It was from Colley Reserve on Adelaide’s Glenelg Beach on Australia Day, 1966, that the Beaumont children – Jane (9), Arnna (7) and Grant (4) – went missing, never to be seen again. Their disappearance is one of Australia’s most famous and puzzling unsolved mysteries that became a potent symbol of Australia’s supposed end of innocence.
None can truly understand what Nancy and Jim Beaumont must have felt in those first days immediately after their three young children disappeared. Nor, for that matter, what they must have suffered through all the subsequent years.
The Beaumont children went missing more than forty years ago. For some of us who remember the drama as it unfolded it is hard to believe such a long period of time has passed. Harder still to accept that the mystery will probably now never be solved!
To lose one child, as many parents have done, through illness, injury and, even occasionally, abduction, is a traumatic event for any parent. We have had a number of such cases in recent times. But to lose three children – the only three children one has – must surely be an event beyond ordinary grief.
It was undoubtedly one of the most horrifying cases Australia has ever collectively experienced. True, children had disappeared before, had been abducted, abused, murdered, but child-abduction was until then a fairly rare event in our country. It was, however, to become more common in the years since the tragic Beaumont case.
It was a scorchingly hot day in mid-summer, Australia Day, when the three youngsters – two girls, Jane, 9, and Arnna,7, and their young brother, Grant, 4, disappeared forever from the comfortable home life they had known. Now many disappearing children are not necessarily abducted. They go wandering in the bush and are lost or are taken by a disaffected parent in a marriage break-up. They might even be raped and then murdered; their battered bodies being found in time. All these possibilities were considered carefully by police. They were, after all, the first obvious lines of investigation to follow.
But it soon became apparent that this was a different case, one of abduction, plain and simple, the motive only ever to be guessed at. And such a sensational case soon attracted notice around the world.
It was from a busy suburban swimming spot, Glenelg Beach in South Australia, that three little kiddies vanished forever on Wednesday, January 26, 1966. They had been sent on the local bus by their mother, Mrs Nancy Beaumont, travelling alone from their home in Harding Street, Somerton Park, to Glenelg Beach, just a short 5 minute bus ride away, on a very hot (39 degrees C.) day. It was just after 10 am when their mother last saw them walking up to the corner of Diagonal Road to catch the bus. They turned and waved to her as they reached the corner. A terrible memory for a mother!
The fact that they were alone was not considered unusual at that time. Child abduction was then an almost unheard-of crime in Australia. The bus-driver knew them and they were good, reliable children who could be trusted to take care on the beach and return home when they should. As it happened the children had been given bicycles for Christmas but Mrs Beaumont felt it would be safer if they went by bus to the beach. They were a family keen on cycling. While the kiddies were away at the beach Nancy Beaumont had actually used her own cycle to visit a friend.
The mother expected the trio to return on the midday bus but when it arrived near the home they were not on board. They must have been enjoying themselves, she thought, and had over-stayed their time and would certainly be on the next bus. No particular concern. Friends called on the mother and time passed.
By 2pm, when the next bus was due, Mrs Beaumont was merely a trifle agitated, nothing more. But when that bus came and went and the youngsters were not on board, she started to become really alarmed, as any mother would. The older girl, Jane, was very reliable and intelligent and always took care of her younger brother and sister. As an indication of the type of child Jane was Mrs Beaumont later produced a letter she had kept, intending to show Jane when she had grown into womanhood.
The letter had been left out for the parents one night, not long before the disappearance. They had been away from the home and returned at 9 pm to find this note:
Dear Mum and Dad,
I am just about to go to bed and the time is 9. I have put Grant’s nappy on so there is no need to worry about him wetting on the sheet. Grant wanted to sleep in his own bed so one of you will have to sleep with Arnna. Although you will not find the rooms in very good condition I hope you will find them as comfortable as we do. Good night to you both.
PS I hope you had a very nice time wherever you went.
PPS I hope you don’t mind me taking your radio into my room Daddy.
