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Last year, I posted on this subreddit the case of Rista Chanthavixay - a girl who disappeared after being last seen in Liverpool, a South-Western suburb of Sydney, Australia, on 24 March 2009 (link to previous post - here
). My previous post was on the 10th anniversary of her last confirmed sighting.
I have decided to submit this new post, to again highlight and bring attention to Rista's case - but also to recap, update and also expand upon details regarding it too. Sadly, Rista's case still remains unsolved; however the major development in the past 12 months has been, that her case has been reopened by the New South Wales Police - with a Strike Force being formed by the Unsolved Homicide Squad (also known as the Unsolved Homicide Unit - the NSW Police seem inconsistent in their naming/reference to this division) to reinvestigate her case. On this point, I would also refer fellow Redditors to the post made by u/peachywine
in September last year for further reading (link - here
I have been intrigued by Rista's case, since I first heard about it a few years ago - for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was a case that, in my view, seemed to receive little attention - aside from an advertising campaign in Sydney, of which Rista was the focus of, during Missing Persons Week in August 2010 (Source: Campaign Brief
). Secondly, it is a case littered with contradicting and even erroneous details in its reporting - notably the spelling of her surname (I will get to that later on).
However, I am going to recap Rista's case in two main parts - firstly, the outline of her case, based on the facts to date; and secondly, I'm going to discuss other talking points on Rista's case - based around statements from anecdotal sources, which I believe are worthy of at least a discussion. I will close out this post with my personal opinion and theories on her case. Background and Case Outline
Rista Chanthavixay (her surname pronounced as “Chahn-ta-wi-sai” - which is of Lao origin) was 15 years old (born on 5 July 1993, according to this published source - link
), at the time she disappeared. She had grown up in the South-Western Sydney suburb of Heckenberg - and has been described in reports as being of both Lao and Cambodian background (although questions do surround the accuracy in reporting on her background, which I’ll also get to further on).
In the lead up to her disappearance, Rista had moved out of her family home; and moved in with her boyfriend (whom she attended school with) - at his family's home in the neighbouring suburb of Mount Pritchard, around November 2008. According to reports, Rista allegedly had a falling out with her father. She had only limited contact with her mother, after leaving home. She was a student at Ashcroft High School; and had recently started a part-time job at McDonald’s in Bonnyrigg Heights – working one shift a week.
On the day of her disappearance, Rista had an apparent argument with her boyfriend - according to some reports, possibly over their relationship status. Although there's conflicting details of where this incident took place - it appears it occurred in Liverpool, around the vicinity Westfield Shopping Centre - most probably at the nearby Apex Park. Most reports indicate the argument took place in the afternoon, some quoting at approximately 4.15 pm - which would have been after school for Rista and her boyfriend. Following this exchange; her boyfriend then left, leaving Rista behind and alone at the scene (allegedly, Rista requested to him that she wanted to be "left alone"), ultimately not to see her again. This incident is declared to be her last ‘confirmed’ sighting, according to NSW Police.
Rista failed to return to the home she shared with her boyfriend and his family (or for that matter, her family's home either); and failed to return to her school; or her workplace. Her known bank account (reportedly containing a nominal value of "...more than $200"
); and her mobile phone account, have remained untouched since her disappearance. She has also not made any known (or verified) contact with any of her family, known friends or associates.
Her case was not made public by NSW Police until four months later, in July 2009 (Source: Sydney Morning Herald
). Police did express concerns for her safety and welfare; and did not rule out foul play - however, they did suspect she had run away with some leads indicating as such.
It has been reported, there were alleged multiple sightings of Rista around the Campbelltown/Macarthur region of South-Western Sydney, following her last confirmed sighting. All of these sightings are classified as "unconfirmed" (or "not verified") by the NSW Police.
