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Suspect in model’s 1994 disappearance avoids sex assault charges after alleged victim dies in fire

Gavin Samer, the main suspect in the disappearance of Sydney model and escort Revelle Balmain, was charged with sexually assaulting a woman who has since died

A woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by the main suspect in the 1994 disappearance of model turned prostitute Revelle Balmain has died after an explosion in her home.

Rosalyn Rosenberg had been due to give evidence against Gavin Owen Samer at Waverley Local Court on Friday but her death led to the case being dropped.

Ms Rosenberg died after an explosion and fire inside her apartment at Bondi in Sydney’s eastern suburbs on January 2.

A New South Wales Ambulance spokeswoman said at the time the explosion was possibly ‘purposeful’ and the fire was being treated as a mental health incident.

The 58-year-old was pulled from the burning Flood Street unit in a critical condition and taken to Royal North Shore Hospital where she later died.

A New South Wales Police Force spokeswoman said officers from Eastern Suburbs Police Area Command had prepared a report for the coroner. 

Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting Samer had any involvement in the explosion or fire. 

Ms Rosenberg had made a statement against Samer alleging indecent assault but her evidence could no longer be challenged and the charges were withdrawn. 

Samer, who has always denied any role in Ms Balmain’s disappearance, was not in court for Friday’s decision but has been told about Ms Rosenberg’s death. 

He had been charged with aggravated sexual touching without consent and sexual touching without consent.

Those offences, which were previously known as indecent assault, carry a maximum penalty of seven and five years in prison respectively. 

    

Gavin Samer is the self-admitted main suspect in the disappearance of 22-year-old Revelle Balmain, (pictured) who was last seen at Kingsford on November 5, 1994. Samer, who denies any role in Ms Balmain's disappearance, was recently charged with unrelated sexual assaults

Gavin Samer is the self-admitted main suspect in the disappearance of 22-year-old Revelle Balmain, (pictured) who was last seen at Kingsford on November 5, 1994. Samer, who denies any role in Ms Balmain’s disappearance, was recently charged with unrelated sexual assaults

Samer was convicted last year of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and stalking or intimidating Rosalyn Rosenberg. He was facing charges of sexually touching Ms Rosenberg without her consent but her death after a fire meant those charges were withdrawn

Samer was convicted last year of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and stalking or intimidating Rosalyn Rosenberg. He was facing charges of sexually touching Ms Rosenberg without her consent but her death after a fire meant those charges were withdrawn

Gavin Samer was the last person known to see model turned escort Revelle Balmain alive. Asked if he knew he was still the main suspect in her murder, he said: 'I'm well aware of the situation.'  He is pictured playing a poker machine after a court appearance

Gavin Samer was the last person known to see model turned escort Revelle Balmain alive. Asked if he knew he was still the main suspect in her murder, he said: ‘I’m well aware of the situation.’  He is pictured playing a poker machine after a court appearance

Samer was convicted late last year of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and stalking or intimidating Ms Rosenberg at Bondi. 

The 52-year-old was sentenced to a 12-month community correction order and fined $1,500 in Waverley Local Court after being found guilty in September. 

He was also the subject of a two-year apprehended violence order taken out by police to protect Ms Rosenberg.

Samer, who lives in Queensland, was in Gold Coast University Hospital earlier this year being treated for a mental illness but is now understood to be in better health. 

Before the assault and stalking charges were heard last year Samer told Daily Mail Australia he was ‘100 per cent innocent’ and he subsequently pleaded not guilty. 

He has launched appeals against the two convictions in the New South Wales District Court. He had also intended to vigorously defend the sexual touching charges.

It had been alleged Samer indecently assaulted Ms Rosenberg while she was incapacitated on medication by grabbing her hand and using it to fondle his genitals.

Charge sheets alleged the offences took place at Bondi some time between the start of January and the end of April last year.  

