13 Feb 2012

Inquest begins into NZ nurse's disappearance 32 years ago

9:58 pm on 13 February 2012

An Australian coroner is investigating links between the disappearance of a New Zealand nurse who turned to prostitution and other women who went missing in Sydney in the 1980s.

An inquest into the presumed death of Marion Sandford, who was last seen in her brother's unit at Cammeray in January 1980, began in Sydney on Monday. Ms Sandford left a note saying she would return a week later.

Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon is examining the 23-year-old's likely death.

Glebe Coroner's Court heard the Auckland-born woman had convictions for possessing heroin and may have been offered thousands of dollars to traffic drugs between Australia and Asia, the ABC reports.

The court heard Ms Sandford may have been introduced to heroin while training to be a nurse in New Zealand, and she later worked as a prostitute in Sydney's Kings Cross to pay for her habit.

The inquest is to determine if Ms Sandford is dead and if her disappearance was related to the cases of other women who went missing in Sydney around the same time. It will look at relationships she may have had with Sydney crime identities she came into contact with.

The ABC reports a convicted drug dealer is among those expected to give evidence.

Detective Sergeant Robert George, who has been working on the case since 2008, said the disappearance has been linked with two other women, Linda Davie and Mary Wallace.

"The similarities are the geographical area where they all disappeared along with the ages and general description of the females," he told the court. "Linda Davie was of New Zealand background as well."

Ms Davie, 22, who wanted to be a model, moved from New Zealand to live with her boyfriend in 1980.

Ten weeks after Ms Sanford's disappearance, Ms Davie posted a letter to her boyfriend saying she was going away for a few days. She also never returned home.

Ms Wallace, also a nurse, disappeared in September 1983.

Mr MacMahon thanked Ms Sandford's family members who travelled from New Zealand for being in court.

He apologised to them for the lengthy time lapse between the disappearance and the inquest.

Outside court her brother Peter told the ABC the family did not want to comment on the case until the coroner had finished his investigation.