The 33-year-old mystery of vanished Rockhampton woman Michelle Lewis

The 33-year-old mystery of vanished Rockhampton woman Michelle Lewis

It was a typical Saturday night for best friends Kerry Bartley and Michelle Lewis, spent watching movies and making plans for the next day.

Not wanting to worry her foster mum, Michelle said good night to her friend and hopped on her most prized possession, her mountain bike, about 10pm.

The ride home was less than a kilometer and should have only taken a few minutes but Michelle never made it home.

“That was the last time I’ve seen or heard from her,” Kerry said.

Best friend Kerry Bartley is urging anyone with information about Michelle Lewis’s disappearance to come forward.(abcnews)

Kerry was the last person to see Michelle Coral Lewis alive before she vanished in central Queensland on Saturday, January 14, 1989.

“It’s been 33 long years,” she said.

“Every year that passes becomes harder, not easier, because there are no answers.

“How does someone, and their bike, just disappear?”

It is a $500,000 question police are determined to answer, with help from the public.

Who was Michelle Lewis?

Kerry and Michelle’s bond began when they became neighbors in Rockhampton at 13 years old.

“Michelle was a creature of habit and over the weekends mostly spent the whole day at my place,” Kerry said.

A former Glenmore High School student, the “tomboy” was “very independent”, with only a handful of “close female friends”.

Close-up black and white photo of a woman smiling
Michelle Coral Lewis disappeared in Rockhampton, central Queensland, in January 1989.(Supplied: Queensland Police Service)

Like many 21-year-olds in Rockhampton, Michelle found joy in socializing at Flamingo’s Nightclub.

“Michelle had a rough upbringing, but she had a heart of gold and was loyal to her friends,” Kerry said.

She tried a range of jobs, including one at a local piggery and another at a panel beater shop, but struggled to land permanency.

“Michelle never had much to call her own,” Kerry said.

“She had nothing. But she would save everything to give to somebody else.”

Michelle’s traumatic childhood

Michelle was “abandoned by her mum” at just “a few weeks old”, then raised by her grandma.

Adaline Salhus, known better as Dell, stepped in to foster Michelle when her grandmother died.

She spent about four years living with Dell and her family in North Rockhampton.

But when Dell woke up at 7am on January 15, 1989, she found no trace of Michelle, or her beloved bike, and reported her missing.

The former lead investigator, retired detective Ann Gumley, said it was a case that has haunted her well beyond her 34 years of service.

“Because of the kindness shown to her by her [foster] mother Dell Salhus, Michelle would not have done anything that would have made Dell concerned,” Ms Gumley said.

Ann standing in front of microphones, short gray hair, wearing glasses.
Former lead investigator, retired detective Ann Gumley, says the case still haunts her.(abcnews)

Dell, who has since died, told police at the time that Michelle was very responsible and always phoned if she was going to be home late.

“She had such a sad life, and then to just disappear just seemed so unfair,” Ms Gumley said.

“It’s very hard to comprehend that someone can just disappear off the face of the earth and no-one knows anything about it.”

How the original investigation unfolded

Michelle was last seen on her bike leaving Kerry’s house on Stenlake Avenue, North Rockhampton, around 10:45pm, intending to ride a short distance to her home on Alexandra Street.

Ms Gumley said police launched a major investigation and completed 150 tasks, initially taking 42 statements.

“A large number of persons were located, interviewed and statements obtained.

“However, there was nothing to indicate to us as to how Michelle disappeared.”

Ms Gumley said she had done everything she could to try to find Michelle.

“We had to try and keep the ball rolling as much as we could to try to get as much information as we could,” she said

“But once that information dries up, that leaves us with nowhere to go.”

Ms Lewis’s case was reviewed in 1999 as part of the investigation into crimes committed by notorious serial killer Leonard John Fraser, who died in 2007.

But police said there was no information to suggest he was involved in Michelle’s disappearance.

Bike with white, dark red and black frame, black seat and handle bars.
Michelle Lewis was last seen alive riding this maroon and white mountain bike on Saturday, January 14 1989.(Supplied: Queensland Police Service)

Can you help?

Detectives are urging a man, who called police around midday on February 18, 1989, but hung up before speaking to detectives, to come forward.

Michelle is described as 155 centimetres tall, with black shoulder-length hair and brown eyes and had two tattoos on the inside of her ankles, one a cross, the other her initials, ML.

She was last seen wearing a hot pink tie-dye singlet top with the word surf across the front, a pair of multi-coloured board shorts and white Dunlop sneakers.

Pink tie dye tank top with yellow letters SURF.
Michelle Lewis was last seen alive wearing this pink tie dye singlet top that says “surf”.(Supplied: Queensland Police Service)

Even after 33 years, the former lead investigator said she remained committed to seeking justice for Michelle.

“Miracles do happen,” Ms Bartley said.

“If there is anyone out there who may have some information, regardless of if they feel it is insignificant, please let the investigating officers know.

“If they find Michelle’s bike, they’ll find Michelle. If they find her, they’ll find her bike.

“That’s the way I look at it because she never went anywhere without that bike.”

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