The Australian Reveals NEW Hedley Thomas Investigation

WORDS: Hedley Thomas- National Chief Correspondent, The Australian PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied - The Australian

Two-time Gold Walkley award-winning journalist Hedley Thomas has released his latest investigative podcast for The Australian focusing on a 31-year-old cold case from Lennox Head in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.

Called simply ‘Bronwyn’, the podcast series will explore the 1993 disappearance of Bronwyn Winfield from her home in Lennox Head when she was just 31 years old, leaving behind two young children aged five and 10.

Her estranged husband, Jon Winfield, reported her missing to police 11 days later. She has never been seen or heard from again.

Inquest to be held into missing Lennox Head woman Bronwyn Winfield – The Australian

Thomas first heard about Bronwyn’s case in late 2017, and over the past six and a half years he has collected contacts and information to produce ‘Bronwyn’, a case that is eerily similar to the disappearance of Lynette Simms in 1982.

Lynette’s story became the subject of Thomas’s 2018 global smash hit podcast ‘The Teacher’s Pet’ when witnesses and evidence contributed to a homicide squad investigation. Ultimately, Lyn’s husband Chris Dawson was convicted of her murder in 2022.

 This extract comes from the start of the first episode of Hedley’s new investigative podcast series, Bronwyn, in The Australian.

When we moved to Lennox Head, I was even more lonely. The house that was built became Jon’s castle.  And my prison. Bronwyn Winfield wrote these words shortly before she disappeared one Sunday night in May 1993.

Undated images relating to the 2024 podcast – BRONWYN. Bronwyn Winfield, Jon Winfield and their daughter Lauren (centre).

She was of sound mind and had no known mental illness. Today, thirty-one years since the sudden disappearance of a mother of two little girls, I’m driving on a winding road south of Byron Bay to the house that Bronwyn had called her prison.

Past former dairy and sugar cane farms, subdivided for residential housing estates and the great Australian family dream – a three or four-bedroom, two-bathroom brick and tile close to the beach. Siri is my audio guide.

Getting directions to Sandstone Crescent, Lennox Head. The Pacific Ocean is tantalisingly close. You can hear it. Smell it.  Its saltiness lingers on an easterly zephyr of a breeze.

In luxury homes with views over smoothly curving coastline, binoculars are at the ready for the first sightings of humpback whales on their annual migratory journey from Antarctica.

They perform in the warm waters of an aquatic backyard, off the most easterly part of Australia’s mainland and the lighthouse at Byron Bay.  It’s a quieter, gentler lifestyle in this place everyone calls Lennox.  It’s less crowded here. More chilled than the nearby more famous Byron.

Bronwyn left indelible imprints on those who loved her. Yet her 31 years disappeared with barely a ripple in the wider world.

Her life, her suspicious disappearance and her highly probable death have barely been reported. But Bronwyn left behind her writings. Her reflections on her life, her marriage, and loved ones, with the occasional underlining and crossed-out word on sheets of A4 paper.

They are poignant and compelling.  All these years later, I picture Bronwyn writing in quiet moments between getting her two girls ready for school and working part-time in a local takeaway store called Eden’s, down near the waves.

My idea of a lasting love is being able to tell your partner anything and it doesn’t make a difference to your relationship – trust! Being kind to one another when you’re down – supportive!

Having time for each other, always, as well as time for other people. Her family, friends and neighbours tell me she was determined to remain separated from her husband of six years, Jon Winfield.

24-05-2024 – Jon Winfield – Picture: Liam Mendes / The Australian

Bronwyn wanted to go her own way. She was pursuing a divorce. Her good friends in this idyllic beachside town in northern New South Wales supported her.  They were all school mums with small children who played together.

They shared instant coffees, morning walks, birthday parties, turns at baby-sitting and random catch-ups for a glass of wine and easy conversation.  Bronwyn had confided troubling things about her marriage.

She was close to her brother, Andy, and his wife Michelle, who lived in Sydney, a one-hour flight away. It was where Bronwyn had grown up. She had close cousins there including Megan Read.

She had her Aunty Leah and Uncle John, and her half-sister Melissa. Her mother, Barbara, and her half-sister, Kim Marshall, lived another hour away in Tasmania.

All of these family members talked regularly to Bronwyn. Kim was about to travel north to Lennox because Bronwyn had invited her to come and stay for a while.

Nobody had heard of any plans by Bronwyn to suddenly go away. To disappear. Writing about the unhappiness of the marriage Bronwyn had decided was bad for her and her girls perhaps felt cathartic. Liberating.

The house in Lennox was a heavy burden.  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.

Friends and neighbours tell me Jon would obsess and seethe over the smallest things.  No matter how hard Bronwyn tried, the house could never be clean enough for Jon. A tiny spot on a tile. A crumb on a carpet. These could set him off.

Jon was an introvert and a perfectionist. He had built the house with his bare hands. He was often unhappy when visitors dropped by. Sometimes he would appear hostile. Bronwyn on the other hand was naturally sociable and welcoming.

She needed the company and support of her friends. But the children would play with their friends in the garage to ensure no mess in the house. And all the while, Bronwyn walked around on egg shells. She worried about how Jon would react when people were over.

All of it took a toll. The tensions must have been unbearable at times. Their marriage was clearly doomed. On March 21, 1993, Bronwyn and Jon formally separated. Eventually, I switched off and became cold inside.

He had a heart of ice and always criticised me no matter what I did. The man was cold and heartless and gave nothing – but expected everything. Bronwyn shared recollections and sorrows, hurts and philosophical musings with her note pad.

But for whom was she writing all of this in 1993? Why had she begun to put it all down? Bronwyn hadn’t kept a journal before. Bronwyn’s family and friends tell me she lived for her two daughters, Chrystal, aged 10 and Lauren, 5.

She loved those girls to bits. Her devotion every day was obvious to all who knew her. The three were inseparable and Bronwyn was a caring, nurturing mother.

Nobody has suggested otherwise. Over months of visits to Lennox, nearby towns and villages, and the city in which she grew up, Sydney, I’m talking to people who knew Bronwyn.

23/5/24: Madi Walsh, who has been helping Hedley Thomas with the investigation for the BRONWYN podcast.

Talking to anyone who might shed light on what happened to Bronwyn on the night of May 16, 1993, when Jon was the last person to see her at the home in Sandstone Crescent.

In this enclave worshipped by dedicated surfers, and made affluent by sea-change property owners, people who know more than they’ve let on before about Bronwyn’s fate are coming forward.

Scan the QR Code to listen to the full Podcast of Episode 1 of Bronwyn