British girl missing in Australia: Breakthrough after 46 years

Police say they have new information about 'Australian Madeleine McCann'

Updated: 
Child disappeared Australia gives hope to Madeleine McCann case

Police have announced a breakthrough in the investigation into a British toddler who was kidnapped on an Australian beach 46 years ago.

Three-year-old Cheryl Grimmer was abducted outside of a changing room in January 12 1970, in a case similar to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

She had been swimming with her mum and three brothers before entering the showers, which is where witnesses say she was grabbed by a man.

Her disappearance has remained a mystery despite a number of false sightings of the youngster.

But now, police say they have new information about her suspected kidnapper which could lead to uncovering the truth behind Cheryl's taking.



The investigation under Strike Force Wessel, comprising officers from Wollongong Local Area Command and the Homicide Squad's Unsolved Homicide Team, is focusing on a male youth seen in the immediate vicinity of the surf club pavilion in the morning and afternoon of the day Cheryl was taken.

The youth is described as being of Caucasian appearance, about 152cm or 5' tall, with a medium build, brown hair, blue eyes and fair complexion.

At the time, it is believed he was aged between 16 and 17, and would now be aged in his early 60s.

Acting on that information, strike forces detectives recently returned to Fairy Meadow Beach with several key witnesses in a bid to further draw on their memories - which police say has "yielded promising results".



Witnesses spoke of seeing a male grab the child after she had gone to the showers with her family including mum Carole and brothers Ricki, eight, Stephen, six, and five-year-old Paul.

Now aged in their 50s, those witnesses were aged nine, 10 and 12 at the time.

They were joined by Cheryl's brother, Stephen, who has never stopped trying to find his sister.Mr Grimmer, now aged 52, was sent with Cheryl and their two brothers by their parents to the changing rooms to use the showers after a day at the beach.

That's when detectives believe she was snatched.



The Grimmer family migrated from England to Australia in 1969, and settled into the Fairy Meadow hostel.

Dad John was a sapper in the Australian Army in the nearby Penrith barracks and was not with the family on the day his daughter vanished.

As a result of his time with the army John was often away and mum Carole took the children to the beach alone.

At about 1.30pm, she sent Cheryl with her brothers Ricki, Stephen and Paul to a toilet block to shower.

Minutes later Ricki told his mum that Cheryl would not come out of the shower blocks and when Carole followed her son back to the sheds Cheryl had gone and has not been seen since.



A massive manhunt was sparked by Cheryl's disappearance but no trace was found of her, and despite several hoax tips into the missing child no suspect has ever been charged in relation to her disappearance.

Detectives have feared her case could be linked to a spate of takings and murders of children, including the Wanda Beach murders near Sydney where two teenage girls were killed in 1965, and the infamous Beaumont children disappearance.

On January 26, 1966, three Beaumont family siblings, Jane, 9, Arnna, 7, and Grant, aged four, went missing from Glenelg Beach, near Adelaide, South Australia.

The three children have never been found and both cases have never been solved.



Cheryl's case was subject to a Coronial Inquest in May 2011, the Coroner ruled Cheryl had died sometime after her disappearance, and the cause unknown.

It was then referred to the Unsolved Homicide Team for review.

Wollongong Local Area Command Crime Manager, Detective Inspector Brad Ainsworth, said Cheryl's disappearance is a mystery they still desperately want to solve.

DI Ainswoth said: "Cheryl's kidnapping sparked a massive manhunt and stunned the Illawarra.

Cheryl's dad, Vince, a former soldier, and her mother, Carole, died never knowing what happened to their daughter.

"The witnesses' return to the beach has yielded promising results, and we hope someone in the community may be able to help us identify this male youth.

"We would dearly love to provide answers to Steve and his family, solve this matter for the people of the Illawarra, and ultimately provide Cheryl with some dignity in death."