The letter shows a lively intelligence and is quite a remarkably mature effort for a child aged 9. It was to become a sad memento for the parents. All the more reason for being concerned; Jane was a good girl and should certainly have returned home by now. At first Mrs Beaumont reasoned that they must have spent their bus money and were walking home. But there were three possible routes, which made her hesitate to try to meet them along the way.
However when further time passed Mrs Beaumont experienced the growing realization that something had gone terribly wrong. The arrival of the 3pm bus, also minus the children, sealed the matter. It was to be the beginning of a nightmare for the two parents, and one that has haunted every parent in the country ever since. It was as if in the year 1966, in the month of January, Australian children were suddenly no longer safe in the streets. Immediate inquiries among friends, neighbours and family produced no clues. Nobody who would have known the children, including the bus drivers, had seen them after they left the bus at the beach. Mr Munro, the driver of the morning bus, picked them up at 10.10 am, he said, and saw them off at the beach soon after.
By mid-afternoon Mrs Beaumont’s husband, Grant, known usually as Jim, a wine or linen-goods salesman (different accounts give different occupations), returned from a country run and joined in the search. He cruised about the beachfront and the nearby streets to no avail. Meanwhile Glenelg police had been informed and were soon on the job.
An enormous search was mounted by police. Throughout the first night police and family wearily tried every possible avenue. Soon radio, TV and press had flashed the news to the public at large. It was a dramatic story and the result was that on the next day a large army of volunteers joined in the search. Included were forty cabbies from the Suburban Taxi Service. The beaches and sandhills for miles around the area were combed thoroughly. Even where there was the slightest suspicion that a sandhill might have caved in, the area was dug out. Boats ran up and down the coast, prying into every inlet. Schools were at this time still closed for the holidays and local school-grounds and other areas were searched, as well as old huts and buildings, but not a clue emerged.
Through the following days and weeks police and citizens failed to find any trace of the three children. Not one item of clothing, even a discarded sandal or handkerchief, ever appeared. No physical clues at all were ever found, although the search for clues was extensive and thorough. At the time the children disappeared they wore swimsuits and shorts. Jane wore white sandshoes, Arnna and Grant wore sandals. Jane had with her a green airways bag. This contained the children’s towels. But the children had not gone completely unnoticed. There were several sightings reported to police and every scrap of information was collated hungrily by the investigators.
One report above all others was the most important. During the morning of their disappearance they were seen with a tall thin man in blue swimming trunks. An elderly lady had been sitting on a park bench near the beach and had watched the children skylarking on the lawn area. She described the scene she had witnessed when she saw the children showering under the lawn sprinklers. The time, she said, was about 11 am. Her description of what they wore was accurate so police believed she had indeed seen the three. And their mother told police that the children usually ran under the sprinklers after being on the beach. It all certainly added up. But the rest of the lady’s story was the chilling part. She had watched the children run up to the man, who was lying on a towel. They had jumped over him playfully and flicked him with their towels.
The man on the lawn was described as being tall, about 5’10” to 6′ in height. He had blonde hair, was of slim athletic build, and aged, the lady thought, between about 35 and 40. He had what she described as a longish face and wore blue swimming trunks. It was a very useful description, one of the best any police force could wish for, although regrettably in the end it was to lead nowhere. Another lady had seen both the elderly woman herself and the man and children. When she saw the latter the children were trailing behind the man. Then he approached her and two people she was sitting with and asked had they seen anyone ‘mucking about’ with his clothing, as he had lost some money. Ominously, the children seemed very friendly with the man who at one stage helped the oldest girl pull her green shorts over her swimming costume. They were last seen going off with him, disappearing behind the nearby Glenelg Hotel.
The next sighting reported was at about noon. This was a significant one, too, for the eldest child had offered a £1 note ($2) to a female shop-assistant when buying some cakes at a shop near the bus stop. Jane certainly did not have this sort of money with her when she left home but only 6/- (60 cents). It seems almost certain that the man at the beach had given her the note to use and that he was the children’s abductor. But if this is the case the very last and certain sighting added even further to the growing mystery.
