The MYSTERY of MARY and EMMA GOFFMAN
Ben Goffman returned to his home at Mosman, N.S.W., from an average working day last summer. His wife and youngest daughter were not there. They have never been seen since. Here are the clues in a tragic story for which the police ending is, temporarily, “missing, believed murdered”.
STRANGERS have bought the house that Mary Goffman made.
Husband Ben used to say, in better times: ” Look around. This house is Mary. ”
Last February 11, in broad daylight, with her little daughter Emma, Mary disappeared from the white house in the quiet suburban street on the north side of Sydney.
It may have been the scene of their murder.
On July 1 police informed Ben that the “grave fears” he had entertained from the first appeared to be justified.
Mary and Emma were almost certainly dead. So was their probable killer, Robert John Hynes.
Thin, dark, and bearded, with convictions for robbery while armed, Hynes died of injuries suffered in a car crash on June 20. while trying to evade police.
He had rented the car in the name of a Missing Person, Allan John McColm.
In the wreck, in a briefcase, police found a sawn-off rifle, and certain property of Allan McColm’s. Later, after an anonymous tip, they found McColm’s body in bush at the side of the Mona Vale Road. He had been shot through the head with a bullet from the same sawn-off rifle.
( During the long months of uncertainty, while Mary and Emma too were Missing Persons, Ben often said: ” There’s so much heavy bush on the north side. They could be dead in there, where nobody might ever find them. ” )
There were other alarming developments.
When Hynes was taken from the wreck, a telephone number was inked on his hand.
Police traced it to a housewife at North Curl Curl, also on the north side. She told a terrifying story.
On June 16 a man had telephoned in the name of a well-known carrying company. He was checking, he said, that someone would be at home to help him with a heavy parcel.
The housewife was instantly suspicious. She was expecting no parcel, and said so.
But in due course the man appeared. He was thin, dark, and bearded.
The housewife let him leave the heavy parcel. But she resisted every pretext he gave to get inside the house.
That parcel contained sand. The man she has now identified as Robert John Hynes.
Her quick wits that day had probably saved her life. But how often, the alarmed police wondered, had Hynes used this ploy and succeeded’?
In Hynes’ house at West Ryde, they found certain names and telephone numbers. Allan McColm’s was among them.
So, on a slip of paper, was B. C. Goffman’s.
The detectives called for the Missing Persons file on Mary and Emma.
What they read deepened their fears. On July 1 they cabled the English police to contact Ben.
By then, the house that Mary made had been sold to strangers. Over the months, Ben had found it increasingly unbearable to live there.
And besides, he needed money.
Since February, desperate to turn up information, he had spent hundreds of dollars on advertisements.
He had even employed a private detective.
And on that afternoon of February 11 when his loved ones disappeared, a “bearded man” had gone to his bank with two cheques signed by Mary.
They cleaned the Goffman’s joint account of all $44.
Ben needed money badly.
Late in June, broken in heart and health, he went back to his native London.
Jane (9) and Sarah were soon to follow.
Teddy the dog, beloved of Mary, had been found a new home.
Mary’s elderly mother, pencil-thin from the months of anguish, still lived about 50 yards up the road from the white house.
But she too planned to leave Australia.
She had never believed for a moment that Mary had willingly left home and family.
But the news, when it came, nearly killed her.
In distant London, Ben reacted bitterly. From the first, he insisted, the police should have regarded the case as a homicide.
On July 3 he rang me.
I never met Mary or Emma, but I heard the story through a mutual friend.
Before he left, I spent weeks, off and on. with Ben, his friends, and family, probing what seemed a impenetrable mystery.
Now, with the link to the man Hynes, we knew at least part of the answer.
But Ben wanted us to publish this story. Some clue might emerge, some reader come up with information that would help solve the rest of the mystery.
Detectives in charge of the case concurred strongly.
Here. then, is what I learnt of the Goffmans, and the known events of that February day.
It was a golden Friday. Second daughter Sarah had just turned six and Mary ( the most devoted of mothers ) was planning a birthday party to be held the next day.
