4 August 2022

Mystery still surrounds cases of Snowy Valley's missing women

| Edwina Mason
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Niamh Maye

Armidale student Niamh Maye disappeared in the Snowy Valleys 20 years ago. Photo: Australian Missing Persons Register.

The disappearances of three women in the Snowy Valleys in the past 35 years have led police down three unconnected and unsatisfactory paths. The small communities from where they disappeared have had zero closure.

The first of these harks back to between January 8 and June 4 in 1987, when a mother and her child vanished from the small mountain town of Tumbarumba.

Azucena “Asing” Pollard was reported by her husband, Harry, to have run away from their home in Tumbarumba, NSW, taking their infant son, Harry Jnr, with her.

Harry Pollard – a former lay Presbyterian minister – said his wife had left him to live in Melbourne with another man in March 1987.

Azucena “Asing” Pollard and her infant son, Harry Jnr disappeared from Tumbarumba in 1987. Image: Australian Missing Persons Register.

But Asing’s Filipino relatives raised the alarm in July 1987, having not heard from the young mother – a regular correspondent – since December, 1986.

Their growing concerns were exacerbated by a typewritten letter they had received in June 1987 – purportedly authored by Asing – where she expressed shame for leaving her husband for another man, this being the reason for her lack of communication.

An inquest later determined the signature on the letter, which was examined by a police handwriting expert, to be a forgery.

Asing and Harry Pollard had met in the Philipines, their relationship developing through letters until they married in 1985, making their home in Tumbarumba.

Their son was born the following August.

In June 1987 a coronial inquiry determined that both Asing and her son were deceased, concluding there was a prima facie case against Harry Pollard for murder, but the OPP decided at that time not to proceed.

The case was reopened late 1995 and was initially listed for hearing on 14 March, 1997 in the NSW Supreme Court.

On 15 September, 1997 Pollard’s motion that proceedings on the indictment be stayed was rejected by the court.

About Regional was unable to determine when a date was set for trial.

Despite parliamentary representations on her behalf, a reward for information into the disappearance of Mrs Pollard and her son was never posted and extensive searches of bushland near the 60-hectare Tumbarumba farm where the Pollards lived, offered no clues to their disappearance.

Asing’s disappearance has been listed among the 35 cases documented by the Centre for Philippine Concerns Australia since 1980.

Updated in 2011, the CPCA says the cases involve some 44 Filipino women and children. Seven children and 37 women have been killed, one woman survived an attempted murder, five women and two children have disappeared and two women died in a mass suicide incident since 1980.

Niamh Maye

And there is nothing in the way of a reward or clues into the disappearance of 18-year-old Armidale student Niamh Maye.

Niamh left a campground at Jingellic on Saturday, 30 March, 2002 and hasn’t been seen since.

The Armidale teenager had travel arrangements to leave Batlow for Sydney to stay with her sister, however never made the journey and was reported missing by family.

Police were told Niamh had been fruit picking in the Riverina region prior to her disappearance and that she had been driven to Gocup Road at Tumut by an associate.

A coronial inquest in March 2012, determined Niamh had died at or near Tumut, by a person or persons unknown to her, on Saturday, 30 or Sunday, 31 March, 2002.

Despite extensive investigations, no trace of Niamh has ever been found and no-one has been charged in connection with her disappearance.

Investigations are continuing by detectives from Riverina Police District, together with the State Crime Command’s Unsolved Homicide Unit and Missing Persons Registry, under Strike Force Yola.

At the time of her disappearance, Niamh was described as being of Caucasian appearance, about 170cm tall, with a slim build, shoulder-length dark blonde hair and blue/grey eyes.

She was last seen carrying a backpack, tent, sleeping bag and metre-long stick.

READ ALSO Family of missing teen Niamh Maye launch website, podcast

Ruth Ridley

Ruth Ridley travelled to Tumbarumba to visit her ex-husband and grandchildren. She was last seen in Albury on October 29, 2019. Image: Australian Missing Persons Register.

Last year a coronial inquiry found that Port Macquarie woman Ruth Ridley, whose caravan was found in Tumbarumba in October 2019, was likely killed by her estranged husband, Gary, after a lengthy history of family violence.

She was last seen in Albury on October 24, 2019, after visiting Mr Ridley – a former Queensland police officer – and her children and grandchildren in Tumbarumba.

The pair were believed to be camping near Walwa that weekend, but 58-year-old Mrs Ridley never returned.

Despite the use of helicopters, divers, foot searchers and cadaver dogs, NSW and Victoria Police have not yet been able to locate Mrs Ridley’s body.

According to the coroner, “Victoria Police investigators believe that it is likely that Mrs Ridley’s body was disposed of in a shallow grave somewhere within the Jingellic Pine plantation, half of which has since been impacted by the 2019-20 Walwa bushfire.”

Missing Persons Week is an annual week of action that takes place in Australia during the first week of August to raise awareness of the significant issues surrounding missing persons and profile long-term missing persons, and to educate the Australian community.

Anyone with information about any of these disappearances is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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