'People know what happened to Lee Ellen'
THE Clarence Valley community holds the key to solving a murder mystery nearly 22 years old and the NSW Police have stumped up a $1million reward to encourage people with information to come forward.
Brooms Head teenager Lee Ellen Stace went missing on September 2, 1997 after completing her shift at Yamba's Bi- Lo supermarket.
More than six weeks later her remains were discovered in the Yuraygir National Park at Red Cliff, a few kilometres from her home.
Since that time police investigations and a coronial inquest have not uncovered the person or people responsible for her murder.
Yesterday police increased the reward for information to help them solve the case to $1million because it would provide an incentive for previously reluctant witnesses.
In a press conference announcing the reward, the commander of the NSW Homicide Squad, Superintendent Scott Cook, hinted police had uncovered some new information, but needed help from the public to confirm it.
"We try to make sure these rewards are announced at the time that best suits investigations," he said.
"We're confident people know what happened to Lee Ellen, so now's the time to put this money on the table and now's the time for people in that local community to stand up."
Supt Cook said police have always believed the information they need is out there.
"We're confident people out there know stuff that they're not telling us," he said.
"We've seen it before where communities come together to support victims of crime, victims of homicide. And when they trust their police, we get results. It's very important and it suits us to do this now."
He said police were also looking outside the region for Lee Ellen's killer, but locally sourced information was key.
"We're keeping an open mind there are people related to our lines of inquiry not part of that local community, but who have visited that local community," he said.
"This is why what people see and hear is so important and why I'd encourage any member of the community who has information to come forward, no matter how small or insignificant it seems."
He said police had not ruled out a number of suspects revealed at the coronial inquest in Grafton in November 2009.
"We keep an open mind on this process. No suspect is off table. No person of interest is off the table," he said.
"But we have some very clear lines of inquiry to make and I'm hoping the community will step up and give us that bit extra we need."
He said police had used modern forensic techniques to re-examine the evidence and these had yielded positive results, but not strong enough to lead to a conviction.
Supt Cook talked about a sighting of a person believed to be Lee Ellen with a man on Red Cliff Beach.
He said the man, described as having blond, shoulder-length hair was known to them, but had not been interviewed recently.
He also discussed evidence Lee Ellen was seen getting into a green car opposite the supermarket on the day she disappeared.
"There is some suggestion she may have got into a green car, there is a suggestion it may have been her on Red Cliff Beach," he said.
"We don't know who the driver of green car was. We're not 100 per cent certain there was a green car."
Supt Cook said there was no evidence linking Lee Ellen's disappearance to the disappearance of six other women in NSW between 1996 and 2003.
Lee Ellen's parents, Peter and Robyn Stace, were at the press conference and Mr Stace addressed reporters and answered some questions.
He said the family would never give up or lose hope of finding her killer or killers and bringing them to justice.
"We miss her and love her with all our waking moments," he said. "She was a typical teenage girl who enjoyed life."
He thanked the local community for its support over the years.
"They've been there to support us through tough times, but also the Victims of Homicide Group, they've helped out great," he said.
Mr Stace said it was now up to the members of the community who had information about his daughter's fate to come forward.
"Come forward to the police please," he said. "Don't be scared."
Supt Cook said people in the vicinity of Yamba or Brooms Head on September 2, 1997 who have information need to contact police.
"Those people are still alive, those people are still around," he said.
"If some people have had contact with police and were not sure they were heard they need to contact us again. Crimestoppers can facilitate that."