What Happened to Renee Aitken?

On the 16th of February 1984, Morna Aitken said goodnight to her five-year old daughter Renee and eight-year-old son Bradley. The night was stormy, and rain was bucketing down, but the children didn’t seem to mind.

At around three to four the next morning, Bradley Aitken woke. He was cold and his sheets, once tucked up snug, were folded at his legs. He leaned over to check on his sister – to hop into bed with her the way he always did when he woke up in the night – but she wasn’t there. Tired and dazed, he got up and turned on the lights to search the house but found nothing. Renee was nowhere to be seen. One of the doors was wide open.

Renee Aitken was gone.

Who was Renee Aitken?

Portrait of missing Renee Aitken. Source: Sydney Morning Herald

Renee Joy Aitken was born to mother Morna Aitken in 1978, becoming younger sister by three-years to Bradley Aitken. She was born in Melbourne, Victoria, and moved to Narooma, New South Wales, when she was around two or three years old.

Narooma, known for its beautiful beaches, lakes, and the stunningly blue Wagonga Inlet. Source: Visit NSW

Even as a child, Renee was “always her own person”, described by her family as “fearless and confident” (Aitken 2014). In the article ‘My Little Sister Stolen in the Night’ published by That’s Life! magazine, Bradley fondly recalled his sister’s love and bravery on her first day of Kindergarten, writing: “While most kids were crying, too scared to leave their parents, Renee was excited. She put her arm around a little boy who was upset. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you,’ she told him with a smile”.

Three images of young Renee Aitken taken from Renee’s memorial card. Source: Find a Grave

Renee was a girl with convictions. A girl who would snuggle up with Bradley in the middle of the night if she got scared, taking solace in the arms of her loving big brother, and who had a notorious habit of “fill[ing] a cup with ice and loudly crunch[ing] away at the blocks”. A girl who cared for everyone and who everyone she met “fell in love with” (Aitken 2014). She was a girl with the whole world ahead of her. And she was a girl who had her whole world taken away in one terrible night.

The Disappearance

All quotes in this section have been obtained from the ‘That’s Life!’ article ‘My Little Sister Stolen in the Night‘ by Bradley Aitken unless cited otherwise.

On the 16th of February 1984, at approximately 11:15pm, Renee’s mother Morna saw her daughter off for the very last time. Renee’s bed was small, a few of her favourite stuffed teddies sitting on top, and she shared the room with her older brother Bradley. She was five, and was reported to have been wearing a blue and white striped pyjama suit.

At around 3am-4am, Bradley woke from his sleep. Even though the worst of the night’s storm had passed, he could still hear rain “pelt down” outside and felt “a cold shiver [run] down [his] spine”. He looked to see his sheets, once pulled up over his body, “folded down neatly below [his] knees“.

Bradley leaned over to Renee’s bed, attempting to “nudge her awake”, but Renee wasn’t in her bed. He got up, walked to the bathroom across the hall, and “flicked on the light”. Renee wasn’t there.

Bradley, drowsy and confused, began to scour the house, searching high and low, and “even check[ing] the fridge”. It wasn’t until he turned to find the “back door wide open” that Bradley really started to panic.

Morna, and Morna’s fiance, Neil, woke that morning to Morna’s son Bradley telling them “Renee’s gone”. Morna drowsily disregarded it at first, but the more Bradley insisted, the more Morna and Neil began to realise something was terribly wrong. Their worry turned into outright dread when they checked Renee and Bradley’s room.

Morna immediately called police to report Renee as a missing person, while Neil drove around the flooded streets, “searching for any sign” of their missing little girl. They found nothing. Renee was gone.

The Investigation

The moment police heard about Renee’s disappearance, they sprang into action. A five-year-old child going missing was one problem, but a young white five-year-old child missing in a nice suburban neighbourhood in the middle of a stormy night was another.

