For Suzie Ratcliffe, the disappearance of Cleo Smith had deeply personal resonances.

Key points:

  • Suzie Ratciffe’s sister, Joanne, disappeared from Adelaide Oval in 1973
  • Suzie now runs missing persons awareness group Leave A Light On
  • She says the “amazing” discovery of Cleo Smith should inspire others to never stop hoping

Suzie’s 11-year-old sister, Joanne, and four-year-old Kirste Gordon went missing during a football game at Adelaide Oval in August 1973.

Along with the disappearance of the Beaumont children, the incident remains one of South Australia’s most notorious suspected abduction cases.

Ms Ratcliffe grew up in the shadow of that event, which is still unsolved after almost five decades.

She is today the director of missing persons awareness organisation Leave A Light On, and said the news that Cleo was alive had moved her to “tears of joy”.

“It was overwhelming, the joy that this beautiful little girl is finally reunited with her family — I could only imagine how her parents are feeling right now,” she told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“Unfortunately not everyone has the same outcome, but it’s actually amazing news knowing that Cleo has been found. It’s an outcome that every single family of a missing loved one hopes for and prays for.

Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon who went missing from Adelaide Oval in 1973.(SA Police)

Ms Ratcliffe has never let go of the possibility of one day discovering more about her sister’s fate.

While Ms Ratcliffe has “pretty much come to the conclusion” that her sister “has passed”, she said families of missing persons deserved closure.

“Each and every single person across Australia who’s missing has a loved one who’s waiting at home.”

Ms Ratcliffe is the co-founder of missing persons organisation Leave A Light On.(Facebook)

SA Police has continued to conduct search operations over the decades, and Joanne’s case was highlighted in 2017 as part of Missing Persons Week.

“I was born 14 months after Joanne disappeared, but I grew up knowing all there was to know about Jo,” Suzie Ratcliffe said.

“My parents were very open and forthright about what had happened to her, and even though it was incredibly painful for them to talk about it, they answered all my questions about her being missing and the circumstances around her disappearance.”

‘Obligation to keep searching’, SA Police chief says

Ms Ratcliffe was full of praise for WA Police and others involved in the investigation, saying they had shown extraordinary tenacity in their efforts to find Cleo.

“People who are on the frontline, they live and breathe this … the face of Cleo would be ingrained in them,” she said.

“When they go home, they’d hold their kids tighter, because unfortunately a lot of these cases don’t always turn out positively.”

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said detectives were watching events in Western Australia with interest, in the hope that there were lessons for future missing persons investigations.

“Everybody in South Australia would be aware of the Beaumonts, Kirste Gordon, Joanne Ratcliffe. You don’t move on from these things,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“These sorts of crimes – they change the nature of your community and they embed themselves in our history.

“They become part of the fabric of your psyche and it affects the way you feel about your community, so for this little girl to be found safe and well is just exceptional and something we’re really keen to hear about.”

Mr Stevens cited the recent conviction of Dieter Pfennig for the murder of Adelaide schoolgirl Louise Bell, who was abducted from her bedroom at Hackham West in 1983, as another case in point.

“Obviously with the passage of time these things become more and more difficult to solve,” he said.

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