The city of kidnapped children
THE sister of a girl snatched in one of Australia's most baffling unsolved child abduction cases is calling for all evidence in long-term missing children cases to be urgently retested for DNA.
Joanne Ratcliffe, 11, and Kirste Gordon, 4, were snatched from the grounds of Adelaide Oval in broad daylight during a football match attended by thousands of people on August 25, 1973.
The case often draws comparisons with - and could be linked to - the three Beaumont children who vanished from the same city seven years earlier.
Suzie Ratcliffe, who has dedicated her life to finding out what happened to her sister and Kirste, says police are potentially sitting on a goldmine of DNA evidence that could resolve countless cold cases.
"It's paramount that everything that has been collected in the cases of these long-term missing children is retested for DNA," Ms Ratcliffe told news.com.au.
"With all the advances in DNA technology it's very possible that retesting will lead provide answers that families like mine have been waiting for years.
"These are families who have been living in a state of anguish and grief for decades, wondering every single day what happened to their loved ones.
"With the missing, there is no such thing as closure, it never ends and it doesn't get any easier. After five, 15 or 50 years the grief and frustration is still there and that pain never eases.
"If DNA retesting leads to a match in just one of those cases it would be worth it and also give hope to all the others whose lives have been in suspension since the day their loved one vanished."
Ms Ratcliffe, who runs missing persons advocacy group Leave A Light On Inc, says there are between 30 and 40 long-term missing children in South Australia alone.
That's not the only shocking statistic when it comes to the country's disappeared.
Australia's queen of forensics, Dr Jodie Ward, says there are more than 500 sets of unidentified human remains archived across the country and around 2000 long-term missing people.
"It's time Australia committed to a laboratory solely dedicated to missing persons casework," Dr Ward wrote in an article for The Conversation.
"Current capability in DNA forensics could allow us to match up remains with some of these missing persons cases, and potentially give families relief."
The NSW Health Pathology forensic DNA specialist has been working with the Australian Army's Unrecovered War Casualties unit in Sydney's west to identify the remains of soldiers dating back to World War I.
She and her team have been able to extract DNA from bone fragments and apply world leading technologies to obtain DNA profiles.
The process involves decontaminating the bones, grinding a sample into powder and dissolving it to extract the genetic blueprint.
The technology means that the age and condition of human remains is no longer the obstacle it once was and Dr Ward is keen to apply it to the nameless, faceless bones of civilian men, women and children gathering dust in evidence rooms.
Ms Ratcliffe told news.com.au that she was excited about Dr Ward's work and the prospect of a centralised, national DNA database.
"It's really incredible to think that there are the bones of 500 unidentified people, just sitting there in storage, and that the remains of the Beaumont children or all the other missing children who are not as well known, could be among them," she said.
"This is something we must do as a matter of urgency. Some families have endured the pain of not knowing for decades and some parents have died waiting for answers."
Ms Ratcliffe said if relatives of the missing had to choose between getting justice and putting their bones to rest, the overwhelming majority would choose the latter.
"We know that the life of the person who carried out the crime has changed forever and punishing that person is secondary to bringing that loved one home," she said.
Ms Ratcliffe's father Les campaigned relentlessly to find Joanne and Kirste until he died of cancer in 1981 and now her mother, who she describes as her "inspiration" is growing frail with ill health.
"When Joanne disappeared, I wasn't even born," she told news.com.au
"I was born 14 months later and I was the 'saving grace'. Even though I never got to meet Jo face-to-face, I have always been mentally and emotionally connected to her.
"Although it was incredibly painful for them, my family never ever denied any requests from me in regards to information about my sister; as painful as it was they wanted to make sure I knew my older sister Jo."
Joanne and Kirste vanished after they went to use the toilets at Adelaide Oval during a match between Norwood and North Adelaide. Joanne had escorted Kirste earlier on in the match and offered to take the little girl when she needed to go again.
This time, however they didn't return. A witnesses later recalled seeing a girl matching Joanne's description thumping and punching and screaming at a hatted man carrying a much younger girl.
The man bears a striking resemblance to convicted rapist and double killer Arthur Stanley Brown, who abducted, raped and killed sisters Townsville Susan and Judith Mackay in 1970.
He also resembles notorious South Australian paedophile Stanley Arthur Hart.
Both men, long dead, have also been linked to the missing Beaumont children.
"I am so incredibly proud of Jo because I know she fought, she fought so hard to get Kirste back from that man," Ms Ratcliffe said.
"People say to me: 'Why didn't she run away?' But she was given a responsibility that day - to look after Kirste and not let her out of sight under any circumstances - and she stuck with it.
"She had a temper like you wouldn't believe so she would have given him hell. She fought to try and keep Kirste safe."
Thanks to the work of Ms Ratcliffe and her organisation, there is now a $1 million reward attached to the Adelaide Oval abduction and 13 other South Australian cold cases currently under review.
"What I want more than anything is to bring Joanne home to our mother before it's too late," she said.
"I will never give up hope and I will never back down. I will fight to bring Jo home for as long as it takes."