The mysterious disappearance of an Australian woman who was last seen six days ago heading out for a woodland jog has gripped the nation, and forced her husband to brush off ‘malicious’ online rumours.
Samantha Murphy, 51, vanished while out for a 7.30am jog in the Woowookarung Regional Park beauty spot near Ballarat, in Australia’s Victoria state, last Sunday.
Since then, an army of police, State Emergency Service volunteers and concerned locals have scoured vast areas of bushland in search of Ms Murphy.
Her distraught daughter Jess and husband Michael have also made a desperate television appeal for information on her whereabouts, and have hit back at cruel trolls running a whispering campaign against her husband.
Despite the six-day search, no trace of the mother of three has been found.
The mysterious disappearance of Australian mother Samantha Murphy (pictured) who was last seen six days ago heading out for a woodland jog has gripped the nation and has forced her husband to brush off ‘malicious’ online rumours
Samantha Murphy, 51, vanished while out for a 7.30am jog in the Woowookarung Regional Park beauty spot near Ballarat, in Australia’s Victoria state, last Sunday
Ms Murhpy’s husband, Michael (right) was seen smiling after meeting with detectives at Buninyong Police Station. He has been forced to brush off ‘malicious’ online rumours
The last known sighting of Ms Murphy was on Sunday, February 4 at 7.30am, when she was caught on her home’s CCTV camera as she left for the run.
Family members reported her missing after she failed to arrive for a brunch scheduled for that morning, and detectives still remain puzzled about where Ms Murphy went upon leaving her home.
Her family home is situated in eastern Ballarat, a city in the Central Highlands of Victoria which is home to around 117,00 people making it the state’s third largest city.
Her mobile phone later pinged a local cell phone tower around 5pm on Sunday – which can only locate her anywhere within 17km of nearby Buninyong.
This was ten hours after she left home, and is where the trail of clues runs cold.
Ms Murphy is said to have occasionally suffered from low blood pressure which may have combined with the high temperatures on the day she vanished.
Some have speculated she may have also run out of water while jogging which may have caused her to then become disorientated and lose her way in the forest.
But the 51-year-old is known to her family and friends as being mentally and physically strong, and is someone who would regularly go on long runs.
Search crews have painstakingly scoured a large area of the city’s east, the Canadian Forest area and Mount Helen, with State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers and locals helping police in the search.
The Ballarat community has rallied together, with a growing number of residents and Ms Murphy’s friends joining the search efforts.
But the region has been described as ‘challenging’, featuring large areas of woodland, waterways and mine shafts – many of which have been checked.
And in a blow to the search on Friday, it was announced that the search would be scaled back over the weekend with detectives from Victoria Police’s specialist Missing Persons unit taking charge.
Crews from the Country Fire Authority and State Emergency Service volunteers have also been told to withdraw from the search.
Speaking on Friday, Inspector Bob Heaney said: ‘We have had [the] Victoria police search and rescue squad involved in the search from day one.’
‘It is a challenging area … there were a lot of unused mines and waterways throughout that area as well. And some thick and rugged bush terrain.’
He also said that Ms Murphy’s movements were in-line with what she would normally do on a Sunday morning, and that she would often cover ’14 to 15km on her runs’.
‘She’d normally due back from her run within a couple of hours and alarm bells went up when she didn’t return from that run,’ he said.
The last known sighting of Ms Murphy was on Sunday, February 4 at 7.30am, when she was caught on her home’s CCTV camera as she left for the run (pictured)
An army of police, State Emergency Service volunteers (pictured) and concerned locals have scoured vast areas of bushland in their search for Ms Murphy
In a blow to the search on Friday, it was announced that the search would be scaled back over the weekend with detectives from Victoria Police’s specialist Missing Persons unit taking charge. Pictured: SES volunteers search farmland in Ballarat on Wednesday
Family members reported Ms Murphy missing after she failed to arrive for a brunch scheduled for that morning, and detectives still remain puzzled about where Ms Murphy went upon leaving her home. Pictured: A public information board about the search
Samantha Murphy left her Ballarat home at 7am on Sunday to go for a run in the nearby state forest and did not return home, nor has she been seen since
Amid spreading online speculation that foul play could have been involved in the disappearance, Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt said that no homicide detectives have been involved in the investigation as of Friday.
‘While no sinister factors have been identified in Samantha’s disappearance at this time, there are significant concerns given it has now been six days without her being sighted or any signs of her current whereabouts,’ Victoria police said in a statement.
‘We haven’t received any information relating to her movements from the moment she left [her] home address on Sunday morning,’ Detective Hatt added.
He told reporters that detectives would now look into Ms Murphy’s movements and interactions with others in the days before she vanished.
‘Absolutely, that will be a huge part of our investigation. Digging into the background, working out Samantha’s movements in the days leading up to her disappearance and also double-so the people who know her,’ he said.
Part of the investigation – now dubbed Operation Primus – will see detectives trawl through Ms Murphy’s computers and devices in the hope of finding clues.
On Thursday, Ms Murphy’s eldest daughter Jessica and husband Michael issued a desperate plea for their loved one to return home.
Through tears, Jessica urged the public to continue searching for her mum.
