New twist in 25-year-old case of missing Australian mum Marion Barter
Sinister new twist in 25-year-old cold case of missing Australian mother Marion Barter who was never heard of again after running out of coins during chat to her daughter in UK phone box
- EXCLUSIVE: Marion Barter, 51, last seen at a bus depot Queensland in 1997
- Long flight to UK has sparked debate whether Marion was really on the phone
The case of Marion Barter has sparked podcasts with millions of listeners, an army of amateur sleuths and social media pages dedicated to finding her.
It’s a tale that is stranger than fiction yet most people in Britain are unaware of one of the biggest missing person cases in Australian history.
Marion, an incredibly popular and award-winning teacher, travelled to the UK on her dream holiday in 1997.
She spoke to her daughter, Sally Leydon, from a phone box in Tunbridge Wells explaining how she enjoyed her time in the UK so much she would defer her trip on the Orient Express. But the conversation ended when she ran out of coins.
That was August 1, 1997, and since then her family has never heard or seen Marion. Although records showed the former teacher’s passport arrived back in Brisbane the next day.
Her daughter, Sally (pictured above), openly admits that her mother was slightly naive. She was unlucky in love, having been married three times including to Australian footballer Johnny Warren
The mother-of-two left Australia for the United Kingdom on Sunday 22 June 1997 under the name Florabella Natalia Marion Remakel, which she had officially changed the month before
Marion was reported missing on October 22, 1997, when she failed to contact her son Owen on his 23rd birthday
But the long flight time would have made the journey from Kent impossible. This has sparked debate as to whether it really was Marion on the phone, whether she was really in Kent, or whether someone else used her passport.
Sally then went on a quest spanning decades to find her mum which then became the premise of an Australian News 7 Podcast, The Lady Vanishes.
‘She wasn’t even classed as a missing person initially,’ Sally said, ‘the police looking into the case decided that because she’d sold her house and changed her name, she was trying to deliberately disappear. Since her passport was used, she wasn’t classed as a missing person.
‘For years we were told that she didn’t want to be found. That she had started a new life and didn’t want anything to do with us.
‘She never came to my wedding and my brother sadly took his own life with the belief that his mother abandoned him. I think he took it especially hard.’
Marion was reported missing on October 22, 1997, when she failed to contact her son Owen on his 23rd birthday.
In 2011, Sally convinced a senior detective in Byron Bay into reopening the case, but he soon closed it after establishing she changed her name in May 1997.
Her new name was Florabella Natalia Marion Remakel and according to her passport, she was married and from Luxembourg.
Years later, The Lady Vanishes podcast was able to link the last name to a serial fraudster and conman now living as Ric Blum, 83.
Blum, originally from Belgium, was convicted for offences in the 1960s for traffic violations and also falsifying documents.
In the 1970s he was also imprisoned in France for fraud and between 1976-77, he committed a litany of offences in Europe including fraud and using false names.
He emigrated to Australia in 1976 and has since then changed his name at least 13 times.
Blum was linked to Barter through a 1994 lonely hearts advertisement in Le Courrier Australien, a French-English bilingual newspaper.
Fraudster and conman now living as Ric Blum (pictured) was convicted for offences in the 1960s for traffic violations and also falsifying documents
Marion Barter, aged 51 at the time, was last seen at a bus depot on Scarborough Street at Southport, Queensland, on Sunday 22 June 1997
Ric Blum has vehemently denied killing her or having anything to do with Marion’s disappearance
Going by the name Fernand Nocola Remakel, which is the name of the husband of a woman he had an affair with, he described himself as single and looking for love – despite being married for 40 years to his current wife, Diane De Hedervary.
This was the name Marion would later change hers to in secret before possibly travelling back to Australia.
In August 2020, the New South Wales State Coroner announced its decision to hold an investigation into Marion Barter’s disappearance and presumed death.
During the inquest, Blum was asked directly, ‘Did you kill Marion?’
Blum has vehemently denied killing her or having anything to do with Marion’s disappearance. But he admitted he changed his name frequently.
It was during the inquest that he also admitted to meeting Marion via a lonely hearts ad.
‘He made out my mum to be a whore,’ Sally added, ‘during his first police interview, he denied even knowing my mum but then he called the next day and admitted to having a four-month affair with her.’
Blum says his relationship with Marion ended just before she flew to the UK. He also claims around the time of her disappearance he was in Europe but mostly visited France and Belgium and rarely visited the UK.
But several women have since come forward with allegations of how Blum would seduce them and promise a ‘new life’.
Two women gave evidence during the inquest saying since the 1990s Blum met them and offered them a new life, only to try to defraud them of money.
Sally said: ‘During the inquest, you could just tell that he didn’t have any regard for my mother, or any women for that matter.
‘There were women who gave evidence at the inquest who had affairs with him and there was all this evidence being read out but he didn’t respond and to which he denied mostly any wrongdoing.
‘A letter he wrote to Monique Cornelius was read out on court which demonstrated to me he is very articulate and intelligent.
‘He seems to have a pattern of behaviour that he follows and has refined over the years where he manipulates and makes women fall in love with him within a matter of months.
‘He always picks vulnerable women and my mum was in a vulnerable place in her life.’
Sally openly admits that her mother was slightly naive. She was unlucky in love, having been married three times including to Australian footballer Johnny Warren.
