German backpacker Simone Strobel died in Lismore in 2005.
German backpacker Simone Strobel died in Lismore in 2005.

The day Simone Strobel went missing, and what happened next

HER smile is what I remember most about Simone Strobel.

I never met the 25-year-old backpacker, but the photo of her smiling on a sunny beach, the promise of an Australian holiday of a lifetime ahead of her, is etched in my memory.

It's been 16 years since the photo was splashed across the front page of The Northern Star - the headline asking, "Where's Simone?".

The Northern Star, February 14, 2005.
The Northern Star, February 14, 2005.

A skeleton crew was working in the office on Sunday, February 13, 2005, when the phone call from the police came to the newsroom reporting a tourist had gone missing in the CBD on Friday night.

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We were incredulous someone could get lost in the centre of Lismore, it was hardly a metropolis.

A quick trip downtown revealed a search was well underway.

Orange-clad SES workers scoured the drains around the Lismore Tourist Caravan Park, and police patrolled the nearby streets.

Young SES workers searched the dark, damp tunnels that made up Lismore's drainage system, and I couldn't help but wonder about what they might find - such a daunting task.

Campsite at Lismore Tourist Caravan Park where Simone Strobel was staying on the night of her death.
Campsite at Lismore Tourist Caravan Park where Simone Strobel was staying on the night of her death.

Nearby, three young people were huddled around a white HiAce van at the caravan park - Simone's boyfriend Tobias Suckfuell (now Toby Moran), his sister Katrin Suckfuell, and their friend Jens Martin.

They had reported Simone missing to police the day before, Tobias claiming she had gone for a walk after a minor disagreement.

Tobias Suckfuell, boyfriend of murdered girl Simone Strobel. Photo Jacklyn Wagner / The Northern Star
Tobias Suckfuell, boyfriend of murdered girl Simone Strobel. Photo Jacklyn Wagner / The Northern Star

Requests for an interview were met with confusion and distress.

Katrin was hostile and upset, "It's only been two days", she said refusing to talk more about their missing friend.

On the way back to the car, the journalist and I thought it a strange reaction given Simone was still missing, and any publicity would surely help the search.

The days passed and still, no sign of Simone.

Rumours swirled - she was in Byron Bay, she had gone to Sydney, she met someone and was partying in the hills somewhere.

But none of this was in keeping with the character of the kindergarten teacher.

Other rumours took a darker turn - she was kidnapped, or murdered by a serial killer.

I heard the news Simone had been found on my way to work six days after she went missing.

There was no happy ending - no tourist found after a week-long bender in the hills. She wasn't in Sydney, nor Byron Bay.

For six days she had lain under palm fronds at the bocce courts across the road, just 90m from where the travellers had setup camp the Friday before.

 

Lismore police at the site where the body of German backpacker Simone Strobel was found. Picture: Mike/Batterham
Lismore police at the site where the body of German backpacker Simone Strobel was found. Picture: Mike/Batterham

A police dog had found her within minutes of picking up a scent at the caravan park.

The community was in shock - how could such a thing happen to a young traveller in the heart of Lismore?

It is a question we continue to ask.

Police continue to investigate the death, both Australian and German.

A Coronial Inquest in 2007 failed to uncover the cause of Simone's death, but the Deputy State Coroner at the time, Paul Macmahon, said he agreed with police, who said evidence showed Tobias was most likely involved in Simone's death, and his sister most likely helped him hide her body.

However, he said there was not enough evidence to charge him or his sister.

A reward of $1 million was offered by the NSW Government late last year in an effort to uncover new information.

A second Coronial Inquest was also announced late last year.

It was due to start this month, but NSW Justice media confirmed the dates set aside for the inquest have been vacated and new dates have not yet been set.

Family and friends from Germany said goodbye to murdered German tourist Simone Strobel at the site of her death in Lismore with flowers and photos.
Family and friends from Germany said goodbye to murdered German tourist Simone Strobel at the site of her death in Lismore with flowers and photos.

When I think of Simone, the 25-year-old smiling on an Australian beach, I feel like we have let her down. I feel we have failed to hold to account the person responsible for her death.

She came to Lismore on a holiday, and she died here in terrible circumstances.

I hope the second Coronial Inquest goes ahead, sooner rather than later, and witnesses are compelled to come forward by the offer of the $1 million reward.

I hope Simone's killer is brought to justice.

I hope in the future, when I think of Simone's smiling face, I will know her family has the closure they deserve.



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