What Happened to Kath Bergamin

To the outside world, Kath Bergamin appeared to have the perfect life: a husband of nearly 20 years, three beautiful children and a farm in the rural Victorian village of Cheshunt. But push open those farm gates, step over the creeping grape vines and wade through the layers of tobacco trees and you’ll find yourself a much darker story. One of a downtrodden wife, an overbearing husband, and a mystery more sinister than anyone ever imagined: the vanishing and suspected murder of Kath Bergamin.

Who Was Kath Bergamin?

Kath Bergamin (Source: Daily Mail)

Cathlyn Francis Russell (Kath for short) was born in Melbourne, Victoria, on the 11th of December 1964, as one of 7 siblings born to biological mother Janet Felici. She was adopted at 6-weeks-old by Kenneth and Cathlyn Margaret Russell, a trusted couple who had also adopted a boy named Roger two years earlier.

The Russell’s originally lived in Blackburn, a town about 25 minutes from Melbourne CBD, but moved to Navarre, Victoria several years later where Cathlyn and Kenneth operated a Local Post Office/General Store, and continued to do so for the next sixteen years. The family then moved again to the Moyhu, two-hours and fifty-minutes away from Melbourne city, and again began to operate the town’s Local Post Office. Navarre was also around twenty-five minutes from Wangaratta, a beautiful rural town surrounded by bush land and featuring the King River, a stream leading into the infamous Murray-Darling Basin.

Wangaratta township (Source: Travel Victoria)

Kath quickly fell in love with Wangaratta, completing her year-11 studies at a Wangaratta secondary school and getting a job at Wangaratta’s Edgars Newsagency.

Marriage and Mayhem

At sixteen-years-old Kath met a man named John Bergamin at a local dance and briskly began a relationship with him. At 17-years-old, Kath became pregnant and on the 5th of March 1983, Kath and John were married in Moyhu. They then move into John’s father’s tobacco farm on Upper King Road in Cheshunt, a twenty-minute drive from Moyhu and sixty kilometres south of Wangaratta. When John’s father passed, the Cheshunt Farm was left to both John and Kath to manage.

View from an Upper King Road, Cheshunt, property (Source: Realestate)

On the 18th of April 1983, Kath gave birth to the Bergamin’s first child – a boy named Steven John Bergamin – followed by middle-child and only daughter Renee Danielle Bergamin on the 22nd of June 1987 and youngest son Dylan Nigel Bergamin on the 8th of June 1990. Kath, once a devout student and town-girl, was now a full-time mother caring for her children and helping on the farm.

To those close to Kath, it was no secret she was unhappy in her marriage. In 1999 Kath and John, along with Sandie and Pat Primerano – Sandie’s boyfriend at the time and close friend of John’s – had been attending a winery tour when Kath, after a few drinks, told Sandie “he (John) was not loving towards her” and that she’d “tried to leave” John but “couldn’t go through with it because of the children” (Coroners Report, p2). It was after this conversation that Sandie began to notice some red flags herself, noting John “never thanked her [Kath] for doing anything for him like working on the farm or cooking his dinner” and often made crude remarks at Kath’s expense.

Kath Bergamin and her husband, John Bergamin, attending a formal event (Source: 9 News)

Another friend of Kath’s, Caroline Grady, described John as being chauvinistic, “impulsive“, behaving “very aggressively on many occasions” and “los[ing] his temper with Kath over small things”. She recalled a time when she was over at the Bergamin’s home and John, after being served dinner by Kath, “shout[ed] profanities at her because he didn’t want what she had cooked for dinner”. Kath responded by “[feeding] his dinner to the dogs, then [cooking] him another meal”. According to Sandie Riley, John would constantly try to control Kath’s life and did not approve of her working or studying, even though John himself was barely home; usually out working or, in his spare time, hunting and fishing with friends.

Kath and John Bergamin (Source: Herald Sun)

The Bergamin family had a different story. John Bergamin insisted his and Kath’s marriage was “very happy”. Eldest son Steven Bergamin said he had “a normal family” and that his “mother and father never fought physically or verbally” and “never disagreed about anything”. Daughter Renee Bergamin said “the situation at home was good. Mum got everything she wanted and everyone was happy. There were a very small number of arguments between the family”.

Inside the Mind of Kath Bergamin

In 2002, John’s manipulation began chipping at her mental health, causing depressive episodes that subsequently led to severe problems with self-medication. Kath began to suffer from severe insomnia, collecting a grand total of two-to-three hours of sleep each night, along with experiencing feelings of extreme worthlessness and hopelessness.

