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The disappearance of Joanne Ratcliffe & Kirste Gordan still unsolved 50 years on

Updated: May 30, 2023

Abducted Joanne Ratcliffe’s sister, Suzie, is keeping the memory of her missing sister alive half a century on with the Leave A Light On foundation

Suzie Ratcliffe, Joanne Ratcliffe's sister. Image: Joe Castro

It is a story known by so many everyday Australians and dozens of true crime sleuths in America.

On a winter weekend in 1973 at the Adelaide Oval, Joanne Ratcliffe, aged 11 and Kirste Gordon, aged four, took two trips to the toilets in each other’s company without any adults present.

When the pair headed for the lavatories during the third quarter of the Norwood and North Adelaide SANFL clash, it would be the final ever time their family and friends would ever see them.

Despite an announcement over the PA system – which came far too late, along with an extensive police search, the two girls were never located and seemingly disappeared forever.

It later emerged witnesses had seen the girls in the company of an older man, appearing distressed, though they assumed the girls were being unruly in the company of a parent.

This year marks the 50th anniversary since the incident and Suzie Ratcliffe, the founder of Leave A Light On, appeared on the Country Viewpoint program on Flow FM to tell her sister’s story and discuss the foundation she launched to not only preserve her sister’s memory and legacy, but to also shine a light on other missing people around Australia.

The interview began with Suzie Ratcliffe addressing what her upbringing was like considering the abducted Joanne Ratcliffe also happened to be the sister she never met.

I never understood why [Joanne disappeared]. I had this sister but where was she when I was younger? We had a photo on the mantelpiece of my brother and sister together and I was only about three or four when I started questioning, who was that little girl with my brother and why wasn't she here? Can she hear? Mum and dad tried to explain to me that a bad man had taken her and that's why I had to be very careful about strangers,” Ratcliffe explained.

Ratcliffe was also asked to elaborate on the mixed emotions she’s often been subjected to having to grow up digesting rumours and speculation as to how her sister Joanne and Kirste Gordon met their fates.

“In the general public, it's heartwarming to know even you know there's all these speculations and there's all these rumors and stuff like that. It's disappointing that there's so much speculation but on a positive note, it's rewarding to know that the girls are still being remembered and it's still there in the public eye.

People are still talking about the girls because while they're still talking about them, there's always hope that they'll talk to the right person who has information that can then contact Crime Stoppers.

That's what we hold on to, is that hope that that conversation somewhere with someone reveals the information that we need to locate the girls' remains and bring them home so we can bury them with the dignity, love and respect they deserve,” said Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe also clarified whether there is a tangible link between her sister’s disappearance and the abduction of the Beaumont Children from Adelaide’s Glenelg Beach in 1966, which is still considered Australia’s most notorious unsolved crime.

“We've spoken with police on numerous occasions and there's always been talk that the main suspect is one and the same as the person that kidnapped the Beaumont children. But there's no concrete evidence.

"Unfortunately, back when Jane, Arnna and Grant disappeared, there was no Facebook, there was no social media, there was no CCTV footage. So we were reliant on people as eyewitnesses, and although there have been people come forward over the years, there hasn't been enough concrete evidence to pinpoint one particular person as the person who did it.

"Unfortunately, after 50 years, the person who kidnapped the two girls has probably passed on by now. But there's still hope that they've spoken to someone and that person has information to come forward. My family long gave up on worrying about justice,” exclaimed Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe’s sole mission in life is to help other families that have experienced similar levels of grief through the foundation she launched, Leave A Light On.

She explained why she launched the foundation and what it stands for to Flow listeners.

“We created Leave A Light On as a dedication to Jo and Kirsty but also to the thousands of missing persons here in Australia. After speaking with other families prior to the creation [of the foundation] about their missing loved ones.

Unfortunately, in Australia, there's over 2,600 long-term missing persons. With that number, a lot of people could maybe name half a dozen and they're well-known cases.

There are so many cases that people don't know about and that's where we step in and we want to be that voice for those missing persons to continue to raise awareness of these missing loved ones and to hope that we can reach someone out there that has some information.”


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