In 1973, two young Australian girls went missing during a sports match at the Adelaide Oval. The event has become known as the Adelaide Oval Abductions.

The two girls that went missing were Joanne Ratcliffe – aged 11, and Kirste Gordon – aged 4. The duo’s respective parents had been attending the stadium together.

This article reviews these disappearances. There is a reader’s poll at the end of the article, which we invite our readers to vote on – providing you with the chance to vote on the theory you believe is most accurate.

The disappearance is an infamous chapter in the history of the Adelaide Bowl

Background

The case involved the Ratcliffe and Gordon families. These two families were sat together at the infamous game.

Joanne Ratcliffe was 11 at the time, and was in the company of her parents Les and Kathleen, as well as her older brother and a family friend known as Frank.

Next to them was Kirste Gordon, who was just 4 at the time. With her was her grandmother. The grandmother was friends with the Ratcliffe parents.

Kirste’s parents were Greg and Christine, who were visiting friends at the time of the game. Tragically for them, they weren’t in the area at the time of the disappearances.

The Disappearance

On 25th August 1973, the Ratcliffe and Gordon families attended an Australian rules football game at the Adelaide Oval. The game saw Norwood and North Adelaide compete.

The two families were sat next to each other in the Sir Edwin Smith section of the stadium. As the game started, all was normal.

During the game, Joanne took Kirste to the stadium toilets. This had been permitted by both families, who were comfortable with letting Joanne look after Kirste.

The girls left at 3:45pm to go to the toilet. They were expected to return within a few minutes, but after almost 15 minutes had passed, the families became worried as there was no sign of the girls.

The families started searching for the girls, but there was no sign of them. Kathleen Ratcliffe tried to raise the alarm by asking the stadium’s officials to make an announcement on the tannoy. But the request was initially refused.

After searching for a full hour, there was still no sign of the girls. The game finished at approximately 5pm. Only then was Kathleen able to arrange an announcement on the stadium’s tannoy.

At 5:12pm, the Police were made aware of the disappearances. The families were unable to find the duo. Tragically, they never saw them again.

The Investigation

After the Police were made aware of the disappearances, they started to search the area. They pulled in extra resources to aid the search.

The Police were made aware of several sightings of the duo within the 90 minutes of their disappearance. The sightings included:

  • The girls trying to attract a stray cat
  • The girls hanging around with other children
  • The girls appearing distressed with an unknown man, who was carrying Kirste
  • The girls appearing with an unknown man near the Adelaide Zoo.

The sightings have never been verified, but the number of sightings suggest at least a few of them must have been accurate. It definitely appeared as if the girls had been taken against their will by a man.

The problem was that witnesses were under the assumption that the man with the girls was a parent. It sounded as if – while they were distressed – the girls did not scream or shout while in the company of the man.

The Police offered a financial reward, while the Australian media dedicated significant coverage to the case. However, despite the searches continuing in the following days and weeks, the case went cold very quickly.

The Police were unable to find any substantial leads. Various persons of interest were looked into, but no one was charged in relation to the case. Unfortunately, the Police struggled to find anything to help them.

For the Ratcliffe and Gordon families, appeals in newspapers became commonplace. But unfortunately, these appeals, alongside other efforts, failed to result in the girls appearing again.

Later Developments

As the years advanced, the case remained open, with the Police keeping an open mind on events. There has been no shortage of speculation, and various digs and excavations linked to the disappearances have taken place in the decades following the event.

Many people with knowledge of the case have questioned the potential role that the family friend “Frank” may have had. There is very little knowledge in terms of the identity of Frank, or if he was ever questioned by investigators.

Joanne’s mother has said that Frank disappeared for about 30 minutes prior to the abductions before returning, and then did not participate in a search for the girls when it became apparent that they were missing. This has led to some arguing that “Frank” was involved. There is a lack of information on “Frank” – somewhat bizarrely.

The case has been linked to the Beaumont children disappearance – which is known as Australia’s most infamous disappearance case. There have been suggestions that whoever was responsible for their abduction may have been responsible for kidnapping Joanne and Kirste.

There are parallels between the two cases. Not only were multiple children taken in both cases – but the facial composite for the abductor in both cases looked similar.

As a result, one of the leading suspects was Arthur Stanley Brown. He resembled the facial composite, and was charged in a separate case with sexual assault and murder. Brown was believed to have murdered his first wife, sexually assaulted many children, and potentially murdered children too. Despite dozens of accusations, Brown died in 2002 technically an innocent man.

Another suspect is Stanley Arthur Hart. Excavations at Hart’s old residence were carried out several years after the disappearances. Hart was known to attend matches at the stadium, and was later charged with sexual assault. The Radcliffe family have gone on record to say they believe Hart was responsible. Hart passed away in 1999.

Suzie Wilkinson – sister of Joanne – spoke on the fortieth anniversary of the disappearances. She criticised the Police for dismissing evidence that been given to them, and for leaving her family in the dark. For her family, there are many unanswered questions.

On the 50th anniversary of the disappearances, a vigil was held at the Adelaide Oval in recognition. The case continues to be known and discussed across Australia.

Despite numerous appeals and plenty of speculation, neither Joanne Radcliffe nor Kirste Gordon have ever been found. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

Widescale digs have taken place in the search for the girls

Theories

It is generally believed that the two girls were abducted, before later being killed. But the exact person responsible is unknown. A few theories have been put forward.

We take a look at the evidence for each:

Theory One: Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon were kidnapped by someone and later killed

Most agree that Joanne and Kirste were taken by someone. Above, a few key suspects were outlined. These include Arthur Stanley Brown and Arthur Hart – while others too exist. It could feasibly have been any of these, or someone else for that matter.

Sadly, it is likely that this person kidnapped and later killed Joanne and Kirste. Tragically, no one was ever brought to justice.

Theory Two: Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon were kidnapped by Frank and later killed

There is a chance that the “family friend” known as Frank may have been involved. This is similar to the first theory, only that this time, it involves a specific person.

Joanne’s mother said that Frank vanished for about 30 minutes prior to the abductions, before returning to his seat. Then, when they realised Joanne and Kirste were missing, Frank supposedly didn’t help – according to Joanne’s mother.

If true – this is rather suspicious behaviour. It is possible that Frank was involved with a criminal – and that he provided them with key information regarding taking the girls. Frank may have had a partner in the case, who may have carried out the actual abduction.

Very little information is known about Frank. It isn’t known if the Police carried out an investigation into him. In any case though, he has never been seen as a person of interest in the case – suggesting that there is no evidence for any guilt.

Theory Three: Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon wandered off and died in an accident

There is always the chance that Joanne and Kirste wandered off on their own accord. Perhaps they had decided to go for a walk, turned the wrong way and ended up somewhere unfamiliar. If this happened, they could have died in some form of an accident.

Anything could have feasibly happened to them if this is the case. But from what we know about the case, it is unlikely that this was the outcome. This is especially given that unaccompanied 11 and 4 year old girls would surely arouse suspicion.

Reader Vote

With the above theories in mind, we now invite you to cast your vote on the theory that you believe is most likely in the poll below.

What Happened to Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon?
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Summary

The disappearances of Joanne Radcliffe and Kirste Gordon are very sad cases. These were two girls that had their entire life ahead of them. But tragically, they were seemingly cut short.

Given the length of time since the abductions, it is very unlikely that there will ever be justice. Unfortunately, whoever was responsible has likely died since then, taking this secret to the grave.

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