Steven Johnson faces court charged with the alleged murder of Christopher Jarvis

A missing person cold case of 16 years has had a major breakthrough, with two men charged with the alleged murder of Wangoom man Christopher Jarvis.

Mr Jarvis vanished after his car was found on fire by a passer-by in the coastal Victorian town of Warrnambool on June 13, 2006.

His body was never found and the police at the time said it was not suspicious.

However, police said a tip-off to the Missing Persons Unit led to the arrests of 59-year-old Glenn Ernest Fenwick from Warrnambool, and 70-year-old Steven Frederick Johnson, an ex-police officer from Wangoom, on Tuesday.

Both have been charged with murder.

Mr. Fenwick appeared in court on Wednesday and Mr. Johnson appeared in court on Thursday.

Burnt car in coastal dunes.
Mr Jarvis’s silver 1991 Ford station wagon was found on fire at Thunder Point in Warrnambool.(Supplied: Victoria Police)

Mr Johnson’s defense lawyer, Xavier Farrelly, told the court his client suffered from a number of medical conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and had undergone a recent knee reconstruction.

He listed a number of custody management issues including the media reporting his client was a former police officer.

He said it was Mr. Johnson’s first time in custody.

Meanwhile, outside the court, a police spokeswoman said there was nothing to suggest Mr. Johnson had any professional connections with Warrnambool.

“We can confirm he did not serve as a member of Victoria Police in that area,” she said.

She did not say why Mr. Johnson was discharged from the force in 1985.

‘It never sat well with us’

Man in flannel shirt next to bushes.
Gerry Billings visits the site where Mr. Jarvis’s burning car was found. (Kyra Gillespie: ABC South West Victoria)

Mr Jarvis’s nephew, Jade McLaren, claims Mr Johnson was the landlord of the house Mr Jarvis shared with his partner and stepchildren on Warren Road in Wangoom.

Police said Mr Jarvis was last seen leaving the property around 6.30am to go to his job at a Warrnambool trucking company, but he never showed up.

When he didn’t arrive at work, the staff contacted his partner about 7.30am.

Mr Jarvis’s silver 1991 Ford station wagon was found on fire half an hour later in dense coastal scrub at Thunder Point, a popular coastal lookout in Warrnambool.

Beach and cliffs.
Mr. Jarvis’s 1989 Ford station wagon was found burning at Thunder Point.(Flickr: Lesley A Butler)

An extensive search of the area failed to find Mr. Jarvis.

The investigation was originally handled by local police as a missing person, and initially it was suggested that his disappearance was not suspicious.

However, the cold case was reopened after investigators uncovered new information that suggested foul play and the involvement of other people.

Policewoman poses outside station.
Detective Senior Constable Alicia Reivers is investigating the cold case.(Kyra Gillespie: ABC South West Victoria)

Family digs deeper

Mr. McLaren said the sudden and unexpected loss of Mr. Jarvis — a father, uncle, brother and son — had a profound and lasting impact on his family.

He said he made his own inquiries as the years passed and the case grew colder.

He lodged a freedom of information request for documents from Victoria Police in September last year.

An open laptop with someone typing on it
A freedom of information request was lodged by Mr. Jarvis’s nephew.(Unsplash)

“We always thought something wasn’t quite right,” Mr. McLaren said.

“All this time my family’s really suffered.

He said his family rejected a suggestion from the police that Mr. Jarvis had taken his own life.

“We said ‘no way, he’s such a family man, he would never have left his kids,'” he said.

“That never sat well with us.

“The car burned out just wasn’t consistent with the man we all knew.

“We wouldn’t let it go.

“This is only the beginning, this is going to be massive.”

Case reopened

The ABC broke the news on November 13 that the Missing Persons Unit had reopened Mr. Jarvis’s case.

A press conference was held by detectives at the Warrnambool police station the next day calling for anyone with information to come forward.

Detective Senior Constable Alicia Reivers said at the time there were “multiple” persons of interest.

Mr. Jarvis’s son Cale Jarvis and daughter Bree Jarvis made an emotional address to the media about the impact of not knowing what happened to their father.

Man stands in front of police sign
Cale Jarvis is pleading for anyone with information on his dad Chris to come forward. (Kyra Gillespie: ABC South West Victoria)

Police raided properties in Wangoom and Warrnambool eight days later, and two men were arrested.

Mr. Fenwick was charged with murder on Tuesday and Mr. Johnson was charged with murder hours later.

Mr. Fenwick and Mr. Johnson have been remanded in custody.

Their cases are next due to be mentioned in court on April 21 next year.

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