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A Morphett Vale Mystery: What Happened to Rhianna Barreau?

This case has remained unsolved for 31 years, 2 months, and 0 days.

In October 1992, Rhianna Barreau was a 12-year-old living with her mother and brother in Morphett Vale, South Australia (SA). It was a school holiday and Rhianna planned on doing a bit of shopping after her mother left home for work. She was seen purchasing a Christmas Card at a local store, and then walking back home.

Later, when Rhianna’s mother returned home around 4 PM, she realized that her daughter wasn’t there. At first, she thought Rhianna might be at a friend’s home, so she called around to ask if anyone had seen the teenager. Panic set in quickly when no one reported seeing Rhianna, nor knowing where she went, and the police were called.

Authorities responded quickly to the report of the missing girl and scoured the neighborhood and surrounding area to try to find Rhianna. Unfortunately, no physical evidence was left at the home — no fingerprints, no blood, no signs of a struggle. There were some witnesses who reported seeing a white Torana, but that lead never panned out, either.

Now, over three decades later, we still have no answers. Rhianna has never been found, and no one knows what happened to her. Where is Rhianna Barreau? And what happened to her?


Table of Contents


About Rhianna Barreau

Rhianna Barreau was born in 1980 to parents Leon and Paula Barreau. At some point in time, the marriage broke up, but Rhianna was still close to bother of her parents

In 1992, 12-year-old Rhianna lived with her mother and brother in a modest 3-bedroom home in Morphett Vale in SA, a suburb of Adelaide. The area was once a thriving agricultural center, but was built up around the 1960s and is now a thriving metropolitan city. In the 90s, it seemed to have been considered a relatively safe place to live.

A photograph of Rhianna Barreau.
A photograph of Rhianna Barreau (AUS Missing Person Register).

A Great Student

Rhianna attended Reynella South Primary School and most of her peers and teachers had nothing but good things to say about her. The principal at the time said of Rhianna: “She just seemed to be a good, solid, quite high-achieving student with a lot of potential and so she was a real asset to the school.”

Not One to Cause Trouble

Rhianna also wasn’t known to cause any trouble, or to be one to try to run away. “She was not an adventurous girl, she was a family girl and could be trusted. She didn’t have a boyfriend, would not have run away,” said an investigator who worked on her case. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that SA police took her case seriously right from the start rather than painting her as a runaway teenager.


The Day of the Disappearance

On Wednesday, October 7, 1992, Paula Barreau checked on her daughter Rhianna before leaving for work. Rhianna would be home alone for a little while as her brother was out of town while away at summer camp.

According to her mother, Rhianna was listening to “Love Shack” by the B-52s and seemed to be in good spirits that Wednesday. Given that it was a holiday and Rhianna didn’t have school, it ought to have been a nice day off for the teenager. After giving Rhianna a kiss goodbye, Paula headed out to go to work around 8:30 AM

Rhianna Spotted

Around 11:20 AM on that day, Rhianna purchased a Christmas card for an American pen pal from a store in the Reynella Shopping Centre. She walked the half-mile (1 km) to the shopping area because there was a bus driver strike and the buses weren’t running their normal routes.

Later, around 12–12:30 PM, she was seen walking through Morphett Vale High School/Stanvac Primary School while carrying a small bag. Normally, Rhianna would have gone to the Colonnades Shopping Centre to meet her mother. However, that shopping center was about 3 miles (5 km) away, and since Rhianna had no way to get there with the ongoing bus strike, she is thought to have walked home instead. 

The sighting of Rhianna walking through the high school was the last confirmed sighting of her before she went missing. A detective who later worked on the case explained:

“[Rhianna] was seen walking through the Morphett Vale school and we can only assume that she was on her way home with the cards from the shop.”

Det. Allen Arthur (Source: ABC.au)
A photograph of Rhianna Barreau.
A photograph of Rhianna Barreau (AUS Missing Person Register).

Paula Barreau Returns Home

Around 4 PM, Rhianna’s mother returned home from work and found that her daughter wasn’t home. The door was locked, the TV was on, and the Christmas card that Rhianna had purchased was on the kitchen table, but there were no other signs of the 12-year-old.

Thinking that Rhianna had perhaps gone to a friend’s house, Paula called around and tried to locate her missing daughter. When she realized that Rhianna wasn’t at any of the normal friends’ homes, Paula went door-to-door in the neighborhood to ask if anyone had seen her. 

I was hoping [Rhianna] was just at a friend’s place and had forgotten what the time was — but that’s not like her,” Paula told a news agency. And yet, despite the calls and searching, Rhianna was nowhere to be found.

Authorities Contacted

When Paula still couldn’t locate Rhianna by 6 PM that evening, she went to the SA police to file a missing persons report. Authorities seemed to have taken the case seriously and headed out to investigate.