Kath had first been admitted into the psychiatric ward at the Wangaratta Base Hospital due to a reaction to a combination of alcohol, marijuana, and the antidepressant drug Paroxetine, causing delirious behaviours and an apparent homicidal ideation towards John. Kath admitted herself to the hospital twice following this due to concerns about lack of sleep, lack of concentration and depression. During this period, Kath was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, though it was later believed to have been a misdiagnosis.

On the 11th of February 2002, Kath’s depression hit an all-time low. She took a .22 calibre rifle from John’s secured gun cabinet, inserted the barrel of the gun into her mouth and pulled the trigger. The shot did surprisingly little damage to Kath, wounding only her top-most vertebrae and soft palate – all which were able to be treated with just medications at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital. On the 22nd of February, Kath was moved to South Melbourne’s Albert Road Clinic for psychiatric treatment.

Albert Road Clinic as it is today (Source: Albert Road Clinic)

It’s here that Kath’s psychiatrist, Mark Johnson, also began to notice the darker side of Kath’s marriage as Kath relayed increasingly concerning details, such as John telling her “she would never make it off the farm if she tried to leave him”, “point[ing] a firearm directly at her on at least three occasions”, and “[leaving] bullets out as a reminder of his threats”. Doctor Johnson was further alarmed at John’s lack of interest in Kath’s wellbeing, as he’d never once contacted Dr Johnson to see how Kath was faring until after Kath had already been discharged on the 17th of March 2002.

Kath and her husband John Bergamin (Source: 9 News)

Kath, however, seemed to be doing better than ever. On her follow-up appointments, Doctor Johnson noted Kath’s no-longer apparent suicidal thoughts, diminished alcohol and marijuana consumption, and the encouragement she felt due to support from friends and family. She was hopeful of achieving her goals including studying to become a disability worker and getting a job in disability care.

These goals did not align with John Bergamin’s plans for her.

Journey to Wangaratta

As Kath’s self-confidence grew, her desire to break free of John’s control grew too. Despite her fears and John’s threats that she’d “be leaving the farm in a box (Coroners Report Page 7) before she left of her own accord, Kath left the Bergamin Farm for good on the 29th of May 2002.

After an argument with John, Kath arrived at the home of a Frank Primerano, who agreed to drive her to the home of acquaintances Phillip and Margaret Brauman in Whitfield. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, John Bergamin had followed Kath to this home and proceeded to knock on the Brauman’s door with 12-year-old Dylan by his side. When that was unsuccessful, he repeatedly called the Brauman’s home phone, insisting on speaking to Kath – another attempt which proved unsuccessful. John eventually agreed to bring Kath’s car to the home, but only after snapping off the key in the car’s ignition, reportedly stealing $200 that Kath had left in the car, and heading back home in the company of Pat Primerano (close friend of John’s and boyfriend of Sandie Riley). Police were called during this ordeal.

Whitfield township (Source: Aussie Towns)

Kath drove to Wangaratta the next morning, renting out a 2-bedroom home at 21 Braithwaite Street and moving in the following day. Following the advice of the officer – who had visited the Brauman’s home after the ordeal with John – Kath also applied for an Intervention Order against John, preventing John from harassing her by limiting their contact. This order was granted and in response, police descended on the Bergamin farm and took away any firearms in John’s possession to stop him from potentially harming Kath. This was something that infuriated John, as he was an avid hunter and gun enthusiast.

21 Braithwaite Street, Wangaratta, as it is today. (Source: Realestate View)

The escape to Wangaratta was far from the last Kath heard of John Bergamin. John began calling Kath obsessively and, knowing the Intervention Order only allowed him to call Kath to discuss matters relating to their children, began pretending to call on behalf of Dylan and Renee only to act “very aggressive and [yell] abuse (SOURCE) when Kath answered. John began dropping in on unwilling family, friends and neighbours, begging for advice on his situation with Kath only to reject it when it involved leaving Kath alone.

Kath’s pending divorce with John, however, never stopped her from doting on her three children. Renee and Dylan often visited her and continued to do so after Kath, along with her friend Sandie Riley (at the insistence of John Bergamin), moved into a home on Brien Crescent in Wangaratta. Kath insisted to her children the Intervention Order only effected John, not the three of them, though her eldest son Steven was still unsure, becoming notably hostile towards her.

