Police renew appeal for answers into death of Stephen Smith, killed in Quirindi in 1995

Killed: Stephen Smith, 17.

Killed: Stephen Smith, 17.

FOR 22 years the Smith family has wondered what if. What if Stephen wasn’t alone when he was trying to get home. What if someone knows what happened? What if he met with foul play?

It’s these burning questions that have tormented the Werris Creek family since the early hours of October 5, 1995, when their beloved and popular 17-year-old was struck and killed by a freight train as it rattled north from Quirindi.

Brother Jason Smith told The Leader he remembered the local sergeant calling at the house that morning as he was getting ready for work. Police were trying to identify the body of the teen found on the tracks.

“I remember the sergeant asking if Stephen wore a pair of Riverina football socks and Stephen was playing rep touch footy, so I knew him to own that pair of socks because they were pretty special,” he said.

On Friday, Jason stood side-by-side with his parents and police as they called for a mystery woman to come forward who told investigators years ago she saw three men, including Stephen, walking near 191 Hawker Street in Quirindi about 1.30am – about two hours before he was struck by the train, 7km away.

The identity of the two also remains a mystery.

Oxley detectives and the homicide squad – as part of Strike Force Puno – are investigating Mark Haines’ death in Tamworth. It’s this investigation that has spiked the crime review of Stephen’s case.

On the night of the incident, Stephen had been at Caroona and was dropped back into Quirindi and was looking to hitch-hike back home to Werris Creek.

The original police investigation – which involved a public appeal for help and a letterbox drop – saw some witnesses come forward, but an alleged admission to murder and a person of interest have not be revisited or spoken to as part of the fresh investigation.

Chief Inspector O’Reilly said the “the review was conducted on the evidence alone”.

“During our appeal [at the time] there was one additional piece of information that was phoned in anonymously from a female anonymous caller about hearing three persons in the street at that time,” he said.

“We ask again for that person to make contact again.”

Jason said he’s always wondered about foul play because he can’t imagine his brother walking off the main road to get home.

During our appeal [at the time] there was one additional piece of information that was phoned in anonymously from a female anonymous caller about hearing three persons in the street at that time.

Oxley Chief Inspector Phil O’Reilly

The fresh appeal by police for information has drawn out raw emotions for the family but they’re hopeful “something comes out of it”.

“It would obviously give us some answers, we really want to find out what happened between Bell Park and when his body was found on the railway tracks,” he said.

Fresh appeal: Oxley Chief Inspector Phil O'Reilly, left, with Stephen's father, Stephen, mother, Margaret, and brother, Jason, in Quirindi on Friday. Photo: Peter Hardin

Fresh appeal: Oxley Chief Inspector Phil O'Reilly, left, with Stephen's father, Stephen, mother, Margaret, and brother, Jason, in Quirindi on Friday. Photo: Peter Hardin

Jason said the two in the park hold “vital information” and could provide the answers they need and ultimately closure for the family, regardless of whether they had any involvement. 

"If Stephen has met with foul play, we definitely want those answers as well,” he said, adding that the family don’t believe Stephen wandered off the main road onto the railway tracks from the park.

A 7km walk at 1.30 in the morning ... I doubt that any person, let alone Stephen, would make that walk.

Brother Jason Smith

"A 7km walk at 1.30 in the morning ... I doubt that any person, let alone Stephen, would make that walk.”

A coronial inquest found Stephen died of multiple injuries after being struck by the train about 3.30am.

The witness spotted Stephen across the road from 191 Hawker Street at about 1.20am, and at the same time, saw two males in the park, smoking.

To this day we have not identified those two males that were in Bell Park at that time.

Oxley Chief Inspector Phil O’Reilly

“To this day we have not identified those two males that were in Bell Park at that time,” Chief Inspector O’Reilly said.

“And we're asking for the community assistance and for those people to come forward to assist us with filling the gaps about Stephen’s death.”

The family said Stephen was popular, well-loved and was in year 11 at Quirindi High School.

Stephen was playing representative football, made the touch state team and was also involved in the police blue light discos.

“His death has left a significant loss for Stephen's family, his parents and brother,” Chief Inspector O’Reilly said.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Oxley police on 6768 2999.

Earlier

THE family of teenager Stephen Smith have appealed for answers into the death of their son and brother 22 years after his death south of Tamworth.

The talented 17-year-old teen and football player died after being hit by a train on railway tracks just out of Qurindi on October 5, 1995.

He had been at a party at Caroona earlier that night and was trying to get home to Werris Creek.

On Friday morning, Oxley police announced they had reviewed the original investigation into the Aboriginal teen’s death and believe someone might have seen two men, who witnesses saw with Stephen two hours before he was struck by a freight train.

Fresh appeal: Oxley Chief Inspector Phil O'Reilly, left, with Stephen's father Stephen Smith, mother Margaret Smith and brother Jason Smith in Quirindi on Friday morning.

Fresh appeal: Oxley Chief Inspector Phil O'Reilly, left, with Stephen's father Stephen Smith, mother Margaret Smith and brother Jason Smith in Quirindi on Friday morning.

The body of the 17-year-old was found on railway tracks between Quirindi and Werris Creek on October 5, 1995

Local police investigated the circumstances surrounding the death at the time, which was later subject to a coronial inquest, finding that Stephen died as a result of multiple injuries sustained when he was hit by the train. 

Stephen’s family have always held the belief that Stephen met with foul play.

Oxley detectives have reviewed the investigation into Stephen’s death, and are now probing “several lines of inquiry”.

Oxley Chief Inspector Philip O’Reilly said there are potential witnesses who were not identified in that original investigation.

He said investigators have been told witnesses saw Stephen in Hawker Street, Quirindi, on the morning of his death, specifically about 1.30am near 191 Hawker Street in Bell Park.

An appeal in 1995 in the newspaper and a letterbox drop resulted in a call from an anonymous female with information about a number of persons in Hawker Street in the early hours of that morning.

Police would like to speak with those people.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Oxley police on 6768 2999.