true crime

Michelle Bright was murdered in 1999. This week her killer was finally brought to justice.

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault that may be distressing to some readers.

The murder of Michelle Bright is a case that has shocked Australia for decades.

In 1999, Michelle's body was found in long grass on the side of the road in the regional NSW town of Gulgong. Michelle, who was described by her family as bubbly, adventurous and very loved, was only 17 when she was murdered. 

For 20 years, no one was charged with the Indigenous girl's murder despite one of the biggest manhunts the state has ever seen. Now 56-year-old Craig Henry Rumsby has been brought to justice. 

Watch: Michelle Bright's family calling for answers. Post continues below.

Video via 9News.

Michelle was dropped off on Herbert Street, Gulgong NSW, after a birthday party on that fateful Friday night in February 1999.

It was 12:45am, and she was last seen walking outside the town's Commercial Hotel, by a couple who had dropped her off.

"On Saturday, I came home from work and she still wasn't home and I knew in my heart that things weren't right. I sat outside in the misty rain until about 3am in the morning hoping she would walk up the drive," her mother Lorraine told the Sydney Morning Herald


Three days later Michelle's body was found with her handbag nearby, on the country road halfway towards her home. She had been dumped face down in the long grass. Her bra had been cut and torn from her body, and there was evidence she had been sexually assaulted. 

An inquest later determined she had likely died from suffocation or strangulation. 

For the next two decades, the town of Gulgong would be forever haunted by Michelle's murder. But throughout the years, Michelle's killer remained at large. Detectives believed someone in Gulgong - which has a population of 2500 - knew the identity of the killer and had decided to remain silent.

For Michelle's family, it was an ordeal no one should have to experience. 

"She was a beautiful kid, she was my soulmate," Michelle's mum Lorraine said about her daughter. 

"We were very lucky to have her for 17 years. When Daniel Morcombe went missing, I thought 'oh my god', because I know what the pain is when your child goes missing and you know that they haven't run away. I saw the pain in his mum's eyes and could relate to it so much.''

Michelle Bright. Image: Supplied.


Lorraine spoke about how she has suffered "unbearable pain and heartache" after 24 years of searching for answers.

"Michelle has now been gone for longer than she was with us," she told in 2017. "Yet the horrible person who took her has lived a life for 18 years. He's probably had a career, travelled, been married and had children of his own - all the things that he stole from my daughter."

As part of police investigations, DNA samples were collected from dozens of men in the region. But despite the extensive search for clues, police weren't able to make a breakthrough.

At an inquest into Michelle's death in 2009, the counsel assisting the coroner said the crime had "shocked the town to its core,". They explained one of the difficulties in the case was the fact that many of the witnesses who were with Michelle in her final hours, had been drinking and smoking cannabis at the time. 


Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson said in his findings: ''Since the night of the murder, a black cloud has been hanging over the township of Gulgong and will continue to do so." 

In 2000, the NSW Government offered a $100,000 reward for information, and in 2009 after the completion of the inquest, that was increased to $500,000. The biggest reward ever offered at the time. 

On August 10, 2020, a $1 million reward was announced.

Just days later an arrest was made - the Bright family's former neighbour.

Former abattoir worker Craig Henry Rumsby was charged with murder and two counts of inflicting actual bodily harm with intent to have sexual intercourse and attempting to choke/strangle with intent to commit an indictable offence.

One of the charges was in relation to another case - the alleged sexual assault of an 18-year-old girl a year before Michelle's death.

It later emerged that Rumsby had commented on a post about the announcement of the $1 million reward on the NSW Police Force's Facebook page.

"It's so sad they haven't caught her killer yet. Michelle was like a sister to me. I feel sorry for her," he wrote at the time.

This week, Rumsby was finally brought to justice, a jury finding Michelle's killer guilty.

On Friday in the NSW Supreme Court at Dubbo, jurors found Craig Henry Rumsby guilty of Michelle's murder in February 1999 and choking an 18-year-old woman with intent to rape her in January 1998.


Both crimes were committed in Gulgong.

He denied both charges despite making a confession to undercover police to both crimes before his arrest. While there was no physical evidence connecting Rumsby to the murder of Ms Bright, his wallet was found at the scene of the attempted rape. The jury heard the latter victim did not press charges and retracted a statement made at the time as she feared going to court and having her character discredited.

Rumsby will be sentenced at a later date.

Speaking outside court, Michelle's mother Loraine said she "broke down" when the jury reached the guilty verdict.

"I think we all did. I could hear people crying behind me, and it's something not just for us but for all her friends - they've waited for this too," she said.

"After 24 years, four months and three days, we got justice for Michelle."

With AAP.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Feature Image: AAP.

Calling all parents! Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.