John Bergamin (back left), Kath Bergamin (back middle), Steven Bergamin (back right), Renee Bergamin (front left) and Dylan Bergamin (front middle). (Source: Daily Mail)

Over the following weeks, John escalated from calling to stalking. He would appear at the same bars and clubs Kath would, would hover over her where ever she went, would send friends to spy on her and report back, hid outside the Brien Crescent house to watch her, and threatened any men who so much as spoke to Kath.

Timeline of Events – 18th of August 2002

The following timeline provides details as to the movements of Kath Bergamin the day she vanished. All details have been collected from Kath’s Coroner’s Report and assembled into a loose timeline. The following events are taken from confirmed phone calls, reliable testimonies, or the testimony of Sandie Riley, a witness who was viewed as reliable by the court.

  • Unknown Time
    Sandie drops Kath off at a baseball game in Murdoch Road, Wangaratta. Kath watches the game while Sandie visits her mother, then comes back to pick up Kath.

  • 3:56pm
    Kath and Sandie stop at the Safeway supermarket on their way home from the baseball game. They buy phone credit and other items.

  • Around 4pm
    Kath and Sandie arrive home from the supermarket. Pat Primerano (Sandie’s boyfriend) and Pasquale Ciccone (Pat’s cousin) are already at Brien Crescent.

  • Shortly after 4pm
    Renee Bergamin arrives at the Brien Crescent house.

  • 4:20pm
    Renee Bergamin leaves Brien Crescent. Sandie Riley remembers this specific time as she had checked her watch to see when she herself had to leave for work.

  • Around 4:30pm
    Pat Primerano and Pasquale Ciccone leave Brien Crescent.

  • 5:10pm

    Sandie Riley leaves for work, meaning Kath is home alone with the TV on. Kath at this time is wearing red 3/4 length Adidas gym pants with white stripes down the sides, a white Tommy Girl T-shirt with a red and blue logo, and a red hooded wind-cheater type jacket. These items have not been found.

  • 5:48pm – 5:56/57
    Hayley Costa, friend of Kath’s, calls Kath on her mobile. Kath says she’s watching a home video and they make plans to meet the following Tuesday.

  • 6:33pm
    Shaun Dibbin, Unit Manager at Merriwa Industries, calls Kath to ask if she can work the following night from 6:30pm to 9:00pm. Kath appears happy to do so.

  • 7:16pm- 7:25/26
    Friend of Kath’s – Mandy Duke – calls Kath. Kath says she is home alone relaxing and watching the movie ‘Coyote Ugly‘ and Mandy can hear the video playing in the background.

  • Around 7:26-7
    Neighbour of Kath’s – Margaret Ann Scutt – is walks her dog past Kath’s house and notices a relatively short man talking loudly to Kath through Kath’s front wire door. A car with a P-plate and 2 people inside is parked out front of Kath’s house and the man speaking to Kath appears to have gotten out of the passenger side, as the passenger door is open.

  • 11pm
    Sandie Riley finishes her shift at La Porchetta.

  • 11:15pm
    Sandie Riley drives home, with Pat Primerano following her in his own car. She enters the Brien Crescent house through the back door (always left unlocked when only 1 person was out, as they had only 1 front key) and finds Kath is not home. She sees the back-door key on the top of the fridge where Sandie left it. The lights are on and the sports shoes Kath was last wearing are at the end of Kath’s bed.
    Kath’s handbag is hidden under the doona of Sandie’s bed, which was something Kath did whenever her children were coming around to stop them from taking things. There is a half-eaten bowl of veggie soup in the kitchen sink and an empty cup of tea on the mantel piece above the heater.
    Her toothbrush is on the top of the shower recess, as Kath used to bring it in with her when she was about to have a shower.

    Sandie assumes Kath has gone out somewhere and goes to bed with Pat Primerano.

  • 3pm, 19th of August 2002 (following day)

    Sandie Riley arrives home from work and notices Kath is still gone. She finds a red anklet sports sock in the hallway – the same as the one Kath was wearing when Sandie last saw her – and notices Kath’s electric blanket is still on (usually turned it on before going to bed). She finds Kath’s mobile in a drawer and there are a lot of missed calls. A clean towel is left near the shower, further showing Kath’s intentions of having a shower and going to bed. All Kath’s clothes are still in her wardrobe.

  • Unknown Time 19th August

    Sandie asks neighbours and friends if they’ve seen Kath, but no one has. She calls Pat Primerano and speaks to Pat’s mother, who tells Sandie there has been a fire at the Bergamin’s farm and that a car has been burnt.

