The disappearance of 10-year-old Damian McKenzie

In his popular “Missing 411” series of books on strange disappearances, one of the weirder cases covered by investigator and former police officer David Paulides centres around a 10-year-old boy named Damian McKenzie who inexplicably disappeared from Australia in strange circumstances back in 1974 without a trace.

Damian McKenzie
Damian McKenzie, 10, went missing at Steavenson Falls, near Marysville in Victoria’s mountain ranges on September 4, 1974 © McKenzie family

In September of that year, McKenzie and a group of some other forty teenagers were on a youth camp on the mountains of the Australian State of Victoria, near Victoria Falls and the Acheron River in Taggerty. The camp itself was run by the “Young Australia League,” and was intended to be a simple 5-day tour during which the students would go trekking and partake in various outdoor activities, nothing too dangerous. The camp was well-supervised, and there had never been any problem or incident before, but that was about to change drastically.

On September 4, 1974, the group went on a trip to Steavenson Falls in Marysville, Victoria, which involved hiking up a winding trail from the mountain to the falls. The hike was strenuous, but the group was closely supervised and everyone was within visual range of the others. Damien is said to have moved ahead of the others at one point, briefly disappearing from sight, but when the party came around the bend, he was nowhere to be found.

Damian McKenzie
Damian McKenzie in a picture taken shortly before he disappeared. © THE AGE / WARRNAMBOOL STANDARD

The supervision was unable to locate the boy by searching the area, addressing him went unanswered; it seemed as if he had just stepped away from the planet. When authorities were notified, one of the largest search operations in Australian history was launched to find him, involving over 300 people from various agencies, including the police, the Search and Rescue Squad, the Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs Search and Rescue Section, the Forestry Commission of Victoria, the Red Cross, and numerous local volunteers, as well as the use of aircraft and tracking dogs to scour the forbidding wilderness. The search lasted over a week and was finally stopped owing to bad weather without finding a single sign of Damian McKenzie, his destiny unknown.

There would be some strange peculiarities, according to David Paulides during the search. For one, he claims that the tracking dogs could not take any smell of the boy. It wasn’t that they picked up a trail and then lost it; rather, the dogs couldn’t obtain any smell readings for the boy at all, circling around in circles, unsure of what they were supposed to be looking for. Another peculiar hint, according to Paulides, is that the boy’s tracks were discovered to have led right up one side of the waterfall and then just stopped as if he had evaporated there on the spot. This is an unusual clue, although it is unclear how real it is, as one investigation specialist on the case named Valentine Smith stated:

“I have found that there have been several reports of child footprints found a considerable distance from where Damien was last seen. However, all of these messages are contradictory and do nothing. I also read the remarks of Investigator David Polids. He writes that the boy’s footsteps suddenly appear elsewhere and also suddenly have strange traces … “

Curiosity keeps growing. Whether the strange disappearing footprints are an embellishment or not, the fact remains that neither Damian nor any sign of him have ever been located, leading to a slew of ideas about what happened to him. One possibility is that he simply got lost in the bush. The area where they were hiking was characterised as hilly and densely forested, with heavy brush and foliage that was practically impassable in several areas. Even search and rescue personnel admitted that the boy could have been only a few feet away and they might not have noticed him. If he had been knocked unconscious by a fall, died to hypothermia in the frigid temperatures, or otherwise been handicapped and unable to call, it is possible that the operation would have missed him.

The problem is that he was only out of sight for a few moments, so how could he have gone that far away from the group, and why would he not have replied to his name being called soon after he disappeared?

Damian McKenzie
School photo of Damian McKenzie with his classmates © Vic Police

Another theory is that he took a violent fall down a steep slope and fell into the neighbouring Steavenson River, where he has washed away and drowned, although searchers thoroughly searched the comparatively shallow and slow-moving river and were very certain he wasn’t there. Could they, on the other hand, have overlooked him?

There is also the potential that he fell down a mineshaft, as the area was originally used for gold prospecting to some extent, and while all known mine shafts have long been blocked in to prevent this from happening, perhaps there are more that have gone lost and forgotten. More ominous even is the possibility that Damian was abducted, but witnesses claim there was no sign of anyone unusual in the vicinity, and the topography would have made it difficult for an abductor to snatch the boy and then effectively relocate him, with the only easy way to do so being down that trail.

David Paulides, Damian McKenzie
David Paulides is a former police officer who is now an investigator and writer known primarily for his self-published books © David Paulides / Twitter

Ultimately, we don’t know what happened to Damien McKenzie. We’re left wondering how he might be out of sight for a few moments and then vanish off the face of the earth. We are left with Paulides’ statements that there were tracks that vanished literally in the middle of the ride and that tracker dogs were completely perplexed, but it is unclear how verifiable this is. Was this boy lost, abducted, slain by wildlife, or maybe the victim of unknown forces? Whatever the situation may have been, the boy was never discovered, and his case remains unsolved to this day.