Missing: Jessica Small (NSW, Australia)
October 26, 1997, 15 year olds Jessica Small and Vanessa Conlan accept a ride shortly after midnight from a man driving a white commodore, after the pair had spent the evening at an amusement centre in Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia. Intending to hitchhike their way home, Small and Conlan are not believed to have known the driver of the commodore before accepting the ride.
Shortly after accepting the ride, after the girls, the man and the vehicle had travelled from Russell Street in Bathurst, where they had been at the amusement centre, to Hereford Street in nearby Kelso, the man reportedly stopped the vehicle, turned off the headlights and allegedly attempted to assault both girls.
One of the 15 year olds Vanessa Conlan managed to escape the attacker, flee the vehicle and alert residents in the area. Jessica Small, who had not been able to escape the vehicle, was heard screaming before the white commodore and its driver escaped with Small still in the vehicle.
Immediately following the abduction, police and investigators reportedly failed to take the case seriously, and neglected to follow up relevant leads and witnesses that may have led to them finding Jessica Small and/or her abductor. Indeed, Coroner Sharon Freund would later say of investigating detectives in a 2014 inquest in to Small's disappearance, “In the days and weeks following Jessica's abduction ... their assumptions and prejudices compromised the investigation, caused immeasurable additional distress and hurt to the family of Jessica, and may also have put other future lives at risk.”
One of the witnesses police neglected to follow up with or take seriously was Robert Fitzpatrick, a resident of nearby suburb Eglinton, who stated that he had heard panicked screams from a whitish coloured car matching the description of the white Commodore minutes after Jessica's abduction from Hereford Street in Kelso.
Fitzpatrick continued to state he had heard a cry for help, and witnessed a scuffle within the car, before the driver emerged to retrieve something from the rear of his vehicle. Following this, Fitzpatrick heard "a little bang" from the vehicle before the driver, and the white vehicle, drove away.
While Fitzpatrick reported the strange occurrences to the police immediately upon hearing of Small's abduction, a formal statement was not taken from Robert Fitzpatrick until 2007, ten years after Small was taken, when a police strike force was formed to investigate the case.
Investigating detectives also failed to properly chase up witnesses on scene at the amusement centre where Jessica Small and Vanessa Conlan had spent the evening, and in doing so failed to speak to one particular witness by the name of William Ross, who had been working at the amusement centre the evening of Small's abduction and who reported speaking to a man who matched the description Vanessa Conlan had given of her attacker and Jessica Small's abductor.
Ross would say that the man, aged approximately 34 and who Ross reported as stating he worked at the Oberon Timber Mill (some 40-50 minutes drive south of Bathurst), had even singled out Jessica Small in a conversation with Ross, reportedly saying, "Who’s that? She looks like she’s out for a good time.”
The same strike force, formed in 2007, were also able to uncover an additional witness who had contacted Bathurst Police shortly after Jessica Small's abduction to report a suspicious vehicle, matching the description of the white Commodore, lingering for a long period time in a secluded area of Beaconsfield Road in Essington, approximately 50km (31 miles) south of Hereford Street, Kelso, and approximately 19km (11.8 miles) west of the Oberon Timber Mill.
Though investigating detectives at the time of Jessica Small's abduction did not follow up this lead, nor make any connection between the suspicious vehicle and Small's abduction, the 2007 strike force came to the conclusion that this vehicle, and its driver, were likely those involved in the abduction of Jessica Small and the attack of Vanessa Conlan.
Through the work of this same 2007 strike force, a person of interest emerged in the case with Andrew McBride, a man who worked at the Oberon Timber Mill, had a reported history of aggressive tendencies and an additional reported interest in teenaged girls. McBride also was thought to have driven a car matching the description of the white commodore, and matched the description of the man witness William Ross had spoken to the night of Jessica Small's abduction. Furthermore, McBride suspiciously left his residence in Oberon hours after Small's abduction, leaving for Sydney with his then girlfriend.
Despite the work of the 2007 strike force, the 2014 Coroner's inquest and McBride's emergence as a strong person of interest, the abduction and likely murder of Jessica Small remains unsolved and her whereabouts unknown.
Speculation and Theory: Andrew McBride's status as a strong person of interest in this case is no accident. His actions, his history, his appearance, the vehicle he was driving, they all fit the picture of Jessica Small's abductor and what would have been likely to have occurred in the immediate aftermath of Small's abduction.
Regrettably, the investigating detectives at the time of Small's abduction seem to have mishandled the case so completely that there seems very little chance that Jessica Small will be found, and her abductor, and likely murderer, brought to justice.
Nevertheless, a $100,000 reward has been posted for information leading to the conviction of Small's likely murderer. This is despite Coroner Sharon Freund's recommendation that the reward be set at $500,000, indicating, sadly, that police may still not be responding proportionately to Jessica Small's abduction.
If you have any information relating to Jessica Small's case, you are encouraged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000