  • Unknown Time August 19th
    Pat Primerano calls Sandie back and tells her it was the Toyota Camry – Kath’s car that she’d leant to Steven to drive to University – that had been burnt. Sandie asks if Pat checked the Camry and Pat tells her not to be silly.

  • Unknown Time August 19th
    Hayley Costa comes around to the Brien Crescent home and both Hayley and Sandie report Kath as missing.

  • Unknown Time August 19th
    John Bergamin calls Sandie on her mobile and starts telling her about the fire. Sandie cuts him off and tells him Kath is missing, but he seems more concerned about the fire than Kath’s disappearance.

The Bergamin Farm Fire

The day after Kath disappeared, a shed at the Bergamin family farm caught on fire burning everything inside, including Kath’s Toyota Camry which had been leant to Steven. John insisted this fire was due to a spark that had caught on a bale of hay left behind by Renee, who’d used the shed s a makeshift stable for her pony some time ago. John and his employee, Selwyn Wassan, had been cutting lengths of steel with an oxyacetylene torch earlier that morning before heading 500 meters away to the lower paddocks to cut back some vines. According to John, it wasn’t until Steven Bergamin shouted out that he noticed the smoke and rode back to the shed on his four-wheeled motorbike to find it engulfed in flames.

An Oxyacetylene torch – commonly used to weld or cut metals – similar to the one John Bergamin claimed started the shed fire. (Source: Youtube channel ‘Black Bear Forge’)

This story sounded good on paper, but it didn’t take much digging for police to find the truth. According to Selwyn Wassan, after he and John had cut the steel, they stood around for 10-15 minutes and then rode to the lower paddock, pruning vines for around 30 minutes, before they heard Steven calling out. This made it unlikely for the fire to have caught from oxy torch sparks, as the fire would have caught very quickly after the oxy work and John and Selwyn, who were still in close vicinity of the shed for 10-15 minutes after the oxy work, would have noticed the fire far sooner.

Selwyn also mentioned the smoke being very dark, indicating an accelerant such as gasoline was probably used. He did not remember a pony being kept in the shed over the years he’d worked at the Bergamin farm. He also recalled the Toyota Camry being backed into the shed – which was abnormal for the Bergamin’s – and noted there seemed to be more fire emanating from the car itself than the shed.

A green Toyota Camry, possibly similar to the one Kath owned and leant to Steven. The exact year and model of the Camry Kath owned was not released. (Source: AllBids)

The Bergamin’s attempted to claim insurance on the shed, but this claim was rejected due to the circumstances of the fire, with auditors finding evidence it was likely first ignited in the passenger side of the Toyota Camry, and was likely intentionally lit.

The Investigation

On the 22nd of August 2002, the Homicide Squad Missing Persons Unit were assigned to Kath’s case. Police immediately began searching the Brien Crescent home of Sandie and Kath, feeling there was something strange about Kath’s disappearance. Although there were some signs of a struggle, the house seemed in relatively good condition and there were no signs of forced entry.

View of Brien Crescent, Wangaratta, from Donald Street, Wangaratta (Source: Google Earth image)
View of the Brien Crescent playground/park (right) and Wangaratta West Primary School (ahead). (Source: Google Earth image)

On the 28th of that same month another crime scene investigation was undertaken at the home, this time with more success. A piece of silver duct tape – manufactured by the brand ‘Nitto’ – was found lying on the ground in the back yard near the garage. This raised alarm bells for police, as it was shaped like a ‘figure 8’ and appeared as if it had been used as makeshift wrist or ankle cuffs. On the cuffs were red fibres, which likely belonged to the pair of red ankle socks Kath had been wearing when she was last seen (one of which was left on the floor in the hall of the Bergamin home). Some sources suggest there were also partial DNA matches found, though to whom the DNA matched has not been publicly released. Police also found another small piece of tape stuck to a cushion in the house’s lounge room and further testing suggested that the tape was the same brand, colour and type as the ‘figure 8’, though no other findings on this tape have been reported.

Nike sock found on the ground in the hall of Kath’s Brien Crescent home. (Source: NZ Herald)
Nitto tape in the shape of cuffs found on the ground near the garage. (Source: NZ Herald)
Section of Nitto tape found on a cushion in the Brien Crescent Lounge Room.(Source: News.com)

In 2017, an anonymous letter containing “very specific information about Kath’s murder, including who was involved” was sent to Victorian police from a town with the first letters ‘BE’ – possibly Bendigo or Benalla. The letter suggested that the writer “[had] either been told what happened to Kath or they were there when she was taken“, though the exact contents of the letter have not been revealed. Forensic testing was undergone to try and identify any DNA on the letter itself but results of this testing have not been made public.

