Missing Australian mother was told she was entitled to a ‘significant share’ of assets from her failed marriage – five weeks later she disappeared and her case still isn’t solved

Missing Australian mother was told she was entitled to a ‘significant share’ of assets from her failed marriage – five weeks later she disappeared and her case still isn’t solved

An Australian mother who was told by a solicitor that she was entitled to a ‘significant share’ of assets from failed marriage disappeared just five weeks later – and her case remains unsolved.

Mother-of-two Bronwyn Winfield, 31, was last seen at her home in Lennox Head, a coastal town just south of Byron Bay, on 16 May, 1993. She was reported missing to the police 11 days later on 27 May.

Her story has been garnering attention recently, after news outlet The Australian launched an investigative podcast called Bronwyn. Fronted by journalist Hedley Thomas, who spent eight years collating information about the case, it tells the troubling story of Bronwyn’s mysterious disappearance while she was in the midst of a painful separation from her husband Jon Winfield.

According to the podcast, Bronwyn saw three different solicitors after separating from her husband on March 21, 1993. After initially moving out of the family home, Bronwyn was told by another lawyer that she could return to the house, where her husband had changed the locks.

One lawyer Bronwyn spoke to, Tony Mannering, wrote her a letter stating: ‘You can be assured that you are entitled to a significant percentage of the assets’. Just five weeks later, Bronwyn had disappeared.

A coronial inquiry into her disappearance in 2002 found she most likely died at the time she disappeared. 

The coroner recommended that a ‘known person’, Jon Winfield – Bronwyn’s husband – be charged with her murder. However, the police did not have enough evidence for charges to be laid. 

During his investigation, Hedley discovered startling similarities between the stories of Bronwyn and Lynette, the subject of another podcast he created called The Teachers Pet.

Lynette vanished without a trace at the age of 34, while her schoolteacher husband was having an illicit affair with the family’s 16-year-old babysitter. 

In both cases, coroner Carl Milanovich recommended their husbands be charged with murder, and in both case, the director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery declined to recommend a charge.

Explaining his decision in a report, Nicholas Cowdery wrote: ‘While Jonathan Winfield is the last known person to have seen her alive there is no evidence that he killed her or had any role in her disappearance. Suspicion cannot be substitution for evidence.’     

In 2009, police re-opened their investigation into Bronwyn’s death, offering a $100,000 reward for anyone with information that led to a conviction.

New South Wales Police Minister, Michael Daley, held a press conference to announce the reward.

According to the podcast, Bronwyn (pictured) saw three different solicitors after separating from her husband on March 21, 1993. After initially moving out of the family home, Bronwyn was told by another lawyer that she could return to the house, where her husband had changed the locks

He said: ‘Bronwyn Winfield was a lovely lady and a good mum, she left behind two young children, aged five and 10 at the time, making the attack all the more heinous.

‘Mrs Winfield’s family, particularly her children, deserve to know what happened – and her murderer deserves to be behind bars.

‘I hope that the lure of a cash reward may encourage those with information, who may have been reluctant to come forward at the time, to help police bring those responsible to justice.’

Bronwyn had a daughter from a previous relationship, Chrystal, then 10, and a daughter with Jon, Lauren, then five. Jon also had an older daughter, Jodie, who had moved to Sydney.

Jon has never been charged with any offence in connection to Bronwyn’s disappearance, and he has always denied any involvement.

Bronwyn’s lawyer, Tony Mannering, made detailed notes of the couple’s possessions in his letter to her.

According to the podcast: ‘Bronwyn owned furniture and a car worth about $5000 when they got together, while Mr Winfield had a car worth $1000 and “some $50,000 being his share of the proceeds of the sale of a former home owned by him (with) a previous wife”.

‘Assets at the time of separation included the former matrimonial home at Sandstone Crescent, which she valued at between $250,000 and $300,000.’

The third solicitor Bronwyn spoke to, Chris McDevitt, told her she had every right to move back into the family home, the podcast revealed.

Mr McDevitt sent a formal legal letter to Jon dated May 14, two days before Bronwyn vanished. 

