Cheryl Grimmer was the youngest child of the Grimmer family and the Grimmers’ only daughter. The family consisted of mother Carole (26), father Vince (24), and sons Ricki (7), Stephen (5) and Paul (4). They were originally from Knowle, a suburb in Bristol, England. But they emigrated to Fairy Meadow Migrant Hostel, Wollongong, Illawarra, New South Wales in Australia.
On the morning of 12th January 1970, the Grimmer family went to the beach at Fairy Meadow, Illawarra. Vince, the father, did not go to the beach as he was working away from home as a sapper for the Australian Army.
At around 1:30pm, the weather had changed and Carole decided it was time for the family to head home. All 4 children went to the shower block whilst Carole packed up their belongings. Ricki returned to Carole 10mintues later, saying that Cheryl was refusing to come out of the shower block. Carole followed Ricki back to the shower block, only to find that Cheryl had disappeared.
There were no phones nearby, so Carole made her way to a house nearby Elliott’s Road and asked them to call the police. At the time, witnesses say they saw a man holding Cheryl up to drink from a water fountain, wrapped in a white towel. These statements are said to be referring to Cheryl’s brother Ricki, as he says that he picked up Cheryl so she could drink from the water fountain.
Cheryl’s disappearance sparked a massive man search. A day after Cheryl vanished, the New South Wales Police department said they had 4 theories as to what happened to Cheryl. They believed that she either fell asleep and was hiding, that she wandered into the ocean and was swept away by currents, that she had fallen into a waterway or that she had been kidnapped.
After a day of searching, the police focused on the theory that she had been kidnapped and started to pursue other leads – such as a blue Volkswagen Type 2 van which had been spotted near the scene of the crime. This lead did not lead to any arrests.
On the third day of searching, police received a note for $10,000 and the child would be returned unharmed. The police staged a drop for the money in Bulli, with the police disguising themselves as council workers for the drop, however, no one ever showed up for the money. At the time, the police believed the note was honest and they feared the large police operation spooked the writer. It is now thought that the note was a practical joke, as no other notes have been sent to the police.
Just under 18 months after Cheryl disappeared, a local boy around 15/16 years old, came forward and confessed to abducting and killing her. The boy gave an overview of what happened that day, describing a tubular steel gate, a cattle guard, a track and a small creek near the scene of the murder. He brought police officers to a corner of Brokers and Balgownie roads and claimed Cheryl was buried there, but due to residential development that had started in the same area, he couldn’t be sure.
Police decided to interview the owner of the property, who contradicted the young boy’s statement. The owner said that there had never been a tubular steel gate at the property, and at the time of the murder there was no cattle guard either.
These inconsistencies led police to believe the young boy did not commit the crime and was instead giving the police a false confession.
In spite of lots of appeals and a $5000 reward offered by the New South Wales government, no new leads came through and the case went cold.
In the early 2000s, New South Wales Police Minister Michael Gallagher theorised that both Cheryl and her kidnapper could be dead, but hoped that someone who was still alive might know the truth. He also said that Cheryl could be alive, and anyone who thinks they may know her or be her should come forward. Cheryl had a belly button that protruded one centimetre due to a medical condition, however, it may have been corrected by surgery.
In 2008 a woman thought she might be Cheryl, but after submitting DNA it was found she was not a match to Cheryl.
In May of 2011, a coroner formally ruled that Cheryl had died after going missing due to an undetermined cause and that police should re-open the investigation. Carole Grimmer, Cheryl’s mother, stated that she thought her daughter was alive.
In response to this, the police posted a $100,000 reward for information regarding Cheryl’s disappearance. They also combined detectives from Wollongong and the Homicide Squad’s Unsolved Homicide Team to create a new task force called ‘Strike Force Wessell’.
Sadly, shortly after a new investigation was launched both Carole and Vince Grimmer passed away without ever knowing what happened to their daughter.
In 2016, a review of all the evidence collected in the case was carried out and all of it, including witness statements, were computerised for the first time. This review uncovered many leads and brought to light information that had not been properly pursued at the time – in particular the confession from the young boy.
Police returned to the property where the boy said the murder had taken place and interviewed the owner’s son who said that the cattle guard was “certainly” in place at the time of the murder, and recalled a tubular gate as well as a creek leading over into the property. As well as this, police also announced that 3 witnesses had come forward and recalled a young boy loitering around the shower blocks. The man, who would be in his 60s in 2016, was urged to come forward by the police.
In January 2017, the police started to look at the Mount Penang Training School for Boys, a reformatory school that it is thought the suspect attended in the early 1970s. They implied that they had been provided with information by someone who alleged that former staff or pupils would help them with the enquiry,
On 23rd March 2017, it was announced that the police had made an arrest in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston the previous day and was being extradited from Victoria. The man was being charged with the kidnapping and murder of Cheryl Grimmer at Wollongong Police Station and was incarcerated at the Silverwater Correctional Complex. Police said that it is unlikely they will ever be able to find Cheryl’s body due to the substantial amount of development that has taken place in the once rural area in the 47 years she has been missing.
In May 2017, it emerged that the man they arrested was the same man who confessed to the abduction and murder just 18 months after she went missing. Since he was 15 at the time of his confession, he will not be named. Further details emerged about the man, including that he told doctors in 1970 that he had urges to “kill himself and other people.” It also emerged that in his confession, he told police that he hid with Cheryl in a nearby drain for around 35mintues, gagging her with a handkerchief and tying her hands behind her back with a shoelace. Prosecutor Emiljia Beljic claims that after emerging from the drain, he travelled 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) by foot with the toddler to the suburb of Balgownie, where he intended to have sexual intercourse with the toddler.
The accused man denies wanting to have sexual intercourse with Cheryl, and called it “bullshit”. In the man’s original confession to the police, he states that after he took the gag off, she started to scream and he put his hands around her neck telling her to “shut up”, leading to strangling Cheryl to death. The man then panicked, took off her clothes and placed bushes and dirt over her body before heading back to Fairy Meadow Beach.
The confession also included details of the beach that the man could not have known unless he was present at the beach that day – including the royal blue swimming costume Cheryl was wearing, the white towel she was carrying and the fact that someone picked up Cheryl so she could use the water fountain – which her brother, Ricki, claims he did.
The defence, however, argues that the man was mentally unwell at the time of his confession thus making it inadmissible in court. The defence also argues that the man confessed to killing a prison guard, which was also found to be a false confession.
On 7th September 2018, the man appeared by video link to the Supreme Court of New South Wales only to confirm his name and enter his not guilty plea. His trial was expected to start in May 2019, however, a judge ruled that a key piece of evidence was inadmissible in the trial, leading to the prosecution dropping the case against the man in February 2019.
Cheryl Grimmer was declared legally dead in 2011, despite nobody ever being found. With the charges being dropped against the suspect, it is unlikely that Cheryl, or her family, will ever get the justice they deserve.
True crime, missing, unsolved, children, Australia, missing person, unsolved case, cold case, kidnapping, kidnapped, disapperance