Detectives appear to have made the first major breakthrough in the hunt for missing mum Samantha Murphy since they arrested her alleged killer almost three months ago.

The 51-year-old was last seen leaving her home on Eureka Street, in Ballarat, Victoria, to go for a run in the nearby Canadian State Forest on the morning of February 4. 

In early March, local man Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, was charged with her alleged murder. He is yet to enter a plea and has refused to help police in the hunt for Ms Murphy’s body.

On Wednesday, police launched a new search in the hunt for her remains, with the focus on a dam at a property south of Buninyong, approximately 14km from her home.

Aerial footage from the scene showed officers locating the mud-splattered mobile phone in a wallet at the water’s edge, prompting jubilant celebrations among detectives standing nearby.

Video captured by the ABC showed police hugging, backslapping and shaking hands in the wake of the discovery.

Although police would only say that some ‘items of interest’ had been found, it is clear they are hopeful they have made a major breakthrough.

It marks the first major development since Stephenson’s arrest.

Daily Mail Australia takes a look back at how detectives got to this stage.

Police have arrested a man in relation to the disappearance of missing mum Samantha Murphy

Police have arrested a man in relation to the disappearance of missing mum Samantha Murphy

No trace of the mum-of-three has ever been found, despite  a massive search effort involving police, SES and countless volunteers (pictured)

No trace of the mum-of-three has ever been found, despite  a massive search effort involving police, SES and countless volunteers (pictured)

Police celebrated on Wednesday after finding a cellphone during the search for Ms Murphy

Police celebrated on Wednesday after finding a cellphone during the search for Ms Murphy

Sunday February 4 

Mum-of-three Samantha Murphy left her home on Eureka Street in Ballarat East to head off on a run around 7am.

She was captured on a neighbour’s CCTV wearing a brown singlet and black half-length leggings.

It’s believed she reached the Mount Clear area by foot, according to mobile phone data later obtained by police.

She was reported missing four hours later after she failed to return to return home or show up at a planned 11am brunch with family.

Ms Murphy’s uncle and aunt Allan and Janice Robson, told Daily Mail Australia that her husband Mick made the call to police.

‘She was reported missing at about 11am. Mick reported her missing. He said she was supposed to be back to go to some sort of meeting that morning,’ Allan said.

‘She wasn’t home. Didn’t go to it… he rang up and reported it and after that they started looking out the other side of Buninyong, which is 20-30km away.’

Monday February 5

Victoria Police launch a public appeal regarding Ms Murphy’s disappearance.

A statement said that police and her family held grave concerns for Samantha’s welfare due to the hot weather and out of character disappearance. 

A search area is established just outside the suburb of Buninyong, about 14km from where Ms Murphy was last seen, as well as near her home.

Wednesday's discovery of a mobile phone marks the first major development in the case since Ms Murphy's alleged killer was arrested almost three months ago

Wednesday’s discovery of a mobile phone marks the first major development in the case since Ms Murphy’s alleged killer was arrested almost three months ago

Tuesday February 6

Ms Murphy’s husband, Mick, tells media that he’s ‘not too bad under the circumstances’. 

He was pictured speaking with police as the desperate search continued. 

The search extended to more than 100 specialised police officers, SES crews and teams from Forest Fire Management Australia and Parks Victoria.

Wednesday February 7

Possible evidence near a walking trail in Woowookarung Regional Park which was later deemed not related to her whereabouts.

Ms Murphy’s husband turns up at the cordoned off scene in Woowookarung Regional Park and appeared visibly stunned as he was turned away by officers.

Police later released CCTV of whom they initially believed was Ms Murphy leaving her property and heading off in a north-easterly direction.

Daily Mail Australia understands police are still searching for other key pieces of evidence, such as Ms Murphy's missing watch and headphones, or possibly a murder weapon.

Daily Mail Australia understands police are still searching for other key pieces of evidence, such as Ms Murphy’s missing watch and headphones, or possibly a murder weapon.

Thursday February 8

Ms Murphy’s husband and daughter front the media to issue an emotional plea.

‘Mum, we love you so much, and we miss you, and we need you at home with us,’ daughter Jess said as she fought back tears.

‘Please come home soon. I can’t wait to see you and to give you the biggest hug when I do, and to tell you off for giving us so much stress. I love you.’

Mick added: ‘People just don’t vanish into thin air. Someone has got to know something,’ he says.

Later that day, a key line of inquiry came to an abrupt end when a runner came forward to reveal they are the person seen in the CCTV footage released by police a day earlier.

Friday February 9  

As the search enters its sixth day, Victoria police’s missing persons squad takes over as lead investigators on the search for Ms Murphy.

Saturday February 10 

Police scaled back the extensive search and added that a full scale search will only resume if fresh information emerged.

Volunteer crews consisting of locals vow to continue conducting their own searches and hold onto the hope that Ms Murphy could still be alive.

