The Beaumont Children
When a child disappears, it is a parent's nightmare realised - but when three disappear from the same family all at the same time, it is an unimaginable tragedy beyond even nightmares.
Yet that is exactly what happened to the Beaumont parents; Jim and Nancy, on January 26, 1966. The Beaumont case is one of the most famous unsolved crimes in Australian history and spawned its largest manhunt. How could three children just vanish without a trace from a busy public beach?
January 26 was a hot day...set as it was, in the middle of an Australian summer. It was Australia Day, which meant a public holiday for some. In the morning Mr. Beaumont, a salesman, was tossing up whether to stay home and take the children swimming or go to work. Much to his eternal regret - he went to work. The three Beaumont children; Jane, Arnna and Grant, aged 9, 7 and 4 respectively, asked their mother if they could go to the beach. In 1966, parents tended to be a little less over-protective and paranoid about allowing their children some independence but even so, looking after a 7 and 4 year old at the beach was a big responsibility for eldest daughter Jane. However, the Beaumonts were not concerned, as the children had caught the local bus to the beach several times before and Jane was, according to her parents, a very sensible and trustworthy child. So on that morning at around 10 am., Mrs. Beaumont gave the children the bus fare and a small amount of money for lunch and waved them goodbye.
Glenelg Beach was(and still is) a popular beach suburb of Adelaide and not far from the Beaumont home in Somerton Park. The sea was blue and sparkling on that hot summers day in 1966 and there were plenty of people enjoying the water, due to the public holiday. Mrs. Beaumont was expecting the children home at noon and when they didn't arrive, she assumed they'd missed the bus and would catch the next one at two o'clock. it wasn't until it was nearing three that she became worried and anxious.
Jim Beaumont came home early that day, as many of his customers were unavailable. As soon as he discovered that the children had not arrived he drove to the beach looking for them and when they couldn't be found he went home to pick up his wife and they went searching again. At 7.30 that evening their absence was reported to the police . Jim Beaumont drove around all night searching for his missing children.
The next morning they were declared offically missing and a large-scale search was launched. Frantic, Mrs. Beaumont had to be kept under sedation and police installed a telephone in the house so they could keep in touch. Police considered the possibility that all three children had drowned but since none of their belongings were found on the beach this didn't seem likely. Nor would they have run away - of this their parents were certain. Despite the fact that children rarely go missing in groups, abduction was the most reasonable conclusion to draw.
Jane, Arnna and Grant's disappearance ignited a nation in sympathy - it wasn't long before it was all over the newspapers and everyone was on the look out for the children, including suburban taxi drivers. Even an internationally reknown psychic was called in but his so-called 'vision' proved fruitless.
Every Australian parent could feel the pain of what had happened and the Beaumonts received much help and support. Nor were they ever criticised for allowing the children to go off on their own - perhaps partly because everyone was conscious of the profound guilt they must have been experiencing.
"They'd never go off with a stranger"
A witness...a woman who was sitting on a bench in front of the Glenelg Sailing Club, said she saw the children come up from the beach after a swim. Her description was reported in a newspaper at the time: ‘"They went to a sprinkler on the lawns on the northern side of the sailing club, laid out their towels near two trees, and began playing under the sprinkler."
What caught the womans attention was a thin-faced young blonde man in navy blue bathers lying on a towel a few feet away, who began talking to the children: "The three children had gone over to him and he was laughing and encouraging them as they played, the boy jumping over him, the younger girl jumping too, and the older girl flicking him with a towel."
Several other witnesses also noticed the children talking and joking with the man and notably, a shopkeeper reported Jane had come into his cake shop with a one pound note and bought pies and pasties. Nancy Beaumont was adamant she had only given the children coins, no notes.
Shortly after this, back on the lawn area, the children were seen again with the man, who was apparently helping them dress. A female witness recalled seeing him pull up Jane's shorts over her bathers, which she thought strange, as Jane was clearly of an age to dress herself. The man and the children then walked away and dissappeared behind the Glenelg Hotel.
Last Confirmed sighting
One of the last confirmed sightings of the children was by a local postman who knew the children quite well. According to him, they were alone and strolling down Jetty Sttreet in the afternoon, apparently on their way home. According to the postman, they stopped to say hello and seemed untroubled.
Several aspects of the witnesses accounts didn't make sense to the Beaumonts. For one thing, Nancy said her daughter was very shy and she couldn't imagine her letting a man pull up her shorts. And why were the children casually strolling down Jetty St in the afternoon when they knew they were three hours late ? This seemed out of character as normally they were very reliable. Police questioned the postman's memory, suggesting he must have seen them in the morning, when they got off the bus and not in the afternoon as he claimed.
Cold Case; Theories About the Beaumont Children
Over the years there have been several suspects put forward as possible culprits but no-one has ever been charged, nor was the mysterious blonde man in the navy blue bathers ever picked up. It was suggested they may have fallen victim to a pedaphelia ring and Bevan Spencer von Einem, a convicted murderer and pedophile was investigated by police. He had apparently bragged of 'taking three children at once' which he subsequently murdered. However, although he was never ruled out as a suspect, police concluded there were several features about Bevan's srory that didn't match the case.
Other notable suspects included Arthur Stanley Brown, James O'Neill and Derek Percy....all known criminals. Only O'Neill however, was in the right age range to match the eyewitness descriptions of the man in the blue bathers. Former Victorian detective Gordon Davie remains convinced O'Neill is the perpetrator, though he could not produce any evidence to support the claim. O'Neill was sent to jail in 1975 for the murder of a 9 year old Tasmanian boy.
Needless to say, losing their children took a terrible toll on the Beaumonts. They eventually divorced but Nancy Beaumont hung on to the house in Somerton Park for many years, refusing to move in case the children returned.
The Beaumont children have a kind of Peter Pan mythology about them - they are the sunny, happy children in black and white photographs who never grew up...but whose pictures have a dark and terrible shadow over them. A shadow that is and perhaps always will be, a mystery. Their story marked a turning point that etched a new consciousness into the nations psyche; Australians became a little more suspicious and a little less free and easy. It was a kind of erosion of innocence.
LINKS: Australian Crime History
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- Chopper Reid
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