What happened to Glenyce? Coroner investigates mystery of missing teenager from Pilbara truck stop
Over 45 years ago, Cyclone Joan ravaged parts of the Pilbara as it made landfall and passed through the region south of Port Hedland.
On her way was Glenyce McGowan, 19, on her way to Tom Price to meet his best friend when flooding left the teenager stranded, forcing her and others on the road to camp overnight at the Nanutarra Roadhouse.
Traveling alone after her friend decided to change course inland, a family also stranded by the cyclone offered to give Ms McGowan a lift further north the next day.
The teenager, from Medina in south Perth, set up her sleeping bag about 30 meters from the family, but when they woke up the next day at 5 a.m. on December 10, 1975, she was not there and his few things were gone.
They searched for her for an hour before leaving for Tom Price as planned. When they arrived, they realized that Ms McGowan’s friend, who was awaiting her arrival, had not heard from her.
She was reported missing just over a week later, on December 19, by her father.
Her bank accounts have not been used since December 9, 1975 and there have been no confirmed sightings of her.
The baffling cold case was brought back into the limelight after a coronary artery inquest into her disappearance was heard on Tuesday.
Deputy State Coroner Sarah Linton described the then police investigation as woefully inadequate.
Officers did not make it to the truck stop for weeks after the disappearance, and meanwhile the flooding washed away any potential clue as to what had happened.
No forensic evidence was gathered and a statement taken by the only person of interest – truck stop keeper Raymond Cunningham – was lost along with photographs of Ms McGowan and a sleeping bag later discovered near Mt. Nameless.
Mr Cunningham, the same age as Ms McGowan at the time, was reportedly the last person to see her alive at around 9 p.m. the night of her disappearance.
Witnesses camping at the site said various reports that her motorcycle was coming and going in the area after asking nearby campers where Ms McGowan was.
In an interview with police decades later, he admitted seeing Ms McGowan and spending time with her earlier today, but denied any involvement in her disappearance.
“I think Glenyce and I hit it off, maybe I thought we could have had a little fun but nothing special happened,” he said in a statement.
He remained a person of interest until his death in 2008.
McGowan’s friend Patricia Thompson, who was awaiting his arrival at Tom Price, expressed anger at the investigation in 2002.
“It was clearly evident that there was a bias in favor of Glenyce. I was asked more questions about her drug use and her lifestyle than about the fact that she was gone, ”she said.
“I was struck by the fact that it had nothing to do with her not showing up … I think that was a flawed line of inquiry and probably covered up with subsequent intent. and the lack of diligence in the investigation at the time.
Ms Thompson described her childhood friend as a happy and sympathetic teenage girl, close to her family and with a large circle of friends.
“If I look back as an adult I would say Glenyce probably trusted a foul. I think there was a naivety that in a safe place is probably quite charming, but in a dangerous place it is quite dangerous, ”she said.
The inquest did not describe Ms McGowan, an educator who attends Presbyterian Ladies’ College, as a regular drug user – the only reference was from witnesses who believed she may have smoked a joint at the Relais campsite road.
WA Police and Ms Thompson believe Ms McGowan was likely murdered near the truck stop.
Her brother, Trevor McGowan, 67, held back tears when Ms Linton asked if he could keep hope that she was alive, rather than consider that something terrible had happened.
“[Before she disappeared] she said that she would like to disappear and become anonymous and that it was a serious conversation that always stuck in my mind, ”he said.
“I remember when my parents talked about her disappearance, I automatically assumed that nothing bad had happened and that they were worried and didn’t need it.
“Dad imagined that she could have been kidnapped and taken abroad to be used as a prostitute, I thought that was a bit far-fetched.
Ms Linton said the evidence of what happened to Ms McGowan was limited, but that she would likely find out that the teenager died around December 10, 1975.
“I have listened intently to the evidence today, I understand what Mr. McGowan is saying and I can understand that family members are hoping to keep the light on in some respects … but it seems to me that the evidence substantially goes to her. encounter with foul play, ”she said.
Investigations into the cold cases into Ms McGowan’s disappearance in 2003 and 2006 – including the search of a spike near where she was camping and a forensic search of Mr Cunningham’s quarters – failed allowed to discover new avenues.
Senior Sergeant Jarrad Doherty described the initial 1975 investigation as “basic”.
“There was very little to do … unfortunately this is not uncommon for cold cases,” he said.
“I think we’re just evaluating the investigative practices that were in place then, 30 or 40 years ago, and we’ve come a long way since then.
“I think they realized when it was too late that this was a pretty serious missing persons case.”
Ms McGowan’s parents passed away without ever knowing what had happened to their daughter.
Ms Thompson said the disappearance crushed them.
“Glenyce was very protective of her [mother] and she loved her parents very much, she would never have done anything to them as they experienced it, they were devastated, ”she said.
“Inside, I know she’s dead, I can smell it. I think she was murdered.