The first of these alleged sightings - she was allegedly seen by a friend at Campbelltown Railway Station, a month after her reported disappearance (Source: Liverpool City Champion
). A more recent article in the Daily Mail (Link: via MSN
) has implied (although not explicitly stated) that this friend may have even spoken directly to Rista during this sighting; and may also have been the origin of the reported lead of Rista allegedly being headed interstate for Melbourne. However, it has been implied (again not explicitly stated) in this article by the Daily Mail, but also by the Daily Telegraph (link to article here
- note, blocked by paywall), that NSW Police have since dismissed this lead as "false" or "not credible".
The second of these sightings, was by a fellow student from Ashcroft High School (Rista's school) - which allegedly took place two months after her reported disappearance at a shopping centre within Campbelltown. This is according to an article published by The Sunday Telegraph in August 2010 for Missing Persons Week - which is available on Pressreader here
(note - blocked by paywall). However, for interest of readers - here's an extract of this article, which also documents NSW Police's public stance on Rista's case at the time:
Rista was 15 when she was last seen at Apex Park in Liverpool on the morning of March 24 last year. She was reported missing to police by her worried Ashcroft High School teacher after she failed to attend classes.'' Friends and colleagues at her old job at McDonald's say they haven't seen her,'' Detective Senior Constable Mark Kneipp said. ''She didn't show up at school again or go home to her parents, and they are devastated by her disappearance.'' But he said police had reason to believe Rista, now 17, is still alive. ''She was sighted by a school peer two months after her disappearance, at nearby Campbelltown shopping centre and, for whatever reason, she ducked and ran off,'' he said. ''We believe she is alive and we want her to contact us to let us know she is safe and well.''
It should be noted, there is no "Campbelltown Shopping Centre" in Campbelltown - however there is Campbelltown Mall and Macarthur Square Shopping Centre within the area. The Police could be referring to the former, however it might be the latter.
Aside from these two alleged sightings, it was reported that there were other sightings of Rista, at the aforementioned Macarthur Square Shopping Centre (Source: The Middle-East Times International Australia
) – although there’s no further specific details regarding these sightings.
However, the viewpoint of the investigation had changed by February 2012 - NSW Police had been unable to find any trace Rista (presumably through other identity checks – known as “Proof of Life Checks” - via various Government databases) up to that point. Her case was then referred to the NSW Coroners Court for a Coronial Inquest, scheduled for April 2012 (Source: News.com.au
). Although it appears not to have been publicly reported until September 2019 (when her case was reopened), her Inquest did proceed, presided by then Deputy Coroner Paul McMahon. Although the full Findings from her Inquest has not been made public, Mr McMahon made the following finding:
“Rista Chanthavixay died on or about March 24, 2009. As to the place of her death and the manner and cause thereof, the evidence does not enable me to make a finding,”
Mr McMahon referred Rista's case to the Unsolved Homicide Squad of the NSW Police.
Rista's case, despite some sporadic appeals in local media within South-Western Sydney; and on social media; would remain cold until September 2019 - when NSW Police announced the Unsolved Homicide Squad were reopening Rista's case; forming a Strike Force to specifically undertake a full reinvestigation of her case (Sources: Daily Mail via MSN
; Daily Telegraph
- note, blocked by paywall).
The reopening of Rista's case, is part of a drive by the NSW Police to review and reopen all outstanding unsolved Missing Persons and Homicide cases. It was reported the Police would be reinterviewing people - including her boyfriend (who according to reports, was declared not to be a suspect in the original investigation; and also reported as "co-operative" in their investigations); her family; and her friends.
As of this point, there have been no further updates or reports on Rista's case. We can only presume; and hope; that the investigation is still ongoing. Although I do have the impression that the NSW Police Unsolved Homicide Squad has been quite busy - they have had a number of developments in other cases (many of them promising), which has been reported in the media within these last few months. Talking Points – Conflicting Information and Anecdotal Accounts
Before exploring other potential points in Rista's case, I will cover the points of conflicting information reported about Rista over the years.
