Sarah MacDiarmid was a 23-year-old Scottish-Australian woman when she disappeared from a railway station carpark after a game of tennis with her friends on the evening of 11 July 1990. Although no trace of her body has ever found she is presumed murdered, and after 28 years it seems unlikely that this mysterious cold case will ever be solved.
Photo: A photo of MacDiarmid’s parents desperate for information on their daughter.
Kananook Railway Station, Melbourne
Photo: Map showing the last known location of MacDiarmid before disappearance.
MacDiarmid had left in the morning wearing a grey suit with a sports back-pack containing her sports clothes, Walkman, tennis racquet and $60. It was not usual for MacDiarmid to catch the 9:10pm train home to return around 10:30pm when she had been playing tennis with her friends. When it got to 11pm with still no sign of MacDiarmid the family began to worry. Once the brother had confirmed that she was not on the 1am last train, and her car was still locked within the stations carpark the family assumed that she had stayed with a friend. Still worried they decided they would confirm this in the morning. At 9am the next day friends stated that she had been on the right train home, and she was not in work that day, MacDiarmid was reported missing.
Photo: Showing Kananook Station in 1990 around the time of the disappearance.
One witness, Maria Babacala, came forward stating that she had gotten off the train at the same time as MacDiarmid. Moments later, in a firm voice but not yelling she had heard a female saying ‘give me my car keys back and stop fooling around.’ Babacala had looked back over the bridge that MacDiarmid had crossed into the carpark to see if she could see anything but it was dark and the area was bushy so there was no visibility. Within seconds there was a sharp, piercing scream that was quickly cut off. Babacala looked but could not see anyone.
Photo: A more recent photo of the bridge that MacDiarmid was last seen walking over to the poorly lit carpark.
Crime Scene Investigation
Detective Senior Constable, Colin Clark, drove to the station and parked his car next to hers in the carpark. Clark described that he saw a ‘quantity of blood’ by the driver’s side door of her Red Honda Civic – still locked with no sign of entry the previous night. The blood was ‘visible but soaked in’ to the ground. Clark instantly began following a clear trail of blood droplets into a small area of vegetation and trees on the western side of the carpark, just a short distance away.
Further blood spots were found on the concrete gutter and grass leading to the bushes. The dirt in the area looked recently disturbed and Clark discovered what he believed to be two parallel drag marks indented in the dirt. A green coloured cigarette lighter was found on the ground to the right of these drag marks.
Forensics teams confirmed that the blood found at the crime scene did belong to MacDiarmid, along with the green lighter which had been purchased from a café in Collins Place, near to where she had worked.
Over 250 police searched for 21 days over air, sea and land to find any indication of where MacDiarmid may be located. The media tirelessly pressed the public for any information that may be useful for the investigation, but nothing of importance was revealed.
Photo: Suspect Jodie Jones photographed with a social worker and friend.
Jodie Jones: Jones was a prostitute that been convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1985, she had killed a man with her stilettos when she had purposefully jumped off a wall onto the victims chest. Jones had been released early and was not in prison at the time of MacDiarmid’s disappearance. Jones had also been convicted of car theft, prostitution, burglary and drug offenses.
On July 23 1990 Jones was arrested and interviewed in connection with the disappearance after several friends came forward stating that she had confessed to murdering MacDiarmid accompanied by two men. Jones was overheard in a panic saying ‘you know that murder up at Kananook station, I was there with two other blokes and I’m worried because I don’t know how staunch they are’. Jones was apparently worried that one of the accomplices would go to the police and believed she was in ‘deep shit’.
One witness recalls in a sworn statement to the police seeing Jones attack MacDiarmid:
“As the train pulled away I saw Jodie and these two males follow a girl who was dressed in sporting gear. I watched these people for a while and I saw Jodie and the two males start belting into that girl near the driver’s side door of the car. I heard a female voice scream as she was being attacked. Jodie came screaming out from behind the car and the two males were following her. Jodie was hysterical and I ran towards her. I then saw blood on Jodie’s clothes. Jodie was screaming ‘she’s dead, she’s dead’. I have not seen Jodie since this happened.”