The Search

Authorities started the search by evaluating the home that Rhianna disappeared from. There were no signs of a struggle, and the only items missing were Rhianna’s set of keys and a golden locket that she was thought to have been wearing. It was soon obvious that the 12-year-old had been the target during this attack rather than a robbery-gone-wrong.

Did Rhianna Make it Home?

At first, authorities weren’t sure if Rhianna had even made it back home on October 7. Homicide detective Allen Arthur said:

“At the time, we established that she’d been seen at the shopping centre… that she was seen walking through the Morphett Vale school and we can only assume that she was on her way home with the cards from the shop. After that there is very, very little.”

Det. Allen Arthur (Source: ABC.au)

There had been some reports of supposed sightings of Rhianna on Acre Avenue (a main thoroughfare in Morphett Vale) sometime that afternoon, but authorities ultimately concluded that these were probably witnesses seeing other young girls who looked like Rhianna.

Since the Christmas card that Rhianna purchased that day and TV were on back at the house, it seems that she did indeed make it home before something happened. Authorities now believe that she made it home, and then was either forced or enticed back outside.

A locket similar to the one Rhianna Barreau was wearing when she went missing.
A locket similar to the one Rhianna Barreau was wearing when she went missing (AUS Missing Person Register).

Stranger Abductions/Murders Rare in Australia

Like in the US, stranger abductions are exceedingly rare. In fact, the rate of stranger abductions per 100,000 people in Australia is only 0.16 from 1989–2021 — that is, on average, less than one person per year is abducted and killed by a stranger. 

As many of you know, it’s far more common for a minor to be abducted by someone they know, be it a family friend or a relative. I include this information to illustrate how bizarre it was for a 12-year-old girl to be abducted from her home ostensibly by a stranger in Morphett Vale during that time.

Rhianna’s Father Flies Home

Leon Barreau, Rhianna’s father, flew in from Queensland to help in the search. It seems that he wasn’t even in the state when Rhianna went missing, so he was largely ruled out as a suspect. As for his missing daughter, he described the emotional turmoil he was experiencing:

“I would say it’s life’s worst nightmare. It’s waking up in the morning and walking past Rhianna’s bedroom door and bursting into tears. It’s standing in the shower and howling… It’s just a continuous flow of emotional highs and lows.”

Leon Barreau (Source: ABC.au)

Dumps and Bushland Searched

Authorities conducted searches of nearby dumps, landfills, and bushland in an effort to locate Rhianna. The unfortunate implication there is they believed that she’d been abducted, killed, and dumped. However, they didn’t find any signs of her.

Mannequin Set Up

A mannequin dressed in the clothes that Rhianna had been wearing when she disappeared was set up in the shopping center she’d visited to try to elicit more information from anyone who might’ve seen her that day. She’d been wearing purple shorts, a green shirt with words “Hypercolour” across front, white socks, and white sneakers with bright pink tongues.

The mannequin and poster set up in the shopping center where Rhianna Barreau was last seen.
The mannequin and poster set up in the shopping center where Rhianna Barreau was last seen (ABC.net).

Tips Followed

During the course of the investigation, police received thousands of tips and leads about the disappearance of Rhianna Barreau. By November 1992, a month after she went missing, authorities had over 1,600 calls and tips to comb through.

One tip suggested that Rhianna was being held hostage in some nearby apartments. Police raided that building, but the 12-year-old was nowhere to be seen. Other hoax calls also came in, causing more pain and heartbreak for the family and more headache for police.

A Suspicious Torana

An all-white Holden Torana (a mid-sized muscle car that was popular in Australia at the time) was spotted in the area near where Rhianna is thought to have vanished. The Torana was reported to have had Victorian registration plates, but despite an extensive search, neither the car nor the driver were ever located.

A white Torana like the one that was reportedly seen around the area Rhianna Barraza went missing.
A white Torana like the one that was reportedly seen around the area Rhianna Barraza went missing (ABC.au).

Weeks Later, Keys Found

A set of keys was found in a driveway within a few hundred yards (meters) of Rhianna’s home. It matched the description of some keys that the 12-year-old would have had on her at the time she disappeared. The man who found the keys called authorities from a payphone across the road to report the find, but when he returned to the driveway, the keys were missing.

When interviewed, the man also revealed that he’d seen a girl matching Rhianna’s description, and that she’d been near a white Torana. However, because it was months later, there was little police could follow up on regarding that information. 

And That’s It

Unfortunately, that’s about all we know in this case. Authorities don’t know who took Rhianna and she’s never been seen or heard from again. Neither blood nor unknown fingerprints were found in the home, making this case much more difficult to solve because authorities have no physical evidence to go on — only theories and speculation. Over three decades later, we’re still searching for answers.


Theories on What Happened

Unlike in many cases where teenagers have disappeared, there seems to be no suggestion that Rhianna might’ve run away from home. The consensus is that she was abducted, although we aren’t sure who perpetrated the crime. For that reason, there are few theories about what might’ve happened to Rhianna.

