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Man charged over alleged murder of NSW mum-of-four


A man has been charged over the alleged murder of New South Wales mother Christine Neilan, more than 18 months after her body was found in bushland in the state’s north.
Police conducted an extensive search of a Lightning Ridge property and surrounding bushland last week, leading to the arrest of local tourist operator Vittorio Stefanato, 73, about 10am yesterday.

The mother-of-four’s body was found with significant head injuries by the side of a road in the area on January 9, 2020.

Police have charged a man over the alleged murder of Christine Neilan. (9News)
Local tourist operator Vittorio Stefanato, 73, has been charged with murder.
Local tourist operator Vittorio Stefanato, 73, has been charged with murder. (9News)

“Those head injuries were caused by a gunshot wound,” Homicide Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said today.

“I can also disclose that during the three-day crime scene search a firearm was located and that will be ballistically examined.”

Detective Superintendent Doherty said there was no known direct relationship between the pair, but noted Lightning Ridge is a small township and “everyone knows each other”.

“She was the funniest, most bubbliest person you’d ever meet in your life when she was around nothing else mattered,” her daughter Julie Neilan told 9News.

Lightning ridge alleged murder Christine Neilan
Police conducted an extensive search of a Lightning Ridge property and surrounding bushland last week. (NSW Police)
Lightning ridge alleged murder Christine Neilan
NSW Police uncovered “a number of exhibits of note” during the search of the property. (NSW Police)

NSW Police uncovered “a number of exhibits of note” during the search of the property and surrounding areas but would not elaborate on what these were.

Mr Stefanato was taken to Walgett Police Station and charged with murder.

He appeared at Walgett Local Court today, where he was refused bail.

He will appear in court again on October 25.

NSW Police said the arrest was a result of collaboration between officers from across the Western Region, the Forensic Evidence and Technical Services Command (FETS), the Rescue and Bomb Disposal Unit, Marine Area Command, and the Dog Unit.

Ms Neilan’s body was found in bushland in northern NSW in January 2020. (9News)
She was last seen on CCTV footage leaving a Lightning Ridge supermarket. (9News)

Ms Neilan was last seen on CCTV leaving a local supermarket in 2020.

She had moved to Lightning Ridge with her mother in late 2019 and was known to regularly walk her small white dog Sooky around the street.

Her family have continued their search for answers across the last two years, joining police in asking for public help to catch the mother-of-four’s alleged killer.



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