Jones denies all this information stating that she doesn’t know why her friends would say such things, and Jones was never charged with the crime. Jones died aged 26 of a heroin overdose in a St Kilda motel room just 14 months after the disappearance.
Photo: ‘Frankston Serial Killer’ – Paul Denyer.
Paul Denyer: Dubbed by the media as the ‘Frankston Serial Killer’ Denyer is currently serving three consecutive life sentences for the murder of three young women in Melbourne. When arrested police investigated whether Denyer was involved in the disappearance of MacDiarmid three years earlier. Denyer murdered his victims in close proximity to where MacDiarmid disappeared – his second victim living minutes away from Kananook Station.
Denyer seems unlikely however, as his MO does not match up – Denyer made no attempt to hide his victims and although he confessed to the other three victims he denies being involved in the MacDiarmid disappearance.
Photo: ‘Cop Killer’ Bandali Debs.
Bandali Debs: In 2014 police named the most recent suspect in the disappearance is ‘cop killer’ Bandali Debs. Debs was jailed for life without parole for the murders of two police officers in 1998, Gary Silk and Rodney Miller. Debs has been dubbed by some as the ‘worst criminal in Victoria’ and is also serving life terms for the murders of two sex workers in 1995 – Melbourne teenager Kristy Harty (18) and Sydney woman (34) Donna Hicks – after his DNA was linked with the cold-cases after his initial arrest.
Debs only appears to be a suspect due to ‘common practice’ for police to question newly convicted individuals about crimes that they might also be responsible for. MacDiarmid’s father wrote an open letter to Debs begging him to confess if he had any information about his daughter, Debs did not reply and denies any involvement.
Theories & Speculation
Photo: Showing the memorial at the site of MacDiarmid’s disappearance.
With such little evidence to work with, no body being recovered, and one of the suspects now deceased there is not much to work with.
The crime appears to be opportunistic as MacDiarmid’s train was running 20 minutes late, it was late at night in a poorly lit, almost empty car park and she was wearing her sports gear so may have looked like she had money.
The most plausible explanation is that the perpetrator(s) were looking to steal her car. It would be suggested that the perpetrator(s) had brought a weapon with them that was not intended to be used. They had stolen MacDiarmid’s key’s and she had not been happy about this, and ultimately led to her death. The fact that the car was still there is the morning suggests that the perpetrator(s) may have panicked and focused more on disposing of their accidental victim than the car they had intended to steal. The location of the disappearance wasn’t far from Port Philip Bay, if they had disposed of the body here there is little chance of being recovered.
Jones seems like the most plausible suspect, who was a heavy drug user at the time of the disappearance, and was known for stealing cars – but if the friend’s confession was true, why did no one hear Jones’ hysterical screams? Although no witnesses investigated the short argument and scream, surely someone would have heard the commotion of three people ‘belting someone’ to death.
Denyer and Debs are unlikely suspects given Denyer’s characteristic disorganised and sloppy style, and Debs’ being from a different region in Victoria almost a decade later.
There is also the possibility that this was the actions of a killer that had stalked MacDiarmid and seized the opportunity when she was alone in the dark carpark, and killed or abducted her.
Photo: MacDiarmid was 23 at the time of her disappearance.
The current reward for information on the case, as of 2004, is $1million – which, at the time, was only the third crime in Australia to have such a high reward alongside the murders of Jane Thurgood-Dove in 1997, and Vicki Jacobs in 1999.
To this date the body has not been recovered, and MacDiarmid is presumed to be the victim of murder or foul play. The parents are still desperate for answers and closure for their daughter. The case is reliant at this stage on the finding of the remains – which seems unlikely – or someone coming forward with information.
Detective Sen-Constable Berens is appealing to anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or through www.crimestoppersvic.com.au