The Lady Vanishes: the strange disappearance of an Australian school teacher

Imagine your 51-year-old, divorced and single mother tells you she's taking a sabbatical to travel the world for a few months and is never heard from again. You notify the police but they say your mother's disappearance was voluntary and she is alive and well. Imagine 24 years pass and still no word from your mom. What would you do?

Marion Barter of Australia traveled abroad n 1997 and then vanished.

What happened to Marion Barter?

  1. This is the first of six weekly stories by Dakota Spotlight Podcast about mysteries and crimes from around the globe and the people dedicated to finding answers.
    In 1997 Marion Barter was an award-winning elementary school teacher. The divorced, 51-year-old Australian mother of two was dependable, loving and ready for a brief sabbatical from work when she set off to see the world. Marion flew to the United Kingdom, where she sent a few postcards to friends and family in Australia. She also made some seemingly normal phone calls home to her adult daughter. But then, she simply vanished.

Nobody has seen or heard from Marion Barter since 1997.

LISTEN to Dakota Spotlight's interview with executive producer of The Lady Vanishes podcast about the bizarre case of missing Marion Barter.


The initial Investigation

When asked to investigate in 1997, Australian authorities told Marion's family that she had disappeared voluntarily and wanted privacy. This made little sense to Marion's adult children but, due to privacy laws in Australia, there wasn't much they could do about it. The family reluctantly lived with this theory for years, hoping their mother would reach out to them at some point, perhaps when her children reached milestones in their lives. But Marion never did: not when her daughter got married; not when her son died; not after the birth of three grandchildren.

Sally Leydon, Marion Barter’s daughter and mother of three is the driving force behind the effort to find out what happened to her mother. / Seven News, Australia

24 years later, Marion's daughter, Sally Leydon feels enough is enough. She's not spoken with her mother since the phone rang in 1997 and her mother told her she was still in the United Kingdom, enjoying a trip of a lifetime. Sally is concerned her mother met with foul play.

In recent years, Sally's renewed attempts to get help from Australian authorities fell on mostly deaf ears and she got nowhere. So, she reached out to Alison Sandy, reporter for the Australian network Seven News . Seven News teamed up with Sally and together they started an investigative podcast titled The Lady Vanishes .

Missing money, Luxembourg and a brand new name

The case of missing Marion Barter is confusing, complex and full of surprises. While working on the podcast, Alison Sandy and her Seven News team discovered that Marion Barter had likely returned to Australia in 1997, just three days after last speaking to her daughter on the phone. Oddly, on this return trip, Marion noted in travel documents that she only planned on staying in Australia for eight days. It is unknown if Marion ever left Australia again.

Even more puzzling is that Marion seemed to have changed her name to Florabella Remakel. Her travel documents also indicated that Marion Barter, aka Florabella Remekel, now claimed to be a housewife living, not in Australia, but in Luxembourg. But no trace of Marion has been found in Luxembourg.


Marion Barter worked for years as a schoolteacher before vanishing in 1997 / Seven News Australia

And then there was the issue of money missing from Marion's Australian bank account. Soon after Marion's apparent "secret" return to Australia, her bank account was drained. Once a day, every day over a three-week period, Marion (or someone who had assumed her identity) withdrew 5,000 Australian dollars from her account.

Is it possible that Marion Barter was actually planning a new life? Yes. Marion might have legitimately wanted some time alone. But Sally Leydon feels confident her mother must have ultimately met with foul play. Perhaps Marion was coerced, manipulated or even brainwashed. Maybe something very sinister kept Marion from ever contacting her family again.

Answers at last?

Sally Leydon, Alison Sandy and the Seven News team in Australia have been working on this story for over two years. With over 8 million podcast downloads, the story has taken on the public's interest across Australia. Their search for Marion Barter, which took them from their own country to the UK and to Luxembourg, is possibly coming to a finale; they might be close to some real answers.

Finally, after much public pressure, a direct result of the popularity of the podcast, an official inquest into the case of Marion Barter is taking place in Australia. Never-before-seen information is expected to be released by the Australian government. Maybe, just maybe, Sally Leydon will finally find out what happened to her mother.

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Australian journalist Alison Sandy teamed up with Seven News Australia to help Sally Leydon look for answers about her missing mother Marion Barter / Seven News Australia

James Wolner is a Digital Content Producer at Forum Communications Company, Fargo North Dakota and the creator, producer and host of Dakota Spotlight, a true crime podcast. He has lived the Upper Midwest since 2013 and studied photojournalism at California State University at Fresno. He is fluent in English and Swedish.
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