Police in Australia have charged a man with the murder of a British-born three-year-old girl who vanished from a beach 47 years ago in a dramatic breakthrough in the country’s oldest unsolved homicide case.
The arrest of the 63-year-old man – now a father who reportedly works as a security guard in Melbourne – marked an unexpected twist in the case of Cheryl Grimmer, who was last seen naked and smiling near the changing rooms at a beach south of Sydney in 1970.
Her disappearance, which has been likened to the case of Madeline McCann, left enduring scars for her family, who had long harboured hopes that she may be alive. But it now seems that she died “within an hour” of being taken.
Police believe the 63-year-old, who was 16 at the time of the disappearance, snatched the girl from outside a surf club and whisked her away before killing her.
The man was a person of interest in the original investigation and reportedly made comments about the girl 18 months after her disappearance, while he was living at a home for troubled boys.
“I’m not going to get into the specifics of the actual details of the offences but I can say that they are quite horrific and they will be [revealed] at court,” said Brad Ainsworth, a detective inspector from Wollongong police.
“We centred our investigations around him and as a result we’ve gathered information, we have corroborated certain information and statements back in the original investigation and it has led us to the arrest.”
Police said they did not believe the body would be found. The alleged murderer has not been named.
He was flown from Melbourne to face court in Wollongong today and would not comment to reporters after landing at Sydney airport.
The breakthrough comes after police revealed late last year that they were reinvestigating the case and believed they had a fresh lead, suggesting that Cheryl’s murderer was 16 or 17 at the time of the crime and was still alive.
Cheryl, whose family emigrated from Bristol in 1968, disappeared at Fairy Meadow beach, south of Sydney, on January 12, 1970.
She was at the beach with her mother and three brothers, who had taken her to shower in the changing rooms.
Her parents, Vince and Carole Grimmer, migrated with their children as “10-pound poms” and died without finding out what happened to their daughter.
Earlier this year, Rikki Nash, Cheryl’s oldest brother, spoke to The Telegraph of the toll that the case took on him and his family.
Then aged seven, he was the last person to see the blonde-haired three-year-old.
He said he watched as his smiling sister, about 10 feet away, stood in the doorway of the changing room, telling him: “I’m not coming out.”
“It was the worst 30 seconds of my life,” he said. “I can still see her shaking her head, saying ‘I’m not coming out’. Then I made that terrible mistake of going to get my mother. We were back in 30 seconds – but unbeknownst to us, she was already gone. It changed our lives for ever.”
Police said Cheryl’s older brothers had been “buoyed” by the arrest. “The investigation moves into a whole other sphere now … it’s something that’s not going to be resolved soon,” said Detective Inspector Ainsworth.