Investigation finds missing woman Darlene Geertsema murdered by ex-partner John Shepherd

A coroner has discovered that a Tasmanian woman who disappeared more than 40 years ago was murdered by her former partner.

Darlene Avis Geertsema, 30, was last seen at her family home in Devonport in October 1978.

The Coroners Court had previously heard that her former partner, John Shepherd, was a stakeholder in her disappearance. However, no charges have been filed.

Today coroner Simon Cooper found that Ms Geertsema has died as a result of injuries inflicted by Mr Shepherd.

However, it is not known where she died or where her body is.

In last year’s corona inquiry, Mr Shepherd told the Coroners Court that the last time he saw Ms Geertsema, she was visiting a friend who had been unwell, and she has not returned home.

The court heard that Mr Shepherd was driving around the next day looking for Ms Geertsema’s car, reported her missing to the police and was “quite upset”.

“It’s strange that she would leave [the children] like that.”

A man tries to cover his face with a bookbinder.
John Shepherd leaves the inquest into Darlene Avis Geertsema in northern Tasmania, October 14, 2021.ABC News: Manika Champ

Counsel assisting the coroner, Madeleine Wilson SC, told Mr Shepherd he was “the last person to see Darlene Geertsema alive and the first to see her dead”, which he denied.

Ms. Wilson then suggested that Ms. Geertsema intended to end the relationship and leave the state with the children.

The court was told that on the night of her disappearance, Mrs Geertsema had told Mr Shepherd that she was pregnant.

Mrs. Wilson suggested that Mr. Shepherd was concerned because he knew he was not the father of the unborn child, as she was in a relationship with another man at the time.

The Coroners Court then learned that on the night that Mrs Geertsema disappeared, one of her daughters had reported a heated argument between Mr Shepherd and her mother.

That argument was then “followed by beating noises, followed by silence,” Ms Wilson said.

Mrs. Wilson argues in court that Mrs. Geertsema planned a life without Mr Shepherd, without “fear and violence”.

She claimed that Mr Shepherd “inflicted blows that caused her death” before placing her body in the trunk of a car.

Domestic Violence Allegations

Darlene Geertsema’s younger sister, Dawn Bishop, told the court via video link that Mr Shepherd was “possessive, jealous and domineering” and that she believed it was his attitude that Ms Geertsema “was his”.

But stakeholder counsel, Greg Richardson, told Ms. Bishop that her sister would sometimes deliberately tell the family falsehoods.

He said Mrs Geertsema told the family she had cancer in the months before her disappearance.

The court heard that it was not known whether Mrs Geertsema had cancer or not.

Ms. Bishop said her sister “telled a lot of lies”, but mostly as a child.

As evidence for the inquest, Mr Shepherd’s former wife, Wendy Shepherd, told the court there was “domestic violence” in their relationship and that “John would beat me”.

“He’d push me, he’d hit me, yell at me,” she said.

In his testimony, Mr Shepherd said he had beaten Mrs Shepherd about three times because he was told she had sexual relations with other men.

The Coroners Court also heard evidence from Mr Shepherd’s current 39-year-old wife, Marlene Shepherd, who said her husband has pushed and pushed her in the past.

Posted updated