“I know it sounds horrible, but I need to know if he suffered. I don’t know if he’s in pieces. Or if he’s whole. I don’t know.”
Whenever Faye Leveson talks about her missing son Matthew, it’s with heart-wrenching resignation. She knows he’s dead.
Police have never found his body, but a mother’s instinct tells her that the night her boy disappeared after leaving an inner-city nightclub – he was murdered.
But how, where and why and by whom?
They’re questions Faye has tortured herself with for more than four years.
“Every night I go to bed wondering how he died. Every night I wonder, was it quick or was it slow?” Faye wonders.
Faye stares into the distance, her voice is a whisper. You can tell she’s thinking dark thoughts that no parent should ever have to.
The agony of not knowing what happened to Matthew, is what has brought us to this lonely and overgrown bush track in Kurnell, south of Sydney.
Faye walks close to her husband Mark, who’s carrying a shovel in one hand and a pick axe in the other. They hope today is the day they finally find their son’s body.
Debbie Malone — a psychic — is up ahead, pushing through the undergrowth towards the putrid stink of mangrove mudflats.
“Matthew showed me he had trees, above him… lantana,” Debbie says.
Debbie believes Matthew’s body is buried somewhere here. And although she has never met Matthew, she says she speaks to him often.
“When I tune into people, I see things through their eyes. Sometimes I’m the victim and I’ll see what happened to them. It’s like watching television; I can watch it through the perpetrators’ eyes as well.”
Debbie hates the term “psychic”, preferring to call herself a “spiritual medium”.
Like Allison Dubois, from the hit US TV show Medium, the Sutherland mum works with the families of murder victims: searching for new leads and new suspects when formal police investigations go cold.
But unlike detectives, who rely on facts and evidence to solve crimes, Debbie Malone says she works on pure instinct.
“You’re seeing parts of a jigsaw puzzle — and you’re trying to put all the pieces together,” Debbie tells me.
“I wish it was like on Medium, where you could go ‘X marks the spot’ and solve every case — that’d be wonderful.”
Matthew disappeared on September 23, 2007, after a night out in the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills.
Security cameras captured the call centre worker leaving nightclub ARQ with his then boyfriend Michael Peter Atkins around 2am. It was the last time the 20-year-old was seen alive.
“I know that person is out there and I know what he’s done to my boy,” says Faye, blinking back tears. She does this often. Her heartbreak is palpable.
“I just pray their conscience is eating them alive.”
Police charged Michael Peter Atkins with murder, shortly after Matthew disappeared but he was acquitted at trial.
The Levesons are sensible, hard-working folk who run their own accounting business in picturesque Bonnet Bay.
But they’re desperate for answers, and despite police posting a $100,000 reward for information back in February, the frustration of not knowing who killed their son is why they turned to Debbie and her “talents”.
“I wouldn’t say I was a skeptic, but I wasn’t a believer,” Mark confesses.
He’s heavily tattooed, with his missing son’s name and face inked on his arms and chest.
A real straight-shooting sort of bloke, Mark is obviously affected by Debbie’s “instinct”.
“She was telling us things about Matt that not a soul would know. Not a soul.”
The official line from New South Wales Police is that they “don’t use psychics”, yet Debbie Malone has consulted on a number of high profile police investigations including the backpacker murders later pinned on Ivan Milat; the case of murdered western Sydney toddler Kiesha Abrahams; as well as the disappearance and murder of Mary Seretis-Joiner.
Sergeant Paul Connery, a police officer based in Illawarra who worked on the Seretis-Joiner case, chooses his words carefully when I interview him.
“I think as a detective, you always have to keep an open mind.”
I ask him if Debbie Malone provided crucial help in unravelling the case of Seretis-Joiner.
“She said that she felt that there’d been a violent confrontation [between Mary and her husband],” he replies.
After making a public plea for is wife’s safe return, Patrick Joiner was eventually found guilty of murdering his wife and stuffing her body into the boot of a car.
“I believe [Debbie] is genuinely trying to help,” Sgt Connery says.
Critics have been less kind to Debbie Malone, accusing her of preying on the weak and vulnerable to make a quick buck.
I put it to her that perhaps she is giving grieving families false hope.
“I understand how people would think that,” Debbie sighs, “but the way I look at it, I’ve been given this gift.
“And if I can be of any assistance to families, that’s an important thing.
“There may have been a lead (the police) haven’t followed, and (my instinct) fills in the gaps and maybe they can get a new lead from that.”
It’s important to note that Debbie does not accept payment for her work on cold cases.
Back at Kurnell, our search for Matthew’s body has proven unsuccessful.
Yet Debbie is convinced the police should focus their investigation here.
I ask Faye whether she feels this has been a waste of time and whether she’s placed too much hope in Debbie Malone.
“Yeah Debbie hasn’t found Matt…. yet. But it doesn’t mean she’s not going to find him.”
There’s a sense of conviction growing in Faye’s voice. She is not giving up.
“She may find him. I’ve got that little bit of hope and I’m going to cling to that.”
Sarah Harris has been a journalist for more than a decade. She currently works as a reporter for the Nine Network and can be found on National Nine News. You can follow her on Twitter here.