The mystery surrounding the poster in the window of Adams on Rye High Street of the missing woman, Marion Barter who disappeared in 1997, shortly after visiting Rye (see:https://www.ryenews.org.uk/news/missing-marion-latest-updates, https://www.ryenews.org.uk/news/missing-marion-links-to-rye ) has an added twist with the emergence of Ric Blum as a key witness in the investigation into her disappearance, which has completely transformed the landscape of an already complicated case.
Over the course of the inquest it became clear New South Wales (NSW) Police had botched the investigation, having determined she went missing of her own volition and started a new life with the intent of leaving her old one behind. That’s despite them never sighting or speaking to her.
Flight records showed Barter changed her name by deed poll to Florabella Natalia Marion Remarkel and secretly returned to Australia from her travels abroad, now married and living in Luxembourg.
Bank records then showed that between August and October 1997, her accounts were drained on the Gold Coast and Byron Bay in northern NSW.
And then, nothing – no sign of life for more than 20 years, and her superannuation, which would now be accessible to her, remained untouched.
The discovery of a lonely-hearts advertisement in 1994 under the name MF Remakel, identified by one of the listeners of the 7News podcast, The Lady Vanishes, resulted in a breakthrough in the investigation. Further investigation triggered an announcement of an inquest by the NSW Coroner in 2020 and NSW Police’s decision to reopen the investigation under Taskforce Jurunga.
The ad’s author was Ric Blum, a convicted conman who had gone by dozens of aliases including Fernand Remakel. His names also included Frederic de Hedervary, Willie Wouters and Roger Louzoney.
When police interviewed him last year, he admitted to placing the ad, claiming he and Marion had two sexual relationships, one back in 1968 in Switzerland and again in 1997 when she was living on the Gold Coast. In June 1997 Marion embarked on a trip of a lifetime to Europe, which is when her daughter and close friends last saw her.
Blum, a Belgian national, who had been married four times and for more than 40 years to his current wife, Diane De Hedervary, previously resided in Luxembourg.
He admitted to regularly changing his name by deed poll, saying he did so because he could, and held a Queensland driver’s licence under the name Fernand Remakel – a moniker he adopted because that was the husband of his previous flame in Luxembourg.
Blum was jailed in France for fraud in the 1970s and, since acquiring Australian citizenship, has been accused multiple times by various women of conning them out of money, and valuable or personal possessions.
Many who testified against him during the inquest proceedings told a familiar story – they were lonely, vulnerable and looking for love when he found them.
During the inquest,Counsel Assisting the NSW Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan, Adam Casselden SC referred directly to what he did with Marion Barter: “Do you accept that when you told her that you could no longer continue this charade, that is referring to the deception you were visiting upon Marion Barter and indeed your wife, that that could have caused hurt or harm to Marion Barter, who was looking for companionship?”
Blum replied: “Yes .. and it certainly did to my wife. Yes. Mostly to my wife.”
In a video of Blum being questioned by New South Wales police in September 2021 played to the court during the inquest, Detective Senior Constable Sasha Pinazza from the Homicide Squad asked: “Did you murder Marion Barter?”
“Are you kidding?” he replied.
Pinazza replied: “No, I’m not kidding. And I expect you to answer my question seriously. Did you in any way harm Marion Barter?”
“No,” replied Blum.
“Did you have any interaction with Marion Barter after she returned to Australia on August 2nd in 1997?”
“No,” he repeated.
“Do you know where she is?”
In the final days of the inquest, Blum was pushed to acknowledge the hurt and harm he caused by responding to advertisements of women looking for permanent relationships, by failing to disclose he was married with children.
“It may be deceptive, yes,” he said.
As the inquest concluded, Marion’s daughter, Sally Leydon, made a statement saying how devastated the past 25 years since her mother went missing had been, emphasising that she was not giving up.
The police investigation continues and the reward for any information into the disappearance of Marion Barter that leads to a successful prosecution has now doubled to $500,000.
The Coroner is due to hand down her findings by November 30 2022.
Image Credits: Nick Forman , Channel 7News, Australia .