This boy was murdered. Does anyone care?
This boy was snatched off our streets 16 years ago. His body has been found but his killer hasn’t. Somebody knows something.
The 11-year-old was abducted on the morning of October 14, 1997 while holidaying in the Western Australian town of Rockingham, 50km south of Perth. His body was found in a nearby pine plantation two weeks later.
No one has been charged. There’s been no inquest. And police aren’t saying whether the cold case will be reviewed.
His grief-stricken family — who lived in Newman in the Pilbara region at the time, where father Stuart worked in the mining industry — don’t even have a death certificate.
After Gerard’s death they moved to Queensland before returning home to Scotland and expanded their family.
October marks 16 years since the schoolboy was stolen from the seaside town and as more time slips by, it looks less likely justice will ever be done.
Somebody knows what happened to Gerard, who was abducted in broad daylight while heading to a nearby comic shop with his older brother Malcolm.
Reports from the time say the brothers had been playing noisily in the house so their 35-year-old mother Cyrese — who was then pregnant with twins — sent them down Kent Street to the shops in Churchill Park.
The pair set off together about 9.30am and 13-year-old Malcolm sped ahead, along the foreshore, on his rollerblades.
When Gerard, who was on foot, didn’t arrive at the store Malcolm returned home and alerted his parents. Gerard had been grabbed within 800m of the holiday home.
Police launched a large-scale search. The Ross family clung to hope that their son was still alive.
Mrs Ross made an emotional television plea “Gerard, if you can see this — just know that we love you and don’t lose hope”. But two weeks later his fully-clothed body was found less than 20km away in Karnup, south of Perth. The money was still in his back pocket.
Detectives said Gerard had suffered a senseless “brutal death” and that his body appeared to have been hurriedly dumped.
They initially suspected sexual interference but later said there was no evidence of it. Still, the cause of death was so horrific that it was kept from most of the taskforce. Gerard’s parents were deliberately kept in the dark.
A coroner permitted Gerard’s body be released from the mortuary and he was buried at the Newman cemetery.
The Gerard Ross Memorial Gardens were established outside the Rockingham police station — a constant reminder of justice not served.
The hunt for his killer continued. Detectives at the centre of the case put their heart and soul into solving it.
They thought the boy was taken somewhere between being kidnapped and dumped, and hoped dog hairs found on his clothing would reveal where and by whom.
The Ross family didn’t have a dog and there weren’t any at the holiday home where they were staying.
Forensic experts in Adelaide examined evidence, as did the FBI a few years later.
Police scoured every house for streets either side of where Gerard was last seen. If homeowner’s refused to have their house searched, police got a warrant.
The initial investigation identified two persons of interest. Detectives felt so strongly about these men that it divided the taskforce.
One person of interest was written off early but came under renewed scrutiny when new information came to light. News.com.au does not know the nature of that information.
Police were ready to charge one local man after blood traces were found in his car and had been washed off a wall in a room at his home where he kept model aeroplanes. But the cleaning agent used prevented DNA from being extracted. Blood traces were also found at the suspect’s parent’s house.
The Director of Public Prosecutions wasn’t satisfied there was enough proof to proceed with charges.
Detectives re-examined their suspect “with fine tooth comb multiple times” but couldn’t find that extra skerrick of evidence they needed to get the DPP across the line.
The case was complicated by the fact that there’d been a murder at the house previously, even though it had occurred on the grass outside.
Police also made mistakes. DNA at that time was still a reasonably new investigative tool and samples were contaminated.
The public offered other observations.
An old TV news report mentions an altercation between two people in the street Gerard disappeared from, on the morning he vanished. They were driving a faded brown or maroon station wagon.
At the time Detective Sergeant Mike Miller said there had been reports, in the prior couple of years, of kids being stopped and attempts being made to get them into cars.
News.com.au is aware of another person of interest who, despite being in the area and having no alibi for the Tuesday morning Gerard disappeared, has been overlooked.
The man, who is now 49, came to be a suspect after an anonymous tip off to police.
