Beaumont children disappearance
The Beaumont children were three siblings, Jane Nartare Beaumont (born 10 September 1956), Arnna Kathleen Beaumont (born 11 November 1958), and Grant Ellis Beaumont (born 12 July 1961), who disappeared from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide, South Australia, on Australia Day, 26 January 1966. At the time of their disappearance they were aged 9, 7 and 4 respectively.
Their case resulted in one of the largest police investigations in Australian criminal history and remains one of Australia's most infamous cold cases, even after fifty years. The huge attention given to this case, its significance in Australian criminal history, and the fact that the mystery of their disappearance has never been explained, has led to the story being regularly revisited by the press. It is also viewed by many social commentators as a significant event in the evolution of Australian society, with a large number of people changing the way they supervised their children daily.
- 1 Background
- 2 Police investigations
- 3 Parents
- 4 Possibly related cases
- 5 Primary suspects
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
The children lived with their parents Jim and Nancy Beaumont in a house at 109 Harding Street, Somerton Park, a suburb of Adelaide. Not far from their home was Glenelg, a popular beachside resort, that the children often visited. On 26 January 1966, the children took a five-minute bus journey from their home to the beach; they had taken a similar trip to the beach the day before. Jane, the eldest child, was considered responsible enough to care for the two younger siblings, and their parents were not concerned. They left home at 10 am and were expected to return home by 2 pm. Their parents became worried when they had not returned and called the police at 7:30 pm.
Children with a tall blond man
Police investigating the case found several witnesses who had seen the children near the beach in the company of a tall blond and thin-faced man with a sun-tanned complexion of thin to athletic build in his mid-30s. The children were playing with him and appeared relaxed and to be enjoying themselves. The man and the children were seen walking together as a group away from the beach some time later, which the police estimated to be around 12:15 pm. A shopkeeper reported Jane Beaumont had bought pasties and a meat pie with a A£1 note.
Police viewed this as further evidence that they had been with another person, for two reasons:
- The shopkeeper knew the children well from previous visits and reported that they had never purchased a meat pie before.
- The children's mother had given them only enough coins for their bus fare and food and had not given them a £1 note. Police believed it had been given to them by somebody else.
Last confirmed sighting and societal effects
At about 3 pm the children were seen walking alone, away from the beach, along Jetty Road, in the general direction of their home. The witness, a postman, knew the children well, and his statement was regarded as reliable. He said the children were "holding hands and laughing" in the main street. Police could not determine why the reliable children, already one hour late, were strolling alone and seemingly unconcerned. This was the last confirmed sighting of the children. It has been suggested that the postman was mistaken on the exact time he encountered the children, and that he actually met them before noon.
Mr and Mrs Beaumont described their children, particularly Jane, as shy. For them to be playing so confidently with a stranger seemed out of character. Investigators theorised that the children had perhaps met the man during a previous visit or visits and had grown to trust him. A chance remark at home, which seemed insignificant at the time, supports this theory. Arnna had told her mother that Jane had "got a boyfriend down the beach". Mrs Beaumont thought she meant a playmate and took no further notice until after the disappearance.
Several months later a woman reported that on the night of the disappearance a man, accompanied by two girls and a boy, entered a neighbouring house that she had believed empty. Later she had seen the boy walking alone along a lane where he was pursued and roughly caught by the man. The next morning the house appeared to be deserted again, and she saw neither the man nor the children again. Police could not establish why she had failed to provide this information earlier.
Sightings of the children were reported for about a year after their disappearance. The case attracted widespread attention in Australia and is widely credited with causing a change in many people's lifestyles. Parents began to believe that their children could no longer be presumed to be safe; earlier generations had routinely allowed their children the same freedoms the Beaumont children had enjoyed.
The case also attracted international attention. On 8 November 1966, Gerard Croiset, a parapsychologist and psychic from the Netherlands, was brought to Australia, causing a media frenzy. His search for the children proved unsuccessful, with his story changing from day to day and offering no clues. He identified a site in a warehouse near the children's home (and also near the Paringa Park Primary School attended by Jane and Arnna) in which he believed the children's bodies had been buried. At the time of their disappearance it had been a building site, and he said that he believed their bodies were buried under new concrete, inside the remains of an old brick kiln. The property owners, who were reluctant to excavate on the basis of a psychic's claim, soon bowed to public pressure after publicity raised $40,000 to have the building demolished. No remains, or any evidence linking to any of the Beaumont family, were found. Police established that between the three children they were carrying 17 individual items, including clothing, towels, and bags, but none of these items have ever been found.
