Paul Clifford York was born on June 27, 1966, in Dalwallinu, Western Australia, a farming town about 150 miles northeast of Perth. He grew up in Dalwallinu with his parents and three brothers. His older brother died in a 1977 car accident, which affected Paul his entire life.
Paul has been described as a funny and happy person but one who struggled with mental illness for years. After a failed marriage in his 20s, his life spiraled downhill. He lost his left thumb and received scarring on his left arm and forehead after he ignited acetylene in an oil drum. He also began self-harming.
Paul lived in Laverton for several years and began using drugs. He was also jailed for six months on burglary charges. After his release in 2007, Paul returned to Dalwallinu and began working for Hut City Portables for Jonathan Paul Drafin. He had also worked manual and labor jobs with his company, Dalwallinu Technical Services.
On October 21, 2009, Paul called Jonathan, saying he was tied up in a tree in Petrudor Rocks National Park and that he was going to end his life. Jonathan talked him out of it, and Paul arrived at Jonathan’s place in Kalannie 15 minutes later from the direction of Petrudor Rocks. He was crying uncontrollably and in distress, so Jonathan drove him to Dr. Nina McLellan in Goomalling.
Paul told McLellan that he had ADHD since childhood and that a priest had sexually abused him. He was depressed and had low self-esteem, panic attacks, irrational fear, and suicidal thoughts. McLellan prescribed alprazolam and mirtazapine. Paul seemed to respond well to the medications and returned to work.
Events Leading Up to the Disappearance
Paul moved to Kalannie in 2010 and met Sandra Nailer. The two quickly hit it off and moved in together. His relationship with Sandra was good, and they planned on getting married once they had saved enough money.
Sandra became pregnant in 2011. According to Sandra and Paul’s family, Paul was excited about becoming a father.
Around this time, Paul was laid off from Hut City Portables, and he began doing ad hoc work for a Kalannie electrician. However, he sustained a knee injury while working and had to take time off because of the pain.
On November 1, 2011, Paul visited a neighbor, Michael Kerr, in a distressed state. Michael then drove Paul and Sandra to Moora Health Center, where Paul saw Dr. Judy Kimani. Paul told Dr. Kimani about a nervous breakdown and his childhood sexual abuse. He also mentioned a previous suicide attempt and a recent one where he attempted to hang himself at home. However, Sandra had intervened and saved his life.
Paul also told the doctor that if he went home, he likely would take his own life. Dr. Kimani had Paul transferred to the Joondalup Health Campus by ambulance that afternoon for urgent psychiatric assessment and management.
On November 3, 2011, another doctor assessed Paul, who said he had a good night’s sleep and still felt depressed but denied any self-harm thoughts. Paul requested to go home so he could return to work and be with Sandra. The doctor discharged Paul shortly after with enough medication to last one week and scheduled a follow-up visit at Wheatbelt Mental Health Service (WMHS).
Last Day of Contact
On Wednesday, November 9, 2011, Paul spoke with someone from WMHS. He said he was not sleeping well and “could not cope in this state,” according to court documents. Paul requested a prescription for dexamphetamine to see if that would help. Dexamphetamine is used for ADHD and narcolepsy. Paul had previously taken the drug illegally—however, a prescription required a referral to a psychiatrist.
The last time Paul spoke with WMHS, he said he was “drinking eight full-strength beers and using two grams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) a day, but that he was not using amphetamine.”
According to court documents, a WMSH team member completed a risk assessment form and found that Paul was “at moderate risk of both suicide and violence against others.” However, it is unclear why they felt he would hurt another person or why they did not force a hospital stay if he was a danger to himself and others.
Later that day, Paul drove to Kalannie, spotted his friend Grant Evans walking down the street, and picked him up. He drove Grant to the home of Ashley Waters, where Grant had been staying.
Paul chatted with Grant for a while, then left for a few hours, returning with beer. He, Grant, and Ashley drank the beer, and Paul discussed his new job with a local electrician. Grant later said that Paul seemed to be in good spirits.
Later that evening, Paul returned home and did some work-related tasks. Sandra said he seemed fine and was looking forward to the future. The couple went to bed sometime after midnight.
The following day, November 10, 2011, Paul and Sandra awoke and drank coffee together before he left for work at the electrician’s shed. Around 6:30 a.m., Paul called Grant, who was at the Rolinson Farm, owned by Keith Rolison and Peter Rolison. Paul said he would bring Grant’s “shopping,” a bottle of cordial, a non-alcoholic drink. He arrived at the farm a short while later. Paul had a quick conversation with Grant and the Rolinsons; all three stood together. Keith commented on Paul’s ladder in the ute, although it’s unclear what he said precisely or why he brought it up, considering Paul likely would have had a ladder in his ute due to his line of work.
Grant noticed that Paul seemed down and quiet, unlike the happier version of himself the night before. Paul then said he was going to work and left.
Sandra called Paul at lunchtime and asked if he was coming home for lunch, but Paul said no and that he would see her later.
Paul never returned home that night, and Sandra’s calls to him went unanswered. Her phone calls are the last known contact with Paul.
Where is Paul York?
