Missing mum's remains found

Murder investigation: Judith Bartlett, pictured here with a koala, went missing in 1964.
Murder investigation: Judith Bartlett, pictured here with a koala, went missing in 1964.

For 49 years, Francis Ryan thought that her loving mother had abandoned her one day without reason.

She held on to memories of cooking with her as a 10-year-old and lying in the hallway of their home in Bathurst, NSW, on hot days with their tops off to cool down - "just us girls," her mother would say.

"I had a mother that I thought loved me," Ms Ryan, now 59, said. "I had a mother who was my friend. She was my friend and she was was my mother and then I was told she'd gone away and I thought she'd left me."

Appeal for information: Frances Ryan holding a photograph taken with her mother.
Appeal for information: Frances Ryan holding a photograph taken with her mother.

Judith Bartlett vanished in March 1964 on her way to work at the Old Royal Hotel two blocks from her home in Bathurst.

Several investigations found no leads and an inquest in 2005 concluded with an open finding.

Her daughter Frances and sons Graeme, then six, and Daryl, then two, grew up thinking their mother had left them.

Daryl has since spent his life "almost hating on women for walking out on him", Ms Ryan said while their father Ronald, who died last year, raised them alone believing his loving wife had simply left them.

Ms Ryan spent 49 years desperately looking for a face in the crowd until a breakthrough came three weeks ago that took her breath away.

Half a century since the mysterious disappearance, remains found by a bushwalker on a remote Gooloogong property in 2009 had been positively identified as Mrs Bartlett's.

Daryl Bartlett, now 50, thought the police had simply given up searching for his mother.

But little did he know that Canobolas detectives had sent bone to New Zealand for advanced technological testing and DNA samples to Texas for analysis in 2009 to begin the painstaking task of identifying the victim.

Once conclusive tests had been completed, detectives began cross-matching the DNA to samples taken from the relatives of all missing persons in the area until they achieved a match and could finally knock on Ms Ryan's door three weeks ago.

"Our mother loved us," Ms Ryan said through tears on Monday.

"My brothers and I have found out that our mother didn't leave us. She didn't stop loving us. She was taken by a thief in the night."

But with the closing of one chapter has come the opening of another.

Test results revealed that Mrs Bartlett had sustained suspicious injuries and, coupled with the fact she was discovered on an incredibly remote property more than 200 kilometres from where she went missing, police believe she was murdered.

Canobolas detectives have opened a homicide investigation and appealed to the public on Monday for any information that might help solve the mystery.

Limited case notes from the 1960s show that it was only treated as a missing person case at the time and the only detective traced to the case has since died.

The Old Royal Hotel closed soon after and few people in the area have memories of the case.

But Ms Ryan, who now lives in Binnaway in north-west NSW, said somebody must know something.

"We want to be our mother's voice," she said on Monday. "And we are asking anyone that knew mu m... any little memory, if you could come forward and give mum a voice." Detective Inspector Denise Godden from Canobolas police said it was "pretty amazing" to finally be able to provide some information to Mrs Bartlett's surviving family but she was wary of the slim chances of a conviction.

"Mrs Bartlett's daughter refused to believe Judith had simply walked away from her children," she said.

"We are hoping that we can find a large number of answers for the family. Whether or not we get to charge someone after all this time ... is a hard question to answer but someone out there knows something."

Sydney Morning Herald