A search party consisting of 60 volunteers began searching the Narooma region for any sign of Renee. As the hours passed, the search party grew and by the 18th of February they were joined by a police helicopter, a tracker dog, and the Miranda-based regional crime squad. This search became one of Narooma’s, if not New South Wales’, biggest land searches, lasting over 14 days with over 200 searchers in all. Every home in the Narooma region was combed, bushland was scoured and inland waterways were searched.

Sheaffe Street, Narooma, where the Aitken family resided, featuring surrounding bushland and the pacific ocean’s coast. Source: Google Earth

Investigators looked through the Aitken home, but again they hit a dead-end. The Aitken’s home was left unlocked at the time of Renee’s disappearance, making it possible for anybody to enter, and Renee’s bed was left neat, showing no signs of a struggle between Renee and a potential abductor.

On the 19th of February 1984, police announce their suspicions that Renee may have been abducted from her bed and taken from the Narooma region by somebody trying to pass her off as a relative. Police had received information on the 17th of February – the day Renee was reported – of a potential sighting. Three independent witnesses described to police a man 170cm’s tall, estimated to be between 32 and 35 years old, with a thin build, sandy-coloured hair and a large nose, who was seen in the Bega district approximately an hour away from Narooma.

Directions from Narooma to Bega as of May 2021. Source: Google Maps

The man, wearing light coloured trousers and a fawn shirt, was seen shopping in a ‘Fosseys’ department store at approximately 10am with a young girl who looked strikingly similar to Renee. They purchased a matching skirt and top, and a tracksuit for the girl, who appeared to be helping him pick out the clothing. Whether this was indeed Renee has not been confirmed.

On the 22nd of February 1984, Morna Aitken and her fiance Neil Mumme made an appeal to Renee’s abductor, pleading for him to contact police and let them know if Renee was still alive.

For the next two months, two additional large-scale searches were conducted. The second focused on bushland and cliffs around Narooma. The third focused on a region between Central Tilba and Dignams Creek after an ‘unusual smell‘ (The Sydney Morning Herald 1984) was reported, and followed investigations in Melbourne, Victoria. Though the region had been searched in a previously, a second search was deemed necessary due to the difficult terrain.

Birdseye view of Narooma and surrounding regions, including Dignams Creek (bottom right) and Central Tilba (top right/centre) where the third search for Renee was focused. The bushland engulfing these regions was extremely dense, making the search for Renee difficult. Source: Google Earth

This third search, however, was different from the previous two. Police had recently received information from a 21-year-old man – information which led them to believe that Renee Aitken had been murdered and buried in a shallow grave in the bushland surrounding Narooma.

Neither Renee’s remains nor any signs of Renee were recovered in any of these searches.

Less than two months after Renee’s disappearance, New South Wales approved a $50,000 reward for anyone able to provide information leading to Renee. Batemans Bay Detective Sergeant Ted Freeman added “the information can be given to us discreetly, or anyway they please. Even if the information is given anonymously, we need to have it” (Treasure 2001). No new information was brought forward, and the case of Renee Aitken quickly became cold.

Timeline of Events

The following timeline recounts the movements of Renee Aitken, her family and the police investigating Renee’s case prior to and following Renee Aitken’s disappearance. All information has been sourced from relevant news reports and can be accessed via the ‘Resources‘ section of this article.

  • Thursday, 16th February 1984 – 11:15pm
    Renee Aitken’s mother, Morna Aitken, puts Renee to bed. She is reported as wearing a blue and white pyjama suit.

  • Friday, 17th February 1984 – Approximately 3-4:45am
    Renee’s brother Bradley Aitken wakes up with his sheets folded below his knees and finds his Renee is not in her bed. He searches the house to no avail, but finds the back door to the house is open.

  • Friday, 17th February 1984 – 4:45am
    Bradley Aitken alerts his mother Morna Aitken and his mother’s partner Neil Mumme that Renee is missing.

