The death of Lismore woman Lois Roberts has haunted people of the Northern Rivers region for almost twenty years, myself included.
As a reporter for The Northern Star back then, I was there the day police cordoned off a bush grave where her body was eventually found by bushwalkers, up a fire track in the Whian Whian State Forest.
Her body was bound in electrical cord, and police believe Lois was held captive and kept alive for around ten days, during which time she was tortured and sexually abused before being killed.
Photographer Darcy McFadden and I were returning to the office at the end of our shift when we heard a brief report on the police radio that a body had been discovered up Whian Whian.
Thinking it could be Lois, we raced up into the bush and drove around for an hour trying to locate the police. We had all but given up and were heading back to Lismore when we came across a police officer trying to get mobile reception on an isolated road.
After initially being told to ‘piss off’, the officer eventually agreed to allow us to take a quick photograph of the bush grave.
That photo ran on the front page the following day, but it was to be another day until formal identification was made.
It was a case the whole region was talking about, and one we felt closely associated with.
At the urging of her twin sister Rhoda Roberts, six months earlier we had run stories appealing for information after Lois disappeared while hitch-hiking between Nimbin and Lismore in July 1998.
A witness had seen her getting into a white car, and she was never seen again.
When NITV reporter Allan Clarke began investigating the murder for a documentary, I was one of a number of local people approached for an interview.
Mr Clarke also spoke with Rhoda Roberts, as well as Lois’ brothers Phil and Mark Roberts and nephew Gilbert Laurie, along with Nimbin locals and some of Lois’ friends.
And although Lois went missing almost twenty years ago, I had no problem remembering the pain on her mother Muriel’s face – she had spent weeks sitting by the phone waiting for news since her daughter disappeared.
That image remains a harrowing memory.
The family now believe it was only the media reports – spurred on by the tenacious love of her twin sister Rhoda – that eventually got police to take the disappearance seriously.
I share that belief.
And while police eventually put a team of detectives on the case, the coronial inquest into her murder later delivered a verdict that she was murdered by a person, or persons, unknown. The case remains open.
Last night, the document Cold Justice detailed the three main theories surrounding her death.
The first is that she was killed by a man infatuated with her twin sister Rhoda.
The second is that Lois was the victim of a serial killer who targeted women around the Northern Rivers region in the late 1990s.
The third is that Lois was murdered because she was about to expose a pedophile ring operating in Lismore.
At the end of the episode however, there are still no answers and the mystery continues.
To this day I wonder about a witness brought up from Melbourne by police to the coronial inquiry, who refused to make a statement to the coroner. Was he the killer? What did he know?
Hopefully one day the answers will be known, but until then, police are still hoping for a tip-off that might solve the case.
Host of Cold Justice Allan Clarke said the story was not just about the murder, but about her family’s extraordinary fight to ensure Lois’ death was not in vain.
It is part of a broader series that explores other murders of Indigenous people that have gone unsolved.
For anyone who missed last night’s episode, it can be viewed online at https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/1160265795672/cold-justice-lois-roberts