A missing teenager who disappeared without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again, was found crying in her bedroom by her mother who refused to say why she was so upset.
‘I’ve seen stuff, I’ve seen stuff, I can’t get it out of my head,’ Jack Burns told his mother months before 18-year-old apprentice Tredy disappeared from the NSW Hunter region.
Almost seven years after the Metford teenager with a VB bear tattoo was last seen getting out of their car and walking into bushland in Thornton, near Maitland, Jack’s shocking disappearance remains a mystery in November 2016.
A coroner’s inquest held in Sydney this week heard details about the apprentice bricklayer’s drug use, alcohol consumption and disturbing behavior in the months and days leading up to his disappearance.
These include missing a fortnight before her ex Cody’s 21st birthday celebration and an altercation with a colleague two days before Jack went missing.
Jack (above left with his younger siblings Mia, Makayla and Liam) was last seen running into bushland near Thornton train station on November 13, 2016, leaving a friend’s car.
Jack’s mother Karen Goodelz, stepfather Michael and family hear harrowing evidence at the inquest into Jack’s disappearance
Among the witnesses who testified were Jack’s best mate, his then-boss and several friends who saw him missing over the weekend.
Jack’s mother Karen Goodelz also detailed how her son’s life changed from the age of 15 after he changed schools at 10 and became a ‘popular, social kid’.
She also warned other parents about how her son’s life had ‘turned so fast’ in the year before he went missing.
Deputy State Coroner Carmel Forbes told Jack’s family at the start of the inquest that they would have the opportunity to ‘bring the man back to life’ after hearing all the evidence.
After three long days, Ms Gudelz bravely took the stand on Wednesday where she detailed her life story, including a photo slideshow showing Jack’s close bond with family.
Fighting back tears, she broke down her life into three stages to show that ‘she was much more than her last days’ – and hopes her account can help unravel the nearly seven-year-old mystery.
‘Us against the world’: Jack’s childhood
Jack Erin Barnes was born on May 22, 1998 on the NSW Central Coast to parents Karen and Ben, who were childhood sweethearts.
His two older brothers, Jarrad and Cody, and younger brother, Liam, were born two years later.
In Jack’s early life, Karen packed up her things, took her sons and left their father who was battling drug addiction at the time.
‘We meant everything to each other, it was us against the world,’ he recalls.
‘Jack was my little boy. He was extra tight, always stuck to my leg and could be a real pain in the butt.’
Although a temper tantrum could last for hours, Zac was also a bright and bubbly little boy.
Karen felt it was important to give her sons a home and moved to a small country town to buy a house.
He took the boys to the beach every weekend.
He emphasized good manners and taught his sons to be good young men, taking them to dinner at the local bowling club as a prelude to eating out.
Jack (pictured as a baby with brothers Cody and Jarrad) was described as a bubbly and loving boy.
Karen Goodelz describes her third son Jack (pictured as a boy) as her younger guardian
‘He always made sure his mum was safe,’ said Karen (pictured with a young Jack).
Meeting Jack’s new father – until age 15
Karen met and started dating Michael Goodelz when Jake was seven years old.
As his mother’s ‘little protector’, Jack was initially hesitant and wary of Michael.
A movie and McDonald’s first ‘family’ date was a memorable one.
‘Jack was out to test Michael and pushed every boundary possible,’ his mother recalls.
‘I didn’t think we’d see Michael again. But Michael is back.’
‘Jack wanted to see Michael survive. He looked at one glance and said, ‘What do you do for work, a fellow like Jagla?
‘He was always sure his mother was safe.’
Michael gave Karen and her sons the stability they needed and soon developed a close relationship with Jack, who considered him a father figure.
‘Wherever Michael went, Jack followed,’ counsel Tim Hammond SC told the inquest in his opening address.
Karen left it up to her sons whether they wanted a relationship with their biological father. Jack chose to have nothing to do with her.
Within three years the family was expanded with the arrival of Makayla and Mia.
‘He was a great big brother,’ recalls his mother.
‘She used to change their nappies and read them stories when they were 10.