  • Friday, 17th February 1984 – 4:45am onwards
    Morna reports Renee missing to the police and Neil searches the surrounding areas for Renee in his car.

  • Friday, 17th February 1984 – Early morning
    Sixty volunteers gather to aid in the search for Renee.

  • Friday, 17th February 1984 – Approximately 10am
    A girl who looks eerily similar to Renee is identified by three independent witnesses in a ‘Fosseys’ department store with a man in his early to mid-thirties. The man was seen purchasing items of clothing for the girl, with the girl appearing to help select the items. Police appeal to anybody who believed they knew this man to come forward.

  • Saturday, 18th February 1984
    A police helicopter, a tracker dog and the Mernda-based regional crime squad join the search for Renee, focusing on Narooma homes, bushland and inland waterways.

  • 17th – 21st February 1984 (exact day unknown)
    Queensland detectives search for two men after a potential sighting of Renee in Tugun on the Gold Coast.

  • Monday, 20th February 1984
    The first search for Renee is called off by police.

  • 17th – 20th February 1984
    Police are certain Renee has been taken from the Narooma region. They issue Renee’s picture to all South Coast New South Wales police stations. Police in Melbourne and Sydney are on alert.

  • 17th – 20th February 1984
    Police encourage anyone who may have been disturbed by a ‘peeping Tom’ or ‘been confronted by someone in their house’ in the hours or days surrounding Renee’s disappearance to come forward.

  • Wednesday, 22nd February 1984
    Morna and her partner Neil make an appeal to Renee’s abductor, requesting he contact police to let them know if Renee is still alive.

  • 17th February – 29th March 1984
    Bradley Aitken is hypnotised in an attempt to gather more information about the night Renee disappeared, but this proves unsuccessful.

  • 17th February – 29th March 1984
    Police conduct several interstate inquiries in an attempt to locate Renee, but no sign of her is found.

  • Wednesday, 4th April 1984
    New South Wales approves a $50,000 reward for anybody who can provide information leading to Renee.

  • 8th April – 14th April 1984
    Police receive a tip that leads them to believe Renee has been murdered and her body disposed of in bushland outside Narooma.

  • Friday, 13th April 1984
    Morna Aitken, who has since moved to Melbourne to escape the trauma of Renee’s disappearance, is informed of the NSW police’s belief that Renee has been murdered.

  • April 1984
    Two psychics inform investigators of the region they believe Renee has been buried.

  • Saturday, 14th April 1984
    Twelve police officers engage in a second search for Renee, focusing on an area within a 20km radius of Narooma – between Central Tilba and Dignams Creek.

    Police are acting on the recent tip-off indicating Renee was a victim of homicide, and are now searching for a shallow grave that may contain Renee’s remains.

  • April 1984, Exact date unknown
    Police receive a report from a woman who saw a picture of Renee at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney and believed she may have seen Renee in Broadway.

  • Monday, 14th January 1985
    A jointed bone originally believed to be a child’s leg bone is found by a 50-year-old woman while fishing. Police divers recover these remains, but later testing confirms the bone did not belong to a human and was likely from a pig.

  • September 1998
    Police receive information from a former friend of Renee’s in relation to a sexual assault.

  • 2000 (Date Unknown)
    An American woman arrives in Australia claiming to be Renee. However, DNA tests proved she was not.

  • Sunday, 7th January 2001
    Police release age-enhanced images of Renee, hoping that it may lead to a sighting of Renee.

  • 7th January 2001 Onward (date unknown)
    Age enhanced images of Renee result in a witness coming forward with an account that conflicts with a previously interviewed witness’ alibi.

  • Tuesday, 12th August 2003
    A coronial inquest into the disappearance of Renee Aitken begins. This results in an open finding, but on the balance of probability, the coroner believed Renee to be dead and probably murdered on or after the 16th of February 1984.

The Case Reopening

In 1998, four years after Renee’s disappearance, South Coast Crime Manager Inspector Rick Mawdsley announced that Renee Aitken’s disappearance was to be reopened.

