Coroner's Court of Western Australia

Inquest into the Suspected Death of Tristan FRANK

Inquest into the Suspected and Death of Tristan FRANK

Delivered on : 22 January 2024

Delivered at : Perth

Finding of : Deputy State Coroner Linton

Recommendations : N/A

Orders/Rules : N/A

Suppression Order : N/A

Summary : Tristan Frank was a 14 year old boy who generally lived in Northern Territory, moving between a number of Aboriginal communities and spending time with various family members. In early December 2020, Tristan travelled with his maternal grandparents to the Balgo Community in Western Australia. They were planning to attend a funeral in another community and stopped in Balgo along the way. When his grandparents left to continue on to the funeral, Tristan stayed behind with extended family. On his grandparents return a few days later, they found Tristan had not been seen by anyone in the community since 3 December 2020. Despite an extensive search of the townsite and surrounding land and nearby communities by police, local community members and other volunteers, as well as ongoing enquiries with the various communities in the Northern Territory where Tristan often went, no sign of Tristan has been found.

The evidence indicates Tristan was generally happy and there was no reason for him to want to take his own life or voluntarily disappear. The last night that he was seen alive, he had been spending time with his older brother and other friends and family at a home in Balgo, sharing stories and smoking cannabis. The next morning, Tristan spoke to a few community members and visited the house of extended family for breakfast, before he was last seen walking away towards another house where he had been staying during his visit to Balgo. When his grandparents returned on the evening of 5 December 2020, it was thought that Tristan might have got a lift to the nearby Mulan Community. However, when his grandparents checked in Mulan the next day, it was confirmed he had not bene there. This prompted a search to begin for Tristan in Balgo and for the local Officer in Charge, Brevet Senior Sergeant Moylan, to be notified. Sergeant Moylan spoke to family and then initiated a missing person investigation, including coordinating the search for Tristan.

The full police investigation included not only an extensive LandSAR search for Tristan in December 2020, coordinated by the local police officers and the WA Police Emergency Operations Unit, but also a later search a few months later, after the matter was reviewed by WA Police Homicide Squad detectives. Members of the Balgo Community and Tristan’s family all assisted with the searches, both physically as part of search efforts and with suggestions about the appropriate places to search, and how to do so in a culturally appropriate way. The evidence at the inquest was to the effect that the searches were extensive and thorough, given the remote location and challenges it presented, and after the Homicide Squad investigation was complete, no possible areas for further searching had been identified. However, the investigation remained open, subject to any additional information coming to light.

At the time of the inquest, it was the opinion of the investigating police and Tristan’s next of kin that Tristan was deceased, although his remains had not been recovered. The WA Police believe the evidence supports the conclusion Tristan wandered off from the townsite and likely became lost and disoriented in the harsh conditions and died in the days after 3 December 2020. Specialist opinion from a survival expert suggested he was probably deceased before the official search for Tristan even commenced. Tristan’s family had been consulted by police on many occasions, and they have maintained a firm position that they do not believe voluntarily left the townsite, but rather believe he was taken by ‘Featherfoot men’ who are capable of making themselves and Tristan invisible and have concealed him from discovery somewhere in the lands outside the Balgo Community. Some of Tristan’s family members can still feel Tristan’s spirit, although they have been able to find his physical remains. Either way, all parties appear to be sure that Tristan is no longer alive, and neither the police nor Tristan’s family believe any person was responsible for Tristan’s death, in the sense that person might be able to be arrested and prosecuted under Western Australian law.

The Coroner was satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that Tristan is deceased and was deceased in relative proximity to the time of his disappearance. The Coroner was unable to determine how Tristan died and made an Open Finding as to the manner of Tristan’s death.

Catch Words : Missing Person : Balgo Community : Land search :Cultural Beliefs : Open Finding


Last updated: 4-Apr-2024

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