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Missing Ballarat mum Samantha Murphy went on a holiday with her family to the Great Ocean Road each year. This summer, she didn’t

by Staff

By Wayne Flower, Melbourne Correspondent

04:34 08 Feb 2024, updated 04:52 08 Feb 2024

  • Samantha Murphy vanished without a trace on Sunday
  • A massive search is underway in rugged bushland
  • Ms Murphy’s family holidayed without her last month

Missing mum Samantha Murphy was notably absent from her family’s traditional summer holiday along Victoria’s surf coast in the weeks before she vanished. 

Ms Murphy, 51, had not been seen since she was leaving her home at Ballarat East at 7am on Sunday to go for a run in a state forest on the outskirts of the regional town, west of Melbourne.

Daily Mail Australia can reveal Ms Murphy and her family had holidayed together at a Torquay caravan park – the gateway to Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road – for almost a decade. 

Samantha Murphy had enjoyed annual holidays with her family in Torquay but was no-where to be seen during the most recent summer break
Mick Murphy went on holiday without his wife in January after she was struck down by Covid-19. Above, with the couple’s distressed oldest daughter Jess at a media conference on Thursday

But this year park dwellers noticed only her husband Mick and their children attended the park, where they stay in a luxury cabin. 

‘They usually spend most of January down here,’ a source told Daily Mail Australia. 

She was going out for brunch (the morning she disappeared)  Close friend  Virginia

While described as friendly, Ms Murphy was observed to mostly keep to herself while attending the park, which enjoys an active community of regular summer holidayers. 

‘They have a nice cabin … she keeps to herself. But Mick is always so nice. Always stops and says hello. We wondered where she was this year.’

On Thursday, Mr Murphy fronted a media pack to call on the public for more information in the hope of finding his wife alive. 

‘People just don’t vanish into thin air. Someone has got to know something … whether it be any little thing that you might think is relevant, just call the police, let them know,’ he said. 

‘It’ll give us a bit of peace of mind if we get some hope.’

A cabin similar to the one used by the Murphy family each summer in Torquay

While Mr Murphy did not take any questions from the media, his wife’s childhood friend  Virginia O’Loughlan told Daily Mail Australia Ms Murphy had missed the traditional family holiday after becoming sick with Covid-19. 

‘There was nothing suspicious about it. There was no family feud. I can understand why people can start to think that, but she definitely had Covid. Another friend of ours had Covid too and they were both talking about it and when they get better they were going to catch up,’ she said. 

‘She would have definitely been down there but she didn’t want anyone to get Covid.’

Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting Mr Murphy is involved in his wife’s mysterious disappearance, which police have not suggested may be an act of foul play. 

Ms O’Loughlan said Ms Murphy had been due to catch-up with friends for brunch at 11am on the day she went missing. 

Torquay is just down the road from Australia’s iconic Bells Beach (pictured)

On the morning Ms Murphy vanished, she was captured on her own CCTV system wearing a brown singlet and black half-length leggings. 

She was later spotted on a neighbour’s camera running past their property about 7.16am on Eureka Street in Ballarat East, near the intersection of Warrenheip Rd.

That was quarter of an hour after she began her Sunday run.

It showed her running northeast towards Yankee Flat Road.

Ms O’Loughlan said she did not believe her friend would have ventured into the rugged area where her phone was last ‘pinged’. 

‘There’s no way she would have run that far. Absolutely no way. I’m confident of that,’ she said.  

On Thursday, State Emergency Services volunteers and police again entered the bush in an area between the Canadian Plantation and Yankee Flat Road – about 15kms from Ms Murphy’s home. 

‘I believe she was going out for brunch that morning so I believe she would have been home by 9 or 10am,’ she said. 

Virginia O’Loughlan told Daily Mail Australia Ms Murphy had missed the traditional family holiday after becoming sick with Covid-19
CCTV of Ms Murphy  was captured about 7.16am on Eureka Street in Ballarat East, near the intersection of Warrenheip Rd.

Ms Murphy – an avid Richmond supporter and fitness fanatic – had been more than familiar with the routes that she routinely ran along. 

‘Sam is the most strongest person both mentally and physically that I do believe we are going to find her,’ Ms O’Loughlan said. 

‘I think it’s incredible that we haven’t found a sceric of anything related to this. We’ve been combing sides of roads … my mind is going into over about what may have happened to Sam,’ she said. 

‘I’m open to anything at this point. The fact that nothing has been found I find really bizarre.’

On Thursday, Inspector Lisa McDougall maintained Ms Murphy’s disappearance was not suspicious. 

‘There are no suspicious circumstances that we’ve identified at this stage,’ she told a media pack.

But when pressed if police had even contemplated foul play, Inspector McDougall conceded it had not been ruled out.

‘We’re keeping an open mind,’ she said.

On Wednesday, police believed they had found an item of interest in bushland not far from Ms Murphy’s home before declaring it had been a false alarm. 

Jess Murphy is comforted by her father Mick on Thursday outside Ballarat West Police Station

Inspector McDougall said drones were now being used in the extensive search.

‘We have 40 resources on the ground at the moment and they are both Victoria Police resources and CFA and SES,’ she said.

‘We have used various assets internally so that includes things like mountain branch over the last few days and search and rescue.

‘We’ve also had police air up assisting us with the search today. We also have some drones up assisting us.’

Ms O’Loughlan said her friend had no known enemies as far as she understood and could think of no reason anyone would want to do her harm. 

‘Everyone absolutely adores Sam because Sam is like a backbone of a lot of community organisations. Sam just doesn’t do anything half-hearted and Sam throws herself in 150 percent,’ she said. 

Ms O’Loughlan, who is a trained psychologist, said she believed Ms Murphy would have been determined to make that brunch appointment. 

‘She’d be going out for brunch, she’d be wanting to get herself organised. She had her hair pulled back. She’d have wanted her hair to have been done nicely, she likes to present herself nicely,’ she said. 

‘She’d be thinking “a quick run, freshen up, get the kids breakfast if Mick hasn’t already done it’. She wouldn’t have run that far.’

SES volunteers plan their search outside a Ballarat police station on Thursday
Searchers continued to comb through the Woowookarung National Park looking for clues to the disappearance of Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy on Thursday

Ms O’Loughlan described Ms Murphy as the head of her family. 

‘She’s the front of their family. Mick will be floundering at the moment. They’re not media people at all. Sam would do this if it was me that was missing,’ she said. 

It is understood Mr Murphy was home when his wife was captured on CCTV leaving their property and later raised the alarm to police when she didn’t return for brunch. 

On Thursday, Ms Murphy’s daughter Jess delivered a gut-wrenching message to her missing mum begging for her to come home. 

‘Mum, we love you so much, and we miss you. We need you at home with us. Please come home soon. I can’t wait to see you and to give you the biggest hug when I do,’ Jess said.

‘And to tell you off for giving us so much stress. I love you.’

Ms Murphy is described as white, about 173cm tall, with a slim build and shoulder-length blonde hair.

Anyone who sees her has been urged to contact police immediately.

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