Murder of Daniel Morcombe
|Date||7 December 2003|
Nambour Connection Road, Woombye, Queensland
Remains discovered near
Glass House Mountains, Queensland
|Convicted||Brett Peter Cowan|
Deprivation of liberty
Indecent treatment of a child under 16
Interfering with a corpse
|Publication bans||Lifted after parents' request|
Daniel James Morcombe (19 December 1989 – 7 December 2003) was an Australian boy, aged 13, who was abducted from the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, on 7 December 2003. In August 2011, Brett Peter Cowan (born 18 September 1969), a former Sunshine Coast resident, was charged with Morcombe's murder. In the same month, DNA tests confirmed bones, found in an area being searched by the State Emergency Service (SES) under the guidance of the police, were Morcombe's. On 13 March 2014, Cowan was found guilty of the murder, and was sentenced to life imprisonment for indecently dealing with a child and interference with a corpse. He will be eligible for parole in August 2031.
Abduction and murder
Morcombe was abducted from an unofficial bus stop under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass in the Woombye district of the Sunshine Coast approximately 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north of The Big Pineapple on Sunday, 7 December 2003. Morcombe planned to catch the 1:35 pm bus to the Sunshine Plaza Shopping Centre for a haircut and to buy Christmas presents for his family, but he failed to return.
Witnesses reported seeing Morcombe at approximately 2:10 pm on the Nambour Connection Road under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass. The bus he was supposed to catch had broken down a few kilometres before his stop, and was behind schedule. When a replacement bus eventually arrived, Morcombe hailed the bus, but it carried on without stopping, due to its delay and the fact that his stop was only an unofficial request stop. The driver of the bus radioed the depot for another bus to go and pick up Daniel. The bus driver and other witnesses later reported seeing a man standing a distance behind Morcombe and another man slightly further away at the time. When the second bus came a couple of minutes later, Morcombe and the man had both gone.
Morcombe owned a distinctive fob style pocket watch with "dan" engraved on it, which has not been found.
The death of Daniel Morcombe was one of the most extensively investigated crimes in Queensland's history. As of 12 December 2008, a total reward of A$1,000,000 ($250,000 from the Government and another $750,000 donated privately) had been offered. The privately donated portion of the reward expired at midnight on 31 May 2009. On this day, the Seven Network reported that a known paedophile (identified by the media as Douglas Jackway) could be of interest to the police. Jackway had been released from prison in 2003, one month before Morcombe's disappearance.
By early 2009, the investigation had seemingly run out of leads, but in May a full-size clay model of the man believed to be involved in Morcombe's abduction was placed at the spot where Morcombe disappeared. Within a few days there were more than 300 tip-offs. In June 2009, the Queensland Government came under criticism from Parliament over the release of Jackway from prison. One MP claimed the Supreme Court had presented clear evidence of his risk of reoffending. This publicity also prompted civil liberties groups to call for laws banning media outlets from naming people linked to criminal cases. In July 2009, the parents of Morcombe called for a coronial inquest in the hope of finding answers to their son's abduction and murder. The Morcombes said that after 5½ years, it was time for an inquest. Of particular interest to the family were several criminals who had told police they know who killed Morcombe and where his body was buried. A coronial inquest was held beginning in October 2010 and concluding in April 2011. The inquest called as witnesses the bus driver who had failed to stop for Daniel Morcombe at the Kiel Overpass location where he was waiting, a woman who had seen a man loitering near Daniel Morcombe, and several persons of interest.
Murder charge: Brett Peter Cowan
Brett Peter Cowan was born in Bunbury, Western Australia, to Marlene, a homemaker, and Peter Cowan, who was a Vietnam veteran, on 18 September 1969. He grew up in the Brisbane suburb of Everton Park, where acquaintances described him as an "ordinary guy" with few hobbies or social interests who "seemed alright". The Cowans led a strict household — his three brothers and Brett Cowan attended Marcellin College, now known as Mt Maria College, a Catholic high school in northside Brisbane. He dropped out in year ten and began working odd jobs throughout his late teens. He was a habitual drug user, who first tried marijuana at the age of eleven and regularly used amphetamines, cocaine and LSD.
