True Crime

Aussie’s plea: Help us find Mum’s killer

Mum Toni Tiki was killed after leaving South Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club. Her killer has never been caught.
Photo of Shannon and er brother at police press conference
At a NSW Police press conference with uncle Grant, Michael and Aunty Jill
NSW Police

Grabbing the piece of cardboard, I placed it on top of the grassy hill.

Sitting on it like a sled in front of my mum, Toni, I held on tight as we hurtled down the slope in pouring rain. We collapsed in a laughing heap at the bottom.

That was Mum – loving, young and fun.

Born in Greytown, New Zealand, Mum moved to Australia at 14 with my grandma Brenda.

Mum was 18 when I was born, and four years later she had my little brother Michael with my stepdad Paul.

Michael and I were close and I loved it when Mum took us to Maroubra beach for picnics.

At home, we’d make fairy bread together covering the place in sprinkles.

As always, we made a fuss of Mum’s 26th birthday on December 8, 1995, and she took me, then eight, to the Sydney Tower for something to eat.

Smiling at the camera, both of us with red lipstick, I felt on top of the world.

Mum’s face was splashed across newspapers.

On New Year’s Eve, Mum popped out to a party at the local South Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club with some friends. Paul and Mum were living apart at the time, and Michael was with his dad, so Mum’s friend Karen* watched me.

But as I waited for a kiss from Mum on New Year’s Day, she was nowhere to be found. As the hours ticked on and Mum didn’t return, Karen was worried.

‘Where’s Mum?’ I cried, but no-one had an answer.

Over the coming days, adults talked in hushed voices and police came to the house.

At the end of the week Paul told me and Michael, then three, ‘Mum’s not coming back. She’s died.’

Toni Tiki with her children (Credit: NSW Police)
Shannon with her mum Toni Tiki out for dinner in matching lipstick
Shannon with her mum Toni Tiki out for dinner in matching lipstick (Credit: NSW Police)

As I sobbed with Michael, nothing made sense – how could Mum just vanish?

In the church at her funeral, hugging a sobbing Michael, I couldn’t understand that Mum was in the coffin.

Mum’s face was splashed across newspapers.

A few weeks later, in horror, I watched Australia’s Most Wanted on TV and saw Mum’s face.

I discovered she’d been murdered and found in scrubland near the surf club, partially clothed, having sustained a head injury.

Maroubra surf life club at the time of Toni's death
South Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club at the time of Toni’s death
Photo of cordoned off land where body was found
Police cordoned off the area Toni Tiki’s body was found (Credit: NSW Police)

The report said she’d left the club with a male friend who’d returned to the party after leaving Mum to walk home alone. She’d never made it back to us.

I lived with Michael at my stepdad’s, then moved in with my grandma Brenda nearly 600km north in Inverell.

Being separated from Michael was awful, and it was even harder when Grandma took me across the world in September 2001, aged 12, to Idaho, US.

I missed Michael desperately, but devastatingly we lost touch.

Sure I owed it to Mum to live a good life, aged 22, in 2010, I had my beautiful son Aiden, and in 2011 I enrolled in nursing school.

Splitting with Aiden’s dad, the following year I met Wes, then 29, and fell in love. He’d lost his wife and had two children Alexis, then six, and Blake, four.

Having lost my mum I knew how they felt, and showered them with love.

In Wes I’d found the family I craved, so we married and had our own gorgeous girl Ainsley in 2013. I gave her Mum’s middle name, Margaret.

In my dreams I saw my mum smiling down at me.

When I turned 26 I struggled knowing I was the same age my mother was when she died.

In my dreams I saw my mum smiling down at me.

The loss of Mum and the unanswered questions about her brutal death lingered, and I felt sad my children had been robbed of their grandmother.

I often wondered how Michael was and, in 2016, I was scrolling Facebook when I found him.

I’ve always thought about you, I messaged him.

Coming back to Australia to visit that year, I hugged Michael, then 23, tightly. ‘I’ve missed you so much,’ he said.

When I met my Uncle Grant, Mum’s big brother, he told me he rang the police on Mum’s birthday every year, but they said there were no new leads.

Photo of Shannon and er brother at police press conference
At a NSW Police press conference with uncle Grant, Michael and Aunty Jill (Credit: NSW Police)
Shannon stands in front of a house with her husband and children
Shannon with Aiden, 214, Alexis, 18, Ainsley, 11 and Weston

Back home in the States, I’d resigned myself to the fact we might never know what happened to Mum.

But out of the blue, this April, I got a call from the detectives. Police were offering a new reward of $1 million for information on Mum’s murder.

Boarding a plane to Australia while Wes stayed with the kids, I was picked up at the airport by detectives. ‘You look exactly like your mother,’ one of them said.

Speaking to news reporters during the appeal in May was very emotional.

‘Mum’s murder has left a huge hole in all our hearts,’ Michael said through tears.

‘We were robbed…robbed of having her here to navigate this life,’ I said.

Police explained Mum’s body wasn’t found on a major thoroughfare, but on a track most likely used only by locals or those with local knowledge.

They added that they believed Mum’s attack was sexually motivated and were examining previous sexual offences in the area.

As I walked with Michael, Uncle Grant and his wife Jill along the path in South Maroubra past the surf club, to the shrubland where Mum was killed, it was heartbreaking to think of her dying alone.

But I’m hopeful for the future and thankful Mum hasn’t been forgotten.

Nearly 30 years after Mum’s murder, it’s so sad violence against women continues.

But someone out there knows what happened to my mum. ●

Contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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