RECORD OF INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH (WITHOUT PUBLIC INQUEST)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Christopher P. Webster, Coroner, have investigated the death of
I have decided not to hold a public inquest hearing into this death because my investigations have sufficiently disclosed the identity of Ms Funari, the time, place, cause of death, relevant circumstances concerning how her death occurred and the particulars needed to register her death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. I do not consider that the holding of a public inquest hearing would elicit any information further to that disclosed by the investigations conducted by me.
a) Rachel Funari (‘MS FUNARI’) was born in New York, United States of America on 18 December 1975. She was estranged from her husband, had no children and was residing in Balaclava, Victoria. Ms Funari was a journalist by profession and had taken up Australian citizenship in 2005. She had been working for the Victorian Government at the time of her death.
b) Ms Funari has been missing since 3 March 2011, in the area of Adventure Bay and Fluted Cape, Bruny Island, Tasmania, and is presumed to be deceased.
c) There is no evidence to suggest any other person contributed to Ms Funari’s death or disappearance.
Ms Funari moved to reside in Canberra, Australia, during 2001 with her husband after working as a freelance journalist for a period of time in England. She became an Australian citizen in 2005 and moved to Melbourne two years later after separating from her husband. During the next few years, Ms Funari continued with her study at Melbourne University, and then combined work and international travel during 2009 and 2010. She recorded her experiences in her personal blog called ‘The Café Diaries’, which also served to inform family and friends of her whereabouts and to provide contact with her. At this time Ms Funari also commenced using a world wide internet service called ‘Couch Surfing’, which strives to create a local community and encourages members to socialise. It appears Ms Funari was actively involved in the site and had met, as well as made friends with, many people nationally and internationally.
According to the evidence of her friends and flatmate, Ms Funari was fun loving, friendly and enjoyed socialising and travelling. She made friends easily and, when travelling, would have few plans. She would rely on meeting people in new locations to socialise, provide suggestions as to things to see and do, and sometimes to provide transport.
At the time of her disappearance, Ms Funari was working with the Victorian Premier’s Department, and was also expecting to receive word from a potential employer regarding a journalist position.
Ms Funari purchased a return airfare from Melbourne to Hobart with Tiger Airline and travelled to Hobart on 1 March 2011. Her return flight was booked for 8 March 2011. She left her primary mobile phone with a friend, Cara Bradley, on the chance she may receive a call regarding a new employment opportunity, given she may not have had phone service while travelling. Ms Funari took a second mobile phone, leaving her number with her friend should she needed to be contacted. She travelled with a backpack and had intended staying in Hobart with Mr Dean Hunnerup, a person with whom she had contact via CouchSurfing.org.
Mr Hunnerup collected Ms Funari from the Hobart Airport at 1:30pm on Tuesday 1 March 2011 and they returned to his residence in Sandy Bay, Hobart. She stayed for two nights at the residence however during the early afternoon of Wednesday 2 March 2011, she struck up a conversation with a Mr Gordon Young at a café. During their conversation Ms Funari mentioned she was visiting Hobart and her intention to visit Bruny Island during her stay. Mr Young was intending to travel to Bruny Island the following day with his daughter, and indicated that he was happy to give her a ride to the island if she was at his house early the following morning. They agreed and he provided her with his address and contact details.
Later that afternoon, Ms Funari, attended the MONA museum at Berriedale, meeting a couple of people there after posting a message on her CouchSurfing profile.
Early morning on Thursday 3 March 2011, Ms Funari left Mr Hunnerup’s residence, leaving a hand written note saying she was leaving and intended to return the next week. About 8.20am she arrived at Mr Young’s residence and, together with his 13 year old daughter, they travelled to Bruny Island, stopping along the way for fruit and vegetables. During the journey Ms Funari mentioned she was intending to camp on the island and that she had a small tent with her. It was raining during this conversation, and as heavy rainfall was forecast for the following few days, Mr Young offered Ms Funari the use of his shack while on the island. He told her that she could stay as long as she needed to, as long as she locked up when she left and put the door key on a hook in the outdoor toilet.
They caught the 9:30am ferry to Bruny Island and stopped at the Bruny Island Cheese Company at 10:00am. They then called into see Ms Elizabeth Higgins, a family friend of Mr Young’s, for a short time. Ms Higgins told Ms Funari she would call into the shack at some time to arrange to go for a walk, however no set time was made. They then purchased grocery supplies at the Adventure Bay Store where Ms Funari also bought a disposable Kodak camera. As a result of her expressed interest in the island, Mr Young then took her to the Adventure Bay Boat Tours office, where he left a message for a Mr Scheppers to contact him.