A female friend of Renee’s – now in her 20’s – came forward earlier that year to make a sexual assault complaint against a man who she’d introduced to Renee in the months before Renee disappeared. It’s likely this ‘friend’ was a cousin of Renee’s, as in a 2003 inquest, it was revealed that a 12-year-old cousin of Renee’s was assaulted by a man just three weeks after Renee’s disappearance. When the cousin threatened to tell her mother about the abuse, the assaulter ‘grabbed [the cousin’s] inner thigh tightly’ and said “if you tell anyone then you will go away and you might not come home” (The Illawarra Mercury 2003). This man was Brian James Fitzpatrick, a notorious child sex offender.

Age-progressed image of Renee Aitken at 22 years of age. Source: Australian Missing Persons Register

In 2001, Bateman’s Bay detectives yet again announced the reopening of Renee’s case, releasing three age-progressed images of Renee at 22 years old in hopes it would encourage somebody to recognise her if she were still alive. To their surprise, these pictures finally led to new information. An undisclosed person came forward to police to give their account of the time Renee went missing. This account interested police, especially Far South Coast crime manager Rick Mawdsley, who stated the account “conflicted with an earlier version of events” (Lawrence 2001) a previous witness had given in relation to Renee’s disappearance. Several people were further questioned, but no new information has been made public.

The Inquest

The historic Albury Courthouse, where Renee’s inquest was held, as it stands today. Source: Albury Legal Pty Ltd via Lacartes

In 2003, a Coronial Inquest into Renee’s disappearance was held at the Albury Courthouse. Lasting approximately a week, the event was reported to reveal ‘dramatic new evidence’ (ABC Regional News 2003) about Renee’s disappearance. A new suspect – Brian James Fitzpatrick – was named during this inquest and linked to the Narooma region at the time Renee disappeared (as discussed in the ‘suspects’ section of this article).

On the 14th of August 2003 the inquest into Renee’s death concluded. Though the coroner believed that, on the grounds of probability, Renee was likely deceased and probably murdered on or after the 16th of February 1984, they also returned an open verdict, meaning there was not enough reliable evidence to suggest the exact cause of Renee’s death.

Theories

The Runaway Theory

When a child goes missing, the first theory police usually investigate is the runaway theory. In Renee’s case, however, police would have disproved this theory relatively quickly.

There has been no mention of any disagreement between Renee and her family that would cause her to leave her home, she hadn’t taken any of her belongings with her such as a beloved stuffed teddy or daytime clothing and she had no previous history of running away. Her brother’s bed sheets had been folded below his knees, something odd for a five-year-old with running away on their mind to do, and it would have been unusual for her to have decided to run away so late at night.

Had Renee been a runaway, it is likely she would have been spotted by a Narooma local quite early on in the case, as a five-year-old wondering by herself would be bound to draw attention. Had Renee had an accident resulting in her death, such as falling in a dam, she would likely have died in a close proximity to her home, and the three large-scale searches of the area would likely have recovered her body.

The Abduction Theory

The most commonly believed theory in the case of Renee Aitken’s disappearance is the abduction theory. This theory suggests that someone – either known or unknown to the Aitken family – entered the Aitken family home via one of the unlocked doors, took Renee from her bed without alarming her brother Bradley, and carried her out of the house.

Renee disappeared between the hours of 11:15am and 4:45am, ideal hours for an abductor as the family would have likely been asleep, and the front and back doors of the Aitken home were left unlocked, making it easy for an abductor to enter the home without making a sound.

Sheaffe Street Apartments, nearly identical to the images of the Aitken apartment at the time of Renee’s disappearance. (see Getty Images for photographs of the Aitken Apartment) Source: Google Earth

Those first under the microscope by investigators were likely those closest to the Aitken family. Renee’s abduction had not awakened any of the Aitken family and the scene of the abduction was abnormally tidy, suggesting Renee may have been comfortable with her abductor, and the house was left unlocked that night, something which the abductor may have known.

