Detectives in Ballarat
The search continues for the body of Samantha Murphy after a man was charged with her murder. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Community vigil, mum’s alleged killer named

March 8, 2024

Mourners have laid floral tributes and honoured Samantha Murphy at an emotional community vigil in Ballarat, hours after the identity of her alleged killer was revealed.

People signed condolences to her family and lit up their phones as a mark of respect, hoping her body will soon be found.

Five weeks after Ms Murphy vanished, having set out from her Ballarat East home to go running, police on Thursday charged Patrick Orren Stephenson with murdering the mother of three at Mount Clear.

The 22-year-old is the son of former Geelong Cats and Richmond Tigers player Orren Stephenson.

A temporary suppression order on his identity was struck out at Ballarat Magistrates Court on Friday after media outlets argued against it and defence lawyer David Tamanika withdrew his application to keep Stephenson’s details secret.

Stephenson’s family home is in Mount Clear, where he often stayed, while he lives in Scotsburn, about 16km from Ballarat.

He frequented the Geelong and Richmond clubs with his father as a child and became passionate about football, having a sideline seat to elite players.

“Patrick last year was rolling around the rooms with the Geelong Cats and this year he’s rolling around with the Richmond Tiger boys,” his father told AFL Media in 2013.

“He wouldn’t pass it up for quids. He loves it and the girls (Stephenson’s siblings) have had a lot of fun with it as well. It’s a massive bonus that we can share these pretty good times in our lives with our kids.”

The murder-accused went on to play in the under-19s at Redan Football Club.

The Stephensons are longtime Ballarat residents, having moved to the regional city from the NSW Riverina in 2002.

Mr Tamanika on Thursday argued releasing the 22-year-old’s name could prejudice his right to a fair trial.

He said his client had poor mental health since his arrest.

Stephenson fronted court on Thursday with a short beard, scruffy hair and still in hi-vis workwear.

He is due to face a committal mention on August 8.

Signboard for missing woman Samantha Murphy
 A 22-year-old man has been charged with murder as the search continues for Samantha Murphy. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

Detectives from the missing persons squad arrested Stephenson, who is not linked to the Murphy family, at his home about 6am on Wednesday before later charging him with murder.

The 22-year-old has refused to disclose the location of Ms Murphy’s body.

“We are alleging a deliberate attack that has caused the death of Samantha,” Police Commissioner Shane Mr Patton told reporters on Thursday.

Detectives and specialist officers are continuing to search for Ms Murphy’s body. She was last seen alive on February 4.

“Investigations will continue at a very heavy pace,” Mr Patton said. 

“Doing everything we can to locate Samantha’s body for the family is absolutely vital.”

Police are not looking for anyone else in connection to the alleged murder.

Ballarat mayor Des Hudson said news of the arrest was devastating but brought the community some closure.

“What we heard yesterday is the confirmation Samantha will never come home to her family,” he told ABC News on Friday.

“They will never have a beautiful mother, a beautiful wife to be with them.”

He urged the public to let the investigation run its course and avoid speculating.

Michael Murphy
 Samantha Murphy’s husband Michael expressed relief following the man’s arrest. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

Ms Murphy’s husband Michael on Thursday told of his relief, describing the past few weeks as “s***house”, while telling of how the community had rallied around his family.

Anyone with information, including CCTV or dash-cam footage from the time Ms Murphy went missing, has been asked to come forward.

Weeks of extensive searching began around Ballarat after she disappeared, with trained emergency services workers joined by hundreds of concerned locals. 

They combed dense bush, private land and walking tracks.

Ms Murphy’s disappearance was out of character as she had been described as mentally and physically fit, and was training for a race by doing 15km runs.