They arrived at the shack around 11:30am and Mr Young showed Ms Funari around the shack, how to work the amenities and where to leave the key when she left. They had lunch and at about 2:30pm, Mr Scheppers arrived at the shack. A boat tour was discussed but no firm arrangements were made by Ms Funari. Mr Schepper also recalled mentioning the nearby walking track to Fluted Cape to Ms Funari as being of interest to tourists.
Mr Scheppers left the shack at about 3:30pm and Mr Young and his daughter left soon after in order to catch the ferry back home. According to Mr Young, Ms Funari indicated she would be returning to Melbourne on Tuesday 8 March 2011, although she did not specify how long she would remain on the island. This is the last confirmed sighting of Ms Funari.
Ms Higgins went around to Mr Young’s shack the following day and found the shack to be locked. She noticed that the water pump was running and that the key was not in the usual location in the outside toilet. Ms Higgins wrote a message for Ms Funari on the board outside the shack.
On Wednesday 9 March 2011, Ms Bradley received a phone message on Ms Funari’s mobile phone from Ms Funari’s workplace, enquiring where she was and indicating that they had rescheduled her work to the following day. Ms Bradley contacted Ms Funari’s flatmate, Ms Alicia Carreno, who confirmed Ms Funari’s return flight had been for Tuesday 8 March 2011. Enquires indicated that Ms Funari had failed to board her return flight to Melbourne on Tuesday so Ms Bradley contacted Tasmania Police to report her as missing.
Late evening of Thursday 10 March 2011, having confirmed Ms Funari had not been in contact with anyone and that she had not returned to Melbourne, Ms Bradley and Ms Carreno filed a formal missing person report at Caulfield Police Station, Victoria. This report was referred to Tasmania Police early the following morning.
Enquiries were conducted with any people Ms Funari was known to have been in contact with while she was staying in Hobart. The Mercury newspaper published an article on Saturday 12 March 2011 regarding the disappearance of Ms Funari and seeking any information from the public. As a result of reading an article in the Tasmania-based newspaper, The Mercury, Mr Young contacted Tasmania Police and revealed his contact with Ms Funari. He confirmed her travel to Bruny Island and location of her last known whereabouts.
Police gained entry to Mr Young’s shack and located a number of personal belongings of Ms Funari, including her backpack and tent. These were not unpacked or disturbed. The bed did not appear to have been slept in, bathroom appeared unused, and dishes and spoiled food were still sitting on the bench and in the refrigerator, as described as they were left by Mr Young when he left to return home. Ms Funari’s personal belongings not located included her disposable camera, a small shoulder bag and some items of clothing which she was likely wearing, suggesting she left the shack on the afternoon of 3 March 2011.
Police conducted extensive enquiries on Bruny Island, including contacting all known places of accommodation on the island, and obtaining details of visitors staying on the island at the time of Ms Funari’s disappearance. Over the following week an extensive land, sea and air search of the area was conducted by police, utilising State Emergency Service volunteer search teams, Marine police and divers and the N.S.W. Police Cadaver Dog Unit. A team of professional climbers were used to search the inaccessible cliffs in the surrounding area. Despite the intensity of searches conducted they failed to locate Ms Funari or any of her remaining personal belongings.
A Missing Person information package was prepared and distributed to local media outlets, Marine and Safety Tasmania, local professional fisherman, local wildlife rangers, online groups such as Facebook and CouchSurfing. A letterbox drop of all properties on Bruny Island was also conducted however no further information was received by police.
On Thursday 17 March 2011, Ms Funari’s sister (Miss Nicole Funari), a US Consulate representative and friends were escorted to Bruny Island by police. They were taken on a tour of Fluted Cape walking track and other areas Ms Funari was known to have visited on the island. According to the evidence of her family and friends it is likely Ms Funari would probably have wanted to explore the Fluted Cape walking track near to the shack, although they believe she may have had difficulty with the parts of the walk, particularly that which leads up to the Cape, and also in coming back down to the track. They further indicated that Ms Funari was not known to them to be overly fit or to enjoy strenuous activity. They consider that she was not confident in the bush and may not have had a very good sense of direction.
The evidence also suggests that it is out of character for Ms Funari to have no contact with her friends, to not turn up to work, and not to have updated her profile or blog to let her friends and family know where she is. There has been no access to Ms Funari’s bank accounts or use of her mobile phones since she was last seen on Bruny Island.
All reported possible sightings of Ms Funari have been discounted or unsubstantiated by authorities engaged in attempts to locate her.
Findings, Comments and Recommendations:
I find that Ms Funari has probably died at an unknown location in bushland or in the waters surrounding Bruny Island on or about 3 March 2011.
I find that a comprehensive and thorough search was conducted by authorities into the disappearance of Ms Funari and there is nothing to date to indicate the involvement of any other person in her death.
I conclude by conveying my sincere condolences Ms Funari’s family.
DATED 18th May 2012 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.