In an article by the Sydney Morning Herald, child recovery expert Colin Chapman estimated “a minimum of 2000 children in Australia are abducted by Mum or Dad every year” (Rawsthorne 2018). A significant amount of these parental abductions occur during or after the course or a divorce or break-up due to custody conflicts.

Renee’s mother and father had been through a separation, however, on the 19th of February 1984, an article by The Canberra Times (1984) revealed Renee’s biological father had been interviewed in relation to Renee’s disappearance in Melbourne, where he and other relatives of Renee (who were also interviewed) were living at the time. Had Renee’s biological father abducted Renee he would have driven at least 8 hours to Narooma, a journey which investigators would have been able to trace using receipts and other evidence. Due to the lack of further investigation into Renee’s biological father, it can be assumed police did not find Renee’s father a person of interest in Renee’s disappearance.

Renee’s mother, Morna Aitken, and her partner at the time, Neil Mumme, were also likely investigated as potential suspects in Renee’s disappearance. More than 76% of Australian filicides between 2000 and 2012 were committed by the custodial parent, and all recorded step-parent offenders were step-fathers (Brown 2019).

During the 2003 inquest, the court heard evidence indicating there had been a theory that Morna Aitken had planned for Renee to be kidnapped on the day she disappeared. However, the inquest revealed this theory to be an unlikely cause for Renee’s disappearance. During a police interview with Neil Mumme in June of that year, Neil stated he did not believe Morna Aitken was involved in her daughter’s disappearance, and Neil himself does not appear to be a suspect. To this day, Morna Aitken has remained cooperative with investigators, and has assisted in many campaigns to try and find her missing daughter.

Morna Aitken holding a framed photograph of her two children, Renee and Bradley. Source: The Daily Telegraph

The final abduction theory suggests that Renee was abducted by an acquaintance of Renee or the Aitken family, or a stranger. The report ‘Investigative Case Management for Missing Children Homicides’ () (published in the United States) recorded 64% of girls between 1 to 5 years old are abducted and murdered by friends or acquaintances of the victim, with 28% abducted and murdered by strangers. Abductions and murders by relatives and family members make up only 8% of all abductions and murders of girls 1-5 years old.

Though this abduction does seem to have some unusual circumstances when compared to other stranger and acquaintance abductions, it is important to remember the context behind Renee’s disappearance.

During the early 1980’s, it was relatively common for people to leave their homes unlocked, especially if the home was located in a less populated region such as Narooma. A heavy storm had also ravaged through Narooma on the 16th of February. Although this storm had calmed by the time Renee had been identified by Bradley as missing, heavy rain still fell for the next 3 days and was later noted to have negatively impacted police searches. Bradley Aitken, in his article with That’s Life! magazine, also stated he could hear ‘rain pelting down’ while he was lying in bed (Aitken 2014). This storm likely would have reduced the Aitken’s ability to hear any sounds that may have emanated from Renee’s abduction. This may have also provided the abductor with more time for precision, allowing him to slowly sneak in and out of the home with the knowledge he could go unheard.

With the likelihood of abduction in place, police are faced with yet another question: what happened to Renee after she was taken?

The Homicide Theory

At first, police believed it was possible Renee was being held by her abductor under the guise she was a relative. This was supported by the three independent witness sightings in Bega on the 17th of February, identifying a blond man shopping for children’s clothing with a young girl who looked eerily similar to Renee. This was also supported by the lack of a body or any other suspicious evidence found during the three large-scale searches for Renee. Faith in this theory, however, slowly dwindled as time passed.

