Homicide detectives have been called into help lead the search for Samantha Murphy as the hunt for the missing mum enters its sixth day.
Ms Murphy left her home on Eureka Street in East Ballarat, north-west of Melbourne, to go for a run in Woowookarung Regional Park at 7.16am on Sunday. She has not been seen since.
Victoria Police is set to further ramp up its efforts with the arrival of homicide investigators from the missing persons unit as early as today, The Herald Sun reported.
Specialist officers from the squad are brought in when it is feared a missing person has been the victim of foul play but a body has not been found.
Its officers have been deployed to some in Victoria’s biggest murder investigations in recent years.
Meanwhile a runner who was viciously attacked near where Samantha Murphy vanished has reported female members of the search party being preyed upon by ‘unruly men’.
Sissy Austin, 29, was assaulted by an unknown male last year during a run in Lal Lal State Forest near Ballarat, just 20km from where Ms Murphy, 51, mysteriously disappeared last Sunday.
Ballarat mother Samantha Murphy (pictured) disappeared after leaving her home for a run in Woowookarung Regional Park on Sunday morning
A large-scale search (pictured) of the forest and surrounding areas has found no trace of Ms Murphy so far
The large-scale operation has also involved a number of volunteers, including members of the community.
Ms Austin revealed on Thursday night that several female volunteers involved in the search for Ms Murphy have been targeted by men while alone in the forest.
‘It’s hard. There’s been a few unruly men out in the forest,’ she told The Project.
‘Yesterday there were two that were reported to police for harassing female searchers. One woman had to quickly jump in my car.
‘So, after yesterday, we’re all really looking out for each other and really, really encouraging women coming out to search to go in pairs.’
Ms Austin emphasised that there’s ‘still hope’ Ms Murphy will be found alive.
‘There’s 110 per cent hope that we’ll bring Sam home,’ she said.
Sissy Austin posted photos of herself after last year’s attack by a man armed with a rock tied to a stick
Ms Austin revealed several female volunteers searching for Ms Murphy have been ‘harassed’ by ‘unruly men’ in the forest (pictured)
This Sunday will be exactly one year since Ms Austin’s own harrowing attack.
Ms Austin was 4km deep in Lal Lal State Forest when she was set upon by an unknown man armed with a rock tied to the end of a stick.
She only caught a glimpse of him before he brought the makeshift weapon down on her head, knocking her unconscious.
She woke bloodied and covered in flies on the forest floor and had to walk 4km back to her car before calling for help.
Ms Austin suffered post-concussion syndrome and facial injuries so severe they still impact her speech 12 months ago.
‘I just can’t believe that another runner has gone missing in our town and so, yeah, the most useful thing I feel like I can do with myself at this time is help search for Sam,’ she said
It’s an eerie feeling out here. It’s hard for everyone, but it’s not as hard for us as it is for Sam’s family.
‘My heart and soul goes out to Sam’s family and if they’re watching this, we’re doing absolutely everything that we can to search for Sam.’
Victoria Police Acting Inspector Lisa MacDougall said officers had found ‘no suspicious circumstances’ in their investigation into Ms Murphy’s disappearance.
‘That search is ongoing and we’re throwing all resources at it in the hopes we find Samantha,’ she said.
Ms Murphy (pictured) was well-known as a keen athlete who visited the forest almost daily
Ms Murphy’s eldest daughter, Jessica (pictured), gave a teary plea to the public to continue searching for her mum on Thursday
Chief Commissioner Shane Patton urged internet sleuths to stop drawing their own conclusions in Ms Murphy’s case.
‘The public should no speculate. They shouldn’t be going on social media and shouldn’t be speculating on what they think has, or hasn’t, occurred,’ he said.
Locals in the area have also raised concerns the mother may have fallen in an abandoned mine shaft, which can be difficult to see on the forest floor.
One line of inquiry was officially ruled out on Thursday after police confirmed a woman pictured in CCTV was not Ms Murphy, as previously stated.
Victoria Police released CCTV footage on Wednesday which showed a person heading in a north-easterly direction toward Yankee Flat Road, near the intersection of Warrenheip Road.
The woman was understood to have been Ms Murphy heading out for a 20km run through the Canadian State forest.
However, another runner came forward to reveal she was the person pictured.
It was the second time in 24 hours police had to declare evidence as irrelevant to the high-profile missing person case.
Reporters were removed from an area of the forest on Wednesday after officers were alerted to ‘items’ possibly related to Ms Murphy’s disappearance.
However, it was later determined they did not belong to the missing mother.
It is understood Ms Murphy was wearing an Apple watch and was carrying her phone at the time of her disappearance.
Victoria Police are reportedly set to bring homicide investigators from the missing persons squad to the search (pictured, emergency services in Ballarat)
Ms Murphy’s husband, Mick (pictured), thanked the public for searching for his missing wife and urged anyone who knows ‘any little thing’ about her disappearance to contact police
The mobile phone reportedly pinged in the nearby suburb Buninyong and Insp MacDougall said ‘inquiries are ongoing as to whether [the phone] is still on’.
‘Obviously, phones can run out of battery but that forms part of the investigation,’ she told reporters on Monday.
Ms Murphy was known to be a keen athlete who ran in the forest almost daily.
A massive search in the last 96 hours has covered areas including Brown Hill, Black Hill, Ballarat East, Woowookarung Regional Park, Buninyong and Mount Helen.
Earlier on Thursday, Ms Murphy’s eldest daughter, Jessica, and husband, Mick, faced reporters to plead for their loved one to return home.
Through tears, Jessica urged the public to continue searching for her mum.
‘Mum, we love you so much and we miss you and we need you at home with us, please come home soon, I can’t wait to see you,’ Jessica said.
‘Mum’s a really strong woman, and she’s far too determined to give up this fight.’
Jessica’s father thanked the community for their support in recent days as he appealed for answers.
‘People just don’t vanish into thin air,’ Mr Murphy said.
‘Someone has got to know something … whether it be any little thing that you might think is relevant, just call the police, let them know.
‘It’ll give us a bit of peace of mind if we get some hope.’
Ms Murphy is described as caucasian, 173cm tall, of slim build with shoulder-length blonde hair and was last seen wearing a maroon/brown running singlet and black half-length leggings (pictured)
Women joining the search (pictured) for Ms Murphy have been urged to travel in pairs through the forest, never alone
Ms Murphy is described as Caucasian, 173cm tall, of slim build with shoulder-length blonde hair.
She was last seen wearing a maroon/brown running singlet and black half-length leggings.
Anyone with information on Ms Murphy’s whereabouts should contact police immediately.