Australian police are seeking a mystery man seen talking to Irish emigrant Jill Meagher shortly before she disappeared in the early hours of Saturday last in a Melbourne suburb. She left the pub to walk home to her nearby apartment.
Her disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her handbag has sparked major fears as to her safety.
In the closed circuit TV shot taken from a nearby store, Jillis shown walking towards her home and a man in a blue hoodie is seen talking to her. The man walks past the CCTV twice before speaking to her. They then walk off together.
Jill, 29, from Drogheda County Louth, worked at a local radio station and had been out for a night with her work friends at a pub in a Melbourne suburb.
"There may be a rational explanation to what's happened but he certainly could help us," said Detective Inspector John Potter.
"We don't know whether she knows the man. It appears to be a casual conversation struck by looking at the footage. But we don't know," he said.
Several other people are also pictured in the footage. One man is of particular interest to police as he looks back at the man and Jill.
"Particularly the man who looks back must have seen something going on. Whether it’s a conversation we don't know," Detective Inspector Potter said.
"The man that looks back obviously has seen something. We don't know what it is but something's caught his attention."
Police searching for Jill Meagher have also examined her Brunswick, Melbourne apartment twice.
On Tuesday afternoon, police spent three hours searching the apartment Meagher shares with her husband Tom. That evening they returned for a number of hours.
Detective Inspector John Potter described Tuesday afternoon's search of the home as routine. Forensic officers carried six brown paper bags of evidence from the apartment.
Potter said, “(Jill's) husband has been nothing more than co-operative so we can't read anything into that, this is something that we would normally do.”
Meagherwas last seen at 1.30am (AEST) on Saturday morning at Bar Etiquette, on Sydney Road. The police reported that she can be seen walking towards her home, less than half a mile away from the bar.
She can be seen walking north along Sydney Road, at 1.41am.
She called her brother in Perth at about 1.45am.
However, the mystery surrounding this chain of events is that her brother heard male voices in the background while his sister was on the phone. They spoke for a couple of minutes about their father’s health.
Potter told Fairfax Radio, “The issue is if there was something sinister happening at that point she presumably wouldn't be discussing the health of her dad.”
On Monday, police found Meagher’s handbag on Hope Street, not far from her home. They believe that it was planted by the guilty party, after the police’s initial search.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay told ABC radio: “There was an extensive search on the weekend that did not find that handbag.
“That handbag's turned up on the Monday. Either police have missed that or someone has placed the bag back at the location.”
Potter said the handbag was found “in plain view” by a local resident on Monday morning. He also said that they could not “100 percent” discount the fact that the police could have missed the handbag in their initial search.
Meagher’s handbag contained her identification but not her cell phone.
Potter said there was no sign of a struggle in the alleyway. He said, “It leads one to surmise more and more that the bag was put there but for what reason we don't know.”
Australians and the Irish are gripped by the puzzle of what happened to Jill Meagher. Friends and family have established a Facebook page to share information. Since the weekend, it has accrued over 89,000 likes and has received hundreds of comments from the public.
Merrin Girolami wrote: "Our whole house is lit with candles each night as a vigil forJill, Tom and their families ... sending positive energy. She is in my thoughts and prayers! Hope she comes home safe and sound she is a beautiful woman!"
Nina Jarram: "My thoughts are constantly with Jill and her family. From one young girl to another, please let her be found safe and well."
Antoinette Frahill Ryan: "I am praying that she will be found safe and sound. As a parent I cannot say I know what you're going through. But I feel your pain and hope she is found sooner rather than later. My thoughts and prayers are with you."
Jill Meagher CCTV (UNSEEN FOOTAGE)