12-year-old Rhianna Barreau lived at home with her brother and mother in a 3-bedroom home at number 47, wakefield avenue. she attended the local Reynella south primary school and had a close group of friends.
Wakefield avenue was a quiet cul-de-sac, with only one direction, south, as the exit onto other roads. Large gum trees line the streets and an open park sat opposite number 47.
October 7, 1992, was a Wednesday in the week following the October 5 labor day long weekend. it was term three school holidays and Rhianna was enjoying her time off, spending time at home. it was almost the middle of spring, heading into summer.
On the morning of October 7, her mother, Paula Barreau, getting ready to leave for work, entered Rhianna’s bedroom where she found her listening to ‘love shack’ by the b52’s, which reportedly was one of Rhianna’s favourite songs.
Earlier that morning, Ms Barreau heard on the radio that there was going to be a snap bus strike. the pair had planned to meet at Collanades shopping centre but due to the bus strike, there’d be no way for Rhianna to get to the shopping centre other than walking the hour-long walk along main roads.
Rhianna, who wanted to purchase a Christmas card for her overseas pen-pal, needed to go to a news agency. so, rather than walking to Collanades, the pair decided it would be better if Rhianna made the approximate 20-minute walk to the local Reynella shopping centre instead.
Paula Barreau left the house at approximately 8.30am to drive to TAFE, a type of technical college, which was about a 10-minute drive from the family’s home. her brother was away at the time and therefore, Rhianna was home alone, which was not unusual at the time.
Approximately two hours later, at about 10.30 am, Rhianna, left her home on 47 wakefield ave and walked approximately 1.2kilometres to Reynella shopping centre, now called Southgate square. it’s there she purchased a Christmas card at 11.19 am for her pen-pal.
To return home, Rhianna could have walked via acre road and onto Highwray drive. or via sheriffs road and used Morphetvale High School and Stanvac Primary School to cut her walk time by a few minutes.
Sheriffs road, which borders the suburb of Morphetvale in the north, is a main arterial road that runs east-to-west linking old Reynella and Woodcroft in the east to Lonsdale, the industrial area, in the west.
Due to confirmed sightings, we can theorise she walked approximately 650m west via Sheriffs road, then made her way south using Morphett Vale High School and Stanvac Primary School grounds ending up on Highwray drive.
Between 12.05 and 12.30pm, there were confirmed sightings of Rhianna crossing the school grounds carrying a small bag, presumably containing the Christmas card she had purchased from the newsagency.
After the 12.30pm sighting of Rhianna on Highwray drive, she was never seen alive again.
Rihanna’s mum Paula arrived home at approximately 4.10pm to find the door locked, the television on and a vinyl record on the living room floor. crucially, she’d found an unopened Christmas card on the dining room table. thinking Rhianna was home, Paula looked for her in the house. but she was nowhere to be found.
worried, she’d called Rhianna’s friends and knocked on neighbours’ doors and by 6pm, she’d filed a missing person’s report with the police.
Rihanna’s description at the time she went missing is as follows:
158cm (5ft2), 44kg, slim build, hazel eyes, a fair complexion, light brown to blonde hair below shoulder length. she was wearing purple shorts and a green t-shirt with the words ‘hypercolour’ across the front – a common style of clothing for the late 80’s and early 90’s. she had white socks and white lynx sneakers with bright pink tongues.
After initial investigations by police, they had found no signs of breaking and entering. there were no signs of a struggle and no personal items of Rhianna’s were missing except for her house keys and a golden heart-shaped locket she is thought to have been wearing.
By all accounts, the house is to have appeared as though it was left in an orderly manner. there were no fingerprints, there was no blood. not a single piece of physical evidence.
Upon canvassing the neighbourhood the police also discovered there was an absence of any neighbourhood disturbance.
No screams, no shouting, no tyres screeching. there was no evidence on the footpath, on the road, in the park. nothing. there were searches of rubbish dumps and bushland around the Onkaparinga Reserve.
One-tip off to the police claimed she was being held hostage in an apartment block on ANZAC highway in Kurralta park. After a police raid, they found no sign of her.
The fact is, people don’t simply vanish into thin air and, as one of my favourite true crime podcasts puts it simply, someone, knows something.
Stranger abductions are rare
According to the National Missing Persons Centre, a very small percentage of missing persons cases in Australia are stranger abductions. Young people (those under the age of 18) go missing for a number of reasons including family and social conflict, wanting to become independent, being the victim of crime, forgetting to communicate, mental health problems, drugs/alcohol abuse as well as escaping from other abuse and neglect.
Most young people who are reported missing disappear for short periods of time before either being located or returning home. unfortunately in this particular case, no trace of Rhianna has ever been found.
Although cases like the Beaumont children, who disappeared from Glenelg on Australia day in 1966 as well as Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon, who disappeared from the Adelaide oval in 1973 were most likely at the forefront of people’s minds in 1992, the fact is, both stranger abductions and homicides are rare.
According to data published by the Australian Institute of Criminology, there were 30 homicides in South Australia between 1992-1993. Australia-wide there were a total of 313 incidents of homicide.
