For seven years Kevin Docherty has held tight two pictures that could unlock one of the Illawarra’s deepest and most harrowing mysteries.
Or they could not.
After 37 years without his missing and presumed murdered twin sister Kay, Mr Docherty takes care not to get his hopes up.
Kay and fellow Lake Illawarra High School student Toni Cavanagh vanished from near a bus stop outside Warilla Grove shopping centre on July 27, 1979.
Lake Illawarra police believe the girls were trying to make their way to a Wollongong disco when they met with foul play.
Detectives invited renowned medium Debbie Malone to assist their investigation in 2009. Part of Ms Malone’s contribution was computer-generated pictures of two men she identified as having abducted and murdered the girls.
Police never released the images; Mr Docherty also opted not to share them, until now.
As the 37th anniversary of the girls’ disappearance passed last month, he remembered the pledge he made to his mother Jean on her deathbed, to never relinquish his efforts to find Kay.
“It was a big promise, and I thought about it before i said it,” Mr Docherty told the Mercury.
“There wasn’t a great deal of thought put into [sharing the pictures] – I’m just clutching at straws.”
The pictures show two men aged 18-22, as they would have looked in 1979. They possibly came from Sydney, and drove an early 1960s-1970s Holden, according to Ms Malone.
The value of the pictures remains to be seen. Mr Docherty said Ms Malone was one of four psychics who had contacted him with information about his sister’s disappearance.
“They all think they know what happened – but I never get my hopes up,” he said.
“I’m just trying to piece together everything they say and see if anyone’s got anything in common.”
In 1996, police investigating Ivan Milat and the backpacker murders visited the Docherty home. Milat reportedly worked for a road gang in Kiama in the late 1970s and was known to travel along Shellharbour Road.
Mr Docherty notes that Milat’s name “keeps coming up” in connection with the girls.
He favours another scenario – that Toni – the more outgoing of the girls – arranged to get a lift with a male or males she knew, and that Kay joined her in the car.
Detective Senior Sergeant Darren Kelly admits to having developed a personal interest in the case after years of absorbing himself in its finer details.
He says Ms Malone’s images were not released in 2009 as they had the potential to mislead witnesses. He said Mr Docherty’s decision to share the images now, after two inquests that resulted in open findings, could generate new information.
“We’ve come to a part of the investigation where there are no further fresh leads for us. I’m always encouraging more people to come forward who might have critical information relating to the disappearance of the girls.”
Police medium ‘saw’ faces of girls’ killers
Debbie Malone was convinced of it; she was looking at the faces of two killers. The difficult part, at Lake Illawarra Police Station in 2009, was converting what she saw into something detectives could use. The station had no computer program to compose the faces Ms Malone, a renowned Sutherland Shire-based medium, claimed to see.
Brought in to aid the investigation into the July, 1979 disappearance of Warilla schoolgirls Kay Docherty and Toni Malone, Ms Malone and police produced the pictures the old fashioned way.
“It was just a book,” Ms Malone told the Mercury. “There was a page of mouths, a page of noses, a page of eyes … “I think it took four weeks for it to come back [as a complete picture]. That’s when I saw the faces completely. I didn’t get to tweak it. That was the hardest part.”
Despite the method, Ms Malone said she was satisfied with the final ‘identikit’ images. Held privately for seven years, Miss Docherty’s twin brother Kevin recently made the pictures public, reigniting interest in the 37-year-old case.
Ms Malone handled items from Kay’s jewelery box the day she visited the police station. As detectives looked on, she took a delicate silver chain and other items in her hands and experienced a series of visions.
“I saw the girls’ faces – a fair blonde-headed girl and a red-headed girl. I said, ‘it’s Toni Cavanagh and Kay Docherty’. I just knew who they were,” she said. “Kay came across as shy. Toni … was a bit of a wild child and a bit more streetwise than Kay.”.
Ms Malone accompanied police to a section of Seven Mile Beach she had identified as the girls’ likely location. Police twice searched the area with cadaver dogs, but found nothing.
“I still feel they’re there,” Ms Malone said. “It’s just we weren’t right on the spot.”