The Night Driver, which has officially launched by The Australian, takes a deep dive into the cold case of Janine Vaughan, a young woman who disappeared more than 19 years ago in the country town of Bathurst.
Here's a rundown of what we know about the case so far.
Janine Vaughan was a 31-year-old woman from Muswellbrook, Hunter Valley. Moving to Bathurst with an ex-partner, she lived there for three years, working as a menswear retail shop manager.
On the evening of December 7, 2001, Janine ended a night of clubbing with friends just before 4am. She was captured on security cameras getting into the passenger seat of a red four-door sedan car outside Bathurst’s Metro Tavern and never seen again.
Police interviewed over 1,000 people, utilised over sixty SES workers and dog squads, searched 30 hectares of bush, with no trace of Janine ever found to this day.
Her case is made especially ominous due to the close-knit nature of the community.
Janine's best friend Rebecca Medhurst told The Sun Herald that Vaughan had a wide net of friends, and in a small town like Bathurst, everyone knows everyone. "I know she wouldn't have gotten into the car with a stranger, which means I probably know them as well, through her or a mutual friend, and that makes it so much worse, to think that it's someone connected with me… I think that someone out there must know more than they're letting on," she said.
The podcast will follow the tireless quest of Janine’s younger sister, Kylie Vaughan who became obsessed with finding out what exactly happened to her sister that night. Taking turn after turn, the case even leads investigators to suspect a former top detective and local politician.
Deputy mayor and detective sergeant Brad Hosemans, who initially led the investigation into Janine’s disappearance, became a sketchy figure in the mystery of the 31-year-old's whereabouts.
He claimed that he was out of town in Newcastle, but was eventually proved to have been in Bathurst at the time. A 2009 coroner’s inquest heard from Janine’s friends and family who claimed that Janine had seen Hosemans pass the shop where she worked and that he would wave at her. However, he has since been cleared of any involvement.
There have been countless other suspects too, with Janine’s former partner of five years, Phillip Evans, even claiming in court that she had actually had a stalker that would leave notes and 'gifts' on her car while she worked. One of the notes, obtained by The Herald, read: "Don’t be scared of me. I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to get to know you. I will be in touch".
An inquest eventually concluded that Janine had died was most likely murdered, with no charges ever being made in relation to her disappearance.
"The only available conclusion is that Janine Vaughan disappeared ... and that she was murdered by a person or persons unknown and her body disposed of in such a way that it has not been found," State Coroner Mary Jerram said at the time.
"We can only hope that one day, some evidence will emerge that can provide that answer".
In an interview with Sky News, Hedley Thomas called the case a "mystifying whodunnit".
"There were originally more than 40 persons of interest, there was hardly any evidence left behind, no crime scene, no body and nothing in the way of forensic material," he said.
His goal is to generate the same awareness that The Teacher's Pet garnered for Lynette Dawson's case. "Our hope is that 19 years later, by going back through everything and talking to friends, family, people who were with her that night, someone’s got to give up their secret, a pretty wicked secret that’s been kept all this time".
The podcast will shift focus onto "prominent local identities" and pull a part the small town full of "innuendo, gossip and people pointing the finger".
Ultimately, he wants to help the victim's family stating, "The grief of Janine’s family is made worse because they do not have a body and they cannot lay her to rest. They have seen serious suspects come and go without charge. They have placed their faith in The Night Driver to sort the facts from town gossip and renew public interest to try to shed new light on what happened to Janine".
The Night Driver launched on August 7, subscribers of The Australian will be two episodes ahead of the general public.