It was obvious that they either knew this sun-baking man from previous encounters or had at least become friendly with him during that morning and he had no doubt supplied them with the £1 note. Certainly their actions with him indicate a degree of friendship. It would be reasonable now to assume they had, some time after noon, gone off with the stranger. However, the man and the children still seemed to be around the area towards 2 pm as they were seen again by a male tourist visiting the area from Broken Hill and he reckoned this was close to 2 pm.
But the last reported sighting only added to the puzzle. For the children were seen yet again – at nearly 3 pm, well beyond the time when they should have been back home, and they were not travelling on a bus but walking away from the beach and towards their home at Somerton Park. And they were alone! There was nobody with them then. Now this report might be doubted except for one important fact. It came from a very reliable witness, the local postman, Mr Patterson, who knew the children well. He said he had definitely passed them walking at 3pm and they certainly had nobody with them then.
If we assume that this sighting was a positive one, and it seems more than reasonable that we should do so, then the unknown man, if he was indeed their abductor, must have waited until they had left the beach and followed them, presumably by car, offering them a lift when he caught up with them. Why were they walking anyway? Had all the money gone? And if the stranger was on such friendly terms with the kiddies that they trusted him it is difficult to understand why he had not taken them from the beach itself. One possible explanation is that he thought the risk of being noticed was greater at the beach. There were hundreds of people out and about on that hot summer day. Glenelg was a very popular beach.
But it is also curious that the man did nothing to hide his friendship with the children from various people at the beach. Hardly the actions of someone intending to perpetrate an abduction! Was he an innocent party, who befriended the children, then parted company with them. Did someone else abduct them as they walked towards their home? But if the man was innocent of any wrong intentions why did he not come forward when the case exploded into the public arena? The Questions never end.
As the weary days passed there were many false leads. Two days after that fateful date Mrs Beaumont virtually collapsed from the strain and was kept under sedation in a darkened room while the search went on. (It hardly needs saying that both parents were considered by police to be completely innocent of any involvement in the disappearance of their children.) Within a week of the abduction police had received over 1,000 reports, most leading nowhere. They door-knocked extensively, interviewing the people in every home in the area. Rewards were offered. The government offered $6,000, another $5,000 was added by Melbourne newspaper,The Truth.
After the initial sightings, about the only report that seemed to have any possibilities came far too late to be of use. Months after their disappearance a woman living in Malvern, a suburb only 8 km from the children’s home, told police that on the night they disappeared she saw a man and three children enter a house she believed to be vacant. Later she saw a small boy walking down the side lane. A man suddenly appeared and snatched him up, pulled him inside and closed the door. The next morning all four had disappeared again. Why the observer had taken so long to tell police is not known.
Police carefully checked out every possible way in which the children could have disappeared. After a careful examination of the beachfront they ruled out the possibility that the children had been buried under sandhills or had been caught in drainage outfalls. If they had been swept into the sea and drowned their bodies would have eventually been washed back on shore, or at least one or two of them would have. More importantly, some or all of their towels, the bag and footwear would have been left on the beach. Altogether there were about 15 or 16 possible items involved.
A 70-acre boat haven, Patawalonga, near Glenelg was even drained and police cadets waded through the slime but nothing was found. Theories abounded, some people even suggesting that a flying saucer (then the craze of the day) had whisked the kiddies away for experimentation! The police treated all such ideas with the scorn they deserved.
Among many suggestions aired in public a retired Adelaide doctor did come up with one useful theory. He suggested that while everyone was looking for three children together, their abductor might well have separated them and sold them to people in different places; if child trading was involved, which was quite possibly so. Thus only one small strange child would be noticed in any one place. And in the case of the younger children especially, they were of an age that they might soon forget their real parents, given the right brain-washing (perhaps being told their parents were seriously ill or even dead, for example). That this is feasible was seen in recent times in the case of an American boy, Steven Stayner.
Steven was a 7-year-old boy living with his parents and three brothers and sisters when he was waylaid on his way home from school by a self-styled preacher, Kenneth Parnell. No physical force was used, the glib tongue of the man (with some help from an accomplice) managing eventually through a clever brainwashing process to persuade the boy that his family no longer wanted him. In time Steven was forced to use a new name, now being known as Dennis Gregory Parnell, and actually sent to school. Outwardly the boy appeared to be the adopted son of the preacher, whose wife was said to have died. The doctor’s theory was a useful one but would, like so many others, unfortunately lead nowhere. The children were still not found.