Firstly regarding her surname - it has been widely misspelt as "Chathavixay" in articles over the years; and this misspelling still appears in articles from time to time. The correct spelling of her surname is definitely Chanthavixay. My suspicions are, the original misspelling was a mistake on the original Press Releases by the NSW Police, when her case was made public back in July 2009.
Secondly is her location of her last confirmed sighting. Variously it has been documented as being at Mount Pritchard, at Wyoming on the New South Wales Central Coast (which is still listed on her profile, on the Australian Federal Police's National Missing Person's Co-ordination Centre website - here
; this information is most likely incorrect); and Liverpool. Even on the point of Liverpool, there are conflicting reports that she was last seen either at Liverpool Westfield Shopping Centre, or at Apex Park - which should be noted, both localities are one block away from each other. I will get to the point of anecdotal information on her last confirmed sighting
Thirdly is who reported her missing and when. There are various conflicting reports - some claiming her boyfriend (and his family); her family; or her school (or one of her teachers) reported her missing - and some reports suggesting she was reported missing variously from a few days, through to a few months, after she disappeared. I will also discuss anecdotal information on this point.
Now onto the anecdotal accounts - I have seen during my research of her case, on social media platforms, comments from people on Rista's case - some of those from people identifying to have known her. I'll need to tread carefully here - I must emphasise these statements can't be considered as "fact" and are as such, unsubstantiated. But they are a perspective, which might open up theories and ideas about her case. I won't be linking any of these (to protect peoples' privacy and also as per this subreddit’s rules), but I will document below points of information I've seen. Her last confirmed sighting:
I've seen two sources claim that her last sighting (by her boyfriend) did take place at Liverpool. One of those sources goes further by refuting that the last sighting was at Mount Pritchard; and specifically states it took place "near Westfields Liverpool". The other source makes an interesting statement, that Rista and her boyfriend had an argument over money; and that Rista told her boyfriend she wanted to be left alone, which he did. Being reported missing:
I've seen one source claim she was reported missing to Police rather promptly, although not specifying who made that report. This source also alleges the Police took their time in actioning their investigation and search of Rista.
Another source does state that it was her boyfriend who contacted Police over her disappearance; this same source also indicates it was not the first time Rista was reported as missing to Police - which I'll cover within the next point. Her relationship with family; and leaving home:
This source covers information specific to her family. Firstly, this source posted information which suggests Rista is actually of predominately Lao and partially Thai background; contradicting reports of her being of Lao and Cambodian background.
This source also goes into the events leading to Rista running away from home. Firstly, they claim that Rista had been frequently sneaking out of the house at night, apparently unknown to her own family for quite some time. Her parents, according to this account, were highly protective of their children (and from what I can work out: Rista being the eldest of four children in her family).
Regarding her relationship with her father - this source claims the two, for the most part, had actually been quite close. However, this source alleges Rista may have made certain statements to others about her father (without going into specifics, it was negative in nature), which may have been untrue. I’ve also seen other separate sources suggest that Rista may have told others that her parents disapproved of her boyfriend and was on bad terms with them, as a result.
Regarding her leaving home - the source claims that Rista ran away from home, completely unannounced and to the surprise of her family, on the night of her high school formal. Simply, she went to the formal with her boyfriend; and never returned home. Her family then reported her as missing to Police - with the Police eventually finding Rista at her boyfriend's place. It turned out she had moved in with him and his family, however as Police deemed her to be in a "safe environment", they did not force Rista to return home. This situation caused great distress to her family – especially as they did want her to return home; and apparently pleaded with the Police to further intervene, but to no avail. This event would have taken place in November 2008. Potential sightings and events surrounding her disappearance:
Aside from the reported unconfirmed sightings in the Campbelltown area, as previously mentioned – I have seen people on social media make other comments regarding other potential sightings.