Anonymous letter sent to police containing specific details relating to Kath’s case. (Source: Twitter: Victoria Police)

On the 17th of September 2020, it was reported that four individuals from Victoria and one from New South Wales, aged 60, 51, 37, 33 and 30, were taken in for questioning in relation to Kath’s disappearance. All five were released without charge. Victoria police continued to state that “DNA testing and forensic re-examination has also been conducted on a number of exhibits found at her home”.

The Bergamin Family

In most if not all abduction and homicide cases, those closest to the victim – usually direct family members – are the first to be investigated. However, in the case of Kath Bergamin, it quickly became obvious that the Bergamin family knew more than they were letting on and an all-out investigation on the whereabouts of Dylan, Renee, Steven and John Bergamin on the day Kath Disappeared was soon launched.

Index of Phone Calls

To validate or invalidate the following accounts, the confirmed phone calls and locations of the phone calls made must be noted. Phone calls are colour-coded according to the caller (John Bergamin, Bergamin Farm, Kath Bergamin, Public phone box).
*Any phone calls made or received by the ‘Bergamin Farm’ (landline) are assumed to be made or received by Steven Bergamin.
**Not all call durations were specified within the Coroner’s Report.

Time and DurationToFrom
4:38pmJohn Bergamin mobilePublic phone box outside 53 Phillipson Street, Wangaratta (about 300m from Kath’s house)
4:49pm for 30 secondsKath’s mobileJohn Bergamin’s mobile in Wangaratta
Unspecified for 2 seconds John’s mobileBergamin Farm
4:49 for 2 secondsJohn’s mobileBergamin Farm
Unspecified time for 8 secondsKath’s mobileJohn’s mobile in Wangaratta
4:50pm for 42 secondsBergamin farmJohn’s mobile in Wangaratta
5:25pm for 56 secondsBergamin FarmJonathon Green, friend of Steven, calls the Bergamin Farm
5:26pm for 49 minutes and 56 secondsJonathon GreenBergamin Farm.
5:29pm for 1 minute and 11 secondsTony Gallo, friend of JohnJohn’s mobile (note, Tony’s house was 300m from Kath’s house) in Wangaratta
5:32pmKath’s mobileJohn’s mobile in Wangaratta
5:45pm for 5 minutes and 57 secondsTony GalloJohn’s mobile in Wangaratta
5:48pm for 8 minutes and 48 secondsKath’s mobileHayley Costa, friend of Kath
5:59pm for 4 secondsTony GalloJohn’s mobile in Wangaratta
6:36pm for 2 minutes and 13 secondsBergamin FarmNicole Paton, Steven’s girlfriend
6:54pm for 49 secondsBergamin FarmGarth Beavis, starting work at Bergamin farm next day
7:16pm for 9 minutes and 35 secondsKath’s mobileMandy Duke, Kath’s friend. Note: Mandy said Kath was home alone and watching Coyote Ugly.
7:27pm John’s mobileKath’s mobile (went straight to Message Bank)
7:32pm for 1 minute and 13 secondsBergamin FarmGarth Beavis
7:48pm for 1 minute and 11 secondsNicole PatonBergamin Farm
8:44pm John’s mobilePhone box 200m from John’s mother and 400m from Kath’s house (went straight to Message Bank)

The following accounts have been taken from Kath Bergamin’s official Coroners Report

Dylan Bergamin

Baby Dylan Bergamin with his mother Kath Bergamin (Source: Herald Sun)

Dylan Bergamin was 12 years old at the time of Kath’s disappearance. Even though he wasn’t looked at as a direct suspect in Kath’s disappearance, he was still asked by police to recount his version of the night Kath disappeared.

The following table lists the sequence of events Dylan recounted and compares them to the confirmed movements/credible sightings of Kath and the confirmed movements/credible sightings of Renee, Steven, Dylan and John Bergamin. Green boxes highlight events that are nearly identical and orange boxes highlight events that have some prominent similarities.

