T’S known to locals as the “highway of death”, where a thrill killer is rumoured to have lurked on a desolate stretch of road where 11 people have vanished, with some found murdered.
Now there is a twelfth, missing Newcastle man Jayden Penno-Tompsett, who disappeared close to the cursed Flinders Highway in Charters Towers.
The mystery of the 22-year-old last seen on New Year’s Eve has baffled, but not surprised, locals.
Just three years ago, Mark Jones told the Courier-Mail: “It is it’s own world out there. Strange things do happen in those wild empty spaces.’’
Mr Jones was speaking about another man who went missing on the Flinders Highway, his brother, whose remains have never been found.
Fresh leads emerged about the possible killer of his brother and others who disappeared on the same stretch of outback road decades before Mr Penno-Tompsett became the latest mystery.
They include teenagers Robin Hoinville-Bartram and Anita Cunningham who vanished in 1972, Robin’s body later found shot twice through the head under a rail bridge near Charters Towers.
The Flinders Highway is an isolated 800km stretch from Townsville, winding 140km southwest to Charters Towers, on through the even more remote Queensland towns of Hughenden, Julia Creek and Cloncurry.
There, it meets the Barkly Highway to the famed mining town of Mount Isa.
Tony Jones was hitchhiking along the Flinders on the night of November 3, 1982 when he vanished and, his family believes, was murdered. He was last seen on a section of the highway near Antill Plains Creek, 25km south of Townsville.
This is where the bodies of sisters Judith, 7, and Susan Mackay, 5, were found in August 1970, raped and murdered. Judith had been stabbed in the chest and Susan strangled.
The following month, a man in a Charters Towers hotel confessed to the murders, but he was never traced.
The body of Catherine Graham, 18, was found raped and murdered at Antill Creek in 1975, She had been bashed to death with a rock.
In October 1978, Karen Edwards, Gordon Twaddle and Timothy Thompson were found shot in the head near Mt Isa, about 250km west of Julia Creek.
In 2003, following flooding in the Charters Towers area, police again searched Sensible Creek rail bridge for traces of Anita Cunningham.
It was the same area where Robin Hoinville-Bartram’s skeletal remains had been found, but a fresh search failed to find any trace of Ms Cunningham, who is still listed as missing along the Flinders Highway.
Mr Penno-Tompsett was driving a car with his friend, Lucas Tattersall, when he vanished.
As exclusively revealed by news.com.au, Mr Tattersall said the pair visited the Puma roadhouse on the Flinders Highway around dawn on December 31.
Mr Penno-Tompsett was “upset and agitated” as he drove in a maroon Nissan Pulsar on Stockroute Road, near the Flinders Highway at Breddan 16km north east of Charters Towers.
The two young men had an argument and Mr Tattersall drove on towards their intended destination of Cairns, he said.
Mr Tattersall told police Mr Penno-Tompsett got out of the car near a property with a red iron fence and a bull’s skull on a post near a silver fenced set of yards.
Mr Tattersall said his friend had told him there was a warrant out for his arrest, and had argued with his father.
In an interview with news.com.au, Brendan Tompsett said he didn’t care about what the argument was over — he just wanted his son back.
Police in helicopters have searched the area near from where Mr Penno-Tompsett is believed to have vanished, and have doorknocked properties.
Truck driver Dwain Potter told Fairfax news hitchhiking was still common practice along the Flinders Highway, despite its grisly past.
In 2014, jailed killer Andy Albury allegedly confessed in prison to a killing spree along the highway between 1970 and 1980. “It’s called the highway of death, you know,” Mr Potter said.
“A lot of people went missing here in the 70s and 80s … but that was a long time ago.”
Charters Towers police described the latest incident as “certainly an unusual disappearance” and said the community “wants to find Jayden safe and well”.