Austin Mackell looks at a poster of his missing uncle Kim Mackell near Blackheath, Blue Mountains

It’s a mystery that has baffled his family and police…an incident in which a man steps from a taxi to walk up the driveway to his home in the Australian Blue Mountains, but fails to go indoors. And has vanished.

Kim Mackell, a 64-year-old talented artist, has been missing since December 18 after travelling by train from Sydney to the mountain-top village of Blackheath, the closest community to his home on a sprawling bushland property, some 5km from the railway station.

The property was once owned by the late author Kylie Tennant, who wrote The Battlers, an epic work which won her international acclaim as the ‘Australian John Steinbeck’. So Kim lived on – and vanished from – a beautiful environment that inspired those with an artistic mind.

‘It’s a complete mystery,’ his nephew, Austin Mackell, 33, told me as we drove to the clifftop house where Kim has lived for many years, having purchased it with a legacy from his late mother.

It is there he has spent many happy days painting the scenes that surrounded him – one of his works, portraying a flock of flying foxes, has been hanging for a long time in a food outlet in Sydney.

‘The police, volunteers, State Emergency Services personnel and searchers in a helicopter have scoured every bit of land but there’s no sign of Kim anywhere. There were concerns he might have fallen over a cliff, but as best they can tell that didn’t happen. They just can’t find him.’

Hours after we had chatted in depth about his uncle’s disappearance, Austin spoke to three people in the town of Lithgow, 26km from Blackheath – and they all said they were convinced they had seen a man answering Kim’s description walking along the main street in the week before Christmas, the time period after he had vanished from Blackheath.

’They were 100 per cent sure it was him because there was a photo in the paper which they were able to compare the man with. They said they’d told the police about their sighting but it seems the police haven’t taken it seriously. They still seem to think he’s around the area where his property is in Blackheath.’

How could Kim, who has never married and who enjoyed his secluded lifestyle, have travelled to Lithgow? He had lost his driving licence following an accident so his van remains idle at the property and there is no sign of him having used his Opal Card to take the train from Blackheath to Lithgow.

‘The only possibility is that somebody gave him a lift, but so far no-one has come forward to say that,’ says Austin.

Kim needs medication for his bipolar condition and for a heart problem but that doesn’t explain why he should vanish literally after stepping from a taxi at around 10pm on December 18 and heading up the bushy driveway in the dark towards his home. Police have spoken to the female taxi driver who can’t help any more than telling them that she was the driver who dropped him off.

Austin Mackell outside his uncle Kim Mackell’s property near Blackheath

Here are Kim’s known movements, as described to me by Austin:

Family members picked him up on December 18 to drive him to Sydney where friends were preparing a barbecue. As they headed away from Blackheath Kim asked where they were going, because he’d been under the impression that the barbecue was being held locally.

‘It’s OK – we’re just kidnapping you,’ his niece’s husband said jokingly.

Is this a lighthearted comment that caused some kind of panic in Kim’s mind?

Kim had a cider and a beer at the Sydney barbecue gathering with Austin before the event got under way, but his nephew is convinced that Kim wasn’t affected by alcohol when he was later driven to the central railway station to travel back to Blackheath. ‘He was lucid…just normal,’ says Austin.

He had been driven to the central station in a vehicle that wasn’t familiar to him – so did that cause added confusion following on from the jokey kidnapping comment?

It’s a thought that has been among many scenarios considered by Austin.

Arriving back in Blackheath, carrying a hessian bag containing a kilo of sugar that he’d purchased earlier in the day, Kim was not able to phone for a taxi because he’d left his phone behind at the house when he’d been picked up earlier that day. So he’d walked across the road from the station to a pub and ordered a beer while the staff arranged for a taxi to pick him up.

The driveway of his house in Shipley Road was pitch black, so even if she was watching him walk away the taxi driver would have quickly lost sight of him.

Kim’s family is convinced he never entered the house because the packet of sugar was nowhere to be found and there’s a report that a man answering his description – carrying a hessian bag – had been seen in Lithgow’s main street.

Another ‘sighting’ claimed he had been seen on a main road leading out of Lithgow, but whether Kim was ever there cannot be proved at this stage.

Missing poster of Kim Mackell

Austin, along with Kim’s family and friends, has put posters up all around the Blue Mountains towns but the alleged sightings are few and far between.

‘We live each day in hope,’ says Austin. ‘We live each day hoping that he’ll just turn up and we’ll be able to sit down and listen to his adventures.’

UPDATE: Austin has now shown ‘new’ CCTV footage of an elderly man walking along the main street of Lithgow to two people who were certain they had seen Kim. When shown the footage, the couple confirmed that was the man they had seen.

‘Unfortunately, he’s not my uncle,’ says Austin. ‘The man in the footage has a beard and Kim didn’t have a beard. So it’s back to square one.’

Betty O’Pray – Still a Mystery

On 19/04/2016, in News, by admin

7241902-3x4-340x453 Six weeks have now passed since elderly Betty O’Pray vanished after setting out from her home in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales for a stroll along a bushland track. She’d been along it numerous times, a trail that would take her over a mostly hard surface, with a busy road on one side and thick undergrowth on the other.

The walk would also have taken her along a quieter suburban road with views across farmland where horses graze. Although hilly, it’s an easy route – and Betty would have had no reason to divert from it. At least no reason that we know of.

But she’s gone. Vanished. And police tell me that her disappearance is a mystery. They haven’t given up, though. Although there appears little hope of finding her alive if she did indeed stray into the bush, she has to be found for the sake of her distressed family, some of whom live in the same small community of Medlow Bath, west of Katoomba, that Betty was from.

I’m told that police are keeping an open mind into every possibility, including her making it all the way to Katoomba – some 7km from her home – and getting on a train. That’s remote, but she is reported to have suffered from mild dementia and gave one resident who met her on the path one day weeks earlier the impression that she was slightly confused.

The possibility that Betty came off the bush path and wandered into a suburban street has been considered, evidence of that being the teams of police who knocked on doors in and around Katoomba asking residents to keep their eyes open for the elderly lady. That added hundreds more eyes to the search, but her whereabouts remained a mystery.

Police are now reasonably certain that she did not come to grief in the bushland between her home and Katoomba because, as I was told, scores of searchers scoured every possible place she could be, a hunt that saw experienced personnel abseiling down cliff faces in case she had stumbled through the bush and fallen over. ‘It was a very, very, thorough search,’ I was told. It went on for three weeks, when the expected life span of staying alive without food would have expired.

A team of State Emergency Service volunteers I met on one of the tracks as a helicopter flew overhead admitted they were stumped as to how a 77-year-old lady could become so lost that no-one could find her. It is possible, of course, that she didn’t set out to walk towards Katoomba, but instead headed towards another bushland area to the north of her home – but again, that was searched thorough.

The sad reality is that today we are no closer to knowing what happened to Scots-born Betty or where she ended up. But mention her name in a hotel or a cafe in Katoomba and people will immediately ask if there has been any news. I’ve heard numerous scenarios, all kinds of guesswork, any of which could be right or wrong.

One day we might learn.