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  • Crispin Till

    Email Crispin Till

    Police hope missing items have vital DNA to solve case

    Officers investigating the murder of Cooktown mum-of-two Donna Steele are being frustrated by people in the small community not feeling confident enough to pass on vital information to the police.

    Almost three weeks since Ms Steele’s body was found on August 5 at Leggett’s Crossing and more than 20 detectives are on the ground in the small community following up hundreds of lines of inquiry.

    Despite the challenges facing detectives, they are very confident they will crack the case with Detective Inspector Geoff Marsh saying officers believe they had already spoken to people who hold key information as part of their investigations.

    “It is a small community and we have taken dozens of statements,” he said.

    “I believe we have already spoken to that person that knows what happened to Donna, not necessarily the person who killed her, but who knows what happened.”

    As part of the ongoing Operation Papa Thorium investigation, police and SES personnel are preparing to search the Leggett's Crossing area again on Sunday or Monday for 10 items that they believe will contain vital DNA evidence to help solve the murder.

    The items police are searching for are missing from Ms Steele's home and were identified during a walk through of the house by officers and her partner.


    Insp Marsh said more than 436 lines of inquiry had been followed up as part of the investigation and more than 200 exhibits, including more than 95 from Leggett's Crossing, had already been sent to Cairns and Brisbane for forensic testing.

    More items are being sent for testing every day.

    One of the items sent for testing was Ms Steele's mobile phone, with police examining calls and texts messages in the hope of finding her killer. The phone case has not been found and this is one of the items police are looking for as they renew their search efforts.

    “Scientific analysis of exhibits from Ms Steele’s home and at Leggett’s Crossing has returned some DNA but further testing needs to be done,” he said.

    "We searched the Leggett's Crossing area thoroughly, we will search it again for the missing items.

    "They may not be there, they may have been removed by someone after Donna's body was dumped.

    "People who have been there between August 2 and August 6 and may have removed any items will know their significance to the investigation."


    Leggett's Crossing is a remote area but is a popular spot and rubbish had been dumped there over time with police asking for anyone who had visited the area between the end of July to when Ms Steele's body was found to come forward.

    "People may be reluctant to come forward thinking they may be in trouble with the police, we need to recover those missing items to find DNA as to who has committed this horrific crime or to eliminate lines of enquiry," he said.

    "People in Cooktown are co-operating with the investigation but they may feel that providing that key information or evidence may compromise their standing in the community or a friend's standing.

    "We are aware that people have given varying accounts to police and other people in the community. They can be confident that any information can be given to police confidentially."


    While there are still no significant witnesses or suspects and the cause of Ms Steele's death is indeterminate, police also say her partner and the man who found her body have "rock solid" alibis and were both out of the town during key dates surrounding her disappearance and discovery of her body.

    Ms Steele had lived in Cooktown for eight years and worked as a casual cleaner at a local caravan park. She was reported missing on August 3 after she failed to return home from work on August 2.

    The last known sighting of Ms Steele was about 12.15pm on August 2 when she visited a local supermarket after working from 9am to midday.