In the decades since Gordana Kotevski was kidnapped from a suburban street near a busy shopping centre, her family has wavered between hope and grief.
The 16-year-old Cardiff High School student was snatched and bundled into a white Toyota Hilux about 8.45pm on November 24, 1994, while walking to an aunt’s house after late night shopping with friends at Charlestown Square.
Today, Gordana’s family is renewing a public appeal for information that could help bring those responsible for her abduction and likely murder to justice and solve one of the state’s most baffling cold cases.
Newcastle Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna has organised free rental of space on the billboard outside McDonald Jones Stadium for the next fortnight, where an image of the teenager will be emblazoned, and the family will hand out bumper stickers in the coming weeks to get the community talking and jog people’s memories.
“They say that scars heal with time, but I know that until I have answers about what happened to my sister my scars will only get bigger and deeper,” said Gordana’s brother Damien, who was 10 when his older sister was taken.
“The things I had to witness from such a young age have affected me throughout my whole life. I have been quiet for a long time but it’s time to stand up and make some noise, not only for my family, but for every family who has been dealt this horrible card.
“I wouldn’t wish this pain upon anyone, which is why I’m appealing to the public to come forward with any information that may help us find Gordana. Our family needs answers.”
Gordana – who would now be 40 years old – was about 50 metres from the safety of her aunt’s home in Powell Street when she was set upon.
Witnesses said they heard two screams and saw a white Toyota Hilux speed out of the street.
But aside from unfruitful leads on people of interest and the 2009 discovery of a fingerprint belonging to an unknown person on the plastic bag containing Gordana’s wallet found at the crime scene, the trail has remained cold.
Another of Gordana’s aunts Julie Talevski, who has spearheaded the organisation of the billboard campaign with the help of the Missing Persons Advocacy Network, said the family was trying to have the reward for information that leads to the case being solved increased to $1 million – up from $100,000, where it has sat since early 1995.
Ms Talevski described the feeling of not knowing what happened to her niece as “an ambiguous loss, you waver between grief and hope – there’s no in between”.
“Nothing really active has happened for such a long time,” she said.
“Newcastle is a small place. We just want to get the word out there, she’s still missing, if somebody knows anything, no matter how small or insignificant they might think it may be, to go to Crime Stoppers.”
It’s been about 15 years since a Coronial inquest found Gordana was likely murdered by an unknown person.
The teenager’s family was critical of the police investigation in the years after her disappearance, alleging leads were not followed in the weeks after Gordana was kidnapped. It prompted a public apology from the then NSW Police Commissioner Peter Ryan in 1998.
Her parents told investigators at the time Gordana had expressed concern about a man who was following her – who her mother referred to as “The Spook”.
At another point in the investigation, police were considering whether the teenager had fallen victim to a serial killer or killers along with nine other young people who had gone missing in the Hunter between the late 1970s and early 1990s.
Detective Inspector George Radmore, who now heads the northern NSW anti-bikie squad Strike Force Raptor North, was an investigator in the homicide unit that looked at the case for three years from 1998, then as part of the unsolved homicide squad in 2009-10.
Inspector Radmore told the Newcastle Herald on Wednesday persons of interest were identified, but it “didn’t reach the level of being firm suspects”.
He described the case as “tragic” and said he believed it was a random attack by people who were probably unknown to the 16-year-old.
“There was literally, I would suggest, thousands of pieces of information that came in specifically about Gordana’s – we’ll certainly call it a murder because that’s what it is – abduction and murder around that time and over the ensuing years,” he said.
“The really frustrating part for the investigators that have worked on it, and the tragic part for Gordana’s family, has been that people actually witnessed this take place. We’ve had, probably, good quality evidence back to 1994.
“People heard her screams, saw the car take off afterwards, were able to describe the car and able to provide images of the occupants of the car from their descriptions.
“We were certainly a lot further advanced in that investigation than many other investigations that have been solved so it is extremely frustrating to every investigator that worked on it.
“There’s not anyone I know who worked on those cases over all those years who would not want to find who did it and convict them.”
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