No sightings of Renee had been confirmed post-disappearance and due to the widespread coverage of Renee’s disappearance, it is likely Renee would have been located. Child victims of abduction, where the abductor is not a parent, are also victims of time as the chance a child will be found alive drastically decreases each hour from their initial abduction. According to the report ‘Investigative Case Management for Missing Children Homicides’ (Brown et al. 2006), 22% of abducted and murdered children are deceased at the time of their missing person’s report being filed and 42% of missing and murdered children are already deceased prior to being reported as a missing person.

Investigators had also received tip-offs by an unnamed individual suggesting Renee had been murdered only two months into the investigation of Renee’s disappearance. Though the specific details of this ‘tip-off’ have not been publicly released, the information received by police was enough to convince investigators that Renee was deceased and that they would be looking for a body.

In the 2003 inquest into Renee’s disappearance, a Coroner confirmed that Renee was most probably deceased and likely murdered. The manner of Renee’s death could not be identified and neither could the perpetrator of her abduction and likely homicide.

When it came to the abductor, however, investigators certainly had their suspects.

Suspects

Brian James Fitzpatrick

Photograph of Brian James Fitzpatrick. Source: The Daily Telegraph

The 1986 article ‘Renee ‘killer’ to be freed’ (Mellor, B., 1986) published by the Sydney Morning Herald confirmed police had their eye on a potential suspect: a man in his 20’s who was due to be released from prison after a five-year sentence for rape and indecent assault in Victoria. This man’s name was not revealed in the Sydney Morning Herald article, but due to following articles, it would be safe to assume this man was Melbourne man Brian James Fitzpatrick.

Just three weeks after Renee’s disappearance, Renee’s 12-year-old cousin was sexually assaulted by Fitzpatrick. This cousin told police that after the assault, Fitzpatrick had squeezed her thigh and told her “if you tell anyone then you will go away and you might not come back home” (The Illawarra Mercury 2003). Though the two have never been linked by name, it is speculated that this assault may been the same assault noted in the article ‘Renee Alibi Doubt – Lead on Missing 5-Year-Old‘ (Lawrence 2001), where a female friend of Renee’s, now in her 20’s, was reported to have come forward with sexual assault allegations against a man; a man whom she introduced to Renee in the months prior to her disappearance.

Renee’s cousin is not the only link between Fitzpatrick and Renee, however. In the 2003 inquest Renee’s aunt, Bonnie Aitken, wept as she told the courts of her own relationship to Fitzpatrick. Bonnie stated she had gone on a fishing trip with her then partner Don Schelfhout, Schelfhout’s 16-year-old son, and Fitzpatrick in Narooma – a fishing trip which just so happened to coincide with the date Renee disappeared. Bonnie described Fitzpatrick as “a cold, callous person and a show pony” (The Illawarra Mercury 2003).

The Pentridge prison (1851-1997) where James Fitzpatrick was incarcerated in Coburg, Melbourne. Source: Only Melbourne

Brian James Fitzpatrick was questioned by police at Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison in 1987, where he was serving time for the sexual assault of Renee’s cousin and another sexual assault of a woman in Melbourne, Victoria. Though he continued to plead his innocence, he was unable to account for a critical three-hour period during Renee’s disappearance. Detective Sergeant Freeman told the Illawarra Mercury (The Illawarra Mercury 2003) “it was the opinion of the interviewers that Fitzpatrick was involved in Renee’s disappearance”.

In 1986, Renee’s mother and grandfather Bob began campaigning for the restoration of the death penalty after it was revealed Fitzpatrick was soon to walk free from his prison sentence, Morna Aitken believing “the man is sick” and fearing that “he will attack another little girl” should he be freed. Morna stated that although Fitzpatrick would say “to some extent: ‘Yes, I did it’,” he would not “give them what amounts to a real confession” (Mellor 1986). With no evidence pinning Fitzpatrick to the crime police were “up against a blank wall“. Fitzpatrick was soon after released from prison.

In 2003, Brian James Fitzpatrick was informed he would need to appear before the coroner’s court to give evidence in relation to Renee’s disappearance. Police noted he seemed to panic.