News outlet The Australian has launched an investigative podcast called Bronwyn, fronted by journalist Hedley Thomas (pictured), who spent eight years collating information about the case

The letter stated: ‘Bronwyn is hopeful that you will both be able to reach an agreement in relation to financial ­matters and we will be writing to you further with a proposal in this regard in the near future.

‘We are instructed by Bronwyn that in her view, your marriage is at an end and that there is no prospect of a reconciliation.

‘In the meantime, we require your immediate agreement for Bronwyn to retain the use and possession of the Ford motor vehicle pending finalisation of your financial matters.’ 

However, the letter was sent to the address of Jon’s brother Peter Winfield in Sydney, where Jon was living while working there at the time, and it’s unlikely he saw the letter before Bronwyn disappeared. 

On May 16, Jon flew from Sydney to Ballina, returning to Sandstone Crescent on the night Bronwyn disappeared. 

That same night, Jon woke the two young girls and left the home at around 10.40pm, driving through the night to his brother’s house in Sydney. 

The following day, Jon told Andy Read, Bronwyn’s brother, that she had left the house at around 9.30pm the previous night in an unknown person’s car. He said she was taking a ‘break’ for a few days.

Andy said on the podcast that he regretted telling his sister to move back into the family home, and it is something he is ‘always going to live with’.

He said: ‘In that week when she found out that Jon had actually left Lennox, and the house was vacant, and…she [was] on absolute struggle street, I said, ”well Bron, possession is nine-tenths of the law”.

‘She’s struggling for money, not getting any support from him really. I said ”go and get back in the house. Get back in the house. And then it’s gonna force the issue. It’s gonna force everything to be resolved”.’

Bronwyn kept a journal which was discovered after her disappearance. In it, she wrote about Jon’s obsession with the house, and how he always wanted her to keep it spotless.  

She wrote: ‘I drifted away from Jon as he became more and more depressed about the house being less than immaculate, and the death of his mother, the only woman he thought was perfect.

‘I couldn’t leave him at the time as he was so unhappy and depressed, and hated life, and probably me. I tried to plead and talk to him to open up and get things off his chest, but nothing would help him. The house that we built became Jon’s castle and my prison.’

Jon, now 69, ended up keeping the home on Sandstone Crescent for many years, but in 1999, a year after police started seriously investigating Bronwyn’s disappearance, he sold it.

He still lives in Lennox Head, in a newer house closer to his favourite surfing beach, Boulders.

Gary Jackson, who was a friend of Bronwyn, said she told him that Jon was allegedly stalking and harassing her.

In a police statement he said: ‘Bronwyn commenced to tell me that Jon had been constantly harassing her on the phone and wanted her to go back to the house.

‘She said he would ring up and when she terminated the call, he wouldn’t hang his phone up and this would leave the line open. She told me he did this on purpose so that she could not use her phone.

‘She also told me he would often sit out the front of her house in his car and sit there for lengthy periods, watching the flat.

‘She also said that whenever she walked down the street to go to the shops, he would follow her and was generally stalking her.’ 

Jon was apparently upset by Bronwyn’s friendship with Gary at this time, he even called her brother Andy to say she was ‘gallivanting around town’ with him. 

Andy said: ”Because he’d given her a lift home on a motorbike, all of a sudden Jon’s ringing me, “Oh, she’s gallivanting around town, she’s in another relationship with some bloke”. He was very flustered about that, didn’t handle it well.’

However Bronwyn’s cousin, Megan Read, said she believed Gary was ‘just a mate’ and someone for her to confide in. 

She said: ‘You hear Jon talking about how she was seen riding around Lennox Head on the back of a motorbike, and he claimed it was probably him that she went off with. Well, no.’ 

Gary gave his police statement in August 1998, more than five years after Bronwyn went missing, and police ruled him out as a person of interest. 

Through the podcast, Hedley Thomas is hoping more people will come forward with information, so that Bronwyn’s case can finally be solved. 

Speaking to Sky News Australia, he said: ‘I just think the family deserves answers – we need to put some of these cases finally to rest and give these women the respect and dignity they’ve always deserved.’


Ellen Coughlan

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