, friends and family and members of the local community.
With Ms Murphy now missing for eight days, Daily Mail Australia takes a look at some of the key questions about the case.
Samantha Murphy hasn’t been seen since the morning of February 4
What happened to Samantha Murphy?
The night before she disappeared, during dinner with her husband Mick and friends, Ms Murphy mentioned she was going for a 14-km run the next day before it got too hot.
Ms Murphy left her home on Eureka Street in Ballarat East to go for a jog just after 7am last Sunday at a pine forest at the end of her street.
This area, referred to as the Woowookarung Regional Park, features over 120km of roads, tracks, and trails winding through dense scrub.
It is littered with abandoned mines and treacherous mineshafts where the unwitting could easily fall into.
CCTV captured Ms Murphy running past a neighbour’s house at about 7.16am on the Sunday she went missing.
It’s understood she was running in a north-easterly direction. She’d told her husband she was heading out on a run but she never returned.
Her disappearance has sparked various theories on what happened:
- Foul play, including false allegations Samantha’s husband was behind her disappearance
- Potential dangers from drug users and homeless encampments in the forest
- The possibility of a hit-and-run incident occurring along her usual running route
- Samantha potentially getting lost in the forest due to health problems
- There are concerns that Samantha might have accidentally fallen into an abandoned mine or mine shaft in the vicinity
- Some speculate abduction or intentional disappearance
Samantha Murphy left her Ballarat home at 7am on Sunday to go for a run in the nearby Woowookarung Regional Park and did not return home, nor has she been seen since
Was Samantha Murphy the victim of foul play?
Victoria Police Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt said on Friday police had not identified any ‘suspicious or sinister circumstances’, but held concerns for her welfare.
Respected criminal psychologist, Tim Watson-Munro, said nothing could be ruled out and raised the possibility Ms Murphy may have had a stalker if her disappearance is found to be a result of foul play.
‘Who’s responsible I don’t think we could say. As I understand it was a happy home life,’ he earlier told Daily Mail Australia.
CCTV captured Ms Murphy running past a neighbour’s house at about 7.16am on the Sunday she went missing
‘It could be that she was being stalked, if you have a regular pattern, stalkers love that and she had a regular pattern of running through that area.’
Mr Watson-Munro also said misadventure could be a possibility and noted locals in the area had raised concerns about unnoticeable mineshafts in the state forest.
He also said that if any crime has occurred, it’s also possible it may be opportunistic, in that someone has seen Ms Murphy out and decided to act on that.
Superintendent Hatt said detectives would also look into Ms Murphy’s movements and interactions with others in the days before she vanished, including her friends and family.
One wild claim alleges Ms Murphy was involved in an ongoing dispute with a local who took their revenge while she was out on her regular run.
There is no suggestion Ms Murphy had any ongoing dispute with any neighbours or locals.
Detectives will also trawl through Ms Murphy’s computers and devices in the hope of finding clues.
Why has the search been scaled back?
The official search was scaled back on Saturday with those wanting to help told there would be no co-ordinated effort and that they could carry out their own searches alone.
Crews from the Country Fire Authority and State Emergency Service volunteers have been told to withdraw from the search, which has been ‘scaled back’ but not abandoned.
‘The current phase of the active search for missing woman Samantha Murphy has been scaled back over the weekend,’ a police spokesperson said earlier.
‘An extensive 6-day search has been conducted involving local police, along with personnel from the Search and Rescue Squad, Mounted Branch and Dog Squad, plus significant assistance from members of the SES and CFA.
Local volunteers are seen meeting on Sunday at the Buninyong Police Station to organise a search
‘Police continue to be in regular contact with Samantha’s family regarding the developments of the search and the status of the investigation.
‘The investigative stage of the investigation continues and as any new information comes to hand identifying areas of interest, the search will be scaled up.’
The Missing Persons Unit has taken charge of the investigation.
What significance do the discovered items hold?
Early on in the investigation an item of interest was found in the bushland near where Ms Murphy disappeared.
However, Victoria Police later confirmed it was not relevant to her disappearance.
Last Wednesday, police released CCTV of what was believed to be Ms Murphy running along Eureka Street.
Another runner later came forward to say it was them in the footage and not Ms Murphy.
Ms Murphy was also wearing an Apple watch at the time of her disappearance, and her phone had pinged in the nearby suburb of Buninyong.
Victoria Police Inspector Bob Heaney said they were investigating the devices but the area they were able to track from them was ‘limited’.
Police have been relying on the public to report any information into Ms Murphy’s whereabouts, with the state forest she was running in having no CCTV.
Over the weekend, a team of volunteers found a black bra that had been chopped in half and hung on a post in nearby bushland, which was also reported to police.
