Samantha Murphy: Ballarat locals left horrified by ghoulish vandalism on sign 19km from where missing mum was last seen – as vicar reveals his worst fears

Locals searching for missing mum Samantha Murphy have been left horrified after a sign 19km from where she was last seen was vandalized with a sick joke implying she met a gruesome fate.

The mother of three (51) was last seen leaving her home on Eureka Street in Ballarat East, in country Victoria, to go jogging in Woowookarung Regional Park at around 07:00 on February 4.

Her husband, Mick Murphy, 53, raised the alarm when she did not return home for their 11am family brunch date.

A widespread search was launched by volunteers from the police, Country Fire Association and State Emergency Service and hundreds of local residents, but investigators scaled back efforts over the weekend.

Some were shocked by the decision to end the official hunt and decided to take matters into their own hands and scour the area in small groups for the missing mum.

It was during an independent search that local residents came across a defaced council sign about a water quality issue at Dean Reservoir, north-east of where she went missing.

Samantha Murphy, 51, disappeared on February 4 while out jogging in Woowookarung Regional Park.

Samantha Murphy, 51, disappeared on February 4 while out jogging in Woowookarung Regional Park.

Pictured: A council sign vandalized with a cruel joke about missing mum Samantha Murphy

Pictured: A council sign vandalized with a cruel joke about missing mum Samantha Murphy

Pictured: Dean's Reservoir, where the council sign is placed

Pictured: Dean’s Reservoir, where the council sign is placed

The sign reads: ‘Please be aware that the water quality issue is currently affecting the clarity of the water in Dean Reservoir.’

Below the paragraph, in black Texta, the vandal wrote: ‘Thanks Sam.’

The resident reported the vandalism to the police and posted a photo of the shocking act in a social media group dedicated to the search.

A group member wrote: ‘The implication is that the reservoir is closed because of Sam.’

“I’ll leave it to you to find out why. If it’s a sick joke, it’s not funny.’

Others suggested it could be a hoax, but agreed that it should be reported to the police anyway.

Another team of volunteers found a black bra cut in half and hanging from a pole in nearby woodland, which was also reported to the police.

There were prayers for Ms Murphy and her family at the Buninyong Anglican Church on Sunday morning as the downgraded search entered its eight day.

Reverend Mark Schnerring has m. Murphy didn’t include it in his sermon, but he told churchgoers the family was in his prayers.

Samantha Murphy was last seen leaving her home on Eureka Street in Ballarat East to go for a run in the Canadian National Forest around 7am (CCTV photo)

Samantha Murphy was last seen leaving her home on Eureka Street in Ballarat East to go for a run in the Canadian National Forest around 7am (CCTV photo)

Local volunteers involved in the search for Samantha found a black bra (pictured) cut in half and hanging from a fence

Local volunteers involved in the search for Samantha found a black bra (pictured) cut in half and hanging from a fence

After the service, he told USA Online Post Australia that he did not believe the missing mum would be found alive.

“Well, it doesn’t look like there’s anything good that can happen right now,” Rev. Schnerring said.

“It looks like she had some kind of accident herself and died, or she’s dead, I think they’re looking at possibilities.”

Reverend Schnerring said he did not know her circumstances well enough to speculate whether she ran away or was kidnapped.

“I think people want to hold on to hope and that she’s still OK, but the realism is that it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a good outcome,” he added.

Reverend Mark Schnerring is pictured during his Sunday sermon.  He told churchgoers that the Murphy family will be in his prayers

Reverend Mark Schnerring is pictured during his Sunday sermon. He told churchgoers that the Murphy family will be in his prayers

Pictured: A small group of volunteers at Buninyong Police Station on Sunday morning

Pictured: A small group of volunteers at Buninyong Police Station on Sunday morning

Investigators have called in an army of telecommunications technology experts to try and piece together Ms Murphy’s movements from the phone data available to them.

Crime Command Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt confirmed last week that Ms Murphy was wearing an Apple Watch and had her mobile phone with her when she disappeared.

A local cell tower is understood to have registered a ping from Ms Murphy’s phone on Sunday after she disappeared, but police declined to say more about the timing or location of the phone.

“We can’t answer that at this stage,” Supt Hatt said. ‘This is obviously going forward for our telecommunications technicians.

The official police search for Ms Murphy will be handed over to the Missing Persons Squad.

Investigators have now turned to CCTV and dash cam footage to try to identify Ms. trying to piece together Murphy’s last movements, saying a full-scale search would only resume if fresh information emerged.

Hundreds of hours of CCTV have already been handed over to police, according to Seven News.

Police are appealing for anyone with footage in the Ballarat East, Mount Helen and Buninyong areas taken around the time of Ms Murphy’s disappearance to come forward.

Pictured: A local man searches for Samantha Murphy on his bike on Saturday

Pictured: A local man searches for Samantha Murphy on his bike on Saturday

The police believe that footage of vehicles, other runners and walkers can be decisive in finding witnesses or people who may have further information about her whereabouts.

“Even if the footage does not depict Samantha, detectives are keen to review all footage in the area between 07:00 and 19:00 on Sunday, February 4,” police said in a statement.

“Despite extensive searches of the area over the past six days, no sign of Samantha has been found.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was in Ballarat on Sunday, offered his thoughts to Ms Murphy’s family and friends.

“It is, was, I’m sure just such a difficult time,” he said.

‘I thank all those people involved in the search and hope that it has a good outcome.’