Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper, from the Missing Persons Squad, said police had always been of the firm belief that someone out there knows what happened to Mr Pantic and who was responsible for his disappearance.
“Someone out there has the answers we need – I can promise that police are absolutely going to keep searching for them ourselves, but if you do know something, then the time to come forward is now,” he said.
“A year is a long time for his family to spend without answers.”
Detectives believe Mr Pantic left Lakes Entrance in Victoria’s east for Melbourne, where his two older daughters live, on April 10.
He stopped at an associate’s farm in Perry Bridge, north-east of Sale in Gippsland, on the way before leaving about 7pm.
But Mr Pantic never arrived in Melbourne and has had no contact with his family since.
The vehicle, with registration 1NK 8BP, has also never been found.
There has been no activity on any of Mr Pantic’s social media accounts and his bank accounts haven’t been touched. He has also made no contact with his family, including his children, since.
His phone was later found in the possession of drug associates who also operated in those circles, at Wurruk on the outskirts of Sale.
Detective Inspector Stamper said police believed Mr Pantic was murdered on or around April 10, 2019, and that more than one person may have been involved.
He said Mr Pantic’s drug connections may have played a role in his death, with the father of five known to be a “fairly significant player” in the sourcing and distribution of a wide variety of illicit drugs throughout the East Gippsland and Latrobe Valley areas.
“We’ve made no secret of the fact Dale was pretty well involved in the drug scene. That’s the most compelling theory that we’ve got at the moment,” he said.
In June, his family made a heart-wrenching plea for information.
Daughter Maya Pantic, then 11, sobbed as she begged for someone to help bring her father home.
“He was the best dad ever,” Maya Pantic said. “Bring my dad back.”
Detective Inspector Stamper said while Mr Pantic did have some “unsavoury aspects” to his life he was a fully functioning family man too.
“Notwithstanding Dale’s background … he’s got five kids who range from very young kids to teenagers and he was a great dad as well,” he said.
“I’m sure there has been an awful lot of talk about what’s happened to Dale.
“We’re hoping that today’s search in Labertouche will give us some of the answers we need or a way to move forward with this investigation.”
Mr Pantic’s car, with distinctive rims, was seen across Melbourne a number of times in the days that followed his disappearance.
The first was at a service station inbound on the Princes Freeway at Officer at 12.28am on April 12.
It was seen again outbound on Eastlink at the Springvale Road and Ringwood Bypass at 11.59am and again at the High Street Road and Ferntree Gully Road exit at 12.07pm.
Mr Pantic is described as being about 178 centimetres tall, of solid build, with brown hair and brown eyes.
Anyone who saw Mr Pantic around the time of his disappearance, anyone who may have seen his Ford sedan or anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit crimestoppers.com.au.
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.