True Crime

Australian mystery: The mother-of-the-bride who disappeared

What happened to Marion?
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Here, Sally Lleydon, 45, tells the story in her own words…

Answering the phone, a smile spread over my face when I heard my mum Marion’s voice on the other end.

‘How’s the trip going?’ I asked.

It was August 1997 and Mum, 51, had been in the UK for the past five weeks.

A last-minute decision, she’d decided to sell her house, quit her job and ride on the Orient Express.

It had all happened so quickly, but I understood why.

Mum was an incredible teacher and had even won an award for being the best in Queensland.

But since the prize, her usual happy, easy-going personality had changed.

Her colleagues seemed to be jealous of her win and there was an untrue rumour going around school that Mum had touched a boy.

She was mortified.

So when she decided to get away from it all, I encouraged her.

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Mum at her first wedding (Credit: Supplied)

I really missed her though. We were so close and I was used to seeing her every week.

Now, I just had letters and postcards. This was our first proper catch up.

Mum excitedly filled me in on her trip.

‘I’ll definitely be back for the wedding,’ she told me.

I was marrying my fiancé Chris in a years’ time, the following October.

‘I’m going to take a good break now,’ Mum said. ‘I’m not going to keep writing postcards to everyone.’

‘Of course, take it easy Mum,’ I told her.

Around six weeks later, I thought it was strange that Mum hadn’t been in touch.

I knew she was trying to switch off, so I tried not to worry.

But when my brother Owen didn’t hear from her on his 23rd birthday, I started to panic.

Calling her bank, I explained the situation, asking if she’d been using her account.

The woman said it was against privacy laws before blurting out, ‘Your mum’s overseas? Five thousand dollars has been withdrawn every day in Byron Bay for the last three-and-a-half-weeks.’

Frantic, Chris and I drove to Byron Bay with photos of Mum, asking everyone if they recognised her.

In the Commonwealth Bank, a man working there said her picture ‘rang a bell’ but was unable to give us any more information.

No-one else had seen her.

Rushing to the police station, I reported Mum as missing.

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Mum, me, Owen and Dad (Credit: Supplied)

A week later, an officer rang.

‘We’ve spoken to your mother, she doesn’t want anyone to know where she was or what she’s doing,’ he said.

It didn’t make any sense.

A friend of mine worked in customs so I asked them to check Mum’s passport.

It confirmed that she had returned to Australia on August 2 – just a day after I’d spoken to her.

Telling my Papa – mum’s dad, John – he was equally as baffled.

He went to the Salvation Army for a second opinion.

But when their letter verified what the police had said, there was nothing we could do.

I tried to concentrate on my wedding plans, hoping that Mum would be home like she promised.

Yet even when Chris and I married, she didn’t turn up.

And when I gave birth to a little girl Ella in July 2001, I was heartbroken that Mum wasn’t there to meet her grandchild.

In March 2002, we were struck with another devastating blow when Owen took his own life.

Did Mum even know her son had passed away? I thought.

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Mum missed my wedding (Credit: Supplied)

There was a constant knot of worry in my stomach.

Had she been murdered? Had someone stolen her identity?

Contacting the Salvation Army I asked them to confirm the letter they’d sent to Papa.

They responded with an apology, admitting neither they, or the police had ever sighted Mum.

When police had said all those years ago that Mum didn’t want to be contacted, they’d only received the information from a phone call.

It could’ve been anyone saying they were her.

In 2007 – 10 years after Mum’s disappearance – I pushed the police to reinvestigate.

A new detective was assigned to the case. He came to me in 2011 to show me documents showing Mum had changed her name to Florabella Remakel.

An incoming customs card attached to the passport stated Florabella was married, living in Luxembourg and would be in Australia for three days.

‘She is obviously missing on her own account, so we’re going to close the case,’ Gary explained.

But that wasn’t enough for me.

How they can they say she’s been located when no-one has ever seen her? I thought.

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Mum on honeymoon with her third husband (Credit: Supplied)

And if someone was going to change their name, surely they’d pick something discreet, not Florabella?

Her super has never been touched and she has $20,000 in a UK bank account.

If she was still alive, why would she not have used that money?

Last year, I spoke to the Queensland State Archive to confirm the spelling of the name Mum had changed to.

Shivers ran down my spine when they told me the date she’d changed her name was May 15, 1997 – before she had even gone on the trip to the UK.

Twenty-two years on, I can’t give up on Mum.

She’s not someone who would choose to disappear, she had no reason to.

Someone, somewhere, knows something.

I won’t stop searching until I know what happened to my lovely mum.

The Lady Vanishes, is a Channel 7 podcast, available now.

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