Man brought kids up saying mom abandoned them - but she was buried in the garden

Man brought kids up saying mom abandoned them - but she was buried in the garden

Geoffrey Adams' innocent children grew up thinking their mother Colleen had abandoned them, but almost half a century later he finally admitted the grisly truth.

With national parks and miles of remote coastland, South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula is an escape from busy life, and back in the 1970s, it was even quieter than today.

Colleen Adams lived in the Peninsula’s small town of Maitland with her painter husband Geoffrey, 26, and their two young children.

It was 1973, and the couple had no phone, no TV, and no car, but it wasn’t unusual when you were living a slower-paced rural life.

Colleen, 24, loved to keep house and was a devoted mother, although living on the Peninsula did have downsides.

The young mom was raising two daughters – Marie, then aged three and a half, and 18-month-old Kaye – without many friends around her. And her nearest family were more than 50 miles away.

Young mom Colleen disappeared in 1973.

When Colleen went quiet for a few weeks in November of that year, it took a while for people to become concerned.

In December, Colleen’s mom Vera reported her daughter missing, but it took a year before police interviewed Geoffrey.

He said that one night he’d returned home from a local meeting and found that Colleen had packed two cases and told him she was leaving.

Geoffrey said his wife had been suffering from the “baby blues” and that she had talked about leaving him.

He told police that Colleen had said, “Goodbye, you little bastards,” on the way out.

She’d then climbed into a white Ford Falcon car driven by a middle-aged lady he didn’t recognize, leaving him and the children behind.

Geoffrey didn't speak to his children Marie and Kaye about their mother.

That was on 22 November, a month before her mother had reported her missing.

Without many close friends, no one could clarify whether Colleen was suffering from postnatal depression.

Whispers of the mum who had walked out on her family spread. Geoffrey avoided talking about her with their children, and they grew up feeling abandoned.

It became the “family shame”. But Colleen’s siblings were sure she would never have left her daughters.

If Colleen had started a new life, why hadn’t she touched her bank account or contacted her family?

Criminal investigation

In 1979, Colleen’s disappearance finally became a criminal investigation. Geoffrey, who had divorced his wife in 1977, was brought in for questioning again.

He said that Colleen had wanted to “live the single life”. He also said that her parents and sisters didn’t care about her, which is why she hadn’t been in touch with them. It was the opposite of what they were saying.

The police were out of leads, but as with any missing person, the case was continuously reviewed and there would be media releases and requests for information about the brown-haired, blue-eyed, 5ft 5in Colleen.

In 1996, a Crime Stoppers episode included a fresh appeal about Colleen, and Geoffrey was interviewed.

Police returned to excavate the family home after Geoffrey's confession.

He was asked how he felt about being suspected by the community of knowing more about Colleen’s disappearance.

“The one who gets left behind is the one who gets the brunt of the blame,” he told the journalist.

“That has been the biggest punishment for me.” Geoffrey said that Colleen’s mysterious vanishing “haunted him”.

Investigators continued to be suspicious about a large concrete slab that Geoffrey had arranged to be laid at his former marital home.

Three years later they arranged for a ground-penetrating radar to see if there was anything buried underneath. They even made a dig but found nothing.

Were investigators wrong? Had Colleen really walked away and was living under a new identity?

Then in 2018, an incredible 45 years after Colleen disappeared, an article about the case appeared in a local paper.

It reignited interest and the local media clustered around Geoffrey’s home in the town of Wallaroo where he’d moved to.

Police warned Geoffrey they were going to pull up the floorboards of his former marital home – and break apart the concrete slab.

A day later, Geoffrey confessed that he’d killed his wife on 22 November 1973.

He said that he’d struck her twice over the head with a metal object during an argument, while their children were in bed.

“I just struck her a bit hard,” he told police. “She fell to the floor and then she died.”

Daughter Kaye's letter was read out by a police spokeswoman.

When asked for a motive, Geoffrey cruelly suggested that Colleen had become impossible to live with.

“It was the continuous having a go at me for nothing, yelling and screaming, it had gone on for too long.”

Geoffrey said he’d left her body on the kitchen floor overnight, before burying her the next day in her pink nightgown in their back garden.

He told police that admitting it was, “The hardest thing I’ve done in my life.”

Diggers brought in

That very day, police went to excavate the ground. Haunting footage of Geoffrey was taken, pointing to a specific spot.

The area was cordoned off and diggers were brought in, as neighbours gathered in utter disbelief.

Before long, under a tented area, the skeletal remains of Colleen were found.

The young mom hadn’t left that night – she was just metres away from her children. The police had excavated in the same area before, they just hadn’t dug down deep enough.

Colleen’s devastated children requested privacy as their dad Geoffrey, then 70, was arrested and charged with killing Colleen.

A month later, she was finally buried with dignity.

Geoffrey pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but not guilty to murder, which led to a seven-day trial in 2020. He had been in custody since his arrest.

At the trial, he admitted killing his wife, but his defence argued it was manslaughter because he hadn’t intended on taking her life.

The prosecution said Geoffrey had spent almost half a century “peddling a story” to everyone.

“He spent 45 years creating a false narrative of a mentally unstable woman who abandoned her children,” the jury was told.

Geoffrey’s police interview was played in court, where he continued to say that Colleen “couldn’t cope”.

He said he’d found it hard to live with her and told officers that even “nice guys get pushed to the limit”.

The prosecution spoke about how Geoffrey had callously left Colleen’s body on the kitchen floor, then buried her in the garden.

He told everyone she had said she was “bloody glad” she was leaving and did not want to see any of them again.

“None of that was true,” the prosecution said.

In August, after four hours of deliberation, the jury found Geoffrey, 72, not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

It was a disappointment to Colleen’s loved ones, and because Geoffrey had made an early lesser plea, it made him eligible for 40% off his sentence.

Colleen’s sister Heather, who had long suspected her brother-in-law, said, “I knew she wouldn’t have run away and left her children. She was a very loving mother. She loved her children and doted on them very much.”

At the sentencing hearing, the couple’s daughter Marie wrote a statement about growing up feeling abandoned, rejected, and like she didn’t belong, and her heartache over discovering her father was not the victim he’d led her to believe.

“The realization that he took her away and she had not left me was devastating. He then lied to me for 45 years,” she wrote.

“I felt like I was living with the sins of my mother, and now I realize it was the sins of my father.”

Marie said she’d never stop grieving. “But the most meaningful moment from all of this has been knowing that my mother did love me and that she didn’t choose to abandon me,” she said.

Colleen’s sisters, Heather Johncock and Kristina Burford, said they had been forced to listen to Colleen being portrayed as unstable and argumentative, so that Geoffrey could make himself look like the victim.

“The victim here is Colleen – she was a wonderful, caring person and I loved her,” Kristina said.

The judge was due to sentence Geoffrey before Christmas, but there was yet another twist in the case.

On 14 December, the judge revealed to the public that Geoffrey had brain cancer. The very next day, it was announced that Geoffrey was dead. He would never face sentencing for his crime.

South Australia’s oldest solved cold case had finally come to an end. The truth about Colleen had been revealed, thankfully before her killer took his secrets to his own grave.
Man brought kids up saying mom abandoned them - but she was buried in the garden
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