Trail goes cold in Outback gunman hunt

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Ask anyone in a small town like Lichfield about the whereabouts of the Outback gunman wanted for the suspected murder three weeks ago of Peter Falconio, and they will tell you he has gone to ground and is unlikely to be found until he makes another mistake

Despite one of the biggest manhunts ever launched in Australia, involving police in planes and helicopters, roadblocks throughout the region and even Aboriginal trackers, no trace has been found of Falconio or of his abductor.

Around the country, suspicion that this man may not be caught until he strikes again is taking hold, as the police investigation loses momentum.

His last error came three weeks ago when despite hoodwinking an innocent couple into stopping on a lonely road in the dark, he failed to tie up Joanne Lees securely enough, while he – probably – murdered Falconio, her boyfriend.

Lees's escape was miraculous, but apart from some DNA material possibly belonging to the man on her clothes, and her account, police have little to go on.

To drive the highway from Lichfield to Alice Springs, and pass the desolate crime scene at Barrow Creek, would take about 15 hours and apart from the odd roadhouse there is little sign of life.

Locals know how large the Northern Territory is, and how easy it is to disappear in a land the size of Western Europe, or hide a body or vehicle down old tracks.

The Northern Territory has a tradition of people vanishing, be they petty criminals, or fathers evading child support, and given the sheer space of 523,000 square miles, any number of cattle properties and mining camps, even an unusual vagrant hardly stands out.

Each year there is a turn-over of 20 per cent in the Territory's resident population of 190,000, as people move in and out. This can explain the failure of anyone in the community to report a sighting.

On Australia's fast roads, the wanted man could soon have reached any part of the continent and judging by the police identikit released on Friday, could now appear totally different.

The day after the Falconio crime came to light another gunman in Melbourne barged into an abortion clinic and killed a security guard while carrying enough weapons to carry out a massacre.

He has evaded the police in spite of his photograph being put on the front page of newspapers round the land – and no one has come forward to identify him. The killing is a reminder that it is not hard to vanish in Australia, and despite the largest manhunt in recent times the Outback gunman appears to have done just that.