Note: The exact time Dylan had played with the neighbour children has not been identified.
The following accounts have also been adjusted to consider the time the sun was recorded as setting in Wangaratta on the 18th of August 2002 (5:44pm), the run time of ‘Coyote Ugly’ (96 minutes) and the time it took to travel to Cheshunt from Brien Crescent (approximately 49 minutes) .

Dylan Bergamin himself believes his family is innocent of the abduction and murder of Kath Bergamin and reaffirmed this in the 2007 inquest.

Renee Bergamin

Renee Bergamin (right) with mother Kath, brothers Dylan and Steven, and another friend. (Source: Herald Sun)

Renee Bergamin was 15 years old at the time of Kath’s disappearance. She told Senior Constable Mick Harvey that Kath had been looking for her passport on the day she disappeared and indicated Kath was planning to go on a holiday.

Renee also stated that upon visiting Kath at her house the day she disappeared, Kath had told her to “F off” as she had friends coming over, something which struck all those who knew Kath as completely out of character. Renee had also been approached by John Houghton – Insurance Area Manager and ex-boyfriend of Kath – the day following Kath’s disappearance. Houghton asked Renee if Kath had really gone on holidays as Renee had stated previously, but Renee appeared hesitant to answer and simply looked to Steven, who changed the subject.

The following table lists the sequence of events Renee recounted and compares them to the confirmed movements/credible sightings of Kath and the confirmed movements/credible sightings of Renee, Steven, Dylan and John Bergamin. Green boxes highlight events that are nearly identical and orange boxes highlight events that have some prominent similarities.

Under questioning during the 2007 inquest, Renee took back her previous statement and said she could not recall the exact time she and Steven picked Dylan up, but remembered it was still daylight as Kath had been sitting outdoors. Considering the sunset time of 5:44pm in Wangaratta on the 18th of August 2002, this broadens the pick-up time to any point before approximately 6:00pm.

During the 2007 inquest, Renee stated that she did not believe her memory of the events surrounding Kath’s disappearance2 had worsened since she gave her statement on the 22nd of August 2002. She did not believe her family was involved in the disappearance of her mother Kath Bergamin and reaffirmed her belief that Kath had run off with a man.

Steven Bergamin

Steven Bergamin leaving Wangaratta Court on the 19th of August 2008 (Source: Border Mail)

Steven Bergamin was 19 on the day of Kath’s disappearance. He did not give evidence at the 2007 inquest on grounds that it may incriminate him.

Senior Constable Mick Harvey had spoken to Steven not long after Kath’s disappearance and noted that Steven was “extremely agitated like a cat on a hot tin roof. He could not keep still, would not answer my questions, and kept changing the subject“. Steven was also suspected to have been involved in the Bergamin farm fire that burnt Kath’s Toyota Camry, as he was the only one reported to be within the vicinity of the farm shed at the time the fire was most likely ignited.

Steven had also become hostile towards his mother, especially after she’d left the farm, and wanted his mother admitted back into the psychiatric unit due to her actions. This was probably due to the impact he believed this would have on his dreams of developing the farm into a winery, such as the loss of money the divorce process would entail.

The following table lists the sequence of events Steven recounted and compares them to the confirmed movements/credible sightings of Kath and the confirmed movements/credible sightings of Renee, Steven, Dylan and John Bergamin. Green boxes highlight events that are nearly identical and orange boxes highlight events that have some prominent similarities.

In late 2002 to early 2003, Steven Bergamin unknowingly conspired with an undercover police officer to bomb a neighbouring winery due to the winery undercutting grape prices, stating “I want it done and I want it to look like terrorists have done it”, and going so far as to show maps detailing the winery’s layout and pointing to regions he wanted destroyed. Steven eventually abandoned the idea but was still arrested in 2006 – three years after the incident – for incitement to cause damage. The judge stated his plans were “evil” but, due to his apparent remorse and choice to plead guilty, he was not sentenced to prison.

John Bergamin

John Bergamin (Source: Herald Sun)

John Bergamin was 42 years old at the time of Kath’s disappearance and was quickly identified as a major suspect in this case. He had a history of stalking, extreme jealousy, threatening Kath and those around her, and was known to have issues with impulsivity and aggression. The fire at the Bergamin farm also put John under the microscope, as the evidence at the scene suggested he had deliberately ignited the fire to rid of Kath’s Toyota Camry – a car which investigators believed may have been instrumental in the abduction of Kath and transportation of her body.

