The major Samantha Murphy questions that still remain unanswered - as search for her body reaches heartbreaking milestone

Samantha Murphy disappeared on February 4 Leading criminologist gives her insight READ MORE: Fresh update in four month search for missing Ballarat mum

It has been 131 days since mother-of-three Samantha Murphy went missing and her family are no closer to knowing where her body may be.

The 51-year-old left her home in Ballarat East, northwest of Melbourne, on February 4 for her usual morning run but never returned.

Her disappearance made headlines around the country, sparked countless police and community-led searches and left her husband Mick and their three children devastated.

In early March, Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, was charged with her alleged murder.

Stephenson is the son of former AFL Richmond and Geelong AFL player, Orren Stephenson, and is not known to the Murphy family.

The mysterious disappearance of Samantha Murphy (pictured) has touched the hearts of Australians and leaves many unanswered questions

The mysterious disappearance of Samantha Murphy (pictured) has touched the hearts of Australians and leaves many unanswered questions

Criminologist Dr Xanthé Mallett (pictured) believes the disappearance of Ms Murphy has resonated so much because it could have been one of us

Criminologist Dr Xanthé Mallett (pictured) believes the disappearance of Ms Murphy has resonated so much because it could have been one of us

Melbourne-based lawyer Paul Galbally from Galbally & O’Bryan, one of Australia's top criminal lawyers, has reportedly been hired by Stephenson to head his defence case.

In a significant development, Ms Murphy's phone and 'items of interest' were found on May 29 by a private dam near Slaughterhouse Road, south of Buninyong.

The dam sits about 15km from Ballarat East where Ms Murphy took off on her last run.

Then, on Wednesday police concluded a two-day targeted search into Ms Murphy's disappearance, be

Dr Xanthé Mallett, a Forensic Criminologist at the University of Newcastle, said the case has resonated with so many Australians for one simple reason.

'My first thought when I saw that Samantha had vanished, was that could be any one of us doing very normal things, going about their life and yet she's been allegedly the victim of a violent crime,' she said.

'So many women could imagine being her, they could sympathise.'

She gave her valuable insight to Daily Mail Australia into the unanswered questions surrounding Ms Murphy's alleged murder.

Why hasn't Ms Murphy's body been found?

Dr Mallett said it was always going to be a challenge recovering Ms Murphy's body due to the type of landscape where she was last seen.

'It is very open, there's no CCTV or other forms of surveillance that could have helped the police,' she said.

'There aren't many people around, so it was always going to be a challenge when there are such large areas that could potentially be of forensic interest to the police.'

She added it would be a different case in an urban area: 'It's difficult to disappear in a city, given you have lots of witnesses, you have CCTV on buildings, you have dashcams, you have all of this different technological information as well as eyewitnesses to help build that picture. But none of that was available in this case.'

The hunt for clues in the Samantha Murphy case continues

Samantha Murphy still has not been found, despite a massive search effort involving police, SES and countless volunteers (pictured)

Samantha Murphy still has not been found, despite a massive search effort involving police, SES and countless volunteers (pictured)

Why do some accused people not share any information they may have?

Dr Mallett said, as in any case, 'people have the right to remain silent and not provide information to police they believe may incriminate them, or they may genuinely not know anything'.

'Somebody can be alleged to have committed a crime, but until that's been through the courts, and they've been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, there's always the possibility that they may not actually be able to disclose the information that the police are seeking,' she said.

Dr Mallett explained in the Samantha Murphy case: 'We're a very long way from a court process having been concluded yet.'

In a major development, Ms Murphy's phone and 'items of interest' were found on May 29 by a private dam near Slaughterhouse Road, south of Buninyong

In a major development, Ms Murphy's phone and 'items of interest' were found on May 29 by a private dam near Slaughterhouse Road, south of Buninyong

Police have been forced to scour rugged terrain in the search for Ms Murphy's body

Police have been forced to scour rugged terrain in the search for Ms Murphy's body

Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, (above) has been charged with murder over the disappearance of Ballarat mum Samantha Murphy

Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, (above) has been charged with murder over the disappearance of Ballarat mum Samantha Murphy

What would Ms Murphy's family be going through?

Dr Mallett said she has worked on many missing persons cases and others where it is believed the victim is deceased and the body has not been found.

'I've worked with many families over the years, and the worst thing they always say is the not knowing.

'It's what we would class as ambiguous loss, and in essence, there's always the hope that because no remains have been found, one day, that person will walk through the door.'

Dr Mallett added it was 'impossible to give up on that hope for most people, until there's a final, albeit devastating conclusion and remains are found.'

Her disappearance made headlines around the country, sparked countless police and community-led searches and left her husband Mick (pictured) and their three children devastated

Her disappearance made headlines around the country, sparked countless police and community-led searches and left her husband Mick (pictured) and their three children devastated

She said in this case it is believed Ms Murphy is deceased, 'but ultimately, the family will not give up hope until they know'.

'My heart goes out to them, because until they have answers, they have no way of beginning to move forward and process what has happened.'

In her experience dealing with families of those who have gone missing, and been subject to violent crime or murdered, Dr Mallett said they never use the word closure.

'Closure is not something that families ever get.

'They may get answers, they may begin to move forward. They may start to accept a new reality that that person is not coming home, but they will never speak to having closure.

'They know that they will never achieve closure, that pain will be ongoing.'

She said she can only recall one case when a family member of a missing person said, stop looking, they're deceased.

'That struck me as very unusual,' Dr Mallett said.

Read More

The single clue that could crack the Samantha Murphy case wide open

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What information could Ms Murphy's phone reveal?

When news broke Ms Murphy's phone was recovered, Dr Mallett said she initially believed police wouldn't be able to retrieve any information, as it was assumed it had been underwater in mud for four months.

'Then it transpired that the phone is in almost perfect working order, which was a total surprise to me, and so I would say that that geolocation data would be the first thing that the police would look to.'

She said to track the movements of the phone does not necessarily indicate it was with Ms Murphy, but it does give police more geolocation points to help understand at least where the phone was.

Dr Mallett said in similar cases police also investigate all contacts who had been phoning or texting and websites that had been viewed, to build a picture.

'Obviously, there may be some limitations… was the phone on at the time? Did it have battery life? These things will limit what the police can get from that phone.'

How would police be building their case?

Dr Mallett said it is a very detailed investigation, and the police were obviously searching for Ms Murphy's body.

'Not only for the family's benefit, although they do desperately need to know where she is, they need to return to them, but that Samantha's body will also be a primary source of information for them, and so they will very much need that for the investigation.'

She said cases can proceed on a no body basis, so police would be looking to all of the movements of the accused and people they may have spoken with.

She also noted that the recovery of the phone might have prompted new witnesses to come forward.

'So they will be building that full picture from the time that Samantha vanished to obviously to the arrest, and looking at all of the details around that to determine who did what, when, who was in contact with whom and who shared what information.'

Dr Mallett said the police will no doubt ensure everything is being done correctly because it was such a high-profile case.

'Everybody is going to be watching this case, because I think it resonates, because she was such a normal woman.

'We've seen so much violence against women recently. And this is just another occasion where a woman can't go about her normal activity safely, and that is something we desperately need to address, not just safety in the home, but safety in public.'

The investigation into Ms Murphy's disappearance continues.

Anyone with information has been urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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