I’ve seen one member of the public, in a response to an appeal on social media, state they may have taken a photo at Noorumba Reserve at Rosemeadow (which is in the Campbelltown/Macarthur region) around September 2009, which apparently appears to contain a girl with very similar features to Rista. However, this claim does appear to be unsubstantiated.
I have also seen other members of the public, also in response to another appeal on social media, claiming to being certain they’ve seen and recognise her – one potentially in Mount Druitt (in Sydney’s Western Suburbs) and another potentially in Hornsby (in Sydney’s Upper North Shore).
Regarding the events surrounding her disappearance, I’ve seen one particular comment posted within the last few months on social media. One person has posted a quite disturbing allegation about her disappearance, suggesting that Rista was offered; and subsequently accepted; a lift to work by an individual who she supposedly knew very well. On this point – there has been no mention in any published reports, nor any public statement from NSW Police, at all regarding such line of information. My Opinion and Theories
In my previous post on Rista, I expressed my opinion and belief that she is alive – with my theory that she deliberately disappeared to start a new life interstate, possibly even using her true identity. Even now, I still hold that belief about her.
I do acknowledge though, that I could be wrong in my theory; and also acknowledge that many have the opinion that Rista did meet foul play and was murdered. I must admit, I can see how they have formed that perspective; especially based on what’s been reported and published about her.
I think the biggest challenge with Rista’s case is both the limited publicity and limited information in the public domain. I personally don’t believe her disappearance is as ‘cut and dry’ as it perhaps appears to be.
I am going to expand upon my opinion and theories on Rista – which is somewhat challenging for me, especially on some points which I’ll be delving into.
I believe Rista made a deliberate and conscious decision to disappear and ultimately leave behind both South-Western Sydney; and the vast majority of the people in her life up to that point. I think Rista was motivated by a myriad of reasons behind this.
I actually think Rista’s feelings and perceptions of her situation was quite complex; and perhaps too expansive to detail. However, I’ll attempt to summarise these factors, in two parts.
First part is Rista’s decision to leave home and to move in with her boyfriend. I do think Rista put some planning into this. Not wanting to cast aspersions on Rista – but I suspect she may have convinced her boyfriend and his family to let her move in, by possibly embellishing her family situation to them and leveraging their pity. I suspect the factors that led to this initial decision were:
- Her cultural background (her family identifying as Lao) – perhaps being in a very tight-knit minority community felt overbearing for her (Further reading on the Sydney Lao community and Lao culture: The Dictionary of Sydney; SBS Cultural Atlas).
- Her social life – trying to ‘fit in’ and gain acceptance with her peers.
- Family and home life – perhaps she felt stifled and constrained, especially if her parents were very protective of her. Also (to my understanding) being the eldest child/daughter within a Lao family – her additional duties/responsibilities (e.g. looking after her siblings) if any, may have played into this.
On the last point, I do have the genuine impression, aside from their protectiveness, that both of Rista’s parents are good and caring people, who dearly love their children. Regarding their views on her boyfriend – I suspect they did have concerns about her seeing him, although I don’t believe they outright disapproved of the relationship, nor sought to sabotage it.
On the point of her father, I’m inclined to believe he and Rista had been close; and she had adored him. I personally don’t think her father is, or was, in any way abusive. However, I do suspect the two did have a verbal row – most probably a stereotypical teenage situation that got overblown. Perhaps both said some things heatedly to each other, that neither really meant. However, I think Rista took this to heart, thus creating a rift.
The second part is Rista’s disappearance altogether from Liverpool. Again, I think Rista put some planning and co-ordination into this. I suspect she arranged for somewhere to go within Campbelltown short-term, whilst still planning her longer term move interstate. I suspect the following factors played into her deciding to disappear:
- Her romance with her boyfriend – I suspect, at least for Rista, the novelty of this began to wane after moving in with him.
- Living with her boyfriend’s family – not wishing to cast any aspersions on them, but the reality and dynamic of living with them may have eventually hit Rista hard.
