true crime

It's been 43 years since their daughter disappeared. But Greg and Christine Gordon won't stop searching.

Joanne Ratcliffe (11 years old) and Kirste Gordon (4 years old), disappeared from Adelaide Oval in 1973. They were attending an AFL game. The girls went to the toilet and, according to witnesses, were last seen being taken from the venue by a man.

Despite extensive investigations and a $1 million dollar reward being posted in February 2014, there has been no success in finding either Joanne or Kirste. To commemorate International Missing Children’s Day the parents of Kirste Gordon have written about the devastating impact of Kirste’s absence from their lives. 

Since 25 August 1973, our family has experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions with some lows of extreme intensity.

The day was unusually warm and sunny for winter (in this part of the world) and Kirste was staying with her grandparents while Christine and I attended a formal function in Renmark. It was as if God was in His Heaven and everything was right in the world.

The AFP have released a new campaign to fine Kirste and Joanne. Watch their campaign. (Post continues after video.)

We had only just begun dinner when the maitre-de came to the table and took me to a phone call in reception. It was Kirste’s grandmother, sobbing, to advise us that Kirste was missing and that police had mounted a search. As I returned to the table in a dark cloud of gloom, it was obvious to the group that something was very wrong and we immediately set out on the journey back to Adelaide.

For some three hours, with minds racing, we scanned available radio broadcasts for news as we had no access to mobile phones at that time. On arrival at Adelaide Oval, we were briefed on the current state of the operation: that Kirste and Joanne Ratcliffe were missing, and that a search was in progress. Burdened with frustration, we could do little but wait and contemplate the mystery of where the children may have gone.

The following day, given the press publication covering the news of the missing children, a person contacted police to relate what he had seen.

Ratcliffe parents (Image supplied).
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The witness said that he noticed a man trotting towards the southern gate from the bowling green area. The man was looking at one of the two missing girls and then being in close proximity, lifted up the younger and smaller girl (our four-year-old, Kirste) with his right arm and started to walk away with her towards the car park. This witness further said the older and bigger girl (11-year-old, Joanne Ratcliffe) went to grab the man and that he made some comment to her. This witness went on to say he noticed a pair of glasses fall from the top pocket of this person's coat, and he then picked them up and grabbed hold of Joanne by her left hand and dragged her back into the car park area.

To receive information which made it clear that some evil, opportunistic predator had targeted our young daughter was absolutely gut-wrenching to us. It took little imagination to realise the most likely outcomes of this abduction could include physical abuse and loss of life.

There are other less serious outcomes which are possible but much less likely, and in the absence of evidence, we could but hope that one of these might occur.

At a subsequent Coronial Enquiry in 1979, the Coroner recorded a summary statement:

“Neither girl has been seen or heard of since the afternoon of 25 August 1973, despite extensive enquiries and investigation. This fact coupled with the evidence of the witnesses, indicates in my view that it is extremely probable that both girls were taken either by force or under duress from the Adelaide Oval by some man whose identity at present has not been established. The perpetrator of this vicious act of abduction has of course not been apprehended, but as already stated, investigations are continuing. I earnestly trust that he will be apprehended in due course and made to answer for the heinous crime.”

From the time of the abduction, we had to determine how we were to go on with our lives. At the core of our thinking was that the perpetrator had claimed Kirste as a victim but that he should be denied any further collateral victims, and we would do this by maintaining strength in our conviction that we are survivors and that blame lies entirely with the perpetrator.

We set about planning to provide and maintain a supportive and nurturing environment free from impact of the abduction, not by denial, but by drawing on our inner strength and maintaining awareness of subsequent issues to minimise the chance of surprise. It was important to us to be independent and to feel in control of our lives for the sake of our family.

Thousands of children from Australia have never been found. Do you know any information about them? Images via International Missing Child. (Post continues after gallery.)

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In this endeavour, we have had full support from officers of the South Australia Police and we can always be assured that if any matters were publicised and we had not had prior advice of them from the police then the matters likely had neither substance nor consequence. We are most grateful to the police for their support and for the effort they continue to apply to find a resolution.

We commend the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children for its initiative in establishing and maintaining the Global Missing Children’s Network, and we thank the Australian Federal Police and the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre for leading the campaign and launching International Missing Children’s Day 2016 within Australia.

Thank you.
Greg Gordon OAM and Christine Gordon
Parents of Kirste Gordon

More than 35,000 people are reported missing to Australian police each year. Close to two-thirds are children. This year's 'Forget-Me-Not' theme encourages Australians to think about children who have been missing for months, but in many cases, decades. For more information, visit the AFP's 'Help Bring Them Home' website here

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