The arrest and murder charge announced by police on Thursday marks the first significant breakthrough in what has become Victoria's highest priority police inquiry since the missing mum vanished on February 4

The arrest and murder charge announced by police on Thursday marks the first significant breakthrough in what has become Victoria’s highest priority police inquiry since the missing mum vanished on February 4

Ballarat locals have spent the last few weeks conducting their own searches in the hope that Ms Murphy could still be alive.

Ballarat locals have spent the last few weeks conducting their own searches in the hope that Ms Murphy could still be alive.

Locals have continued looking for Samanatha Murphy after police scaled back the search

Locals have continued looking for Samanatha Murphy after police scaled back the search

Wednesday February 14

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton confirms that detectives are treating Ms Murphy’s disappearance as suspicious. 

‘It’s certainly unusual when we haven’t been able to locate any trace of her or any other evidence within that period of time,’ he said. 

‘It’s suspicious, whether that means there’s foul play involved, or not, I don’t know, but obviously detectives are investigating a matter where a woman’s been missing for a significant period of time.

Thursday February 22 

As dozens of detectives from specialist units are assigned to the case and travel from Melbourne, police admit ‘one or more parties’ are most likely behind Ms Murphy’s disappearance as a new ground search was launched.

Detectives also reveal that Ms Murphy’s husband Mick and ‘everyone’ close to her have been named as persons of interest.

‘We are keeping an open mind, but believe the most likely scenario is that her disappearance involves one or more parties,’ Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt said.

‘Given the extensive and detailed search that has already been undertaken, and the fact no sign of Samantha or her personal belongings has been located, we have ruled out any type of medical incident.’ 

When Daily Mail Australia asked Superintendent Hatt if Mr Murphy was a person of interest, he said he was not an official suspect, but that he and ‘everyone’ in Ms Murphy’s close personal life was a person of interest.

In early March, Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, was charged with her alleged murder

In early March, Patrick Orren Stephenson, 22, was charged with her alleged murder 

‘We have a number of people that we are speaking to and I can say the family have been absolutely fantastic in co-operating with police,’ he said.

‘At this stage he is not (a suspect). Everyone in relation to Samantha is a person of interest. In our investigation we are speaking to everyone that was in her life.

Police also launch a major new ground search after phone data led them to a specific area of bushland 6km from where she was last seen. 

Detectives from the Missing Persons Squad lead the ‘targeted search’ of bush around Mount Clear, 6km from Ms Murphy’s home.

The new search was south of the Canadian forest area where Ms Murphy regularly ran and where much of the earlier searches have been conducted.

It was also closer to the phone tower in Buninyong which was said to have registered a ping from Ms Murphy’s mobile phone at about 5pm on the day she vanished.

Saturday February 24

Hundreds of Ballarat locals join a volunteer-led community search spanning dense bushland in the hope of finding a clue to assist the investigation. Search organisers are still hopeful that Ms Murphy will be found alive.

‘The amount of mothers and women, there have been fathers and other people jumping in on the group chats which is absolutely fantastic, but a lot of the driving force, a lot of the community, a lot of the people getting involved are the women,’ Cristie-Lea King told A Current Affair several days earlier.

The community mood in Ballarat remains ‘sombre’, where Ms Murphy’s disappearance continues to impact daily lives of many locals.

‘I think it has certainly been felt, spoken about,’ Ms King said.

‘Even getting out of my car last night, I suddenly heard a noise. 

‘I shouldn’t be thinking about that or worrying, but it creates a sense of until we get answers you don’t know what happened.’

The group refused to give up hope that Ms Murphy will be found,

‘Until there is an answer, we are not giving up hope on her if she is there,’ Ms King said.

Police released this image of Ms Murphy from the morning she vanished. Detectives now believe 'one or more parties' are behind her mystery disappearance

 Police released this image of Ms Murphy from the morning she vanished. Detectives now believe ‘one or more parties’ are behind her mystery disappearance 

Samantha Murphy's husband Mick Murphy addressed the media four days after she disappeared

Samantha Murphy’s husband Mick Murphy addressed the media four days after she disappeared

Wednesday February 28 

The Inland Motor Body Works, a smash repair business in Ballarat owned by Ms Murphy and her husband became a focus of the investigation, amid speculation outlaw motorcycle gangs were among their customers.

Later that night, a panel of experts – including psychologists, former policemen and technology experts examined all the information Victoria Police have shared with the public for Channel Nine’s Under Investigation program.

The experts believed Mrs Murphy’s habitual morning run could have been what led to her disappearance and considered a number of different scenarios, including the possibility that she was kidnapped and is still alive.

But all five experts agreed the mother had likely met some kind of foul play – whether that be murder or kidnap – while she was in the forest.

Monday March 4

Investigators have begun reviewing mobile phone tower data to identify the movements of people in the area where Ms Murphy vanished.

Detectives will now trawl through mobile data from the Ballarat area, with particular interest in phones that ‘pinged’ from towers covering the zone they believe Ms Murphy was in hours after her run. 

