The mysterious case of Warren Meyer, and the failure to learn from it
Take for instance reports of semi-automatic gunfire, heard in the area on the morning he went missing.
Warren Meyer's widow, Zee, believes she and his two children were failed by Victoria Police. Photo: Simon Schluter SMSOr the large marijuana crop tucked away in the bush that was uncovered during the search for him.
Then there's the escaped involuntary psychiatric patient with homicidal ideations, who was found roaming near the track where Mr Meyer had been walking.
Warren Meyer was an experienced hiker whose disappearance remains a mystery 10 years on. Photo: Simon Schluter SMSAnd the purported sighting of Mr Meyer in Italy, days after he was reported missing.
But Mr Meyer's widow Zee and his two children are not as troubled by these peculiarities as they are by what they consider a simpler and undeniable truth: they were failed by Victoria Police, and then the Coroner, and these failings compounded their grief.
Advertisement"What the family have been put through is inhumane," Ms Meyer said..
Mr Meyer's body was never found. Ms Meyer, and their adult children, Renee and Julien, think it probably never will be.
Coroner John Olle released his finding into Mr Meyer's death late last year. Photo: John WoudstraMr Meyer, 57, left for his walk in fine conditions on the morning of March 23, 2008.
The exact track he took remains a matter of some conjecture, but both hikes were simple, and should have been completed in about four hours.
Mr Meyer had arranged to meet Ms Meyer and some friends for lunch. He failed to show, and his car was found parked in the Dom Dom Saddle car park later that afternoon.
Mr Meyer ran a successful civil engineering consultancy business in Elwood, and had been planning for retirement.
If he had not gone hiking, he would be enjoying that retirement now, and spending time with the two grandchildren who have arrived in the years since he vanished.
Instead, his own parents died not knowing what happened to their only son.
Late last year, Coroner John Olle released his findings into Mr Meyer's death.
It had been a long time coming; the family had been requesting an inquest since 2010, after discovering police had not submitted a brief as promised almost two years earlier. The first coroner's court hearing was held in March 2013.
"We had great faith in the coronial process," Ms Meyer said.
From the point of that first hearing, that faith gradually eroded, she said.
There appeared little effort from the court to update the family about its progress.
Eventually, she agreed that rather than an inquest, findings could be delivered in chambers. She says this decision was based on the inordinate length of time she had already had to endure as the case was reinvestigated.
Ms Meyer hoped that the serious questions the family had about how police handle missing persons cases would still be addressed.
If there was any good to come from Mr Meyer's disappearance, it would be shining a light on this torturous process, and exploring ways to change it.
Among their concerns were the lack of a singular point of contact within the force, the risk assessment used by police to classify missing persons, the ad-hoc way such cases were investigated, and the procedural impracticalities of having a loved one go missing, which police seemed ill-equipped to help families navigate.
On December 15, Mr Olle's findings were handed down.
The front page of his findings states that the date of death is "unidentified", the cause of death "unascertained", and the place of death "unknown". None of this surprised the Meyers.
But, beyond this front page, it became clear that Ms Meyer's hopes that some good could come from their trauma were dashed.
Aside from there being no recommendations for police, or indeed even a detailed analysis about their response, there appeared to be several elements of the case which had been brushed over, the Meyers felt.
Mr Olle spent more time investigating clear "red herrings", such as the supposed Italy sighting, and the fantastical confession of a Beechworth prison inmate who claimed Mr Meyer had been killed in cross-fire between rival drug dealers and was buried, rather than the reputable reports of landowners about gunfire the morning Mr Meyer went hiking.
That could have been deer hunters, or simply shooters skylarking, the family believed.
The psychiatric patient was also ruled out as being involved in Mr Meyer's death, after Mr Olle made an error about the timeline when the two men crossed paths, the family believe.
"I find that there is no evidence to suggest the involvement of any other person in his suspected death," Mr Olle found.
"This investigation highlighted the incredibly difficult situation when a missing persons matter is reported to the coroner, but is unable to be resolved.
"Ms Meyer has at times been publicly critical of the investigation. I acknowledge her distress, but highlight that this was a remarkable case in which many numerous issues as raised on behalf of the family have been inquired into with significant time and resources."
The Meyer family are considering how to press its concerns over the handling of the case, but believe that there have been several breaches of the Coroners Act, including acknowledging the stress of families, the impact of protracted investigations, the need to keep families informed, and the need to promote a fair and efficient coronial system.
Attorney-General Martin Pakula confirmed he was considering a report from the Coronial Council Appeals Review that he received late last year regarding possible changes to the Coroners Act that could make it easier for an investigation to be reopened.
In 2014, Victoria Police made a number of improvements to its missing persons strategy in the region where Mr Meyer went missing, a spokeswoman said, but would not comment on why these changes were implemented, and whether other regions across the state had similar strategies.