Skull closes case of missing Coutts Crossing man
A PARTIAL skull found in a reserve, not far from where Clarence Valley man Benjamin Stephens was last seen, has led a NSW Coroner's Court to close his missing persons case.
It was on March 18, 2004, that the 24-year-old drove to his family home at Blaxlands Creek, put his washing in the machine, and walked out the front door.
Reported sightings of Mr Stephens near the Byron Bay area and Newcastle in mid-late 2004 amounted to nothing, and as recent as last August, his mother Ellyne Stephens spoke to The Daily Examiner of her struggle to find closure and hopes he would walk back through the door.
But the discovery of a mostly intact skull in Skinners Swamp Travelling Stock Reserve on August 19, just 1.4km from the family home, set into motion a series of events that has this week yielded answers.
On Wednesday, Deputy State Coroner Magistrate Derek Lee found it was probable Ben died in the Blaxlands Creek area shortly after he was last seen.
The Coroner's Court finding came after a DNA sample extracted from the skull was compared against a DNA sample provided by Ellyne on October 27, which revealed the DNA profile from the skull was about 52 million times more likely to have originated from a biological child of hers than from another person.
"Usually a conclusion is reached that the missing person is deceased because there is no positive evidence that they are still alive," he said.
"However, in Ben's case the DNA comparison evidence leads to the overwhelming conclusion that Ben is now deceased."
Magistrate Lee also noted the available evidence did not allow for any finding to be made as to the cause and manner of Mr Stephens' death.
"I acknowledge that whilst this may answer a question that his family and friends have often asked in the years since Ben went missing, the answer itself may not, sadly, be of any comfort to them," he concluded.
"It does not in any way lessen their sorrow, or the pain of Ben's loss that has been profoundly felt since 2004."