Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Unsolved: The disappearance of the Beaumont Children.

January 26th is Australia Day, a day of national celebration, a day when thousands of Australians make the most of the public holiday in the height of summer, having barbeques and heading to their nearest beach.

It was no different for the three Beaumont children.  The school holidays were nearing an end, and they were keen to spend as much time at Glenelg Beach as they could. Nancy Beaumont had chores to complete that hot summer day, so after some persuasion and assurances from her eldest daughter Jane (9), Nancy agreed to let them go to the beach unsupervised.  Jane had always been responsible with her younger sister Arnna (7) and brother Grant (4). The children caught the 8:45am bus and were expected back on the midday bus.

Nancy walked out to the bus stop to greet the midday bus, but her children were not on it.  Or on the 2pm bus.  Jim Beaumont returned from his sales job at 3pm to a frantic Nancy, and quickly went down to Glenelg Beach to find their three children, but they were nowhere to be seen. Thus began one of the most famous incidents in Australian history.  Were they abducted by a paedophile? Kidnapped and sold? Did they meet with foul play or an horrific accident?  Nearly 54 years later these questions still have no answers.
Jim Beaumont drove around the streets for two and a half hours before collecting Nancy and going to the police. Police initially thought that the children would still be at the beach, having lost track of time. Their search of the beach proved fruitless, and they expanded the search out to the surrounding areas.  The police were able to establish that between the three children they were wearing or carrying 17 items, including towels and bags.  None of these items were located either.
As news of the crime spread through the media, the whole nation became transfixed.  Headlines screamed “Sex Crime Now Feared” three days after their disappearance.

Police spoken to many witnesses at Glenelg Beach and were able to piece together the actions of the children that morning.

The children had swum in the ocean, and played under a sprinkler in Colley reserve. It was in Colley Reserve that witnesses reported to the police that they saw the children in the company of a tall, fair haired man, in his 30s.  The man had tanned skin and was wearing only bathing trunks. The children seemed comfortable around him, playing and jostling in an affectionate way. However, Jim and Nancy could not think of anyone the children knew who fit this description.

This was odd to Jim and Nancy Beaumont, as they felt that their children would not play with such familiarity with a stranger.  To further add to the mystery, the children bought lunch form the nearby bakery with a One Pound note.  Nancy had only sent them to the beach with coins. There was also an addition to their regular order – the children normally ordered pasties, but that day also ordered a meat pie.

As the days went on, no hint of the children or any of their possessions was found.  All three children, and their belongings, had vanished without a trace.
As the investigation continued with no leads, a famed psychic, Gerard Croiset was flown in to help, with no discernible result.

Harry Phipps
The most recent addition to the suspect list, Harry Phipps was a 48 year old factory owner when the Beaumont Children disappeared.  

Phipps has come to prominence after the publication of a book called The Satin Man by Alan Whitaker with Stuart Mullens originally released in 2013.  He lived only 300 metres from Glenelg Beach, and resembled the man seen with the children that morning. Haydn Phipps, Harry’s son, claimed years later that his father brought three children to their home that Australia Day and that he saw them enter the family house, but did not see them leave.

In addition, two local men, who had been youths at the time, claimed that Harry asked them to dig a 2m x 1m x 2m hole at the site of his factory that weekend, paying them in One Pound notes and telling them to never come near him again.

An excavation of an area of the factory was excavated in 2018 with no results.
Phipps resembled the man on the beach, but at 48 was considerably older than witnesses estimated, although it has been claimed that he looked younger than his years.

Bevan Spencer von Einem
Bevan von Einem is a convicted murderer and paedophile from Adelaide, known to be active in the 1960s and 1970s.

He was found guilty of the 1983 murder of Richard Kelvin, a 15 year old boy who was the son of an Adelaide television news reader, Rob Kelvin.  Richard had been abducted, held captive, sexually abused, drugged and tortured for five weeks before being murdered.

Von Einem was also charged in two further murders but due to a lack of evidence the charges were eventually dropped. There are other murders that prosecutors believe von Einem was involved in, but have not been able to pursue due to a lack of evidence.

