This story has so many red herrings it's hard to know where to look. The mobile phone thrown out the window of a moving car? The muesli bar wrapper on a motel room floor? The Tromp family of the Yarra Valley, meanwhile, is still in crisis.
Mother Jacoba Tromp and one of her daughters, Riana, 29, are in the care of mental health services in Goulburn, NSW. Father Mark Tromp is missing. He was last seen in Wangaratta late on Wednesday night running into parkland after tailgating a young couple through the town.
Police had a report of a man walking down the road near Bega carrying a one-man tent, but it wasn't him. Yet it has emerged that Riana was found by a Goulburn man in the back of his ute after he started driving to Canberra and felt kicking from the back of his seat.
Riana had walked out on her parents bizarre road trip at the Jenolan Caves on Tuesday. Her sister and brother had walked out, too, and eventually also their mother, who was found wandering in an agitated state in Yass on Thursday. She had caught public transport, a train or a bus, from Wangaratta on her own.
The family from Silvan on the outskirts of Melbourne – who have a berry farm and an earthmoving business – left their expansive home in a hurry on Tuesday. Keys were found in car ignitions, doors unlocked, passports and wallets on benches.
When Riana's younger sister Ella, 22 – in whose silver Peugeot the family were travelling, 1500km from home – ditched the trip, she drove a car back to the family home from Goulburn, a car she neither owned nor hired. Brother Mitchell got out in Bathurst and caught trains to Sydney then back to Melbourne.
Riana, says Goulburn man Keith Whittaker, was dazed and catatonic when he found her in his ute, before delivering her to Goulburn police. "I asked her who she was and if she was all right. She did not know her name and had no idea where she was. She mostly sat and stared straight ahead. She was a well-dressed young woman and she offered to give me $50 for my trouble," he told the Goulburn Post.
Police have fingerprinted a motel in Wangaratta, the town where Mark Tromp was last seen. A room's door was found ajar, the bed showed signs of use and a muesli bar wrapper was on the floor.
Mitchell Tromp, meanwhile, back at the family's home with Ella in Silvan, appeared overwhelmed on Friday by what had occurred. He said he only took the road trip with his parents – the family all work together and are very close – because they were distressed and he wanted to persuade them to turn back.
He said he threw his mobile phone out the window in Warburton because they urged him to and warned they were being "tracked". When their behaviour grew worse, he chose to leave his family, he said.
It also emerged that NSW police had circulated a document internally warning the family could be suffering from group delusional schizophrenia. Mitchell Tromp told The Age there had been no diagnosis and the statement was incorrect.
Police continue to search for Mark Tromp around Wangaratta, where the family owns property. Several relatives from Victoria have also joined the hunt, including his brother Ken, a policeman from Monbulk.
Family continue to insist the Tromps' behaviour is out of character. "They are a gorgeous family, beautiful family, hard-working family," said Wilma Tromp, Mark's mother. "I know that he's extremely busy, they're a busy couple. Very busy.
"[Jacoba] loves working outside. They're just normal. There's no underhandedness. It's a real mystery."
Monday, August 29: The Tromps leave the family home in Ella's Peugeot to go on a technology-free road trip. During the course of the drive, it's discovered Mitchell has brought his phone with him. He throws it out of the window near Warburton, about 32 kilometres from the family home. The family continues driving towards Bathurst.
Tuesday, August 30: Mitchell decides he wants to go home. He leaves the family at Kelso, a suburb of Bathurst, about 7am and makes his way to Sydney. The rest of the family continue on to the Jenolan Caves. That afternoon, they decide to split up. Ella and Riana steal a car and make their way to Goulburn then go their separate ways. Riana is found along the highway after stealing a lift in a ute and is taken to the local hospital due to stress-related issues. Ella drives back to the family home in Silvan. Parents Mark and Jacoba are reported missing and that afternoon police attend the family home to find credit cards and mobile phones lying around the house and car keys in ignitions.
Wednesday, August 31: Mitchell arrives at the family home in the morning after catching the overnight train from Sydney. That afternoon, police search the Jenolan Caves area for Mark and Jacoba but are unable to find them.
Thursday, September 1: Police are notified in the early hours of the morning that the family car has been located in Wangaratta and that a lone man was seen running from the vehicle. It is believed this man was Mark. Later in the day, Jacoba presents herself to Yass District Hospital after a local found her wandering around town. Police continue to look for Mark during the evening, and have no reason to believe he has left the Wangaratta area.
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