Youngest daughter Emma was small for her age – almost four. Ben describes her as ” build medium, eyes blue, straight hair, light-brown to honey-blonde; probably wearing a short-sleeved navy-blue dress; articulate, trained to quote her name, address, and telephone number. ”
Mary was 43. ” build slim, complexion tanned, height 5ft, 7in., hair brown and greying, speaking with an attractive Border lilt; probably wearing slacks, a yellow knit top, a distinctive ring, and a man’s Omega calendar watch. ”
She and Ben had been married ten years. It was Mary’s first marriage, his second.
They met on a boat that brought them to Sydney, him from New Zealand, her from the United States. A telephonist, she had lived and worked in several countries since leaving Britain.
She passionately wanted children. In the ten years she had Jane, Sarah. Emma, and a miscarriage.
Friends and neighbors testify that the couple were unusually close. So does Mrs. White, Mary’s mother, who migrated to Australia to be near them.
Mary enjoyed home-making and was good at it, though she suffered at times from ” suburban ennui. ”
Ben handled all the business, including paying the bills and marketing in bulk.
Mary had a very real flair for interior decoration, and turning up bargains in antique shops.
With their own hands, she and Ben transformed the broken-down old house they were paying off at Mosman into a distinctive and charming home.
Dozens of books, records, photographic equipment, testified to the Goffmans’ catholic interests.
So did their friends, ranging (said one of them) “from professors to the man who runs a stall at the city markets; from quiet suburbanites to pot-party goers.”
Last year there was a minor burglary at the house and Mary was nervous. She never went out without double-locking doors and windows and fixing the fly screens.
Nor would she go out, even to garden, without wearing sunglasses.
All these facts have significance in the story.
Throughout, like a leit- motif, is a “bearded man.”
The first mention came from Mary herself, to Ben, her mother, and a woman neighbor, a week before she disappeared.
Ben’s car was advertised for sale. A bearded man (she said) called at the house to inspect it, presumably on foot.
Something about him Bearded man at Goffmans’ house frightened her. She described him to Ben, to her mother, and to a woman friend as “sick.” He asked her to go with him in the car for a test drive. She refused. (She herself never drove.)
When she suggested he leave his briefcase with her as surety, he appeared to take umbrage and walked off.
( Says Detective-Sergeant Harry Tupman, now in charge of the case: “No wonder he took umbrage. That briefcase probably contained the sawn-off rifle.” )
That same night Ben sold the car to quite another buyer, later paying the cheque into the couple’s joint current account at a local bank.
It turned a deficit into a credit. On that Friday, February 11, the credit stood at exactly $744.
That morning, Ben testifies, all seemed normal when he left for work. Mary was to deliver Teddy, their airedale, to a dog salon at the Spit for clipping and shampooing.
She and Emma did, around 9 a.m. The salon offered to ring when Teddy was finished.
Mary said not to bother, she’d call back before five.
Nothing in her manner caused remark.
A neighbor who spoke to her walking back found her “perfectly normal.”
The local milkman was waiting to collect his weekly money. He found her “her usual bright self.”
He thinks she was wearing dark jeans and a darkish top (but only a yellow-knit top appears to be missing).
Emma, he thinks, “wore a plain dark dress.”
Mary went into the house and got the money. The milkman gave her change and a receipt. He got into his van and drove away.
He estimates the time at 10.15 a.m.
And no one who knows Mary and Emma has seen them since, or at least has come forward to say so.
They were still (Ben says) in the house at 12.30. He rang from his city office, as he did at least once a day.
He said, “She sounded a bit sick, but she had a period, and both she and Emma had colds. Also we’d been out late the night before.
“She talked a bit about Sarah’s party, and at the end seemed quite bright and normal.”
Around 1.30, the elderly couple next door heard Emma coughing in the yard.
“Shortly after lunch” (the police were told later), a man claiming to be Ben rang the bank with a query about the state of the joint account.
About 2.20. Mary rang her mother.
Mrs. White’s last sight of her daughter had been late on the night before. The Goffmans had been to a dinner party, and the grandmother “baby-sat.” Mary and Teddy walked her home, as they always did, and at the gate Mary kissed her and said. “See you tomorrow. Mother.”
Her manner then was “normal.” Now it was markedly agitated.
