The night of Feb. 16, 1984, was literally dark and stormy. For hours, a wild storm raged through the small picturesque fishing village of Narooma, New South Wales, about 350 km south of Sydney.
Morna Aitken, 29, lived in Narooma with her boyfriend, Neil Munne, and her two children, Bradley Aitken, 8, and Renee Aitken, 5.
At 4 a.m. on Feb. 17, Bradley awoke because he was cold; his blanket was down past his knees. How strange, he thought.
Bradley and Renee shared a bedroom. If one of them awoke during the night, he or she would crawl into the other’s bed. He stumbled to Renee’s bed in the dark and felt around on the mattress for his sister.
But Renee was not in her bed. Confused and still somewhat sleepy, Brad searched the home for his little sister but could not find her. While searching, he noticed the front door was open. As many people did at that time, Morna had left the doors unlocked at night.
Bradley alerted his mother, who told him Renee was sleeping. He insisted Renee was not in her bed, so Morna went to the children’s bedroom and found Renee’s bed empty. A quick search of the home confirmed that Renee was gone.
Morna’s boyfriend drove around the area searching for Renee but did not find her. Morna then called the police.
Renee was last seen wearing shortie pajamas with a floral pattern. She stood about 4-feet tall and had blond hair and blue eyes.
Police believed an intruder crept into the home and kidnapped Renee sometime between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Heavy rains kept authorities from searching for three days.
Once the rain cleared, the police launched an extensive search for Renee on the weekend following her disappearance. 90 police with tracker dogs and local volunteers marched in a single line through the nearby bush and climbed over part of the rocky coastline.
A police helicopter scanned the shoreline around Wagonga Inlet while a boat checked the coast.
A week later, police performed a three-day search and dragged rivers and lakes but found no clues to Renee’s whereabouts.
In April 1984, the Wollongong search and rescue squad renewed the search for Renee after someone reported a strange smell. Searchers concentrated in an area about 20 km south of Narooma, between the nearby towns of Central Tilba and Dignam’s Creek.
Searchers had already combed the area, but the terrain was rugged, and another search was necessary. However, they did not find Renee. Two months later, authorities searched swampland near the Aitken home but found nothing.
Police informed Renee’s mother that they had received information that led them to believe Renee was murdered soon after her abduction and her body dumped in bushland near Narooma. But they did not publicly reveal what the information was or how they had received it.
There were a couple of unconfirmed sightings of Renee after her disappearance.
One occurred on the Gold Coast on Sunday, Feb. 19, 1984. A witness saw a girl matching Renee’s description accompanied by two men in Tugun.
In another sighting, witnesses saw a girl resembling Renee with a man in the Bega region, about 75 km south of Narooma.
On Jan. 14, 1985, a 50-year-old woman fishing in a small boat in the Wagonga Inlet at Narooma on the South Coast discovered what she thought was a child’s leg bone. Startled, she threw the bone back in the lake but notified the police afterward.
Divers found the bone at approximately 4:30 p.m., but tests later revealed the bone came from an animal.
Four years after Renee’s kidnapping, someone found a human jaw bone containing two small teeth of a child aged five or six in a cave in the Angophora reserve in Sydney’s northern peninsula. The remains were first assumed to be Aboriginal because there was a burial ground nearby.
However, initial forensic tests had shown that the teeth had been treated with fluoride, but authorities needed a second opinion. Unfortunately, I could find any further information on the remains.
Authorities had only one missing person in that age group — Renee Aitken, but the remains could not have belonged to her as she has never been found.
In September 1986, the Aitken family claimed they knew who abducted and likely killed Renee. At the time, a man was serving a five-year prison sentence for unrelated offenses, including rape and indecent assault. Police confirmed that he was their prime suspect and was halfway through serving his sentence, which meant he would eventually walk free.
