Holding up the piece of paper, I slid it under the table. My best friend, Heather Turner, read the note and quickly passed one back. As I opened it, she started to giggle.
Who do you fancy at the moment? it said.
It wasn’t exactly what typing class was meant for, but at 14 we found it hilarious. Everything always was with Heather!
We’d known each other since primary school, and when we got to high school we realised we had the exact same schedule. Despite sitting next to each other in every lesson, we still found things to talk about on the phone when we got home.
We were inseparable. But when Heather was 15, she ran away from home. I didn’t know where she was staying, but sometimes she’d come into school.
When she did, Heather would tell me about her new, older friends and how they’d sneak her into nightclubs.
‘I danced all night,’ she’d beam. ‘It was amazing!’
It did sound exciting, but I was worried too. Heather was such a happy person without a bad bone in her body. It meant she saw the good in everyone, even to a fault.
I begged Dad to let her move in with us, but he thought it was best if Heather reconciled with her parents, Sue and David.
As it happened, after a couple of months, she did go home and everything returned to normal. We went back to having sleepovers and I’d pop into the supermarket where she worked part-time as a check-out girl.
During the school summer holidays in January 1998, Heather phoned and asked what I was up to. As it was a sunny day, I was taking my brothers and sister to a water slide near the Semaphore jetty.
‘I’ll come with you,’ she said.
We spent a few hours laughing and gossiping, and excitedly making plans to go out later that night. Then Heather said she had to get home.
‘I’ll see you tonight,’ she said, giving me a big hug.
I’m still haunted by those words…
Later, when I phoned to arrange a meeting time, her mum told me Heather hadn’t returned home.
‘What do you mean?’ I said, my tummy twisting in knots.
Heather had left hours ago and we were due to go out. She wouldn’t just disappear. Going through the phone book, I called the addresses along Heather’s route home from the jetty, asking if they’d seen her.
No-one had. A week later, there was still no sign of her. I just knew something was terribly wrong.
‘I think she’s dead,’ I told our friends. ‘I can feel it.’
Fifteen days after Heather had disappeared, Dad and I were eating dinner when the news came on. A female body had been found.
This is it, I thought, freezing. It’s going to be Heather.
The woman was spotted floating among mangrove trees in a creek at Port Gawler. Police didn’t reveal the cause of her death but said she’d been severely assaulted.
Her body was badly injured and had decomposed to the point she couldn’t be identified. Now officers were appealing to members of the public to come forward if they recognised the jewellery she’d been wearing.
When the images flashed up on the screen, my blood ran cold.
‘Oh my goodness,’ I whispered.
There was a ring with a love heart and a necklace with a purple amethyst. Heather always wore the most beautiful things. They were hers.
My worst fear had been confirmed. At 16, my best friend had been murdered. Everything was a blur as Dad called the police and they came to take a statement.
A few days later, Heather was formally identified using dental records. Her murder was a mystery, baffling family, friends and the police.
Who would do such a thing and why? What could their motive possibly be?
Detectives held press conferences, knocked on doors and put up posters but nothing helped catch her killer.
Over the years I tortured myself thinking about how scared she must have been and what she’d been thinking in her last moments.
In 2014, police offered a million dollar reward for information leading to a conviction in the case. Members of the community came forward, which helped police piece together Heather’s final movements.
But they still didn’t know where she’d been murdered or who was responsible. It was soul-destroying for Heather’s family.
Her life had been cruelly snatched away, yet her killer was out there living theirs. She never had the chance to finish school, have a career, walk down the aisle or have children.
In February 2017, 19 years after Heather was murdered, police made a renewed appeal for information. We’re pleading with anyone who knows anything to come forward.
When I think about who killed Heather, I can’t believe they’ve kept it a secret for all this time. Someone must know something, so I want to say this to them:
Don’t you think her parents have suffered enough? Perhaps you’re a parent yourself now. Please put yourself in Sue and David’s position and help ease their pain.
Let’s make sure the person or people who did this to their baby are held accountable. I’m hopeful justice will be served. Until then I’ll carry on searching for answers for my bestie.
Timeline of events
FRIDAY JANUARY 16, 1998: Heather, 16, left Kali at the Semaphore foreshore about 1pm, telling her she was heading home to Gulf Court, Largs Bay. A number of sightings of Heather later that day and the next have been reported to police.
SUNDAY JANUARY 18: From mid-afternoon, Heather was at a rental property on Ashton Road, Davoren Park, with a group of acquaintances, known to police as petty criminals.
MONDAY JANUARY 19: In the early hours of the morning, Heather left willingly with a man in a Mitsubishi Magna sedan, intending to return home.
SATURDAY JANUARY 31: Heather’s body was found by a police officer on patrol. She had been wearing a white crocheted beret, floral top, jeans and black lace-up boots. Her distinctive black satchel bag with Tweety Bird on the flap has never been found. Police are keen to speak to the people Heather spent her last days with.
Anyone with any information can call Crime Stoppers anonymously on 1800 333 000 or report online at www.crimestoppers.com.au