Alleged Samantha Murphy killer unmasked as Patrick Stephenson but mystery remains over case

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Remy Varga
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Patrick Orren Stephenson (right) and his former AFL footballer dad Orren in happier times
Patrick Orren Stephenson (right) and his former AFL footballer dad Orren in happier times Credit: Unknown/Unknown

Samantha Murphy was a popular 51-year-old mother-of-three who loved running and ran a car repair business with her husband Michael in Ballarat, about 115km northwest of Melbourne.

Patrick Stephenson, 22, is the son of a former AFL player who lived in Scotsburn, about 15km from where detectives believe Ms Murphy was killed after leaving her home in East Ballarat for a long run through the bush at about 7am on February 4.

Detectives do not believe Ms Murphy and Mr Stephenson knew each other and the only thing appearing to connect them was proximity to Woowookarung Regional Park, 641-hectares of stringybark, grass trees and heath.

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On Friday morning an interim suppression order on Mr Stephenson’s name was lifted after a legal challenge from media outlets and his identity as the alleged killer was revealed.

Why Mr Stephenson, a tradie who once played for a local youth football club, would have allegedly killed Ms Murphy remains a mystery.

After witnesses said he had been seen out at several central Ballarat hotels on the Saturday night before Ms Murphy disappeared, police were on Friday reportedly visiting the venues to gather CCTV footage.

On Friday, his lawyer David Tamanika told Ballarat Magistrate’s Court it was his client’s first time in custody and said Stephenson had no history of drug or alcohol abuse.

He said the order was requested because it was the “responsibility” of all legal practitioners to act on their client’s behalf, and had “nothing to do with any disrespect or disregard to Ms Murphy”.

“This matter is in its extreme infancy,” he said.

“The substantive application would have been heard in 3-4 weeks, respectfully this is hardly cause for outrage.

“It is concerning that the application or granting of such orders can be, or is, immediately seen as being some form of underhanded move or manipulation.”

Ballarat East woman Samantha Murphy was last seen on February 4.
Ballarat East woman Samantha Murphy was last seen on February 4. Credit: Supplied

Victoria Police have only said that the alleged murder was deliberate, refusing to be drawn on whether the crime had a sexual element and ruling out a possible hit and run. On Friday, it was reported they had seized his car after his arrest on Wednesday.

On the surface, Stephenson appears to have had a childhood that would be the envy of kids throughout the football-obsessed state of Victoria.

His dad Orren Stephenson played football for Richmond and Geelong, giving the then-adolescent Patrick the opportunity to muck around with players between games.

Orren Stephenson told the Richmond AFL club in 2012 that his kids were rarely absent on gameday and son Patrick, then aged 12, had been blessed with the opportunity to “roll around the rooms” with players from Richmond and Geelong.

“Patrick last year was rolling around the rooms with the Geelong Cats and this year he’s rolling around with the Richmond Tiger boys,” said Mr Stephenson.

“He wouldn’t pass it up for quids.

“He loves it and the girls have had a lot of fun with it as well.

“It’s a massive bonus that we can share these pretty good times in our lives with our kids.”

Stephenson is the middle child and has two sisters Sophie and Emilie. He appeared to have shared his father’s love of footy and once played for the Redan Football Club under 19s.

Stephenson attended Ballarat’s St Patrick’s College and once appeared in a local newspaper feature about road safety.

His parents were high school sweethearts, with Orren Stephenson following his mother Whitney from his home city in Wagga Wagga in NSW to the regional city of Ballarat, about 115km northwest of Melbourne, in 2002. Their first child, Patrick’s sister, was born when his father was 17.

Stephenson’s parents Orren and Whitney reportedly live in Mount Clear, near Woowookarung Regional Park, where detectives believe Murphy was killed on the day she disappeared on February 4.

Investigators have been scouring the bush at Mount Clear and near the Buninyong Golf Club after analyzing cell phone data and following up on hundreds of tips from the public.

The last known sighting of Murphy is on CCTV footage captured just after she left her home on Eureka Street.

Murphy, who left behind her smartwatch and mobile phone, had told her family she was going for a run and was wearing black leggings and a singlet top.

The keen runner had been training for an upcoming marathon and detectives by doing 15km runs and detectives have established she reached Woowookarung Regional Park.

When Murphy failed to appear at a planned brunch on February 4, her family alerted authorities.

The search for Murphy gripped the nation and involved thousands of hours of searching by emergency officials and concerned locals over nearly five weeks.

Detectives on Wednesday arrested Stephenson and executed three search warrants in the Ballarat region, seizing a number of items including a car.

Stephenson has not disclosed the location of Murphy’s body to police and search for the missing mother’s remains continues.

Ballarat Mayor Des Hudson said the arrest had simultaneously delivered relief and devastation to the local community.

“There’s been enormous community concern right from the outset … even as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into a month,” he said.

“This was a story that resonated across Australia, Sam was a mum doing everyday things.”

Stephenson will next appear before Ballarat Magistrate’s Court in August.

— WITH AAP

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