A Westbury man who reported his partner missing in 1978 has been named in the Launceston Coroners Court as a person of interest in her disappearance almost 43 years later.
John Shepherd, now in his 70s, on Thursday morning sat through a near-hour-long case management conference in front of Coroner Simon Cooper which detailed the circumstances leading up to the disappearance of his one-time lover Darlene Avis Geertsema.
Mr Cooper was told Ms Geertsema was last seen in the evening of October 23 at her newly rented flat on Best Street in Devonport.
Her 1977 Holden Sunbird was later found with her shoes in it off Victoria Parade in Devonport, near the football oval, but her body was never found and there had been no confirmed sighting of the woman since.
Mr Shepherd was flanked by his wife of more than 30 years, Marlene Shepherd, who consoled her husband as the court heard of a relationship between Mr Shepherd and Ms Geertsema categorised by family violence incidents that regularly left Ms Geertsema battered, bruised and with black eyes.
Counsel assisting the coroner told the court Ms Geertsema's sister Helen Pocock had written to Mr Shepherd asking him to "give the family closure".
The court heard Ms Pocock had in the letter asked Mr Shepherd to write his own letter to be released upon his death telling the family how he had murdered Ms Geertsema.
Mr Cooper heard the night of Ms Geertsema's disappearance the two children they had together, Ryan and Kathryn, were living at the Best Street flat when their mother was last seen.
The court was told then nine-year-old Kathryn Shepherd, now Kathryn Gray, would appear in a coronial investigation as a witness.
Mr Cooper heard Ms Gray had said Mr Shepherd was "very, very physically and mentally" violent towards Ms Geertsema.
Ms Gray had said her mother on the day of her disappearance showed her three airline tickets to Queensland paving a way out of Tasmania. According to details heard by the court Ms Geertsema had made plans to leave Tasmania with her children in part because she was "scared" of Mr Shepherd.
The court was told Ms Gray had said to her aunty, and Ms Geertsema's sister, Lyn Styles:
Mummy, me and Ryan are going on a big boat, but we're not allowed to tell daddy.- Heard by the court as having been said by Kathryn Gray
The court heard on the night of Ms Geertsema's disappearance Ms Gray heard her parents arguing followed by a hitting sound and "dead-silence". It heard when Ms Gray woke the next day her mother was not home, but Mr Shepherd was.
The missing persons case of Ms Geertsema was in 2015 buoyed by Tasmania Police identifying a person of interest. At that time, police revealed it was unlikely the disappearance was voluntary and they could not rule out the possibility Ms Geertsema was the victim of a crime.
Police said they were re-interviewing a number of people involved with Ms Geertsema's life.
In a 2015 police interview of Mr Shepherd, the court was told, he admitted to hitting Ms Geertsema once, which resulted in a black eye, but he denied there was any family violence in their relationship. He also told police he had no knowledge of Ms Geertsema's plans to go to Queensland.
In a different 2015 interview Ms Gray said she had a gut-instinct her mother was not alive and hoped the latest investigation would reveal what had happened.
At the end of the sitting Mr Shepherd was admitted to bail to his Westbury home as a person of interest until the commencement of a coronial investigation starting on December 13.
He was asked if he wanted to tell the court anything to which he responded, "I can't say much about what was said there".
For those seeking help, Family Violence Counselling and Support Service is available on1800 608 122 from 9am to midnight weekdays, and 4pm to midnight on weekends and public holidays.
Telephone and online counselling is available at 1800 RESPECT or by calling 1800 737 732.
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