Jayden Penno-Tompsett disappearance: ‘It’s the not knowing that’s most troubling’

‘It’s the not knowing that’s most troubling’ UNRAVELLING A MYSTERY: (Clockwise, from left) Charters Towers as seen from Towers Hill; truck driver Dwain Potter who says hitchhiking is ‘fairly regular’ on the Flinders Highway; the Nissan Pulsar Jayden Penno-Tompsett was driving before he vanished; the Puma roadhouse on the Flinders Highway; Lucas Tattersall who has cooperated with a police investigation; and missing Newcastle man Jayden Penno-Tompsett who has not been seen since New Year’s Eve.
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Charters Towers, a town of about 8000, is in the midst of a mystery: where is Jayden Penno-Tompsett. Picture: Brodie Owen

A dusty and dry Stockroute Road where police were told Jayden Penno-Tompsett stormed off from the car. Picture: Brodie Owen

A missing persons sign greets anyone who walks into the Puma roadhouse, where Jayden Penno-Tompsett was on the day of his disappearance. Picture: Brodie Owen

Charters Towers, in Far North Queensland, as seen from Towers Hill. Picture: Brodie Owen

Towers Hill is littered with uncovered mine shafts. The area was the first location emergency services searched for Jayden Penno-Tompsett. Picture: Brodie Owen

Charters Towers’ main street, Gill Street. Picture: Brodie Owen

Stockroute Road resident Doug Miller said authorities looked ‘all over’ for Jayden Penno-Tompsett. Picture: Brodie Owen

This is Katter country. A Bob Katter advertisement greets anyone who enters Titley Road. It is possible Jayden Penno-Tompsett and his travelling companion turned down Titley Road before turning onto Stockroute Drive. Picture: Brodie Owen

Charters Towers’ officer-in-charge Graham Lohmann. Picture: Brodie Owen

Stockroute Road cuts through various cattle farms. Picture: Brodie Owen

Truckie Dwain Potter says hitchhiking is ‘fairly regular’ at the roadhouses. He drives a road train between Charters Towers and Mount Isa three times a week. Picture: Brodie Owen

The Puma roadhouse on the Flinders Highway, where Jayden Penno-Tompsett visited in the moments before his disapperence. Picture: Brodie Owen

TweetFacebookNewcastle Herald), but they believe – while not being certain – that the general area matches the description given by Mr Tattersall, who police confirmed sought assistance from a number of property owners in the area.

Helicopters were called in to scoura five-kilometre area while crews on the ground door-knocked properties.

One of the choppers was piloted by a cattle grazier with extensive local knowledge.

Not a trace.

Stockroute Road resident Doug Miller, a retired farmer, said authorities looked “all over”.

Stockroute Road resident Doug Miller said authorities looked ‘all over’ for Jayden Penno-Tompsett. Picture: Brodie Owen

It was a lot of action for a part of town where cicadas usually make the most racket.

“I’ve been trying to figure this whole thing out,” Mr Miller said, adding that he’d never “seen or heard” anything like Mr Penno-Tompsett’s disappearance in the 40 years he has lived in the area.

“You just think of the family, as anyone would, and what they must be going through.”

It’s a similar story across town. Diana Lynch, who works in the local gift shop, said the case “feels odd”.

“As a mother, if it was my kid, I’d be beside myself,” she said, adding:“Closure is such a stupid word, but that’s what you want for the family.This family needs answers. To not know would be awful.”

At the roadhouse, a missing person poster greets everyone who walks in. People stop to read it.

And those who have followed the news talk between themselves about the missing man from Newcastle – “Is that near Sydney?”.

“People do go walkabout here,” said a man who only gave his name as Tom.

The Puma roadhouse on the Flinders Highway, where Jayden Penno-Tompsett visited in the moments before his disapperence. Picture: Brodie Owen

“Some of them don’t want to be found, but what the whitefellas don’t understand is the climate here. It’s not like what you get down south. Very, very different to where you’re from. You can’t be walking around out there.”

Trudy Brown, the managing editor of the town’s local paper,the Northern Miner, agreed: “It’s a part of the world where you could go off the grid.

“This is a mystery. They [the town] want to know the answer to the mystery.”

The temperature pushed into the high-30s during the days after Mr Penno-Tompsett’s disappearance.

It has cooled this week but remainshot and dry. Very dry. Hasn’t rained in a long time. In Townsville, the water level in the main dam is just 15 per cent. But the Burdekin River is still flowing, and police believe if Mr Penno-Tompsett needed water he would have found it there.

If he needed help, police said, it was likely he would have also found a door to knock on.

The Stockroute Drive area is expansive, but it is still dotted with homes, which leads detectives to another theory to explain Mr Penno-Tompsett’s disappearance – that he is safe and well, possibly even unaware that people are looking for him.

Truckie Dwain Potter says hitchhiking is ‘fairly regular’ at the roadhouses. He drives a road train between Charters Towers and Mount Isa three times a week. Picture: Brodie Owen

Hitchhiking in these parts is not unusual. Some hitchhikers are backpackers, others are jackaroos or roustabouts, locals said.

Dwain Potter, who clocks up nearly 5000 kilometres per week in his road train travelling between Charters Towers and Mount Isa, said hitchhiking was “fairly regular” at roadhouses on the Flinders Highway. He alludes to the long stretch of bitumen’s infamous history before stepping back into his big rig: “It’s called the highway of death, you know. A lot of people went missing along here in the ’70s and ’80s … but that was a long time ago.”

Older locals are well aware of the murder of Robin Jeanne Hoinville-Bartram, 18, and the haunting disappearance of Anita Cunningham, 19. They also reference the disappearance of Tony Jones in 1982.

Still unsolved, they say.

But Charters Towersis noWolf Creek, they laugh.

Charters Towers’ officer-in-charge Graham Lohmann. Picture: Brodie Owen

The town’s officer-in-charge, Senior Sergeant Graham Lohmann, said police were “not closed to any possibility”, stressing that Mr Penno-Tompsett’s disappearance was still a missing person investigation.

Senior Sergeant Lohmann said police were pleased with their main witness, his travelling partner Mr Tattersall, and can substantiate the majority of his statements.

Mr Tattersall has hit back at social mediacriticism with a Facebook post that reads, in part: “He is my mate and I’m hurt too please stop making out I’m just some heartless prick that left him out there to die.”

Senior Sergeant Lohmannalso said while Mr Penno-Tompsett had recently battled mental health issues – sparked in part by the sudden death of two close friends – at this stage “there is nothing to suggest” his state of mind was dangerously unstable.

“It is certainly an unusual disappearance,” the officer said. “But the community are very keen to help out. Everyone wants to find Jayden safe and well. That is our only concern, finding Jayden.”

For Mr Tompsett, the return of his son would mean “the world”.

“Hope is still the big word that I’m using,” he said.

“I just want to know where my son is.”

Missing Newcastle man Jayden Penno-Tompsett.