A potential new witness has claimed he saw a teenage boy carrying away a “shrieking” small child from an Australian beach on the day a three-year-old vanished.
Cheryl Grimmer disappeared from outside a shower block while with her mother and three older brothers at Fairy Meadow Beach in NSW on January 12 in 1970.
Police believe she was abducted and murdered but the 53-year-old mystery has never been solved. Her family had recently migrated to Fairy Meadow in New South Wales from the UK.
In a new episode of the BBC’s true crime podcast Fairy Meadow, the man, who asked to remain anonymous, gave a detailed description of seeing an adolescent male leaving the female changing rooms at the beach on the outskirts of Wollongong, about 80kms south of Sydney.
“When I glanced back at the toilet block, the profile of the guy was sort of full-stride with this baby in his arm, just kind of screaming and yelling at his hip, like low on his hip.
“He said the teenage boy had medium-dark hair, short back and sides and was of average build.”
A Coronial Inquest conducted in 2011 found Cheryl had died but her cause and manner of death remained undetermined. Her body has never been located.
“I heard this screaming of the kid. That’s what caught my ear. What was that shrieking sound? I turned around and that’s what I saw.”
The man, who had only just arrived in Australia from eastern Europe and had not yet learned English, said that he did not tell police at the time what he had seen because he did not realise that a child had been abducted, the BBC reports.
“We had only been in the country for three or four weeks. We didn’t have a TV and we never read the newspapers at that time. We were oblivious to what was really going on,” he said.
“It wasn’t even on my radar that it was such an important thing that I saw.”
New South Wales Police have made contact with the man in the past few days, according to the BBC.
The Coroner recommended the investigation be referred to police for further investigation.
In 2012, a reinvestigation was conducted by Wollongong Police District under Strike Force Wessel.
Following a major crime review in 2019, the case will be moved to the Homicide Squad’s Unsolved Homicide Unit for potential further reinvestigation.
Cheryl’s disappearance sparked a massive manhunt and the army was brought in to help, but there was no sign of her.
A few people reported seeing a young man with a toddler, but there were no leads.
In 2016, Wollongong detective Frank Sanvitale was handed a cold case and asked to look into it. It was a case he knew well, as most people in the Illawarra region did.
“I knew how old the case was I’m like a dog with a bone and when I picked it up I couldn’t let it go,” he said.
He teamed up with fellow detective Damian Loone and they went through boxes of material, which included a dusty confession from 1971.
It was made by a 17-year-old runaway who came forward to confess to the abduction and murder of Cheryl.
“I come around the front of the pavilion behind her and grabbed her,” the man told police at the time.
“There was some bloke sitting on the wall in front of the pavilion so I had to put my hand over her mouth to stop her screaming because if she had of screamed he would have heard it.
“I went over the big drain and stayed in the scrub area and got near a creek near the main road. I tied a handkerchief and a shoelace around her mouth to stop her screaming and with the other shoelace I tied up her hands.
“I was going to have sexual intercourse with her … she started to scream as soon as I took the gag off her.
“I put my hands around her throat and told her to shut up. I guess I must have strangled her. She stopped breathing and stopped crying and I thought she was dead, so I panicked and covered her up with bushes and run for it.”
After questioning, he was arrested and charged with Cheryl’s murder and extradited to New South Wales to appear in court.
The man, who cannot be identified, pleaded not guilty and was held on remand awaiting trial, scheduled for May this year.
But at a pre-trial hearing, his lawyers asked for the original confession to be thrown out, arguing it was inadmissable because it was given by a youth without a parent or guardian present.
At the time, it wasn’t a legal requirement for police to question a youth in the presence of a guardian or lawyer but a judge hearing the case agreed to apply it retrospectively.
The case was considered unwinnable without the confession and so it collapsed, with the man walking free.