Gillian Jamieson and Deborah Balken.

Gillian Janine Jamieson and Deborah Susan Balken, both 19, were last seen on July 12, 1980, at the Toll Gate Hotel, North Parramatta, and then heard of by a phone call from Wollongong. They planned to hitchhike from Thirroul station, near Wollongong, to Sydney.

The deputy state coroner Carl Milovanovich wondered whether all the “bizarre coincidence of young persons going missing” could be laid at Milat’s feet.

It may well be there is another serial killer out there, and the perpetrator here may not be Ivan Milat. Unfortunately, his name comes up in every missing person’s case I deal with.”  he said yesterday, while offering his condolences to the Jamieson and Balken families.

Milovanovich found that nurses Gillian Jamieson and Deborah Balken died a few days after they were last seen at Parramatta’s Tollgate Hotel in 1980.

The inquest heard that the two women, who had been school friends at Cumberland High School, often hitchhiked. One friend told police “it was not unusual for Debbie and Gill to go to places with people they hardly knew on a promise of a good time“. They were last seen at a favorite pub, the Tollgate Hotel in Parramatta, on the night of July 12, 1980. It was a bikie hangout, and drugs circulated at the hotel. 

Police were told at the time that Ms Balkan said she and Ms Jamieson had gone there for a party with a man she called the “gardener fellow” and asked Ms Gilchrist to tell their respective hospitals they were too sick to go to work and would not return for six days. Both women left full pay packets behind in their flat.

The Toollgate Hotel in 2018. Credit : Trip Advisor.

A woman who worked in the snack bar at the hotel told police how she had been terrorised by a man who she recognised as having been speaking to the girls on the night they disappeared. Months after, he approached her at the hotel and said: “It was a terrible thing that happened. You know they’re dead. The police won’t find them. It’ll happen to your two sons and then you.” He threatened to cut her throat and “slit” her kids. She said she left work that night, never to return. She said the man wore a black felt hat with a large brim. She helped police prepare a composite picture of him without a hat.

The inquest heard Balken might have been using heroin. Ms Jamieson and Ms Balken had a history of experimenting with drugs.

Sgt McNab said the women may have overdosed, or been murdered while hitching a ride. Alternatively, someone “known to the girls murdered them and disposed of their bodies,’‘ he said.

In the months after their disappearance more than 40 alleged sightings were reported to the police, stretching from Queensland to Victoria.

Investigating police took seriously one reported sighting of two young women seen in a car in Parramatta soon after their disappearance. A teenager and her mother described two men trying to put jumpers on the women, who were limp and floppy. The teenager was hypnotised in 1998 as part of the investigation.

The other main persons of interest named included two former fellow students from Cumberland High School. Peter King, who was involved in drugs, had been going out with Balken. The inquest heard that another former student, Peter Flood, who has served jail for sexual assault, was obsessed with Balken, and carries photos of the two women as part of his own “investigation”. Also named was Michael Toomey, a gardener at Yallabi Nursing Home, who knew Jamieson and was in a group talking with the girls the night they disappeared.

Balken’s sister, Cheryl, said outside court that while the death pronouncement meant the family could now get a death certificate, she would not seek a certificate until her sister’s remains were found. She and Jamieson’s mother have given DNA samples to police.

Investigating police took seriously one reported sighting of two young women seen in a car in Parramatta soon after their disappearance. A teenager and her mother described two men trying to put jumpers on the women, who were limp and floppy. The teenager was hypnotised in 1998 as part of the investigation.

The coroner said the case would not be closed, and would be handed over to the “cold case” homicide unit. He also asked that the Government offer a reward.

Identikit image of the man wanted in relation to the disappearance of two Sydney nurses Gillian Jamieson and Deborah Balken.

Following Ivan’s anti-food protest the Police decided to come see him. 

The officer in charge of the police investigation, Detective Sergeant Ian McNab, told the inquest, at the State Coroner’s Court in Westmead, that he had interviewed Milat in 2004. He had shown him photos of the women, and a composite picture of a male suspect in a felt hat. Milat said that at the time he did not own such a hat, and said he had never met the women.

