‘Life is so empty’: Mum’s plea for missing daughter
Twenty-one heartbreaking years after her daughter vanished while hitchhiking in country NSW, Jessica Small's mother has made a fresh plea for information to track her suspected killer.
Ricki Small hopes a beefed-up $1 million reward will help police solve the cold case and bring justice for the then-15-year-old.
Jessica and her friend were looking for a ride home from an arcade in Bathurst in the early hours of October 26, 1997, when they were picked up by a man in a white sedan.
The driver turned off the headlights and assaulted the girls. Jessica's friend managed to escape, alerting residents as the man drove off through Eglington toward Hill End with Jessica still inside. It was the last time she was seen alive.
"Life has been empty without Jess, never knowing, never watching her graduate school or get married, have children," an emotional Ms Small told reporters on Friday.
A coronial inquest in 2014 concluded Jessica had been murdered. Police offered a $100,000 reward in 2015 but on Friday raised it to $1 million. The surviving girl's evidence is the only direct eyewitness account and homicide detectives say she will be crucial to any conviction.
"Everything else is supportive of her evidence so far," Detective Superintendent Scott Cook told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
The car - believed to have been unregistered with damage to the floor and passenger side - has been the focus in the investigation.
Detectives have looked at over 100 cars of interest in recent years; five have been ruled out following forensic tests.
"We really need to find the vehicle." The homicide squad have multiple persons of interest and new lines of inquiry, some of which lead interstate.
It's possible investigators have already spoken to the person responsible for the teenager's slaying, Det Supt Cook said.
"The people we have looked at have travelled frequently interstate but we believe they are largely locals at some point around the Bathurst area," he said.
Ms Small said she thinks about her daughter constantly and hopes someone will help "lay her to rest with dignity".
"The closure I need is to finally locate Jess, locate the person who committed this crime and bring her home," she said.
"Please come forward. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain." Det Supt Cook pledged not to give up on the search for Jessica's remains. "We are not giving up on Jessica and we won't give up on any of our victims in these matters," he said.