In 1996, the building identified by Croiset was undergoing partial demolition and the owners allowed for a full search of the site. Once again no trace was found of the children.
About two years after the disappearance, the Beaumont parents received two letters supposedly written by Jane, and another by a man who said he was keeping the children. The envelopes showed a postmark of Dandenong, Victoria. The brief notes describe a relatively pleasant existence and refer to "The Man" who was keeping them. Police believed at the time that the letters could quite likely have been authentic after comparing them with others written by Jane. The letter from "The Man" said that he had appointed himself "guardian" of the children and was willing to hand them back to their parents. In the letter a meeting place was nominated.
Mr and Mrs Beaumont, followed by a detective, drove to the designated place but nobody appeared. It was some time later that a third letter, also purported to be from Jane, arrived. It said that the man had been willing to return them, but when he realised a disguised detective was also there, he decided that the Beaumonts had betrayed his trust and that he would keep the children. There were no further letters. In 1992, new forensic examinations of the letters showed they were a hoax. Fingerprint technology had improved and the author was identified as a 41-year-old man who had been a teenager at the time and had written the letters as a joke. Because of the time that had elapsed, he was not charged with any offence.
In November 2013, a factory in North Plympton was excavated following a tip about the Beaumont children. A ground-penetrating radar found "one small anomaly, which can indicate movement or objects within the soil", but the dig found no additional evidence and investigations into the site were closed.
As late as 19 January 2016 – only seven days before the case's fiftieth anniversary – South Australian police were following up on a lead into the Beaumont children's disappearance in which a telephone tip pointed to a suspect in the case. The caller was convinced that the person whom he was naming was the culprit. The claims are being investigated. Police said they had received 159 calls to Crime Stoppers over the preceding two years.
The Beaumonts received widespread sympathy from the Australian public. It was never publicly suggested that the children should not have been allowed to travel unsupervised, or that their parents were in any way negligent, simply because at that time in Australian society it was taken for granted that this was safe and acceptable.
They remained at their Somerton Park home for many years. Mrs Beaumont in particular held hope that the children would return and stated in interviews that it would be "dreadful" if the children returned home and did not find their parents waiting for them. Over many years, as new leads and new theories emerged, the Beaumonts co-operated fully in exploring every possibility, whether it was claims that the children had been abducted by a religious cult and were living variously in New Zealand, Melbourne, or Tasmania, or some clue that suggested a possible burial site for the children. Every search for their bodies failed to provide any further information. In recent years, the couple sold the home and moved away, and while the case remains open, the South Australian Police Force remains informed of the couple's address. The Beaumonts divorced and are living separately. They are reported to have accepted that the truth may never be discovered, and have resolved to live their final years away from the public attention that followed them for decades. They were devastated in 1990 when newspapers published computer-generated photographs of how Jane, Arnna, and Grant would have looked as adults. The pictures, published against their wishes (Nancy Beaumont refused to look at them), caused a huge backlash of public sympathy from a community which is still sensitive to their pain.
As of 2017, fifty-one years since the disappearance, Jim and Nancy Beaumont are aged 91 and 89 respectively.
Disappearance of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon
In 1973, two children, Joanne Ratcliffe (aged 11) and Kirste Gordon (aged 4), disappeared from the Adelaide Oval during a football match, and they are presumed to have been abducted and murdered. Joanne's parents and Kirste's grandmother had allowed the two girls to leave their group to go to the toilet. They were seen several times in the 90 minutes after leaving the Oval, apparently distressed and in the company of an unknown man, but they vanished after the last reported sighting. The police sketch of the man last seen with the two girls resembles that of the man last seen with the Beaumont children., but it is not a satisfactory identikit image.