‘Mum, we love you so much and we miss you and we need you at home with us, please come home soon, I can’t wait to see you,’ Jessica told reporters.
‘Mum’s a really strong woman, and she’s far too determined to give up this fight.’
Jessica’s father thanked the community for their support in recent days as he appealed for answers. ‘People just don’t vanish into thin air,’ Mr Murphy said.
‘Someone has got to know something … whether it be any little thing that you might think is relevant, just call the police, let them know.
‘It’ll give us a bit of peace of mind if we get some hope.’
On Thursday, Ms Murphy’s eldest daughter Jessica (centre) and husband Michael (left), issued a desperate plea for their loved one to return home
Through tears, Jessica Murphy urged the public to continue searching for her mum
Amid spreading online speculation that foul play could have been involved in the disappearance, Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt (pictured Friday) said that no homicide detectives have been involved in the investigation as of Friday
The family have been forced to dismiss ‘malicious’ remarks on social media surrounding the mother’s disappearance.
Speaking to the Herald Sun on Wednesday, Michael Murphy brushed off the negative commentary circulating on social media.
‘I don’t even look online so I’m not worried about it,’ he said. ‘I’m doing OK, it’s just a whole time thing’ adding that he had been advised not to say anymore by the police.
He was seen smiling after meeting with detectives at Buninyong Police Station.
He spent just an hour inside the station before leaving with an officer, who escorted him to his car, and appeared casual as a waiting media pack photographed him.
The station is being used by emergency services units as the headquarters for its ongoing search for Ms Murphy.
Taking to Facebook, Mr Murphy’s daughter told people to ‘be quiet and think before you post’. ‘You have no idea what you are talking about,’ she wrote on the platform.
A friend of the missing woman also defended the family, calling people ‘trolls.’ ‘I’m just trying to defend people who are being hurt by malicious comments,’ she wrote.
The family also defended Ms Murphy’s husband.
‘For those questioning Samantha’s husband, you need not worry,’ the family said in a statement released to the Facebook group set up to help in the hunt. ‘He is in more pain than anyone and would be the last person to suspect in any of this.’
Search crews have painstakingly scoured a large area of the city’s east, the Canadian Forest area and Mount Helen, with state volunteers and locals helping police in the search. Pictured: A general view of the landscape from Mt Buninyong near Ballarat, February 9
Signage is seen for Woowookarung Regional Park near Ballarat, February 9
The family also wanted to set the record straight on other online speculation related to the case. ‘I’ve been seeing some misinformation been spread on all platforms that I want to inform people about,’ the family statement added.
‘Samantha’s phone pinging that far away from home is not usual.
‘Yes, she walked in different directions, but she kept to the paths, never went for more than 10km total roughly and would let family know if she was walking further.’
And they stressed that Ms Murphy knows the area and the local conditions and was physically fit enough to cope if she did get lost.
‘She is a very experienced walker who is in amazing condition,’ the statement said. ‘Some of the trails she has done around Victoria isn’t for the light minded.’
The statement, from an unnamed family member, said the ‘overwhelming support of this amazing community’ had brought ‘tears of hope and joy into our hearts.
‘We are holding up as strong as we can emotionally and physically. We pray that Samantha comes home soon safe and sound. We all miss her dearly,’ the statement said.
‘The searching that everyone has done has made a positive difference in the investigation as a whole. Without you guys we’d easily be another couple days back.’
The family said they had done as much as they could to help police in the search.
A police car sat in the driveway of Ms Murphy’s home on Wednesday morning
The focus of the search moved to the town of Buninyong, 15 minutes south of Ballarat
‘We have worked with authorities to give any information and have tried all techniques to find her that’s possible currently,’ the statement said.
‘We don’t know much more information than what gets said in articles and news.’
One line of inquiry was officially ruled out on Thursday after police confirmed a woman pictured in CCTV was not Ms Murphy, as previously stated.
Victoria Police had released CCTV footage on Wednesday which showed a person heading in a north-easterly direction toward Yankee Flat Road, near the intersection of Warrenheip Road.
The woman was believed to have been Ms Murphy heading out for a 20km run through the state forest.
However, another runner came forward to reveal she was the person pictured.
Inspector Heaney said the discovery had ‘eliminated’ a possible route Ms Murphy may have taken after she left home.
He added police were still treating her disappearance as not suspicious, despite homicide detectives from the missing persons squad reportedly joining the search on Friday.
‘Apart from covering a lot of terrain, a lot of area that we’ve physically searched looking for Samantha, we don’t know a hell of a lot more,’ he said.
Police and SES are seen combing through the Woowookarang National Park
CCTV of a woman believed to be Ms Murphy was later found to be another resident in the area
‘A lot of the information has come in (from the public) which we need to filter through which then allows us to review that and focus on where we need to search next.’
Inspector Heaney confirmed Ms Murphy was wearing an Apple watch and had her phone with her at the time she vanished, but said the area police were able to track from her devices was ‘limited’.
In another setback on Wednesday, officers were alerted to ‘items’ possibly related to Ms Murphy’s disappearance, however, it was later determined they did not belong to the missing mother.
Locals in the area have also raised concerns the mother may have fallen in an abandoned mine shaft, which can be difficult to see on the forest floor.