So desperate for news were the parents that Mr Beaumont stated publicly he would sell up his home and pay the proceeds as ransom if his children were returned. But this did not appear to be a kidnapping case; no demands were made, just dreadful silence was all that the distraught parents experienced. Certainly, as a result of all the publicity, the Beaumonts received many phone calls, some nice ones from well-wishers but others from cranks and crackpots and even from people abusing them.
As time passed about the only other significant clues came from a mystery green utility that was sighted from time to time by people in Victoria. It was variously reported from several Victorian country towns and was also seen in Dandenong, out of Melbourne, and later in Albury on the border. Each time a man was seen driving it, accompanied by three young children – two girls and a boy. The vehicle was rather old, a 1953 or 1954 model, The last such sighting was at Violet Town, about 170 km from Melbourne, on July 16, 1967. But nobody was able to actually pin down the sightings further so that police could check.
From time to time Adelaide police were bothered by clairvoyants and mystics who claimed they knew where to find the children. None, however, produced them. Then some people contacted famous Dutch clairvoyant Gerard Croiset. Croiset at first worked from Holland and the Adelaide people relayed information about the disappearance to him through interpreters (as he neither spoke nor understood English) His Adelaide followers even hired a helicopter to take photographs of the Glenelg beachfront area and these, with other information, prints and press clippings about the case, were sent to the clairvoyant.
Croiset, then 58, received suitable visions and relayed these to his Australian followers, who then carried out his instructions to dig here, there and everywhere. His suggestions kept changing. The believers even attempted, at his suggestion, to flush out a one-and-a-half km concrete drainpipe that had become blocked. The blockage remained; then it was discovered that the same drainpipe had not been blocked and had been completely checked out by police in the earlier searches! Again, at his suggestion, they employed a bulldozer to shift tonnes of sand from the grounds of an institution for retarded children, Minda Home, Somerton. But Croiset’s visions seemed continually to fail him.
Unfazed by these setbacks, Croiset eventually arrived in Adelaide in person, accompanied by a fanfare of publicity, where the discredited clairvoyant curiously received a tumultuous welcome from press and public. It was claimed that the welcome was as great as that given to the Beatles. But the crowds were to be disappointed again. Croiset was ‘certain’ he knew where children were buried They had, he claimed, been trapped in a fall of sand, according to his ‘visions.’ He had seen them in some sort of pit and a ‘cube-shaped house’ and then saw them buried under sand. There followed what can only be described as an amazing charade. And a cruel one for the ever-hopeful parents. The morning after his arrival, starting out at 9 am armed with a sketch pad, camera and tape-recorder, Croiset led a party on his search.
Two days later, after going through all manner of ever-changing activities, including dramatic episodes where he ‘felt ill’ (a sign, he said, of being close to a place where there had been a tragedy!) Croiset failed to produce anything. Although he did give waiting reporters one titillating bit of information; back in Holland, he said, he had seen Jane removing her underclothes in a bunker; sure sign of a sex crime. And that would have been the end of the matter, except that Croiset managed to come up with one last dramatic attempt to prove himself.
A woman had phoned him saying she heard children’s voices outside her home on the night they disappeared. This was enough. Croiset sprang into action and, forgetting his previous vision of a sandpit burial, pointed to a new food warehouse that had just been built near where the lady lived in the suburb of Paringa Park. The children were buried under the concrete floor, about 2 to 3 metres down! It was definite, he said.
Croiset said he thought the children had been late leaving the beach and were too afraid to go home so had sheltered in a hole on the site of what was then an old brick factory. They had, according to his vision, pulled a plank over them and then the sides of the hole had caved in. Jane’s earlier experience in the bunker seemed to be forgotten in this latest version of Croiset’s imaginings. But the man was not waiting to find out if he was right. He was off again, flying out to America on another case, leaving his Adelaide supporters to decide what to do next.
