On the back of Norma Brown’s bedroom door hangs a beautiful maroon velvet jacket, adorned with diamanté buttons. As she tenderly gathers it in her hands and strokes the fabric, the retired widow can’t believe it’s been 25 years this month since her beloved daughter Paula last wore it, while on a girls’ night out in Sydney, Australia.
The jacket came home that night, but Paula didn’t. The young hairdresser disappeared from the city’s bustling Oxford Street on May 4, 1996, after becoming separated from her friends.
Paula’s battered body was found eight days later. She was killed with two blows to the head and dumped in bushland south of the central city, in a murder that has remained unsolved.
“The hardest thing for us is not having that closure or sense of justice being served,” says Norma, 75, sitting alongside her son and Paula’s younger brother Daryl, 52.
“It feels like unfinished business,” he agrees. “Somebody out there knows what really happened to her.”
Revisiting those first nightmarish days – after getting the call in Auckland telling them that 30-year-old Paula was missing – the duo have their theories over what occurred that fateful night when her drink was proven to have been spiked.
“Paula ran her own hair salon and one of her staff was leaving to have a baby, so after work on the Friday, they all went out to celebrate at a restaurant,” tells Norma. “They loved dancing, so they went to a nightclub up on the main road. Paula had taken her velvet coat off and hung it on her chair, then went downstairs to the ladies’ toilets. Unbeknown to her friends, there was a door from the toilet that went into another bar, which Paula had gone through.
“I think she had every intention to go back upstairs as she wouldn’t have left her jacket behind. Her friends went down to the toilets, couldn’t see her anywhere and assumed she had gone to catch the last ferry home to Manly, where she lived with her fiancé David. Her friend picked up her jacket and took it home.
“The next morning, David rang her friends, asking, “Did Paula end up staying at your place?” They said, “No, we thought she got the last boat home.” But David had waited at the ferry terminal until after the last boat. Paula wasn’t on it. That’s when he rang the police and called us in New Zealand.”
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