John was also identified by a salesperson at a hardware store as having purchased silver ‘Nitto’ tape alongside Pat Primerano a few days prior to Kath’s disappearance, and he had spoken to Phillip Brauman (the man in Whitfield whom Kath had stayed with on leaving the farm) about hiring someone to give Kath a fatal overdose of drugs and insisted Kath’s history of suicidal intentions would assist him in escaping prosecution.

The day of the Bergamin farm fire, John had called Sandie asking where Kath was instead of calling Kath’s mobile himself. To Sandie this seemed unusual, as John was not aware of Kath’s status as a missing person and was known to call Kath’s mobile incessantly, leading her to ask: “if he didn’t know that Kath was missing why would he call me on my phone?”. Sandie also noted that, upon telling John that Kath was missing, John appeared disinterested and more focused on discussing the fire.

On the 20th of August 2002, the day following Kath’s disappearance, Senior Constable Mick Harvey visited the Bergamin Farm to deliver another Intervention Order to John Bergamin on behalf of Kath. The family did not usually react well to these orders, but on this occasion, Harvey found that “everything was accepted without question” a reaction which Harvey saw as “unnatural given my previous involvements with them (Source)”.

John also appeared to have the strongest motive to make Kath disappear. He was in debt and was likely stressed over the knowledge he would be forced to pay out Kath once the divorce was finalised, and the idea of Kath with other men, along with her insistence on Intervention Orders which resulted in his beloved weapons being seized, infuriated him.

The following table lists the sequence of events John recounted and compares them to the confirmed movements/credible sightings of Kath and the confirmed movements/credible sightings of Renee, Steven, Dylan and John Bergamin. Green boxes highlight events that are nearly identical and orange boxes highlight events that have some prominent similarities.

John Bergamin was charged with Kath’s murder in 2006, but his charges were dropped about a month later due to the court determining there was no reasonable prospect of conviction, likely due to lack of evidence.

John has always stated he believes Kath is still alive and had left with another man, though his lawyer has since stated John is innocent and “believes there are people who know exactly what happened and they haven’t come forward for a very good reason”.


Kath Bergamin (Source: Herald Sun)

Kath Bergamin, though still regarded as a missing person by Victoria Police due to the absence of a body, is thought by most to have been a victim of an abduction and murder plot. The perpetrators were likely people known to her due to the absence of evidence suggesting a break-in and the little evidence of a struggle. Kath’s personal items, which she would have taken had she left intentionally, had all remained within the Brien Crescent home and the additional ‘Nitto’ tape found at the scene also indicated Kath had been taken by force. Her handbag being under Sandie’s doona and the signs she was preparing for bed all suggest Kath was taken either after a visit from her youngest children and before she had a shower and went to bed, or after she had made preparations to have a shower and go to bed, but was suddenly informed that her children were coming for a surprise visit. The calls Kath had received from her friends, in which she suggested she was home alone, indicate the latter theory.

Most theories, along with the extreme inconsistencies of each of the Bergamin family members’ accounts, make the Bergamin family prime suspects in Kath’s disappearance.

With nearly 20 years having passed without conviction, Kath’s case would appear to be hitting ‘cold-case’ status, but that is a far cry from the truth. With new leads appearing years later, suspects still being actively monitored and DNA evidence analysed using new technologies, police are only a few pieces away from putting together the puzzle that is Kath’s disappearance. In a statement that now feels like an eerie prophecy, Kath’s brother Roger Russel stated to ABC News: “These cases, you often see them pop up again after ten years or so, so we believe people know what’s happened, and consciousness will eventually come to the forefront, and we believe the case will be solved“.

Kath Bergamin and brother Roger Russell (Source: Wangaratta Chronicle)

If you have any information that could assist in the recovery of Kath Bergamin’s remains, or lead to the conviction of the person or persons involved in Kath’s disappearance, contact Crime Stoppers at 1800 333 000 or go to the Crime Stoppers Victoria website at: https://crimestoppersvic.com.au/ 

There is a $1 Million reward available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for Kath’s death.

If you believe any of the information in this article to be incorrect, or know of any information that has not been mentioned in this article that may assist with the public’s understanding of this case, please contact me using the ‘Contact Me’ page on this website.


Palin, M. (2018), Cold Case: Anonymous writer of letter could hold the key to Melbourne murder mystery, News.com.au, viewed 9 September 2020, (https://www.news.com.au/national/victoria/crime/cold-case-anonymous-writer-of-letter-could-hold-the-key-to-melbourne-murder-mystery/news-story/9f52a58b62369efcfc857ad88e073448).