Now an agitation arose to dig up the floor. The building’s owners said it would cost $7,000 to replace. The government wisely refused to employ public moneys in such a crazy venture, even although under great pressure to do so. However, in spite of his failings there were still Croiset believers around and a committee of citizens was formed who eventually raised the money. Not before being informed that Croiset had told someone he had been looking for a way out when he nominated the warehouse. But nothing could stop the believers. A wall of the factory was knocked down and the floor was dug up – and, needless to say, no bodies were found.
The police, meanwhile, had a more practical approach to their work. They prepared effigies of the three kiddies, dressing them in garments such as they had been wearing when last seen. They also prepared a sketch of the man wanted for questioning. These exhibits were displayed in agricultural and other shows held around Australia. Reportedly more than 200,000 people saw the exhibit in the Sydney and Melbourne Royal shows alone. But no further clues were forthcoming.
The Beaumont case was surrounded with mysteries. Such a dramatic disappearance obviously played on the minds of many very susceptible people and rumours were rife. For example, at one point in Tasmania a man was overheard in a conversation that seemed to imply some connection with the Beaumont case and Adelaide. Police were, however, unable to locate him for questioning. Also from Tasmania came rumours that the religious sect known as the Exclusive Brethren were keeping the children captive in a remote and rugged part of the country. But this group, with origins back a couple of hundred years ago in England, being very secretive and ‘exclusive’ by nature, is ever subject to wild accusations, usually unfounded.
In Victoria, apart from the sightings of the green utility, there was another curious episode. In September of the same year the children disappeared, Police Senior-Constable Grose was on duty in Kaniva, about 400 km west of Melbourne, when he picked up his phone one day and found himself with a crossed line. Two women were talking and he thought one said to the other that she had ‘just brought the Beaumonts from Tasmania.’
Detectives and PMG (now Telecom) technicians flew into action but eventually the Victoria Police decided it was a false trail, although their South Australian counterparts thought otherwise. One of the women heard the report and came forward; it seemed the two had been discussing the Beaumont children’s disappearance and then went on to mention some other children who were being brought home from Hobart. It was certainly a case of crossed wires.
Some two years after the children disappeared mysterious letters, apparently written by Jane, arrived at her home. Were they genuine? Because of the sensitive nature of the situation little was disclosed in public when the first letter arrived. It resulted in an abortive trip by Mr Jim Beaumont with Detective Stanley Swain, who had been working on the case, apparently to meet the abductor. The trip received unwanted press publicity and nothing came of it. Apparently the abductor, if he was indeed involved, got cold feet.
A second letter arrived soon afterwards. It read:
Dear Mum and Dad,
We had a really beautiful lunch today. We had some turk(e)y and a lot of vegetables. They tasted really nice. The man is feeding us really well. The man took us to see the Sound of Music yesterday. Little Grant fell asleep in it though. He could not understand it. The man was very disappointed that you brought all those policemen with you. He knew all the time that they were there, he says that is why he sent the message to go across the street so that it would disturb the positions of the policemen. The man said that I had better stop now, so I will. Grant and Arnna send you their love.
Love Jane, Arnna and Grant. xxxxxxxxx.
At the time a great deal of controversy resulted from these letters. The family identified the writing as that of Jane and there certainly seems to be a sort of genuineness in the way it is phrased. Police were, however, skeptical. Perhaps nobody will ever know for sure as the second letter was the last. Silence has reigned ever since.
Seven years after the Beaumont’s disappearance, at a football match at the Adelaide Oval, two young girls went to the bathroom and their parents never saw them again. A ticket booth attendant said that a man got the girls’ attention by telling them he was trying to rescue a cat trapped under a stand. At some point, he apparently grabbed the younger girl and picked her up. A witness saw a man walking away carrying the younger girl, while the 11 year old was behind him, hitting and kicking him. The witness told police he almost called them, but diecided not to. The girls’ father went looking for them, but it was too late. The suspect was a man about 41-45 years old. He was a dead ringer for the suspect in the Beaumont case, pointing to the same man having committed both crimes.
