Cheryl Gene Grimmer was a three-year-old toddler who was kidnapped on 12 January 1970 from Fairy Meadow Beach in Wollongong, Illawarra, New South Wales, Australia.
She had been in the beach shower block when witnesses claim a man took her and ran off. It is believed that she was strangled to death around an hour after her abduction, in the nearby suburb of Balgownie.
Seven-year-old Ricki was the last person to see his sister Cheryl Grimmer alive, yet police investigating her disappearance in 1970 never once took a statement from him.
Cheryl’s disappearance had been an unsolved crime mystery for over 45 years, until a suspect was arrested and charged in March 2017. He pled not guilty.
His trial was expected to take place at the Supreme Court of New South Wales in May 2019, however, a ruling by the judge in the case declared some evidence inadmissible and the charges against the suspect were subsequently dropped in February 201
What really happened?
On the morning of 12 January 1970, the Grimmer family went to the beach at Fairy Meadow in Illawarra, except for Vince, who was away working as a sapper for the Australian Army. When the weather turned at 1:30 pm, Carole decided it was time to go home.
The children all went to the shower block together whilst Carole packed up their belongings. Ricki went back to Carole ten minutes later saying that Cheryl was refusing to come out of the shower block.
She followed Ricki back to the shower block moments later to find that Cheryl had disappeared. There was no phone nearby, so Carole made her way to a house on nearby Elliotts Road and asked them to call the police.
At the time, witnesses claimed that a man was seen holding Cheryl up to drink from a water fountain and then ran off with her wrapped up in a towel. The claims are now seen as unlikely. Cheryl’s brother, Ricki, recalled picking up his sister so that she could drink from the fountain and it is thus believed that witnesses mixed the two occurrences.
It was also claimed that she was spotted in a white car.
Cheryl’s disappearance sparked a massive manhunt. A day after investigations began, the New South Wales Police announced that they had four theories as to Cheryl’s whereabouts: that she was hiding and had fallen asleep, that she had wandered into the ocean and was carried away by currents, that she had fallen into a waterway, or that she had been kidnapped. After a day of searching, all but the latter were dismissed and they began pursuing other leads, such as a blue Volkswagen Type 2 van which had been spotted near the scene of the crime.
On the third day, police received a note demanding $10,000 and stating that the child was unharmed. They staged a drop for the money in Bulli, but the kidnapper never showed despite police earnestly believing the note to be credible.
They disguised themselves as council workers for the ransom drop and originally feared that this led to the kidnapper being spooked and that the large police operation may have deterred them from coming forward.
However, the writer never contacted police again and it was assumed the note was a practical joke. The case became famous in Australia and the family relocated back to England for ten years afterwards to escape the notoriety.
Although the police had three main suspects, none could be positively identified as the man witnesses saw. Just under 18 months after Cheryl’s disappearance, in 1971, a local teenager, then 15 or 16, confessed to abducting and killing her. The man gave an overview of what occurred that day, describing a tubular steel gate, a cattle guard, a track, and a small creek near the scene of the murder.
He brought police to a corner of Brokers and Balgownie roads and claimed the body was buried there, but noted that the area had undergone residential development and he thus couldn’t be sure.
Police interviewed the owner of the property, who contradicted the suspect’s description and stated that there was no cattle guard in place at the time of the murder and that there had never been a tubular gate of any kind.
Such inconsistencies eventually led to police concluding that his confession was false, with a police report at the time, written by Detective Sergeant Phillip Findlay, stating
On the whole it is considered without some material evidence to directly connect him with the missing child it would not be desirable to take any action against him in respect to this matter at this time.
In spite of numerous appeals—and a $5000 reward offered by the New South Wales government—there was no breakthrough in the inquiry and the case went cold.
In 2016, a review of the evidence was carried out and all of it, including witness statements, was computerised for the first time. The review uncovered many leads and brought to light information that appeared to have not been pursued thoroughly enough in the original investigation, particularly the 1971 confession. Police returned to the property where the teenager alleged that he had committed the murder and questioned the owner’s son, who, contradicting his father, said that the cattle guard was “certainly” in place at the time and that he recalled a tubular gate as well as a track leading over a creek into the property.
On 23 March 2017, it was announced that a man had been arrested in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston at 1pm the previous day and was being extradited from Victoria; he was charged with Cheryl’s abduction and murder at Wollongong Police Station and was incarcerated at the Silverwater Correctional Complex. Police stated that it is unlikely that Cheryl’s body will ever be found as there has been substantial development of the once-rural area in the 47 years since the abduction
In May 2017, it was revealed that the suspect who was arrested in March was the same person that had confessed to Cheryl’s abduction and murder in 1971 and had been dismissed due to inconsistencies