Sam Murphy search: Police not returning to site ‘items of interest’ were found

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A forensic expert has revealed that a mobile phone found on the banks of a dam during the search for missing mother Samantha Murphy may be so damaged as to be unusable.

Ms Murphy was jogging in Ballarat East on February 4 when she disappeared.

Her body was not found.

Patrick Orren Stephenson has been charged with Ms Murphy’s murder. He has not yet pleaded guilty to the incident.

The police assume that he acted alone.

Investigators are still searching for her body.

Police said a targeted search on Wednesday on a dam on property south of Buninyong, about 14 kilometres from their home, resulted in “items of interest” being seized.

Speaking to Sunrise on Thursday morning, criminologist Xanthé Mallett of the University of Newcastle said the discovery of a phone – if it was Ms Murphy’s – could be a breakthrough.

“Unfortunately, it may be damaged,” said Dr. Mallett.

“Samantha Murphy has now been missing for 116 days, or almost four months.

“If the phone turns out to be hers, they may not have gotten as much information as they could have if it had been found earlier,” Dr Mallett told Sunrise.

“It really depends on the quality of the phone and how badly it is damaged. Remember, it was outside.”

Examining the phone could take weeks, the scientist said.

“They will work on it quickly, but it will not be short-term. We are not talking days, we are talking weeks at the earliest.”

“Whether it’s been there for four months or whether it’s Samantha’s or longer, we don’t know yet. We’ll have to wait and see exactly what condition the phone is in.”

Footage captured by ABC shows police officers hugging, patting each other on the shoulder and shaking hands after finding the phone on the edge of the dam.

The joy over the discovery is a good sign, said Dr. Mallett.

“This case has really touched everyone, not just the Ballarat community, but the wider community and the police,” she said.

“(To) (potentially) find (her phone) after so long with no real leads … that would have been a really good moment for them and would have given them hope that they can move this case forward for Samantha’s family.”

A police spokesman said on Thursday that the missing persons search in the area had ended. There would be no further search there on Thursday.

“There is no update on the forensic examination of the items.”

Police said they would provide further information as soon as it became available.

Ms Murphy was last seen leaving her home in Eureka Street, Ballarat, at around 7am to go on a 14km run through the nearby Woowookarung Regional Park.

Police believed she had reached the Mount Clear area adjacent to the park about an hour after leaving home, but had not been seen or heard from since her departure.

The subsequent searches by the police and volunteers also failed to find the missing mother.

In February, a large group of volunteers combed the bushland after gathering at Eureka Stockade Memorial Park in Ballarat – some bringing metal detectors and even a sniffer dog.

Later that month, police launched a targeted search of the Buninyong Bushland Reserve, involving several specialist units, including mounted police, dog teams and motorcyclists.

The search area was highlighted by “information from a number of sources,” a police spokesman said at the time.

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