- Attacks from detractors – although I suspect she was mostly well liked, I also suspect jealously from some quarters of her social group and peers – and possible rumours/innuendos about her family situation and living with her boyfriend may have been spread to undermine her.
- Regretting her actions and consequences – If indeed Rista did say some negative things about her family, the gravity of this may have hit her and began to feel bad about it.
- Her locality/environment – Rista grew up in what’s known as the Green Valley region, which includes the suburbs of Heckenberg and Mount Pritchard. The area has a high density of public housing; and sadly, a long history and reputation of crime and violence. Rista may have not felt she’d be safe, or have opportunities, staying in that area long term.
- Her mental wellbeing/emotions – I think all of above took a toll on her, all whilst still going through adolescence. I suspect Rista may have been suffering depression – I think she needed her own space; and felt the solution was to escape and leave.
Another potential factor I will address separately to the above points, is the allegation of her being offered a lift. I do acknowledge this plays into the theories of foul play – however, I’m actually not dismissive that there could be an element of truth to it.
Touching upon a rather dark subject – but the situation of sexual assault and abuse, or even the fear of it, can be a factor in young people running away. I do have concern that potentially, someone known to Rista was attempting to groom her – especially if they knew her situation at the time. My feeling is, this person is not a relative, nor her boyfriend or his relatives; but certainly an older male. If this is true, I do hope Rista (being as bright as I assume) did recognise this behaviour and managed to avoid this situation.
Onto her last confirmed sighting, I believe the anecdotal claims it was at Liverpool. I suspect it was routine for Rista and her boyfriend to visit Westfield Liverpool Shopping Centre after school. However, I also suspect Rista used this to stage her disappearance. I do think the argument did take place at Apex Park, one block away from Westfields – and was deliberately initiated by Rista, to enable her to break up with her boyfriend.
I will concede there have been aspersions about her boyfriend, with regards to her disappearance and his account of it. News articles on her case do not indicate any corroborating eyewitness accounts to support his account (although that’s not to say other people/witnesses were present); and comments by NSW Police about him (such as that “…he [had] been helpful…”
) frankly doesn’t cast him in a good light. However, my belief is he was not involved in her disappearance; and was perhaps distraught over this himself.
I also think her boyfriend’s family was fairly stable; and his parents also good people, with concerns for Rista too – even if their dynamic was different to her own family. I am inclined to believe his family were the first to report Rista missing, most likely by the following evening – after not showing up at school that day; and perhaps trying to find her via her other contacts, to no avail.
Returning to her disappearance, I suspect (out of sight of her now ex-boyfriend) that she did head to Liverpool Railway Station and travelled via train to Campbelltown that afternoon; and had arranged to stay with someone she knew and trusted. I cannot picture Rista living rough, if she could avoid it.
I think it’s the case that Rista did have a small number of friends outside of her main social circle in Liverpool. I suspect Rista did frequent other parts of Sydney, pursuing her noted interest in shopping, for one – but possible also she attended youth events (e.g. all ages gigs), where she may have met other people of her age. Potentially it might be someone from that circumstance. Again, as I theorised with her moving in with her boyfriend, she may have used her home situation narrative to convince this person and their family, to take her in.
I’m inclined to believe the two unconfirmed sightings within Campbelltown – at Campbelltown Railway Station by her friend; and at a shopping centre by her classmate. On the latter, my personal leaning it was at Macarthur Square Shopping Centre. I think the other possible sightings at Macarthur Square are plausible too.
I also suspect, as per my original post last year, Rista deliberately went off the grid during this period, to avoid being found by the Police or her family. I would not rule out Rista having some awareness of Police procedure on Missing Persons. Aside from methods of tracing (via her bank account or mobile phone); and assuming this policy was in place in 2009 (Source: NSW Police
), Rista being under 18 and possibly not considered ‘in danger’, Police might disclose her location to her parents, if she had been found.