Cowan's first molestation conviction came at the age of 18, on 5 December 1987, when he was charged with molesting a seven-year-old. Cowan had been performing community service at a park when he lured the child into a public toilet. He was charged in 1989 and served three years in prison. On 28 September 1993, he raped a six-year-old child outside a Darwin caravan park, leaving him seriously injured in an abandoned car in the bush. Cowan was sentenced to seven years in prison and served four and a half years of his total sentence. After his release, he moved to the Sunshine Coast with his pastor aunt and uncle, becoming a reformed Christian and regularly attending church. He married Tracey Moncrieff in 1999 and the couple had a son before divorcing in 2004. Cowan was living in the town of Beerwah around the time of Morcombe's disappearance. Early on in the investigation, Cowan became a suspect due to his criminal history and his proximity to the area in which Morcombe was last seen.
On 13 August 2011, Cowan was taken into custody and charged with Morcombe's murder and other offences, including child stealing, deprivation of liberty, indecent treatment of a child under 16, and interfering with a corpse. In 2006, Cowan had admitted to police that he travelled the road from which Morcombe disappeared on the same day of his disappearance, on his way to purchase marijuana from a drug dealer. Around this time, a white Mitsubishi Pajero was seized from a property on Russell Island. The vehicle was believed to have been involved in Morcombe's abduction after a witness at the coronial inquest in April 2011 reported seeing a vehicle of similar description parked 100 metres (330 ft) north of the site where Morcombe was last seen.
On 21 August 2011, two shoes and three human bones were found at a search site at Glass House Mountains. Forensic testing confirmed that the bones were Morcombe's. The shoes were similar to the ones that Morcombe was wearing when he disappeared. Underpants and a belt were also found. By the end of the investigation, seventeen bones had been found, including a rib, hip, leg, arm and vertebrae. They were all confirmed as belonging to Morcombe using DNA from his toothbrush to make the match. As a result of the find, Morcombe's funeral was held at Siena Catholic College on 7 December 2012. More than 2000 people attended it.
On 7 February 2014, Brett Peter Cowan was ordered to stand trial. He was charged with murder, indecently dealing with a child under the age of 16 and improperly dealing with a corpse. The trial, at the Supreme Court of Queensland, began on 10 February 2014 under Justice Roslyn Atkinson. The prosecution closed its case on 7 March. 116 witnesses gave evidence and over 200 exhibits were tendered in evidence. Cowan pleaded not guilty and declined to give evidence.
On 13 March 2014, Cowan was found guilty of all charges. Cowan had two previous convictions for child sex offences. On 14 March 2014, he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years. He was also sentenced to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment for indecently dealing with Morcombe and two years for interfering with his corpse, those sentences to be served concurrently. Judge Roslyn Atkinson said "I don't think you should be released in 20 years time" which could affect Cowan's prison term. Cowan appealed his sentence to the Queensland Court of Appeal, under Justice Margaret McMurdo, seeking to have his conviction overturned. His legal team argued "... that the confession elicited through an undercover sting by police was inadmissible as evidence at trial". On 21 May 2015 Cowan's appeal was dismissed. The former Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie had appealed to have Cowan's 20-year minimum sentence increased. This was also dismissed.
The Daniel Morcombe Foundation
The Morcombe family started the "Daniel Morcombe Foundation", and put its resources into keeping Morcombe's disappearance in the public eye and trying to find out what happened to their son. The foundation is committed to educating children about personal safety and to raising awareness throughout Australia of the dangers of predatory criminals. These efforts are supported by the Australian media, especially on each anniversary of Morcombe's disappearance when a "Day for Daniel" is held to promote awareness of the vulnerability of children. An accompanying event is the "Ride for Daniel", which covers 50 km of the Sunshine Coast, held each year since 2005.
In 2015, Bruce Morcombe spoke to the family of another missing child, William Tyrrell, and warned them that psychics would descend on them with "bizarre and offbeat ... distracting information". He called it distressing and said that although they received hundreds of leads telling them that there was a "shed or a water tank", none were of any help, but still couldn't be ignored in case they included a "disguised confession". Capturing data from CCTV and ATM cameras was more helpful, as once the police have a person of interest it may help disprove an alibi. Morcombe's advice was to "remain positive, that's all you can do, the police will be working hard, they want to solve it as well".
Morcombe's murder was the focus of the Crime Investigation Australia season 1 episode "Tears for Daniel" aired in 2005. A film based on Morcombe's murder, titled Where is Daniel?, was planned. Directed by Peter Cousens and cinematography by Dean Cundey, the film was being backed by a Kickstarter campaign, which began in July 2016. The campaign failed and there has been no information on the future of the film since the Kickstarter failed.
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