A young mother-of-two who disappeared more than two decades ago died at the hands of her abusive husband, a coroner has ruled.
Peta Simone Weber, 25, was reported missing from popular tourist location The Gap near Albany, Western Australia in June 1997.
The 25-year-old and her husband Richard had reportedly gone there to fish when she disappeared.
Watch the latest news and stream for free on 7plus >>
In reporting her missing, Richard told police his wife said she was going to the toilet and never returned.
She has not been seen since.
Following an inquest earlier this year, WA Deputy State Coroner Sarah Linton concluded Peta was dead and Richard was “involved in her death in some way”.
Peta Weber disappeared more than two decades ago. Credit: Crime Stoppers WA
“He disposed of her body in an unknown manner and place,” Linton said in findings handed down in late October.
“However, there is insufficient evidence for me to make any further finding as to what happened to Peta, as it is possible her death occurred by accident and Richard then concealed it, or it may be that she met with foul play.”
On Saturday, June 21, 1997, Richard organised for his mother to look after the couple’s two children overnight so he and Peta could reportedly go fishing.
The children were dropped off at Richard’s mother’s house at about 5.30pm that evening.
It’s unclear whether Peta was there at the time. The last confirmed sighting of her was earlier that day when she left a friend’s place.
No one other than Richard reported seeing Peta after that time.
At about 7.25am the next day, Richard flagged down a car in the vicinity of the Gap and asked the drivers to take him to a location with reception so that he could call police.
Once he called police, he reported Peta missing, saying he had last seen her about 7am that day when they were fishing off some rocks at The Gap.
He said she was going to the toilet and never came back.
Police were immediately suspicious of Richard, Linton said.
Peta Simone Weber was reported missing from The Gap, a tourist attraction near Albany in WA’s south. Credit: Getty Images
“Within hours of the initial police report, police also received an anonymous telephone call alleging that Richard had killed Peta by pushing her off The Gap,” Linton said.
Police have always treated Peta’s disappearance as a suspected homicide.
An investigation at the time, which included a land, air and sea search, found no trace of Peta.
“Based upon the evidence before me, I am satisfied that the account given by Richard Weber of the disappearance of Peta Weber at the Gap on the morning of 22 June 1997 was false,” Linton said.
“There is no evidence, other than Richard’s word, to support the conclusion Peta was even at The Gap that morning.”
Richard remained a significant person of interest in the investigation but there was no sufficient evidence against him to lead to a charge.
In June 2000, Richard took his life, days after the third anniversary of his wife’s disappearance.
Peta’s marriage to Richard was her second.
She had been married to another man, with whom she had her first child — a boy named John — in 1990.
The couple separated about six months after John’s birth and in November 1993, she married Richard, about a year after they met.
They had a daughter named Abigail in 1995 and lived in Albany.
The inquest was told the marriage was initially good.
“However, problems then developed and Richard would allegedly lock Peta in a room, yell at her and threaten her. Peta also told Simone that Richard didn’t like her son John and he would be violent towards John and make him stay in his room,” Linton said.
At the time of her disappearance, Peta had only moved back into the family home for a few months after leaving with her son.
There was also evidence that she had told other people she was planning to leave Richard again.
The inquest also heard Richard was controlling in his behaviour toward Peta and that a cousin had noticed bruises on her arms.
About a month before she disappeared, Peta had also told a mutual friend that Richard was trying to poison her with rat poison.
A newspaper article about the missing mum. Credit: Crime Stoppers WA
In a formal police interview days after Peta went missing, police put to Richard the allegation that he murdered his wife, which he denied.
He denied ever being psychically violent towards her.
“There was also considerable evidence to indicate Richard was a controlling and jealous husband, who was likely to have reacted badly to Peta’s plans to leave him again, even without the involvement of Abigail,” Linton said.
John, who was seven when his mother disappeared, said he remembered his stepdad was physically and mentally abusive to him.
“John recalled that Richard would tell him awful things about his mother after she disappeared,” Linton said.
“When Richard got angry with John, Richard would tell John that he had killed his mother.
John said Richard would tell him that he put Peta in acid and that he had “kicked her off The Gap and that she was gone”.
The police investigation found evidence Peta was making plans to leave Richard with the children and found no evidence to support a conclusion that she might have been suicidal or simply walked away from her life.
“She was a loving mother to two young children and I have no doubt that Peta would have been in contact with both of them over the years if she had been able to do so,” Linton said.
The original investigating officer told the inquest he firmly believes Richard had the motive, opportunity, and resources to murder Peta and he thinks “that’s what he did”.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
Home and Away star Johnny Ruffo has died aged 35
Moment two men plucked from sinking raft after plane crash off Queensland coast
If you’d like to view this content, please adjust your Cookie Settings.