I also don’t rule out Rista having a cash-in-hand income during this period, despite NSW Police stating she had no source of income. An issue that’s gained attention in Australia in recent times is wage theft – where businesses, including some major retailers, have paid employees; particularly casual staff; below award wage. Some businesses have also been accused of avoiding payroll tax and superannuation, by paying casual employees cash-in-hand; and off the books. It's plausible Rista might have worked under this situation, for an unscrupulous employer – possibly even a retailer in a major location like Macarthur Square; and it could have been undetectable.
Whilst not impossible, it would be difficult to remain off the grid forever. I can see it being plausible that she remained off the grid, until she reached the age of 18 – when she could legally gain some rights to privacy. As per my original post, I can see her also slipping through bureaucratic gaps – especially if she moved interstate, which I’m inclined to believe she did. Also, I think it’s plausible she is living under her true identity – I don’t dismiss she took; and has kept; her identity documents, particularly her Birth Certificate; and, if she already had one, her Passport, when she left home. However, I do feel she has maintained a low profile; and her privacy; by not having an overt social media presence, for example.
I’m inclined to believe the theory of her moving to Melbourne. I think it’s plausible she did tell her friend, during the alleged sighting/encounter at Campbelltown Railway Station – although it’s possible it was a deflection technique. A potential alternative for her would be Brisbane, however Melbourne I think would have been more suitable for her – as like Sydney (despite the two cities’ traditional rivalry), it is very multicultural and cosmopolitan.
I can also see she may have made arrangements again with someone she knew and trusted who lived in Melbourne (perhaps a friend who previously lived in Sydney) to live with them – if not, perhaps in an informal boarding house arrangement, as under 18’s can’t legally enter a rental agreement. For a teenage girl, this is fraught with danger. Hopefully she didn’t make arrangements with someone she met online – as per the “MySpace murder case” of fellow Australian girl Carly Ryan in 2007 (Source: Wikipedia
), for example.
I can picture Rista otherwise living a normal life – although perhaps her past actions do weigh on her. She might be reluctant to come forward, feeling she hurt her family badly and made things irreconcilable. However, I have no doubt her family want her back and with open arms.
But irrespective of whether Rista did run away at her own discretion, or was taken against her own will, I do feel NSW Police made mistakes in their initial handling of her case.
I’m inclined to believe the allegation that Police were slow in actioning her case, following her being reported missing in March 2009. My suspicions are, given she was apparently reported missing previously in about November 2008, that Police made an incorrect assumption she had become a serial runaway; and would turn up again within a short period. Firstly, I don’t believe Rista fitted the stereotypical profile of a serial runaway. Secondly, even if she was smart and did run away, she was still in a very vulnerable position – and needed support.
A third point, is NSW Police taking four months to make her case public. According to NSW Police (Source
), the next of kin of the Missing Person may need to sign an “Authority for Publicity”. Although Rista was living out of home, her parents still appear to be ‘next of kin’. Although her family appear to be private - judging by both their concern; and their willingness to be part of the 2010 Missing Persons Week campaign, I don’t believe they would have hesitated in granting permission to publicise her case in the media.
Although NSW Police have gotten much better now at putting out public appeals for Missing People in the media; and social media - they should have issued a public appeal immediately in March 2009, when Rista went missing. I have a personal belief if they had done so, Rista would have been located soon after. I find it incomprehendible, how there was seemingly little priority from Police, to find a missing 15 year old girl.
Hopefully this time, we will have answers on Rista’s case at some point. Despite no public update, it’s plausible her Strike Force at NSW Police Unsolved Homicide have uncovered new info – possibly even now having an idea of where Rista is. I don’t dismiss that the COVID-19 restrictions have affected the progress of the investigation, even that aspect of closing it out. NSW Police have had success in the past 12 months (particularly their Missing Persons Registry division), having actually managed to locate quite a few living Long Term Missing People.
But whatever it may be, I hope that Rista’s family finally get some answers and closure – and I still hold hope for them that they’ll be reunited with her.