The disappeared

The other day I found myself thinking about Karmein Chan, a thirteen year old girl who went missing from her home in Templestowe in 1991 and was never seen again.

‘Went missing’ is hardly the way to describe a situation where a man in a balaclava broke into Karmein’s house where she was looking after her younger sisters and took Karmein away after he left the younger two locked inside a cupboard. 

It happened in the evening while the parents were working at their restaurant, something they did regularly while Karmein stayed at home as the older sister the responsible one.

Around the same time, a young girl who had been staying in Australia from England and living in Canterbury, Nicola Lyons, disappeared from her home, again as I recall while her parents were out. She turned up a few days later, in the streets dazed, ‘molested’ but otherwise unharmed, apart from what such a traumatic event must do to any young person.

Another young girl disappeared around that time, too, but she also turned up alive as well. 

These events devastated the community and young children everywhere, especially young girls feared for their lives.

A similar thing happened in Perth though this time with older women, the so called Claremont killings of the mid 1990s. And years earlier the so-called Nedlands monster preyed on people, in a Perth suburb, mostly young women. 

Eric Cooke 1931, the Nedlands monster

A similar horror when the three Beaumont children disappeared off a Glenelg Beach in South Australia in 1966

Every state has its disappeared children and the myth of the child lost in the bush flourishes in Australia such that people panic whenever a child disappears. 

And yet we all know the worst of these disappearances happen at home.

 Another woman, 33 years of age, found yesterday dead in her garage, presumably murdered by her 49-year-old husband.

Every week another one.

I can hardly believe it except that it happens, and this online group called Destroy the Joint, a feminist organisation, keep a tally.

We’re up to 16 so far this year. A total of 69 last year.  

Every week, another woman murdered by her partner, in what was once described as domestic abuse.

Murder and violence almost sanctified by the state into this lesser word ‘domestic’.

Isn’t that the term we use to describe our pets, domesticated? 

Rather than getting into a rant about domestic violence, I shall follow the trail of my memories into  Karmein Chan’s disappearance and how much in 1991 I hoped the police would fine her alive and well. They never did.

The police still speak of a suspect called Mr Cruel. A creepy name for a person capable of horrors. 

If I had more of an imagination, I might dig into my internal images of such a man, big, scarred, shifty eyes, clichés abound. Or he might be small bespectacled and tight framed, like an administrative officer from some lowly public service department, hidden behind mountains of files.

At home he might have a wife and children but at various times he can’t stop his impulse to go out there and disappear another woman or child presumably through some sexual pleasure he gets out of such control. 

Something of the pleasure a flasher might derive when he exposes himself to some hapless woman or child passing by and gets a thrill out of the look of horror, of shock and fear in their eyes. 

Look how big I am, how strong and potent. I can knock you over with just one look at my erect genital and you need do nothing other than register a strong emotion that enables me to feel aroused to the point of climax. I don’t have to engage with you or talk to you or share any of my vulnerability with you. 

My vulnerability is hidden from everyone, including from me, because vulnerability is dangerous. If you let it be seen, others will hurt you.

No doubt as our flasher was once hurt as a child when he might have felt helpless to protect himself from some other person’s predations. 

It doesn’t always work like this.

Not everyone who grows into a abuser was abused but something must have gone wrong with the empathic wiring to turn them this way.

Not that I’m condoning any of it.

When Karmein Chan disappeared I felt much as I did when my father paraded the house naked, a mix of rage and fear. 

Rage that someone could behave like this and fear at what he might do next. 

They found Karmein’s decomposed body years after her disappearance, buried in some makeshift grave.

Her mother must be older now, maybe only as old as me. 

I doubt that she, her sisters and Karmein’s father, will ever get over it. 

6 thoughts on “The disappeared”

  1. I have wise words in many areas, but I am afraid I do not in the case of violence against women by their partners and husbands. Financially dependent, young children, nowhere to go. I am sure I don’t have to explain it to you. Refuges are good, but only temporary. What makes men like that? Why do they think they are superior to the point that they commit violence on their partner without consequences, or that it is even their right to do so? The violence against women stats are awful, but I am sure understated.

    1. It’s almost impossible to understand, Andrew, the level of cruelty directed towards women for no reason other than they were born women. As you say, it beggars belief, Andrew. Thanks.

  2. This is just incredible writing, Elisabeth — anger and strength dripping out of the words. I have missed your writing, the way you weave words together with emotion and experience and weirdness. I need to catch up. I hope that you’re well.

  3. I don’t understand violence. I freely admit it. I get frustration and anger and the need to do something with that other than suppress it but I can’t ever, EVER see me thinking that hurting another human or an animal might make me feel better. It makes no sense to me whatsoever. But not everything has to make sense. It took me a long time to realise that. I expressed it best in ‘Milligan and Murphy’ where the old priest tells them there are no reasons for unreasonable things so stop looking for them. I could say the same to you. You’re struggling to understand what can’t be understood. When people talk about a “senseless act of violence” that really says it all or says as much as can be said. I also struggle with the notion of badness. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be bad. I CAN imagine someone holding different standards to me and doing what they believe or feel to be right but I find it very hard to picture a truly “bad man” that isn’t a work of fiction. I’m sure Hitler didn’t stare in the mirror and see a bad man gawping back at him. The very opposite. Or maybe he rationalised that the things he put in motion were “necessary evils”. Who can say? Others could excuse themselves saying they were merely obeying orders but he alone does not have that to fall back on.

    1. Hatred is complex and often times it’s linked to a failure of empathy and love, Jim. I think it is possible to understand these things, far better than we do but to do so I reckon we need to go into dark places where we might feel very uncomfortable. The pain of hatred is deep and it’s not pleasant.

      Anyhow, my apologies for taking so long to get to you with this, as if I too have disappeared. I have been overwhelmed by too muchness of late but I’m back on board now.

      Thanks Jim.

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