She asked Mrs. White to pick up Jane and Sarah after school. This was by no means unusual. What followed was.
“She asked me to bring them hack to my place, instead of taking them home.” said Mrs. White. “That had never happened before, never once.
“She asked me to keep them there till she called. I thought she must be preparing some surprise for Sarah’s birthday next day.
“I said. “Yes, of course, dear. But what about Emma’?’
“For about a week, after being on the waiting list for months, Emma had been going to a nearby pre-school in the afternoons. I think Mary must have kept her home that day because of her cold.”
Mrs. White’s voice shook. “Mary.” she went on, “said, in such a funny way. ‘I’ve got Emma.’ Got. She put an emphasis on ‘got.’
“I said, ‘Mary, are you all right’?’ and she said ‘Yes, Mother’ and hung up.”
And that was the last time anyone has heard Mary’s voice, or at least has come forward to say so.
“I nearly went down,” said Mrs. White. “Only 50 yards away. How I wish I had! But I was afraid she’d think me foolish.”
Some time around three, the elderly woman next door saw “a tall, thin man with a small beard” standing across the road from the Goffmans’, looking toward the house.
“He held a handkerchief up to his face,” she said. ” I watched him for some time. until he noticed me at the window. Then he turned on his heel and walked up the road.
“He made me so nervous I wore all my rings when I went shopping a bit later. On the way, I saw him walking back toward the Goffmans’. ”
There was no sign of him, and all seemed quiet, when she got home around 4.30. At 4.55, just on closing time, a bearded man entered the Goffmans’ bank and presented two cheques.
Together they totalled $700. Both were signed “Mary C. Goffman.”
The signatures were unmistakably Mary’s. But she invariably added the words: “per B. C. and M. C. Goffman.” They appeared on neither cheque. ( Ben: “I’m positive she signed under duress, perhaps from a threat to Emma. Mary wasn’t businesslike. I think she believed leaving off the extra words would invalidate the cheques.” )
Both cheques were apparently legal. Even so, the teller referred them to a superior, who referred them to the manager. The manager came out and looked at the man. who seemed perfectly at ease.
The bank officers later described him to the police as: “about 30. 5ft. 10in., slim build, dark complexion, dark wavy hair, beard closely cropped, no moustache, dark glasses, well dressed in a dark suit.” ( They have since identified him as Robert John Hynes. )
When the manager saw no sign of Ben or Mary, he rang both the Goffman house and Ben’s office. Neither answered.
Meanwhile, the bank doors had been closed and locked. Still the bearded man seemed unperturbed.
The bank felt obliged to honor the cheques, for $50 and $650. When they paid over the cash, it left $44 in the joint account.
The bearded man asked to be let out by the back door, which led into a Mosman car park.
The bank officers are said to have watched him, intending to note his car number.
But he walked calmly out of the car park and was lost to sight.
Ben Goffman takes up the story: “After work I’d been to the markets to buy vegetables, as I always did on a Friday night. “I drove up about ten to six in the new car, expecting to find the whole family, including Teddy, at home.
“But the bedroom blinds were drawn and all the windows shut. “I pressed the front-door bell and it didn’t work. So I got out my key. The door opened right away, which meant it wasn’t double locked. That wasn’t like Mary, if she were going out.
“As soon as I got inside I saw why the bell hadn’t worked. The plastic casing and two of the batteries were lying on the floor, along with some of Emma’s toys. “The receipt for the milk money and some change were still on the hall table.
All this seemed strange. “Beside them on the table were her sunglasses. “I went through to the kitchen and tried the back door. It was locked, but not chained, again not like Mary since the burglary.
” The vitamiser was on the sink, with the remains of some milk in it. It was new, and Mary was fanatical about washing it right after use. Alongside was an empty yoghurt carton. She’d often give Emma milkshake with yoghurt for lunch.
“The kitchen window was shut but not locked, and the flyscreen not replaced properly. “And the whole knife drawer from the cupboard under the sink was missing.
“Later I found it on the bed in the spare bedroom off the kitchen.
” I couldn’t understand any of it. I thought perhaps they’d all gone down to the dog salon, and drove there via the park.