A long-held theory was that von Einem was a member of a high-powered group of homosexual paedophiles, known as “The Family” which operated around Adelaide without fear of prosecution as many of the members were high ranking lawyers, judges and other officials. While this was discussed in many media articles, there was never any documented proof of this group’s existence.
Von Einem somewhat resembled the drawing of the man seen with the Beaumont children in 1966, and an informant claimed that von Einem had told him that he once took three children from a beach and conducted experiments on them.

The statements that point to von Einem are that he liked to attend Glenelg Beach around that time to “perv” on changing rooms and was obsessed with children.

The statements against von Einem being the man on the beach are that he was significantly younger than the man was described on the day (he was 20 years old, whereas the man was described as being in his mid 30s) and von Einem’s victims were usually in their teens or older and exclusively male.

Derek Ernest Percy
Before Derek Percy died he was the longest serving prisoner in Victoria, despite the fact that he had been found not guilty of killing Yvonne Touhy in 1969 by reason of insanity.  Percy was held indefinitely, On Her Majesty’s Pleasure, due to his ongoing danger to the community.

Percy was a suspect in many crimes against teens and children around the country in the 1960s.  His family travelled quite a bit, and then Percy joined the navy, which placed him in the vicinity at the time of many murders, such as the Wanda Beach murders, the murder of Linda Stilwell on St Kilda Beach and the murders of Simon Brook in Sydney and Allen Redstone in Canberra. In 2014, a year after his death at age 64, it was ruled that he had killed Linda Stilwell in 1968.

Percy admitted to being at Glenelg Beach on the day of the abduction of the Beaumont Children, however he was 17 which is considerably younger than the man seen with the children.

In a personal touch, I worked with a woman who had grown up in the small town of Mount Beauty in rural Victoria while Derek Percy had lived there.  She remembered him as a strange boy who was constantly stealing women’s underwear off clothes lines, a crime known as “snow dropping” which is often a precursor to crimes such as peeping, public indecency and worse.

Arthur Stanley Brown
In 1998, 86 year old Arthur Brown was charged with the murder of sisters Judith and Susan Mackay 28 years earlier in 1970. 

Judith, five, and her older sister Susan seven, disappeared on August 26th 1970 from a school bus stop less than 10 minutes after leaving home.  Their bodies were found two days later in a dry creek bed.  They had both been raped and stabbed, with Susan strangled as well.

Unfortunately, the trial did not go ahead due to Brown’s age-related health issues, but authorities and the Mackay family believe that he was responsible for the crime.

As an active paedophile during the 1960s and 1970s, Brown was considered a possible suspect for the Beaumont Children.  He resembled the man at the beach, but there was never any firm proof that he had been in Adelaide at the time.
Jim and Nancy
Nancy Beaumont passed away in September 2019, never knowing what happened to her children Jane, Arnna and Grant on Australia Day 1966.  Jim is now 94. Having to live more than half their lives not knowing the fate their children; having the judgemental eyes of the country on Mrs Beaumont because she let her children go to the beach on their own; the guilt she no doubt felt about that decision and the “what-ifs” she would have gone over in her head a million times. My sympathy for Mr and Mrs Beaumont is immeasurable. 

I was born nearly nine years after the Beaumont Children disappeared, but I grew up knowing the story and wanting to know the answer to the mystery.  I remember watching tabloid TV shows such as A Current Affair as they interviewed adults who claimed to be Jane or Arnna or Grant, all grown up. Of course, they never were. Or when a new theory or new suspect came up and all the tabloid TV and newspapers went crazy for the story all over again.  I can’t imagine how much additional pain these claims caused Jim and Nancy Beaumont. 

The case has become synonymous with the end of innocence in suburban Australia.  With most viable suspects having now passed away, the reality is we will probably never know the fate of the Beaumont Children, unless someone stumbles on some bones by chance. As much as the rest of the country wants to know what happened, it is Jim and Nancy who deserve that knowledge more than anyone.  And for Nancy at least, it is already too late.