A 63-year-old man has been charged with abduction and murder in a case which has haunted Australia for 47 years. In a chilling echo of the infamous missing Beaumont children case of 1966 in Adelaide, four years later 3-year-old Cheryl Grimmer vanished from Fairy Meadow Beach in Wollongong, New South Wales on 12 January 1970. While witnesses reported seeing a man running off with a small child wrapped in towel police were never able to identify any viable suspects and the case went cold.
The man, who was a minor at 16-years-old at the time of the toddler’s disappearance and has therefore not been named, was arrested in Melbourne after detectives reviewing the case followed up on leads which were not fully investigated in 1970. He is believed to now have a family of his own and was living just a few miles away from Cheryl’s older brother at the time of his arrest.
In an unexpected twist, a pre-trial hearing has revealed that this man confessed to police one year after Cheryl was abducted and told them where they could find her body. His admissions were dismissed by police when they did not match the evidence they had in the case and with a history of mental illness police were not convinced by his confession. It appears now, however, he may have been telling the truth all along.
On that January afternoon at the beach with her four children, Carole Grimmer was collecting their belongings ready to go home while the children were at the shower blocks nearby. Her oldest son, Ricki Grimmer, who was 7-years-old at the time, came over to tell her that Cheryl was refusing to come out of the shower area. They returned to the showers within minutes but Cheryl was gone. Police quickly concluded that the 3-year-old had been snatched and the person responsible most likely meant the child harm, something the Grimmer family found impossible to accept.
“A feeling of numbness took over my body for years as I waited for Cheryl to come home.”
The family had emigrated to Australia from Bristol, England in 1968, just two years before Cheryl was abducted. After Carole Grimmer alerted police her youngest child and only daughter had disappeared, a huge manhunt was launched in an effort to find her. Within days, the police received a ransom note demanding $10,000 for the return of Cheryl to her family unharmed, a note which the police believed was credible. Hope faded when the kidnapper did not show up at the agreed spot for the ransom drop and no further communications were received.
The media attention surrounding the case in the following years became so great that the family relocated back to the UK for a period of 10 years to try and raise their three boys, but they never lost hope that one day Cheryl would be found alive and reunited with them. Both Carole Grimmer and John Grimmer have now died without ever knowing what happened to their daughter.
Her brother, Ricki Grimmer, who was the last person to see Cheryl alive, has previously talked of his torment at not knowing what happened to his little sister in 1970. “There are still so many questions,” he says. “We still wonder if Cheryl was taken by a couple who lost their own child and raised her as their own”.
On 23 March 2017, police held a press conference to announce the arrest and charges filed against the 63-year-old man who lived in Melbourne. While his arrest may finally provide some answers as to what happened 47 years ago, it also comes with the devastating realisation to Cheryl’s family that their little sister is never coming home.
“I’m not going to get into the specifics of the actual detail of the offences but I can say that they’re quite horrific and they’ll be unfolding in court.”
In a pre-trial hearing held this week in Wollongong, the court heard that evidence has now come to light which supports this man’s confession. He is known to suffer from mental health issues and has done so since a teenager, leading his defence team to put forward that his confessions should not be admissible. The court disagreed, however, refusing bail based on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence which has not yet fully been made public.
Police have said they believe Cheryl was killed within one hour of being abducted and the full details of the case against the 63-year-old will be revealed at his trial. No formal plea has been entered and the man is currently being held in custody awaiting his next court appearance.