Phone metadata has been crucial to the investigation after it pinpointed a precise location in the Mount Clear area, some 7km from Ms Murphy’s home, about an hour into her 14km jog.

Wednesday March 6

A man, 22, is arrested at his Scotsburn home in Ballarat shortly after 6am in connection to Ms Murphy’s disappearance. However his arrest is not announced by Victoria Police until the next day.

Thursday March 7

Victoria Police announce a man has been arrested and remains in custody. Detectives were later spotted visiting the family home to speak to Ms Murphy’s husband Mick.

Police later announce that the man, 22, in custody has been been charged with one count of murder and will Ballarat Magistrates’ Court later that afternoon.

Police are yet to recover Samantha’s body and the investigation remains ongoing. 

Police have been forced to scour rugged terrain in the search for Ms Murphy's body

Police have been forced to scour rugged terrain in the search for Ms Murphy’s body 

Police look for clues in Buninyong during another search in March

Police look for clues in Buninyong during another search in March 

‘Our thoughts today are with Samantha’s family and friends,’ Supt Hatt said in a statement.

‘Since Samantha’s disappearance at the start of February, a significant search and investigation has been undertaken in an effort to find her.

‘This has included a dedicated and committed investigative effort led by the Missing Persons squad and also involving detectives from right across Crime Command, Counter Terrorism Command and Western Region.

‘This has been further supported by a range of specialist resources from across Victoria Police.

‘To get to a position where we have been able to charge someone is testament to the commitment and dedication from all those areas.

‘We have also had exceptional support from many people in the Ballarat community, particularly local search volunteers and members of the SES and CFA.

‘I know that Samantha’s disappearance has had a profound impact on the Ballarat community and I want to thank all of those people who have assisted police in many different ways over the past month.’

Wednesday April 20  

Technology detector dogs are brought in to assist with a search in Buninyong Bushland Reserve. 

The specialist dogs are supplied by the Australian Federal Police who say the canines can sniff out memory storage devices such as USBs, hard drives, mobile phones, storage device cards and SIM cards.

The dogs are considered to be the most elite of all sniffer dogs and capable of detecting the microns-thin coating that protects computer circuit boards.

Their noses are so sensitive, they can track down cash hidden under stairs, sim cards concealed in shoes and USBs buried in eskies full of food. 

An eight-hour search turns up nothing.  

Pictured: Samantha Murphy sharing happy moments with her husband Michael

Pictured: Samantha Murphy sharing happy moments with her husband Michael

Thursday April 11

Police launched a fresh search in Enfield State Park, more than 30m away from Ballarat, claiming that it has been ‘highlighted by intelligence derived from a number of sources’.

The park is less than 30km away from where the body of another allegedly murdered local woman – 23-year-old Hannah McGuire – was discovered several days before.

Emergency services found Ms McGuire’s body inside a burnt-out car in bushland near State Forest Road at Scarsdale, 25km south of Ballarat.

Specialist cadaver dogs from New South Wales are brought in to scour the Victorian bush at multiple locations in dense scrub spanning a vast stretch of countryside. 

The search is abandoned in the following days after detectives fail to find anything.  

Wednesday May 29 

Police launch a new search at a dam on a property south of Buninyong, approximately 14km from Ms Murphy’s home.

Aerial footage from the scene showed officers locating a mud-splattered mobile phone in a wallet at the water’s edge, prompting jubilant celebrations among detectives standing nearby. 

Video captured by the ABC showed police hugging, backslapping and shaking hands in the wake of the discovery.

A team of police divers were then sent into the water to scour the small dam for any further possible evidence.

Later, police were seen using a metal detector to scan the edge of the water. 

In a statement issued shortly after the mobile phone was found, police said they had located some ‘items of interest’ during the search for the missing mum. 

Samantha Murphy left her Ballarat home at 7am February 4 to go for a run in the nearby state forest and did not return home. Police have now launched a major new ground search after phone data led them to a specific area of bushland 6km from where she was last seen

Samantha Murphy left her Ballarat home at 7am February 4 to go for a run in the nearby state forest and did not return home. Police have now launched a major new ground search after phone data led them to a specific area of bushland 6km from where she was last seen

The major new development will see a significant number of detectives from across Crime Command and other specialist commands join local police in the hunt for Samantha Murphy (above)

The major new development will see a significant number of detectives from across Crime Command and other specialist commands join local police in the hunt for Samantha Murphy (above)

‘The area has been cordoned off and those items will now be forensically tested.

‘At this stage we are not providing further information about the items until that testing has been completed.

‘The items were located during today’s targeted search, which involved investigators and other specialist units from across Victoria Police and assistance from the AFP.’

The owner of the property, who wished to remain anonymous, said police contacted him about three weeks ago asking for permission to access his land.

The man said officers returned on Wednesday where they told him they were going to perform a line search along the road.

‘A dog found something on the banks and they came up and asked me and my wife to make a statement,’ he said.

 

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