The Family Murders
In 1979, the body of a young man was found in Adelaide. He was identified as Neil Muir (aged 25). His body was badly mutilated. In 1982, the mutilated body of Mark Langley (aged 18) was found. Before his death, he had been subjected to "surgery" — his abdomen had been sliced open, and had been shaved prior to this. Part of his bowel had been removed and Langley had died from loss of blood. Over the next few months more bodies were found. The dismembered skeletal remains of Peter Stogneff (aged 14) were found almost a year after his disappearance and Alan Barnes (aged 18) was found mutilated in a similar manner to Langley. A fifth victim, Richard Kelvin (aged 15), was found in 1983, once again with the same mutilations. Bevan Spencer von Einem was convicted of Kelvin's murder in 1984 and was charged with the murders of Barnes and Langley in 1989. However, the prosecution was forced to enter a nolle prosequi (unwilling to pursue) when crucial evidence was deemed inadmissible. These crimes have been known collectively as the Family Murders; police believe that a core group of four people and up to eight associates were involved in the murders. Testimony given during von Einem's trial alleged he was involved in both the Beaumont children disappearance and the abduction of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon.
Bevan Spencer von Einem
Bevan Spencer von Einem was a 37-year-old accountant who was sentenced to life in prison in 1984 for murdering 15-year-old Richard Kelvin, son of Adelaide newsreader Rob Kelvin. Police and prosecutors publicly stated that they believed von Einem had accomplices and was possibly involved in additional murders (see The Family Murders). About this same time, police came to suspect von Einem of possible involvement in the Beaumont children disappearance. No accomplices were ever charged. Von Einem has refused to co-operate with investigators about his possible connection with other murders.
During the investigation into von Einem, police heard from an informant identified only as "Mr B". He related an alleged conversation in which von Einem boasted of having taken three children from a beach several years earlier, and said he had taken them home to conduct "experiments". Von Einem had said that he performed "brilliant surgery" on each of them, and had "connected them up". One of the children had supposedly died during the procedure and so he had killed the other two and dumped all the bodies in bushland south of Adelaide. Police had not previously considered von Einem in connection with the Beaumont children, but he somewhat resembled the descriptions and police sketches from 1966.
According to Adelaide police detective Bob O'Brien, Mr B gave important information during the investigation into the Kelvin murder, and was regarded as a generally reliable source. However, police reception of the alleged confession was mixed. There were enough plausible details to warrant further research, yet other details relayed by Mr B did not fit with known facts and were regarded with skepticism by police. As of 2014, von Einem had not been ruled out as a suspect.
While von Einem was known to have frequented Glenelg Beach to "perv" on the changing rooms, and was described as preoccupied with children, what argues against his involvement in the Beaumont children disappearance is that he was younger than the suspect seen with the children in 1966 (the suspect was reported to be in his mid to late thirties, whereas Von Einem was 20 or 21 at the time). Another important distinction is that von Einem was convicted of murdering a 15 year old and suspected of killing men in their teens and twenties; victims older than the Beaumont children and the children who were abducted from the Adelaide Oval. Such disparities amongst victims of a serial killer are not unheard of, but unusual.
The reference to surgical experimentation he had purportedly made to Mr. B also corresponded to the coroner's reports on several of the murdered youths. Von Einem also told the witness that he had taken two girls from the Adelaide Oval during a football match. He said he had killed them but did not elaborate.
The cases of the Beaumont children and of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon remain officially open. However, Von Einem matches the police sketches of the suspect in both the Beaumont and Adelaide Oval cases and in 1989, he was identified as a suspect in a confidential police report.
On 11 August 2007, it was reported that police were examining archive footage from Channel 7 news network of the search for the Beaumont children that shows a young man resembling von Einem among onlookers. The report said that police were calling for information to establish the man's identity.
Arthur Stanley Brown
Another suspect was named in 1998 as Arthur Stanley Brown. Then 86, he was charged with the murders of sisters Judith (aged 7) and Susan (aged 5) Mackay in Townsville, Queensland. They disappeared while on their way to school on 26 August 1970, and their bodies were found several days later in a dry creek bed. Both girls had been strangled. Brown's July 2000 trial was delayed after his lawyer applied for a section 613 verdict (unfit to be tried) from the jury. He was never retried as he was found to be suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Brown died in 2002.
