‘Hopeful’ find in Samantha Murphy mystery as police locate phone in renewed search for missing Ballarat mum

Sarah Blake and Max Corstophan
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Police have recovered what appears to be a mobile phone during a search for missing Ballarat mother Samantha Murphy.
Police have recovered what appears to be a mobile phone during a search for missing Ballarat mother Samantha Murphy. Credit: 7NEWS/7NEWS

There are fresh hopes of a breakthrough in the search for missing Ballarat mum Samantha Murphy after police recovered a mobile phone in a new search of bushland near where she vanished almost four months ago.

Victoria Police said on Wednesday they discovered the phone while scouring the banks of a dam on a property a few kilometres south of Buninyong.

The mother of three has not been seen since she left her rural home for a run on the morning of Sunday, February 4, and while a man has been charged with her murder, no trace of Mrs Murphy has been found.

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A fresh search for her remains was launched on Wednesday, with Victoria Police deploying an excavator and the dog squad to aid officers from the missing persons unit in their search.

About 12 officers searched an area beside a dam at the edge of a property a few kilometres south of where her phone last pinged on the day she vanished.

Vision captured by the ABC showed the search taking place on the edge of a property along Slaughterhouse Road and Buninyong-Mt Mercer Road, with a group of police officers placing an evidence marker by an item that appears to be a smartphone.

Officers were also seen with a metal detector and an excavator was used for part of the search.

Retired senior Victorian homicide detective Charlie Bezzina said the use of the excavator was a good sign that police had solid intelligence about Mrs Murphy’s whereabouts.

“It’s certainly hopeful,” Mr Bezzina told The Nightly.

Samantha Murphy 51, vanished on February 4 when she left her home in Ballarat East to go for a run.
Samantha Murphy 51, vanished on February 4 when she left her home in Ballarat East to go for a run. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

“Police would be quite confident, but they won’t know until it’s examined forensically to make sure that it’s her phone.

“Given the fact there was a digger and the size of this new search, it’s definitely a promising development.

“But it’s a hurry up and wait scenario until we find the ownership of that phone and it’s unusual to find a phone out in the bush.”

In a statement, Victoria police confirmed detectives had located some items of interest in the search for Mrs Murphy.

“The area has been cordoned off and those items will now be forensically tested,” it read.

“At this stage we are not providing further information about the items until that testing has been completed.

“The items were located during today’s targeted search, which involved investigators and other specialist units from across Victoria Police and assistance from the AFP.”

The statement said the investigation was ongoing and further information would be provided once officers were in a position to do so.

“Police ask that members of the public do not attend the search at this time.”

Metadata from Mrs Murphy’s phone showed her location 7km from home in the Mt Clear area, an hour after she left home for a 14km run, according to police updates in the early days of the search.

Patrick Orren Stephenson, aged 22, has been charged with murder in connection to Mrs Murphy’s disappearance.

The son of former AFL player Orren Stephenson, he remains in custody and was earlier this month hit with fresh charges unrelated to Mrs Murphy.

Police said Mrs Murphy’s family had been informed of the new search.

Before she disappeared, Mrs Murphy was a well known Ballarat figure who worked with her husband in the family’s panel repair shop.

Her husband Michael gave a loving tribute to his wife last month describing her as “an incredibly smart and wonderful woman”.

“She was kind, caring, loyal and would always offer to help anyone at any time,” Mr Murphy said.

“You won’t hear a bad word about her, she was a good mother, caring and always providing for everybody.

“She was always smiling and happy and we want people to remember Sam for who she was. Anyone who knows her knows what she’s like.”

Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, has been charged over the murder of Samantha Murphy.
Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, has been charged over the murder of Samantha Murphy. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

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