White, P. (2008), Record of Investigation into Suspected Death (Kath Bergamin), State Coroner Victoria, viewed 9 September 2020, (https://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-12/kathbergamin_111107.pdf).

Kath Bergamin, Australian Missing Persons Register, viewed 9 September 2020, (https://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-12/kathbergamin_111107.pdf).

Vallely, W. (2018), Anonymous letter in Kath Bergamin missing person case may have been sent from Bendigo, police say, Bendigo Advertiser, viewed 9 September 2020, (https://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/5604552/anonymous-letter-in-missing-person-case-linked-to-bendigo/).

Police close in on solving Kath Bergamin case (2017), The Border Mail; Albury-Wadonga, N.S.W., viewed 9 September 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/1961255117?accountid=13905).

Anonymous (2008), Family hopeful mystery disappearance will be solved, ABC Premium News; Sydney, viewed 9 September 2020 (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/457857002?accountid=13905).

Rule, A. (2018), A Deathly Silence, Herald Sun; Melbourne, Vic, viewed 9 September 2020 (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/2101047046?accountid=13905).

Vic: Missing woman feared husband would kill her, inquest told (2007), AAP General News Wire, Sydney, viewed 9 September 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/448439153?accountid=13905).

Power, E. (2008), Appeal for help to solve murder riddle, Herald Sun; Melbourne, Vic, viewed 9 September 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/361117823?accountid=13905).

Rudd, M., White, N. (2017), Cold Case Breakthrough: Anonymous note with ‘intimate details’of mother-of-three’s abduction handed in to detectives investigating her mysterious murder 15 years ago, Daily Mail, viewed 25 September 2020 (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4942404/Breakthrough-anonymous-letter-Kath-Bergamin-case.html).

Police close in on solving Kath Bergamin case (2017), The Border Mail; Albury-Wadonga, viewed 25 September 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/1961255117?accountid=13905)

Power, E. (2007), ‘Spy’ in the murder probe, Herald Sun; Melbourne, Vic, viewed 25 September 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/360919791?accountid=13905).

Russell, M. (2007), $100,000 reward for missing mum, Sunday Age; Melbourne, Vic, viewed 25 September 2020, (<a href=”http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/360919791?accountid=13905&#8243; target=”_blank”>http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/367402517?accountid=13905</a&gt;).

Houlihan, L. (2008), Winery bomb plot farmer guilty, Sunday Herald-Sun; Melbourne, Vic, viewed 25 September 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/360811447?accountid=13905).

Friend’s fear for missing mother (2007), Herald Sun; Melbourne, Vic, viewed 25 August 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/361014051?accountid=13905).

Son says dad, brother not involved in mum’s disappearance (2007), ABC Premium News, viewed 25 August 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/457662031?accountid=13905).

Anderson, P. (2002), Missing mother feared dead, Herald Sun; Melbourne, Vic, viewed 25 August 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/360435536?accountid=13905).

Russell, M. (2007), Farmer still suspect in disappearance of wife, Sunday Age; Melbourne, Vic, viewed 25 August 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/367094288?accountid=13905).

Morgan, S. (2017), Silence finally broken: Letter could help solve 15-year mystery, The Border Mail; Albury-Wadonga, NSW, viewed 25 August 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/1961252298?accountid=13905).

Ralph, J. (2003), DNA tests in murder case, Herald Sun; Melbourne, Vic, viewed 25 August 2020, (http://ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/docview/360456184?accountid=13905).

Navarre, Northern Grampians Shire Council, viewed 25 August 2020, (https://www.ngshire.vic.gov.au/Our-Townships/Navarre).

Wangaratta, Visit Wangaratta, viewed 25 August 2020, (https://www.visitwangaratta.com.au/).

The Murray River, Visit Victoria, viewed 25 August 2020, (https://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions/The-Murray/Things-to-do/Nature-and-wildlife/The-Murray-River).

Wangaratta, Victoria, AustraliaSunrise, sunset and day length August 2002, Time and Date, viewed 25 August 2020, (https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/@2144764?month=8&year=2002).

Godde, C. (2020), Five interviewed over Vic mother cold case, Nambucca Guardian, viewed 25 August 2020, (https://www.nambuccaguardian.com.au/story/6930497/five-interviewed-over-vic-mother-cold-case/).

Family hopeful mystery disappearance will be solved (2008), ABC News, viewed 25 August 2020, (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2008-06-04/family-hopeful-mystery-disappearance-will-be-solved/2459622).

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