“Mum said a nasty man had taken Joanne away before I was born,” Suzie tells New Idea.
Joanne was just 11 years old when she and Kirste Gordon, 4, went missing from Adelaide Oval after going to the toilet together during a football game in 1973.
Now 47 years on, the disappearance of the two youngsters has become one of the most mysterious missing persons cases in our country’s history.
It’s a story that makes you hug your kids a bit tighter and a nightmare that has shattered the Ratcliffe family.
“I was born 14 months after Joanne went missing,” says Melbourne-based Suzie. “When I was little, I used to get up at night and talk to the picture of her on the mantelpiece and hear Mum and Dad crying behind the closed door.”
Suzie’s parents – Kathleen and Les – tried their best to hide their sadness from Suzie and David, but the pain didn’t fade.
As Suzie grew older, she became more interested in the details behind her sister’s disappearance and, in 2006 when she became a mum to daughter Tamara, she resolved to help long-suffering families going through the same.
“I understood then the bond between a mother and her daughter, and what Mum would have felt and had gone through losing Joanne,” explains Suzie.
Connecting with those with missing relatives, Suzie learned their greatest fear was that their loved one would be forgotten as time progressed.
“The police searches stop, there’s no new leads, the media attention fades away and then so does the person,” says Suzie. “I couldn’t let that happen.”
So her charity, Leave A Light On Inc, was born.
“Mum and Dad used to leave the porch light on every night, so if Joanne ever came home, she’d know we’d be waiting for her. It became a symbol of hope for our family,” she says.
Suzie still leaves the porch light on, but sadly her parents have since passed away. They died broken-hearted not knowing what happened to their little girl.
“Ambiguous grief is a grief like no other – there are no answers,” she admits. “But there is always hope and we can’t give up on that. If we do, there is nothing else to hold on to.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To contact state and territory Missing Persons Units, visit missingpersons.gov.au/report/missing-persons-units.
For more information, visit:
Australian Federal Police National Missing Persons Coordination Centre: missingpersons.gov.au,
Missing Persons Advocacy Network: mpan.com.au,
or Leave A Light On Inc: facebook.com/LeaveALightOninc.