When Janine Vaughan went missing 18 years ago, she was last seen getting into a red sedan about 3am after leaving a nightclub in the New South Wales town of Bathurst.
The blonde, petite, immaculately presented and “always smiling” 31-year-old was walking about 40 metres ahead of her friends when a four-door Mitsubishi Magna or Toyota Camry did a U-turn and pulled up next to her.
She got into the car, and since December 7 in 2001, nobody has seen or heard of her again.
After her disappearance, friends and family said Ms Vaughan would have never accepted a ride from a stranger.
“I know she wouldn’t have gotten into the car with a stranger, which means I probably know them as well, through her or a mutual friend,” best friend Rebecca Medhurst told the Sun-Herald in 2002.
“And that makes it so much worse, to think that someone out there must know more than they’re letting on.”
Family’s desperate plea
On Friday, Ms Vaughan’s family said they still believe “someone” in Bathurst was staying quiet about her disappearance.
Ms Vaughan’s sister, Kylie Splede, and brother Adam Vaughan joined Homicide Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Scott Cook at police headquarters in Sydney to announce a $1 million reward for locals to “out one of their own” and crack the trail that has long gone cold.
Ms Spelde, who now lives in Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, told the media on Friday she struggles to overcome her emotions whenever she returns to Bathurst to mark anniversaries and birthdays in honour of her missing sibling.
“The feeling I get when I enter Bathurst is a terrible feeling. I don’t like to go there, which is hard because that’s where Janine’s gone missing,” Ms Splede said.
“Someone knows what happened to her, and on behalf of our family I’m asking for anyone who has information to come forward and contact police.
“I personally feel that they have been holding a very big secret.”
Police investigators revealed they would be re-examining a red sedan belonging to one of the persons of interest, this time deploying advanced DNA technology not available 10 years ago, when the car was seized.
“We’re confident it was the same car and, by extension, the same driver,” Detective Superintendent Scott Cook told reporters.
The initial police investigation into Janine’s death was considered flawed by former NSW state coroner Mary Jerram, who concluded in 2009 that Ms Vaughan was murdered but was unable to rule on the circumstances of her death because the trail had gone cold.
“The only available conclusion is that Janine Vaughan disappeared …and that she was murdered by person or persons unknown and her body disposed of in such a way that it has not been found,” Ms Jerram said at the time.
Some 47 people were scrutinised during the inquest, including former Bathurst deputy mayor and Detective Sergeant Bradley George Hosemans, who was ultimately ruled not to be a person of interest.
There was also talk in Bathurst – including remarks Ms Vaughan is said to have made to her mother – that Mr Hoseman, a nephew of then-assistant police commissioner Graeme Morgan, had expressed interest in her.
During the inquest, Mr Hoseman denied that he every went on a date with Ms Vaughan, that he had ever telephoned her, sent her flowers, had a conversation with her or met her.
“There is no evidence, independent of the assertion by Ms Vaughan to her family … to cast doubt on his denials,” the coroner ruled.
“The Police Integrity Commission and the coroner have all cleared Mr Hoseman of any involvement in Ms Vaughan’s disappearance,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time.
Two men who owned cars similar to the one in which Ms Vaughan was last seen were also cleared in 2009.
On Friday, police said the owner of the car set to be re-examined remains firmly on the police radar. Police also confirmed the car’s driver testified at the coronial inquest.