Mr. Cruel Took Rhianna

There is some speculation that a predator known as “Mr. Cruel” from the state of Victoria might’ve been responsible for Rhianna’s abduction. Between the years of 1987–1991, Mr. Cruel abducted and sexually assaulted at least three young girls and, since the Holden Torana seen in the area where Rhianna went missing had Victorian plates, people think there may be a connection. 

A wanted poster for Mr. Cruel.
A wanted poster for Mr. Cruel (All That’s Interesting).

Melbourne, the area where Mr. Cruel is believed to have operated out of, is about 470 miles (760 km) from Morphett Vale, the city where Rhianna disappeared from. So, it wouldn’t be impossible for Mr. Cruel to have driven there and abducted her. However, Mr. Cruel was never identified or caught, so it’s impossible to determine if he was responsible for Rhianna’s abduction.

Another Person Took Rhianna

Others suggest that it was someone else who took Rhianna, and although police have said that there are persons of interest in this case, they’ve never announced a prime suspect. Many believe that it was someone who knew Rhianna that took her, but again, there is no evidence to support that theory over any other. 

Rhianna’s mother, Paula, is sure that Rhianna wouldn’t have gone willingly from the house with someone she didn’t know “without screaming blue murder.” Paula also believes that whoever took Rhianna was someone known to the family: “My feeling is it was somebody she knew, that’s what I can’t understand.”


What Do I Think Happened?

It’s unfortunate that this case took place so long ago and before many advancements in DNA technology and before almost everyone had a doorbell camera. That is, if this case had taken place today, I believe it would have a much better chance of being solved. However, given that it took place in 1992 and before there were cameras everywhere, it’s proven a much tougher nut to crack.

Abduction by Someone Known to Her Likely

Given that the Christmas card that Rhianna had purchased was inside her home, I’d wager that she made it home when something happened there: she was either abducted from the home or lured outside. 

Because no one reported hearing any screaming and there were no signs of a struggle in the home, it seems to me that she might’ve been enticed by someone she knew — perhaps a neighbor or family friend. Remember that it’s far more likely for a minor to be abducted by someone they know than someone they don’t

Allen Arthur, a homicide detective who worked on the case, also thinks that she was taken by someone she knew: “I would suspect that her remains are closer to where she lived than most people think.”

Will This Case Be Solved?

Given how long it’s been and that there have been few leads or updates, it seems unlikely that this case will be solved unless someone comes forward with new information. If you know something, say something. Three decades is long enough, and Rhianna deserves justice.

As Leon Barreau, Rhianna’s father, said: 

“I think what sort of a beautiful young woman she would be, what she would be doing… I am hoping there will be a resolution, but I seriously doubt it will be in our favour, to be honest. I am convinced she is deceased. It is just a matter of where she is and what happened to her.”

Leon Barreau (Source: Adelaide Now)

Case Updates

There have been very few updates in this case, even with over three decades passing since Rhianna went missing. 

March 2012: SA Police Reviewing Case?

In March 2012, SA Police refuted claims that they were conducting a full review of Rhianna Barreau’s case. They released a statement: “No person is being re-investigated and speculation such as this by the media is unhelpful and causes unnecessary distress to the family.”

October 2017: SA Police Actually Review Case

In October 2017, SA Police revealed that they are reviewing all of the files in Rhianna’s case — about 200 exhibits — with modern forensic technology. The hope is that advancements over the past few decades will lead to discovering who abducted Rhianna.


Do You Have Information?

There is currently a $1,000,000 reward for the resolution of this case. When she was last seen, Rhianna Barreau was 5’1 (158 cms) and weighed about 90 pounds (44 kilograms). She had hazel eyes, a fair complexion, and light brown to blonde hair. If you have any information about her disappearance or whereabouts, please contact the BankSA Crime Stoppers at 1800 333 000. 

A missing poster for Rhianna Barreau.
A missing poster for Rhianna Barreau (Facebook).

Cold Case Questions

  • Do you think whoever was driving that white Torana had something to do with Rhianna Barreau’s disappearance?
  • What do you think happened to Rhianna?
  • Will this case ever be solved?

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!


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2 thoughts on “A Morphett Vale Mystery: What Happened to Rhianna Barreau?

  1. Thanks for compiling this post; I was a student at Reynella East Primary school when Rhianna disappeared, and I remember being told about it (& terrified it could have happened). The information about the keys I had not heard before, and I wonder why the guy didn’t just pick them up…
    The area she lived is very close to the main southern suburbs industrial area, in which my partner and colleagues once found a mummified cat, amongst stockpiled materials, which had entered the warehouse, presumably meowed in distress, died, and remained undetected for some time before being discovered-there are a lot of places around here where nobody would hear you scream…

  2. Megumi Suzuki, Maya Jakic…both females, unknown to their killer prior to attack…there is a pattern…

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