Ms Murphy has been missing for eight days with the official search being scaled back
What were the strange encounters in the forest before the incident?
Locals say the area is notorious for drug users, while search parties have also found evidence of homeless encampments deep within the bush.
Greens senator candidate Sissy Austin was savagely attacked a year ago while on a run just 20km away from where Ms Murphy vanished, sparking fears of a similar attack.
Ms Austin was running along a similar track when she was smashed in the face by a random stranger wielding a rock tied to the end of a stick.
The blow knocked her unconscious and left her face bloodied and bruised when she finally came to, but had to stagger 4km before she could raise the alarm.
Her white male attacker had vanished when she woke up, and no-one was ever caught in connection with the attack.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Agheli was camping with her boyfriend in the Woowookarung Regional Park on the weekend Ms Murphy went missing.
Ms Agheli said they’d travelled to Ballarat on a gold hunting trip and arrived on February 1.
They’d gone to an area about 15 minutes from the state forest to look for gold when they had a frightening encounter.
Ms Agheli said while she was still getting ready, her partner Michael had already set off to look for gold when he suddenly returned to their car.
‘He’s a big guy, he’s not usually scared of anything, but he told me he’d seen a strange, dishevelled man pop out of the bush talking to himself with the crotch on his pants ripped,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
The couple decided to pack up and go to another area, which Ms Agheli guesses was about a seven-minute drive away.
She said her partner had warned her of mine shafts in the area and suggested they go elsewhere, but Ms Agheli wanted to have a quick look and wandered a short distance away from the car.
‘Then I saw the same guy again even after we’d just driven about seven minutes,’ she said.
‘His whole face lit up when he saw a woman on his own.
‘I was thinking, “how did this guy get here so fast, he must know a shortcut”. He had both of his hands behind his back and started walking towards me really fast.’
Ms Agheli said she then called out to the man to ask if there was any gold in the area, loud enough so her partner could hear.
Michael immediately ran over to Ms Agheli. She said the man quickly put his hands in his pockets and fled into the bush.
The couple then camped overnight in the state forest on Friday and Saturday.
On Saturday morning they saw Ms Murphy run past their campsite. She wished them a good morning as she went on her way.
Who is Samantha Murphy’s husband Michael Murphy?
Ms Murphy and her husband both own a car repair business called Inland Motor Body Works.
Mr Murphy has 23 years of experience in the industry while his wife handles the books and administration of the office, along with ‘keeping Mick in line’.
The business describes itself as Ballarat’s ‘leading smash repairs specialist’.
On the third day of his wife’s disappearance, Mr Murphy said he was feeling ‘not too bad under the circumstances’.
‘It’s just up in the air, we don’t know,’ he told the Herald Sun.
‘It’s just a whole time thing, at the end of the day.’
Mr Murphy had also told Nine News he would not be joining the search as he preferred to keep his mind occupied with other matters while he waited for an update.
Last week, Ms Murphy’s family attacked the online trolls who have been falsely alleging Ms Murphy’s husband Mick was behind her disappearance.
‘For those questioning Samantha’s husband, you need not worry,’ said a statement to the Facebook group set up to help in the hunt and believed to be from a family member.
‘He is in more pain than anyone and would be the last person to suspect in any of this.’
Michael Murphy, the husband of missing mum Samantha Murphy, drove to the crime scene in Ballarat East at about 1.45pm on Wednesday. He appeared visible shocked speaking to officers
How are Samantha Murphy’s family coping?
Ms Murphy’s eldest daughter Jess and husband issued an emotional plea for their loved one to come home on the fifth day of her disappearance.
‘Mum’s a really strong woman, and she’s far too determined to give up this fight,’ Jess tearfully told reporters.
‘Mum, we love you so much, and we miss you. We need you at home with us. Please come home soon. I can’t wait to see you and to give you the biggest hug when I do.
‘And to tell you off for giving us so much stress. I love you.’
Moments earlier, her father made an impassioned plea for information from the public that may assist in finding his wife.
‘People just don’t vanish into thin air. Someone’s got to know something,’ he said.
‘Whether it be any little thing that you might think is relevant, just call the police and let them know. It’ll give us a bit of peace of mind, some hope’.
Following commentary online about why he was being so quiet about his wife’s disappearance, Mr Murphy said on Wednesday he had been advised to do so.
‘I’ve been speaking with the police and I’ve been advised not to say anything,’ Mr Murphy told the Herald Sun.
He added he was doing ‘ok’ and was not worried about the various theories of what lay behind his wife’s disappearance; saying he doesn’t ‘even look online’.
Ms Murphy’s eldest daughter Jess and husband issued an emotional plea for their loved one to come home on the fifth day of her disappearance