In the months before Renee’s inquest, Fitzpatrick died in Strathmerton, Victoria, after crashing his car into a concrete power pole. Though Fitzpatrick’s partner believed the incident was an accident, police believed Fitzpatrick’s death was likely a suicide. Morna Aitken wept when informed of Fitzpatrick’s death, feeling as if Renee’s “last chance at justice [had] been snatched away” (Aitken 2014).

Michael Guider

Image of Michael Guider. Source: Mark Williams for The Sydney Morning Herald

Michael Guider was born in 1950 to an unstable mother and an absent father. In 1952, he, his younger brother Tim and his mother moved from Melbourne to Sydney, where he would spend most of his time in boy’s homes due to his mother’s instability and her relationship with an alcoholic army cook. Later in his life, Guider would allege he was sexually assaulted by his mother during his childhood. His time at the boy’s home was also reportedly filled with violence and sexual assault, a pattern which Guider himself later continued with other boys in the home.

In the 1970’s, Guider was charged with setting fire to a shop owned by a girl he’d been dating. This appeared to be the first of his run-ins with the law, and it would be far from the last.

Photograph of a young Michael Guider. Source: James Gourley for The Daily Mail Australia

In late 1995, Michael Guider was arrested on child molestation charges after a victim’s mother came forward to police. In 1996, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for a whopping 68 offences towards 14 separate children. He was known to befriend young mothers – usually single mothers with a history of substance addiction – before asking them if he could babysit their children while the mothers had a ‘well deserved night-out’. When the mothers left Guider and their children alone, Guider would offer the children a Coca-Cola, which he would lace with the sleeping drug Normasin to knock them unconscious. He would then take photos of the children, posing them in sexual positions and enacting sexual abuse. It was these photos that led police to an unsolved disappearance in 1986.

Image of 9-year-old Samantha Knight, who went missing from Bondi, NSW in 1986. Source: News Corp

Nine-year-old Samantha Knight disappeared on the 19th of August 1986 in Bondi, New South Wales. She was last seen by a neighbour on Bondi Road, walking back from a pharmacy where she’d purchased a toothbrush. Her disappearance quickly made national headlines as parents everywhere, alarmed by the news of a killer on the loose, began to fear for their own children’s safety. With no body found and no direct evidence linking police to Samantha’s killer, however, the case quickly became cold. It wasn’t until fifteen years later, in 2001, that police were finally able to arrest Michael Guider of the murder of Samantha Knight.

Michael Guider was known to police not only for his previous record of child molestation, but also for his strange obsession with missing persons cases. Guider was known to talk often about Samantha and her disappearance, raising the suspicions of those around him, and kept several news clippings about Samantha’s disappearance in a scrapbook. It wasn’t until police found photographs of a young blonde girl believed to be Samantha posed unconscious and, in some cases, sexually with other unconscious victims, and discovered that Samantha had stayed at homes with friends who were babysat by Guider, that police began to really unravel the truth.

Missing Samantha Knight feeding kangaroos. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Four months after his arrest, Guider finally confessed to killing Samantha, telling investigators he had accidentally overdosed the young girl with his go-to drug Normasin and hid her body. To this day, no evidence supporting Guider’s confession other than his known mode of assault has been identified and the body of Samantha Knight has remained hidden, though it has been speculated her body may have been dumped in landfill and covered with new constructions, making her body unlikely to ever be recovered.

In 2013, however, a man labelled ‘Witness O’ came forward to police with information he believed might help in the case of missing Narooma girl Renee Aitken. Witness O had been serving five years at the Lithgow Prison for exporting ecstasy when he met Guider, whom he would often play chess and watch television with. During this time, Witness O noticed Guider repeatedly drawing pictures of a young blonde girl he called ‘Renee’. It wasn’t until years later that Witness O made the connection between Guider’s drawings and the eerie resemblance they had with the missing Renee Aitken.