104 of them were domestic incidents and 125 of those were by an acquaintance. Just 29 out of 313 were classified as homicides committed by a stranger. 55 incidents are not classified.
If the police were called to homicide, they were much more likely to be looking for a perpetrator known to the victim either by family, friend or acquaintance.
In Rhianna Barreau’s case, the fact there was no disturbance at the home suggests a few things. the strongest theory, according to police as well as her mum when interviewed in 2015, is that she was most likely lured outside her house by someone she knew. the other theory which is not supported by any evidence is that she left the house of her own accord and was snatched at another location.
The reason the second theory doesn’t really stand up is the fact no one heard or saw anything.
After the 12.30pm sighting of Rhianna, we know she made it home due to the fact the Christmas card she had purchased from the shops was on the dining table.
By 4.10 pm, Rhianna’s mum had made it home from TAFE. therefore, in the 220 unaccounted-for minutes, Rhianna had disappeared. There are a few things that most likely helped police to narrow down their theories.
The first thing is that it was the school holidays. students who attended the two local schools and other schools around the Morphettvale area, were more than likely home between 12.30 and 4.10pm.
Wednesday, October 7 was also a relatively pleasant day temperature-wise. the day peaked around 23.7 degrees Celcius, meaning, kids were likely playing in their back yards, and front yards, walking to the local deli, and shopping centre and visiting their friends’ houses.
The fact that no one heard or saw anything suggests she most likely disappeared from her home, rather than at another location. however, if you search discussion forums and trawl through threads regarding Rhianna’s disappearance, you’ll find there’s some confusion regarding Rhianna’s last confirmed sighting.
If you view the map once more, police investigated reports placing her at the junction of acre avenue and David tce around 4pm. According to police they spent a lot of time establishing whether it was Rhianna.
Ultimately though, they came to the conclusion that the reports were most likely unassociated with her, which is why crime stoppers and media reports put her last confirmed sighting at approximately 12.30pm.
The most likely reason they ruled out those reports is the distance from her home at 47 wakefield avenue and the very public location. Looking at the map, I’ve dotted the two routes she’d most likely take if she in-fact walked to the junction of acre avenue and David tce.
Firstly, she’d have to walk approximately 600 or so metres and pass 20-30 houses, all with either no fencing in their front yards or very low fences. most residential building codes in south Australia require functional spaces like living rooms to have windows that look onto the street. therefore, if one was sitting on the couch or in the dining room between the hours of 12.30 and 4.00 and the curtains were open, you’d be able to notice someone walking past.
Furthermore, Acre avenue is the main thoroughfare that connects sheriffs road in the north and O’Sullivan’s beach road in the south. and, most smaller roads in the suburb connect to acre avenue, meaning there would have been or at least should’ve been cars travelling north-south.
The fact that not a single person saw her walking along wakefield avenue or any of the other roads leading to acre avenue suggests the reports placing her on the corner of David and acre were most likely not of Rhianna.
Update to Rhianna’s case
In June of this year, I contacted the South Australian Police for an update on the case however, they refused to comment and suggested getting back in touch in early October – which would be 30 years since Rhianna Barreau disappeared.
So, in absence of official comment regarding the cold case, let’s examine the facts of what is known at this stage.
When speaking to the Advertiser in 2010, Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Kinsman, from the Major Crime Investigation Branch, said Rhianna’s missing person case would remain open until someone was convicted of her abduction and murder.
Furthermore, the lack of a body does not prevent people from being charged with murder. According to Streeton Lawyers, in a published article regarding the now infamous Teachers Pet podcast, whilst a body makes a conviction easier, the law states that, quote, a jury does not need a body to be convicted of murder, nor does the crown need to prove how the victim died or what caused the death, in order to find beyond reasonable doubt that the accused person murdered the victim.”
The prosecution, in the absence of a body, could use what is called circumstantial evidence. According to the South Australian Criminal Trials Bench Book, which is a best-practice manual, Circumstantial evidence, as its name suggests, is evidence of the circumstances surrounding the alleged offence which would require a jury to infer beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed that offence.
The bench-book further explains that a case relying substantially on circumstantial evidence can be likened to a rope and the quote, many strands which go to make it up.
“A rope has the combined strength of all of its strands. Some of the strands may be strong while some of them may be weak. When they are all twined together, they may produce a total effect and strength which is greater than the strength of any one of the strands. The weight of a case which is based [substantially] upon circumstantial evidence ultimately depends upon the combined strength of all the evidence that a jury accepts.“
At the time of Rhianna’s disappearance, police were investigating a Holden Torana with Victorian registration plates. However, that line of inquiry has since been abandoned.
In 2017, speaking to the Advertiser, Major Crime case officer Sergeant Simon May said every aspect of the file was under review. According to Crime Stoppers, there is no definitive suspect in Rhianna’s case however, police have several persons of interest they believe have information concerning her disappearance.
In another interview with the media, now retired detective Allen Arthur said;
“She didn’t have a boyfriend, would not have run away, so the more we learned of her family history I was convinced she had met a terrible fate.’’
He then goes on to say that he still believes the perpetrator lived closer to her home address than perhaps further out. And that quote, “until someone who knows what happened — and there always is someone — comes forward, then I think this will remain unresolved.’’