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Police have suspended the search for missing Toowong woman Lesley Trotter. How she was dumped in a bin remains a mystery

Queensland police searching the Swanbank waste transfer station for the body of Toowong woman Lesley Trotter on April 18, 2023. (ABC News)

A rubbish truck snaked steadily through the leafy suburban streets of Toowong, adding its beeping, hissing and crashing to the sounds of the city, picking up the council-stamped green general waste wheelie bins waiting on the kerb.

The truck's driver would have been unaware on the morning of March 28 that the body of 78-year-old Lesley Trotter was in one of those bins, and indiscriminately tossed her into the truck with the rubbish of her neighbours.

Ms Trotter had spoken to her brother at approximately 11am the day before, Monday March 27.

Roughly 24 hours later, when he went to visit, the front door of her Toowong apartment was open and the screen door unlocked but no-one was home.

This was out of order, and when Lesley's phone and wallet were found, she was reported missing.

Over the next month and a half, hundreds of police officers would spend thousands of hours looking for Ms Trotter, including picking through thousands of tonnes of waste at a dump west of Brisbane.

Yesterday that search was suspended and the team pared back — but what happened to Lesley Trotter remains a mystery.

Lesley Trotter, 78, was reported missing on March 28. (ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

Six semi-trailers of waste

The 78-year-old was characterised by her family as a woman with a well-established routine, a perfectionist with an orderly lifestyle.

She was known by neighbours to sort through rubbish bins outside her property and neighbouring properties, separating general waste from recycled goods.

Nestled among the foothills of Mount Coot-tha, the retired schoolteacher called the Maryvale Street residence home for nearly four decades, but that was about to change — Ms Trotter sold the property in February and was preparing for settlement on April 6.

Lesley Trotter, 78, was reported missing on March 28.  (ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

The contents of the truck carrying Ms Trotter's body were deposited at the Nudgee Waste Transfer Station along with 22 other rubbish trucks that day, where it was compressed.

Six B-double semi-trailers then transferred the loads to sites in Rochedale, in Brisbane's southern suburbs, and Swanbank, in neighbouring Ipswich, about 35 kilometres south-west of Brisbane's CBD.

Only one of the six trucks travelled to Rochedale, with the remaining five destined for Swanbank, where their loads were dumped into landfill.

The truck's contents sat there, just another day's worth of waste, for weeks.

Police launched a search for Lesley Trotter on March 30, which became a suspicious death investigation. (Supplied: QPS)

The search begins

When police began their search for Ms Trotter on Thursday, March 30, it extended beyond her suburb of Toowong.

Mount Coo-tha and its undulating trails were included as an area of interest, and as days passed with no sign of Ms Trotter, the scale of the search escalated.

Ms Trotter was an avid hiker and bushwalker, and while no information that she was seen in the area was provided to police, an extensive search was conducted there.

Lesley Trotter was known to sort through her neighbour's bins. (ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

Queensland Police Service Western Control Group Acting Inspector Michael Butler said every effort was being made to find Ms Trotter, including the deployment of a PolAir helicopter equipped with thermal imaging technology.

"We hold significant concerns for her safety," Acting Inspector Butler said at the time. 

"Several resources have been deployed, including specialised land-based search assets from Queensland Police, State Emergency Service and other organisations."

Over the course of that next week, up to 150 people were involved in the search for Ms Trotter, as bushwalking friends joined police and the SES to search high-density urban areas, the Brisbane River and bushland to no avail.

'Strong evidence' emerges 

On Thursday April 6, 10 days after Ms Trotter last contacted her family, the investigation changed tone.

Police were no longer looking for a missing person.

"Unfortunately, investigations yesterday afternoon and late into the evening have led us to the conclusion that Mrs Trotter is, in fact, deceased," Detective Superintendent Andrew Massingham said at a press conference the following day.

Detective Superintendent Andrew Massingham announced Lesley Trotter was dead on April 6. (ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

They were appealing to the community for any information, CCTV or dashcam footage from the area, with a particular interest in footage captured between 5am and 7am.

Police also revealed they believed Ms Trotter died between midnight on Monday March 27 and midday on Tuesday March 28, close to her unit block.

Crime scenes were established inside and outside Ms Trotter's unit block and 40 detectives were dispatched to the scene with the goal of speaking to every occupant living in the complex.

Detective Superintendent Massingham said Ms Trotter's habit of sorting rubbish "could be linked to her death", and police interviewed people who had made complaints about this.

The areas where police believed Ms Trotter's body was, the Rochedale and Swanbank dumps, were quarantined and secured.

Swanbank Road. April 28, 2023.  (ABC News: Nibir Kahn)

Described as a "disturbing development" at a press conference on Tuesday April 11, police confirmed that extensive investigations by homicide detectives indicated Ms Trotter's body was inside a general waste wheelie bin on the footpath of Maryvale Street in Toowong on the morning of Tuesday, March 28.

Detective Superintendent Massingham did not rule out foul play, telling reporters forensic sampling had been done at "some units not far from Ms Trotter's".

He added there were no suspects at that point.

Searching dump sites is not uncommon for police, but the scale of the search for Ms Trotter created a unique and complex operation, with extensive preparation needed prior to starting the search.

Detective Superintendent Massingham promised police "would leave no stone unturned".

More than 3,000 tonnes of waste

Police searching the Swanbank Waste Transfer Station for the body of Lesley Trotter. April 27, 2023. (Supplied: QPS)

Three weeks after she was reported missing, the search for Ms Trotter's body began at the Swanbank dump.

Armed with photographs of what she was wearing the day she went missing, multiple police units and Australian Defence Force personnel began to sift through more than 3,000 tonnes of waste.

Police had isolated the landfill they believed the body could be in, and created lanes roughly 30 centimetres deep.

They wore masks and thick gloves while using rakes and their hands to pick through the compressed rubbish.

The hazardous job was estimated to take two or three weeks with crews searching through about 200 tonnes per day. Throughout the process, the air quality was monitored.

On Thursday April 27, amid wet and windy weather, police said they had been through about 13 per cent of the waste.

But there was a glimmer of hope. Paperwork belonging to someone who lived a few streets over from Ms Trotter had been found.

Queensland police and Defence personell began searching the Swanbank waste transfer station on April 18. (Supplied: QPS)

They believed they were moving in the right direction.

The hope turned out to be for nought. On Thursday May 11, the search was suspended.

Police said the decision to suspend the search was made in consultation with forensic and expert landfill engineers.

A team of 10 detectives remains on the case with strong hopes that, even though her body will likely never be found, the mystery of her death could still be solved.

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