Along with von Einem, he is considered to be the best suspect for the Beaumont children abduction as he bore a striking similarity to an identikit picture of the suspect for both the Beaumont children and Adelaide Oval cases. A search for a connection to the Beaumonts was unsuccessful as no employment records existed that could shed light on his movements at the time. Some of the records were believed lost in the 1974 Brisbane flood and it is also possible that Brown, who had unrestricted access to government buildings, may have deleted his own files. Brown is considered a suspect for the Beaumont children disappearance, based on the connections that have been made between him and the Adelaide Oval abduction.
Although there is no proof that he had ever visited Adelaide, a witness recalled having a conversation with Brown in which he mentioned having seen the Adelaide Festival Centre nearing completion which places him in Adelaide in June 1973. The Oval abduction occurred on 25 August 1973. However, no evidence has ever been found to connect Brown with Adelaide in 1966 when the Beaumont children were abducted. Another witness, who reported seeing a man near the Oval carrying a young girl while another older girl in distress followed, later identified Brown as the man she had seen after seeing his picture on television in December 1998 in relation to the MacKay murders. The woman who identified the abductor as Brown first saw him for a single minute when aged 14, and then identified him as Brown 25 years later when she saw him as an 86-year-old on television. Brown's appearance, in fact, had barely changed, and he was still very much recognisable as the same person when compared to photographs of him taken 30 years earlier, which was a factor in identifying him as matching the sketch of the suspect in the Beaumont and Adelaide Oval abductions. Additionally, she had reported that the man was wearing a pair of horn rimmed glasses and Brown is known to have worn horn rimmed glasses, something considered by police to be another noteworthy point in the identification. Brown was 53 at the time of the Beaumont children's disappearance, which may or may not match the description of the suspect seen with the children, who was reported as being in his late thirties.
James Ryan O'Neill
In the early 1970s, James O'Neill, who was jailed for life in 1975 for the murder of a 9-year-old boy in Tasmania, had told a station owner in the Kimberley and several other acquaintances that he was responsible for the disappearance of the Beaumont children. In 2006, O'Neill lost an injunction in the High Court of Australia to stop the broadcast of a documentary The Fishermen which attempted to link O'Neill to the Beaumont children. The documentary aired in Australia on 26 October 2006 on the ABC.
Former Victorian detective Gordon Davie spent three years speaking to O'Neill to win his confidence before filming him for the documentary. Mr Davie said although there was no evidence to link O'Neill to the disappearance of the Beaumont children he was persuaded O'Neill was to blame. "I asked him about the Beaumonts and he said: 'I couldn't have done it. I was in Melbourne at that time.' That is not a denial." Later asked again if he had murdered the children, he replied "Look, on legal advice I am not going to say where I was or when I was there." Although O'Neill claims never to have visited Adelaide, his work in the opal industry at the time required that he frequently visit Coober Pedy and the roads to travel from Melbourne to Coober Pedy pass through Adelaide. Davie also suspected O'Neill was involved in the disappearance of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon in 1973. South Australian police have interviewed O'Neill and discounted him as a suspect in the Beaumont case.
Derek Ernest Percy
On 22 April 2007, a report in The Age suggested that the Beaumont children may have been killed by Derek Percy, Victoria's then longest-serving prisoner. Percy was in prison until his death in 2013, after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 1969 murder of Yvonne Tuohy. The Age alleged that evidence gathered by cold-case investigators indicated that he was a likely suspect for a number of unsolved child murders, including the Beaumont children. His insanity plea in the Tuohy murder was at least partly based on his suffering a psychological condition that could prevent him remembering details of his actions. He was supposed to have indicated that he believed he might have killed the Beaumont children, as he was in the area at the time, but he had no recollection of actually doing so. On 30 August 2007, Victorian Police successfully applied for permission to question Derek Percy in relation to the Beaumont children disappearance.
In 1966, Percy was 17 and therefore seems too young to have been the man seen with the Beaumont children by several witnesses. It is also unknown whether Percy would have had a car at that time, while the Beaumont children suspect is presumed by commentators to have had access to one for facilitating a quick getaway and also for disposing of the children's bodies later. Percy was in prison from 1969 until his death in 2013, which means that he could not have been the abductor in the Adelaide Oval case.
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
- Sodder children disappearance, after a house fire Christmas Eve 1945 in the U.S. state of West Virginia
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