In 1985 a couple told a Perth newspaper that they had lived next door to the Beaumont children in Reid, WA, but it turned out after checking that the children next to them were not the Beaumonts. In 1986 a suitcase full of press clippings about the children was found on rubbish tip. This turned out to be another dead end, having been collected by an elderly eccentric lady. In 1989 it was suggested that Bevan Spencer von Einem, already in jail for killing a teenage boy, had taken the children and conducted medical experiments on them, as well as taking Joanne Ratcliffe,11, and Kirste Gordon, 4, who disappeared from a football match in 1973. A jail inmate reported on conversations he had with von Einem. But later any charges were dropped by the Crown.
Yet again, on 29th May 1992, Adelaide Police announced that as a result of advances in forensic science in the intervening years, they were currently following up a lead in Melbourne. They were interviewing a man there who would have been aged 15 at the time of the disappearances. New technology has brought to light a certain clue that had remained buried through the years, but they emphasized that this was ‘peripheral’ to the main evidence.
Members of a South Australian family told Foxtel’s Crime and Investigation network in a documentary aired in April 2007 that they believed their father, who was a member of a 1960s pedophile ring, was involved in the abduction of the Beaumont children. The family, who have made statements to the police but declined to be identified, says they saw three children in the boot of their father’s car the day they disappeared in the Adelaide beach suburb of Glenelg in 1966. They defended their silence on Australia’s most enduring unsolved mystery, saying they grew up in an environment of fear, trauma and sexual abuse themselves. It was difficult as a child, I could never do anything about my position. Who was I going to tell I always felt I was putting other people at risk. I think you have to grow up in a family and have that much trauma and abuse … I can’t explain why it’s taken so long,” one family member said. Retired detective superintendent Mike Hagan said the claims were credible, according to a report in The Advertiser newspaper.
Left: identikit sketch of the suspect. Right: a 1969 police mugshot of Derek Ernest Percy
On 22nd April 2007, a report in The Age suggested that the Beaumont children may have been killed by one, Derek Percy. Suspected serial killer Percy, who abducted and murdered 12-year-old Yvonne Tuohy in 1969, died in prison in July 2013 without making the death-bed confession the families of up to eight other victims had hoped for. Percy told a police officer after his arrest that he’d had “sordid thoughts” towards children while visiting beaches in the past, and agreed that he might have acted on his urges had the children been alone. The Age alleged he is a likely suspect for a number of unsolved child murders, including the Beaumont children. His insanity plea in the Tuohy murder is at least partly based on his suffering a psychological condition that can prevent him remembering details of his actions. On 30th August 2007 Victorian Police successfully applied for permission to question Derek Percy in relation to the Beaumont children disappearance. Their evidence, which includes Percy having maps of where some incidents occurred, was discovered in a cold-case investigation into the disappearance of Linda Stilwell, 7, from inner Melbourne’s St Kilda Beach in 1968. Percy is supposed to have indicated that he believes he might have killed the Beaumont children, as he was in the area at the time, but he has no recollection of actually doing so.
In 2016, South Australian Police identified a 71-year-old former Adelaide scout leader as a person of interest in the Beaumont mystery. Millionaire bar owner and convicted paedophile Anthony Munro had pleaded guilty to child sex offences in South Australia going back to 1962 – four years before the Beaumonts vanished. Police interviewed Munro in 2016 June about Australia’s greatest child mystery. Police believe Munro was in Adelaide around the time when the Beaumont children vanished, but they found no evidence linking him to their disappearance. Munro, who is also wanted in Cambodia for questioning over alleged child sex offences, is a former resident of the beachside suburb of Glenelg.
Allan ‘Max’ McIntyre, a family friend of Munro, has been linked to the disappearance of the Beaumont children. After his death in June 2017, his son Andrew McIntyre, spoke publicly about how his father and Munro were at Glenelg beach around the time of the Beaumont’s disappearnce and believes his father and Munro were involved in the Beaumonts’ disappearance. Police have previously said there is no evidence linking Max McIntyre and Munro to the high-profile disappearance of the children.
But still the mystery remains in spite of every effort to trace the children in one of the saddest cases in Australian criminal history. It now seems almost certain the mystery will never be unravelled and the abductor of the three Beaumont children will remain undiscovered and unpunished.