Renee Aitken (right) and a sketch by Michael Guider of a little girl he called Renee (left). Source: Australian Missing Persons Register

Later articles also revealed that Guider’s scrapbook of missing and murdered children included news articles featuring some of Australia’s most notorious cases, including the Beaumont children (three children missing since 1966). This scrapbook also held articles from a Narooma newspaper; clippings about the disappearance of none other than Renee Aitken. These clippings being from a Narooma newspaper raised theories that Guider was in Narooma around the time of Renee’s disappearance. Guider had also been working two hours from Narooma at the time.

Most believe Guider had more homicide victims than Samantha Knight, and Renee Aitken did appear to fit Guider’s profile of children between the ages 0-12. However, Guider’s modus operandi had always remained the same: befriending a mother, drugging the child and taking photographs. Guider had never been charged with the kidnapping of a child from their home, and he never appeared to enact his crimes in the presence of the victims’ parents. Guider’s interest in missing children, though revealing, also didn’t necessarily always reveal a connection between himself and the children featured in his scrapbook. The Beaumont children were abducted while Guider was only sixteen years old and living near Sydney in New South Wales, around 15 hours away from Glenelg Beach in South Australia (though his exact whereabouts at the time of Renee’s abduction have not been made public).

Though police originally regarded Guider a person of interest in Renee’s case, it appears they’ve since somewhat discredited this theory. Guider was certainly a disturbed person, but his MO and timeline just didn’t seem to match.

Michael Guider spent seventeen years in prison for the manslaughter of Samantha Knight. In 2020, Guider – now 69 years old – was released on parole. His current identity and whereabouts are unknown.

Conclusion

Since the disappearance of Renee Aitken, Morna Aitken has remarried and now has another child named Orisi, who is twenty-five years old. Although the birth of Orisi “brought happiness” to Morna’s life, she was also terrified at “the thought of losing a second child” (Aitken 2014).

Bradley Aitken (left), Morna Aitken (middle) and her son Orisi (right). Source: Illawarra Mercury

Bradley later married a woman named Grace and together they had a daughter. She had “dark hair and perfect little cheeks”, and they named her Renee.

Little Renee, just like her aunty, is “her own person”. Though little Renee was named to honour her missing aunty, Bradley still makes sure Renee “never lives in the shadow of [his] sister”. Though, sometimes, little similarities creep in. In the article ‘My Little Sister Stolen in the Night’, Bradley remembers a time when he “came into the lounge room to find out girl munching on a cup of ice”. Little Renee had “picked up her aunty’s most quirky habit without even meeting her” (Aitken 2014).

Though Morna and Bradley have managed to find happiness outside of Renee’s disappearance, they still grieve. Without the body of their missing Renee, and without the manner of her death coming to light, they’ve never had the chance to truly mourn. Their thoughts are consumed with Renee, Morna saying the only time she didn’t think of Renee was when she was sleeping, adding “I need to have an end to this before I die” (Burlass 2014). They’re locked in a world of confusion, frustration and anguish. Trapped, with the only way out being answers to a crime that has remained a cold case for 37 years.

Memorial plaque of Renee Aitken, reading “Rest in peace darkling knowing that Mummy loves you dearly. Deeply missed by Bradley [illegible] family whose lives you touched unforgettably. Our Chookie”. Source: Narooma News Online

But this isn’t the end. Somewhere out there, there’s answers just waiting to be found. With new DNA technology and forensic testing, Renee’s case may not stay cold for long. On the 25th of April 2021, Morna Aitken lined up to take part in the South Coast DNA drive, where her DNA will be compared to the unidentified remains of 400 New South Wales people.

However this case goes, Bradley and Morna Aitken are sure of one thing: “Renee’s spirit will live on. No-one can take that away from us” (Aitken 2014).

If you have any information related to the disappearance and suspected murder of Renee Aitken, contact Crime Stoppers at 1800 333 000 or go to the Crime Stoppers New South Wales website at: https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au

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.

References

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