true crime

TRUE CRIME: Before he confessed, Michelle Buckingham's murderer was haunted by her ghost.

On October 21, 1983, Michelle Buckingham vanished from the rural Victorian town of Shepparton.

Michelle was just 16 years old at the time of her disappearance and she was last seen walking towards Strayleaves Caravan Park, after spending the day at the pub with her friends.

The bright and bubbly teenager wasn’t reported missing for about a week as her parents, Elvira and Geoff, were divorced and they both assumed she was staying at the other one’s house.

Then about two weeks after her disappearance, a farmer found Michelle’s badly decomposed body dumped in a roadside drain near Violet Town Road, Kialla.

She had been stabbed at least 19 times. The teenager was still clothed in the jeans and Mickey Mouse jumper that she was wearing on the day she was last seen.

The murder sent shock waves through the close-knit regional town and the local police launched a massive investigation to find her killer.

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But Michelle’s family would not get answers for another 32 years.

Despite initially honing in on a suspect, the case quickly went cold. It was only reopened in 2012 when Tammy Mills, a young reporter at the Shepparton News, decided to look into it.

Mills spoke to Meshel Laurie and Emily Webb on the Australian True Crime podcast about her involvement in solving Shepparton’s biggest cold case.

Determined, the young reporter wrote a letter to Michelle’s mum asking her permission to write about the case so Michelle’s murder – and her life – wouldn’t be forgotten.

She then got in touch with Ron Iddles, the homicide detective who opened and headed the Cold Case Division in Victoria for many years.

After a little bit of convincing, Iddles decided to take on the case.

“I kept telling her we didn’t have the staff or resources to work on it but she kept calling me and kept asking questions. Eventually I agreed to reopen the case, and that if she wrote about it, any leads would be followed up,” Iddles told John Silvester at The Age.

Mills wrote a comprehensive five day series about Michelle for the local newspaper and within a week a lead emerged.

All up police received 30 tips from the public. But Iddles’ interest was piqued by one man who agreed to meet him at the Shepparton East Football Club.

The man’s name was Norman Gribble and he had been keeping a secret for three decades. A photo of Michelle’s mum, Elvira, in the newspaper pushed him to finally come forward.

michelle buckingham murder
Michelle Buckingham, was murdered in 1983. Image via The Shepparton news.

Gribble's told Iddles that his brother-in-law, Stephen James Bradley, was responsible for the crime. On the day after Michelle disappeared, Bradley came to see Gribble, bloody and anxious, and told him he had been involved in the murder of a young girl.

“I’ve killed someone,” he allegedly told him twice.

For almost 30 years Gribble kept his secret, fearful that he would lose his wife and children, but by 2012 he was ready to talk.

During Iddles' interrogation of Bradley he admitted to murdering Michelle, after she refused to have sex with him. He named two other men who were allegedly involved in the murder but they've never been charged due to a lack of evidence.

Bradley claimed that one of the men stabbed Michelle at the back of the Pine Lodge hotel, on the edge of town, and then insisted that he and another friend join in. Bradley alleges the first man insisted they participate "so no one could point the finger at anyone".

They then dumped her body in grassland just out of town.

While talking to Iddles, Bradley also confessed he had been haunted by the ghost of a young girl in the years since. He said the ghost of a young girl would sit at the end of his bed at night and look at him.

Bradley was brought to trial for Michelle's murder and sentenced to 32 years in jail for his part in the crime.

In a tragic turn of events, Elvira died of a heart attack in her home just five days before the trial was set to commence. She never got to see her daughter get justice.

Karen and Phillip Buckingham, Michelle's brother and sister, attended the trial in 2015 and described the verdict as bittersweet.

After 32 years, Michelle Buckingham finally got justice and thanks to the determination of a young reporter, the town of Shepparton will never forget the teenager who was taken from them far too soon.