Photo behind family’s heartbreak
In the first episode of new podcast I Swear I Never, Matthew Leveson's family opens up about the 10 years it took to bring their boy home.
I've been drawn to the story of Matthew Leveson ever since I first saw his face staring back at me on MySpace back in 2008.
He had one of those smiles that lit up his face, every photo seemed to radiate joy and carefree fun. There were snaps of him out at gay nightclubs in Sydney and shots of him with his best friend who obviously adored him.
The only thing that was not joyful about the photos was the reason I was looking at them. Matt was missing.
He was 20, he'd been missing a few months at that time, no one had seen him since a night out clubbing with friends and his older boyfriend Micheal Atkins, then 45.
I'd looked at the MySpace page dedicated to him after a friend had posted about it. I couldn't help feeling a sense of dread, he looked just like so many of my friends, just a young person living life to the fullest, not worrying about tomorrow.
'I really hope you're OK', I thought as I looked at the concerned messages friends had left for him. Like hundreds of others I posted Matt's photos onto my social media, hoping that tiny action was somehow helpful.
After that I didn't see any updates about Matt, but every now and then I'd check in and see if there was news.
In August of 2008, I saw a news story, Matt's boyfriend, Michael Atkins had been arrested over his murder. No body had been found. My heart broke for Matt's family and friends, but I was glad that justice was finally being done for them after what must have been a long year.
Listen to the Levesons share their heartbreaking journey on the new whimn.com.au podcast, 'I Swear I Never'
But I, along with the rest of the country, was in for a shock as the trial came to an end and Matt's boyfriend, a man who was on CCTV footage buying a mattock and duct tape the day of Matt's disappearance, was found not guilty.
I was dumbfounded, and I searched on Facebook for pages or groups dedicated to the case to find out more. I came across two run by his parents, one dedicated to his memory, the other dedicated to justice and the facts of the case.
I joined both, and for the next few years I was given a small insight into the extreme dedication that Mark and Faye Leveson have for their son.
They spent every spare moment they had searching through the bush in the Royal National Park in Sydney. They would travel by foot around the park at 2am before returning to the same spots during the day for another look.
Mark later told me when he appeared on an episode of the I Swear, I Never podcast, that the night searches were important because they gave them the opportunity to see the area in the same way that whoever buried Matt's body would have seen it. There is no question, Mark and Faye are two of the strongest people I've ever met.
More years passed and every year his family and friends would light a candle for Matt on his birthday and share photos, poems and slide shows of the boy with a smile that lit up every room.
Still no answers, still no hope, but still his family never lost sight of their goal: To bring their boy home. Every time a body was found, I thought of them, but it was never Matt.
Finally, in 2016 after years of fighting, pushing and searching, the Matthew Leveson's case was brought to an inquest and Micheal Atkins was granted immunity from prosecution by Gabrielle Upton, the Attorney-General of New South Wales if he agreed to tell the police where Matt was buried.
I won't try and describe the horror and pain that decision brought upon the Levesons, if you want to hear their full story in their own words, I recommend you listen to their complete interview on the I Swear I Never podcast.
But I do know, that the decision did lead the family to their son, buried in a lonely patch of the bush, one that they had walked past many times in their late night searches.
Atkins has his version of events about what happened to Matt that night in 2007, and how he came to die and be buried, the Levesons have their own theories. We may never know the full story.
But we do know that Matthew Leveson will never be defined by the man that put him in the ground. He was so much more than his death.
He was a son, who made his parents proud with his work ethic and cheeky grin, a brother and a friend - a fully formed human whose life is worth celebrating and shouldn't be connected with the hate and anger that we all feel about the way his case was handled by our justice system.
The Levesons haven't given up fighting, even though their avenues to pursue any further legal action for Matt are over, they still want to make the fight a little easier for the next families that find themselves in the heartbreaking position of having a missing loved one.
They want a million dollar reward automatically offered for all serious cold cases in Australia, as many families are still waiting for answers without any reward money offered at all.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM MATTHEW'S STORY?
It might be easy to say the lesson is that the justice system is imperfect, and that's definitely true, but for me the most important part of Matt's story was the resilience and love of his family and friends.
He was just a young man, living his life like any other young man before the tragedy struck, but his family have made sure we will never forget him and that legacy of love will live on forever.
- Nina Young is the Deputy Editor of kidspot.com.au and co-host of the I Swear I Never podcast
- This story originally appeared on whimn.com.au and is reproduced with permission
- To read more visit whimn.com.au/podcasts. If you have any further information about this podcast or a story to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.