‘When he was 12, he asked to go to a school disco and I said no. He thought and came back (asked) ‘If I’m good enough to babysit, why can’t I go’?
Jack also loved playing sports growing up. ‘He always wanted to be the best,’ recalls his mother.
‘He was such a loving boy. All the pictures you see today – it was him.’
The three-day investigation concluded with a statement from the family that included a photo slideshow
The inquest heard how Jack Barnes would change his sisters’ nappies and tell them stories
Jack’s late teenage years – downward spiral
The inquest heard that Jack was an exceptional mathematician who dreamed of becoming a doctor.
But things started to unravel after he turned 15.
‘In 10, he changed schools, his grades dropped and he found a social life,’ Ms Gudelz recalls.
‘If I can tell any family out there, Jack’s life has changed very quickly and I think a lot of that is because he wanted to be that popular, social kid.’
He wanted to leave school to join the workforce and considered joining the armed forces at age 17.
He decided to follow in his brother Cody’s footsteps and became a bricklayer, arranging his own work experience and building an apprenticeship so he could leave school.
Jack enjoyed partying and attending pubs, clubs and music festivals, heard the inaugural address.
It later heard accounts of recreational drug use.
Jack (portrayed as a teenager) was an exceptional mathematician who dreamed of becoming a doctor
Jack (right) adored his two younger sisters when they joined the family
Karen Goodelz (left) is desperate for answers about what happened to her son Jack (right).
Mrs Goodelz gave evidence about her son’s disturbing behavior in the months before he disappeared and noticed he was drinking more.
He still lived at home where his mother enforced strict rules and boundaries. This includes charging jacks for the board.
With two younger sisters, drugs were a big no-no in the house.
His mother recalled the pair arguing about charging Jack for board in March 2016.
She finds a distraught Jack crying in his bedroom, refusing to say why he’s so upset.
‘I’ve seen stuff, I’ve seen stuff, I can’t get it out of my head,’ he told his mother.
Mrs Goodelz told the inquest: ‘He felt that if he told me he would get us into some kind of trouble.’
Jack was still a larger-than-life character to family and friends, although his life was uneventful.
Hammond said in his opening speech, ‘Jack was well known as an organized young man who lived life to the fullest.
‘He was arrogant but caring.
‘He was not the type of person to be out of touch with his family for long periods of time.’
2016 was a big year of milestones for the family.
‘Jack turned 18, Cody (an older brother) had just turned 21 and I was about to turn 50,’ Mrs Goodelz said as she fought back tears.
‘Jack and I were about to have our first legal drink together. But it didn’t happen.’
Jack’s life was divided into three stages to show that ‘he was much more than his last days’. He is pictured at a family event
Jack Barnes wanted to drop out of school and considered joining the armed forces
The inquest heard earlier that Jack had missed Cody’s 21st birthday party in Newcastle a fortnight before she went missing after a pub crawl earlier in the day. He later told friends and family that he had ‘passed out’.
Jack’s best mate revealed that the pair faced a number of personal problems in the months leading up to his disappearance and gradually stopped hanging out as often.
Thomas Aubrey told the court, ‘We both shared some fights at the time.
‘We stopped hanging out when I was working, so we weren’t seeing (each other) as much.’
Jack was seen getting out of their car in a panicked and distraught state near Thornton train station shortly before 8pm on Sunday November 13, 2016.
The next day her mother and stepfather reported her missing to the police.
Jack didn’t have his phone or wallet and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. His phone and social media accounts have been inactive since then.
An extensive police and family search turned up nothing.
Jack Barnes disappeared without a trace in November 2016 This is one of the last photos of the teenager taken three weeks ago
The family suffered another devastating blow four years later when Jack’s younger brother Liam, 19, took his own life in 2020.
The family vowed to continue fighting for answers.
‘Jack respected everyone and he deserved it. If Jack had lost his life, we might be able to bury him and remember him,’ Ms Goodelz told the inquest.
‘We pray that we can get the answers we need’.
The coroner will hand down his findings at a later date.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or 1300 224 636.
Jack had a close relationship with his stepfather Michael Goodelz (pictured with wife Karen).
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