'My sister was kidnapped aged 11 and it changed my life forever'

Gillian Wolski
·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·4-min read

There are over 2,600 long-term missing persons in Australia, among them is Joanne Ratcliffe who went missing as a girl in 1973.

Joanne was 11-years-old when she disappeared while at a SANFL match in Adelaide with her parents and brother. Joanne and a family friend’s girl, Kirste, were thought to have been kidnapped by a man during a trip to the toilets in the game’s third quarter.

Suzie Ratcliffe's sister Joanne was kidnapped at age 11 over 47 years ago. Photo: Suzie Ratcliffe (supplied).
Suzie Ratcliffe's sister Joanne was kidnapped at age 11 over 47 years ago. Photo: Suzie Ratcliffe (supplied).

Almost half a century later, Suzie Ratcliffe, Joanne’s little sister she never got to meet, is keeping her memory alive through ‘Leave A Light On,’ an organisation she founded in 2015.

“The campaign was started in honour of my sister Joanne, and for the thousands of missing loved across Australia,” Suzie tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“Sadly, with the passage of time and as cases become older, memories fade and missing persons become forgotten by the public. For their families, this is one of their greatest fears, as for all cases, someone somewhere has information.”

On October 21, Suzie is asking Aussies to leave their front porch light on just as her mother did every night since Joanne went missing in the hopes that she might return home.

By continuing to raise awareness through Leave A Light On, Suzie hopes to be a voice for both missing persons and their loved ones left behind.

“Ambiguous loss is like no other grief - there are no goodbyes, no resolution, no chance to move forward in life. It is like a constant state of limbo,” she says.

Suzie founded 'Leave A Light On' in 2015 in memory of her sister and all missing persons. Every year, LALO holds a function with a 'Reflections Area' where family and friends can remember missing loved ones via photos and messages. Photo: Suzie Ratcliffe (supplied).
Suzie founded 'Leave A Light On' in 2015 in memory of her sister and all missing persons. Every year, LALO holds a function with a 'Reflections Area' where family and friends can remember missing loved ones via photos and messages. Photo: Suzie Ratcliffe (supplied).

What happened to Joanne?

It’s been 47 years since Joanne and Kirste went missing and Suzie is ‘no closer’ to finding them, as she explained in an earlier interview for the Humans In Melbourne Facebook page.

Even though she hadn’t been born yet, Suzie recalled her mother’s panic at realising her daughter had yet to return from the toilet on August 25, 1973.

“When three-quarter time came and the girls weren’t back my mum went looking for them but couldn’t find them.

“Mum ran back to the rest of the family and they all started frantically searching for the girls,” she said.

Without social media and with far fewer TVs and radio, word of the young girls’ disappearance was hindered. Officials at the match refused the family’s pleas to make an announcement over the PA system. They were told to return to their seats and contact police if the pair weren’t back by the end of the match.

“The girls were reported missing at 5.12 p.m. By that stage, they had been missing for one and a half hours.

“We would later find out that in the one and a half hours between the girls leaving and the official report being made that there were four sightings of them.”

One man reported seeing another man coaxing some kittens from underneath the stands with two young girls, while another recalled seeing a man ‘carrying a little girl and another girl pulling at his arm’.

It was assumed that the girls were the man’s daughters and so no alarm was raised at the time. A massive search followed which included broad media coverage and a search of the River Torrens. But nothing was found.

When Suzie was born, her mother called her a ‘miracle child’ because she assumed she’d never be able to conceive again due to her grief and the large amount of Valium she’d been prescribed in the wake of Joanne’s disappearance.

Suzie is now a mum herself to a 14-year-old daughter, who she’s firmly instructed to make a huge scene if she ever finds herself in a dangerous situation.

Sadly, both Suzie’s parents and her brother have since passed away without knowing what happened to Joanne but her memory lives on through Leave A Light On.

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