True Crime

Aussie dad’s agony – did a serial killer murder my girl?

'Witnesses suggest she was thrown off a cliff'

It’s been 20 years since Mark saw beloved Belinda.

Here, Mark Wearne, 66, tells the story in his own words.

While baby Billy bounced on my lap, his mum – my daughter, Belinda – raced around the kitchen, cooking Father’s Day lunch.

‘Don’t rush it,’ I told my girl, 17.

But in her excitement to get the meal just right, she managed to stuff it up! The roast lamb was raw in the centre and the potatoes and pumpkin were rock hard.

I didn’t care one bit though. It was just so good to be with Belinda and my grandsons – toddler Cody and newborn Billy.

Belinda was an outgoing kid who adored animals and always adopted strays.

A young, single mum, the boys were her world.

Belinda holding baby Billy
Cody and Belinda holding baby Billy

When Belinda inherited $150,000 from a great uncle on her mum’s side on her 18th birthday, I hoped she’d be able to set herself and the boys up for life.

Six months later, she bought a little weatherboard house for $118,000 in Katoomba, NSW – a town in the Blue Mountains.

She can’t be serious! A timber kit home in a fire zone! I worried as she excitedly dragged me
around it. ‘Isn’t it cute?’ Belinda gushed.

It was pretty, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her my concerns.

The cottage going up in flames wasn’t my only worry though. Belinda was dabbling with drugs.

Whenever I tried to talk to her about it, I was told firmly to mind my own business.

‘It’s my money – you can’t tell me what to do with it,’ Belinda said.

I was walking on eggshells, but I didn’t want to push my daughter away.

Then, in early October 1998, just after Belinda turned 19, I got a call from Billy’s dad, Andrew.

‘Belinda’s missing,’ he said.

She hadn’t been seen since September 26. Several days had passed without a word.

father
Me at the dig at Belinda’s house

When police were called, they found her house all smashed up and what appeared to be blood in the bathroom. She hadn’t taken her wallet or patchwork handbag. Is she dead? I panicked.

Thankfully, Billy, one, was with his dad and Cody, three, had been staying with his grandma – my ex, Lesley – the night Belinda disappeared.

Around Christmas, Cody came to live with me. ‘When will I see Mummy again?’ the curious tot constantly asked. What do I say? I fretted.

As days turned into weeks – then months and years – it seemed unlikely Belinda would ever come home.

I’d call the police station constantly, desperate for answers. But they had none. I couldn’t help but consider an awful prospect.

Two other young women had also disappeared from the Blue Mountains – Maureen McLaughlin in 1992 and Kellie Carmichael in 2001. Was a serial killer operating in the area? I wondered.

After badgering the police relentlessly, they began an investigation in 2007.

Then, in October 2012, a coronial inquest was launched to determine what had happened
to Belinda.

The Coroner’s Court heard that the night she disappeared she was punched in the face by an acquaintance at a party. She’d then allegedly got a taxi with her boyfriend of a few months, Jason*.

police search house
The police combed the area for any clues

Neighbours called the police after they heard screams and glass being smashed at Belinda’s house.

When the cops arrived, she had a cut on her right hand, so they took her to Katoomba Hospital.

Strangely, she walked out at 8.50pm without seeing a doctor. This was the last time she was seen alive.

Around 10.30pm, Belinda called her mum, Lesley asking her to bring Cody back home.

Thankfully, Lesley said it was too late and they’d come in the morning.

Two days later, Jason reported Belinda missing.

In October 2013, Deputy Coroner Paul McMahon found that my girl had died on or about the date of her disappearance at the hands of a ‘third party’. Murdered…

Multiple witnesses had suggested Belinda had been killed and thrown off a cliff.

In his report, following the inquest, the coroner named six persons of interest.

Three he believed were unlikely to be involved with her death – Jason, his dad, and the person who’d punched Belinda at the party.

However, in his published findings, the coroner ruled that the remaining three – Belinda’s close friend Heidi Wailes, her boyfriend Jeremy Douglas and their associate Saxon Holdforth – may have been involved in, or have some personal knowledge of the circumstances in which Belinda disappeared and/or died. They maintained their innocence.

There wasn’t enough evidence to lay charges. Tell me what happened! I wanted to scream.

Last year, police reopened the cold case, and in December, investigators unearthed women’s clothing – including undies – from beneath Belinda’s house.

They match the style and size of those she’s believed to have been wearing when she was last seen. We’re still waiting to see if the faint DNA trace on the clothing yields any results. It’s been more than 20 years since we lost Belinda.

As a truck driver, my mind wanders and I stew on what I could’ve done to protect my girl. I hate the word ‘closure’ – for me, there’s no such thing.

Her sons, now 23 and 21, and I deserve the truth. Not knowing what happened to Belinda is the hardest.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

To find out more, listen to the latest season of Unravel True Crime podcast ‘Last Seen Katoomba’ at abc.net.au/listen

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