Can Ivan Milat be linked to the case?

It wasn’t easy to find information about this case as newspapers barely mentioned it at the time of the disappearances. Milat’s conviction in 1996 spurred renewed interest so I guess it’s actually a good thing he was linked to this case!

Saying that I believe it’s highly unlikely Ivan Milat did it. As Carl Milovanovich said, Police tend to thrown all of unsolved cases to Ivan’s feet. He was recently cleared of another abduction he was accused of.

At the time of the disappearance, Ivan was working less than 2km away at the then Department of Main Roads and lived in Guilford, in a caravan in his mother’s backyard with his girlfriend, Karen and his stepson. Guilford was 9 km away from Parramatta. I think it’s important to note that when Ivan was working he certainly wasn’t hunting. All of his energy was spent on his work and he was often working through the weekend. Another important point : He was in a relationship. The murders he perpetuated always happened after a failed relationship or a traumatizing event in his life.

In the letter below, Ivan Milat pointed out that police used a 1994 picture of him to compare it to the composite sketch. Milat was 49 year-old on the picture and 36 year-old in 1980. Milat also mention a hat on the sketch which lead me te believe he was shown a different one than the first one used by police. The official one certainly looks nothing like him.

Ivan Milat in the early 80s.

The suspect was seen drinking with the girls at some point. Ivan didn’t drink and was not known to frequent such places.

Milovanovich said the girls were killed a few days after their disappearance. I’d argue it’s hard to give a time of death without bodies. They either hitchhike and were killed by an unseen perpetrator or were both kept alive by the killer. Ivan never kept his victims alive for days, and him working during the period of the murders took place remove the possibility of his involvement. A stationmaster of Thirroul station claimed he saw two girls getting off a train and hoping to hitchhike back to Sydney. As I said above, he often worked during weekends and if he wasn’t on this specific Saturday night, he was likely spending it with Karen and Jason as he always did.

Ivan Milat related letters to the case

Ivan Milat sent both of these letters to his nephew, Alistair Shipsey.

5 February 2004

I’ve been fairly busy the last few weeks writing letters to arseholes, like the police minister and others, regarding the police releasing information that I’m responsible for some old 1980 disappearance and letting the media convince the public that it was me.

The police often do this to me, but the last one was intense and told more lies than usual. I think it was to put a bit of shit on me, as my appeal process us starting to come to the hearing dates.

Perhaps you may have noticed this time they show two photographs: the Identi-Kit one, made up from observations of witnesses who saw the man wearing a hat in dirty work clothes with the nurses — that was in 1980. That photo later published in 1980 is an attempt to find me.

The other photo is of me wearing an RTA hat. I noted that the media says there was some resemblance to the Identi-Kit one.

I mainly notice both had hats on, but what was not told is that my photo was taken in early 1994. (I was 50 years old in 1994.) In 1980, I was 36 years old. But the idea was to frame me in the minds of the public, not to take me to court.


The fucking police don’t come in to ask me a question.


I mainly pointed out the 14-year difference between the two photographs and asked the reporter who the police were looking for in 1980 — a fifty-year old man or what. Surely the eyewitness would have guessed his age. 

22 March 2004

The police — all they ask me is where I was on 12 July 1980! That’s when the two nurses were last seen. Well, I had no idea where I was. It was a Saturday evening, they said. I was probably at home with Karen and young Jess. If I’m not at work, I’m with them. I knew I was in the “Tollgate Hotel drinking with two nurses.”

The police did not tell me a lot, but did say a prisoner saw me here in Gouldburn Prison in 96-97, and he said he recognized me as the person drinking with two nurses on 12 July 1980.

He did not report it till ’03 — this is what police said; no idea of who that prisoner is.

So, police said they would look into it and see what happens!

References : The Sydney Morning Herald, 1980, 2006.

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