Paul had yet to return home by Friday, November 11, 2011. Sandra tried numerous times to contact him. When she failed to reach him, she went to the Dalwallinu Police Station to report him missing. Police immediately began an investigation, and Sandra started a Facebook page.
On November 15, Jonathan’s wife, Brenda Fawkes, told investigators about a conversation she had with Paul several months before. Paul said to her that he would take his own life at Petrudur Rocks and that his body would never be found.
The Search for Paul York
A search crew extensively searched Petrudor Rocks for Paul but never found his body. They did find his ute on a firebreak track on the southeast corner of Petrudor Rocks.
On November 18, a search team found a ladder about a half mile north of Paul’s vehicle. They observed broken tree branches over two meters above the ground in a direct path from his ute. That indicated to them that Paul had carried the ladder there, although there was no evidence proving it was Paul and not someone else. There is also no evidence Paul was the one who drove the ute to Petrudor Rocks.
The searchers then combed an “extremely dense bushland.” They saw a broken tree and a 40-meter piece of rope, which led them to theorize someone had tested the tree to see if it would bear weight. They also found some tape. According to court documents, the ladder, rope, and tape were identified as coming from Paul’s ute, although how they confirmed that is unclear.
Police scaled down the search for Paul on November 20, 2011, to “redeploy the SES (State Emergency Service) staff to bushfires because of the fire risk and the dense conditions in and around the search area.”
On November 24, 2011, authorities suspended the search until early December. However, it was delayed until January 2012 due to bad weather and the unavailability of SES members.
Police never found Paul. The investigation was transferred to the Missing Persons Team on February 29, 2012. Paul was then added to Australia’s National Missing Persons Register.
Paul never touched his bank accounts after November 9, 2011, or used his cell phone after November 10, 2011. Authorities verified that he never left the country.
Speculation Surrounds Disappearance
One of Paul’s longtime friends, Paul Colgate, told police that Paul was shocked when he found out Sandra was pregnant with his child.
According to Colgate, Paul believed he could not have children. However, Sandra and Paul’s brother, Matthew York, said that Paul was pleased about becoming a father.
Several people suggested to detectives that someone had killed Paul due to his involvement with drugs and gangs. According to court documents, however, “these people either refused to provide statements, declined to sign draft statements or proved subsequently uncontactable, and there was no other evidence to suggest any criminality in Mr. York’s disappearance.”
2020 Inquest and Ruling
A coroner’s inquest hearing occurred at Northam Courthouse on February 4, 2020, regarding Paul’s disappearance.
Deputy State Coroner Barry Paul King concluded Paul was deceased and died sometime on or around November 10, 2011, at Petrudor Rocks.
King wrote in his ruling:
However, it is not possible to determine the cause of death since he could have ended his life by hanging himself, overdosing on prescription medications, or other means. It is also not possible to rule out an accidental death since Mr. York may have inadvertently had a fatal accident or a venomous snake may have bitten him. I am therefore unable to find the cause of death or how death occurred.
Did Paul Die by Suicide?
All evidence seems to point to yes. But I am not convinced. Mostly because searchers never found his body. And even though Petrudor Rocks is a large area, I would think that sometime since 2011, someone would have stumbled upon his body had it been there.
Now, mind you, I have no idea what this place or Australia itself is like because I’ve never been there.
Per court documents:
The area northeast of the ladder was considered an area of high probability for finding Mr York, but as the search teams moved further toward the northeast quadrant of Petrudor Rocks, the vegetation became increasingly dense. Search teams of 10 personnel took up to eight hours to search an area of 600 meters by 15 meters.
I still think if Paul had died at Petrudor Rocks, searchers or others would have found him eventually.
Was Paul Murdered?
Notice King never mentioned the possibility of someone murdering Paul, which he should have because it is possible. If you wanted to kill a person who had severe mental illness, then you likely would make it look like a suicide. It would be almost the perfect murder if you pulled it off right and ensured the body would never be found.
The last people to see Paul alive were Grant Evans and the Rolinsons. Sandra spoke with Paul a final time on November 10, 2011, but the three men could have been present during the phone call. Paul said he was not coming home for lunch and would see her later. We do not know where he was during that phone call.
Police finding the ladder, rope, tape, and Paul’s ute at Petrudor Rocks seems convenient. Someone else could easily have placed the items there to make it look like suicide. The broken tree branches could have been done by another means.
Did Paul Fake His Death?
Some believe Paul faked his death to start a new life in another part of Australia. However, there is no evidence to support this theory. Still, it would explain why the police never recovered his body; he isn’t dead. That said, he likely would have contacted Sandra or a family member by now.
Sandra gave birth to a girl in 2012, a few months after Paul vanished. Sandra has remained adamant that her child is Paul’s daughter. She still maintains a Facebook page for Paul and desperately wants to find answers to his disappearance for the sake of their daughter.
It is clear that Australian media believe Paul took his own life as there is barely any news coverage of his disappearance. What information is contained in this article came from the court document of the 2020 ruling, available online and listed below.
King, BP. “Inquest Finding.” Coroner’s Court of Western Australia, October 8, 2020. https://www.coronerscourt.wa.gov.au/I/inquest_into_the_suspected_death_of_paul_clifford_york.aspx.