THE 76-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of Grafton boy Geoffrey Knott might be long forgotten to most but the last person to see him alive still remembers how the extraordinary incident changed the town.
Vic Phelps has never stopped thinking about his old mate and neighbour Geoffrey since their last moment together in the backyard of his parents' Hoof Street home about 8pm on April 29, 1929.
Barefoot and dressed in a football guernsey, Geoffrey bid his friend farewell, leapt over the Phelps' fence and headed home, his voice trailing off into the darkness singing 'Ramona'.
The Monday night had ended as any other for the 12-year-olds but when Geoffrey didn't turn up for a pre-arranged pillow fight with his mate early the next morning, Vic knew something was wrong. Geoffrey's father Richard Knott notified police on Tuesday and a search for the boy began in the cane and maize crops that bordered his family's dairy farm.
Geoffrey's mother returned home the same morning from Sydney to find her youngest son missing.
"When you're 12 it's just one of those things I guess," an 89-year-old Mr Phelps said from his Yamba home. "I stopped home from school for a week to look for him. I spent days searching through the paddocks and right up to the river bank around his dairy farm at the time," he said.
"It's all forgotten now but I've never forgotten."
By Friday The Daily Examiner was reporting that the case had Grafton's two police officers baffled and asked the question: 'Was the boy lured away?'
NEWS of Geoffrey's disappearance was broadcast throughout the North Coast and over the coming days the search intensified with hundreds of Grafton residents joining in to help search the town's paddocks.
An Aboriginal tracker named 'Tracker' Robinson was asked to help the search party, while dragging began in the Clarence River with the hope of ending the mystery.
Over the following weeks rumours about the 12-year-old Grafton boy's fate and details of alleged sightings began to circulate the town. Some believed he had become friendly with itinerant exhibitors during the recent Grafton Show and had headed north to Queensland with them.
Other reports described a suspicious-looking man hiding in the shadows of Hoof Street the night Geoffrey went missing.
Police even relayed the warnings of a woman who said the signs read from her Tarot cards indicated Geoffrey had 'been buried in the sand along the water's edge, near still water'.
"He wouldn't go away alone," Geoffrey's mother said in a statement.
"Something has happened to him."
Later reports of sightings in Sydney, Brisbane, Cunnamulla and Casino all came to nothing.
Vic Phelps has his own ideas about what might have happened to his popular mate but as he says, nothing can be proved.
This story was originally published in The Daily Examiner on April 2, 2005.