Speaking to the 7 News podcast, former lovers of Blum claimed that he had also convinced them to have a liver function test
Speaking to the 7 News podcast, former lovers of Blum claimed that he was fascinated with a book about undetectable poisons
Before she went to the UK she became unusually secretive and Sally believes it may have been because she was hiding the relationship with Blum.
‘My grandfather would tease my mum, calling her marrying Marion,’ said Sally, ‘about the number of times she’d been married and that really affected her, it really made her upset.
‘So I think she was likely being careful not to say anything initially to make sure that the relationship was legitimate before she announced it to her family again.
‘I mean looking back, she said she was selling her house because she said she was planning on downsizing when she returned wanting to buy a unit at Main Beach on the Gold Coast, didn’t need it while travelling and was going to put all her things in storage. I never thought anything of it because she was going on her dream holiday and I just thought at the time, ‘yeah go for it’.’
Once Marion stopped all contact with her family, there were several strange bank transactions from her account.
Significant amounts of cash were taken in New South Wales in August and September. Her Medicare card was also used and cash was withdrawn in Queensland with a final transaction of $80,000 on October 15.
One of the stranger things she found out years later was that Marion had a liver function test before she travelled to the UK.
Speaking to the 7 News podcast, former lovers of Blum claimed that he had also convinced them to have a liver function test.
They claim he was fascinated with a book about undetectable poisons.
Blum’s estranged daughter Evelyn Reid said she fears Blum may have tried to poison her with a bottle of champagne, which she noticed the top had been tampered with, 7News reported.
The case of Marion Barter has sparked podcasts with millions of listeners, an army of amateur sleuths and social media pages dedicated to finding her
Her mother, Illona Reid, who was Blum’s third wife, was discovered dead in 1977. She was slumped over the steering wheel of her car at just 31 years old. It is said she died of a heart condition.
Ms Reid also claims Blum detailed to her how to kill a person with homemade poison without leaving a trace.
But Ric Blum has denied all of these accusations and maintains that he changed his name several times for ‘fantasy’ and that it wasn’t illegal.
Sally said she has now come to the conclusion that her mother is probably deceased.
She concluded: ‘I haven’t really had any chance to mourn my mother. Until the case is completely resolved, I can’t because I can’t stop trying to find out the truth.
‘I think once then, it will all finally hit me. But there’s more and more evidence coming out all the time.
‘It is my hope that someone remembers my mum from her visit to the UK in 1997. Maybe someone will recognise her and provide more answers about what actually happened.’
The inquest into the disappearance of Marion Barter will resume on May 31 this year after Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan delayed handing down her findings in 2022 pending new information.
Kent Police said they would not comment on an ‘Australian case’.
The British ‘super sleuth’ on the trail of missing Marion Barter
Once Marion stopped all contact with her family, there were several strange bank transactions from her account
Kristina Panter, 41, from Midhurst, West Sussex, is one of Sally’s “super sleuths” who has been investigating the disappearance of Marion for years.
She said: “I first came into contact with Marion’s daughter Sally about four years ago. That was just through a Facebook group and it was just before the podcast started in Australia.
“At that point, Marion wasn’t even listed as a missing person. After all those years ago, there wasn’t that much media attention in the UK so I offered to help her out with looking into a few things over here.
“And then the podcast started and the case got more attention. Sally came here in 2019 and we tried to retrace some of Marion’s steps. And a lot has happened since that time because of so much information that has come to light over the past year or two.”
Blum claims his relationship with Marion ended just before she flew to the UK. He also claims around the time of her disappearance he was in Europe but mostly visited France and Belgium, where he is originally from, and rarely visited the UK.
Blum also claims he did not visit Kent during the time of Marion’s disappearance and has only been to Tunbridge Wells twice.
But, it is believed he lived in Burwash in Sussex between 1983 and 1986.
Kristina went flyering around the entire town looking into the lead.
She got a response from a woman who claimed to be Blum’s former neighbour.
The amateur sleuth continued: “I made up a flyer and posted it to virtually every address in Burwash. I got a response from his former neighbour who was really keen to speak to me because she wanted to know what happened to Blum’s wife.
“Apparently she was friendly with the wife, but said Blum’s wife would tremble every time her husband was near her.
“Apparently, Blum controlled the finances and only gave his wife pocket money, he only put so much petrol in the car so she couldn’t drive away, he said if she ever tried to leave he would find her and she’d never see the kids again.”
Also, the neighbour alleges that Blum had a locked closet that no one was allowed to go in.
“When I asked this neighbour if she was sad to see her friend go, she said she was relieved,” Kristina added, “Blum had a truck and would sometimes ask this neighbour to park it on her driveway.
“The neighbour became so suspicious of this truck that she called the police telling them that she thought there was something strange about it. “She also refused to give her name because she was scared of Blum.
“A few weeks later after making the phone call, Blum moved away. It was all very odd and the house they lived in was a nice house too.”
According to The Australian newspaper, a Burwash neighbour had called the police on Blum to report suspicions of drug dealing.
But he was never arrested and moved away from the area.
Kristina also attended the inquiry in Australia last year. “There have been several women coming forward recently,” she added, “after everything that has come out, we’re only starting to scratch the surface.
“During the inquiry, he was presented with the facts about his previous victims, and there was no emotion, no remorse. It was shocking to look at.”
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