According to the police, the man could not account for his movements over three hours around the time of Renee’s abduction. They interviewed him several times, and he always denied any involvement.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that it knew the man’s identity but did not release his name for legal reasons. However, it was most likely Brian James “Spider” Fitzpatrick.
At a coronial inquest in August 2003, detectives informed the coroner they were convinced Fitzpatrick abducted and killed Renee Aitken. They had interviewed him after Renee disappeared.
The inquest lasted three days and took place at Albury Courthouse. The coroner returned an open verdict — Renee Aitken was probably murdered on or after Feb. 16, 1984.
Fitzpatrick was subpoenaed to appear at the inquest, but he died in July 2003 after running his car into a pole. His death was labeled a suicide, but his wife denied that Fitzpatrick took his own life by deliberately crashing his vehicle.
Fitzpatrick was not the only suspect in Renee’s disappearance.
In 2013, investigators turned their attention to pedophile Michael Guider, who was convicted for molesting multiple children and the murder of nine-year-old Samantha Knight in 1986. Samantha disappeared two years after Renee and was a year younger. Her remains have never been found; Guider claims he does not remember where he disposed of them.
A former cellmate of Guider’s, known only as “Witness O,” said Guider often talked about killing a girl named Renee and drew the picture of a little girl with the same name. The sketch bore a striking resemblance to Renee Aitken. Witness O lived in Holland at the time, and he told Amsterdam detectives about Guider.
In 1998, Witness O was serving a five-year sentence for importing ecstasy. He befriended Guider, who was in the protection unit at Lithgow Jail, serving a 16-year sentence for sex crimes against children. Guider started opening up to Witness O and told him how he had laced Samantha Knight’s cola with a drug to knock her out; he then molested her. Guider has maintained that he accidentally killed her by giving her too much of the drug.
Australian police interviewed Guider at Silverwater Prison in regards to Renee Aitken’s disappearance. He denied abducting and killing her, and investigators believed him. They have always insisted Fitzpatrick killed Renee.
Guider was released from prison in 2019.
For several years after Renee’s abduction, her mother and brother refused to believe she was dead. But as time wore on, they ultimately concluded she was killed and buried somewhere in the Narooma area.
Morna and Bradley moved to Melbourne, and Aitken and Munne eventually split up. In 1990, Morna married another man and ultimately gave birth to a second son, Osiris, now in his 20s.
Bradley had a daughter in 2008 and named her Renee, after his long-lost sister. One day when the child was about five years old, the same age as Renee, when she vanished, Bradley saw her with a cup of ice. His daughter then began chewing the frozen chunks, just like his sister used to do.
Something worth noting: The Australian Missing Persons Register states on its website that a woman came forward who thought she was Renee, but it turned out she was not. I did not find any further information on this woman.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
I feel like Renee Aitken might have known her abductor in some way. She never cried out for help, so this could point to her knowing the person and not being afraid of him. There is also the possibility that the kidnapper somehow drugged her before taking her.
Bradley’s blanket was folded down before he awoke, and he’s often wondered if the kidnapper was checking to see which one of the children was Renee.
It’s a ballsy move to walk into someone’s home and kidnap a child, especially when her brother was in the same bedroom.
If the abductor did not know Renee, he must have seen her somewhere and followed her because he knew a child lived at the residence. He could have taken Bradley, but he took her instead.
I did not find anything on whether crime scene technicians had processed Morna’s home, although I’m sure they did. I’m just wondering about fingerprints and trace evidence.
Obviously, the police believe Fitzpatrick killed her, although they have never said WHY, which I find strange because he’s dead. Why do they believe he killed her? There is very little info on Fitzpatrick.
Guider’s MO was to acquaint himself with the victim, then drug and molest her.
Witness O had nothing to gain by informing authorities about Guider and the sketch. He was already out of prison. I think it’s a long shot to say the girl was another Renee, especially when the drawing looks very much like Renee Aitken. But it could be, I guess.
I agree with the family that Renee’s killer buried her somewhere in the Narooma area.