He was from Newman and his children went to the same school as Gerard and Malcolm Ross. He also happened to be in Rockingham at the time of Gerard’s disappearance.
Police interviewed the man twice. Each time he gave slightly different stories about his whereabouts on the morning of October 14. He initially said he was at his psychologist’s office but the psychologist disputed this. He was vague during his second police interview but conceded that he had lied about being with the psychologist. In the end he told police he did not recall his movements that day.
Months later he moved to the US and in 2002 he moved to Queensland.
Police have told the Ross family he is not Gerard’s killer.
The Ross family have largely maintained their silence but last year, on the 15th anniversary of their son’s disappearance, issued a fresh plea for information.
“It’s 15 years ago today since we last saw Gerard. We miss his love, his humour and feel an overwhelming loss of his presence within our family. On behalf of Gerard and our whole family we would like to put out an appeal to anyone who knows the person or person involved with Gerard’s abduction and murder to please come forward and give this information to the police,” they said in a statement published in the Herald Scotland.
In November 1998, they published a book written and illustrated by Gerard, called Sock of the Year.
Western Australia Police have maintained contact with the Ross family who now live in Fife and seem, even after all these years, to still have blind faith in the force.
But WA Police have repeatedly refused to comment other than to say the investigation remains active and ongoing.
“Inspector Prins highlighted the delicate nature of these investigations and the distress caused to the family. That, in itself, should explain why we will not publicise when a review is taking place unless there was some operational reason to do so,” a police spokesman told news.com.au.
“I’m sorry if you can’t see the point that Inspector Prins is making when he talks about the sensitivities of the family and not wanting to make public when, or if, a review is taking place.
“There will be no further comment from WA Police on the matter”.
It is understood that Operation Shoalwater (the investigation into Gerard’s abduction/murder) is still a high priority case for the major crime squad.
It is also understood a full review, which would take about eight months and much resources, is imminent if not already underway with the squad recently assigning a new case manager. He’s been described as an “experienced and ferocious” detective.
Any review is expected to focus on entomology — the study of insects — and the dog hairs. Experts say the dog hairs could have been transferred from the killer’s clothing, even if their dog wasn’t with them at the time.
In June, WA Department of the Attorney General spokeswoman told news.com.au Gerard’s death was “finalised administratively”.
“An administrative finding is made in cases where the Coroner does not hold an inquest. The Coroner reviews the information provided as a result of the post mortem and the police investigation and drafts and records a finding on the basis of that information.”
The parents of Daniel Morcombe, who was murdered in 2003, have taken a strong interested in Gerard’s case.
Bruce Morcombe says there were striking similarities between Daniel and Gerard’s abduction.
“A number of people have said there’s quite a similarity in appearance between Gerard and Daniel. They were both brazen daytime abductions,” he said.
The Morcombes, who established the Daniel Morcombe Foundation after their son’s abduction, reached out to the Ross family earlier this year.
“It’s very similar to us meeting the McCanns (parents of missing British girl Madeleine). We’re just exploring some of the parallels in life and our journey. This case was on the other side of Australia but was still very much close to home,” Mr Morcombe said.
“I don’t want to upset the family (by speaking out) but have we still got an abducting murderer wandering around?
“I have a hunger to find out what happened to Daniel but it doesn’t stop there. I have a hunger that these heinous crimes are absolutely followed through to the nth degree and somebody is held accountable.”
The Sunshine Coast couple, who are currently visiting schools around the country as part of a national child safety road trip, want to see a national body established to review cases that state police can’t solve.
“Certainly in Gerard’s case if there was another police service that was able to assist or review, with qualified specialists, I think that’d be a good thing,” Mr Morcombe said.
“I think it’s time for a review in the public arena by a coroner. As we all know, that was a game-breaker in Daniel’s case. It resulted in further inquiries, charges being laid and Daniel’s remains being found.
“We have at our disposal a system that has additional powers to police. Why not use them in a positive way and leave no stone unturned? We owe it to Gerard.”
A $100,000 reward for information about Gerard’s murder, announced in 1998, is still available. Somebody knows something!