True Crime

What happened to my brother? The 36-year mystery from Queensland’s outback

Mark and his family have never given up.
Supplied

The Jones family have been searching for Tony for 36 long years.

Here, Mark Jones, 57, tells the story in his own words.

My little brother Tony hoisted his rucksack over his shoulders and flashed an excitable smile.

‘I’m going on an epic adventure,’ he said, a twinkle in his eye.

The youngest of seven and aged only 20, Tony was a larrikin with a good-natured and gentle soul.

With a thirst for travel, he was off to hitchhike around Australia.

Starting in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, Tony would be joining my other brother Tim, then 22, in Queensland.

I was in the middle of studying at uni, so I couldn’t tag along.

‘Make sure you check in often!’ Mum had called out, before he left.

Supplied
Tony was a gentle soul with a cheeky sense of humour (Credit: Supplied)

Being 1982, his only way of contacting us all was the odd letter or a call from a payphone.

Every few days he would ring home, regaling us with stories of his hitchhiking travels.

On November 3, he rang from Townsville.

‘I suppose you’re nearly broke are you, Tony?’ I asked one day.

‘I’ve got no money left,’ he’d laugh. ‘I’ve been sleeping on beaches!’

Caring as always, our mum, Beres, agreed to top up Tony’s bank account with $150.

Before we hung up, he told us he was due to meet with Tim in Mount Isa.

They both planned to be back in Perth for Christmas, too.

A few days later, Tim called home.

‘Have you heard from Tony?’ he asked, his worried voice crackling through the phone.

Tony was supposed to have hitchhiked to Mount Isa by now.

But he had never arrived.

Supplied
Tony had a great thirst for adventure and travel (Credit: Supplied)

The days continued to fly by with no word from Tony, so we all had a family meeting.

‘Maybe he found a back road with a trucker?’ I suggested.

He’s a seasoned traveller, I reasoned.

But by November 11, Mum was beside herself.

It was the anniversary of a very important day that had taken place 13 years ago.

As a seven-year-old, Tony had gone missing for five hours from our family home.

He was found eventually, accidentally locked inside an old fridge in the garage.

Unconscious, Tony had almost died.

‘Even if he had to crawl to get to a phone, I know he would ring me today,’ Mum sobbed, remembering his childhood disappearance.

Tony learned from his near-death experience to always let someone know where he was.

By the end of that day, the whole family knew something was very wrong.

Tim went to the station to file a missing person’s report.

And the next morning Mum called to follow it up again.

That night, still with no word from Tony, we became more fearful.

Was he stranded in the outback, lost and alone?

Or had he simply changed his travel plans and we were worried over nothing?

As the family huddled together around the dinner table, we pored over a map of North Queensland.

The vast, sprawling landscape was unknown territory to us all.

Supplied
Tony, aged seven, after he was found in the fridge (Credit: Supplied)

Mum phoned the bank to see whether Tony had accessed his account in the last few days, but they confirmed the $150 hadn’t been touched.

‘That can’t be right,’ Mum said through tears. ‘What has he been living on the last eight days?’

Being 2000km away, we felt helpless. So my brother Brian, Mum and I travelled to Townsville to help look for him with Tim.

Landing in Queensland, we were amazed by the sheer size of it.

As I spoke with police, it became clear just how many active missing person cases there were in the outback.

Feeling desperate, we started knocking on doors, hoping someone would recognise a photograph of our Tony.

We rang around hospitals and friends, desperate to find any trace of him. After a few days, we even traced the last call Tony ever made at a phone booth in Rosslea. 

The phone calls and bank records left breadcrumbs of evidence, like a Hansel and Gretel trail.

But it came to nothing.

When a $20,000 reward was posted for answers, we finally realised Tony must have met with foul play.

Grief-stricken and dejected, we left Townsville with no answers.

It was hard to accept my little brother was dead.

In 1983, police received a letter.

I believe body of AJ Jones buried in or near Fullarton River, it read.

The area was searched for two days, yet not a shred of evidence was found.

Supplied
Mum and Dad after Tony went missing (Credit: Supplied)

As the months and years crawled by, we remained hopeful that one day we’d find his body and bring him home – and that whoever had taken him from us would be brought to justice.

Six years after Tony disappeared, Brian started something special.

We all realised there was no support system for families of missing people, despite thousands of people disappearing every year.

It was how Australia’s Missing Persons Week was born.

It is still held every year in August, helping to raise awareness of how many people are affected by missing persons.

Sadly, 10 years after Tony vanished, my beautiful mother passed away.

Her son’s disappearance broke my mother’s heart, and she died not knowing.

In 2002, a coronial inquest ruled that Tony had been murdered in November 1982.

‘I am satisfied that the missing person is dead,’ said Coroner Ian Fisher.

The case grew colder and without any leads, we were at a loss.

My dad, aged 93, still desperately wants answers.

It’s been 36 years now.

There are several leads of potential suspects police continue to follow, and we hope it can be solved soon.

With a $250,000 reward for information, it remains an active cold case.

Tony was a son, a brother and friend.

We miss him dearly and just want him home.

TO HELP:

Anthony John Jones of Perth, WA, had been travelling in Queensland since September 1982. He was in Townsville again on November 3, 1982, when he phoned home.

He has not been seen or heard from since that time, and it is suspected that he has been murdered.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or contact Mark Jones on www.facebook.com/missing82

Related stories