The ‘aggravated’ factor in one of the charges related to Samer being Ms Rosenberg’s carer. She allegedly suffered from cognitive and physical disabilities. 

Samer has been unable to escape the notoriety attached to his appearance more than two decades ago at a coronial inquiry into Ms Balmain’s disappearance and presumed murder. 

Revelle Balmain had intended quitting prostitution after her last appointment with Gavin Samer. She planned to work as a dancer and had a new boyfriend with whom she was in love

Revelle Balmain had intended quitting prostitution after her last appointment with Gavin Samer. She planned to work as a dancer and had a new boyfriend with whom she was in love

Samer, who lives in Queensland, was in Gold Coast University Hospital earlier this year being treated for a mental illness but is now understood to be in better health. He is pictured near his previous home in Tasmania, where he lived for at least 15 years

Samer, who lives in Queensland, was in Gold Coast University Hospital earlier this year being treated for a mental illness but is now understood to be in better health. He is pictured near his previous home in Tasmania, where he lived for at least 15 years

He says he is not a violent person and believes he has been unfairly targeted by police, who he accuses of harassing him. 

Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting Samer was responsible for Ms Balmain’s disappearance, only that he was named as the main suspect. 

The keen surfer was 26 when he hired Ms Balmain, 22, to come to his home at Kingsford, in Sydney’s south-east, for several hours of sex 25 years ago.

Ms Balmain has not been seen since that appointment and Samer was later named at a coronial inquest as the main person of interest in her suspected murder.

The sometime chef subsequently spent at least 15 years living as a recluse in Tasmania but resurfaced in Sydney in 2018 to plead guilty to old theft charges. 

Posters alerting the public to Revelle Balmain's disappearance were plastered around Sydney. A coroner found: 'I am firmly of the opinion that her disappearance involves her homicide'

Posters alerting the public to Revelle Balmain’s disappearance were plastered around Sydney. A coroner found: ‘I am firmly of the opinion that her disappearance involves her homicide’

After that court appearance Samer told Daily Mail Australia he believed he was still the main suspect in Ms Balmain’s murder but insisted he had not harmed her. 

‘I’m one of the softest, nicest blokes on the planet,’ he said when asked about the events of November 5, 1994. ‘I’m mellow. I’m totally anti-violence.’ 

While Samer told Daily Mail Australia he did not kill Ms Balmain, he knew he would continue to be linked to the crime. 

‘I’m not worried about getting arrested over the Revelle thing,’ he said. ‘I’ve done nothing wrong. I hired a hooker, that’s the only thing I did. Big deal.’

I’m not worried about getting arrested over the Revelle thing. I’ve done nothing wrong. I hired a hooker, that’s the only thing I did. Big deal.

Asked directly if he knew he was still considered the main suspect in Ms Balmain’s murder, Samer said: ‘I’m well aware of the situation.’

‘You don’t have to explain it. I’ve been through it all, don’t worry. 

‘As far as the police are concerned, I’m guilty. As I said, I have no fear about being arrested or charged over murdering Revelle Balmain.

‘One, I didn’t do it. Two, I’ve been that heavily checked over. If I was guilty, I’d already be out of jail.’ 

Samer said police had last confronted him about Ms Balmain’s disappearance in Tasmania more than a decade ago when two officers came to his place of work. 

‘As far as this goes, they reckon I’m guilty of murder,’ he said. ‘I’m very well aware of it. I appreciate these guys have a job to do but the level of harassment was amazing. 

‘But as I said, they’ve been through my house, they’ve done all the forensics. I’ve been to the Coroner’s Court.’ 

Model Revelle Balmain is last known to have been alive at Gavin Samer's Kingsford home

Model Revelle Balmain is last known to have been alive at Gavin Samer’s Kingsford home 

Samer was named as the main person of interest in Ms Balmain’s disappearance during a 1998 coronial inquest which revealed major oversights in the initial investigation by police.

