Coroner finds death a mystery
THE disappearance of a Bellingen woman 21 years ago seems likely to forever remain a mystery.
A coronial inquest into the whereabouts of Susan Maree Kiely wrapped up yesterday in Coffs Harbour with the NSW Deputy State Coroner Scott Mitchell concluding that the 33-year-old mother of two died on or shortly after December 1, 1989, probably in or around Bellingen.
His finding followed testimony from 18 witnesses which led to his conclusion that, ‘the overwhelming bulk of evidence of those who knew her is that she would not have simply walked away, turning her back on her children and, particularly, Heidi, whose primary caring parent she was’.
Mr Mitchell said it was at the insistence of Ms Kiely’s eight-year-old daughter Heidi that her ex-husband Steven Smith was not told she had not met her as agreed at their Kalang home after school on Friday December 1, 1989.
It was Mr Smith, who lived at Valla with their elder daughter Bianca, who immediately informed police of his former wife’s disappearance a week after she was last seen.
Mr Mitchell said that while there were still unresolved Family Law Court and property issues between the couple, who had formally divorced four months before she was last seen leaving a flat in Short Street, Bellingen, he did not believe Mr Smith was responsible for her death.
“To the extent that he has been subject to rumour and innuendo, I think he has been maligned.”
Mr Mitchell said there was no evidence to support other rumours about Ms Kiely, who was known to use alcohol, cannabis and amphetamines. It was a possibility she died of a drug overdose he said, ‘possibly at the Short Street flat or perhaps elsewhere’ and that ‘others who were involved disposed of her body in the hope that their own drug use would not come to notice’.
He described the police reaction to reports that Ms Kiely was missing as ‘quite inadequate’, and said the subsequent investigation was ‘limited by the time and resources available’.
“The investigation conducted by Bellingen Police was quite unsystematic and unscientific.”
“I agree with Gary Kiely, Ms Kielys’ brother, that ‘the investigation had been hapless and hopeless” and ‘below standard’.
“His viewpoint is that police let his sister down, perhaps because of their perceptions regarding her character and lifestyle and those of her friends.
“The evidence does not permit me to describe the cause or manner of her death,” Magistrate Mitchell concluded.
After he handed down his judgement, Mr Mitchell offered his sympathy and condolences to Ms Kiely’s ex-husband, Steven Smith, their daughters Bianca and Heidi, and to her brother and family.