” The salon had closed at five. When Mary hadn’t turned up as promised, they’d left Teddy at the adjoining vet’s.
” Then I tried Mary’s mother’s, and found Jane and Sarah there, and heard about Mary’s phone call.
” Even then I was puzzled rather than scared. I had no reason to suspect anything sinister. Mother and I took the girls home, thinking it would soon be Emma’s bed time.”
By 8.15, after vainly checking with various friends, Ben was ringing the police, while his closest friend, Ron Poison, tried the hospitals.
The police came, and that night two more names were added to the bulging files of Missing Persons.
” I don’t know what I thought.” Ben said. ” That she’d had some sort of breakdown, all sorts of things. But a breakdown between breakfast and lunchtime? I didn’t know then about the cheques and the bearded man.”
Next morning, late, he rang nine little girls, to cancel Sarah’s birthday party.
He and Mrs. White, Ben said, searched the house to see what was missing.
” She seemed to have gone just in old slacks and the yellow top, and Emma in the thin navy-blue dress. So far as we could see, she had no purse, no bag, nothing warm for Emma, and was without any sunglasses.”
Mrs. White discovered that one of a pair of highly distinctive large sheets was missing. They were a gift from Mary’s brother in the United States, and would certainly be rare in Australia.
The sheet was a tan color, with a pattern of white flowers on a black grid, labelled “Vera Collection by Burlington.”
Also missing were the scissors Mary kept in the kitchen. (A large pair of scissors was found in Hynes’ home, identified as Mary’s by Mrs. White. There was also a broken pair of sunglasses.)
A joint savings-account book containing $600 (held by Mary for her mother) was safely hidden. But the chequebook was missing.
That was what sent Ben to the bank on Monday morning, to be told about the two signed cheques and the bearded man.
Ben said, “From that moment, I was sure Mary and Emma had come to harm.”
In those days before either of us had heard of Robert John Hynes, many things puzzled me.
If Mary had the wit to leave off the extra words, why not sign even more incorrectly, to alert the bank?
“I think she tried to.” Ben said. “The cheque immediately preceding those two has never been presented. She could have used it first that day, signing it incorrectly.
“But there were several things in the house signed “Mary C. Goffman.’ The man could have checked with them, and forced her to tear the cheque up.
“So leaving off the initials was the best she could do.”
How did he get the two away, in broad daylight, and without an outcry?
“Mary would do anything,” Ben said, “if he threatened Emma. Or perhaps they were dead when he took them out.”
Always Ben came back to the “bearded man”, who called about the car, and frightened Mary.
At first, the man was to inspect the car at night, when Ben was home.
“Then he rang back and cancelled, ‘because he had to work back at a Parramatta pharmacy’, and arranged to go out to the house when I wasn’t there.
“Afterwards my friends and I, then the private detective, combed Parramatta but we never found that man.”
Ben’s life over those months was torture.
It happened when he was especially tired, closest to breakdown. Very soon he would think: Not Mary. Mary wouldn’t have just run away, deserting Jane and Sarah too, putting him and her mother on this rack, causing Teddy to fret. Not Mary.
Had she broken down? Were she and Emma wandering about in God knew what condition?
One witness thought so. After reading a newspaper story, she identified them as a lost-looking, dirty woman and child she had seen wandering about at Circular Quay.
Ben felt the descriptions didn’t fit. But for a long time afterward, he haunted the Quay. Deep down, though, he knew the truth from that first moment in the bank, when he heard about the bearded man.
His last words to me before he left were: “That man killed them, and hid them somewhere in the bush.”
Now Ben and the police appeal for aid.
If you observed anything on that February day, or before, or since, which might be of assistance, please contact your local police or the Sydney C.I.B. (Tel. 20966).
Det.-Sgt. Tupman: ” Someone may have seen Hynes acting in unusual or suspicious circumstances. He may have used his own car or a stolen one.
” Particularly contact us if you were ever approached, either by telephone or in person, in a similar manner to the North Curl Curl housewife.
“Someone may have seen the missing sheet from the Goffman home, or Mary’s distinctive ring.
” Any information, however slight, may help us to break this case, and who knows how many others? ”