He was to be the blonde, blue-eyed escort’s final client before she intended getting out of prostitution and was the last person known to have seen her alive.

Samer has always denied any involvement in Ms Balmain’s disappearance and the coroner did not recommend charges be laid against him.

Ms Balmain’s body has never been found. In 2008 the NSW Government announced a reward for information that led to the conviction of Ms Balmain’s killer or killers would be increased to $250,000.

Gavin Samer pictured by police in 1994 after he hired Revelle Balmain for sex at his home

Gavin Samer pictured by police in 1994 after he hired Revelle Balmain for sex at his home

Samer had paid for sex with Ms Balmain on the Saturday she went missing, while his de facto partner Michelle Oswald-Sealy was away from their Kingsford home for the weekend.

After their appointment, Samer claimed he drove Ms Balmain from his house on McNair Avenue to the nearby Red Tomato Inn about 7pm, but no witnesses came forward to say they saw him or her that night.

Two days after Ms Balmain’s disappearance her cork-heeled platform shoe, cane make-up bag, diary and the keys to her Bellevue Hill unit were found scattered through nearby streets. 

Samer told police in his first interview that on the Saturday Ms Balmain disappeared he had drunk ‘five twist tops down at the Red Tomato Inn earlier in the day’.

He had also consumed two bottles of Strongbow White cider and then a quantity of champagne while he was with Ms Balmain.

However, the coronial inquest heard that cash register rolls from the bottle shop of the Red Tomato Inn – now the site of Churchills Sports Bar – failed to support Samer’s claimed purchases. 

Ms Oswald-Sealy told the coronial inquest her boyfriend had a drinking problem. 

‘Initially Gavin drank every night and didn’t try to control it,’ she said. 

‘His gambling and drinking was bad at this stage… he would binge and sneak drinks and cover it up well… it was the worst drinking problem I had ever seen.’

Revelle Balmain was a model, dancer and escort who was going to quit prostitution after her appointment with Gavin Samer at his home in Sydney's south-eastern suburbs. There is a $250,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Revelle Balmain's killer or killers

Revelle Balmain was a model, dancer and escort who was going to quit prostitution after her appointment with Gavin Samer at his home in Sydney’s south-eastern suburbs. There is a $250,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Revelle Balmain’s killer or killers

A summary of the police investigation provided to the coroner in 1998 listed the reasons why detectives continued to consider Samer the main suspect in Ms Balmain’s disappearance.

The report said: ‘Samer had inexplicable injuries to his neck and injuries to his finger and body, the explanation by Samer of the cause of these injuries was improbable.’

Police also noted how Samer was unable to produce the cheque book with which he allegedly paid Ms Balmain $100 for extra time and services in his home.

Gavin Samer says while police have a job to do he has been unnecessarily harassed

Gavin Samer says while police have a job to do he has been unnecessarily harassed  

They noted that property belonging to the dancer was found scattered in the streets near his house and the fact no one could be located who had seen Samer drop Ms Balmain at the Red Tomato Inn as he claimed.

During the inquest, the possibility that two of Ms Balmain’s former employers, Select Companions and VIP Escorts, or their associates could have been involved in her disappearance was investigated.

Also considered was a submission from a group of three men about drug-fuelled parties they claimed to have had with Ms Balmain. The submission was later ruled ‘unreliable’.

Deputy State Coroner John Abernethy eliminated a theory that Ms Balmain had staged her own disappearance, saying there was ‘absolutely no evidence’ to support it.

In his May 1999 findings Mr Abernethy ruled Revelle Balmain died on or about November 5, 1994 in New South Wales at the hands of a person or persons unknown.

‘Not only is she dead, but I am firmly of the opinion that her disappearance involves her homicide,’ he said.

‘While Mr Samer certainly had the opportunity to kill Ms Balmain, and rightly in my view is the main person of interest to police, there is no plausible motive proved.’ 

Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting Samer was guilty of sexually assaulting Ms Rosenberg, only that he was charged with the alleged offences, which with her death have now been withdrawn.

Samer will appeal against his assault and intimidation convictions in the District Court later this year. 

Detectives urge anyone with information about Revelle Balmain’s disappearance and suspected murder to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

WHAT THE CORONER WAS TOLD ABOUT GAVIN OWEN SAMER

Coroner John Abernethy did not recommend charges be laid against Gavin Samer

Coroner John Abernethy did not recommend charges be laid against Gavin Samer

Evidence given at the coronial inquest into Revelle Balmain’s disappearance revealed in the first crucial hours after she was reported missing police did not search Gavin Samer’s house with a specialist forensics team.

They also did not search his car until nine days later or ask him to hand over the clothes he was wearing on November 5, 1994.

Deputy State Coroner John Abernethy questioned the officer originally in charge of the case, Detective Sergeant Graeme John Mulherin, about the early investigation.

Detective Sergeant Mulherin had been stationed at Rose Bay police station on November 6, the day after Ms Balmain’s disappearance.

He told the coroner what inquiries police made of Mr Samer. 

Mr Abernethy: ‘As part of the search of his home did you search the clothing that he may have been wearing on the day of 5 November?’

Detective Sergeant Mulherin: ‘No, I did not.’

Mr Abernethy: ‘Did you ask him what clothing he was wearing, what type of clothing he was wearing on that day and specifically the type of clothing he was wearing immediately before he saw Revelle Balmain and after he left, as he claims, his residence with her?’

Detective Sergeant Mulherin: ‘No I did not, no.’

The detective had not asked for Mr Samer’s washed clothing because he thought anything that he needed ‘wouldn’t have been there’.

Mr Abernethy: ‘In terms of blood?’

Detective Sergeant Mulherin: ‘Yes.’

Mr Abernethy asked if, with hindsight, it might have been a good idea to examine Mr Samer’s clothing for damage. 

‘Certainly a priority in fact that was a very intense day for us, it was my first day at Rose Bay,’ Detective Sergeant Mulherin said. 

‘I walked straight into this investigation, we were flat out all day as I say, we’ve obviously overlooked that, overlooked the viewing of any clothing for damage.’

As Mr Samer had told police he got the scratches on his body while surfing that Saturday morning, officers asked for and obtained his wetsuits.

‘I needed to know if those injuries could be caused and/or an injury be caused through a wetsuit,’ Detective Sergeant Mulherin said.

Police were also looking for Mr Samer’s cheque book because he had said he wrote a cheque for Ms Balmain but it was missing.

Officers visited Mr Samer’s house three times – the first time without a warrant and the third time with a warrant to search the property.

The most extensive search happened on November 8, three days after Ms Balmain went missing.

When police came to search the house they did not call in assistance from specialist physical evidence officers. Instead, Detective Sergeant Mulherin relied on his eyesight to look for ‘blood, scuff marks, hair adhered to the wall, anything.’

He told Mr Abernethy he was ‘physically pulling things apart to have a look to try and, first of all, find the cheque book.’

‘Why didn’t you call in the crime scene unit, physical evidence people?,’ Mr Abernethy asked.

‘It was an oversight at that time of the inquiry,’ Detective Sergeant Mulherin said.

‘In hindsight I’d do a lot of things differently, that would be one of them, certainly.’

Detective Sergeant Mulherin then confirmed Mr Samer’s car – in which he allegedly drove Ms Balmain to the Red Tomato Inn – was not checked until November 13, eight days after she disappeared.

‘You have to understand, at that stage… we didn’t have a body and we weren’t certain she was dead at that stage,’ Detective Sergeant Mulherin said.

Churchills Sports Bar stands on the site of the Red Tomato Inn on Anzac Parade at Kingsford

Churchills Sports Bar stands on the site of the Red Tomato Inn on Anzac Parade at Kingsford

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