NATIONAL MISSING PERSONS WEEK 2020
There’s no two ways about it, the mystery of the disappearance of Amber Haigh – who, for a time, lived at Kingsvale, near Young – is as baffling as it is just plain sorrowful.
What remains of 18 years of investigation into her case now lies in cold-case files somewhere within the archives of NSW Police. The only hope of the case being reopened is a glint of memory, a new technology, a new clue or, sadly, the discovery of her body.
Certainly for Amber’s mother, Rosalind Wright, hope could come from anything.
Every year, Rosalind returns to Young for the anniversary of Amber’s disappearance. Or Amber’s birthday. She’d visit with the same people: Gae Crea, Keith Price, Dave Cockram, and, more recently, me, as managing editor of local paper, The Young Witness.
Gae, Keith and Dave were all police officers in Young and both worked exhaustively on Amber’s case, under Strike Force Villimar. As years crept by, investigations and searches continued, leading to a 2011 inquest, a 60 Minutes report and endless other media reports. Still nothing.
One year I spoke to Gae – a long conversation at the car dealership where he was then working – and there were still, for him, vivid memories and so many unanswered questions.
All of which led to the 2011 coronial finding that 19-year-old Amber probably died from murder or misadventure soon after she disappeared in June 2002.
Amber had a disability and the mental age of a 10-year-old when she arrived in Young from Sydney to pick fruit.
It was a situation Rosalind wasn’t particularly comfortable with, but Amber’s life had been transient as she moved from family to family within NSW and Queensland.
And, after all, she would be staying with relatives at Kingsvale.
The stone-fruit growing settlement, which sits between Harden and Young, was familiar to Amber and would offer months of work beyond the district’s peak cherry picking season.
But perhaps because of her proximity, age, her timidity and her intellectual disability, Amber eventually fell into a relationship with a neighbouring family, moving in with Robert Geeves and his wife, Anne.
Within a few months, Amber was pregnant and gave birth to son, Royce, in January 2002. DNA tests established that Royce was the son of 42-year-old Robert.
Five months later, Amber disappeared.
The Geeves told police that on 5 June, 2002, they’d driven the teen to Campbelltown railway station – a three-hour drive from Kingsvale – where she could get a train to Mt Druitt to see her seriously ill father, Geoffrey. They said she was dropped at the station at 8.30 pm.
A withdrawal was made from Amber’s bank account at Campbelltown at 8.45pm that same night, but it was not conclusive that she had operated the account. Robert had her keycard.
The Geeves reported her missing two weeks later, on 19 June, 2002.
Among his findings, the coroner described a disturbing and sometimes forceful sexual relationship between Amber and Robert, whose wife denied a surrogacy pact had been made between the married couple and the teenager.
It was the coroner who recommended the case be referred to the unsolved homicide squad.
Speaking outside court at the time, Dave said he wanted someone to be charged.
“The people who have done something to Amber, they need to look over both shoulders each time they leave the house, because the matter won’t sit,” he said.
A $100,000 reward remains on offer to solve the mysterious disappearance and suspected death of Amber.
Rosalind hopes the reward will prompt someone to come forward with new information.
It’s all she can hope for.
Quietly spoken and amiable, what lies beneath her is an unease and wretchedness of not knowing what happened to her daughter. For years, Rosalind sought solace through the only people who tenuously connected her with Amber.
Her visits to Young continued even though the investigating officers moved elsewhere. She would still call them. Nowadays, her calls go to the cold-case team.
Her last text message to me as I wound up my stint at The Young Witness, in 2015, read: “Thank you for your support. If you see Gae, can you let him know I thank and appreciate everything he has done to find Amber, and I hope to have a cuppa one day. I texted him, but got a reply back: ‘wrong number’. Thank you.”
At the time of her disappearance, Amber Haigh was described as being 160cm tall, thin build with brown shoulder-length hair and green-hazel eyes. She was last seen wearing a green jumper, dark tracksuit pants and joggers. She was also carrying a bag with clothes in it.
Anyone who has information in relation to Amber is urged to contact Young Police on 02 6382 8199 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.